December 11, 2013
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Monday, August 31, 2009
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.