Jan 30, 2012

2012 Overvalued Players | xAVG vs AVG

In the past couple of weeks here, I talked to you a bit how BABIP and xBABIP can help identify lucky hitters and particularly how xAVG is a meaningful way of evaluating batting averages. In addition, I previously identified potential comeback players for 2012 which inevitably leads to the flip side of that coin where we look at potentially overvalued players for 2012 that you may want to take caution with. I present that flip side to you here.

If you want to look at a more complete listing of xAVG's from 2011 to make your own judgments, you can view the spreadsheet I created that lists them all out by clicking here. While this post will highlight some of the bigger differences in xAVG and actual AVG, some players are excluded because their batting average is merely projected to drop from the range of "excellent" to "great" so you shouldn't steer completely clear of them. Some examples are Adrian Gonzalez (.338 AVG to .300 xAVG), Jose Reyes (.337 AVG to .305 xAVG) and Miguel Cabrera (.344 AVG to .322 xAVG). The following players here are ones that seem to have inflated draft status simply due to their inconsistently high AVG from last year.

In the past, Hunter Pence has typically been a nice option for a 3rd outfielder that you could find in the 7th or 8th round of drafts. It seemed like a lock for him to hit 25 HR with 10+ SB and a .280 AVG. Last year, he got traded to the Phillies and responded with a plump .314 AVG on the season which added a ton of previously unseen value to his fantasy status. As a result, he now has an ADP of 44.7 according to MockDraftCentral which makes him a 4th round pick and potential 1st or 2nd outfielder for teams. In both 2009 and 2010, he hit .282 but them jumped up 32 points last year. However, his xAVG last year was actually .281 so it seems very plausible that he should return to that .280 range in 2012. He's still a fine player but not a 4th round draft pick by any means.

Alex Avila burst onto the scene with good overall numbers in his first full year of catcher duties. He had decent power numbers, decent RBI totals and a very good .295 AVG. Out of the catcher position, this is very valuable and has resulted in him being drafted in the 9th or 10th round of 12 team leagues. Is he a potential Joe Mauer in the making perhaps? Nay, my friends. Looking at the xAVG, it seems that he's more likely to hit around .269 (which makes more sense considering his past history). That makes him a much more ordinary player that is really no different than a catcher you can find at the end of your drafts.

Justin Upton has progressed nicely thus far in his young career. Last year, he took a huge leap forward with a 30 HR, 20 SB and 100 R season to go along with a .289 AVG. While there are many reasons to be excited about Upton's future considering he gave you great production in all five categories last year, there is one cause for concern as his xAVG was .267 last year which would be below league average and something that would hurt your team. Considering he has a first-round price tag this year, that may be reason to pass on him for a more proven commodity.

In 221 career minor league games, Jemile Weeks hit .286 with 41 SB's. In his 97 MLB games last year, he hit .303 with 22 SB's which makes him a hot commodity for this year as owners think they be able to grab a .300 hitter in the middle rounds who can steal 40+ SB's. In this case, his xAVG of .288 seems to mirror his minor league AVG. That still is a decent average if he can get a boatload of stolen bases to go along with it. However, potential owners should take into account that he only had a 66% success rate last year for his stolen base attempts which is poor. If he's going to be a reliable speedster, he'll need to improve that. These red flags might him a risky pick even for someone being taken in the 13th round or so at the moment.

For the first time since 2008, Alex Gordon stayed healthy for a full season and it resulted in him delivering above average production in all five roto categories (.303 AVG, 23 HR, 101 R, 87 RBI, 17 SB). For someone who came into 2011 with a .244 career AVG, the .303 AVG already seems suspicious and his .284 xAVG backs up that suspicion. While it is still a good AVG, it makes him a little bit more normal and 12 less hits likely means a bit lower RBI and Run totals. In the 6th round of drafts, I would still feel decent about him if he was still eligible at 3B in any leagues for whatever reason. But as a starting OF, it's a bit riskier to use that early of a pick on him given his injury history as well.

Jose Bautista has become a reliable source for HR's out of the blue in recent years but he added a new dimension to his fantasy game by hitting .302 last year. Going into 2011, he was a .244 career hitter which was a big negative for any potential Bautsita owners. Did he suddenly take a dramatic shift that catapulted his AVG by 60 points much like his HR totals suddenly jumped by 40 from one year to the next? Well, kinda. His xAVG says he should have hit closer to .286 last year which is a still a big jump and definitely makes him a more valuable hitter. But, it shifts him from having four very positive roto categories to three positive categories, one average category and one slightly negative category. It's still very, very good but is it worthy of the 4th overall pick at a position such as OF? It's a tough call and should be a potential risk factor to be aware of for drafters with early picks this year.

Jan 27, 2012

2012 Roto Draft Cheatsheet | Initial Release

Today marks the initial release of the 2012 version of my rotisserie fantasy baseball cheatsheet. For those unfamiliar with these, they are powerful Excel spreadsheets which are designed to give you more information than anyone else at your draft in an easy format.

When opening up the spreadsheet, you may be asked to enable macros. Please enable macros as that is the only way this spreadsheet can work! You will then be presented with a form to fill out where you can enter the number of teams and team names for your league. In addition, you must enter what positions you use in your league, what roto categories then finally choose what ADP information, projection systems and expert rankings you want displayed. You can always change this info later! If you just want to look at the sheet, you can just close that form and start looking around.

Within the Draft Central tab, you have all of the draftable players, their basic info, their WERTH roto values (estimated points gained in standings for owning the player over average fantasy starter), their projected stats and then the odds that they'll be available at various points in the draft based on your chosen ADP data. At this point, you can click on the Customize button to choose whether you want to hide certain data or hide players as they're drafted. During the draft, you can select who drafted each player by clicking on the box next to each player's name and selecting the team. This will update the Live Standings and Team Summary tabs. You can also choose how you want to sort the cheatsheet at any time on this page.

On the Live Standings tab, this will take into account the projected starters for each team based on your league settings then it will display the standings based on that info. It will display the total roto values (which should be relatively close to the projected standings as you go) and then the actual projected standings based on drafted players.

On the Team Summary tab, you can view who has been drafted by each team and see who is currently projected as a starter or bench player on those teams. Finally, you can view the Credits & Glossary tab to see where the data is coming from and to find out what various terms mean like ADP or WERTH.

Data included for this release:
  • CAIRO projections
  • RotoChamp projections
  • Fangraphs Fan projections
  • MockDraftCentral ADP data
  • ESPN rankings
  • RotoChamp rankings
  • Roto Summit rankings
  • Combined rankings (average of available rankings)
New features for 2012 version compared to 2011:
  • Team Summary tab added (as explained above)
  • Live Standings now only based on team's starters as opposed to all drafted players
  • Draft Central tab is redesigned to be easier to read and follow
  • Customize button added to have more control over what is shown and not shown
  • Ability to sort by position now added so you can more easily target a specific position when needed
  • Formulas behind the scenes were streamlined to speed up the processing time of the spreadsheet
Poke around, test it out and let me know if you encounter any possible fixes or upgrades before the final version comes out in March!

Jan 23, 2012

Brett Lawrie - 2012 Fantasy Sleeper Candidate

There are a couple of fantasy baseball deep sleepers each year that can make the difference for your team. The following 2012 profile of Brett Lawrie will analyze the chances that he might be one of the next big sleepers. He was selected based on my simple selection process which is detailed in this introductory post.

ADP as of this posting: 55.88 (Round 5 in 12-team league)
Projected 2012 Role: Starting 3B
2011 Production: .293 AVG, 9 HR, 26 R, 25 RBI, 7 SB in 171 PA
My 2012 Prediction: .285 AVG, 20 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, 20 SB

The public continues to get smarter as Brett Lawrie's draft stock is already high for this year despite only 171 PA last year. His value is also helped out by the fact that third base is a weak position for this year. But, let's look at just what we can expect from Lawrie.

The kid hit .296 with 39 HR and 62 SB over 326 minor league games and seemed to get better at each level he played at. At 22, he already has the potential for a 25 HR/25 SB season to go along with a good batting average. That reason alone is precisely why he is being drafted ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Pablo Sandoval who are all fine major leaguers.

After hitting 21 HR in his first 1085 minor league PA, his power suddenly bloomed as he hit 27 HR's over his 500 PA last year between the minors and majors. Because the spike is so sudden, I struggle to think that he can keep up that exact rate (a 17% HR/FB rate is almost Albert Pujols territory). Couple that with the fact that his huge minor league numbers came in the very hitter-friendly Pioneer League and it's hard to feel the power is completely legit but he still has shown he can hit the long ball regardless and 20-25 HR in 2012 is a safe bet.

His stolen bases are the factor that make him like a mini David Wright. In his first two minor league seasons, he was caught stealing 26 times (an ugly 65% success rate). In his first year in the Blue Jay organization last year, he was only caught stealing 3 times (a lovely 87% success rate). Perhaps they've shown him the error in his ways. It seems like the youngster should be able to easily swipe 20 or more SB's as well in 2012.

And as far as batting average, he may not exactly be a potential .300 hitter based on past history but he shouldn't hurt you in that department either. All in all, he seems like at least a 20/20 hitter at a weaker fantasy position and there's some great value to that.

Sleeper Verdict: Sleepy. He has the potential to deliver 30/30 production but it may not come just yet.

Jan 21, 2012

How To Evaluate Pitcher ERA (FIP, xFIP, SIERA)

It all starts with a pitch. The lonely pitcher sits on his mound and throws a ball towards a hitter. That pitch could turn into any number of things and whatever happens will be pinned on the pitcher. For roto purposes, we're interested in a few statistics which come out of a pitchers performance on the mound: ERA, WHIP, K's, Wins and Saves. A pitcher throws a lot of pitches in a year and sample sizes help reduce the influence of luck but it still plays a major factor in anything beyond a strikeout or a walk from a pitcher. Identifying luck and evaluating past statistics helps us better predict a pitcher's future performance which makes us smarter fantasy baseballers.

ERA is a fickle mistress that is much more cruel than any other statistic because a pitcher can pitch like a champion but his ERA may still stink (see Zack Greinke 2011). If more batted balls become hits than expected or if more flyballs become home runs than expected then the pitcher's ERA is going to be affected. In Part 1 of my series of posts on how to evaluate pitcher statistics, we're going to focus on how to evaluate a pitcher's ERA in a given season.

Earned Run Average
ERA has been constantly poked and prodded by sabermatricians as they have tried to figure out how to better be able to predict a pitcher's future ERA. Because a perfect solution hasn't been found, we've been left with a cornucopia of choices that, when combined, give us a clearer picture of a pitcher's performance in a season. In the journey of being able to evaluate ERA, Voros McCracken came out with the DIPS (Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics) theory that set out to "evaluate a pitcher base[d] strictly on the statistics his defense has no ability to affect" which would be strikeouts and walks and home runs. It has developed more over time to include batted ball types (groundballs, flyballs, etc) as well. But based on the initial theory, one potential ERA estimator came into the world eventually courtesy of Tom Tango and it was called FIP.

FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) only looks at strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed in order to estimate what a pitcher's ERA should have been in a given time frame. For some, the simplicity of that turns them off but others can get totally behind how easy it is. When the outcome isn't a HR, BB of K (in other words, the ball is hit into play), the pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome and it becomes dependent on the defense. Balls hit into play are thus ignored and the FIP formula accounts for the three controllable outcomes (HR, BB, K) to generate a stat that looks like ERA but gives an indication on if a pitcher has been better or worse than his actual ERA.

xFIP (Expected FIP) was the next step in ERA estimation as research started to show that perhaps a pitcher doesn't have complete control over HR totals. Researchers believed that HR rates were not reliable from year-to-year for a pitcher so the standard FIP formula was adjusted to use a standard league-average HR rate instead of the actual rate of HR's allowed by a pitcher. This one simple change ended up making xFIP one of the most accurate predictors of future ERA.

tERA (True ERA) then came into the picture because there was thought that FIP shouldn't ignore all batted balls except for homers. So this formula was designed to include batted ball types allowed by the pitcher (groundballs, flyballs, etc) by putting a different run value on each and using them in the formula. While not as predictive as xFIP, it utilizes a bit more data to generate an ERA estimation for a pitcher.

Because three estimations of a pitcher's correct ERA was not enough, SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA) came along in recent years. As you can tell, sabermatricians still were not satisfied with the metrics of evaluating ERA. In this case, SIERA is an improvement over tERA much like xFIP improved FIP. SIERA tweaked tERA by putting different weighting on the variables such as giving additional weight to strikeouts, walks and groundballs as research started to show that they each had a larger influence on ERA than originally thought.

Luckily, you don't need to break out your scientific calculators or look for one of my Google Doc spreadsheets to find all of these stats in one place. Fangraphs has these all hosted on their leaderboards under the Advanced tab. Go ahead and sort to your heart's delight to see which pitchers should be better or worse moving forward than their stupid ERA indicates.

Keep in mind that ERA is influenced greatly by BABIP and HR/FB, which are thought to be out of control of the pitcher himself as well. While the four ERA predictors above are helpful, don't overlook BABIP and HR/FB when you're evaluating a pitcher. If they had a really low HR/FB rate suddenly then that would bring down their ERA quite a bit (same goes with BABIP). When a pitcher has a few years of history to analyze, you can more easily spot when a BABIP or HR/FB rate does not seem to fit his career norms. Put special attention to those cases and recognize the effect that they have on a pitcher's actual ERA.

Jan 20, 2012

2012 Comeback Players | xAVG vs AVG

A stat like BABIP can tell us about whether a hitter's batting average has been influenced by luck or not. But, as evidenced in my post about evaluating batting averages, xBABIP and xAVG are also vital tools in analyzing a player. When we're looking at potential comeback players for 2012 who might be undervalued, expected AVG (xAVG) really comes in handy for comparing to a player's actual AVG.

For the full listing of players, you can view the spreadsheet I created by clicking here. This post will highlight some of the more interesting names on the list of biggest differences between xAVG and AVG from 2011. These players represent great possible value as they're being undervalued due to circumstances beyond their control and could have a good comeback season potentially.

Ian Kinsler had a very nice year in 2011 as he returned to the 30/30 club while scoring 121 runs in the process. However, it should have been even better if you look at his .255 actual AVG compared to his .300 xAVG. If he had actually managed to his for .300 last year to go with his other stats, you could make a strong argument that he would be a top 5 draft pick being taken above Tulowitzki (who would have had lower totals in all categories except RBI's). Right now, Kinsler is being drafted at the top of the 3rd round and he holds a ton of value there if you can get him. Here's an oddity for you... Kinsler's AVG is .256 in odd-numbered years yet .299 in even-numbered years. 2012 is an even number! Get on the Kinsler train!

Ben Revere is looked at as being a defensive specialist with no offensive prowess. After hitting .267 with 0 HR in 481 PA, it's certainly understandable to make that case. However, he does have significant fantasy potential for 2012 given the fact that his xAVG was .329 last year. He's a speedster and he will be able to use that speed even more if he gets on base even more. He hit .326 in his minor league career over 380 games and never had a season below .300 (and he totaled 154 SB) so he has certainly shown that he has the potential to hit .300 while notching 50+ SB. At this point, he's being drafted late in drafts and is worth reaching for because of his speed and AVG potential.

From 2006-2008, Alex Rios had a batting average of .296 which was very nice to go with his 20/20 potential. However, things haven't been as rosy since then as he's had a .253 AVG from 2009-2011. Last year was his worst year yet as he hit .227 with 13 HR, 64 R, 44 RBI and 11 SB. Alex, wha happen? Well, it seems like bad luck happened as his xAVG for 2011 was still .275 which would have meant about 25 more hits which would have meant more RBI's and more Runs and maybe more SB's. Ah, the possibilities! Rios still has the potential to return to his 2010 former self which hit .284, 21 HR, 89 R, 88 RBI and 34 SB. However, he comes at the discounted price of being drafted in about the 20th round due to his craptastic year in 2011.

Evan Longoria brought back the power stroke in 2011 that took a break in 2010 by jacking 31 HR in 133 games. However, his batting average dropped to .244 mostly due to a terribly unlucky .239 BABIP. As you might expect based on the theme of this article, his xAVG was much higher (.301). If luck can go back onto his side in 2012 then you can expect a year that might exceed his great 2010 season where he hit .281 with 33 HR, 100 R, 113 RBI and 9 SB.

From 2005 to 2009, Mark Teixeria had three seasons where he hit above .300 and only one season where he hit below .290 (which was still .282). However, in 2010 and 2011, luck has reared it's ugly head as his BABIP has been way below average both seasons and his AVG was .256 and .248 respectively. His xAVG in 2011 indicates that he should have hit around .288 without the bad luck. Due to the fact that his power still seems to be as good as ever, he should return to his old super-good-in-all-categories-except-stolen-bases self in 2012.

Remember that wacky Ichiro Suzuki guy? He used to lead the league in AVG, score some runs, steal those bases and do all sorts of fun stuff? Well, he stole 40 bases last year and came up to the plate 700+ times but his AVG was poor (.272) and he only scored 80 runs in that crappy Mariners lineup (least amount of Runs scored in 2011 despite being in the AL and having an extra batter!). The good news is that his xAVG was .310 but the bad news is that the Mariners should still struggle offensively. They have some young hitters that might allow for improvement but Ichiro scoring 100 runs like old times isn't expected. He should still be able to produce numbers somewhat close to his 2010 line of .315 AVG, 6 HR and 42 SB yet he's being drafted in about the 10th round at this point.

Jimmy Rollins is a bit of an odd duck in the fact that he's always been a bit of a speedster but has not always had a high BABIP to go with that. The amount of flyballs that he hits certainly doesn't help there. But what makes him even odder is that he has experienced three seemingly unlucky seasons in a row where he's had a BABIP of .251, .246 and .275. After three years of this, it makes you start to wonder if it's a product of who he is as opposed to luck. None of his statistics seem to jump out as causing this odd BABIP. But, regardless, he had an AVG of .268 in 2011 with an xAVG of .296 so we should expect his batting average to go higher which would be nice with his 15 HR and 30 SB potential. But, I really don't know what to make of this guy anymore. One year of poor BABIP is unlucky, two years is really unlucky but three years just seems like a trend.

Back in 2009, Adam Lind hit .305 with 35 HR's and all was well in the world. I know I'm living in the past but the past looks so much better than two years of bad baseball from this guy. He hit .251 last year but, as you may have guessed, his xAVG tells a different story and says he should have hit closer to .296. He only played in 125 games but did hit 25 HR's so we can hope that a luckier and healthier Adam Lind can hit .290 with 30 HR's in 2012. That doesn't seem like too far of a reach. He's being drafted 159th on average right now. A power hitter with a chance to hit for average at that point? Sure, I'll take it.

Drafters still like Elvis Andrus and have him pegged as an early draft pick despite him mainly being an SB guy. He hit .279 with 37 SB last year which is pretty cool but, of course, his xAVG says he should have hit a much better .325. However, take caution with this one as we seem to have another Jimmy Rollins situation. His BABIP has been between .305 and .317 in his first three MLB seasons and his AVG has been between .265 and .279 so it's hard to see a reason why this would suddenly change (his xBABIP calculates as .364). As a speedster who hits a long of ground balls, you'd expect a high BABIP and AVG but it hasn't translated yet. I'm not feeling Andrus as a definite comeback player until he proves otherwise, much like J-Roll earlier.

Jan 18, 2012

Desmond Jennings - 2012 Fantasy Sleeper Candidate

There are a couple of fantasy baseball deep sleepers each year that can make the difference for your team. The following 2012 profile of Desmond Jennings will analyze the chances that he might be one of the next big sleepers. He was selected based on my simple selection process which is detailed in this introductory post.

ADP as of this posting: 53.96 (Round 5 in 12-team league)
Projected 2012 Role: Starting OF
2011 Production: .259 AVG, 10 HR, 44 R, 25 RBI, 20 SB in 287 PA
My 2012 Prediction: .280 AVG, 15 HR, 100 R, 50 RBI, 50 SB

Despite only playing in half a season, Desmond Jennings is hardly a sleeper as he's projected to go in the 5th round of your drafts. Due to that fact, this particular post will be slightly different than the usual sleeper posts and will be more about whether he's going to give you even more value than a 5th round pick or not. I already touched upon my initial thoughts with Jennings in a post last week where I said something that went a little like this:
Former top prospect Desmond Jennings came into the league by stealing 20 bases while hitting 10 HR's in half a season last year. Now he's slotted to be about a 5th round pick it seems. One thing is for certain: the Rays like to steal bases as they're almost always among the leaders in SB attempts. While the stolen bases seem to be a sure thing, the power is a bit more of question mark and the answer to that question will determine if he's more of a Carl Crawford or Juan Pierre. In 2010, he hit only 3 HR over nearly 500 PA but then he jacked 22 HR's in 2011 between AAA and the majors. Looking at his full career and his PA/HR, we see that both years seem to be out of the ordinary. His power numbers might regress slightly based on that past history. I'd bank on him hitting closer to 15 HR over a full season as opposed to 25 but that's still pretty awesome to go with 40 to 60 SB.
Jennings has two roto categories in which he is far above average: SB's and Runs. In each of the other categories, he can give you league-average production and that's what separates him from guys like Brett Gardner and Coco Crisp who will hurt you in pretty much all other categories.

It should be noted that Joe Maddon loves to steal bases. Since taking over in 2006, the Rays have the most SB attempts by a large margin in the league. You may attribute some of that to Carl Crawford but they actually led the league in attempts last year even without him. Unless he is able to raise his batting average a bit more or his home run totals, Jennings will likely never be a 1st round fantasy pick. But he certainly has the potential to deliver 2nd or 3rd round value without the high price tag.

Sleeper Verdict: Sleeperific. You can draft for power and average in the first four rounds then get a well-rounded speedster like Jennings a bit later. 

Jan 16, 2012

How To Evaluate Home Run Totals

In the first post in this series, I explained how you can evaluate a hitter's batting average to see whether it will be repeated or not. Being a great fantasy baseball owner is all about being able to evaluate hitters and pitchers in order to figure out if they're due for a better or worse year in the future. This particular post is focused on evaluating a hitter's home run totals. If a player happens to hit 30 HR one year, he is not necessarily destined to do that every year. Finding out whether the HR's are repeatable are somewhat trickier than most statistics as we have to use some tricky methods.
Home Runs
While home runs can also be prone to luck, it is a bit harder to quantify how lucky or unlucky a player is in this department. One of the best thing we can do to evaluate whether HR totals will be replicated is to look at home run distances and fly ball rates.

Lucky and Just Enough Homers are two categories of HR's that are presented by the wonderful HitTracker tool which keeps track of HR angles, speed and distances (among other things). Based upon that data, each HR is put into one of a few categories (No Doubt, Plenty, Just Enough and Lucky). Lucky Homers are those that "wouldn't have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day". Just Enough Homers either barely clear the fence or land just behind the fence. On average, 27% of HR's are of the Just Enough variety. When hitters have a larger than average percentage of Just Enough or Lucky HR's then we can assume they got a bit more lucky than usual.

In 2010, Casey McGehee hit 23 homers but 65% of them were Just Enough HR's which was way above the league average rate. So it wasn't a huge surprise when that number returned to average in 2011 and his total HR numbers dropped drastically. Also in 2010, 12% of Curtis Granderson's 24 homers were of the Just Enough variety which was far below the normal rate so he saw a big jump in HR numbers in 2011 when that corrected itself.

For that reason, you can see how this tool can be handy for seeing if HR numbers were a bit fluky in a particular season. Since this data isn't readily available in a sortable format, here's a spreadsheet which I drew up in order to list that info for 2011's hitters: Google Docs Link

HR/FB (Home Runs per Fly Ball) helps us do some comparisons for a player. It may not necessarily tell us if they've been lucky but we can see if something is amiss with the player. Normally, about 13-20% of flyballs for a power hitter become a HR while contact hitters typically have a HR/FB rate in the single digits. If we see a hitter suddenly jump from hitting a 20% to a 8% HR/FB rate then we can guess that something must be wrong. They could be suffering through a bad injury or just losing their strength. This statistic isn't really deemed meaningful until after 300 PA though so don't start throwing it around in April or May of a season.

Going hand-in-hand with that is the Fly Ball Rate (FB%) which is also used to see what's going on with a player. Maybe their HR/FB rate stayed as normal but they started hitting more groundballs or line drives instead of fly balls. This would certainly cause a drop in HR's because you can hit a HR without hitting FB's. The cause for this generally isn't a matter of luck but a conscious change of approach done by the player. For FB rates, they become reliable after 250 PA.

Another stat worth noting is ISO (Isolated Power) which is the measurement of extra bases per at-bat (or SLG% minus AVG). After 550 PA's, we would expect this number to become reliable for a player. While it may vary year to year, huge jumps in ISO that deviate from career norm may suggest that doing further analysis on the legitimacy of a player's power may be necessary.

And, finally, you may want to check out this article from Fangraphs where they talk about Ellsbury's homers from last year and mention that "an increase in home runs can usually attributed to hitting the ball further or hitting the ball into shorter corner OF porches."

You are now efficiently armed with a number of tools which should help you look at a player's home run totals and decide whether to buy into them or not. That player might have hit a few too many Just Enough homers or had a wacky HR/FB rate but now you can spot those things and react accordingly. Up next, I'll be looking at evaluating Runs, RBI's and SB's.

Other Articles:

Jan 12, 2012

Nolan Reimold - 2012 Fantasy Sleeper Candidate

There are a couple of fantasy baseball deep sleepers each year that can make the difference for your team. The following 2012 profile of Nolan Reimold will analyze the chances that he might be one of the next big sleepers. He was selected based on my simple selection process which is detailed in this introductory post.

ADP as of this posting: 275.04 (Round 23 in 12-team league)
Projected 2012 Role: Starting OF
2011 Production: .247 AVG, 13 HR, 40 R, 45 RBI, 7 SB in 305 PA
My 2012 Prediction: .280 AVG, 25 HR, 75 R, 80 RBI, 10 SB

After breaking out with a .279 AVG, 15 HR and 8 SB in half of a rookie year of 2009, Reimold became a darling sleeper candidate in 2010. Instead of playing baseball well, this sleeper chose to keep on sleeping and spent most of the year in the minors. Reimold owners grumbled and said they'd never speak to him again. In 2011, he played half a season of baseball again and did so quite well this time by hitting 13 HR and snatching 7 SB in 100 less PA's than 2009. Yet, like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around, fantasy owners didn't even seem to notice. That fact is evidenced by the idea that he's being projected as a 23rd round fantasy draft pick next year at this point.

One thing that might make fantasy owners ignore him is his poor batting average of .247 in 2011. A big dose of bad luck was the culprit there as his xAVG has him pegged at .281 for 2011 based on his low BABIP. Looking at his 2011 season, he started to really find his groove as the season went on. He posted a line of .281/5/16/17/6 in Sept/Oct which is pretty darn fantastic. So, the average should rise in 2012 and his power is still there with a small sprinkling of speed. If he can play a full season as starting OF in Baltimore, a dose of 25 HR and 10 SB is certainly not a reach at all based on his current career numbers in three incomplete seasons.

So, why was his ADP at 177 in 2010 after a nice half-year yet it is 275 in 2012 after a nice half-year? On the surface, the only difference seems to be that he burned a lot of owners and that does have an effect on his value. The only big negative on him at the moment is the fact that he is slotted as Baltimore's #8 hitter right now as that is not a great spot for producing runs. But if he plays well then they could be forced to move him up as the season goes on.

If you set aside bad feelings about his 2010 season and focus on the numbers, it becomes clear that there's still quite a bit of upside with Reimold. He is being drafted so late in drafts at the moment that it negates the risk involved with drafting him. You don't have to take him as a starting outfielder but taking him as one of your backups could pay dividends as he has the potential to deliver big value in 2012.

Sleeper Verdict: Very sleepy. He his high reward potential with very little risk.

Jan 10, 2012

2012's Early Mock Draft Results, Some Thoughts

I have a love/hate relationship with Average Draft Position (ADP) data. I've attacked it previously for being blatantly skewed towards the rankings from the sites that host the drafts like MockDraftCentral yet I recognize that it at least gives us a tiny idea of what way the general public may be thinking as we enter draft season. Ultimately, it beckons the timeless question that philosophers have pondered: does the public influence the ADP or does the ADP influence the public? We may never know.

Regardless, in looking at a new year of mock draft data, it's always interesting to see how far players dropped after a bad season like Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford had. On the other hand, it's equally interesting to see how much of a boost is given to guys who had career years like a Curtis Granderson or Jacoby Ellsbury. It may be early January but let's go ahead and see how the early ADP data is shaking up:
The High Risers
  • Mike Stanton's stock his risen quite a bit and understandably so. He's a prolific power hitter that I hyped up a lot last year. He ended up with 34 HR in 2011 but he had relatively average production in the Runs, RBI's and AVG departments. His low RBI's may be due to the fact that 25 of 34 HR's came with bases empty. It was still a good season where he performed better than his draft spot but it wasn't an amazing fantasy season. Next season, he should continue to progress and if he hits 35 HR and hits them with more runners on base (Jose Reyes should help) then he should have a 100 RBI season to go with his decent batting average. According to MDC, he's being drafted around 26th (and is 35th in their rankings so people are jumping on him early) which would be at around the 3rd round in most leagues. He has the potential to deliver 1st or 2nd round value.
  • Right with Mike Stanton at the start of the 3rd round is Andrew McCutchen. In his third year, he showed a bit more power by hitting 23 HR to go along with his 23 SB. While his batting average was only .259, he was quite a bit unlucky as he had an xAVG of .292 (coincidentally that was exactly what his AVG was the previous two seasons). He should continue to give you above average production in all categories in 2012. The big question is whether he will hit 15 HR or 25 HR and the answer to that question will let us know whether he's worth taking in the 3rd round or not. 
  • Currently Jay Bruce is slotted at the beginning of the 4th round. He actually didn't do much differently in 2011 than the first few years of his career other than the fact that he stayed healthy. In 664 PA's, he delivered 32 HR with nearly 100 RBI to go along with a poor batting average (.256). The batting average isn't going to change as that matches his career average and his xAVG was right around there as well. He's kinda like Mike Stanton except with a little less power and a much worse batting average. His draft slot seems about right considering those facts as power is harder to come by in later rounds.
  • Former top prospect Desmond Jennings came into the league by stealing 20 bases while hitting 10 HR's in half a season last year. Now he's slotted to be about a 5th round pick it seems. One thing is for certain: the Rays like to steal bases as they're almost always among the leaders in SB attempts. While the stolen bases seem to be a sure thing, the power is a bit more of question mark and the answer to that question will determine if he's more of a Carl Crawford or Juan Pierre. In 2010, he hit only 3 HR over nearly 500 PA but then he jacked 22 HR's in 2011 between AAA and the majors. Looking at his full career and his PA/HR, we see that both years seem to be out of the ordinary. His power numbers might regress slightly based on that past history. I'd bank on him hitting closer to 15 HR over a full season as opposed to 25 but that's still pretty awesome to go with 40 to 60 SB. Add a decent batting average to those numbers and that creates a valuable pick in the 5th round.
  • Right with Desmond Jennings is Eric Hosmer in the 5th round. He plays 1B which is the most offensively heavy position but he lacks premier power and hits in a weaker lineup. It doesn't necessarily add up to 5th round material. He should give you above average production for AVG (should hit around .300) but relatively average numbers elsewhere. That would be all fine and dandy if he was a catcher or SS but this isn't quite as enticing for your starting 1B.
The Big Fallers
  • In fantasy baseball, some people give up on older players like Alex Rodriguez too early while others hold on too long. For that reason, the 5th round seems like a fair spot for A-Rod even if he is surrounded by guys like Eric Hosmer here. It doesn't seem like he'll ever hit for .300 again but he still hits in a good lineup with decent power so a season with .280 avg, 25 HR, 90 R and 100 RBI isn't out of the question if he can stay healthy. Also, there's the issue of 3B being a very weak fantasy position again so that raises his value up a bit. It seems like A-Rod may still be worth the risk.
  • Hanley Ramirez had a down year last year due to only being able to play in 92 games while hitting for a terrible AVG. But, his xAVG shows that he should have hit closer to .269 last year if luck didn't hurt him. Aside from that, he was on pace for about 15-20 HR and 35-40 SB if he played a full season. If he stays healthy, there's no reason to think he can't return to being a 20/30 player who hits for .300 at a scarce position. That makes him have some nice value in the 2nd round.
  • In case you didn't know, Carl Crawford was doo-doo last year yet drafters are still giving him hope by making him a 3rd round pick for next year. There are signs that some things should turn around for him as his xAVG was .274 which was higher than his actual AVG. His power numbers were his normal 10-15 HR but the SB's are worrisome and those are the main source of his value. I don't see enough signs that he'll turn it around to make him worth the risk at this point.
  • Matt Holliday has now dropped down to become a 4th round pick and it may be because he had an injury plagued year in 2011 or it may be the Albert Pujols factor. The injuries hurt his overall numbers but he still was close to the Holliday of old minus a few points of batting average. A healthy 2012 should mean good production across the board even if the loss of Pujols does have a slight effect on his Runs and RBI totals.
  • A host of others dropped down a bit this year as well like Ryan Zimmerman (4th Rd), Chase Utley (6th Rd), Jayson Werth (8th Rd) and Jason Heyward (9th Rd) and they each deserve further evaluation on their own. Older players, injuries in the previous year and bad production scare away drafters quickly and sometimes that opens the door for value so it's worth doing your homework on these guys before moving forward with any of them.
It's definitely still early but it's time to start thinking about how far you want former stars to fall in your rankings based on age or injury and also how high you want to rank possible upcoming stars who may or may not have what it takes. In your mind, is the public going too far for guys like Eric Hosmer and are they being too hard on guys like Matt Holliday? That's for you to judge. Answering those questions will have a big impact on how you draft in 2012.

Jan 6, 2012

How To Evaluate Batting Averages (BABIP, xBABIP & xAVG)

When it comes to evaluating hitters for your fantasy baseball leagues, there are generally five statistics that are focused on as they are the basic statistics of most roto leagues (AVG, HR, RBI, R and SB). In order to possibly predict what those numbers would be in an upcoming season, we have to rely on looking at past performances to see what those wacky stats tell us. Luckily, baseball has a lot of advanced statistics that are helpful in determining whether those five base numbers are going to maybe go up or go down in this next year.

A hitter has control over whether they hit a ball or not and how the ball is hit but there's a lot of luck involved after that point. When evaluating a hitter, we need to account for such luck when guessing about what will happen in the future. Unfortunately, the thing we can't account for is more good or bad luck in the upcoming season but we can still make a darned good evaluation of a hitter by using some of the more advanced metrics.

I will go over how to evaluate these statistics over this series of blog posts. This first one here is about evaluating a hitter's batting average.

Batting Average
Batting average is the statistic that can be most prone to some luck due to the fact that whether a batted ball lands in a player's glove or a few feet in front of it can be a bit random. When looking at a player's batting average, these statistics can be helpful for poking at a batting average to see how much luck was involved: BABIP, xBABIP and xAVG.

BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is the entry level statistic for evaluating whether a hitter's batting average will be able to be reproduced in the future. BABIP measures the batting average only on plays where the ball is hit into the field (ignoring strikeouts, walks and homeruns for instance). Without luck or speed involved, the "normal" batting average for balls hit into play (BABIP) for a hitter is about .290. Sometimes a player has a BABIP well above .290 which usually indicates that they're getting lucky.

To understand why BABIP and luck go together like birds of a feather, let's think of flipping a coin. Statistically the coin should land on heads 50% of the time. You could flip that coin 100 times and, call it luck or whatever you want, but it could land on heads 65% of the time. Instead of looking at the 65% rate, you still realize that the expected rate is 50% and you'd put money on that coin landing on heads at less then 65% over the next 100 flips. In terms of BABIP, we expect 29% of balls hit into play to actually become hits just like expect 50% of coin flips to land on heads. But, sometimes it doesn't go that way and we need to recognize that and if 40% of balls that went into play became a hit (thus raising a player's AVG) then the smart money is to bet on that batting average dropping.
Example: Player A's AVG was .300 in 2011 but his BABIP was .340. The league average BABIP is .290 so Player A has been getting more hits on balls in play than expected and his AVG is inflated. Player A probably won't hit for .300 next year without more luck.
That's BABIP on the surface but it goes deeper than that. While .290 is the league average BABIP, each player is different. If a player hits a lot of line drives then his BABIP will be different than someone who hits a ton of groundballs because each batted ball type has a different likelihood of becoming a hit. A player like Ichiro Suzuki might always have a BABIP that is always around .330 because of how he hits and runs. Even though the average BABIP is .290, Ichiro is not getting lucky since he hits the ball in ways that are more likely to become hits. In order to account for that, there is a statistic called xBABIP.

xBABIP (Expected Batting Average on Balls in Play) is the advanced level statistic for evaluating batting average. It attempts to come up with an expected BABIP for a player (replacing that .290 figure from above). Keep in mind that there are a few variations of the formula for this stat out there and they each differ slightly. Currently the more recognized version was done at Beyond The Boxscore and it takes GB%, FB%, LD% as well as IFFB%, IFH% and HR/FB% to calculate the type of BABIP a player should have. A hitter who hit lots of line drives may be expected to have a .320 BABIP since line drives turn into hits more often and a fly ball hitter may have an xBABIP of .275. The formula takes those hit types into account and generates an xBABIP for each player based on their batted ball profile.
Example: Player A's AVG was .300 in 2011 but his BABIP was .340. His xBABIP was .330 so Player A has only been getting a few more hits on balls put into play than he should have. Player A's AVG may go down slightly in 2012 but not by much.
The beauty of this is that we could even calculate an expected number of hits and then an expected batting average for a player based on xBABIP if we so desired. That would really let us drill down to see just how lucky someone was. In fact, let's do that...

xAVG (Expected Batting Average) would be the expert level analysis tool but, ironically, ends up being the easiest to understand once generated. There isn't a site that has this readily available but using xBABIP we can calculate an xAVG like this: (HR+xBABIP*(AB-K-HR+SF))/AB. It's not pretty but it takes the expected BABIP to figure out the expected number of hits and then divide that by AB's. While it's a pain in the butt to gather, it gives you a situation where you can say "In 2011, Alex Avila's expected average was .269 but he hit .295 so his average should be closer to .269 in 2012." And, that sounds a heck of a lot nicer than "In 2011, Alex Avila hit .295 but had a BABIP of .366 which was well above his expected BABIP of .329 so his average should drop by some amount in 2012." Instead of you digging up all of that info yourself since it's not readily available anywhere, I've calculated the 2011 season xAVG versus AVG for all players and posted it here: Google Docs Link

So there you have it, you can look at a player's batting average now and tell someone whether you think it's legit or not. Go ahead to your local sports pub and talk about batting averages with all the patrons. Watch the normal sports fan's fist fly into your face as the words "expected BABIP" come out of your mouth! Fun times for all!

Jan 4, 2012

Figuring Out The Top 10 Picks in 2012

In one of my fantasy leagues, I have the honor of picking where I want to draft in the 2012 draft. Generally, I like to be somewhere within picks 3 to 6 for a 12-team roto league because that's the latest point where you can get a stud player while getting a better pick in the second round by not picking 1st or 2nd. In a crude experiment, I looked at the final standings over the past 6 years of this particular league and compared that to where the teams picked in that draft. It confirmed my thought process as picks 3 through 6 averaged out as the four highest spots in the final standings (picks 1, 8, 10, 12 were the worst four spots in case you were curious).

With that in mind, in most years, I would look at early ADP data or expert rankings and see where there's seemingly a dropoff within the 3 to 6 range. Usually, you can see the stud players and then a quick drop to the great-but-not-stud players somewhere within there. This year, every ranking or ADP data seems to be ranking the Top 10 differently. Looking at four different expert rankings, there are 16 different players ranked within the Top 10 between them. Out of those 16, there are only 5 players who appear in the Top 10 in all four rankings. As I look at the various rankings though, I can start to see some clear lines on three separate tiers of players.

Tier One
All five guys are in the Top 10 of each rankings and ADP
Albert Pujols (1B, ANA)
Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET) 
Matt Kemp (OF, LAD)
Jose Bautista (OF, TOR)
Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL)

This might either be one big tier or two mini tiers. I think that Pujols, Cabrera and Kemp shape up a solid top three and that Bautista and Tulowitzki are on the outside looking in of this tier but it's a group of five solid players regardless. As I've stated before, drafting for power instead of speed is extremely important at this stage in the game. You can always find speed at any point in the draft but you cannot find power later. Kemp and Tulowitzki should be closer to the 30 HR department but Kemp brings speed and Tulowitzki brings position scarcity. Pujols and Cabrera are in the 35-40 HR department but bring batting average and other goodies while Bautista is a HR machine that now seems to be hitting for average too.

Tier Two
Guys in the Top 10 of three of the four rankings
Adrian Gonzalez (1B, BOS)
Joey Votto (1B, CIN)
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, BOS)

This is a solid little cluster of guys who should be in all Top 10 lists by the time the 2012 drafts start rolling around. I think these players and the first tier above combine to make the clear top eight players. As far as these three guys, Ellsbury is the most curious and unpredictable as his 32 HR came out of nowhere last year. If the power turns out to be legit then he will be quite the total package. Votto and Gonzalez are fairly similar but Gonzalez has shown to have more pop in his bat historically as it seems that Votto has a 30 HR ceiling while Gonzalez at least has the potential for 40 HR.

Tier Three
Guys which appear in one or two Top 10 rankings
Robinson Cano (2B, NYY)
Justin Upton (OF, ARI)
Prince Fielder (1B, ???)
Justin Verlander (SP, DET)
Evan Longoria (3B, TB)
Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS)

Now this is where it gets a bit murkier as it's tough to really say which of these six players belong in the remaining two spots in the Top 10. Each of these players has their own question marks. Is Longoria healthy? Do you draft an SP this early? Where will Fielder play? Will Upton repeat or regress? If I was forming my own Top 10 here, I'd likely choose Fielder and Longoria as you might be getting great value if Longoria is healthy and Fielder ends up in a good situation.

Ryan Braun (OF, MIL)

Of course, there is the mystery that is Ryan Braun. What do we do with him? It all depends on his appeal of his suspension. If he successfully appeals the suspension then he jumps up into Tier One and everything shifts around a bit. But, I say that things are not looking like they're going in that direction at this time so it's probably best to ignore him.

So, by taking all of that info and looking at it in tiers like this, we start to get a clearer picture on what the upcoming 2012 first round will look like. When I'm placing my money on these guys, I like to rely on the guys who have been in the first round before so Pujols, Cabrera, Tulowitzki or A. Gonzalez seem to be some of the more attractive options at first glance. But, luck and injuries will surely have a big effect on things and we'll laugh at this list 9 months from now. Regardless for the time being, this seems to be the path that will be laid out for drafters in 2012.

(And, as full disclosure, I decided to go with the sixth pick this year because I feel comfortable with anyone in that 3-6 range and feel that there is slight risk to each of them. That being the case, I'll end up with someone from that group and a better second round pick as a result.)