Last week, Nick Fleder wrote a column he called Fun with Numbers. Well, I had so much fun, I decided to take his idea and run with it, applying what he did to a couple of questions of my own.
I’m interested in a few players who are either looking to bounce back or expected to make a leap. I wanted to see if I could help clarify and quantify whether taking a risk on these players at their current average draft positions (ADPs) projects to be worthwhile. While much attention often is paid to projections in the fantasy world, less effort seems to be applied to determining what a specific production output is actually “worth.”
Those readers who remember the great quants vs. geniuses discussions of last year might remember this issue as one that surfaced in that debate. Even if we know what a player is going to do, how perfectly can we translate that into what we should pay, what that production is worth relative to other production profiles, and how valuable that player is within the context of any given team?
Well, I won’t even attempt to get to that level of perfection here. In fact, we’re just going to have to settle for relative value compared to a 2010 baseline. But, ultimately, I’m trying to answer the question of what certain players would have to do to live up to their ADPs.
Just a quick note before I begin examining today’s players. There’s nothing particularly scientific or mathematically rigorous about the hypothetical projections I’m attaching to each player. Basically, I pulled these numbers out of the air, but I checked them against Oliver, Bill James, Rotochamp, and other projection systems.
What I was trying to do was generally get these projections in the ballpark of what the systems say but lean toward conservative projections overall. Keep in mind that the players being discussed either are going to have to overcome adversity to regain their previous status or are expected to make “the leap” in 2012.
All the projected rankings come from Baseball Monster’s 2010 figures for 12-team leagues, using the same methodology as Nick’s previous article.
So, what if Mauer posted the following bounce-back, but not-quite-vintage Joe Mauer season?
2010 Equivalent overall rank: 71
It seems that the conditions under which Mauer puts up a season similar to this one, or better, are merely that he stays relatively healthy and plays close to a full season. With Ryan Doumit now in Minnesota, it seems Mauer should see plenty of games at DH, hopefully both preserving his health and growing his AB total.
Looking at this potential line, it doesn’t appear that it should be good for the 71st overall player, especially when there are no inherent considerations for positional value afforded. I think this hypothetical reveals two important insights.
One, batting averages comfortably above .300 are more valuable than many people realize. Seeing a .325 batting average doesn’t elicit the same knee-jerk “Wow!” that 40-plus home runs does, but it is dominating an equally important fantasy category nonetheless.
Mauer is a career .323 hitter. Provided he gets enough ABs to lend considerable “weight” to his batting average, that is going to be a mighty valuable rate stat. Even at .309, we’re looking at the equivalent of 30 homers in category value above average.
Two, Mauer’s average value across all categories comes out to be just slightly positive. In fact, in 2010, there were only 72 players whose composite value across all categories came out positive. This means that the vast majority of players on teams throughout fantasy leagues are really guys who, in the words of Bill Simmons, bring stuff to the table, but also take stuff off the table.
Most of the players on your roster will have major disfigurements in their games. A player like Mauer, who merely only has a few minor blemishes, is a lot more rare than originally thought. Once positional value is considered, those blemishes get treated with a heavy application of cover-up, too.
Mauer appears to be a sound gamble at this price.
On the flip side of Mauer, here’s another catcher who will be contending with growing expectations in 2012. What if Santana posted the following season, where he continued to build considerably on his impressive coming-out party?
2010 Equivalent overall rank: 42
My hypothetical has Santana jumping his batting average 20 points, holding his steals and increasing his other counting stats by about 10 percent. What we’re left with here looks like Jay Bruce with catcher eligibility. With this jump, he still misses earning his ADP by five slots, though one could argue that his positional eligibility makes up that ground. This may be the most aggressive projection I offer up in this article, but some systems think considerably bigger things are in store for the young backstop.
Whether Santana looks to be a good gamble at this current asking price depends heavily on how much you expect him to build on last year’s performance. Overall, it appears a nice step forward isn’t even enough to get you where you need to be. Personally, I’d have my share of reluctance, but I’m sure there are plenty of others who will not.
Prior to last season’s rough start, injury, and an adventurous offseason, Choo was a posterboy for five-category balance. So, what if Choo posted the following bounce-back, but not-quite-vintage season?
2010 Equivalent overall rank: 47
Once again, we are left with a line that looks less impressive than what we might think the 47th overall player should offer. However, even regressed to about 85 percent of his previous norms, the fact that Choo avoids being a major liability everywhere while being a modest asset in four categories leads us back down that road of sneaky value.
It seems to be that as long as his batting average doesn’t tank, there’s still considerable room for Choo to lose further ground from his career norms and still justify his ADP. If you believe at all in Choo, it appears there’s profit to reap from investing.
What the hell happened to Hanley? That was one of last season’s leading story lines. Hanley is being drafted 19th overall coming into this season. Let’s take a look at two bounce-back projections of varying degrees of conservativeness.
2010 Equivalent overall rank: 34
2010 Equivalent overall rank: 26
When it comes to Ramirez, one thing is clear: If you’re in the camp that believes he will bounce back to regain damn near vintage form, it looks like you are not going to see a price you are unwilling to pay this year. Easy decision for you—push in all your chips. I wouldn’t blame anybody for making that move.
The more complicated question is reserved for those who are trying to balance optimism and confidence with trepidation and uncertainty. Hopefully, the two projections above provide some context for the numbers that may be swirling around in your heads. If you look at the bottom projection and say to yourself that “taking the over” looks like a pretty clear bet, then I’d say to go in on Hanley.
If you look at the first projection and say to yourself, “It could be very realistically be worse than that…” then what you are really telling yourself is that there’s as much to lose on this bet as there is to win, and maybe you want to put your chips down elsewhere.
Me, I think I’m buying all the way at 19. HanRam went 16th overall in the THT mock draft, right before my pick. Had he been available, it would have been a very difficult choice between him and Carlos Gonzalez, who I ultimately chose, but after CarGo went off the board, there was nobody left whom I would have even considered ahead of Ramirez.