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March 7, 2003

Prospectus Today

Roto Madness

by Joe Sheehan

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I was originally going to do something along the lines of a diary for last night's Rotowire staff league auction. Then I remembered that Bill Simmons had not only done that, but done it so well that he pretty much ruined it for the rest of us. That's OK, because the pace of the auction, held online, didn't lend itself well to taking notes.

I was invited into this because, like swallows returning to Capistrano, I just had to write player comments this winter, and Jeff Erickson invited me to do so for Rotowire's fantasy baseball magazine. (I also did a rookies article.) We had 18 teams drafting from both leagues, with a $260 budget for 23 players. After the auction, there is a seven-man draft of a reserve list, and a 10-man minor-league draft. The league is intended to be perpetual, and it's scored 5x5 rotisserie style (the usual chicken, with runs scored and strikeouts on the side). We didn't finish the auction last night or start the draft, but we got far enough into it, 13 rounds, that I can elaborate on my strategy without giving away much to the other guys in the league reading this. It's not like I can run the room with the $17 I have left, anyway.

With vanishingly little rotisserie experience--I finished fifth in a league in 1992--I decided to concede that my opponents would have a much better idea of things like "valuation," so I didn't worry too much about it. I decided to focus on players between the ages of 24 and 31, figuring this would maximize my chance of getting guys prepared to be good in 2003, while also having a chance to be worth protecting into the future. I wasn't going to be ridiculous about it, and I had built in exceptions for Adam Dunn and relief pitchers. It's hard to gauge values in a league of this depth, so I intended to bid conservatively.

There were a handful of players I really wanted, either because I thought they'd be undervalued or that they're going to explode. I actually grabbed three of the ones on the list of four I'd written down before the auction: Dunn, Charles Johnson, and Eugene Kingsale. The fourth name hasn't come up yet.

The first name and first bid was Vladimir Guerrero for $32. I didn't even get involved, and watched him go to one of the Rotowire staff guys for $49. The next player up, Alex Rodriguez, became the first member of my team for $57. I'm one of those people who stubbornly believes in positional value, even as roto experts tell me it doesn't matter much. Besides, if the team tanks, he'll make a great trade chit at the All-Star break.

OK, that and I was just trying to goose the bidding two more dollars and got caught. It happens, and this wasn't the last time. I felt better a few minutes later, though, when Miguel Tejada went for $49. Here are the PECOTA projections for Teja...hey, PECOTA doesn't project runs and RBI! For the first time ever, I actually wanted to see those. Hrm. OK, we'll use Rotowire's projections:

 

                  $   AVG   R   HR   RBI   SB
Alex Rodriguez   57  .301  125  56   139   10
Miguel Tejada    49  .305  107  35   132    9

I have to guess that the extra 21 homers are worth $8, and A-Rod has a small edge in everything else. I threw out Derek Jeter a little bit later, and he went for $41, so I have to say I'm happy with Alex Rodriguez for $57.

One thing about grabbing the second name mentioned for $57: It limits how much you can do for a while. I usually have the opposite problem in my fantasy football auction: I'm way too conservative at the start, and I end up outbidding people for second- and third-tier guys, and closing my day by throwing $14 at Kevan Barlow. I don't expect to have that problem here, which will be an unfamiliar scenario. I did mix it up on Troy Glaus, whose upside I love. He went for $35, and I feel some remorse about not taking it to $36. Between concern about my budget and a strategy that left me out of the bidding on a lot of players, I had huge swaths of time in which I was mostly watching Duke dismantle Florida State.

Let's fast-forward. Through 13 auction rounds, here is what I have in front of me (along with $17):


C  Charles Johnson $16
C  Eli Marrero $9
2B Frank Catalanotto $15
SS Alex Rodriguez $57
MI Alex Gonzalez (ChC) $7
OF Adam Dunn $37
OF Eugene Kingsale $4
OF Carl Everett $10
OF Brad Wilkerson $10
P  Greg Maddux $26
P  Billy Koch $17
P  Scott Williamson $15
P  Byung-Hyun Kim $14
P  Octavio Dotel $6

The Kingsale and Marrero selections elicited positive reaction from one or two people, which always feels nice. I got caught trying to jack the price on Catalanotto, who I wanted but not at $15. Considering how many times I was bidding on players solely to make other people pay, I should be happy that it didn't happen more often. The scariest moment was moving Kazuhiro Sasaki from $5 to $20, then seeing "20 once" appear on my screen. I was saved by a $21 bid that won.

How do I explain Alex Gonzalez? I was really tired, and somehow I convinced myself that because he plays every day he will probably have decent counting stats, and since he's coming into his power prime, he could be a decent investment. Plus, the bidding had started at $5 and gone to $6, and I figured I'd have a chance to rethink things if I went to $7. I didn't. In an 18-team league drawing from MLB, it shouldn't be that hard to find playing time, so the buy was a clear mistake, maybe my only one. The missing $7 would have come in handy later.

To the extent that I had a pitching strategy, it was to emphasize relievers in an effort to get maximum points in Ratio and ERA. There's a 900-inning minimum, which I think you can get to with as many as eight relievers to start the season. However, the 5x5 format, adding strikeouts, means that you have to have relievers with excellent strikeout rates to have any chance of winning. With two closers in Koch and Williamson, a potential closer in Kim whose downside is "pretty good starter," and the game's best set-up man in Dotel, I think I can get enough pitching points to win. I would have been in on Billy Wagner, who went for $20 right after Koch, but I was fielding a phone call at the time.

Maddux for $26 was a tough call, and I won him on what would have been my last bid. I figure that even in decline, he'll provide 200 innings and not get in the way of what the relievers are doing to my rate stats. There is very little disaster potential, and he was the last starter on the board who I would have bought.

All things considered, I'm happy with the team. I mostly stuck to my plan, and the exceptions I made--Maddux and Carl Everett--I didn't make randomly. I think Everett is going to rake this year, in the perfect park for him and coming off a strong second half of 2002. If he can avoid center field, he can hit .300/.380/.520 with 30 homers and runs and RBIs to match. Alex Rodriguez aside, I grabbed guys with upside, who haven't had their best seasons yet and who can contribute in five categories. Almost all of my hitters should steal at least a handful of bases, and a number of them will be batting second, a position that affords both R and RBI potential. I know it's a Strat carryover, but I like the "Team Pretzel" aspect of the roster. Marrero, Catalanotto and Wilkerson are all eligible at multiple positions, giving me maximum flexibility in acquiring talent and handling injuries.

Of course, the downside is I have zero cornermen so far, three slots to fill, and $17 with which to do it. The auction will degenerate into a draft relatively soon, though, so my lack of funds shouldn't be a tremendous barrier. With just 216 players gone, there is a lot of talent left, much of it in the outfield--remember, I can move Wilkerson--and at first base.

For those of you who have auctions coming up, here are the dollar values for the top 20 players (and ties):


Alex Rodriguez $57
Alfonso Soriano $51
Vladimir Guerrero $49
Miguel Tejada $49
Randy Johnson $49
Pedro Martinez $48
Magglio Ordonez $45
Jeff Kent $44
Barry Bonds $43
Albert Pujols $43
Nomar Garciaparra $43
Curt Schilling $43
Derek Jeter $41
Jason Giambi $40
Sammy Sosa $39
Carlos Beltran $39
Mike Sweeney $38
Brian Giles $38
Todd Helton $37
Manny Ramirez $37
Lance Berkman $37
Bobby Abreu $37
Adam Dunn $37

That $37 barrier was a weird one, as five hitters went right on that number, including Manny Ramirez and Lance Berkman back-to-back. The top catcher, Mike Piazza, went for $31, with Ivan Rodriguez at $26. The top closers were Eric Gagne and John Smoltz at $30. Hideki Matsui went for $27, and Jose Contreras for $9. The only pure rookie play so far has been Jose Reyes for $5.

Thanks to everyone who sent in advice for the auction. Most common was the recommendation to go "Stars and Scrubs," which I approached in spending $120 on Rodriguez, Dunn and Maddux. I think pure "S&S" would involve another two or three high-dollar players--I was in on Glaus and Manny Ramirez, among others--but I wanted to make sure I could grab some of my favorite upside guys, like Kingsale and Marrero.

Next week's columns will come from sunny Scottsdale, Ariz., as I make a three-game trip through the Cactus League.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Alex Rodriguez,  The Who

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