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Monday, February 01, 2010
Last year Matt Wieters entered the season with plenty of hype, and after PECOTA projected a weighted mean of 106/31/100/4/.311 it was an all out blitz for him in just about every league. He was limited by playing time first, but ended up playing in 96 games for the season. His PECOTA comparable also called his No. 1 comp Mark Teixeira. They were both drafted fifth overall in the MLB draft, in 2001 and 2007, respectively. Let's see after that first season how they still look next to each other.
Wieters didn't quite have his power going in his first year as he totaled only a .124 ISO. That was much lower than expected after his PECOTA number was .244. I think expecting that much power in his first season and after starting at Triple-A is a lot to ask. Teixeira did not have trouble in his first year, hitting 26 homers with a .221 ISO.
While Teixeira had a quicker start to his career, they had more similarities from their minor league numbers. They each spent a first season split between High-A and Double-A to start their careers with Wieters spending 39 games at Triple-A in his second season. During that first season they totaled the following stat lines.
Teixeria: .318/.413/.592 Wieters: .355/.454/.600
Wieters compiled that line in 530 plate appearances and Teixeira only had 375. That is quite a line for Wieters and gives reason to believe the hype.
At the plate both players have a similar approach.
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% Wieters 25.4 % 70.2 % 47.1 % 61.2 % 83.7 % 77.5 % 48.5 % 53.0 % Teixeira 23.8 % 74.6 % 49.2 % 37.7 % 87.8 % 75.6 % 49.9 % 57.6 %
This is rookie season numbers for both, and show how close they are in plate discipline and contact skills. Wieters is better in this sample at contact on pitches out of the zone and slightly better in overall contact. They both had walk rates around 7 percent and strikeout rates around 22-24 percent. Obviously Teixeira has had some different numbers since, but in everything but power they were very close in their rookie years.
Heading into 2010, the projections systems don't like Wieters to reach the second season numbers of Teixeira. The power again seems to be a concern with Bill James giving him the highest SLG at .484 where Teixeira posted a .560 SLG in his second season.
Being only 24 this season Wieters has plenty of improvement headed his way as he continues to grow. Hitting only 20 homers this year would seem to be low for him after the power he showed in the minors. The projection systems seem to weight the rookie season more and place his power closer to the 2009 numbers.
Perhaps the comparison will lose some basis going forward, but the only failing of Wieters in year No. 1 was his power swing. His home park shouldn't hurt him at all and of course his power will come as he grows. For fantasy purposes this all makes Wieters an extreme value again. He should be one of the top catchers off the board in 2010 and with a comparable like Teixeira it makes sense to value him there.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 4:42am (3) Comments
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
When dismissing the skills or impact of a player with an impressive statistical profile, mainstream baseball pundits often like to quip: “This isn’t fantasy baseball.” Such an inane rambling is usually followed by some nebulously baseball-relevant and platitudinal comment indicating David Eckstein’s superiority to Adam Dunn, to take an arbitrary example. (These commentators fail to realize that indomitable will to achieve mediocrity is a category in my league, and that Darren Erstad is also kicker-eligible in my fantasy football league.) Though it is true that some players are more valuable assets to a fantasy team than they are to an actual baseball, this door swings both ways.
The mainstream media often acts like we fantasy junkies are the only ones beholden to stats. However, it wasn’t the fantasy community who clamored for Jimmy Rollins to be chosen as the 2007 NL MVP, when he posted an OBP only .01 above the league average. It wasn’t us swooning over his 20-20-20-20 season, ignoring the fact that he made 527 outs in the process of compiling those numbers. It’s not only us who are gaga for numbers; the mainstream baseball community and its pundits are too. Further, I’d attest that most astute fantasy players know more about statistical analysis than the average mainstream pundit and therefore are savvy enough to appreciate a player’s common baseball card numbers for what they are, and attach no greater significance to them than they merit.
We know what a 40-40 season from Alfonso Soriano is worth in our game. We know that many of players' real faults are beneficial to their fantasy value. Soriano, for example, was never anything resembling a top 10 player in the actual, physical sport of baseball. This was something I never debated, even as I drafted him multiple times in the first round of drafts in the early to mid-2000s. High-level fantasy players are very smart and we are able to recognize disparities in player values in various arenas. We understand that fantasy and reality is not an apples to apples translation.
We know that Ichiro’s unwillingness to walk helps add even greater weight to his stellar batting average. We know that Jimmy Rollins and Soriano can pad their counting stats by not taking walks (though they might be able to make up for that value by stealing more bases and scoring more runs if they did). Therefore, Jimmy Rollins is an elite, top 15-ish fantasy baseball player, or was so going into last season. However, Jimmy Rollins is not really that good.
Even in his MVP season, Jimmy Rollins was not, by any means, one of the 15 best players in baseball; he was the second-best middle infielder on his team, and the second- or third-best shortstop in his own division. However, Rollins is not the type of player who is the target of the “this is not fantasy baseball” criticisms. (Those criticisms are usually reserved for high-slugging, high-OBP players who hit below .280.) Quite the opposite, Jimmy Rollins is the subject of endless hagiography by the mainstream baseball press. So, the next time you’re hanging with Joe Morgan and he tells you what a great ballplayer Jimmy Rollins is, you should calmly remark to Little Joe that “this is not fantasy baseball.”
I didn’t just write this whole preamble simply to imply that mainstream baseball pundits are often blowhards who don’t know much at all about how players actually accrue “value” and to advertise the superior knowledge of people like you and me. OK, maybe I did. But, I’m supposed to make the columns somehow practically relevant to your fantasy experience, so let me attempt to do that.
The hype surrounding a player, even for fantasy purposes, is not created in a vacuum. Even a fantasy columnist is subject to the unavoidable swell of opinions about players and their abilities. Most of these interpretations are not in the context of fantasy baseball, and are not based on statistically sound analysis. A player’s popularity and reputation is something that affects many draft decisions. And, even if you are astute enough to minimize its impact, it may affect your league mates. Few phenomena are more exploitable in fantasy sports than the gap between perception and reality. And, contrary to the proclamations by many of the baseball talking heads, in my anecdotal opinion, often it is actually the same players who are overrated and underrated by them who are overrated and underrated in terms of, say, ADP.
The over- or under-valuing of players often plays out in terms of archetype.
The following is a woefully incomplete list of some of the things that go into a player being overrated, offensively only. Some are relevant to fantasy baseball and some aren’t.
The following is the inverse list, an incomplete list of either undervalued offensive traits or traits that are perceived as being more hurtful to a player’s value than they really are.
If you start to think about the players that fit these respective lists, you’ll probably reach the realization that many of the players who fit the first list are actually often overdrafted in your fantasy leagues: Ichiro, Rollins, Jeter (underperformed ADP several years before last year’s resurgence), perhaps Jacoby Ellsbury in the near future. Many of the players who fit the second list are often bargains: Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Nick Markakis (disappointed a bit last year, but has that unsexy, yet valuable game).
I see a few valuable ways to use this information. Least relevant to fantasy baseball, but perhaps most personally gratifying, you can paraphrase this argument to debunk baseless potshots from traditionalists as projections of their own biases and simultaneous statistical fascination and illiteracy. … Look at us; we love non-meaningful, arbitrarily selected, round numbers!
In terms of budgeting, either by dollar bid or draft position, looking at the player’s archetype (along with overall popularity) can often give insight into whom you can lowball and whom you may have to be willing to reach a bit for. If you have calculated actual dollar values of rankings, perhaps you might want to mentally add or subtract 10% from those values to get a more accurate view of the actual market. You want to avoid putting yourself in a position where you need to acquire a skill set that is overvalued by the market, but sometimes you can’t avoid it, especially when it comes to star players. It’s easier to build your supporting cast on the cheap than it is to get bargains on the high-ticket players.
Another important skill this concept relates to is being able to view the fantasy advisory industry though the looking glass. Since we are generally sabermetrically oriented, but also aware that the currency of fantasy leagues isn’t Win Shares Above Bench, we’re probably equally likely to miss by over-predicting the production of a Chris Davis as we are to over-predict an Alexei Ramirez. We have to engage in something of a two-step process where we try to determine the core competency of a player in terms of value, and then extrapolate that into the less sound signifiers and juggle overlapping but differing ontologies (as long as we’re talking about archetypes, we might as well through around some semiotic terms, right…)
Your individual leagues are all microcosms of this larger dynamic, in which various streams of external opinion mix with self-possessed knowledge to form an ecosystem of perception and value. In fantasy baseball, the profits are always most easily made on the disparity between the market value of a commodity and the actual value of that commodity (either objectively, or in the specific context of your team). The fact that teams have equal financial/opportunistic resources mitigates the potential for an owner who surmises these gaps incorrectly to compensate for that. Therefore, it is important to determine patterns relating to how your leagues value different skill sets and players, as well as to find out where your league mates get their information. Some fantasy sites are big and influential enough that they themselves can begin to create echo chambers for their perceptions. One thing that’s great about THT is that you get highly regarded expert opinion, but it is still niche enough that every single one of your league mates isn’t reading the same exact articles. (Though they should be, gosh darn it!)
To sample the tried and true feeding/teaching proverb, it is more valuable to know how your opponent thinks in general, than it is to know what he thinks about any given issue. In the economy that is fantasy baseball, only knowledge that is predictive in nature has any long-term value.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:27am (5) Comments
Taking a trip over to Mock Draft Central and looking over their ADP report can yield some interesting topics for discussion. For today's article I scanned furiously for players with relatively large differences in their highest and lowest draft positions, assuming these were players people are confused about.
Keeping in mind it only takes a lone nut to exaggerate the disparity between a player's highest and lowest draft position, let's begin our inspection of these players.
Jason Bartlett | ADP: 101 | Earliest: 56 | Latest: 133 |
Bartlett's breakout 2009 campaign has perhaps been overshadowed slightly by his sometimes-double play-partner Ben Zobrist's even more impressive season. Putting the spotlight on Bartlett though, he had a truly remarkable fantasy season, hitting .320 along with 14 home runs and 30 steals from the shortstop position! I didn't even own him last year in any league and those numbers still make me excited!
As far as replicating the past season in 2010, it is unlikely Bartlett fully retains the jump in both batting average and home runs he experienced. A .300 average and high single digit homers are not stretches though, and if you miss out on the elite shortstops, there are much worse things you could do than pull the trigger on Bartlett in the eighth to 10th round. As you can tell from my wording, I am not thrilled with picking him here, but then again it is hard to get thrilled over any shortstop not named Hanley. There is no shame in taking Bartlett around his 101 ADP, but do not reach for him as some people have since those people most likely are not going to be properly reimbursed for their fifth-round investment.
Jason Bay | ADP: 26 | Earliest: 18 | Latest: 46 |
Over the past five years, Bay has been one of the most dependable hitters in baseball, both in terms of production and time on the field. He has played in at least 145 games in all five seasons, hit 30 home runs and stole 10 bases in four of the five, reached 100 runs and RBIs in four of the five, and has hit above .285 for three of the five. Dependability like that might not be the most appealing—fantasy owners tend to love the lure of the undefined ceiling compared to the well-defined one Bay drags along—but at least come the end of the season there is a good chance Bay will not be on the list reasons why you did not win a championship (if you do not).
Bay's raw stat line does not justify a second-round selection, but his decent production coupled with his dependability make a third-round selection understandable and warrant a fourth-round one. While it may be more fun to draft that indefinite upside player, winning fantasy players will also be able to identify when the safe production from the proven veteran is worthy of being owned.
Michael Bourn | ADP: 68 | Earliest: 51 | Latest: 107 |
Bourn is a player I covered in this article and based off his current ADP of 68, you can see he is being drafted earlier than I would like in most drafts. Unless I feel my team is super-light on steals coming out of the early rounds, Bourn is getting picked a round or two earlier than I would prefer, though in some drafts he is falling as far as the ninth round. If I am in a draft and Bourn falls past the sixth, chances are I will pounce on the opportunity to secure my team's elite standing in steals with him in the seventh.
Chone Figgins | ADP: 79 | Earliest: 46 | Latest: 115 |
Of the players I've highlighted so far, Figgins is the one I understand the most why he is on this list. First of all, he is far from your prototypical third baseman, generating most of his value from his feet rather his arms. Figgins is a great contact hitter and although another season of a .280s to .290s batting average is in store, can we expect another season of 40-plus steals? Even 30-plus?
Not promising are the several factors working against him. First off his age, 32, certainly makes him a good candidate for a regression in steals totals. Next his stolen base success rate has fallen each of the past three years—from 77 to 72 to 71 percent—meaning he is approaching that point where it is no longer valuable to his team for him to steal. And finally he is leaving the aggressive base running environment of the Angels and heading to the Mariners, who most likely will be more conservative with him on base. When all of these factors are put together, I start to get the feeling Figgins will be lucky to break 25 steals in 2010.
Overall, Figgins is not somebody I would to reach for in drafts and even around his current ADP I am extremely hesitant to draft what I think will be mostly an empty batting average.
Posted by Paul Singman at 5:50am (9) Comments
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Andrew Lambo / OF / Am I crazy for liking Lambo as much as I do? Most scouts seem to be very down on him due to his mildly disappointing 2009. Sure, his power and plate discipline didn't take the step forward that I was hoping for, but I'm still a believer that his ability to make contact is good enough for the majors right now. And I'm still a believer that his power potential could result in a 30-home-run prime. He is young enough to pull it off.
2. Chris Withrow / SP / Withrow has overcome some early-career injury concerns to become L.A.'s best pitching prospect. His curveball has the makings of an out pitch, and the natural movement on his fastball is enviable. With some work on his command and change-up, he could become a No. 2 starter.
3. Ethan Martin / SP/RP / Martin has the same fastball/curveball combination that Withrow possesses, but Martin brings more pure velocity to the ballpark. Holding him back, though, is his inconsistent command and questionable endurance. The upside is immense, however.
4. Dee Gordon / SS / In my opinion, Gordon gets too much hype. His speed is game-changing, despite his lack of current baserunning instincts, and his defense will be an asset going forward, but his bat doesn't do much for me. His swing is inconsistent and I don't see home run power developing. But he is still raw, and the fact that he put up the numbers that he did in 2009 based on athleticism and tools alone is incredible.
5. Aaron Miller / SP / I was not a fan of L.A.'s selection of Miller in the 2009 draft, mainly due to the fact that he was soon to be 22 years old and just beginning to figure out how to pitch. But his initial numbers have shown much more polish than I was expecting, and his fastball/slider combination has turned heads.
6. Scott Elbert / SP/RP / Elbert has had a couple of opportunities to carve out a place in L.A.'s bullpen, but I think his future still lies in the rotation. He may never have anything more than average command of his fastball/curveball combination, but I still feel that he has the arm and work ethic necessary to be a middle-of-the-rotation stalwart sometime soon.
7. Josh Lindblom / RP/SP / Lindblom doesn't have the projected out pitch needed to be a closer or top-of-the-rotation starter. But he does have a solid repertoire that is highlighted by his above-average fastball. The question is, will he earn his living as a starter or setup man?
8. Garrett Gould / SP / Gould has good projection in his right arm with a low-90s fastball and a potentially devastating curveball. His mechanics, command, and change-up need some real work, but he has lots of time to straighten everything out.
9. Allen Webster / SP / With some hard work, Webster solidified his delivery and improved his command immensely in 2009. He has an impressive three pitches for a kid just one year removed from high school. Having never pitched beyond rookie ball, he has much to prove.
10. Ivan DeJesus / 2B/SS / DeJesus suffered a lost 2009 season due to a broken leg. His best offensive skills are his plate discipline and contact ability. He has no power to speak of, but he is a solid defender at either shortstop or second base and could have a long career as a pesky hitter who is difficult to strike out and keep off base.
San Francisco Giants
1. Madison Bumgarner / SP / The low strikeout rate in the Eastern League and over-publicized drop in velocity are somewhat concerning, but, beyond that, what more could you ask for in a 20year-old pitcher? His 10 innings of major league work showed that he will not be intimidated at the next level.
2. Buster Posey / C / Posey is a strong all-around catcher with sky-high potential, as his contact skills and power could spell an All-Star future. Bengie Molina could keep him from a deserved full-time catching gig, however.
3. Zack Wheeler / SP / Wheeler sports a low-90s fastball with great movement and has a great shot at increasing his velocity to the mid-90s consistently. His curveball has all the makings of an out pitch, even though his change-up has a long way to go. His command and delivery need some work, but San Francisco has a potential ace on its hands.
4. Thomas Joseph / C/1B / Joseph has some serious raw power, but the inconsistency and holes in his swing leave much to be desired. He may be a true boom-or-bust type, because if his bat can develop fully and he is able to stick at catcher, the Giants may have a star on their hands.
5. Thomas Neal / OF / Neal clobbered California League pitching in 2009, and then proved that his breakout season may not have been a Cal League apparition with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. His plate discipline and contact ability continue to get better, but I want to see how much power he shows in the Eastern League in 2010. Power is ultimately the name of the game for a corner outfielder.
6. Rafael Rodriguez / OF / You can't expect much more from a 17-year-old than what Rodriguez showed in 2009. He displayed strong contact skills and plenty of raw tools. I'm excited to see if he gets to play full-season ball from the outset in 2010.
7. Nick Noonan / 2B / Noonan didn't have the breakout that many were expecting, causing him to drop off the radar screens of many scouts. As he's just 20 years old, I'm giving him more time. With a good combination of skills, he has a chance to be an above-average second baseman.
8. Dan Runzler / RP / No relief prospect was more impressive in 2009 than Runzler. His command still comes and goes at times, but his fastball/curveball combination is built for high-leverage innings.
9. Ehire Adrianza / SS / Adrianza is talented young prospect with the tools to stick at shortstop and impressive plate discipline and contact skills for a player of his age. His questionable power potential is holding him back a bit, however.
10. Brandon Crawford / SS / Roger Kieschnick was a tough player to leave out, but Crawford's position gave him the edge. His glove looks average but workable at shortstop, meaning his bat could become above average for his position. He has above-average power potential, but he needs to work on being more patient and cleaning up the holes in his swing.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:10am (12) Comments
Friday, February 05, 2010
Lance Berkman | Houston | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .274/.399/.509
Big Puma is still just as big, but he looked more link a rhino than a puma in 2009, and fantasy owners probably had more colorful names for him than Big Rhino during August, when he failed to go yard, particularly since it followed a July when he cleared the fence just once. Injuries certainly held him back, both in time played and in the quality of his ABs when he did take the field. His calf, which landed him on the DL for 20 days, hampered his speed and power, while his back and his wrist diminished his power. All these dings and dents aren't a good sign for a guy turning 34 next week, even if that DL stint was his first since '05.
Still, his core skills remain solid. In the mini-browser, you can see that Berkman's BB% climbed a bit, while his contact skills stayed right around his career norms. The 2% differential in contact and the 4% drop in H% explain part of the change in his stats from 2008 to 2009. His steady Bash and HR/FB over that same two-year period (he was actually a bit luckier in the latter category in '09) also shows that he performed largely as expected when he was on the field in 2009. Looking over his career marks shows that these HR/FB rates were much more consistent with Berk's career norms than the spike in 2006-07.
So there's very little other than injuries to explain 2009, and little other than typical age-related decline to expect from Berkman going forward. That crazy rash of steals in 2008 isn't going to come back again anytime soon, though he should toss 5-10 swipes into the mix in 2010—remember, he did collect seven in 2009 despite that gimpy calf. He should rebound in the power department, too, with most predictions putting him back into the 30-30 2B-HR category.
The one problematic trend in Berkman's game has been his increasing struggles against southpaws. 2009 saw his OPS sink 272 points lower against lefties, a gap that's been widening every year since 2007. His switch-hitting is supposed to protect against this—he's obviously too old to go back to being a lefty, but it does make him a better bet against RHP than LHP. Don't expect a platoon anytime soon, but it is a caution flag to wave over an otherwise excellent hitting profile.
2010 will tell us a lot about his overall health, and a further rash of dents and dings would be troubling. Though he's not of the Babe Ruth-David Wells school of conditioning, a little more slimming down would set my mind at ease in this category—less Big might lead to more Puma. Now that he's entrenched at 1B, however, there's little chance that the coaching staff will push him in that direction. Too bad on both accounts, as more SBs and OF eligibility would drive Berkman's value up nicely.
But he remains a very good bet to rebound strongly in 2010, and that drop in Sentiment means your fellow owners may read too much into 2009. He's no longer among the 1B elite, but he's a virtual lock to push (or crack) .900 OPS again, making him still top-10 material.
Colby Rasmus | St. Louis | OF
2009 Final Stats: .251/.307/.407
Considering 2009 was just his fourth year as a pro, and his first in MLB, he didn't do too horribly. But expectations were so high for him—some had him as a preseason ROY fave—that his not-too-shabby performance was regarded as a letdown, particularly after his OPS slid 215 points after the break. But even that's to be expected from a kid grinding through his first MLB season, on a team making a playoff push in a competitive division.
Looking behind the stats, there's some good news and bad news, but nothing catastrophic from a kid who just turned 24 in August. His 80% contact rate was consistent with his minor-league averages, and his uninspiring .38 BB/K isn't too far below his .57 minor-league average, which did improve from .27 to .69 as he rose from rookie ball to Triple-A. Patience might be hard to preach to Rasmus, who had his best month (a .333/.333/.556 June) without drawing a single walk in 84 ABs.
June was also his best month for BABIP, an ungodly .377 that plummeted to .224 in July, dragging his OPS down nearly 200 points. Since that was the beginning of the end for Rasmus, BA-wise, it's safe to assume that his bat was losing steam as the season progressed. He was also suffering from a heel problem that began bothering him in June and continued to plague him most of the season. That had to affect his production down the stretch, too.
The one surprising trend was his punchless performance against lefties. In his minor-league career, Rasmus only showed a .34 OPS preference towards RHP, but in 2009 that yawned to a .309 chasm. Given his history, that should reverse itself in the future, but it's something to keep an eye on.
You can see from his GP projection, as well as the ones on Fangraphs, that he's not expected to improve all that much in 2010. Rasmus is valuable for his overall athleticism and has a ton of tools, but they're not quite ready yet. Assuming his heel is—er—healed in 2010, there's some upside to those projections, but his underlying skills don't merit a lot of speculation, even in SBs. Erik Manning, who covers the Cardinals for GP (and writes for Fangraphs), notes in his commentary that you can "cut his SB forecast in half" because of LaRussa's conservative tendencies in that department.
Rasmus' place in the batting order also bears watching, since hitting in front of Albert Pujols is better than hitting behind him, at least until Rasmus starts to deliver on his power expectations. He hit all over the lineup in 2009, slotting everywhere except third, and spent most of his time in the No. 2 spot, where he also had the most success (at least among 20+ AB samples). Giving both Pujols and Matt Holliday an opportunity to move him over and in would give another boost to his worth.
Keeper owners shouldn't sour on Rasmus so quickly, but redraft owners can safely let him sink, particularly since he's a slow starter. As a low-dollar/late-round selection, Rasmus could be the kind of guy who hits the waiver wire early. Moderate your expectations and don't believe the hype, while still respecting his obvious talent. He'll bring you some value, just not too much, and not in proportion to expectations.
Everth Cabrera | San Diego | SS
2009 Final Stats: .255/.342/.361
In its 2009 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America cautioned against the Padres moving Cabrera to the bigs too quickly: "It's hard to envision him going straight from low Class A to playing regularly in the big leagues in one year." Because he was a Rule 5 draftee, he had to be on their 40-man roster or the Padres would lose him, so they ignored BA's advice and brought him up when the Josh Wilson/Luis Rodriguez tandem wasn't cutting it.
Cabrera is a prototypical shortstop prospect before we got used to hitters like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez: he's got a great glove, speed to burn, and knows which end of the bat to hold. Actually, the latter categorization is a bit unkind. That mini-browser shows he held his own well enough in contact rate and did quite well in the walk department, particularly when you remember that this guy only has 29 PAs above Single-A.
That kind of accelerated timetable is usually reserved for the most elite prospects, not Rule 5 draftees, who are the baseball equivalent of sloppy seconds. That the Pads allowed him to be moved up so quickly speaks to their lack of institutional depth at this position, but also to their evident confidence in Cabrera. And it's a confidence that you should share—with some reservations.
No matter how much he was rushed to the majors, one area that needs no further development in Cabrera is his speed. His coaches called him the fastest guy in Low-A South Atlantic League. In the Sally League, he reached base 195 times, and stole 73 bases. That's a pretty astonishing number (even for Class A ball), particularly since he was only caught 16 times. It means he tried to steal nearly half the time that he got out of the batter's box safely. I've got a new nickname for Cabrera: "Greenlight." (By comparison, the 2009 SB leaders Michael Bourn and Jacoby Ellsbury attempted a steal about a third of the time they reached base).
Those kind of stats are what make fantasy owners go all ga-ga over Cabrera. As you might imagine, Cabrera wasn't nearly as aggressive in 2009—he reached safely 142 times and attempted just 33 steals, getting caught eight times. Big-league pitchers and catchers are much better than their Class A counterparts, and they got wise to Cabrera quickly: he swiped 10 of 11 in July, his first full month with the Padres, but never had another double-digit month, declining to 7 of 9 in August and 5 of 10 in September.
So don't expect Cabrera to swipe 70 in 2010; GP sees him getting about halfway there, which feels pretty good. Before he steals second, Cabrera's got to get to first, though he shows very good core skills in that department. His BB% of 10.5% is entirely consistent with his minor-league trends, as is his 62% groundball percentage, an excellent mark for a kid with his wheels.
What he doesn't have is power, probably the only thing you could really quibble about in a player like this. His minor-league SLG was .387, with just seven home runs in 877 ABs. That speed will deliver him doubles (40 in the minors) and triples (13), and if he can find the gaps at PETCO, he'll manage a respectable SLG. He just won't do it next year—only Marcel sees him cracking a .400 SLG. GP is more pessimistic than most, but that's typical of how it treats younger players.
Whether his SLG is above or below .350, Cabrera's a hot commodity in fantasy, and if he ends up atop the Padres lineup (as he did more and more as 2009 progressed) his value gets another bump. He and a platoon-bound Tony Gwynn Jr. will share time at the leadoff spot, at least until one or the other emerges, so you can pencil Cabrera in for at least 40% of the time at the top spot. Granted, San Diego's not the most productive lineup in the game, and PETCO isn't the friendliest for run-scoring, but having Adrian Gonzalez to drive you in is a nice place for a leadoff hitter to be.
So take Cabrera for what he is: a potential fountain of steals and good source of runs who might drag at your BA a bit, while delivering virtually nothing in the power department. If you can handle that kind of baggage, he'll be a great addition to your lineup.
Drew Storen | Washington | RP
2009 Final Stats (minors): 11.9 K/9, 6.1 K/BB, 1.95 ERA
Matt Capps | Washington | RP
2009 Final Stats: 7.6 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 5.80 ERA
Looking at their 2009 numbers, you'd wonder why there would be any competition at all for the closer's role in Washington, but this isn't the whole picture. The GP projections give a better idea of how much more similar these two are projected to be, plus Washington has signed quite a few endgame options. The Nats signed Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado, either of whom have a leg up on a youngster like Storen, who was just drafted in 2009.
Let's look at the frontrunner first. Capps had a career-awful 2009 in Pittsburgh, putting up career worsts in ERA, WHIP, BB%, H/9 and HR/9. Some say this goes back to shoulder problems that shut him down for nearly two months in 2008, which screwed up his mechanics, leading to elbow problems early in 2009, as well as that lost season. According to Capps, he just didn't have a lively fastball, his bread-and-butter pitch, which neither confirms nor denies the injury theory.
For what it's worth, his excuse is supported by Fangraphs' pitch stats on him. He used his heater nearly 10% less than he did in 2008, and his wFB plummeted from 9.6 to -3.9, the biggest drop in a year when all his other pitches also stunk. On the other hand, that the Pirates would nontender a guy whom they still have under team control until 2012 could indicate that they knew something was seriously wrong.
Whatever its roots, the problem showed itself in Capps' BABIP, which shot up to .370 in 2009 from .272 the year before. His HR rate also doubled itself from 2008, hitting a 13.5% career high. These trends either represent luck or, if his stuff was as bad as he says, a serious change in his pitching repertoire. He passed a physical in Washington, which would seem to rule out any serious injury, but a certain amount of caution has to be exercised in a Capps evaluation. As you can see, GP predicts his second-worst year ever, while other predictions are a bit kinder—only Marcel comes as close in its pessimism.
That risk is no doubt why Washington picked up Bruney and Guardado, but no matter who's coming into the ninth inning, he's just keeping the seat warm for Drew Storen. Washington chose Storen, a Stanford sophomore, as the 10th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. By the end of the same year, he had made it all the way to Double-A, and the GP mini-browser shows how completely he dominated three levels.
Storen was a starter and reliever at Stanford, but he's quickly become a reliever because of his two excellent pitches. His two-seamer hits the mid-90s, while he's got a breaking ball (either a slider or a hard curve, depending on whom you listen to) with nice tilt. With a good changeup, he could be a starter, but his rocketing trajectory is clearly aimed at an endgame role. Paul Bugala, GP's Washington writer, sees him sliding into that role by the end of 2010. In that scenario, Capps, Bruney and Guardado would be excellent (if reluctant) mentors for Storen, while also providing plenty of fallback options.
Whether that's going to happen or not, it throws a wrench into the gears in deciding which Nat to draft in 2010. Capps has enough downside to him that the presence of Storen could tank his value entirely; the GP prediction you see was based on him remaining with the Pirates, since they were still expected to tender him a contract at presstime. It remains a fair assessment of his potential in 2010, though Capps could beat that projection if he proves healthy and successful, Washington exceeds expectations, and Storen's development stalls. That's a lot to ask for, of course; the good news comes in the form of that shockingly low Sentiment (100 is the lowest). Most of your fellow owners will be similarly skeptical, making him a very good bargain. Throw him into the mix early in your auction to see if you can grab him cheaply.
Storen, on the other hand, carries his own risk. His value will depend entirely on whether and when he makes the big-league club, and in what role. If Capps or Bruney manages to grab hold of the closer's job, Storen might not see the Nats at all in 2010. Keeper owners can speculate on his future, but it's hard to spend a lot of money on a player with just one year of professional ball under his belt.
The Nationals' very good decision to spread the risk around their bullpen makes things very tough on fantasy owners, as it complicates matters considerably. You could even draft both Capps and Storen and then watch Bruney end up in the closer's spot. And let's not forget that this is still the Nationals we're talking about—they're better than they were in 2009, but they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Dividing up potential saves among three candidates piddles in the pool for all of them. If you take Capps or Bruney, it should be for cheap and with a strong backup plan.
Nate Schierholtz | San Francisco | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.302/.400
Schierholtz has proven himself in the minors without a doubt, hitting .308/.355/.516 in seven seasons, including two full tours at Triple-A Fresno. That's earned him some MLB time, but he's never gotten the traction to stick. As you can see in the mini-browser, 2007 was good enough for a 23-year-old, 2008 was small-sample awesome, and 2009 was a major letdown. Some of this had to do with the fact that the Giants seemed to want to corner the league in mediocre outfielders, preferably ones with long contracts.
San Fran finally got out from under its three-year, $23M deal to Randy Winn (who responded with an underwhelming .290/.346/.410, with 56 steals, in that span), but is still on the hook for the five-year, $60M deal they dished out to Aaron Roward before the 2009 season (he's returned the favor with a .266/.329/.414 line since then, including 251 strikeouts, 74 walks, and a disappointingly low number of exciting wall collisions). That doesn't count other young outfielders who've gotten time, like Fred Lewis (.258/.348/.390 in 2009), Eugenio Velez (.267/.308/.400 in 2009), John Bowker (.194/.247/.373 in 2009), or Andres Torres (the standout in the bunch, with .270/.343/.533 in 2009 in a platoon role with Velez).
With guys like these, it's hard to find room for Schierholtz, or so Giants' management says. Some of that's not entirely fair, since Schierholz missed some time with a strained left hip, and had a problem with a bulging disk in Spring Training. But still—this guy only gets 285 ABs against that kind of competition?
That's not to say that Schierholtz is amazing in every respect. The biggest knock against him is the breeze he generates at the plate—he whiffed at an 18% clip in the minors, which he's matched in the majors, while dropping his .33 BB/K rate in the minors to .25 in MLB. And Fangraphs shows that his pitch recognition and contact skills are hurting him, too. While he makes contact with 90% of pitches inside the zone, he swung at 35% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with a scant 57% of them. Hackers Pablo Sandoval (who swings at 43% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with 76% of them) and Vladimir Guerrero (who swings at 38% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with 66% of them) can afford that kind of wild swinging. Schierholtz can't.
If he can overcome this lack of selectiveness, he could thrive in the majors, and that power he showed in the minors can finally show itself in the majors, too. Right now, his primary competition comes from John Bowker or possibly Eugenio Velez, neither of whom should offer much of a battle. They could, however, eat into his playing time, particularly if Bochy continues to manage in such an egalitarian style. It's a battle to watch in Spring Training, but the more important subject for scrutiny should be his plate discipline. He spent the winter in Puerto Rico to work on his eye, so see if it's gotten any better before thinking of picking him up.
Assuming he gets the starting role—or even most of it—he offers moderate value, though he's below my personal threshold for outfielders of .800 OPS. NL-only leagues will find value there, but I don't see Schierholz breaking out. Solidifying his minor-league skills to cross that .800 threshold would be enough for me.
Spring Training's getting closer, but you can still download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 or order the book directly from ACTA Sports. And don't forget to check the new index for all the players I've covered this offseason, and leave suggestions for other players to cover in the comments below.
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am (4) Comments
Francisco Liriano | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.0 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 5.80 ERA
Rotoworld.com's latest blurb - January 28 - about Liriano begins:
Francisco Liriano allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over five innings Thursday in the final game of the Dominican Winter League championship.
Liriano looked incredibly sharp, hitting 95 MPH consistently with his fastball and displaying a tight break on his slider.
Expounding on the good news further, MLB.com's Winter League stats report that he walked just 2 batters in 11.2 IP in the DWL. Now, he wasn't facing too many guys like Miguel Cabrera in the Dominican Winter League, but the “buzz” seems very much warranted with him, as he's proven in the past that when healthy he's able to mow down MLB hitters just about as easily as Winter Leaguers. Barring a reversal in spring training – either a negative health report or unexpected control problems ala Rick Ankiel or Rich Hill - we recommend being very aggressive about acquiring him for 2010. In most contexts, it's easy enough to find “filler” innings, but the subset of pitchers who are able to make an significant impact to ratio stats is very small. With the potent Twins offense behind him, he'll be a 4-category difference-maker for the innings he's able to go.
Scott Baker | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.3 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 4.36 ERA
Baker is something of a Sabermetric “sweetheart”, in that his low walks and good strikeout numbers send hearts of analysts a-fluttering, regardless of the way the numbers are broken down. GP2010 is the least bullish on him, suggesting 4.29/1.25, which are about his career norms. His LIPS ERA's the past two years have averaged about 3.90, so right in line with his composite 2008-2009 ERA. His projected ERA's using other systems likewise shows him in the 3.90 ERA range. The one concern with Baker, of course, is the high FB% and the resultant homers. The leverage these longballs create can be seen clearly between his 2008 and 2009 stats:
2008 – 7.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB, 1.18 WHIP, 45.8% FB%, 3.86 LIPS
2009 – 7.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP, 47.1% FB%, 3.93 LIPS
Yet, in 2008, his ERA was 3.45, and it rose all the way to 4.37 in 2009! Why? Well, the observant readers notice that HR/FB% wasn't included in those nearly carbon-copy stat lines (or even HR/9). And, honestly, going up from 8.5% to 9.7% doesn't sound like an immense increase. But it jacked the HR/9 up from 1.04 to 1.26.
Aside from GP2010, most projection systems seem to think Baker's HR/9 will split the difference between 2008 and 2009, and so his ERA will likely also split the difference. But an HR/FB% of 9.7 isn't particularly high. So much will depend on the new park with Baker, in fact. Despite the outdated monicker of “Homerdome” the Metrodome played like one of the better pitcher's parks in the AL for years before 2009, when it played “smaller” again. The new park design has left the center-to-right dimensions the same, including the high wall in RF (presumably NOT a “baggie” again). But – as the New Yankee Stadium's environmental factors surprised everyone - it's unknown how the weather will play at the new park. Without a good reason to assume that his HR/FB% will decline, and with Carlos Gomez no longer around to pair with Span and turn flies into outs, it's hard to find any reason to be more optimistic than GP2010 is about Baker. In most leagues, where people are reading the widely available Sabermetrically-guided projections, it's unlikely Baker will be much of a bargain.
Kevin Slowey | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.4 K/9, 5.0 K/BB, 4.86 ERA
That's right, Kevin Slowey posted a 5.0 K:BB ratio! He also allowed 15 HR in 90.2 IP, and watched batters post a .352 BABIP against his junk, which must have seemed little more than batting practice to MLB hitters. That he was able to throw strikes so often with a wrist injury in 2009 is somewhat amazing, but he's expected to be fully healthy in 2010. Much of the same analysis of Baker applies to Slowey, though he's even more adept at pounding the strike zone and throws even slower – even when healthy. Don't expect him to have a .290 BABIP or a sub-.10% HR/FB%, but even at .310 and 11%, he's going to rack up a lot of innings, strikeouts, and wins... while keeping his WHIP low enough to help a fantasy team. Due to ending 2009 with an injury, he could end up being one of the best players to target in 2010.
Colby Lewis | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.3 K/9, 6.8 K/BB, 2.68 ERA (Hiroshima Toyo in Japan Central League)
In 2008, Colby Lewis led the league in strikeouts, shutouts, K/9, H/9, and WHIP. In 2009, he backed that up with another strong campaign, posting a 2.98 ERA (8th in league). NPB Roto players everywhere are bemoaning/celebrating the loss of this dominant ace pitcher from the Central League (depending on whether they owned him). Will the Rangers be as happy as the Carp were? Will US fantasy players be hailing Lewis-san? Well, BP has never been shy about projecting Japanese players, and PECOTA's translations/comparables suggest that Lewis will post a fine 3.89 ERA and a great 1.23 WHIP... in over 160 IP. That would make the $5MM Jon Daniels and the Rangers have invested in him (over the next 2 years) seem like chump change if it came to pass. And why not?
That said, we're impressed with the “positive” atmosphere in Texas these days, especially among the pitchers. We like guys who post full-season BB/9 rates of 1.4, no matter which league it's in. And, as noted, the usual reaction is to rely on the numbers... and Colby's numbers have been very good and promise to convert nicely to the US. It's still Texas, so the ballpark won't help him. And we don't expect a heroic ERA, but something around 4.00 seems reasonable, though we'd expect it to be slightly above that mark instead of below. Further, pounding the strike zone should allow him to pile up innings while keeping the WHIP low.
Jack Cust | Oakland | DH
2009 Final Stats: .240/.356/.417
It's sort of a shame for Oakland fans and Cust - and hence prospective fantasy owners in OBP/SLG leagues - that the organizational philosophy doesn't acknowledge that there's such a thing as a player who has a pronounced platoon split. Cust has hit an “okay” .226/.353/.382 against LHP in his career, but that's nothing compared to the hearty .244/.382/.483 feast he's enjoyed from “Northpaws” (most of this done while calling an adverse hitter's park “home”). Well, they ran him out there for 26.5% of his PA against LHP again in 2009, far exceeding the AL average of 20.4% (for LHB against LHP). And, again, he contributed against the non-LH hurlers with a .247/.369/.461 line. Many worry overly much about players with “old player skills” aging faster, and while that's true, Cust isn't really old yet, being 3 years younger than Russ Branyan for example. The ability to play an outfield position without hurting himself (notice we didn't add “or the team” here) sets him ahead of Jim Thome in the “must DH lefty power bats” category, and his higher salary represents that. He would have done wonders for the South Siders in US Cellular, though the Twins may be out of reach this year anyway.
Alex Avila | Detroit | C
2009 Final Stats: .279/.375/.590
2009 Final Stats (minors): .264/.365/.450 (AA)
Back on August 21, when Avila was first recalled, we had this to say about him:
Oh, the nepotism! The son of assistant GM Al, Alex was taken in the fifth round in 2008 out of Alabama, where he just became a full-time catcher in 2008. But wait, this guy can play ball! He's burst into the Tigers' pennant race and wrested at least half the playing time already. After showing great hitting and on-base skills in the tough Midwest League in 2008, the Tigers vaulted him over High-A to Double-A. He didn't slow down at all, and even added power (12 HR) and a 44% CS% to his game. If the “True Talent” projection represents his ability now, it will soon be outdated. This guy is on the fast track, and not just due to his family ties.
For the record, “True Talent” at the time projected .241/.311/.358. Somehow, his unexpectedly great performance in Detroit worsened that for the GP2010 projection. And other projection systems don't think he'll do much in 2010 either. And BA's scouting department thinks he's only good for 6th-best in their organization. But – frankly – it's unclear what they don't see in this guy. We'd never suggest taking him expecting a 2010 contribution, and part of his value is in his defense, which won't show up in fantasy ball. But in trading Dusty Ryan, the Tigers have made it clear that they expect Avila to be their catcher as soon as Laird's “expiration date” arrives. And he won't be a bad 2nd catcher in an AL-only league for this year, though there are probably better to be had if you can't keep him long-term.
Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. You can order the book from Acta Sports here.
Posted by Rob McQuown at 4:00am (12) Comments
Monday, February 08, 2010
Clay Buchholz has struggled to establish himself in the Red Sox rotation ever since starting with a bang. Since his no-hitter he has held a major league ERA of 5.73 in the following two seasons. I was running a review of him a few weeks ago and found an interesting comparison though when looking at his skills. That pitcher is none other than Felix Hernandez, although he was much quicker to establish himself in Seattle.
Looking at his number so far you might wonder where the comparison comes from. So far their strikeouts and walks have been far from identical.
K/9 BB/9 Buchholz 7.65 4.11 Hernandez 8.06 2.85
Buchholz has closed with strikeouts, but is quite a ways away from him in walks. Like most pitchers he has struggled with his walk numbers early on and even Hernandez has been over 3.50 in his career. Buchholz has a minor league BB/9 of 2.50, so it's fairly reasonable to expect that rate to come down to a solid number.
We saw that this past season he made some adjustments late in the year and saw some changes in his rates. In the last seven games of 2009 his K/9 was 7.53, but his BB/9 dropped to 2.38. What changed is tough to say, although his changeup rate dropped game by game and as Evan Brunell discussed here perhaps that has been why he struggles with left handers. I have my doubts about this theory on the whole as it's a small sample size in the majors and for his overall lefty/righty splits. If you compare his tOPS splits (92/109) to the 2009 American league average (92/108) there isn't much to say that he was any more interesting than anyone else.
So what changed in those last seven games that allowed him to gain control and can he repeat it? His number of sliders per game rose and his number of changeups dropped as well. He's also still dealing with a change in arm slot the Red Sox requested of him in 2008. That change coincided with a huge spike in walks in 2008 and it seems he is still figuring out how to pitch from the new slot. This should help keep him healthy, but hopefully he has figured this out.
Getting outs and limiting walks is not the only challenge for Buchholz to be like King Felix, though. He needs to maintain his elite groundball numbers. Not only does Hernandez pitch half his games in a great stadium for pitchers, he also keeps the ball on the ground to great levels. His numbers have dropped recently, but his career rate of 56.8 percent grounders is sixth among pitchers with 900-plus IP since 2002.
Buchholz has grown in his ability to keep the ball on the ground going from 38.5 percent in 2007 to 47.7 percent in 2008. He then made a bug step forward last year reaching 53.8 percent. There is reason to believe he can maintain these levels as his 2009 Triple-A rate was 52.5 percent. This isn't the elite levels of Hernandez first few seasons, but near his 52 percent and 53 percent of 2008 and 2009.
Other things going for Buchholz this year is the defense surrounding him should be improved. He had a BABIP of .289 last year, so he didn't suffer from that, but that shouldn't suddenly swing the other way either.
Buchholz is looking at finally getting that shot he has earned to start a full season with the big team. The fan base and fantasy owners will be looking for big things and a comparison with King Felix will surely make those expectations even higher. Perhaps this might be the farthest apart two players have been that I compared in ADP. Buchholz currently has an ADP of 190 and Hernandez is at 28 according to MockDraftCentral. While they aren't going to finish neck and neck, this comparison can show us how much more valuable Buchholz can be than his draft position.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 4:21am (2) Comments
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
For someone who writes about fantasy baseball, ADP (Average Draft Position) is a fun statistic. For instance, doing something as simple as graphing ADP against itself can visualize some aspects of what occurs during a draft. This ADP data, by the way, are from Yahoo drafts for the 2008 season, meaning these drafts occurred before the season began.
The interesting part of this graph is not where the dots are located, but their distance from each other. Noticing how they are relatively bunched at the edges and less dense in the middle reinforces my sentiment in this article—that drafting in the middle rounds is the most difficult.
Fantasy baseballers cannot agree where to take players in these rounds and therefore few players end up with an average draft position in the 100s. Because it is more of a "who" to take rather than a "where" at the end of a draft, you end up with the clustering after the 200 ADP mark that you see.
Ostensibly the reason people drafted these players where they did is because of the stats these players accumulated in the previous year. Comparing a player's 2007 numbers with his 2008 ADP can provide us with some insight into which of the fantasy stats we target the most in drafts. Before we get buried in numbers, though, let's first look at some graphs starting with home runs, since I figure they will be an important determinant.
This graphs shows us that it is not imperative to hit a ton of home runs to be taken early, as depicted by the dots toward the lower left of the graph. Also, hitting around 25 home runs seems to be the magic number to get a hitter out of the 200+ ADP cluster and from there a nicely defined linear slope brings us to Alex Rodriguez' 54 home runs in 2007 and his corresponding 1.2 ADP in 2008.
Next we will look at stolen bases, which might present a graph that looks radically different from the plateau-shaped home run graph.
This graph actually looks somewhat similar to the home run graph; it features the same basic shape except with more players on the left extreme and fewer to the right one. Simply looking at the graph, though, the dispersion appears more random, whereas on the home run graph there was a more visible downward slope.
Even more random than the stolen bases graph is the one comparing batting average to ADP.
Since batting average is a rate stat, I increased the at-bat threshold to 400 to eliminate possible fluky batting averages attained over a couple of hundred at-bats. Despite that, a player's batting average appears to have a small effect on where he is drafted. Intuition tells me there must be some degree of correlation, but compared to home runs and stolen bases it appears to be small.
Last we will look at the graph of runs, which appear to correlate well with next year's ADP, although later we will find out that may not be the case.
As you can see there is a well-defined, generally downward slope to the right, suggesting a correlation. Sometimes with graphs looks can be deceiving, as the next section will show.
Looking at pretty graphs is nice, but let's not get distracted from the purpose of the data. What the data can tell is which of the five main fantasy stats have the largest impact on where a player gets drafted in the following year. For this I used a multivariate regression, two multivariate regressions actually—one using the stats as counting stats with average converted to hits, and the second with them as rate stats, so for example home runs became home runs per at-bat. The results of the regressions are summarized in the following tables.
For the coefficients column, a lower coefficient means the stat is more significant. So in counting form home runs edge out stolen bases as the most significant with runs and hits the least important. The "P-value" column shows the significance of the coefficient with anything under .05 statistically significant, meaning home runs, RBI, and especially stolen bases pass the significance test. As I hinted before, runs were extraordinarily insignificant compared to the other stats.
Once again home runs and stolen bases jump out as the big players, with not surprisingly batting average rising in importance since this is its home court, so to speak. And once again runs display their general lack of relevance.
The one part of these charts I have failed to mention yet is the coefficient of the intercept. The fun activity you can do with these is create a rough estimate of where a player will be drafted given his stat line for a season. Multiplying a player's stats in each category by its coefficient, adding those numbers up and then subtracting from the intercept coefficient will generate a rough estimate of that player's ADP. For example if you took Todd Helton's 2007 line of 86 runs, 17 homers, 91 RBI, no stolen bases, and 178 hits and plugged it in:
Estimated ADP = 370.6 - (86 * .3829) - (17 * 2.25) - (91 * 1.1258) - (0 * 2.1) - (178 * .3875) = 128.5
Helton's estimated ADP of 128.5 is remarkably close to his actual ADP that year of 135.4 given the crudeness of the model (using only one year of data from one website) and the fact that it does not take into account any positional adjustment. This model worked well for this set of data with an R-Squared of .8, but that is not overly surprising considering the model was created off the 2007 season-2008 ADP data. At this point this ADP model probably will not work tremendously well for the 2009 season stats, but given a few more years of data added it could become an interesting tool for leagues that draft early in the offseason, or for some historical context on a player's ADP.
I know this article does more of confirming what we might have already suspected—that home runs and steals are the most significant when it comes to determining ADP—instead of providing us with new information, but there still are lessons to be taken away.
First, the insignificance of runs in the regressions points to a possible inefficiency in the fantasy marketplace. People most likely assume runs are a byproduct of other skills and ignore them when ranking players. A system that would take into account position in batting order, team runs per game, and of course the player's skill level could more accurately predict expected run totals and make rankings more accurate.
The xADP model I debuted is something that could become a powerful fantasy tool given a few more years of ADP data, and hopefully you saw a glimpse of that.
I'll end with a confession and display of gratitude to colleague Nick Steiner, who ran the multivariate regressions that spewed out the coefficient values that were instrumental to this article. I am more statistically illiterate than you might assume and do not have the savvy to run such regressions. I owe a big thanks to him for his time and effort.
Posted by Paul Singman at 8:29am (15) Comments
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
One of the most frequently recurring complaints from fantasy leaguers is that of deadbeat owners, those who cease to improve their team, or even regularly rotate their players, once it becomes clear that he/she has no shot at winning the league. We know that the best way to prevent such a situation is to carefully vet and select participants in your league before it begins. However, we also know that sometimes it’s not so easy to find 10 to 14 committed players with a proven track record of taking fantasy sports seriously. Further, sometimes an otherwise reliable league mate with a good track record goes rogue and inexplicably becomes a deadbeat. In one of my leagues last year, a participant who had been reliable for several seasons inexplicably went deadbeat on the group. In one of my football leagues this past year, one of my league mates (and one of the best players) went deadbeat out of spite to protest what he felt was insufficient communication surrounding a last-minute change to the scoring system. The point is, these situations can arise even when there is sufficient foresight when populating the league.
If selecting quality participants is the first line of defense against deadbeat-ing, the actual league rules, settings, and, in some cases, keeper structure, comprise the second line. I’ve read several subtle wrinkles in league structures to dissuade deadbeat-ing, but few radical fixes. For the sake of discussion, I’d like to propose a radical alternative league structure that will do more to dissuade a potential deadbeat than the most common tweaks to the current system.
Let’s just be honest about things; most leagues are played for stakes. And it is participants in those leagues who are much more resentful of deadbeats. I find it relatively strange that there aren’t more popular alternative payout structures to fantasy leagues, especially when opening up the door to tweaking such structures creates myriad opportunities to build incentives for players to remain competitive throughout the season. Allow me to theorize one example.
For the sake of simplicity, presume you are organizing a five-by-five rotisserie style league consisting of 10 teams, with each participant throwing 100 units in the pot. This is not an uncommon structure (though 12-team leagues are probably the standard). It’s also not uncommon for the payouts to be structured something like 600/300/100 for first, second, and third place respectively. This traditional model rewards the top two finishers with profit and the third-place finisher with what is ostensibly a mulligan. The problem is that by midseason, it becomes clear for nearly half the league that they are out of contention for first place, and for some out of contending for any of the “money” spots. Without substantial disincentive for finishing last, and no meaningful difference, beyond pride, for finishing fourth over ninth, it’s tempting for some participants to de-prioritize even the minimum standard of team maintenance. We all know how this story plays out, and we all know how deadbeat teams and owners affect the entire dynamic of the league. They skew point distribution in roto leagues and win totals in head-to-head leagues (especially if the schedule is imbalanced), they cut large chunks of players out of the trade market, and not only do they make the league less competitive, but they make the league less fun too!
When analyzing the motivation to deadbeat, three dynamics of the traditional league (compensation) model seem to enable a potential deadbeat: lack of sufficient penalty for finishing last, no meaningful distinction between “non-money” finishes, and seemingly insurmountable climbs from the bottom of the league to “the money.” Well, can’t we easily fix this by manipulating a league’s pay structure? What if you set up a model, in which you cut the base entry fee in half and then instituted a secondary tiered payout scale based on the final standings?
Hypothetically speaking, let’s slash the base entry fee of our ten team, five-by-five, league, from 100 units to 50, and pay out the first, second, and third place winners, 300/150/50. Then, in addition let’s institute a secondary payout model based on point differential that matches teams up directly and becomes arithmetically more punitive down each level of the standings, starting from the bottom half. So, sixth place pays out fifth place one unit per each point he is behind in the standings. From there we match 7-4, 8-3, 9-2, and 10-1, while increasing the factor by which they pay per point differential by a half.
Let’s take a look at hypothetical final standings for this league. (I’m totally picking these numbers out of my fanny [Keith Hernandez™], but they seem fairly reflective of a normal league.)
1st place: 76
2nd place: 68
3rd place: 58
4th place: 54
5th place: 51
6th place: 43
7th place: 41
8th place: 40
9th place: 37
10th place: 32
So, in this case:
Six owes five 8 units (8 point difference at a factor of 1)
Seven owes four 19.5 units (13 point difference at a factor of 1.5)
Eight owes three 36 units (18 point difference at a factor of 2)
Nine owes two 78.5 units (31 point difference at a factor of 2.5)
Ten owes one 132 units (44 point difference at a factor of 3)
When combined with the base contributions, the final profits look like this:
1st place: 432 (350 + 132) - 50
2nd place: 128.5 (100 + 78.5) -50
3rd place: 36 (50 + 36) -50
4th place: -30.5 (19.5 – 50)
5th place: -42 (8 – 50)
6th place: -58 (-8 + -50)
7th place: -69.5 (-19.5 + -50)
8th place: -86 (-36 + -50)
9th place: -128.5 (-78.5 + -50)
10th place: - 182 (-132.5 + -50)
Total pot: 774 (500 base + 274 secondary)
In this model, the total pot isn’t fixed. We know that there will be five hundred total points among a ten-team, ten-category league, but the differentials between the teams determine the overall size of the secondary pot. The differential between teams gets more costly when middle of the pack is more tightly clustered while the extremes are further apart (because of the increasing multiplier of the point differential as we approach the outliers).
For the sake of comparison, let’s look at our hypothetical in comparison to an extrapolation of the traditional model. A traditional pot with a total value of 774 would mean that each participant contributes 77.4 units, and the first, second and third finishers take a 60/30/10 split, respectively (464.4, 232.2, 77.4, or profit after entry fee: 386.6/154.8/0). So, the top three finishers all profit more from this model because they aren’t even contributing to the secondary pot, and therefore their entry fees don’t cut into their shares of those profits.
The fourth through seventh place teams pay less than their “fair share” (10%) of the total pot either because their winnings mitigate some of their entry fee, or their debts on the secondary pot are minimal enough that they fail to represent 10% of the total pot even when combined with the base entry fee.
The bottom three teams in the league pay out more than 10% of the total pot each, in this hypothetical. Here, the eighth-place team ostensibly breaks even versus the traditional model, being on the hook for 8.6 extra units, while the true cellar dwellers really get punished, coughing up 51.1 and 104.6 extra units respectively.
Philosophically, this model addresses all the would-be motivations to deadbeat. There is a clear disincentive to finishing in last place as well as clear relative rewards/punishments for each successive position outside the top three, and to “climb” into the money spot of the secondary pot, a team must only catapult itself to the top half of the standings, a much more realistic leap for a team sitting at the bottom of the league 40% through the season.
It should be mentioned that as you add more teams and/or additional categories to the league, there are more points available. Usually those points aren’t spread out evenly. It seems like a fair estimate that in most roto leagues, the champ acquires 75-80% of the points available to a single team, while the last place team acquires in the 25–30% range. Adding two extra categories to our league, and using a 75-25 model for the first- and last-place teams, you would increase the point differential between these teams from 50 (75-25) to 60 (90-30). It is these extremes who also face the highest multipliers, which means that adding categories could “run up the bill” pretty quickly. Adding teams also adds points and could add levels of multipliers—though it’s not necessary to add another level for every two teams.
Expanding the model above to 12 teams, you could either tweak the escalation of the factors (1, 1.4, 1.8, 2.2, 2.6, 3), group the factors 7/6 and 8/5 at 1, 9/4 and 10/3 at 2, 11/2 and 12/1 at 3), or simply cut the 7/6 out of the secondary market, keeping them neutral and starting the secondary market payouts at the 8/5 level. Really, there are infinite ways to tweak the model to make it more or less aggressive and to alter the proportionate profits between each level (you can make the system more top heavy or more balanced if you so choose).
You could also adapt this model for head-to-head leagues, using “games behind” as a substitute for point differential.
This is just one alternative model for structuring a league. I’ve toyed with other ideas that center on paying out each category by performance within it, and I’m sure there are viable structures down that path as well. I presume this would actually affect the way teams strategize more than the model proposed at length in this column, though I’m not sure whether that’s something that should be considered a demerit of the system simply for its own sake.
There are probably some who would think any of these alternative models are blasphemous, but I’m not sure I see it that way. While I love fantasy baseball in its conservative, traditional form—deadbeat-inducing shortcomings and all—I also see the game, on a broader level, somewhat similarly to how I see poker. There are lots of different kinds of poker games and lots of different betting structure options, sometimes even relative to a single game (no limit, pot limit, etc.). I’m sure there are those who think that, say, five-card stud with nothing wild is the only true, pure, form of poker as well. That would be their opinion, but they are certainly in the minority with it. And, since I’m postmodern and iconoclastic in so many other areas of my thinking, I can’t possibly reject any of these other models on the basis that they would be “weird,” “too complicated,” or “(non-fundamentally) alter the premise of the game.”
As always, when it comes to determining rules and league structures, the idea is to work to develop a model that works best for the group it will be governing. Some groups prefer a more equitable distribution of the spoils and more spots that “place,” while others prefer more of a winner-take-all paradigm. While I do think this proposed model has some very attractive merits, I’m not endorsing it as, per se, superior to the conventional system. Above all, I encourage people to take a needs-based approach to developing their league structures and seek to maximize the fun factor and competitiveness of their leagues by tweaking set-ups, and even thinking outside of the box when doing so, if necessary.
Here’s an example of an experiment I recently tried. In fantasy football, I often run into the problem that people get angry and dejected when they have a very good week, outscoring all the teams in the league except the one they were matched up against. So, in a couple of my football leagues, we’ve paid out most total points in addition to regular season champ, and playoff winner and runner-up. This year in one league we experimented with a further tweak to that model. Instead of most total points, we paid out small weekly prizes to the team with the highest point total of the week, in addition to the regular season winner, and playoff champ and runner-up. In an endeavor like fantasy football, where there’s much more randomness than fantasy baseball, people seemed to like that there were more ways to win something and that every week they had a chance to win something even if they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice the weight of the grand prize to create additional incentives to keep the league as engaged and competitive (and “pure”) as possible throughout the course of the season.
There are some dynamics likely to be present in each group of participants. Usually a first and second division emerges among the owners in a specific league and it influences preferences regarding league settings. For example, in my main league we operate in four-year cycles with escalating entry fees and in increasing number of keepers each year before starting from scratch (full redraft after each cycle). When we negotiate entry fees, the more historically successful owners are more likely to endorse higher entry fees and larger year-to-year jumps, while the less successful owners usually vote for lower fees and often stipulate when fees hit a certain level, it trigger an additional “money spot.”
One of the attractive features of the model proposed in this article is that it can appeal to owners in both groups. As you saw, the overall champ and runner-up took a greater share of the pot than a traditional model of the same pot would offer. Additionally, finishing in the top 70% was softer on the wallet in this model. Only the lowest performing teams get soaked in this model, and there is still incentive to fight for every last point because everything counts, from place of finish to margin of victory.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:51am (27) Comments
Thursday, February 11, 2010
When it comes to draft or auction strategy, it is always extremely useful to plan ahead and to think about what you want to do later in the draft/auction (from now on, I'll just refer to a draft) when planning your first moves. But, don't get too caught up in your masterful late-round strategies.
Whether you're the type of player that comes into a draft with a full ranking and/or dollar values for all players or if you're the type that comes in with a few gut feelings and casual sentiments, I bet that you always think at least several moves in advance during a draft. If you use a draft queue to remind yourself of some players you're interested in in your league's "draft room," then you're definitely planning ahead.
Planning ahead is inescapable and helpful. Perhaps you "reach" for a particular second baseman because he's the last one left that you put any decent value on. That's planning ahead. Perhaps you decide to first draft a shortstop because there are still many acceptable closers left. That's planning ahead.
A form of planning ahead is called "backward iterating" or "backward induction." The above examples are fuzzy cases of backward iteration. Basically, you think about what you're going to do several steps ahead and that, in some way, helps you decide what to do in the first or present step. So much expert advice, if you listen closely, is a form of backward induction.
Here's the thing, though: You must work in the element of chance, of uncertainty. Whether or not you backward iterate, there's no getting rid of chance. But a common mistake is to put too much faith in your end-of-draft strategies, leading you to make early-round mistakes.
An example: You've done your valuations and compared them to some ADPs or consensus valuations. You see, perhaps, that you project Ryan Doumit to be a 15th-round value but that his ADP is (just making this up) in the 21st round. "Ah ha," you say, "I can wait on drafting a catcher and still get a good late-round value." Moreover, even though Victor Martinez is still on the board at the end of the sixth round (making him a good value, according to your projections), you wait on getting a catcher, prioritizing other positions first. You'll draft Doumit in perhaps the 17th round and still make an expected profit.
But what happens if by then someone else has taken Doumit? You may be left with Rod Barajas or some such character.
The problem is that your strategy was contingent on a very distant forecast—in this case, at least 10 rounds into the future. Ten rounds is likely an eternity in drafts—equivalent to forecasting the rain a month out or presidential elections 20 years hence. There's lots and lots of potential variance. Sure, you can probably forecast where a player will be drafted on average (ADP does a pretty good job of this, almost a fortiori). But strategies such as the one above aren't built on average; they are built on forecasting extremes. You really don't want to be too late drafting a position if you're backward iterating in such a risky manner.
The use and misuse of backward iteration casts a tightrope that we all must walk. On the one hand, drafting a "steals guy" in the second round just because you drafted a "power guy" in the first round seems excessively precautionary. Don't give up the chance to draft another "power guy" who may be the better value at that point; you'll be able to get steals later. However, you shouldn't put all your eggs in the Nyjer Morgan basket for the 10th round either, drafting only non-steals guys till then. Same goes especially for closers. Whether or not you subscribe to some version of the "don't pay for closers" mantra, planning on getting a specific closer in the late rounds is folly.