And sometimes, we don’t place enough emphasis on this year

Speedster Nyjer Morgan is done for the year, but there are still some things we can learn from him. (Icon/SMI)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a trend I’ve noticed where people tend to pay too much attention to the current year’s statistics and pay too little attention to what happened in previous years. Soon after, John Burnson introduced us to what he calls Near-Sighted Marcels, an attempt to quantify the propensity of owners to engage in this kind of thinking.

As I noted, though, there will always be exceptions. Sometimes, we don’t place enough emphasis on this year’s statistics.

Last week, I engaged in LABR NL trade talks with reigning champion Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN. Nyjer Morgan (pre-injury) was discussed, but Tristan didn’t seem to buy into him as much as I did. When probed, I said that I’d peg Morgan as a $28 or $29 hitter, while Tristan thought he belonged in the low $20s (and at that, it would be “a pretty generous price”). Part of this was surely posturing, negotiating, trying not to show too much of his hand, but it was pretty clear our evaluations of Morgan didn’t exactly match up.

He asked me if I would compare him to Juan Pierre in his prime, which I considered a pretty fair parallel, minus a few steals. I said that I saw Morgan as a no power, near-.300 hitter who can steal 50 bases and score 100 runs. That about sums up Pierre, except that he was able to eclipse 60 steals a couple times (Morgan was on pace for about 54 before he broke his hand).

I later found out that, in addition to the fewer steals we agreed upon, Tristan didn’t think he deserved such a high batting average. He and fellow ESPN writer and LABR NL owner Nate Ravitz discussed the deals I had been negotiating with each of them on ESPN’s Fantasy Focus radio show (the first five minutes of the 8/27 show, if you’d like to listen), and when Morgan came up, neither seemed to consider him a big batting average contributor (although Nate didn’t see Morgan as too far removed from Pierre).

I maintained my position, though. I said that Morgan hadn’t posted a batting average below .294 at any level in his career, and even more telling, improved his strikeout rate from 20 percent in 2008 to 15.8 percent this season. Because a hitter’s strikeout rate is such a stable stat, the premise for my argument was based upon the fact that Morgan’s 2009 strikeout rate is very important.

Intrigued by all this, I dug even deeper into the numbers on Morgan with some help from work Sean Smith did back in June. If I use the yearly weights Sean came up with for strikeout rate, we’d arrive at a 16.7 percent weighted (and regressed) strikeout rate for Morgan. If we assume this 16.7 percent strikeout rate, a three percent HR/FB, a 26 percent FB%, and a .340 BABIP, we’d expect Morgan to bat .288.

That’s not as high as I had expected, but still pretty close to Pierre in his prime. In years when Pierre stole 40+ bases (2001-2008), his aggregate batting average was exactly .300. If we only look at years when he was over 50, as Morgan was on track to do, Pierre only batted .292 (although it’s not really fair to pick and choose years like that).

Pierre was able to hit so high because he rarely struck out, so while it’s a little early to declare Nyjer Morgan the next Juan Pierre, the comparison probably isn’t as far fetched as some might assume, especially if Morgan posts another strikeout improvement next year.

As a side note, I said that I suspected Morgan’s expected average would be a little higher, at least in the .290s. Why? Well, probably because I was placing too much emphasis on 2009! As I’ve said before, it’s an easy trap to fall into, even when you know that a stat is very stable like strikeout rate is. Strikeout rate is one of the most stable stats there is, and even when a player makes a big jump like Morgan did, we can’t just assume he’ll keep up his single-year level. This is a complicated topic to say the least, picking out who is being undervalued and who is being overvalued based upon single-year stats.

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  1. Andrew said...

    Speaking of Nyjer Morgan, I feel that we’ve gotten to the point in fantasy such that everyone has begun to realize speedsters have traditionally been so undervalued that they have actually become overvalued.

    Taking a look at the ESPN Player Rater, Jacoby Ellsbury, for instance, ranks 10th overall. Using standings gain points, however, Ellsbury wouldn’t rank that highly. Maybe the lesson here is simply to not use the ESPN Player Rater, and I’ve found better player raters on other sites. Still, it’s worth pointing out that it’s a tough task to own a player like Nyger Morgan and reach those necessary thresholds to be competitive in the other offensive categories. Taking a zero in home runs from one player forces you to make up a lot of power from your other players.

    Maybe it’s just me personally, but I’ve been most successful in the Roto leagues in which I’ve been just OK in steals yet strong in the other 4 offensive categories. This may naturally result from the fact that there’s not as much correlation between steals and the other categories.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is I could never see myself taking a player like Ellsbury in Round 2 simply because I’d be forcing myself to make up a lot of ground in other offensive categories. I very well may be mistaken, though.

    Any thoughts on this, Derek?

  2. Adam said...

    It depends on if you’re playing a roto format or a head-to-head league. Loading up on “afterthought” categories like steals and saves can be a pretty effective strategy in h2h.

  3. Dylan said...

    ” Taking a zero in home runs from one player forces you to make up a lot of power from your other players”

    Looking at this year, most of the SB leaderboard are OF’ers, whereas you would have a fair number of SS and 2B thrown in there before. Making up the loss in the other stats by taking a Figgins over a Cano 3 years ago was fairly easy, (10-15HR, 20-30 RBI). Now since you would be taking an OF as the high SB/low power; going from a Ellsbury to a Either would be a 25 drop in HR,a nd 40 drop in RBI.

  4. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Upon initially reading Dylan’s comment, I thought he was on to something in that there may have been a shift in the distribution of steals over recent years. More accurately, my perception was that there are fewer 20+ SB MIs this year than in recent memory.

    But, after looking briefly at the past two years, it seems that there’s been about the same number of those players for the last three years.

    The sheer low volume of categories like saves and steals more easily allows you the potential to manipulate the market for them though. I plan to write a column over the offseason about strategies to potentially manipulate the market(s) for scarce commodity categories.

  5. Nick J said...

    Well said.  I think this actually happens more often with pitchers than with hitters.  For whatever reason, a pitcher will somehow just “figure it out” and have a quick increase in skills, but a lot of times people won’t quite believe it yet.  I thought the projections/“experts” underrated greinke coming in to this year for example(although I couldn’t have expected this!)

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