Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Trader’s corner: week zeroPosted by Mark Himmelstein at 5:28am
Welcome to Trader's Corner, your one-stop shop for bargains and busts. I've partnered with our good friend Oliver to look at the recent performances of a few players and why they could present a major profit opportunity for you. This won't just be your typical buy high/sell low column, though. As much opportunity as those situations may present, we'll also try to identify the hot streaks that figure to last and the cold spells that could spell doom.
Every two weeks, I'll look at a pair of players in each of four categories: Buy High, Buy Low, Sell High, and Sell Low. The first player will be my own selection and the the second based strictly on the Oliver projections.
Trader's Corner is geared toward those owners who have already constructed their teams and are trying to find ways of improving their rosters. But fret not, tardy drafters; you too may find some pearls for your upcoming draft or auction.
I'll keep a tally of all my recommendations, the date I made them, and the players' performances from that point forward. From time to time, I'll share the results in an attempt to evaluate how I'm faring and if there are trends to be found.
Each entry will include the player's Rest of Season Oliver projection in the standard rotisserie categories (in the format AVG-R-RBI-HR-SB for hitters and W/SV-ERA-WHIP-K for pitchers). Also provided will be the accompanying projected dollar values according to THT Forecasts' Custom Price Guide for both the standard Yahoo! and ESPN formats.
Dollar values are based on a $260 draft budget with $2 allocated to each bench spot and a 70/30 hitter/pitcher split.
For the first few weeks of the year I'll also include Average Auction Cost (AAC) figures for both ESPN and Yahoo, since they provide a reference for each player's market price heading into the season.
Buying high is one of the most difficult and frequently overlooked strategies at a fantasy manager's disposal. We all love to discuss player trends that look promising in the offseason, but somehow, once the season begins, every sample size becomes too small and every unexpected performance a matter of mere luck. The consensus bias shifts from heavily weighting recent performance and "upside" to nigh unshakable temperance and prudence. For the savvy, risk-seeking owner, this can present a great deal of profit opportunity.
For this edition's Buy High, we'll look at a high priced outfielder who may actually be undervalued and a pitcher I was shocked to find at the top of Oliver's projected rankings.
My pick: Justin Upton
Yahoo! AAC: $38
ESPN AAC: $32
Oliver says: .293-98-97-28-22
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $48
Oliver's ESPN value: $35
It's hard to find profit in the upper ranks, but outside of the top five or six players, Justin Upton may be the most likely to work his way into the conversation for next year's top overall pick. Already established as a five-category performer at the ripe age of 25, he seemingly has everything going for him.
In 2011, Upton set career-best marks in both ISO and strikeout percentage—a common theme you'll find among Buy High hitters. There's room for improvement in his stolen base success rate, but he actually was actually worse in 2010 than 2011 and there's no indication he'll be getting the red light any time soon. He also has a cushy lineup spot, a solid supporting cast, and while Chase Field is a great ballpark for hitters (1.146 home run park factor in 2011 according to ESPN), in Upton's case it may not even matter.
If you were to speculate, who would you think, on average, hit the longest home runs last year? The most common guess I've come across is Giancarlo Stanton, but according to ESPN Hit Tracker, it's wrong (he was second). The correct answer is Justin Upton. His 31 home runs averaged a whopping 423.65 feet in 2011. His average home run was over 423 feet. Let that sink in.
Oliver agrees that Upton may, in fact, be undervalued this year. This is particularly true in the Yahoo! standard format, where Oliver sees potential for a $10 profit—a stunning figure for someone who costs so much.
If you feel your outfield could use a major face lift, Justin Upton makes a fine target.
Oliver's Pick: Yu Darvish
Yahoo! AAC: $16
ESPN AAC: $10
Oliver says: 15-2.60-0.98-201
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $40
Oliver's ESPN value: $35
Oliver takes a somewhat unique approach to projecting players with little-to-no major league experience, and has historically been successful at doing so. Still, it's stunning to see Darvish listed as this year's top projected fantasy pitcher.
Oliver thinks that Darvish can make the transition from Nippon Professional Baseball to the harsh environs of the Ballpark at Arlington seamlessly, becoming an instant fantasy ace in the process. This will be an interesting test for how Oliver handles pitchers from the Japanese ranks, but based on these projections and prices, Darvish sure seems worth a gamble.
While I tentatively trust Oliver's bullish attitude towards the Japanese right-hander, its obviously foolish to expect a pitcher with zero major league experience to be the most valuable arm in the game. Specifically, there's one major uncertainty I'm not convinced Oliver is properly accounting for—the difference between the seven-day schedule of Japanese baseball and the five-day schedule of American baseball.
Even if Darvish isn't the best pitcher in the majors for the 2012 season, there's clearly profit opportunity here. If you're more inclined to invest risk than dollars to try to beef up your fantasy pitching staff, there are few better targets than Darvish.
Everyone loves a buy low candidate. The problem is the owner who owns the buy low candidate usually loves him too, so you may not be able to buy as low as you wish you could. Still, it's always helpful to identify guys who could see their performance improve in the not-too-distant future.
Let's take a peek at a pair of outfielders who saw their stock fall considerably over the course of last season, but could very easily bounce back in 2012.
My Pick: Jason Heyward
Yahoo! AAC: $13
ESPN AAC: $9
Oliver says: .270-85-81-22-11
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $19
Oliver's ESPN value: $19
It was merely a year ago that Heyward was the National League's version of Eric Hosmer—a sure-fire stud on the rise who did a little bit of everything. He was a bigger prospect thanMike Stanton or Jesus Montero, and everyone was sure that if anyone could avoid the cliché sophmore slump, it was Heyward.
A year and a bum shoulder later and Heyward is caught in fantasy purgatory—not quite an afterthought but not someone anyone really wants to talk too much about either. So lets talk about him.
Even with the shoulder injury, not a whole lot beneath the surface of Heyward's offensive profile changed. His ISO and home runs per fly ball both dropped, but not substantially. His batting average was a miserable .227, but his BABIP was an equally miserable .260, though much of that can be attributed to his ugly 21.8 percent infield fly ball rate. Still, he did manage to hit 14 homers, steal nine bases, and keep his walk rate north of 10 percent through 456 plate appearances. That's plenty to like from a 22-year-old who was baseball's top overall prospect less than two years ago.
There is obviously plenty of room for growth from Heyward as well, but the one significant wart he had in 2010 did remain in 2011—his unsightly 50 percent groundball rate. Hitting 20 homers would be a feat in itself with a rate like that, but it does suggest that if and when the young slugger starts putting more balls in the air, he could put up some gaudy power totals.
Oliver sees Heyward as roughly a $20 player for 2012. While lingering injury concerns still exist, all signs are go for his health so far this spring. I wholeheartedly endorse targeting him as an outfield asset this season. If he's your third outfielder in a 12-team league, you're well ahead of the game.
Oliver's Pick: Angel Pagan
Yahoo! AAC: $1
ESPN AAC: $3
Oliver says: .278-81-59-9-28
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $10
Oliver's ESPN value: $15
Oliver is pretty confused as to why the fantasy baseball community is sleeping on Pagan, and we should all thank Oliver for pointing him out to us, myself included.
The line Oliver projects for Pagan is in no way outlandish—it's pretty much right smack in between his stellar 2010 and his poor 2011 and probably even rates as slightly conservative on the stolen base front. Pagan should hit leadoff in an improved Giants lineup, which means plate appearances and stolen base opportunities aplenty.
AT&T park isn't an ideal environment for any hitter, but neither was Citi Field—Pagan's former home. Power isn't Pagan's game, but he's already shown that even in a poor hitting environment he can chip in enough four-baggers to keep from sinking your power totals.
The back end of the outfield ranks are not exactly rich with talent this year, and finding a tidy $9-12 profit from a player like Pagan could go a long way toward completing a competitive roster, especially one that needs a touch of speed and a few extra runs.
There may be nothing more satisfying in fantasy baseball than selling a player at his peak value, only to watch him crash and burn for another owner while you reap the benefits of said owner's former studs. It happens every year—whether it was Michael Pineda's second half swoon in 2011 or that time that closer saved 20 games in the first half only to blow four in a row and lose his job. You remember that guy, right?
For today's Sell High, we've got a couple of infielders who are looming a bit too large on some owners' fantasy radars.
My Pick: Mark Teixeira
Yahoo! AAC: $29
ESPN AAC: $25
Oliver says: .255-74-88-28-0
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $12
Oliver's ESPN value: $11
Mark Teixeira is someone both Oliver and I feel may hit a sudden and sharp decline, and that it may be soon. The only difference between our opinions is that Oliver doesn't see Teixeira reaching 600 plate appearances, while I do. Otherwise we're right on the same page, and we agree that there's far more risk than reward left in the slugger's bat.
On the surface, Teixiera seems like your typical three-category slugger. He'll hit his share of homers and help himself to plenty of counting numbers batting in the heart of the potent Yankees lineup. Unfortunately, age may be catching up to both Teixeira and his teammates, costing him in both departments.
While some point to Teixiera's low BABIP in 2011 as reason for optimism in 2012, consider the following trends:
Year BABIP HR Avg True Dis HR Avg Spd 2007 .342 415.5 106.9 2008 .316 398.2 104.1 2009 .302 399.3 104.0 2010 .268 393.4 103.5 2011 .239 386.9 102.6
The two right hand columns above represent the "Average True Distance" and "Average Speed off Bat" of Teixeira's home runs for each of the corresponding seasons (data courtesy of ESPN Hit Tracker). Not only has his BABIP declined in four consecutive seasons, but the distance and velocity with which he's been hitting his home runs has declined in an incredibly corollary manner. In 2011, the American League averages for home run distance and speed were 394.7 and 103.4, respectively. For the first time in his career, Teixiera was well worse than the league in both marks.
In fairness, Teixeira's 2007 BABIP was way above his career norm, and the subsequent drop can be written off to regression to a large extent. Still, the same can't be said for the subsequent drops, and it does seem as though he's gone from one of the preeminent sluggers in the game to someone who absolutely requires the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium to keep his power numbers aloft. He's simply not hitting balls with as much authority as he used to, and as such, I would advise caution in regressing his BABIP too far.
Teixeira's fantasy production is now directly tied to his ability to produce the long ball. If his power drops off, the results for your fantasy season could be disastrous. Even if he hits .260 with 30 home runs, you'd be better off with fellow aging slugger Paul Konerko, who is less of a liability in batting average and has shown fewer dents in the armor in recent years.
If he falls off the way Oliver and I are predicting, Teixeira would be one of the largest potential drains on your fantasy wallet this year. Let someone else take that risk—sell high while you can.
Oliver's Pick: Howie Kendrick
Yahoo! AAC: $15
ESPN AAC: $9
Oliver says: .277-62-58-10-10
Oliver's Yahoo! value: N/A
Oliver's ESPN value: $2
While he's a popular sleeper in some quarters, Oliver sees almost no value in Kendrick this year. In fact, in the MI-less Yahoo standard format, Oliver sees Kendrick as worth less than $1, not even bothering to rank him in the price guide.
Why the hatred? Well, for one, Oliver sees Kendrick getting merely 519 plate appearances, putting a serious dent in his fairly balanced skill set. But even if we assume he'll crack 600 plate appearances (something he's done only once in his career, for the record) and add 20 percent across the board to that projection, it takes him only to a line of .277-74-70-12-12. That's still a modest return on a $15 investment.
The problems Oliver sees are two-fold. First, Kendrick's strikeout rate shot up last year. Second, the system doesn't lend much credence to the power gains he made.
I agree that both issues are troubling, though not nearly to the same extent. Despite hitting 18 homers in 2011, Kendrick still pounded the the ball into the ground more than 50 percent of the time. If this didn't come at the cost of all the added whiffs, I might be calling Kendrick a sleeper myself. The problem is all those whiffs will make it much harder for Kendrick to produce the batting average profit some are still hoping for, and the high quantity of ground balls also mean it's unlikely he repeats his home run total from 2011.
The best case scenario for Kendrick would be if he reverted to his old game of avoiding strikeouts while hitting the occasional home run and stealing the occasional base. This could well put him in the $10-15 range. Unfortunately, the changes to his profile from last year don't add a whole lot of upside, and they do add a bit of risk. If another owner is buying the power gains and still seeing the batting average upside, there may never be a better time to sell.
If selling high is one of the most enjoyable acts of a fantasy baseball season, selling low is one of the most painful. Admitting sunk cost is difficult, but there is opportunity in these situations when the admission is managed. Many times other owners will pay above a player's projected value out of a misguided instinct to buy low or on name value alone. Even if the return price is below the price you paid, it may still be well more than the price you'd earn in keeping a broken player on your roster.
Finding sell low candidates for week zero has proven quite a challenge. Thanks to a powerful combination of Loss Aversion and the Halo Effect, negative trends are given much more weight than they deserve. Players who are trending downwards are almost universally devalued, whether justified or not. This creates lots of buy low opportunity, but scant sell low opportunity. This is especially true during the offseason, when all we can do with all the information we have is let it simmer.
Once the season begins and new trends emerge, things change. People will have less time to inundate themselves with analysis on how Francisco Liriano's no hitter wasn't actually a very well pitched game or why Chris Perez didn't really have a very good year. Everything happens at a faster pace, meaning markets have less time to adjust.
Despite my struggles, I did find someone worth discussing, and Oliver had quite a few suggestions as well. So let's look at a pair of pitchders being drafted at a much lower price than they were last year, but might still be better served off of your team than on it.
My Pick: Ubaldo Jimenez
Yahoo! AAC: $5
ESPN AAC: $9
Oliver says: 14-3.56-1.25-219
Oliver's Yahoo! value: $11
Oliver's ESPN value: $13
My first major disagreement with Oliver in this series, Jimenez is also a popular sleeper pick in some circles. It's that very reason that I'm calling him a sell low candidate.
Proponents of the Ubaldo Jimenez sleeper campaign are quick to point out that both his strikeout and walk rates have been relatively stable, and that he's still only a year removed from fantasy acehood.
The first problem with this is that his 2010 season was at least as much of a mirage as his 2011 season, just in the other direction. Even in 2010, he had a 3.60 xFIP and 3.68 SIERA. Those numbers are solid, but considering the declining run environment they're more middle-of-the-pack than ace-like for fantasy purposes.
The second is that a stable 10 percent walk rate is not a good thing. That's a WHIP-killing mark, and I'm quite surprised to see Oliver expect such a nominal WHIP from Jimenez.
The third is that his velocity, swinging strike rate, and first pitch strike rate all took a major nosedive in 2011. In fact, all three were the worst marks of his career. He wasn't throwing as hard, was getting ahead in the count less frequently, and got fewer swings and misses than ever before. So even though his strikeouts remained solid last year, there's quite a bit of sneaky risk here as well.
In checking the other projection systems available on Jimenez's FanGraphs player page, it does turn out that Oliver is more optimistic than any of the six projections featured (Steamer, Bill James, RotoChamp, Marcel, Fan Projection and ZiPS) in all four rotisserie categories. They all still see him as a reasonable value at this cost, but to an extent, they help vindicate my side of this disagreement.
Just to be clear—I do think that at this draft cost Jimenez is a fair value. I just know a lot of other people think he's actually undervalued. I see him as something like the 'anti-Jeremy Hellickson'—a guy who looks like he was very unlucky in 2011 but whose components could also regress toward his surface numbers rather than vice versa. That's a risk a lot of very savvy owners are missing. If you own Jimenez, take advantage of it and sell him while you can still get some positive value compared to his actual projections.
Oliver's Pick: Jon Lester
Yahoo! AAC: $24
ESPN AAC: $16
Oliver Says: 13-3.68-1.27-203
Oliver's Yahoo! Value: $8
Oliver's ESPN Value: $11
Once a lock to be a Top 50 draft selection, a combination of small losses across the board and the declining run environment have caused some of the shine to wear off on Jon Lester's fantasy prospects. Even worse, Oliver sees him as having nowhere to go but down.
Oliver actually views Lester as inferior to my pick, Ubaldo Jimenez. Although I politely disagree, there are some striking similarities.
Like Jimenez, Lester has never been a control guy. In 2010 and 2011, his walk rate started inching up toward the double-digit range, reaching about 9.5 percent both years. In 2011, his strikeouts dropped off a bit as well, from an excellent 26 percent rate in the previous two seasons to a still solid, but less-than-spectacular 22 percent. This was also supported by a decline in swinging strikes and a drop in velocity, so it may be more than just statistical noise.
If you were too tempted by Lester's appearance on your draft board in the fifth or sixth round to pass, Oliver would suggest that now is the time to cash that value in and try to find a payoff elsewhere.
If you're curious about the projections and dollar values provided, make sure to check out the THT Forecasts section. For $14.95, you get full access to the Oliver projections for thousands of major and minor leaguers, including six year Major League Equivalency forecasts on every player card. And best of all for us fantasy junkies, you get full access to THT's Custom Fantasy Price Guides, which allows you to create your own price guide based on your league settings and play-style preferences using the Oliver projections, with projections and dollar values updated throughout the season.
Mark Himmelstein is a philosophy student studying at SUNY Empire State who chooses to employ his analytical mind towards the wonderful world of Fantasy Baseball, rather than wasting it on something superfluous. He welcomes questions and comments via E-mail.