Feb 23, 2011

Posts From Other Folks: "Understanding Projections..." from Fangraphs

There was a good article at Fangraphs today that I wanted to point out because it has some applications to what is going on with this site here.  Their post was titled "Understanding Projections, “True Talent Level”, and Variability" and sought to explain a bit more about the world of baseball projections.  Nearly all of the research that is done on this site during this time of year is directly tied with analyzing the Marcel, CAIRO and ZiPS projection systems.  Each of those systems represents its own little universe of players with expected highs and lows and we take a peek inside those worlds and see how any given player is expected to do in comparison to the others.  But, this article points out some words of wisdom that I'd like to highlight:
Most people get into projections as a result of fantasy baseball, so this makes sense; we all want to know which player is going to hit 30 homeruns this next season and which will steal 40 bases. However, projections are actually measuring something different than a player’s expected production: they’re measuring a player’s true talent level.
Let’s start with something simple: flipping a coin. We’d expect that a normal coin would have a “true talent level” of landing heads 50% of the time, right? If you flipped that coin 100 times, though, it may be that you’d end up with 53 heads and 47 tails….or with 45 heads and 55 tails. You’d be most likely to end up with a result close to 50/50, but it’s no guarantee that things would end up precisely at the coin’s true talent level every single time.
This important analogy highlights something that must be clear when using the projections within these cheatsheets or when looking at my analysis on the site.  The projections are not necessarily predictions of exact stats but a prediction of expected level of performance.  That may sound like a small difference but can really be quite large.

The article gets into a bit of math about standard deviations related to predicted talent levels then goes into this paragraph:
In other words, say we project David Wright to hit 20 homeruns this season. That projection isn’t saying that he’s going to hit exactly 20 homeruns, but instead that he’s 68% likely to hit within one standard deviation of 20 homeruns. With that in mind, Wright hitting either 15 or 25 homeruns wouldn’t necessarily prove the initial projection “wrong”: it just means that Wright’s season varied from his projection, and we can use that information to better project his true-talent level going forward.
A tiny bit of variability among players can greatly shake up the whole balance of power in fantasy baseball even. There's quite a big difference in value if Player X and Player Y are both projected for 20 homeruns but X hits 15 and Y hits 25.  In that scenario, the projections weren't necessarily "wrong" as the players were still within their true-talent level but a 10 HR difference goes a long way between winning and losing in fantasy baseball.
So the next time you start looking through projections, remember to take variability into account. Our minds love to eschew probability and uncertainty – why do you think casinos make such a killing? – but understanding this concept can keep you from drawing faulty conclusions from projections. Embrace uncertainty, and it might help you beat the house (or beat your friends at Fantasy).
Variability is expected and projections are purely meant to show safe bets about future performance based on past performance.  They are a representation of assumed talent level and shouldn't be looked at as absolute certainties.  In the end, the projection systems represent a good starting point but also remember to use your gut and your own knowledge to help differentiate similarly valued players.

Feb 22, 2011

Mitch Moreland, 2011 Deep Sleeper Candidate

The following is a profile of Mitch Moreland, one of my 2011 fantasy baseball deep sleeper candidates (affectionately called narcos).  For more information on the thought process behind the narcos, please visit the introductory post on this topic.

Average Draft Position: 388.95
Others drafted around that time: Jed Lowrie, Clint Barmes, Chris Coughlan
2011 Role: 1B/DH with potential to start
2010 Production: .255 AVG, 9 HR, 20 R, 25 RBI, 3 SB in 173 PA
My 2011 Prediction: .285 AVG, 25 HR, 70 R, 85 RBI, 5 SB (if he starts)

It seems like Texas has had a constant funnel of young first base prospects coming through their system recently.  There was Chris Davis who teased us with his potential for the past few years but never delivered and then there was Justin Smoak who had even more potential but was swapped in the Cliff Lee deal.  Then, last year, along came Mitch Moreland.  In the time it takes to get a cup of coffee at the MLB level last season, Moreland mashed nine homeruns, turning some heads in the process.  He was never as highly as touted of a prospect as the others but showed great promise in the minors that made him hard to ignore.  He hit .313 (with a .383 OBP) with 48 homers over 361 minor league games, showing good power and patience at the plate.

With uncertainty surrounding Michael Young, it also leads to a bit of uncertainty with Moreland for 2011.  However, despite the Young scenario, he is currently slated to start at 1B according to MLBDepthCharts.com with Mike Napoli spelling him as well.  If Young is able to get traded, that creates a bit more breathing room here and allows Napoli to take more AB's at DH instead of stealing them from Moreland at 1B.

Regardless, if he truly able to be the starter in 2011, big things could be in order.  Don't be fooled by the .255 average last year as small sample size and low BABIP are partly to blame.  If you factor in his playoff at-bats, he hit for .277 on the season (with a .370 OBP) which is more in line with what to expect at the very least out of him.  In point-based leagues, he's even more valuable considering his high walk rate which shouldn't be ignored if you are rewarded for it.  He's got a nice bit of power and good plate discipline in a powerful lineup which should lead to lots of RBI opportunities depending on his batting position.  Despite being a young starting first baseman with upside, Moreland is still valued fairly low in drafts and could be had for a reasonable discount price.  It definitely doesn't hurt to invest a late pick Moreland considering his high potential for 2011.

Feb 19, 2011

Tiered Value Ranking by ADP (Printable Cheatsheet)

One of the more valuable draft preparation practices is to break each position down into tiers so that you know when a drop in talent is starting to come up.  This tiered cheatsheet creates new tiers based on player projected values at various average draft positions and can be used as a roadmap for how to handle your draft because of upcoming drops in talent at a position.  My first step in creating these tiers involves taking a numeric look at quality and quantity of players at each position over those rounds:

Above and on the left are the projected roto values of players at each position during a set of rounds going up to the 20th round of a 12-team draft.  And, on the right are the number of players taken at the position through each of those rounds.  Looking at the average player values in those regions for each position, there are some pretty clear places where a new tier of talent starts to form.  Sometimes, those tiers encompass a large number of rounds (the third tier of catchers goes from Round 7 to 20 without much talent dropoff for instance).  So, if you're in Round 10 and looking at the third tier of catchers, you can certainly consider waiting a long time and still get relatively the same talent level according to this exercise.

After assigning actual names to those mysterious values in each round, we get the following printable cheatsheet now available on the site:  

2011 ADP Positional Tiers

Keep in mind that all players in a tier are not created equal necessarily but this gives you a good indication of similarly valued player ranges and when you might start experiencing a drop in talent.  In the future, there will be a similar version for roto categories broken down by ADP tiers as well.  Enjoy, and let me know if you have questions.

Feb 18, 2011

Matt Joyce, 2011 Deep Sleeper Candidate

The following is a profile of Matt Joyce, one of my 2011 fantasy baseball deep sleeper candidates (affectionately called narcos).  For more information on the thought process behind the narcos, please visit the introductory post on this topic.

Average Draft Position: 496.33
Others drafted around that time: Tyler Clippard, Kosuke Fukudome, Peter Bourjos
2011 Role: Platooned OF with potential to start
2010 Production: .241 AVG, 10 HR, 30 R, 40 RBI, 2 SB in 261 AB
My 2011 Prediction: .250 AVG, 25 HR, 75 R, 90 RBI, 10 SB (if he starts)

The long and winding road of Matt Joyce's career has led him down many paths with the Tigers and Rays but none of those resulted in him being a starting outfielder yet.  Despite Carl Crawford's exit, the Rays' acquisitions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez may make it even harder for Joyce to get the playing time that he needs.  He is currently slated to be in a platoon situation this year but has a lot of power potential if he is able to get 500-600 AB.  He is 26 this season so he is still quite young with a fairly high ceiling.  In 322 games at AA and AAA levels, Joyce crushed 49 home runs and stole 21 bases.  While the speed isn't what he is most touted for, the mighty bat he swings has always been reliable and trustworthy and would never steer you wrong.  In more simpler terms, his power is the real deal and he's shown that at the MLB level too.

His batting average isn't something to write home about but he did maintain a .275 average over a total of 519 minor league games.  He suffered from a poor average last season but had a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play, which can greatly affect batting average due to relative luck over a season) well below career norms which could indicate potential for returning closer to that .275 average this season.  But, given his huge strikeout rate (not quite Mark Reynolds-level but still strikes out a ton), it's hard to put full faith in a huge boost to his average.

For points-based leagues that credit walks or roto leagues with OBP, there's more of a bonus for Joyce as his nice walk rate offsets his poor batting average (he had a .360 OBP despite the .241 AVG last season).  All in all, Joyce has a lot of tools that could give you fantasy success from a very deep portion of your draft.  The main question is whether he'll get the playing time to be able deliver for you.  Keep an eye on the outfield situation for the Rays over spring training and if there's any indication of Joyce winning a starting job, jump all over him for 2011.  If he starts, he is almost a lock to deliver 25 HR's and has the potential to steal 10-15 bases as well.  Depending on the depth of your league, it may be safe to just let him go undrafted until that point though given his extremely low average draft position. 

Feb 16, 2011

Matt Holliday, 2011 Fantasy Undervalued

Matt Holliday has been as consistent as fantasy baseball players can be since 2006.  His numbers took a bit of hit since leaving Colorado but not enough to make him a lesser talent, even if it may cast a shadow on him in others' eyes.  But, the truth is that he is a reliable lock to get you an average above .300 with 25-30 HR, 100 R, 100 RBI and maybe 10-15 SB.  He's always been at those numbers since 2006 with his lowest totals in each still producing a mighty line of .312, 24 HR, 94 R, 88 RBI, 9 SB (with some of those numbers coming in an injury-shortened season).  So, why isn't this pillar of consistent production being considered at the top of the second round or end of the first round?  It's hard to say exactly but it's something that you should take advantage of.

In both Marcels and CAIRO projections, he ends up projecting to be the 2nd or 3rd best outfielder and ranked at 9th and 11th overall respectively.  In both of these projections, Carlos Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton are predicted to regress and be slightly less valuable than Holliday in 2011 despite both being first-round fantasy picks.  Other names being drafted ahead of Holliday that probably shouldn't be include Mark Teixeria, Prince Fielder, Alex Rodriguez and Joe Mauer but they're all at positions that are  more scarce than outfield and position scarcity is a whole other ball of wax.  Yes, it's clear that outfield is a packed position but a good player is still a good player and Holliday is nearly a lock to deliver the type of performance that you're hoping to get out of guys like Hamilton or Gonzalez.

If I had my druthers, I'd pass on OF in the first round and snatch up Holliday at prime value in the second round depending on where I'm picking.  While anything can certainly happen in a season, there seems to be no red flags that would encourage you to think twice about Holliday in 2011.

Feb 15, 2011

Jed Lowrie, 2011 Deep Sleeper Candidate

The following is a profile of Jed Lowrie, one of my 2011 fantasy baseball deep sleeper candidates (affectionately called narcos).  For more information on the thought process behind the narcos, please visit the introductory post on this topic.

Average Draft Position: 471.14
Others drafted around that time: Brandon Belt, Josh Willingham, Bronson Arroyo
2011 Role: Backup SS with potential to start
2010 Production: .287 AVG, 9 HR, 31 R, 24 RBI, 1 SB in 171 AB
My 2011 Prediction: .275 AVG, 20 HR, 90 R, 70 RBI, 0 SB (if he starts)

Jed Lowrie's career has been all over the map thus far.  In 2007, he hit nearly .300 between AA and AAA but in 2009 he couldn't even break .200 but then in 2010 he goes and hits for a .287 average.  He's always shown a bit of pop in his bat even if the rest of his game hasn't been predictable.  He's mainly a fly-ball hitter with the ability to hit a good amount of doubles with a fair share homers mixed in as well.  The doubles may not help as much with the roto leagues but points-based leagues could certainly benefit from it.

He will be 27 this year and certainly looks like he will be with the big league club again in 2011.  His role with Boston is in question as Marco Scutaro currently takes up the starting SS spot.  However, Scutaro doesn't necessarily have the position locked up and a strong spring from Lowrie could allow him to work himself into the conversation there.  If he is able to win the starting job, he would likely put up slightly better overall numbers than Scutaro despite being drafted 200 picks after him at this point.  

Lowrie has much better power than Scutaro (12 HR being Scutaro's career high) and can hit for around the same batting average (.267 is Scutaro's career batting average) but he may not steal the 5-15 bags that Marco would.  Beyond the steals, Lowrie is a better fantasy producer all across the board as he could definitely hit 20 HR's with a serviceable batting average.  By most fielding measurements, Lowrie represents a better option in the field at SS than Scutaro which is only relevant to you as a fantasy owner because it means that he has an even better shot to win the job.  

Considering the fact that his ADP is at nearly the 500th pick, you probably can just let Jed Lowrie go undrafted at this point while keeping a close eye on his status with the Red Sox.  They're going to have a formidable run-producing offense so he could definitely have some nice value if he can work his way into the starting lineup this season.

Feb 14, 2011

Perceived Values for 2011 Fantasy Baseball Keepers

Making the decisions on my own fantasy keepers has long been a source of frustration and confusion for me.  As a result, this year I needed to figure out a way to take my own bias out of these decisions and give myself a basic answer about what a player's value is.  And, thus, I created my fantasy baseball keeper formula.  It accounts for four things: overall ADP, age, position scarcity and expert rankings.  While I think there is a lot more that goes into a player's value than those things, these are the things that should weigh heavily on your decision because they deal most closely with a player's perceived value to the rest of your league.

If you're keeping 5 players, you're essentially taking players for the first five rounds of your draft. So, think of each of those players as picks within that region and value them accordingly.  If you have a player that you love for next season but he's going in the 10th round in most drafts, don't waste a keeper spot on him as you can likely grab him in the first few rounds of your draft anyway which will be closer to what his public value is.  Succeeding in your drafts is very closely tied to knowing what the market value is for players; the process of choosing your keepers isn't any different.

Here is a quick cheatsheet to judge a player's perceived keeper value for 2011 for a 12-team, 4 keeper league.  This is not what I'm touting as a player's true value for 2011 but it gives you an idea of how the rest of your league might perceive the relative keeper strength of each player to give you a better idea of who you might want to let back into the draft and who you want to keep.

Feb 12, 2011

"Always Draft NL Pitchers" | Fantasy Baseball Strategy Analysis

Without much thought into it, I've always tried to acquire NL pitchers over AL pitchers in my mixed fantasy leagues.  The thought process never matriculated very far past the fact that the league ERA would be lower in the NL than the AL.  So, if two similarly leveled pitchers were out there, I'd side with the NL one over the AL instinctively.  Given the fact that I never really looked into it, it seems like it is high time to test out the theory.  It may not be a popular strategy for fantasy owners but it's worth looking into nonetheless to see if it holds any weight.

Overall League Statistics

The first premise in the theory here is that the National League would have a better environment for fantasy pitchers than the American League.  This is fairly obvious given that there is no DH and that facing off against a pitcher in the 9 hole a few times a game will lend to a few more strike outs, better WHIP and better ERA.  But, just how drastic is the difference in those specific areas?

  • 2010 NL 4.02 ERA; 1.348 WHIP; 7.4 K/9
  • 2010 AL 4.14 ERA; 1.346 WHIP; 6.8 K/9
  • 2009 NL 4.19 ERA; 1.378 WHIP; 7.1 K/9
  • 2009 AL 4.45 ERA; 1.403 WHIP; 6.9 K/9
  • 2008 NL 4.29 ERA; 1.391 WHIP; 7.0 K/9
  • 2008 AL 4.35 ERA; 1.391 WHIP; 6.6 K/9
Over the past three years, the league ERA has slightly favored the NL (with 2009 heavily favoring the NL).  But, surprisingly, the difference is only a few percentage points.  With WHIP, the difference is even less drastic aside from 2009 and the AL even beat out the NL in 2010.  However, the strikeouts seem to more heavily favor the NL which is likely aided by facing off against the opposing pitcher a few times a game.

Though the difference for the entire league may not be drastic, the MLB leaderboards may tell a different story.  In the past two seasons, 7 AL pitchers finished with an ERA below 3.00 while 19 NL pitchers accomplished the same feat.  Meanwhile, 9 AL pitchers finished with a WHIP below 1.15 and 16 NL pitchers did.  And, finally, there were only 6 AL pitchers that finished above a 9.00 K/9 rate while 15 NL pitchers did.  So, even if the league as a whole doesn't illustrate a stark difference, the more elite starting pitcher numbers reside in the NL.

Quantity Drafted from Each

Though we can all agree that the NL is a better league for pitching, fantasy leagues clearly may have already adjusted to this by having more NL pitchers in the early rounds.  If this is the case then fantasy drafts have already reacted to the change and my point is moot.

Looking at sheer quantity, there are 3 AL starting pitchers currently being taken in Rounds 1-4, 8 in Rounds 5-8 and 11 in Rounds 9-15 (NL had 4, 11 and 12 respectively).  So, there are a few more NL pitchers being taken but it's certainly not a drastic difference in any of those regions.  However, logic would have us assume that the AL players taken in these rounds are comparable to the NL pitchers taken in those same rounds.  Let's take a peek though.

Quality Drafted from Each

Using the currently available projections of Marcel and Cairo, we can analyze how many roto points specific pitchers contribute to your fantasy teams in ERA, WHIP and K specifically.  Taking that previously mentioned pool of pitchers in those three areas of the draft, let's compare how they are scheduled perform this season.  The following chart shows the average predicted roto point value that starting pitchers are projected to contribute for ERA, WHIP and K's specifically.

In the first four rounds, there is a small difference between AL and NL but it could be attributed to small sample size.  In the next four rounds, the difference grows to over one roto point worth of difference between AL and NL pitchers in this same area.  Over the next six rounds, the pitchers become more marginal but the difference between AL and NL pitchers is still over one roto point over these three roto categories.  Out of all 50 of the SP's being drafted in the first 15 rounds, the average difference between AL and NL pitchers is more than 1.5 roto points.


When we're in each of these regions of the draft early on, the assumption is that we are comparing similarly valued pitchers even if they're AL or NL but their actual results do not show that assumed similar value.  It can be seen that the current market doesn't necessarily distinguish the difference in leagues between pitchers despite an obvious difference in performance.  In other words, NL pitchers are being undervalued on the whole and this seems to be a market inefficiency.

When your decision is between Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, the difference is less severe than when it's between Ted Lilly and A.J. Burnett or Hiroki Kuroda and Ricky Romero.  So, pick your battles wisely.  But, when you're stuck between a couple of pitchers that you can't quite decide on, we can see that it doesn't hurt to lean towards the NL pitchers first.

Feb 11, 2011

Introduction to the Baseball Projections

When unlocking the power of these fantasy baseball cheatsheets (or browsing the new printable PDF versions), you're presented with an option to choose which projection system you want to use. This can be very confusing without knowing the difference between each of them. Each system calculates player projections differently and one may suit your tastes a bit better than another. So, let's take you through a quick tour with some brief introductions to each:


Marcels is a long-time staple among baseball projections and has been quite successful despite being unabashedly simple. Tom Tango developed it and considers it the most basic forecasting system one can have (so easy a monkey named Marcel could do it, he would say). The system takes the past 3 years of baseball data (weighting most recent data heavier) and regresses the players towards a mean based on age factor. Tango wrote a full introduction to the system years ago that goes into more detail and also wrote an explanation about why the HR totals are lower than some may like.

In one version of a 12-team fantasy league using 2011 projections, here is an idea of what an average fantasy hitter and pitcher would produce with Marcels (which would be used for comparison purposes when calculating a player's WERTH value):

Hitter: .273 avg, 16.6 HR, 68.2 R, 65.7 RBI, 10.7 SB 
Pitcher: 8.75 W, 3.62 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.98 K/9


A somewhat newer projection system, CAIRO, was developed by SG over at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog as a response to some of Marcel's shortcomings from being so basic. For instance, CAIRO factors in minor league performance, park factors and league factors (which Marcels does not). Also, while Marcel ages all stats equally as players get older, CAIRO ages each stat individually as stolen bases might not decline as fast as home runs. A few other differences are that CAIRO uses four years of weighted baseball data and also incorporates a player's position when regressing players towards the mean.  It takes the simplicity of Marcels and adds some more complicated layers to it.

In that same 12-team fantasy league using 2011 projections, here's what an average fantasy hitter and pitcher would produce with CAIRO:

Hitter: .272 avg, 18.3 HR, 75.3 R, 72.7 RBI, 10.8 SB 
Pitcher: 9.07 W, 3.86 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.81 K/9


Similarly to Marcels, ZiPS is a system that has been around for a long time, developed by Dan Szymborski. This system mostly uses 4 years of statistics (a weight of 8, 5, 4 and 3 respectively for each year) but uses 3 years for pitchers and younger/older players. A player's growth or decline is determined based on player type (locating large groups of players with similar statistical characteristics). So, while the other systems are somewhat designed to find averages and regress to the mean, this system finds similar player types and then follows a unique regression or progression based on that player type.

For that 12-team fantasy league with 2011 projections, here's what an average fantasy hitter and pitcher would produce with ZiPS in 2011:

Hitter: .273 avg, 18.4 HR, 74.7 R, 73.0 RBI, 11.7 SB 
Pitcher: 10.06 W, 3.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.56 K/9


Unlike the formulatic projections above, Fangraphs is simply a collection of projections made by fans themselves at their website. Only players that have 15 fan projections or more are used here. The projections are typically a bit more optimistic than a traditional projection system which may speak to the nature of fans themselves. This system relies on the knowledge of the people and may give you a better idea on what the general public is thinking about a player. There were a total of 50,000 ballots last season and the system finished 10 out of 21 in the Forecaster Challenge despite it's possible shortcomings (it should be noted that CAIRO did not fare well in this while Marcels finished tops and ZiPS was not included and it should also be noted that the creator of Marcels ran the challenge based on the metrics of his choosing).

Using Fangraphs for our 12-team league with 2011 projections, we get a more optimistic view of both fantasy hitters and pitchers:

Hitter: .281 avg, 20.0 HR, 82.3 R, 85.2 RBI, 12.3 SB 
Pitcher: 11.45 W, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.34 K/9


If you aren't comfortable with any of the four systems here, the Combined projection option offers a safer view of projections by averaging out these four to come to some sort of consensus. The advantage is that it compensates for the shortcomings of any system while the disadvantage would be that it doesn't fully reward the potential benefits of any system. It's probably not the ideal system but it's a suitable fallback option if you can't make up your mind. As you would suspect, this option generates an average of the available projections that are shared between each of the systems above.

For that same ol' 12-team fantasy league and 2011 projections, here's what an average fantasy hitter and pitcher would produce with this system:

Hitter: .273 avg, 17.5 HR, 72.3 R, 70.1 RBI, 11.0 SB 
Pitcher: 9.35 W, 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.18 K/9


For your purposes, you might find one system fits your taste better than another or you might find that's best to play around with them each.  However, if you want a basic idea of what type of league each operates within, here is a breakdown for each system and how the average fantasy player breaks down for each:

Batting Avg
Stolen Bases

Feb 10, 2011

Angel Pagan: 2011 Fantasy Undervalued

When scanning the fantasy ADP reports early on, it's surprising to see Angel Pagan getting disrespected so badly after a nice breakout season in 2010.  Pagan's 11 HR, 37 SB and .290 average was huge for roto league players yet his current average draft position is 277.71 according to MockDraftCentral.  That may not be the best representation of his public value but even the highest point that he's been drafted at on MDC is 156.  Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki had 6 HR, 42 SB and a .315 average (with less R and RBI) but is drafted 34.26 on average and only as low as pick 52.  Ichiro's long track record of that type of performance obviously factors in and Pagan is not Ichiro but the comparison mainly illustrates the vast difference in their current draft positions despite similar overall roto value in 2010.

Looking at Pagan's numbers from last year, there aren't any stats that point to a sign of upcoming regression in 2011.  His xBABIP (expected BABIP based on a number of factors) was slightly lower than his actual BABIP so maybe his batting average drops a little bit but it should only be a slight drop if so.  His 37 SB were a bit out of the blue but he was in the top 20 in SB% by only getting caught stealing 9 times so the Mets will likely let him run again.  All in all, it appears safe to expect a somewhat similar season to 2010 for him this year.

If the Mets lineup can improve from 24th in the league in runs scored, Pagan could likely generate a bit more in the RBI and R department.  Ideally, Pagan could be a player with numbers close to .300, 10 HR, 40 SB, 90 R, 70 RBI which is just amazing for someone found so late in drafts right now.  But, even the absolute worst case of worst case scenarios would have him as someone who has a line of .275, 5 HR, 25 SB, 70 R, 60 RBI which isn't a terrible player to rotate into your roto lineup.   So when the 277th pick rolls around in your draft, make sure it's Pagan that you take.  Or, just take him at the 200th pick even and be happy about it.

Feb 9, 2011

Lucky Ducks: 2010's Lowest ERA-FIP Totals (Pitchers)

Finding out who was lucky or unlucky in fantasy baseball last season can certainly help you determine who to draft this time around.  Because of that, we already looked at major differences between ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which mimics ERA's format but only accounts for things under in a pitcher's control such as walks, strikeouts and HR's) to determine who was the most unlucky in 2010.  This time around, let's take a look at which fantasy pitchers benefited the most from a bit of good luck last season.

When a player's actual ERA for the season is significantly lower than their total FIP, it can be determined that they were aided by a large amount of luck to achieve that ERA.  If you looked at these numbers prior to last season, you would have known that some of the pitchers due for major regressions were J.A. Happ, Jair Jurrjens, Randy Wells and Rick Porcello despite their high average draft position last year.  For this season, some of the players due for a large step back would be:

Clay Buchholz
Tim Hudson
Trevor Cahill
Jonathan Sanchez
R.A. Dickey
Felix Hernandez
Jamie Garcia
David Price
Ted Lilly
Cole Hamels
Roy Halladay
Gio Gonzalez
Ian Kennedy

A number of these players are scheduled to be among the earlier group of pitchers taken this year.  However, it should be noted that players like Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay had FIPs of 3.04 and 3.01 respectively so still would be major contributers for their team if that is what their ERA were to regress to.  The players with a FIP above 4.00 should be noted as ones to use greater caution with, such as Tim Hudson, Trevor Cahill, Jonathan Sanchez, Ted Lilly or Ian Kennedy.  Do not draft these players while expecting the same performances as last season.  Clay Buchholz gets the J.A. Happ Award for being the leader here this year so expect a major step back instead of a step forward.   If deciding to draft any of the players listed here, expect an ERA closer to their FIP here as opposed to the same ERA that they gave you last year.

Feb 8, 2011

Tyler Colvin, 2011 Fantasy Deep Sleeper Candidate

The following is a profile of Tyler Colvin, one of my 2011 fantasy baseball deep sleeper candidates (affectionately called narcos).  For more information on the thought process behind the narcos, please visit the introductory post on this topic.

Average Draft Position: 272.90
Others drafted around that time: Angel Pagan, Rajai Davis, Ryan Theriot
2011 Role: Backup OF with potential to start
2010 Production: .254 AVG, 20 HR, 60 R, 56 RBI, 6 SB in 395 AB
My 2011 Prediction: .270 AVG, 25 HR, 75 R, 85 RBI, 15 SB (if he starts)

Tyler Colvin's rookie season was certainly a nice surprise for the Cubs as he jacked 20 homers in a limited role with the team.  He's only 25 so still has room to grow but his job in 2011 is undefined with the Cubs OF situation fairly locked up unless they can trade Kosuke Fukodome away.  If Colvin is able to get full-time AB's in 2011, he could be in line for decent production from the lower portion of your drafts.

He has nice pop on his bat but likely won't turn his 20 HR in 400 AB into 30 HR in 600 AB.  It wasn't that he was particular lucky from the length of his HR's as Hit Tracker's data shows he had 5 "No Doubt" HR's and only 3 "Just Enough" HR's.  However his .246 ISO (average extra bases per AB) was well above his minor league numbers.  Expecting a drop down to about a .200 ISO over the course of the season could put him at about 25 HR, which is nothing to scoff at from the 272nd pick in your draft.

He has decent speed and had 44 SB over 442 games in the minors.  So, expecting him to continue about 1 SB per 10 games would be logical and put him at about 15 SB on the season if he plays full-time.  His batting average was fairly poor last year but should see a slight rise with better luck and a better controlled K%.  His strikeout rate was certainly a problem as he struck out 27.9% of the time last year, which was way above his numbers in the minors.  As he adjusts to MLB pitching, the K% should drop down a bit more and bring his average up to somewhere in the .260 to .270 range.  He's not a contact hitter and will likely hurt you in average a little bit but his 20/20 potential helps make up for it.

Keep an eye on Colvin's role with the Cubs during Spring Training and give him a significant bump in your rankings if it's reported that he'll start.  However, take a flier on him either way for a chance to get 25/15 production after the 20th round of your draft.  He may not put up gigantic fantasy numbers but he should be a fairly productive bat if he does get the chance to start.

Feb 6, 2011

Cheatsheet Feature: 2011 Expected Quality Starts

While it isn't a necessary part of every fantasy league, many points-based leagues and some roto leagues embrace the power of the Quality Start as opposed to the generic Win statistic.  Last year, I debuted a formula that David Gassko shared with me to help predict quality starts based on projections.  I decided to tinker with it a bit this year and develop an improved version of the Expected Quality Starts (xQS) statistic.  Two things have a direct impact on quality starts: earned runs and innings pitched.  In the old statistic, only earned runs were accounted for.  In the new version, I try to also identify pitchers who have a tendency to pitch deeper into games as well.

As you can see above, the new formula (which is used in the cheatsheets for any league projection system you choose) accounts for average innings per game as well as ERA to give a number of quality starts expected.  When looking at last year's season totals, this generated a correlation coefficient of .908 to actual results (improved from .900 from the old system) for anyone with 10 QS or more and an improvement to .882 from .864 for the top 100 finishers in QS.

As we get more projections at our fingertips this preseason, keep checking out the cheatsheets here to take advantage of the xQS statistic and use it to help dominate your league. In the meantime, you can simply use the chart above as a handy guide to have with you to remember who to target for those mysterious quality starts.

Feb 3, 2011

"Don't Draft Closers Early" | Fantasy Baseball Strategy Analysis

You're sitting in the fifth round of your fantasy draft where you have to start making real decisions about how you want to shape your fantasy team.  Mariano Rivera is available and you think about taking him but remember that old adage that you should never draft closers early so you draft Alex Rios instead.  Rounds go by and you keep reminding yourself not to waste a pick on a closer.  Suddenly, there's a run on closers and, next thing you know, you're stuck with Brad Lidge and all of the cheese curds have been eaten. Sad times indeed.  You take a moment and think back to your Alex Rios pick and wonder if you should have just taken Mariano Rivera or even just snatched Huston Street when you could have.  Did the old adage steer you wrong?

In points-based leagues, the decision is less perplexing as you just need to consider your league scoring and let that guide your decision.  In roto leagues, the decision also includes the fact that you have to consider how much value a reliever's ERA, WHIP and K's bring to the table.  But, for both leagues, you have to consider to volatility of the position and wonder if the closer you draft will still even be closing by the end of the season.

Drafting Closers Early

The closers who were being drafted "early" last year (before the 100th pick) were Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell or Joakim Soria.  Only three of them really returned positive value (you can take a guess on which three) but volatility can be expected at any position as you could have wasted an early draft pick on outfielders that didn't pan out like Jason Bay, Grady Sizemore or Adam Lind.  So, to not draft top closers just because some of them fail is not the best advice.  The real question at hand is whether there is better value in other positions at that time.

Those top closers went from about the 70th pick to the 100th pick in drafts and there were a total of 34 players within that draft range.  The average WERTH roto value for those 34 players was 0.46 points for your team.  Interestingly, the average for closers in that range was 0.34 points while non-closers averaged 0.48.  So, while drafting a closer wasn't the optimal value, it wasn't a disaster by any means.

If you didn't draft a closer, you were mainly drafting a SP, OF or corner infielder in this range.  In looking at the 10 best players you could have taken, only one of them was a closer.  While in the worst 10 picks you could have made in this range, three of them were closers (though Nate McClouth, Carlos Beltran and Josh Beckett were by far the worst).  This range has a lot of hits and misses with closers not being any different.  They're just as unpredictable as any other pick you could make here but their potential ceiling is a bit lower than others.

If you waited on closers last year, the best time to take them would have been between picks 130 and 160.  This is where four of the top five closers were found and you weren't missing out on too much from the other positions.  There were 31 players in that draft range and they averaged -0.78 roto points among them with closers averaging 0.26 points and non-closers averaging -1.21 points each (side note: SP's were actually most valuable as they averaged 0.74 a piece here).  So, this seems like a safer time for closers given that the 9 closers in this range were nearly as valuable as the 7 top-drafted closers and given that the rest of the crop of players were worse by nearly two roto points a piece on average.

Value of ERA, WHIP & K's for Closers

How important is it to have a great closer instead of plugging in mediocre guys who happen to generate saves?  Well, the main difference between a the best and worst fantasy closer is simply their ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers.  Generally, you can expect 60-80 innings out of a closer in a season and the best of the best will give an ERA under 2.00, a WHIP under 1.00 and maybe 80 to 100 strikeouts.  Getting two of the best closers in the league would get you about 140 innings of that type of pitching, which is certainly valuable.  While having two mediocre closers might give you an ERA above 3.50, WHIP around 1.40 and maybe 50 to 70 strikeouts.

Based on WERTH roto values here, the top five closers in the league would be worth nearly a full roto point of ERA, half a roto point of WHIP while costing you about a half point in K's (in comparison to any pitcher in your rotation's contributions towards total strikeouts).

Billy Wagner
Heath Bell
Rafael Soriano
Brian Wilson
Carlos Marmol
Top 5 Avg
Meanwhile, the lower-end closers in the league obviously have much worse value in all three categories.

David Aardsma
Octavio Dotel
Jonathan Broxton
Bobby Jenks
Matt Lindstrom
Bottom 5 Avg
While a top-tier closer will generate a few more saves over the course of a season than a low-end closer, the main difference in value is the ERA, WHIP and strikeouts that they produce.  Having two of the higher end closers versus two lower end closers could represent a total difference of nearly 5 roto points in your standings in these three categories alone.


Drafting one of the top closers in a draft isn't the best strategy you can take on but it wouldn't completely ruin your draft either.  The difference between having good closers and bad closers is pretty significant throughout a season so choosing wisely is the most important part.  Last year, the best time to grab closers was around the 11th to 13th round in 12-team leagues and that could be the case this year as well.  But, you can still pick the wrong guys in that range as these were a lot of duds there too.

When deciding who to draft at this position, try not to rely on a small sample size as many relievers can produce extremely well over 60 innings in a year then produce horribly over 60 innings in the next year.  Looking at a span of hundreds of innings for a reliever is the best way to really decide who you want.  Also, don't rely only on the number of saves as that's variable from year to year as well.  Pitchers with good ERA, WHIP and K's will keep their job as closers so target them first and foremost and just cross your fingers.

Feb 2, 2011

Carlos Gonzalez: 2011 Fantasy Overvalued

Looking at Carlos Gonzalez's 2010 season, there's every reason to consider him a player drafted in the first round of drafts this season.  So, he's not overvalued based on his results rather he is overvalued because it's unlikely that he will replicate those results this season.  I was very high on CarGo last season and expected big things from him but even I didn't expect what we got.  And, frankly, I'm not expecting it again this season.

When dissecting last season, let's start with his home run numbers.  The 34 homers and .262 ISO (ISO is extra bases per at bat) were an extremely nice surprise but tempering expectations on those would be wise.  The ISO number was much higher than his minor league or early major league career had shown.  The effect of playing in Colorado certainly should be taken into consideration (a .357 ISO at home versus .164 on the road is certainly an indication of that as well as 26 of 34 HR's being at home).  Outside of that, according to HitTracker, he was tied for 3rd in the majors in "Just Enough" HR's with 13 and lead the league in "Lucky" HR's with 5.  If maybe five of those HR's turn into doubles, his ISO drops to .245 which seems to be a little more realistic for him based on past history.  While he has some power and his home field adds to it, 25-30 HR's is what you should expect of him as opposed to him building upon his 34 HR's.

The other very nice thing about CarGo was his insane .339 batting average.  However, that is where there will be the largest drop most likely.  He was a .290 hitter in the minors and worse than that in his first two stops in the majors leading into last season.  Yet, as I mentioned in a previous post, he had the third highest BABIP in the league at .384 which basically means that he got extremely lucky on the balls that he made contact with.  While he could hit a bit higher than it, expecting him to return to a level around .290 is more logical than expecting above .300 again.  Dropping his average that much would mean about 25 less hits for him and that would have an effect on both his R and RBI numbers in addition to SB opportunities.  The SB's were actually a bit of a surprise last year but he does have good speed so getting 20 SB again is certainly reasonable.

All in all, CarGo is a player with 30/30 potential who is a very safe bet for 20/20.  His ability to hit for good average and the opportunity to bring in nearly 100 R and 100 RBI make him extremely valuable.  But, outfield is a deep position and there are better options in the first round that have better track records on producing consistently for a long period such as Ryan Braun or a host of others.  Gonzalez should be a Top 25 player in 2011 but putting him within the Top 5 or close to it is extremely questionable as there are safer options even at scarcer positions available there.