Feb 27, 2011

Market for 2011 First Basemen, Positional Outlook

There are roughly 35 first baseman being drafted within the top 400 picks of fantasy drafts at this point.  It is a position that is extremely top heavy with 11 of them being picked within the first 4 rounds (while the next 11 at the position will last through 17 rounds after that).  This is a position that you have to get early if you want to get value from it.  The 7 first basemen drafted in the first two rounds are predicted to average 6.12 total roto points each while the 5 drafted between the third and fifth round average 0.92 projected roto points each.  The dropoff is slow from that point on with the 17 remaining first basemen drafted before Round 30 averaging -0.83 projected roto points.

After Prince Fielder is off the board, the pickings are slim as your best bets for value would be Kevin Youkilis or Adam Dunn right away.  Then, there are a couple of choices in the mid-rounds such as Billy Butler or Carlos Lee that offer some sneaky value.  And, if you're digging late, there's some nice potential for decent bench value in Michael Cuddyer, James Loney or Garrett Jones (with some young guns out there too like Freddie Freeman or Brandon Belt).

However, on the whole, this is a position that has relatively little change in value after the first five rounds.  Get a good first basemen early at all costs as a result of this.  If you're the odd man out somehow, don't force yourself into drafting Paul Konerko in Round 6 when you can get very similar value in Round 20.  Because of how slow the decline is here, use the mid-rounds to fill up other positions then revisit 1B later on.  This also applies if you're looking at this position for a corner infielder in the mid-rounds as the difference in rotisserie value between Round 6 to 22 is very small.  Draft early or draft late but don't dwell on first base in the middle rounds of 2011.

Feb 26, 2011

Double Trouble: Values in 2 Catcher Leagues

For those you who have the (mis)fortune of being in a league that requires you to start two catchers, you certainly have to tackle drafts a bit differently.  In a 12-team league, this means that 24 catchers are in your starting lineups which decreases the production of the overall average player thus putting more pressure on your other batters to pick up the slack.  So, should you go all out and use two early picks on catchers to lessen that pressure or is it okay to punt both catchers and still survive?

The good news is that there are young catchers bringing some much needed offense to the position but the fact remains that a large majority of these catchers will be draining your team's production.  The main question is just how bad will that drain be.  Position scarcity and volatility amongst the position certainly comes into play here.  Based on Cairo, Marcel and Fangraphs projections, here are the number of catchers projected within certain tiers of total roto point production:

Value Range
+3 to 0 roto points
0 to -3 roto points
-3 to -6 roto points
In each projection system, only three catchers are predicted to get any positive roto value in comparison to the average fantasy player.  Getting one of those catchers could be a big boon in a two catcher league.  However, if you miss that boat, the pickings are slim.  There's a fair number of catchers stuck within a value of between 0 and -3 roto points and then a logjam of catchers producing below that mark.  If you're able to get two catchers that actually combine for a positive roto value, that's huge as most teams will be losing about 6 roto points or so from their two catchers so that's roughly a 6 point swing in a 12-team league.

The good news about catchers is there is a bit less volatility at the top in comparison to most positions.  In 2010, the top three drafted catchers ended up being the top three producing catchers in that same order.  After the top three, it was a roll of the dice in 2010.  Mike Napoli, Buster Posey and John Buck were among the next tier of catchers by year's end but they were taken on average in the 15th, 26th and 30th rounds respectively.  Matt WietersMiguel Montero, Kurt Suzuki, Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit were all relatively early picks at this position and didn't really return much value on those investments.

So, in 2011, the best bit of advice in two catcher leagues is to aggressively try for one of the "sure" things in Joe Mauer, Brian McCann or Victor Martinez (with a nod to Buster Posey as well despite the youth).  If you miss out on them, don't overreact and try to immediately fill that void with someone from the next tier of catchers as it becomes an all-out crap shoot after that.  Peg a few names and see which ones fall to you when you're comfortable with your other positions.  However, don't fool yourself into thinking that there's much difference in value after the top group anyhow.  It's a top heavy position in talent and dependability then a scary wasteland after that with landmines everywhere.

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 21, 2011

Baseball's Power Outage & What It Means to You

In case you didn't notice, home run numbers took a steep decline in 2010, continuing a trend that has been happening for years now.  Comparing 2010 to 2006, there were a total of 773 fewer homeruns hit throughout the league.  Since the landscape of fantasy baseball has changed so much in five years, should we now put a higher premium on the power hitters for fantasy baseball?  Eh, not so fast.
Number of players hitting certain HR marks by year
While there's no doubt that the quantity of homeruns across the league went down, it doesn't necessarily have a direct effect on value of HR's in fantasy leagues.  The standard deviation (how spread out the numbers are) tells us a lot more about the value of the home run in rotisserie leagues.  Depending on how far apart everyone is from the mean on average, the value for those at the top can be different.

Looking at the average number of homers hit by the top hitters (those with 10 or more HR), there is not much difference at all between 2007 to 2010 with all them being between 19-20 HR on average for that group.  The main difference lies within the standard deviation for those years.  2010 had the smallest amount of standard deviation out of the past five years (and by a large margin) which means that more and more hitters were bunched closer to the league average and there were less outliers on either end of the spectrum.

The chart above shows distribution of how many players are reaching various homerun marks each year.  The closer the curve is to the bottom, the more valuable a person is within that range because of how rare that mark is.  In 2006, if you look at the 35 or 40 HR mark, there were a lot more people who did it so it wasn't quite as valuable (23 players hit 35 HR in 2006 while 6 players did it in 2010).

So, yes, in 2010, it was a lot more valuable to own someone who hit 35 HR for your team.  If we left it at that then you'd make a conclusion that power hitters are thus more valuable.  But, the whole structure of the league basically changed and 40 HR became the new 50 HR while 30 HR became the new 40 HR.

Getting a 50+ HR hitter like Jose Bautista is phenomenal for your fantasy team in this current market but it's not feasible to expect that out of anyone these days.  And, while some places might recommend putting a higher premium on homeruns because of the scarcity of them, the market actually hasn't changed much at all.  All that has changed is that you should look at 40 HR as a huge achievement and adjust your expectations as a result.  But, power hitters are still relatively the same value as they've always been even if they hit less HR than they used to.  So there's nothing to see here.  Move along and don't believe any hype out there that might suggest to change your strategy because of less home runs being hit.

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 17, 2011

2011 Overvalued Players | According to Marcels Projections

Just as there are undervalued players within each projection system in comparison to the value of a player's current draft position, there are a number of overvalued players hidden in there too.  As previously discussed, Marcels is a projection model that is based on the last three years of performance and regression due to age.  One of the caveats of this is that projected playing time for a player is in relation to amount of playing time from these previous years, which mostly affects rookies or players who had injuries.  Basically, if they suffered from injuries in the past, they are assumed to miss time due to injury again (and, hey, staying healthy is a skill).  In addition, you'll see lower totals for rookies or young players who might not have gotten a full season in yet.  Keep this in mind as we take a gander at who is projected to be overvalued based on Marcels projections converted in WERTH roto values:

Jimmy Rollins
Francisco Liriano
Chone Figgins
Alfonso Soriano
Ian Stewart
Brian Roberts
Brandon Morrow
Michael Stanton
Rafael Furcal
Alex Gonzalez
John Lackey
Mike Aviles
James Shields
Starlin Castro
Josh Beckett
Gio Gonzalez
Jorge De La Rosa
Manny Ramirez
Edwin Jackson
Brad Lidge
Chipper Jones
When considering the caveats I mentioned, it makes sense why players with a recent injury history such as Jimmy Rollins and Francisco Liriano are overvalued at their draft spot according to this projection system.  And, the rookie caveat that I mentioned accounts for why Michael Stanton or Starlin Castro are on this list (as you may know, I'm a BIG fan of Stanton this year and the fact that his limited playing time hurt this projection here doesn't scare me off).  

However, there are some other interesting names that don't fall into either category that are of interest to me such as Alfonso Soriano and Chone Figgins.  Given that this projection system is based on performance over the past three years, it does make a bit of sense that their projections are low because it doesn't seem like either of those two have done much over the past three years to justify their current draft position.  In fact, that goes for a lot of the names on this list.  They appear to be former big names of fantasy baseball who lost their luster but haven't had their draft status completely reflect that.  

Make sure to take these names with a bit of grain of salt, as this is more or less an exercise in showing you what the projection systems are seeing.  But, on draft day, take a step back and give second thought to these players as you get to a point where you might consider drafting them for your team.

2011 Undervalued Players | According to Marcels Projections

There are a number of viable baseball projection systems in existence these days which are great tools for fantasy baseball draft planning.  Finding accurate projections can be an essential part of winning your next title as it basically gives you a peek into the likely future.  One of the more successful systems out there is a rather simplistic one called Marcels that was created by Tom Tango.  The system takes the last three year's worth of player data, with the most recent year weighted heaviest, and regresses data to the mean based on player's age.

Using our WERTH roto valuing system here, we can assign point values to a player's projected performance that will let you know how many roto points that player will add to your team above average.  Taking those values and the currently reported average draft position for players, we can then create a trendline from the beginning to the end of the draft based on expected roto point values for each slot in the draft.  By comparing projected point values to values expected at that draft spot, we start to see outliers that indicate who might be expected to be a hidden gem or a major dud in 2011.  Listed below is a list of players that the Marcels system has projected to perform well above their current draft spot's value:
Hunter Pence
Vladimir Guerrero
Torii Hunter
Roy Oswalt
John Danks
Delmon Young
Nick Markakis
Bobby Abreu
Mark Reynolds
Juan Pierre
Pablo Sandoval
Drew Stubbs
Denard Span
Brett Gardner
Ted Lilly
Rajai Davis
Angel Pagan
We see 6 players on this list that are at least 33 years old.  The general fantasy baseball public expects less of a player as they get up there in years but these are players that Marcels thinks may have another good run or two left in them, based on their aging regression model.  So, while the public has built a coffin for Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu, Marcels encourages you to cash in on another year of cheap production out of them.

Marcels points out that a lot of speedsters can provide nice value later on as well.  While steals can certainly be located early in drafts, you can grab guys such as Juan Pierre, Drew Stubbs, Brett Gardner, Rajai Davis and Angel Pagan much later on and build a team of guys who can singlehandedly win the SB category for you.

It's interesting to note that 11 out of the 17 names on this list of undervalued players are outfielders.  If you theoretically avoided outfielders until the seventh round then picked Hunter Pence, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Nick Markakis and Juan Pierre as your starting outfielders, you would have an outfield that is projected to produce over 8.5 roto points above average and you could still stock your bench with talent such as Drew Stubbs, Denard Span and some of the speedsters mentioned earlier.  That's a sneakily formidable outfield without using any early picks on the position.

So, one lesson that Marcels reminds us of here is that there is a deep talent pool at outfield and we don't need to land stud outfielders in the first few rounds. In addition to that, while trying to land the next big thing is tempting, don't forget about older players who still have another year or two left in the tank.  And, the final lesson is to remember that stolen bases can be had very late in drafts so don't fret about trying to get them early.  There's a number of ways to get value in your drafts and the players above represent a list that Marcels thinks will have good value according to their current draft spot so be sure to keep them in mind on your draft day.

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 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