The fantasy bust of the year

There were quite a few candidates for the fantasy bust of the year (and am I showing my age when the phrase “fantasy bust” makes me think of Dolly Parton?), and depending on the criteria you can have quite a few legitimate winners. However, when it comes to value, age, performance and non “bad luck” explanations for a drop off and the entire package, there is one player who stands out.

Note that I am specifically including the “bad luck” criteria since fantasy baseball is a game of chance. Bad luck is par for the course and to be expected. A player having a bad year due to random chance is not a “bust” in my opinion.

This player is 28 years old, in his prime, and had a first-round skill set. He was a nine-win player the last two years, making him a legitimate MVP candidate, if a down ballot one. This player had 14% and 15% walk rates in 2005 and 2006, BB/K ratios above 0.60 and double digit steals. BaseballHQ.com noted that he had 30 SB upside, and had him projected at $30 going into the auction.

What is worse is that he well underperformed his projections by large margins. This player had a weighted mean PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, which includes a range of projections) of 34 HR 101 RBI .284/.385/.546. Yet he came in well below his 10% projection of 22 HR .252/.351/.466 9 SB. Marcels’ similarly projected 29 HR 94 RBI .293/.388/.536. He was below all of these benchmarks. What really sticks out are the following numbers:

21 HR, 4 SB, .247/.322/.418.

That SLG mark is almost incomprehensible for a 28 year old guy who had a .546 weighted mean projection. Yet he came in 50 points below his 10% projection. By itself this is a good argument for this fantasy bust. He was also a lusty .200 below his typical OPS.

Of course, I am speaking about Jason Bay.

This season was no bad luck related fluke, at least not by the typical yardsticks. He just plain stunk. His hit rate was 30%, his BB rate was 10% and his BB/K ratio was 0.42, below his norm but not enough to explain this drop. His contact rate of 74% was also not out of line with his career norm (76% and 73% in 2005 and 2006). He just didn’t hit the ball hard when he made contact.

Could this have been predicted? Looking at PECOTA again, he had a 36% collapse rate, which is defined as a drop in equivalent runs of greater than 20%. The chances of him improving were only 21%. To put the 36% number in perspective, of the times he gets worse, over 1/3 would be a drop of greater than 20%. For a guy reaching his prime this is a somewhat unexpected profile.

It is difficult to find an explanation here. Most of his skill set was in line with his career norms. It appears that he just didn’t hit the ball well when he made contact. Is this luck? Normally we think we can measure “luck” in a few ways (e.g. evaluating BABIP) but sometimes you just can’t measure it. Bad luck can be in hit rate or strand rate, or injury, but sometimes it could be something as simple (difficult?) as trying to hit a 90 mph thrown sphere and an inability to do so that can’t be measured.

I am not sure what to make of his season. This isn’t an Andruw Jones situation where he had a depressed hit rate. On the surface there is little to explain Bay’s terrible season other than a decreased BB/K rate, which is suggestive of his swinging at worse pitches but hardly conclusive proof.

His most comparable player list in Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA does include a few guys who had precipitous drop-offs in their career so perhaps that is what is happening here. What to expect in 2008 is a crap shoot, but for now I think he was the biggest bust of 2007 given his age, past performance and lack of a “bad luck” explanation for his failures.

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