Nick Swisher: Overrated?by Victor Wang
November 17, 2008
For this article I was originally planning to write about value picks for next year. One of the guys I was planning to include was Nick Swisher. However, some recent discussion has caused me to question whether Nick Swisher will be undervalued for next year. Typically a guy with Swisher's past season would be a great value target for the following year. I'm not sure if this applies to Swisher, though.
None of Swisher's skills were out of line of what we would expect him to produce. However, he had a very low BABIP of .249 for the year. Usually when a player puts up a BABIP that low there is some bad luck involved. In the past, most people would look at that .219 batting average and avoid Swisher in their fantasy drafts. That would allow some more savvy owners to pick a guy like him up for cheap and get solid production.
It seems to me, though, that this is not the case with Swisher. It seems like most people understand that Swisher likely had some bad luck last year and has a pretty good chance of bouncing back this season. In fact, it appears that some people think that since Swisher had some really bad luck this year he's due for some really good luck next year. However, that is a topic for some other time. People appear to better understand concepts like regression to the mean and looking at more than just a player's last season. So what does this mean for the future of projections?
I feel like the situation with Swisher is proof that we are at a point of diminishing returns when it comes to projecting offensive rate stats. There is only so much more improvement left in that area for projection systems. Not only that but people are better understanding the concepts that go into these projection systems. However, variance projection is an area where improvement would be very beneficial for fantasy owners. While projections like the one linked above and for PECOTA give a range of outcomes, these ranges have not been empirically tested. Therefore, I have to question their reliability.
So what if the fantasy market is becoming more efficient and guys like Swisher can no longer be considered as sleeper targets? Where can we find some good value picks? One class of players would obviously be guys who take the next step and show a change in their true talent. For example, this would typically be a younger player who has a lot of talent but hasn't put everything together like Delmon Young.
A second class of players could be those that you're gambling will stay healthy despite past injury problems. These would be players who have shown a track record of past success but may have had recent injury problems.. For example, this past year Milton Bradley and Justin Duchscherer would be examples of this. For next year, someone like Gary Sheffield or Brad Penny could be a potential target.
In conclusion, players with good skill sets but bad luck may no longer be undervalued like they would in the past. There are two main types of players where I see potential for looking at for sleeper picks. The first type is the kind every writer likes to project in spring training. These are the breakout players, the usually young guys ready to take the next step. The other kind are players with a past history of high playing time variation, typically due to injury. So while you may not be able to count on a guy like Nick Swisher as a sleeper pick this year, there are other places you can look. However, these players are ones that projection systems may struggle with, requiring you the owner to make some more subjective judgments.
Victor Wang's work on OPS has been featured in SABR's By the Numbers magazine, and was the 2007 recipient of SABR's Jack Kavanagh Memorial Youth Baseball Research Award. He can be reached via email here.
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