Trader’s corner: reviewing the misses

We’re now deep enough into the 2012 season that we can start looking at player performance and evaluate predictions from the beginning of the year. It’s a good time to sit back and take stock of performances thus far—both those of the players on our rosters and of our own as fantasy managers.

Believe it or not, THT Fantasy experts aren’t immune to mistakes. Some of the calls made in this space have not worked out as hoped. Any good gamer will tell you process trumps results, so even some of the misses can be misleading, but some were simply misses. What follows is a review of the recommendations I’ve made in this space that have failed to live up to my predictions.

I’ll also dedicate a separate column to the predictions I made that were successful, and one to the predictions that were neither obvious successes or obvious failures.

Justin Upton
Initial recommendation: Buy High
Date: March 27, 2012
Before: N/A
After: .250-37-22-5-8

While Upton certainly hasn’t been awful, he’s been far from a first round value. Neither his power or batting average are what owners were hoping for when they paid first round value to acquire him.

The good news is this looks more likely to be noise than degradation of skill. His strikeouts are up a bit from last year, but still on pace with his career to date. He’s not hitting too many balls on the ground, and nothing jumps out in his plate discipline profile that makes an obvious culprit for his struggles.

Upton has the look of a player well worth being patient with. His Oliver projection still calls for a .290-59-56-16-13 the rest of the way, which is qualifies as first round production. His end of season line is likely to look disappointing at this stage, but there’s no great reason to doubt his production moving forward.

Updated recommendation: Buy Low

Matt Garza
Initial recommendation: Buy High
Date: April 11, 2012
Before: 0-3.00-1.00-5
After: 2-4.10-1.13-56

Garza has had a bit of a roller coaster season so far. He got off to a fine start, struggled a bit at the end of May, but has picked it up in two starts so far in June. He’s provided a better-than-expected WHIP, a worse-than-expected ERA, and a quality strikeout rate. The real killer, though, has been his two lonely wins, largely thanks to awful offensive and bullpen support.

The reason for Garza’s inflated ERA is a 15.3 percent home run per fly ball rate. His strikeout rate is still high, walk rate still solid, and he’s getting more ground balls than ever, leading to a very respectable 3.53 xFIP and 3.43 SIERA

In the initial discussion about Garza, one of the points raised was the connection between his increased slider usage and his success in 2011. The idea was that if he maintained this pitch distribution heading into 2012, he should continue to find success. And indeed he has, throwing his slider nearly 25 percent of the time.

His fastball velocity is steady, and while his swinging strike rate is down a touch, it’s still above average. He should be able to maintain the above average strikeout rate, and there’s no reason to expect he won’t see his ERA improve moving forward as well.

The biggest problem for Garza is that the Cubs have been such a disaster that it’s impossible to project he’ll start winning more games. He should provide solid ratios and a nice strikeout rate, but as far as wins go, Garza owners simply have to hope he gets traded (which, thankfully, looks like a very real possibility).

Updated recommendation: Buy Low, especially for ratio help, but don’t expect many wins. If he does get traded, be ready to make a strong play for him.

Mat Latos
Initial recommendation: Buy Low
Date: April 11, 2012
Before: 0-7.71-1.93-4
After: 4-4.64-1.36-55

Unlike Upton and Garza, Latos is looking like a pretty major whiff so far. While he likely hasn’t been as bad as he looks so far, he hasn’t been very good either. His strikeouts are down, walks are up, and he’s getting fewer ground balls than ever. That’s a bad combination considering he’s now in one of the game’s most hitter friendly ballparks.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong for Latos. Early in the year, he’d significantly reduced the rate at which he was throwing his slider, instead throwing a harder, tighter, cutter. It seemed this might be at the root of his struggles, but he’s been throwing his slider more recently, and the results have only slightly improved.

His fastball velocity is steady, and there’s no major difference in his pitch distribution, but he’s simply not generating swings and misses at the rate he’s used to. As a result, it’s hard to predict the strikeouts are suddenly going to return.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that he’s actually throwing first pitch strikes at a strong rate, but an improved walk rate would only help so much.

Oliver still expects him to improve to 7-3.96-1.27-116 over the rest of the year, but that’s much more a back end starter than the mid rotation guy Latos was expected to be, and not at all the strong value I called him in April.

Updated recommendation: If you can get anything of value, sell low. Otherwise hold. He’s not outright droppable in standard mixed leagues, but he’s not someone worth targeting right now despite the big hit his value has taken.

C.J. Wilson
Initial recommendation: Sell High
Date: April 25, 2012
Before: 2-2.37-1.05-15
After: 5-2.40-1.10-58

Much to my chagrin, Wilson continues to outperform his peripheral rates, putting up ace like fantasy numbers despite less-than-ace like components.

At this point, I’m honestly befuddled. Wilson continues to generate strikeouts despite a swinging strike rate that’s now well below average. His ERA and WHIP are strong not because he limits walks—in fact his walk rate is quite poor this year—but thanks to a .240 BABIP and 6.7 percent home run per fly ball rate.

Wilson is now in his third straight season of outperforming his xFIP. It may be time to accept that he’s simply a unique entity on the baseball landscape. Still, I can’t recommend him as a buy. A .240 BABIP is low even for him, and rostering a pitcher with a walk rate over 10 percent is playing with fire in fantasy. His ERA may not regress all the way to his 3.69 xFIP, but I’m still betting it’s closer to 3.50 than 2.50 for the rest of the year.

Updated recommendation: If someone is willing to pay for him as a Top 10 or 15 pitcher, I stand by the sell. Otherwise, hold.

Matt Wieters
Initial recommendation: Buy High
Date: May 9, 2012
Before: .299-16-18-7-0
After: .210-11-9-2-0

Wieters was one of my favorite preseason value picks. So, of course, it figures that immediately after I recommended him he went into the tank for a month.

Wieters did almost nothing for three weeks in May, but he’s showing signs of life again in June, going 14 for 36 so far (.389) with a homer.

In total, Wieters’ numbers now look much like they did a year ago—good power with a mediocre batting average. He still looks like a Top 10 catcher, but not quite the major breakout candidate he appeared to be after the first six weeks of the year.

In part, the problem with this recommendation was timing. It would look much more palatable had it been made a week or two earlier or later. The increased power still looks to be very much for real, and a .260 batting average and 25 home runs from a catcher is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Updated recommendation: Buy—you should be able to get away with paying less than you would have had to a few weeks ago.

Bryan LaHair
Initial recommendation: Buy High
Date: May 9, 2012
Before: .388-14-17-8-0
After: .247-11-8-4-1

After an absurdly strong start to the year, LaHair was bound to come back down to earth a bit. The buy high recommendation was never meant to suggest he’d hit .388 all year, but that the power was real and that he shouldn’t become a black hole in the other categories.

Well, that’s essentially what’s happened since May 9. LaHair still hit four home runs in less than 100 plate appearances, but his batting average declined. His BABIP fell to .304 over that stretch while his strikeout rate actually improved slightly.

Oliver actually projects a .329 BABIP for LaHair moving forward and roughly a .280 batting average for the rest of the year. So while we can’t expect him to be as good as he was over the first six weeks of the year, there is reason to expect he’ll be better than he’s been over the last month or so.

The most significant negative development for LaHair since we last checked in on him is that he’s gone back to the bench against most left handed pitchers. This does hurt his projection in terms of volume in a way Oliver can’t quite correct for, but he still should be plenty valuable going forward just playing against righties.

Updated recommendation: Still buy high.

Adam Jones
Initial recommendation: Sell High
Date: May 9, 2012
Before: .297-23-17-8-5
After: .311-19-20-9-4

Somehow, it seems the more ground balls Jones hits, the more home runs he hits as well.

The crux of my concern with Jones was that he’s historically been a very heavy ground ball hitter, and nothing in that regard has changed. In fact, his ground ball rate has actually increased quite a bit since early May. But despite that, he’s more than doubled his home run total since then.

The last hitter to have a ground ball rate of at least 47 percent and hit at least 30 home runs was Shawn Green back in 2002 (Ellis Burks actually did it that year as well).

Jones’s rate currently sits at 50.5 percent. It’s very unusual for a player to hit so many balls on the ground and so many balls over the fence in the same year. At this point, Jones seems likely to join crack the 30 home run barrier despite the high ground ball rate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get value for him.

Updated recommendation: Sell high, but be deliberate. Even though it’s unlikely he maintains the power production, and the ground ball rate is a red flag, it would take a massive slump to damage the community’s perception of Jones at the moment. Try and get a Top 20 or 25 player, and if you can’t, there’s little harm in holding him as you approach your league’s trade deadline.

Observations

-Out of 32 players covered through Week Six, just seven have yielded poor results so far. I’ll take it.

-It’s probably no coincidence that three of the seven players were from Week Six. We expect to see more extreme results in small sample sizes, and given more time, these results should stabilize further. I expect at least one of the predictions on Wieters, LaHair, or Jones to look considerably better in another month or two.

-Oddly, six of the seven misses were on either “Buy High” or “Sell High” players. Do I have an issue with evaluating strong performance as opposed to weak performance? These results are far from conclusive, but perhaps this is something worth watching moving forward.

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Comments

  1. Mark Himmelstein said...

    @Andrew

    Hah, ya got me! Was hoping it wouldn’t happen in that league (not that I tried particularly hard to hide myself, just didn’t advertise my writing here).

    In my defense, when Tim let me in last year I wasn’t writing about fantasy anywhere. They recruited me here this Spring.

    I had an odd feeling when I turned down Beachy I’d been or would be found out, lol.

  2. bsball said...

    I haven’t been following the recommendations to date, but I enjoyed this review.

    I’ve got Adam Jones on my Yahoo standard roto team and so your analysis on him is interesting to me. I can see your points here – and looking back to the original article on May 9. His HR pace and SB pace probably will not continue.

    I also can kind of see your points on Justin Upton, who I don’t own. It seems to me that you would recommend trading Jones for Upton, is that right? I don’t think I would make that trade.

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