The fantasy alphabet, part three: J-Mby Nick Fleder
October 27, 2011
J is for Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2012 value
Jacoby Ellsbury screwed me in 2010. I drafted him in the second round in one of my two leagues and watched helplessly as he compiled a .192/.241/.244 triple slash over 84 plate appearances. Worst of all, he played games in April, May, and August, and his DL stints fell in such a way that I expected his damned rib injury to heal all freakin' year. Couple this with the fact that I’m a diehard Yankee fan, and yeah, you could say my feeling towards Ellsbury is pure, unadultured hate.
And Ellsbury knows how much I hate him.
Why else would he go and hit .321 with a glowing .376 on-base percentage, a sizzling .552 slugging percentage, a .402 wOBA, a 150 wRC+, 9.4 fWAR, 39 steals, 105 runs batted in, 119 runs, and the sickest part of all: 32 home runs?
Ellsbury played like a maniac all year, and won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Excuse me, I need to go and punch a wall.
There were only two months in which Ellsbury hit under .300, and his .266 line in April sat at the low end of the split batting average spectrum.
He hit .378 in July, and per wRC+, was 111 percent above league average for the month. His teammate, Dustin Pedroia, won Player of the Month with a 223 wRC+, but let’s not brag—the Sox were watching TBS all October (he he).
The point of this article is not to praise Ellsbury overwhelmingly, but to explain why he should not be drafted as a first-round pick next year. Unsurprisingly, it gives me great pleasure to do so, or else I wouldn’t do it.
Ellsbury was projected by Bill James to hit eight home runs in 2011 over a hefty 674 plate appearances. ZiPS projected a more modest six, albeit over only 467 PA, and the average of the 59 fan projections on FanGraphs predicted the Boston Boy to hit eight home runs over 603 PA.
Needless to say, no one expected the man to hit 32 dingers, and to raise his HR/FB percentage from the 7.0 to 9.5 percent range to a gaudy 16.7 percent mark.
Ellsbury was among the top 30 in HR/FB, but the stat fluctuates wildly on a yearly basis, and besides the perpetual outliers (for example, Ryan Howard or Jim Thome), any name in the top 30 can slip out from one year to the next. Even a man like Prince Fielder can find his name at the top of the list in one year (2007: 23.9 percent) and fall out of the top 20 the next (2008: 18.2 percent). It’s all the luck of the ball.
It’s intuition to figure that a lanky 6' 1", 165 lb. frame will not yield 32 whoppers without a lot-a-bit o’ luck, even in the friendly confines of Fenway Park, and even if Ellsbury may have taken a step forward in his development as a player. He did mash his first pair of home runs to left field this year, and according to Home Run Tracker, eight of his 32 round trippers were classified as “No Doubters,” meaning they cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence.
Only five of Ellsbury’s homers were classified as “Lucky” or “Just Enough,” which means, respectively, fly balls that were carried by wind or ones that “barely made it over the fence.”
Here’s a look at how each of Ellsbury’s blasts fell in terms of distance and direction, taken from HitTrackerOnline.com:
If you eliminate Ellsbury’s five lucky home runs and account for fluctuation in HR/FB ratio (we’ll stabilize his ratio at 10.5 percent, the league average in 2010), you’re looking at a total under 20 homers. I think it’s a fair estimate.
This is simply accounting for one stat. Ellsbury, you argue, is a five-category producer and therefore justifies a first-round pick.
At this point, there will be little dispute if you say Ellsbury will hit .300. He’s a .301 hitter in 2245 plate appearances and has hit over .300 in two out of three of his full seasons. His BABIP was only 11 points higher than his career BABIP, yet his batting average was 20 points higher than his career batting average. In fact, Ellsbury is hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls, and the changes in his batted-ball types could help account for his xBABIP of .346 and xAVG of .329.
It would be nitpicky to say Ellsbury is a health concern, but he’s played in an average of 118.5 games over his last four years. Yes, take out the outlier (18 games in 2010) and you have an average of 152 games, but consider the fact that this is his baseline. Expect 10 games missed from Ellsbury, and then account for his explosive and all-out playing style, his demanding position, and his previous injury history (before you say that the rib problem was a “freak” injury, don’t forget the fact that it proved his recovery time to be painfully slow, suffering multiple setbacks due to soreness).
Even if his injury concerns aren’t realized, the larger point looms true: Taking Ellsbury with a top pick or top dollar possesses more downside than upside in principle. He was worth $45 dollars in a standard 12-team league, per Baseball Monster numbers with 70 percent of a $260 budget spent on hitters, leading Ryan Braun at $43, Curtis Granderson at $40, and trailing only Matt Kemp at $50. In a typical auction league, the studs go off the board at $40-$50, meaning Ellsbury’s likely $45 price tag will mean that, at best, he’ll break even on his price.
Ellsbury isn’t worth the top dollar.
K is for killer Ks
The best fantasy starters tend to be strikeout artists, and as such, they have higher value. Even relatively high-WHIP guys find themselves consistently overrated (hello, Yovani Gallardo) because they can hit the coveted 200 mark of Killer Ks. Don’t be the one that bites the bait and drafts Gallardo as their No. 1 or reaches for him as their second “ace.” Check out the following under-the-radar K masters.
Ryan Dempster’s 8.5 K/9 bested Roy Hallday, Ian Kennedy, James Shields, and Cole Hamels in that category. He’s also a solid bounceback candidate with a low FIP and a high BABIP in 2011. He could conceivably be drafted as a fifth starter or worse on a mixed-league team.
Anibal Sanchez’s 9.26 K/9 number was a bit flukish, as his 10.9 percent SwStrk% was 1.4 percent higher than his career number. He generated a roughly two percent Swing% while throwing close to five percent fewer sliders and five percent more changeups than in the previous season. Sanchez’s value is capped by the Marlins offense (he has won four, 13, and eight games in an average of 160 innings pitched over the last three seasons) and his injury history, but he is a Gallardo-lite if you will, and can be gotten at a much lower price.
Javier Vazquez’s K value is dependent, of course, on his returning to the majors for another year, but he put up a 0.71 September ERA and a 2.48 August ERA while striking out 76 in 78 innings. His 7.57 K/9 mark was below his 8.04 career mark, and he did put up 9.77 in a superb 2009. He regained some fastball velocity (90.4 mph in 2011 compared to 88.7 mph in 2010), and his SwStrk% can regress more to his mean (8.9 percent in 2011 compared to 11.1 percent career). If he’s back, he may not be as cheap as you’d hope due to his second-half resurgence, but his previously-reached upside makes him worth drafting as a fourth starter on a mixed-league staff.
L is for lefty troubles
Eric Hosmer was terrible in 2011. He was 41 percent under league average per wRC+ and had an anemic .282 OBP. He was a colossal failure, a rookie bust, an overhyped prospect who had a .585 OPS, a league-worst .262 wOBA and a .237 batting average.
Of course, those stats and that description of Hosmer are taken completely out of context. Those numbers were put up against lefties in 163 plate appearances and, unsurprisingly, the no-show against the southpaws did severely stunt Hosmer’s value and will continue to do so if history can tell us anything.
Adam Lind and Andre Ethier are excellent comparisons. Lind is a 6' 1" lefty who weighs 215 pounds. Ethier is a 6' 2", 205-pound lefty, as well, and Hosmer, though slighty bigger than both at 6' 4" and 229 lbs., also hits from the left side.
Both Ethier and Lind have strikingly similar numbers from 2007-2011 against lefties as Hosmer did in 2011. Lind has 648 PA against lefties in that time span and has a .266 wOBA and a 57 wRC+. Ethier has 790 PA against lefties in that time fram and has a .285 wOBA and a 72 wRC+.
Hosmer has the pedigree and opportunity to be a successful major leaguer and a possible franchise cornerstone for the Kansas City Royals, but his fantasy value is limited, much like Lind’s and Either’s values are, by his inability to hit the ball with authority—or hit the ball at all really—against lefties.
M is for Mr. No. 1 overall fantasy producer
Let’s see some context for Justin Verlander’s No. 1 overall fantasy season.
Linear weights tell us that Justin Verlander had the best overall fantasy season in 2011.
The above linear weights apply to a 12-team league with a $260 cap, 14 offensive players, nine pitchers of any kind, and a 60-40 hitter-pitcher money split. Matt Kemp led the offensive players with $42 dollars of value. To spend 40 percent of your money on 40 percent of your players makes sense, but in reality, many people spend far more on hitting than pitching (I've seen 80-20 splits before). We'll go with the more logical solution for this exercise.
Above are the 2009 leaders.
Above are the 2010 leaders.
In all three cases, the best fantasy player of the year was a pitcher, and, at least in the cases of Greinke and Verlander, a pitcher likely in the midst of a career year. Halladay is about as stable as starting pitchers get, consistently putting up sub-1.10 WHIP and sub-3.00 ERA years, and on the offensive juggernaut that is the Phillies, he will more often than not put up 18 or more wins.
We should first applaud Verlander’s superb season, which, for the record, was also worth 18 dollars more than Halladay’s 2008 Fantasy MVP season, and, as shown above, was worth $14 more than 2010 Halladay and 2009 Greinke. He was out-of-this-world good, and a 0.92 WHIP will make up for the drafting of at least two John Lackeys. (That’s imperfect math, but you get the point.)
But I should explain that Verlander shouldn’t be the first pitcher off the board in 2012. Grienke in 2010 was vastly different than Greinke in 2009, and he ended up being worth less than -$7. That means if he was drafted with the expectation $40 of value (some regression from 2009-2010 that was expected accounted for), he was $47 overvalued. Halladay is a case study in and of himself in consistency and low-risk drafting, and he’s been performing at this level for so long that you can rightfully expect $40 of value year in and year out.
But Verlander will be a classic case of drafting last year’s performance. Greinke was an early-to-mid third-round pick come draft day, and Verlander may go higher given his ceiling ($60). But consider the fact that Verlander was worth $14 in 2010 and realize that most human pitchers (non-humans would be Halladay and Mariano Rivera) are extremely volatile. Draft undervalued starters around rounds four and five (see: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain) and even later (see: Mat Latos, Daniel Hudson, Chris Carpenter) and hope for a Verlander-like breakout.
But don’t draft last year’s Mr. Fantasy.
Nick can be reached for questions, comments, or concerns via email: nick.fleder AT gmail DOT com.
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