Why I stopped drafting Mark Teixeira

In fantasy, counting stats are gold.

For hitters, home runs and stolen bases are king. They are quantifiable and skill-based. Runs and RBI follow next, being more derivative and situational, but somewhat predictable via context.

But batting average? It is often an overlooked stat, like wins for pitchers, on draft boards.

That is not to say that elite batting average guys are per se undervalued. Joe Mauer, despite catcher status, is a perennially top 50 draftee despite one career top-100 player finish. Ditto on players like Pablo Sandoval before 2010 and Martin Prado this season.

The converse can also be said. Hitters like Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena tend to dip very low relative to their true fantasy value due to their vacuous hitting styles.

But outside the elite and sub-elite batting average guys, batting average is often overlooked. We tend to focus solely on the counting stats for the “guys in the middle,” even though floating a respectable batting average is just as important for them. It is almost as if many fantasy owners presume most of their players are capable of hitting .280, or at least .270.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

The major league “average” batting average among the 426 players with at least 100 trips to the plate this season is .261. Surprisingly enough, 10 percent of that population is hitting .300 or higher, but 242 players (57 percent) are batting at or below the major league “average” batting line. In fact, two-thirds of the league is hitting under .270, while a full standard deviation of batting average from the mean, courtesy of clustering, is .0365 points, or the difference between Jacoby Ellsbury and Kosuke Fukudome (or Ichiro Suzuki, if you want to be ironic).

Needless to day, a respectable, let alone elite, batting average is much harder to come by than one might otherwise think.

This brings us to Mark Teixeira, a career .282 hitter.

That .282 is a tad misleading. Before his Yankee career began, Tex’s career average was .290. He’s thus far hit .266 in nearly three years as a Bronx Bomber (and he’s not getting any younger). Despite being a patented second half hitter, he is hitting only .253 in the second half this season, and a mere .247 on the year.

Teixeira’s other fantasy contributions have aged well. He hit 39 home runs in 2009, 33 last season, and already has 36 this year. He has at least 100 runs batted in each season, including 2011, as a Yankee, and is a mere 17 runs away from crossing home at least 100 times each of those seasons as well. Teixeira is not a base stealer—he has 18 in his career, and has never had five in a single season—though it is worth noting that nearly 20 percent of his career stolen bases have come this year.

That pegs Teixeira as a three-category stud. Particularly over the past two seasons, when power has become increasingly rare, his 35+/100+/100+ production has been elite. And at least historically, he has been near a standard deviation ahead of the curve in a fourth category—batting average.

On the heels of this four-category production, Teixeira has been a top 20 drafted player each of the past six seasons. And not without reason. He has annually repaid the faith of those bold enough to draft a first baseman with their first or second pick.

But is Teixeira really worth a top 20 pick if he’s hitting only .250? Let’s look.

According to Yahoo’s player rankings, Teixeira currently ranks as the No. 37 overall player. Among hitters, Tex ranks 25th overall. My Z-Score sum chart that ignores position and uses only the 426 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances on the season is a little more bearish. Per my chart, Tex ranks No. 21 among hitters with a 7.01 sum, but essentially ius ted for No. 41 overall. Teixeira’s non-positional score narrowly ranks ahead of a few premium positional players—specifically Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins—who would have higher rankings if position were incorporated. I do not have positional values for the season calculated, but I would guess that Teixeira’s true fantasy value per my Z-Score sums chart is borderline top 50.

Is that really worth $40? Top 25 hitter production is great, do not get me wrong, but is it worth paying a $15+ premium over Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino?

To put Teixeira’s sinking batting average and non-stolen base production in context, note his value if he were producing at “career” rates. If he were batting .282 this season, he would be a top 15 hitter. His production value would be just below what Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano have done this season (position ignored). If batting .290, his pre-Yankees career rate, Teixeira would be a borderline first-round pick in 12 team mixed leagues.

Mark Teixeira is still an elite player. Despite playing first base, he is incredibly productive and reliable in three fantasy categories. He is no spring chicken, but also not too old at 31. Tex is an increasingly rare, elite power producer who is athletic enough and has good enough command over the strike zone to age “gracefully.” In the heart of the New York Yankees lineup, this means his home run, RBI and runs production over the next two seasons should remain strong. He is certainly unlikely to bust if drafted for that production, which itself is a valuable asset on draft day.

Still, without the batting average, drafters are probably paying an unnecessary premium. They are paying for a top 30-50 player as a first rounder. That’s just silly.

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Comments

  1. saucY said...

    this is why i’m glad my league made the OBP AVG swap 3 seasons ago.

    that said, Tex’s OBP could be better too :/

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Something not mentioned in the article, but which is important to note, is that moving up in fantasy ranks is harder the higher you go. To move from No. 100 to No. 80 is not as difficult from No. 40 to No. 20. Top names tend to have a disproportional proportion of value.

  3. David Wade said...

    I thought the title was going to be “why I stopped drafting Mark Teixeira and started trading for him instead” !  haha

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @David,

    Well in our league, I am basically punting batting average. Oddly, Mark Tex’s AVG on the season “helps” my team’s AVG….sigh…stupid me being so patient with Dunn+Rios and Hanley all season really did not payoff….

  5. Jeffrey Gross said...

    George,

    I presume you are referring to what I believe was Derek A’s article a few weeks back? Batting average is technically a “counting” stat, but its in rate form. It’s why I calculate Z-Scores for it as (AVG-MEAN)/STDEV*(AB-Mean_AB)/(Mean_AB).

    Still, it is a very *variable* “counting” stat, which is why it is often overlooked. I personally draft for Home Runs, Stolen Bases, and low strikeouts. That tends to reduce variability from expectations. Dunn, of course, excepted.

  6. David Wade said...

    @Jeff- thanks in part to your constant pre-season preaching about Hanley, I bought him for 50 bucks in my long-time roto league!  I’m almost glad he’s out so I’m not forced to start him anymore (although he was better in the second half)

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @David,

    Oops. My bad. If it makes you feel better, I own Hanley in all (including our league) but one of my six leagues. He’s universally screwed me

  8. Derek Ambrosino said...

    …BA is a counting stat in the sense that it is calculated by dividing two counting stats – hits over ABs. So, in order to raise or lower your BA by X points, one should consider that prospect with a counting stat mentality.

    But, as Jeff said, the problem with it being a complete and true counting stat, the way home runs is, lies in its variance and defense-dependent nature.

    I think the middle isn’t really accounted for in BA because, say .260 – .280 is basically a relatively realistic range out outcomes for a single peripheral performance level. That is to say, that a lot of the players that fall into the solidly own-able with clear fantasy value can be predicted to hit within that range, though we have less of an idea of who will post what.

    The elite guys and the dead weights are considered such because even accounted for the variance of BABIP, etc. they are overwhelmingly like to still be elite or liabilities. The question isn’t whether Joey Votto is going to help your BA or not, but whether he will help you with .340 or with .305. For most players, the expected range of performance crosses the help/hurt line, so it’s hard to pencil them in as pluses or minuses on an individual basis.

    The one counting stat element of BA that I do believe is quite important, and really should be accounted for when drafting is that your best BA hitters should be the guys who get the most ABs. Ichiro’s BA was so valuable all these years not simply because his raw number was the best, but because it was also the weightiest BA in the league. Votto’s 100-plus walks push down his Hs and ABs, suppressing the weight of his (.316) average, while Starlin Castro’s (.305) has more heft.

    Votto leads the league in PAs, yet isn’t even in the top 10 in ABs.

    Castro: 179/586
    Votto: 162/512

    While there’s a raw difference of .11 points in BA between them, the impact of their H/AB on your team’s composite BA closes a bit because of the relative weight of their marks.

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    100% agree with everything you said Derek. Weighting AVG to ABs is important, and its something I think is overlooked in most quantified player analysis. If drafting for AVG, “classic” Ichiro should absolutely be ahead of Votto.

    And I hate it when you draft a .330 guy who hits .290 or .300. E.g. the last time I drafted Mauer in 2007. I clearly never learn my lesson.

    (Most Z-Score sum models for player values utilize hits, which bothers me, though volume is incorporated. As noted above, I prefer AVG scores weighted by AB)

  10. Tom B said...

    Maybe I’m missing something…

    Teixeira’s ADP was 18.6 in Yahoo.  Who is drafting him in the first round?  Obviously drafting a player that shouldn’t be going in the first round there would be a mistake…  you wouldn’t sing someone’s praises for drafting Granderson in the first round this year…

    He was projected 15th by my preseason rankings, he’s 18th.  Half of the players above him were not drafted in the first 3 rounds (ie can’t be predicted and are having monster years).

    Seems to me that he has been worth exactly what was paid for him, while having a pretty mediocre season at the plate.

  11. Tom B said...

    Seems to me that BA is more volatile than the counting stats surrounding it (HR/R/RBI).  Chasing it (or overdrafting someone else because they are projected for a high BA) is a really bad idea and a quick way to lose.

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Tom B,

    His preseason MDC rank, however, was No. 13 overall. So borderline first round. He’s also not been the 18th best hitter in standard formats. He’s somewhere in the low/mid 20’s range, but close to 50 overall when you consider pitchers

  13. Jeffrey Gross said...

    MDC = mock draft central, which compiles draft tendencies into data points. I consider MDC “the free market” because its how people are drafting, not necessarily how ESPN/Y! tells people to draft

  14. Jeffrey Gross said...

    And Tom, I began writting this 2 days ago. Tex hit a home run yesterday, not sure what happened 2 days ago, but he’s probably also moved up a few spots since I began writing on the heels of his past 2 games.

  15. Tom B said...

    Baseballmonster and Yahoo have him at 20 on the dot (hitters only) using default settings.  Yahoo has him at 32 overall, Baseballmonster at 31 overall.

    Exactly who’s rankings are we talking about here?

  16. Tom B said...

    Sorry I keep double posting :/

    FWIW, I have a Yahoo H2H league set up to the tango points system.  Teixeira is the 19th overall hitter. 858.1 points

    Only in this point system does he drop to 41 overall.

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