Dynasty ranking follow-up

First I’d like to thank those who took the time to read and comment on Dynasty ranking: Top 25 players age 25 or younger. The rankings process certainly wasn’t easy; there were a great many variables to take into account when compiling our top-25 lists. Differences in each of our weighting of those variables was rather apparent in our differing rankings.

In putting together my rankings, I found I had a difficult time determining whether a player’s ceiling or his floor was more important, and thus tried to find the best blend of both. I had a clear preference in ranking hitters above pitchers, simply based on the volatility and inherent risk of injury pitchers carry. In ranking pitchers, I put National Leaguers higher than their American League counterparts, with Felix Hernandez serving as the exception based on his elite skills. Another variable that played a key role in a few of my more controversial rankings was age.

With that in mind, let’s look at my three most controversial player rankings and the rationale behind each.

1: Madison Bumgarner | My rank 14 | Jeffrey Gross’ rank 24 | Paul Singman’s rank 25
Bumgarner serves as a perfect example of where age and league carried a lot of weight in my ranking. Bumgarner’s numbers alone wouldn’t have allowed him to slot at 14 on my list, but taking into account that he didn’t turn 21 until Aug. 1 last season, and is cost controlled for some time, and thus staying in the National League with the Giants, he becomes a great deal more valuable. Last year, as a rookie, Bumgarner posted a 4.03 xFIP, 6.97 K/9, 2.11 BB/9 and a 45.1 groundball percentage. To justify his lofty ranking on my list he’ll need to improve his K/9; as you’d expect from my ranking I expect him to do just that.

This time last year there were questions abound about Bumgarner’s drop in velocity. In May, minor league baseball’s website featured an article discussing Bumgarner adjusting his mechanics, and with the adjustment, adding velocity to his fastball. The article also discussed Bumgarner beginning to use a cutter in his pitch mix.

Checking out his FanGraphs page, one can see his fastball velocity averaged 91.3 mph, up from the high 80s as was reported near the end of 2009 and spring training in 2010. His velocity last year was still a little below the mid-90s fastballs he was reportedly blazing by low minor league hitters in 2008, so it leads hope to possibly regaining still a few more ticks. Regardless, Bumgarner was able to feature a four-pitch mix last year that included a mid-80s slider (according to FanGraphs pitch classification), which may actually be the cutter he says he developed (a 6.8 mph velocity difference between his 2009 slider and his 2010 slider would seem to support that thought).

He also featured a curveball he threw in the mid-70s, a change-up he threw at 83.2 mph on average, and his fastball. Of his pitch repertoire, his change-up, a pitch that was described as rudimentary by Baseball America after he was drafted, was his most effective according to pitch run values at FanGraphs. In fact, all three of his non-fastball pitches had positive run values, and his fastball was the only pitch posting a negative run value. It appears that losing some velocity on his fastball may have forced Bumgarner to become more of a pitcher, and could benefit him tremendously going forward (or perhaps I’m wearing rose colored shades as a Giants fan), especially in the event he’s better able to use a heater that he once used to terrorize Single-A hitters.

2: Stephen Strasburg | My rank 25 | Jeffrey’s rank 3 | Paul’s rank 10
Leading up to making the dynasty ranking lists, Stephen Strasburg quickly became the player I was most interested to see ranked on Jeffrey and Paul’s lists. Jeffrey clearly appears to be the least risk averse of us, as he’s aggressively placed him in his top five. I’m clearly the most risk averse, placing him 25 on my list. Entering 2011 at just 22 years of age, time is certainly on Strasburg’s side in terms of a full recovery to pre-injury dominance. Tommy John surgery certainly isn’t the scare it may have once been, but was reason enough for me to place him at the bottom of my rankings.

Considering the varying recovery periods of different pitchers, banking on a full return to health and effectiveness at the end of 2011, or even the beginning of 2012, may prove wishful thinking. A quick Google search relating to Tommy John surgery yielded the website eorthopod.com which estimates complete recovery occurring in 85-90 percent of athletes. Certainly a fantastic rate of success, but not bullet proof.

Couple that with players, such as Francisco Liriano, who are able to return to full health, but not in the estimated 12-month period, and you begin to see a snowball effect of concerns. Further looking at Liriano’s case, you’ll see that his average fastball velocity in 2008 (he missed all of 2007 season for recovery) was 90.9 mph and in 2009 was 91.7, a far cry from his 94.7 mph pre-surgery heater. Even last season, a full three years removed from surgery, his fastball checked in at 93.7.

While it’s hard to argue with his results last year, owners who kept him following his outstanding 2006 rookie season had to endure a completely lost 2007 season, a marginally useful 2008 in which he spent most of the year in the minors, and a terrible 2009. Even with last season in the books, continued good health remains a question for Liriano, and will be a question for Strasburg when he’s able to return to the mound for a full season.

Really, it’s anyone’s guess as to why Strasburg suffered a torn UCL. Perhaps it was simply having fired too many bullets and the surgery will allow him to continue making hitters look foolish for years to come. Maybe the tear is the result of bad mechanics, or worse yet, the result of having the absurd ability to chuck a baseball in excess of 100 mph. Look no further than fellow 100 mph-plus man Joel Zumaya for an example of a body that hasn’t been able to sustain good health while blowing away opposing batters.

As a baseball fan and human being, I hope to see Stephen Strasburg return to the mound and delight fans with his otherworldy stuff. As a fantasy owner, I’m just not willing to pay the premium Jeffrey and Paul are for a player who, to me, epitomizes boom or bust with little middle ground.

3: Jason Heyward | My rank 1 | Jeffrey’s rank 7 | Paul’s rank 3
When compiling my top 25 my first thought was that Evan Longoria would be my unquestioned top ranked player, as he is on both Jeffrey and Paul’s lists. However, instead of simply looking at positional scarcity concerns (which are downplayed for outfielders in five-outfielder formats), I dug into Longoria’s underlying stats. The first notable trend for Longoria is a downward slide in power since he burst onto the scene in 2008. His ISO marks have steadily declined from .259 in 2008 to .245 in 2009 and a substantially lower .213 in 2010. As one would probably guess, his sliding ISO is largely due to a lower home run rate, which is the product of a downward trending HR/FB rate (2008: 19.4 percent; 2009: 17.6 percent; 2010: 11.1 percent).

For a player who should be entering his power peak years, this is reason for pause. One logical explanation is that he’s traded power for a reduction in his strikeout rate, which has improved each season (2008: 27.2 percent; 2009: 24.0 percent; 2010: 21.6 percent), and with a reduction in strikeouts he’s seen an increase in batting average from .272 to .281 and ultimately .294 last season. Concerns about whether Longoria is going to be able to improve his power numbers while keeping his lower strikeout rate and higher average gave me reason enough to look into Jason Heyward as the top player on my list.

The first thing that appeals to me about Heyward compared to Longoria is that he’s four years younger, and thus has the potential for four more years of upper echelon production. Heyward played most of the 2010 season at age 20, and was able to post a jaw-dropping 14.7 percent walk rate (3.7 percentage points better than Longoria’s best mark, which came last year) and a number I’d expect to increase as he continues to gain major league experience. Heyward also posted an acceptable strikeout rate at 24.6 percent (3 percent worse than Longoria’s mark last year, but better than his rookie mark), also a rate I expect to improve with experience.

Just looking at Heyward’s home run total last year, 18, might cause some to wonder about his power and home run potential, but one shouldn’t worry—scouts have always rated his power as a plus tool Further helping quell concerns, Heyward’s average home run true distance of 403.3 feet was 6.1 feet greater than the average National League true distance of 397.2 feet.

Looking at his batted ball data leads to optimism for a potential spike in homers as soon as this year, as only 27.2 percent of the balls he put in play were fly balls. If Heyward is able to add some loft to his swing and hit more balls in the air, he has a shot at truly using his 16.8 percent HR/FB rate and popping 30 plus homers.

I expect him to hit for an average north of .280 with 25 plus home runs, 10-15 stolen bases, and a combined total of runs and RBI greater than 190. In his peak years, I expect Heyward to eclipse 30 home runs regularly and hit for an average north of .300 while piling up monster run and RBI totals. The biggest knock on Heyward seems to be his ability to stay healthy, as he has missed playing time in the minors in past seasons and landed on the DL last year due to a deep bone bruise to his thumb. Considering the injury that cause him to miss time last year, and his age when he suffered his previous injuries, I’ll assume he’ll be able to stay healthy as he physically matures. Ultimately, it was a four year age gap and my projected peak seasons that put Heyward on top of my list.

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Comments

  1. Jacob Rothberg said...

    Maybe I’m missing something, but what does being “cost controlled for some time” have to do with a players fantasy rankings?

  2. Jon said...

    “and thus staying in the National League with the Giants”

    Won’t be signing with an AL East team anytime soon…

  3. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Jacob Rothberg

    My apologies for not being entirely clear in my wording, hopefully my explanation here will be more palatable.  The reason I bring up cost control, is because I believe it makes him less likely to be dealt by the Giants, who will see players such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez making significantly more money in the coming seasons than they previously had.  A player like Madison Bumgarner, who will make significantly less money than he’s worth, will be important to the Giants maintaining long term sustained success.  In looking at Dynasty League players, I believe that’s something that is important to take into consideration in rankings.  In Bumgarner’s case, being able to stay in the National League, and in a ballpark that is neutral to slightly favorable to pitchers is something that should be weighted in his ranking IMO.  If you’d like further explanation, feel free to comment further here, or e-mail me.  Once again, apologies for not being entirely clear initially.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Way to be lazy Josh! REDO AND EXPAND YOUR LIST!

    Just kidding, very interesting insight…now I know how to *@^% block you with a bidding war on draft day…muwahahaha

  5. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Jeffrey
    Hahaha, after seeing both yours and Paul’s expansions posted, I felt a bit of regret for opting to write this follow up to the initial rankings instead of an expansion myself.  And have no fear, two can play at the bidding war game, especially when I have your handy dandy rankings posted on here in front of me… whoooooa.

  6. MP said...

    This argument (below) doesn’t hold much water.  First of all, by definition, “dynasty rankings” are long-term, so you are not betting heavily strictly on the age-23 season of an elite prospect (Strasburg).  Suggesting that Liriano’s avg. FB speed of 93.7 in 2010 indicates an abnormal drop (vs. a non-TJ pitcher) is unsubstantiated at best.  Most young hard-throwers experience a similar drop (of ~1 mph) during their mid to late 20s, regardless of whether they have elbow surgery.

    “Couple that with players, such as Francisco Liriano, who are able to return to full health, but not in the estimated 12-month period, and you begin to see a snowball effect of concerns. Further looking at Liriano’s case, you’ll see that his average fastball velocity in 2008 (he missed all of 2007 season for recovery) was 90.9 mph and in 2009 was 91.7, a far cry from his 94.7 mph pre-surgery heater. Even last season, a full three years removed from surgery, his fastball checked in at 93.7. ”

  7. Josh Shepardson said...

    I apologize for the wording.  The one mile per hour drop may not be of concern, but the fact it took him 2 full seasons to return to near pre-TJ velocity readings is certainly something to note, no?  We’re talking nearly a 4 MPH difference his first year back, and a 3 MPH difference in his second year back. 

    I agree with the idea that, “dynasty rankings,” are long-term, but one can’t completely neglect the short term (this year), and the time it may take him to return to pre-TJ dominance (in Liriano’s case another 2 years on top of that!).  Toss in the fact that it remains to be seen if he’s able to continue to stay healthy, and long-term is more than taken into account.  What’s to say that mechanics weren’t the culprit for the UCL tear?  If that’s the case, what’s to stop him from tearing the replacement ligament?

  8. MP said...

    Since when does a HR/FB rate “trend” for a player in his prime?  All analyses I have ever read show that a given player’s HR/FB rate tends to revert to his career average, not trend directionally y2y.  I.e., one might be concerned if Longoria’s overall flyball rate was decreasing.  But it’s not.  In fact, it has risen from 41.6% to 41.8% to 43.1% in his three seasons.  This strongly suggests that his low HR numbers in 2010 were due to variance, not a decrease in power ability.

    You further demonstrate poor knowledge of which stat (flyball rate vs. HR/flyball) is predictive vs. reverting when you absurdly suggest that, “If Heyward is able to add some loft to his swing and hit more balls in the air, he has a shot at truly using his 27.2 percent HR/FB rate and popping 30 plus homers.”

    Abnormal HR/FB rates are generally used to flag luck, not skill.  I.e., flyball rates have been shown to be predictive year-to-year; HR/FB rates have not.  Even the most elite power hitters in the game average just a 20% HR/FB rate.  There is almost no chance Heyward plays a full season and averages > 27% HR/FB.

    “[Longoria’s] ISO marks have steadily declined from .259 in 2008 to .245 in 2009 and a substantially lower .213 in 2010. As one would probably guess, his sliding ISO is largely due to a lower home run rate, which is the product of a downward trending HR/FB rate (2008: 19.4 percent; 2009: 17.6 percent; 2010: 11.1 percent). ”

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    HR/FB rates do not regress for hitters as they do for pitchers. Stronger hitters tend to post higher rates…

    Interesting, here is a breakdown of Longoria’s past three years (avg ft/HR, avg MPH of ball off bat):
    ‘10: 403, 104.5
    ‘09: 395, 103.3
    ‘08: 397, 104.5

    What I notice most, looking at longoria’s HR spray chart, is he has been increasingly an all-fields HR hitter. I think that may be why there is a power decline, though I could be wrong. My conclusion is very unscientific.

    See also:
    http://katron.org/projects/baseball/hit-location/

  10. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also, just to correct you, I am probably the most risk averse fantasy person you will ever meet.

    (I just know what I’m doing smile)

    But seriously, I hate risk.

  11. MP said...

    Looks like you have a typo.  Heyward’s HR/FB rate was a much more reasonable 16.8% last year.

    His very low 27.2% flyball rate remains a concern when considering his prospects of having truly elite raw HR numbers.

  12. MP said...

    Jeffrey Gross:  Obviously, HR/FB rates do not regress to league averages; they do, however, regress to player career averages—which is what I said originally.

  13. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ MP

    I would completely agree that Jason Heyward almost certainly won’t be able to maintain a HR/FB rate of 27% or greater over the course of an entire season.  The point was, that when looking at the total package (scouting reports that glow about his power, his average homerun distance, and the fact a large percentage of the balls he did hit in the air left the yard) more FB’s generated from great loft in his swing should yield more homeruns, even if they come on a lower HR/FB rate.  He won’t need to post an eye popping 27% HR/FB rate to see his homerun total improve, if he’s able to turn some of his ground balls into flyballs and take advantage of his total package.

    In terms of Longoria, how isn’t his HR/FB rate a concern?  As you point out that it should revert to his career average, you neglect to mention that career average is dropping.  Where does Longoria’s, “true HR/FB,” rate lie?  Sure, it is likely higher than the 11.1 percent mark he posted last year, but that number is a far cry from his 19.4 mark his rookie year.  In Longoria’s defense his average distance on his HR’s was at its best last year, so his lower HR/FB rate isn’t necessarily a product of him not being able to muscle up so to speak and club his flyballs out of the yard.

  14. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ MP

    Thank you for catching that typo.  We’ll get that fixed.  I found it quite interesting that his FB rate and HR/FB were identical when re-reading the article just now… oops.  Thanks for the intelligent commentary thus far as well.  It is certainly expected, even if it is critical.

  15. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Jeffrey,

    Interesting that both of our first thoughts were to check Longoria’s average HR distance, ha.  I was a little slower to the trigger posting.

  16. Josh Shepardson said...

    Typo in my last message at MP, the last sentence should read: It is certainly *appreciated*  Definitely the end of the day for me… whew.

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @MP,

    PLayers tend to maximize their production skills between ages 25 and 27 so career HR/FB rates for a guy who is 25 is irrelevant

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