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How I Won Tout Wars

I am extremely fortunate to be able to write an article entitled, “How I Won Tout Wars.”

It is truly a humbling experience, and I am both excited and proud to pen today’s words.

Including all of the draft preparation that I describe in my aforementioned articles, here a few of the reasons that (I think) I won in 2020.

 

Humble Beginnings

Before I had ever written a single baseball article, and before the ATC projections were released – I followed and greatly respected Tout Wars. Formed in 1998, Tout Wars features the best and brightest experts in the fantasy baseball industry competing against each other. I learned about the league while attending Baseball HQ’s First Pitch regional forums, hosted by Ron Shandler. I had attended one of their conferences each and every year since 2011.

Below is a photograph of the title page of the very first Baseball Forecaster book that I had purchased, which Ron Shandler autographed for me.

Earlier this year I was honored when Baseball HQ asked me to present at their First Pitch Florida conference. Ron was among the attendees for my 45-minute talk on advanced auction strategies.

I became even more interested in Tout Wars after reading Sam Walker’s book, Fantasyland which portrays his 2004 AL Only Tout Wars league experience. I also watched the subsequent video documentary, Fantasyland, which follows amateur player Jed Latkin’s 2008 fantasy experience. Latkin earned a one-time chance to compete in Tout Wars for the movie.

I had not come into the fantasy industry until recently. I never thought for a moment that I would ever get to compete in Tout Wars, much less win a contest. I was content just playing in my own home leagues, and participating in NFBC tournaments.

Then, one day in January of 2019, I received a message from Jeff Erickson inviting me to compete with the other Touts. My jaw dropped to the floor that minute, and it stayed there for quite some time. I played in the inaugural season of the Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, winning 2nd place honors. This year, I was invited to compete in the live Head to Head auction league.

This was an opportunity that I could not waste. I fully prepared for the affair. I heavily documented the steps that I took prior to the March 15 auction, and wrote the following two full articles:

Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part I

Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part II

If you have not done so yet, I urge you to read the above articles. They are not of the typical draft recap style. Rather, I embarked on a journey depicting my heavy preparation for the event – to help the reader learn how to tackle the game. Some of the topics include:

  • Deciding on a Hitter/Pitcher pricing split
  • Generating a market curve
  • Generating auction values
  • Replacement level values
  • Projection adjustments
  • Streaming mid-season
  • Reconnaissance of Opponents
  • Observing Nominations
  • etc.

Six and a half months later, I find myself as the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion.

 

The ATC Projections

I am the author of the ATC projections, which can be found on FanGraphs. The ATC projections are a smart aggregation of other projections. ATC does not do well by producing an outsized projection for any single player, rather, its strength lies in the law of large numbers. It gets projections more right than wrong – and it does so better than anyone else.

In 2019, the ATC projections were crowned as the most accurate baseball projections of 2019. I was also crowned by FantasyPros as the #1 most accurate fantasy baseball expert of 2019. Having accurate projections heading into any league auction gives any user an advantage at the very start.

I have found that in the NFBC leagues that I play in (high stakes leagues), more and more players are using (or at the very least looking at) the ATC projections prior to their drafts. In all of my home leagues, I know that many of my friends examine them.

But in leagues such as Tout Wars – each expert has his or her own set of projections, a plan, and their unique methodology. I cannot be certain, but I would venture to say that my competitors likely did not pay that much attention to ATC.

What surprised me most of all, is that ATC worked well in the short 60 game season. I knew that using ATC is highly accretive for the 162-game affair, but with more variability in only 60 games – ATC was further tested. It passed the test.

 

Proper Valuation

It is important for one to perform individual player analysis in preparation for a league. Knowing the draftable player set well is essential to success.

However, I believe it is more important to understand your league’s format, and to properly valuate what a player is worth. You could have the best underlying projections at hand, but if you do not understand which categories and positions are the most and least valuable, you will not win the league.

As described in my pre-season recap article, the Head-to-Head Points format was not one that I was overly familiar with. To make matters worse, I was the newcomer to the league this year – which gave me a disadvantage from the get-go.

When applying the math – I realized that stolen bases were not valuable in this format. Quality starts, and pitchers who threw deep into games were immensely valuable. Starting pitchers with RP eligibility were given a huge replacement level bump, etc. Even if I had not used the ATC projections, the math of converting stats into points and then into auction values was where I believe that I gained a distinct advantage.

At the conclusion of the league’s auction, I calculated the following projected season point totals for each tout [starting players only]:

I projected that I had an 11% advantage over the league’s average position, edging Ian Kahn out by about 200 points. To compare, below are the final league standings.

Note that the original projected points were based on a 162-game season, and a standard play 1 opponent each week format. Final standings were for the 60-game short season, and a special play-all format.

Indeed, my projections and valuation were largely accurate. The touts with the 5 highest projected point totals ended up finishing in the top five.

 

Scouting

In great detail, I portrayed the scouting that I undertook in preparation for Tout Wars in Part II of my auction recap . I surveyed prior league draft results for each tout. I looked into each player’s likely targets. I even personally attended five hours’ worth of a different live 2020 auction of one of the touts – just to get any edge and information that I could.

As I have described many times in the past, your own valuation of players is not enough to win a league. Determining that Player A is worth $9, is not enough information on its own. In the quest to assemble the most value in the aggregate, subject to the $260 auction budget - one needs to ascertain if there is a market for Player A. Are others willing to spend $12? Will they spend just $6?

Consider the following simple example:

Shortstop Your Value Market Value
Player X $12 $7
Player Y $14 $12

Which player would you rather target during an auction?

Sure, Player Y will provide more value to your team than Player X ($14 to $12). However, I would rather be on the lookout to acquire Player X. The potential profit that one can derive from Player X exceeds that of Player Y by an estimated $3.

The task for the fantasy owner is to assemble the most value on your roster for the least amount of fantasy draft capital. Without having a good sense of what the market would pay for a player, you may not be able to maximize your roster’s value despite having excellent valuations. For instance, if you did not have an awareness that Player X’s market value was low – you may pay the $12 for Player Y, thinking that you would earn a $2 draft profit for the shortstop position. You might be leaving an additional $3 of profit on the table … and worse … one of your opponents will profit instead.

 

Draft Strategy & Tactics

Many people often confuse the difference between strategies and tactics. They are in fact two distinct elements of playing a game.

Strategies are the pre-planned moves that you execute. Strategy comes to fruition when the game (any game) is merely a blank canvas; it emerges during the part of the action when you have the most freedom to operate. Perhaps, you come to the draft deciding that you will target two high priced first basemen. Perhaps you plan to nominate high priced closers early on, etc.

A tactic is implemented in response to the way that a game unfolds. Tactics are needed where the action is the greatest. One draws upon his or her knowledge of the game on just how to react. In poker, a bluff is a tactic carried out in order to induce an opponent to fold his or her cards. One does not come into a poker room planning to buff a particular hand. Rather, one looks at their cards, reads the faces around the table, and in response - decides to aggressively bet on a weaker hand.

For Tout Wars, I prepared a detailed strategy. I estimated the likely pockets of players who would be available at bargain prices. For hitters, the ranges were clearer. For starting pitchers, I developed two plans of attack. The first, was a hotspot of 1A type pitchers. I planned to use my auction nominations early on largely to determine which pockets of players that I would play in.

I responded well in the midst of the auction to the hands that I was dealt. I ended up defaulting to my alternate plan, which included pouncing on mid-level pitchers such as Max Fried, German Marquez and Eduardo Rodriguez. As an additional example, I did not intend to purchase Alex Bregman, but I took advantage of the opportunity of a depressed cost.

I also employed more subtle in-game tactics such as bidding up Alex Chamberlain on players that I knew he would try to outbid the room. Successfully siphoning an extra $3-4 from an opponent’s auction budget is often just as important to the auction’s endgame - as saving cash on players that you yourself purchase. Every little bit counts.

Deciding on just how much to bid on mid-season FAAB is an important tactic to master. For Tout Wars - I periodically studied the player needs of other teams, and looked at their personal FAAB bidding history. I even got a hold of last year's Tout Wars HTH FAAB bidding by week to help me make informed decisions on just how much to bid. I made sure that my FAAB bids were somewhat random, so that no one else could track what I was doing.

Each of these tactics contributed to my overall success.

 

Adapting to the League

Consider the following exaggerated scenarios in a rotisserie format:

  • All other teams each spend a total of $240 on hitting, and only $20 on pitching.
  • All other teams do not draft a single closer. They all draft 9 starting pitchers.
  • All other teams spend only $1-2 on every catcher that they purchase.

None of the three above scenarios are strategies that I would employ at the outset of a league draft. I wouldn’t go into an auction with an intended 92%/8% hitter/pitcher split of auction funds. I wouldn’t punt saves from the get-go. I wouldn’t only want to spend $2 on JT Realmuto or Yasmani Grandal, etc.

Those three strategies seem quite strange to the naked eye, because … they are. I did say that they were exaggerated.

However:

  • If all of your opponents spend $240 on hitting, then if you only spend only $180 on hitting – you will likely finish dead last in almost all five offensive categories. Yes, you may finish with the most pitching points – but that still will leave you with an average overall score when combined with the hitting.
  • If all of your opponents do not draft closers, spending the usual ~$25 worth of funds will render your pitching spend as highly inefficient. You will also have a hard time winning the other pitching counting stat categories.
  • If all of your opponents barely pay for catchers, buying JT Realmuto at $15 is an overspend. You could have purchased for the next best catcher at a fraction of the cost. Realmuto isn’t 5 times better than the next backstop.

The point here is that playing the game without context can lead to an inefficient use of fantasy capital. Operating in a vacuum literally sucks value out of your roster. You need to be aware of the league norms, and adapt your strategies accordingly. The norms won’t be as ridiculous in the above examples, but adjusting to them will make a profound difference.

This rule does not only apply for the league draft; the in-season adaptation is also essential. If waiver wire pitchers are cheaply acquired in the league, there is no need to spend heavy there. If hitters are constantly churned each week, why not think more short-term? And so on ...

In Tout Wars, despite the fact that I was green to the league in 2020, I felt that I was able to quickly adapt to the league. For adjusting mid-auction - I had a lot of prior experience in doing so (even for new leagues). For me - the harder part was adapting to the week-to-week play.

How did I adjust quickly? I looked at what last year’s winner, Ian Kahn and runner-up Clay Link did for their teams. I looked at how they set their lineups, at the types (and quantities) of players they purchased each week, and what they had paid for them. I recognized the types of trades that were profitable in the format. I observed just how patient they were with underperforming players, etc.

In case a fellow league mate (or US General) reads this, I don’t want to give away all of the specific tidbits of information that I had acquired - but I do want to convey to you the importance of learning. Observing the two touts allowed me to catch up as fast as I could with the right strategy for this league’s dynamic. Just “doing your usual thing” is not how you win leagues. One needs to use his or her own bag of magic tricks, but must figure out what works for your particular audience. Each league is different, and one needs to adapt quickly.

 

Play the Matchups

Down the stretch of the season, as it became clear that I was going to contend for the league title, I shifted my focus on free agent pickups from long term to short term. I could no longer sift through the waiver wire for rest-of-season targets; I needed to put up as many points as I could each and every week. Playing from behind, I took each week as a single must-win contest.

As such, I spent a lot of time looking at matchups. For both hitters and pitchers, I looked at who they would face in the coming week, the ballparks they would play in – and most importantly, at the playoff status for their real-life teams. Some teams needed to fight towards the end, and some had already clinched their postseason berth. This made a large difference in both my free-agent acquisition targets, as well as how I set my team’s active lineup.

But not only did I look at the coming week’s schedule – I also looked ahead a week further into the future. I sometimes purchased “future two-start” pitchers (as I typically call them) a week in advance. Purchasing these types of pitchers allowed me to spend far fewer resources on them, as most teams were not looking to acquire them a week early. Had I waited the week to roster the future two-start pitchers, I would have to pay ten times the auction price [or more] to do so! That would not be an efficient use of fantasy capital. Sometimes, a player riding on your bench for a week can lead to a more optimal use of funds.

 

Luck

I could not have won Tout Wars without an element of luck. This is the truest statement that I have made thus far.

I got lucky.

I won’t say that I was extremely lucky; I believe that all of the elements described above played a large role in my winning. However, the difference between my 1st place finish and what could have been a 5th place finish required the fates to be on my side. Had a few pitchers pulled a muscle in the last week, I would not be writing this article. Had Andrea LaMont made one or two different decisions during the course of the season, she might be writing this article in my stead.

Of course, not everything broke right for me during the season either. I too had my fair share of injuries and poor play. I traded away Randal Grichuk to Ryan Hallam in the middle of the season, which proved to be a bad decision on my part. Eduardo Rodriguez never played a game in 2020, yet I had spent $10 on him in the auction.

The margin of error in a league full of experts is razor-thin. I was blessed in 2020 that I had just enough luck to go along with my gameplay. The combination of both earned me my very first experts league title.

 

Conclusion

I could have spent time today talking about the specific players who provided me the most and least value for my Tout Wars team this season. Sure, Marcell Ozuna was a fantastic $16 selection, who earned $31 of value in the format. But simply discussing players will not provide much help to you in the future. It won’t help me for 2021 either.

You see, it is not about the results – it is about the process.

Hopefully, I have given you some insight into my successful season in Tout Wars, and at the same time provided you with a few strategies and tactics for your fantasy leagues next year. I am surely hoping that the 2021 season will go on without interruption, and I hope to be writing this article again at its conclusion.



Win Big With RotoBaller

Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:

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2020 wRC+ Splits: Risers and Fallers

Baseball in 2020 is unlike any season that I can remember. The designated hitter is now present in the National League. You will not find any more LOOGYs with the institution of the three-batter minimum rule. Doubleheaders are now a combined 14 innings of baseball. Extra innings now start with a runner on second base. There will not be an All-Star game played in 2020, but MLB has called for an expanded postseason. We have cardboard cutouts, and only the Philly Phanatic to cheer them on.

There are of course many other quirks and nuances for this short season. One item that will not be taken away is player consistency and inconsistency. What I mean by that – is the ability for some players to ride hot streaks for weeks at a time, only to cool off thereafter. At times, players begin the season with a slow start, but manage to turn their season around. There are, of course, those players whose skills appear to be the same throughout the year.

Today, I will take a quick look at the current year’s ‘half-season’ consistencies and inconsistencies.

 

Definitions & Methodology

To set the stage, let us first define what we mean by the ‘half-season’ to date. We will break the season into two sections.

  • First Half (1H) – July 23, 2020 to August 16, 2020
  • Second Half (2H) – August 16, 2020 to September 7, 2020

These 3+ week spans are certainly not the official baseball half seasons. They merely are the splits of the current year to date. In actuality, they more closely represent the first two thirds of the short season – but for now, we will refer to them as the ‘half-seasons.’

Next, we will define consistency. For this analysis, we will focus on wRC+.

With regards to their metric wRC, FanGraphs notes the following:

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.  In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.”  While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).

wRC+ uses wOBA, park factors, and league run environment to produce an all-in-one encompassing leaderboard metric. The ‘+’ refers to the normalizing of the statistic, i.e. it is scaled so that 100 is league average. A wRC+ of 142 means that the player was 42% better than league average. A wRC+ of 94 means that the player was 6% worse than league average, etc.

In today’s article, we will look at the difference between a player’s first-half wRC+ and second half wRC+. To rule out some noise, we will only consider players who accumulated at least 35 plate appearances in each half.

Finally, we will classify each player as either a gainer or fader. A gainer is a player with an increase in wRC+ from first half to second. A fader is a player who exhibited a decrease during the stated time. A player with a low absolute difference in half-season wRC+ will be referred to as a stable player.

 

2020 Gainers

Here are the largest 2020 half-season gainers:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Brandon Belt Giants 71 277 206
Kyle Tucker Astros 56 226 170
Justin Upton Angels 11 160 149
Jose Abreu White Sox 100 231 131
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Blue Jays 54 183 129
Evan White Mariners 23 149 126
Ben Gamel Brewers 35 157 122
Miguel Sano Twins 63 184 121
Eugenio Suarez Reds 49 169 120
Will Smith Dodgers 107 224 117
Edwin Encarnacion White Sox 20 137 117
Ronald Acuna Jr. Braves 136 250 114
Austin Riley Braves 31 143 112
Rafael Devers Red Sox 47 157 110
Jonathan Schoop Tigers 77 181 104
Cody Bellinger Dodgers 53 154 101
Austin Hedges Indians 2 103 101
Trea Turner Nationals 121 219 98
Manny Machado Padres 96 189 93
Tucker Barnhart Reds 16 109 93
Pat Valaika Orioles 59 149 90
Marcell Ozuna Braves 127 215 88
Jacob Stallings Pirates 72 159 87
Brandon Crawford Giants 63 150 87
Rowdy Tellez Blue Jays 95 180 85
Rhys Hoskins Phillies 107 190 83
Amed Rosario Mets 28 111 83
Freddie Freeman Braves 130 211 81
Jason Heyward Cubs 112 191 79
Yasmani Grandal White Sox 93 172 79
Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 58 135 77
Alex Gordon Royals 46 122 76
Francisco Lindor Indians 81 154 73
Sam Hilliard Rockies 46 117 71
Omar Narvaez Brewers 31 101 70
Kevin Kiermaier Rays 84 152 68
Joc Pederson Dodgers 61 129 68
Luis Rengifo Angels 23 89 66
Evan Longoria Giants 74 139 65
Andrew McCutchen Phillies 43 108 65
Jeimer Candelario Tigers 103 167 64
Kurt Suzuki Nationals 69 132 63
Mauricio Dubon Giants 61 123 62
Adam Duvall Braves 93 152 59
Eric Thames Nationals 30 89 59
Michael Conforto Mets 150 205 55

Brandon Belt jumps out as the largest gainer from the first half. Over the past 3+ weeks, Belt is batting .444 with 5 HRs, 14 runs and 14 RBI. His walk rate has grown to an immense 18%, up from what was already a very decent 10% to start the first half of the season. Some of his success seems to be luck aided; he has compiled a .500 BABIP in the second half, which is clearly not sustainable. Belt, who is has a career 123 wRC+, is likely more overplaying in the 2H than underplaying in the 1H.

The same is not true for Red Sox star Rafael Devers, whose second half is closer to reality than his abysmal first. After an incredible 2019, Devers was primed to be a major offensive force in the American League, as one analyst predicted an MVP season.

In the first half of 2020, Devers hit for a .182 average. I stepped on the scale this morning, and I saw a larger figure than that. Since then, Rafael has turned around his season. He is sneakily hitting .321 with 5 HRs and 20 RBI. I would still bet on the upside with Devers going forward.

There are a few other players who catch my eye – who were fantastic early on in the season, and then got even better! The players who had at least a 125 wRC+ in the first half, who had at least a 175 wRC+ in the second half are:

  • Ronald Acuna Jr.
  • Marcell Ozuna
  • Freddie Freeman
  • Michael Conforto

Wow. Almost every player above is a member of the Atlanta Braves.  These figures do not even include the Altanta 29-run rout on Wednesday night. The Braves have catapulted themselves into first place in the NL East over the past three weeks.

As for Conforto, he is currently 2nd in the National League in batting average for the season overall at .348, trailing only Trea Turner. Turner barely missed being mentioned with the other Braves, as he only had a 121 first half wRC+.

 

2020 Faders

Here are the largest 2020 half-season faders:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Charlie Blackmon Rockies 191 26 -165
Brandon Lowe Rays 205 58 -147
JaCoby Jones Tigers 190 44 -146
Mike Tauchman Yankees 147 16 -131
Brian Goodwin Reds 157 33 -124
Ryan McBroom Royals 164 43 -121
Daniel Murphy Rockies 106 -12 -118
Bryce Harper Phillies 206 90 -116
Freddy Galvis Reds 132 19 -113
Todd Frazier Mets 142 32 -110
Chance Sisco Orioles 197 90 -107
Juan Soto Nationals 270 167 -103
Jason Kipnis Cubs 201 99 -102
Whit Merrifield Royals 138 42 -96
Austin Romine Tigers 113 20 -93
Hunter Renfroe Rays 97 7 -90
Jesse Winker Reds 213 126 -87
Renato Nunez Orioles 161 76 -85
Yuli Gurriel Astros 149 65 -84
Michael Chavis Red Sox 111 27 -84
Asdrubal Cabrera Nationals 123 41 -82
J.T. Realmuto Phillies 176 98 -78
Carson Kelly Diamondbacks 75 -1 -76
Starling Marte Marlins 154 79 -75
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 147 72 -75
James McCann White Sox 177 102 -75
Robbie Grossman Athletics 184 110 -74
Nicky Lopez Royals 99 27 -72
Rio Ruiz Orioles 125 55 -70
Nicholas Castellanos Reds 163 96 -67
Mitch Moreland Padres 193 128 -65
Austin Meadows Rays 124 59 -65
Pedro Severino Orioles 174 110 -64
Ramon Laureano Athletics 141 78 -63
Tony Kemp Athletics 134 71 -63
DJ LeMahieu Yankees 175 113 -62
Roman Quinn Phillies 107 45 -62
Donovan Solano Giants 171 110 -61
Mike Ford Yankees 66 8 -58
Brian Anderson Marlins 136 80 -56
A.J. Pollock Dodgers 153 97 -56
Erik Gonzalez Pirates 141 89 -52
Hanser Alberto Orioles 129 78 -51
David Peralta Diamondbacks 117 66 -51

Charlie Blackmon is the largest fader in 2020. After three weeks of flirting with a .500 batting average (yes, a .500 batting average) – we knew that he would most certainly descend towards earth. What we did not know was that he would crash, with a 26 wRC+. In other words, Blackmon has been 74% worse than the league average over the past few weeks. Yikes! Regression is a powerful force.

Daniel Murphy and Carson Kelly are the two members of this leaderboard who faded to a negative second-half wRC+. Kelly is batting just a mere .154 in the 2H, with just 1 HR and no walks. Murphy has a .170 average, and no homers. There is upside though for Murphy, who struck out less than 10% of the time during that span, and hit for just a .186 BABIP. Expect some bounce-back.

Now for the players who were super-awesome, and who are now ... just awesome. Below are all those who had at least a 175 wRC+ in the first half, and hit for at least a 125 wRC+ in the second half:

  • Juan Soto
  • Jesse Winker
  • Mitch Moreland

The Padres made a number of mid-season trades this year, and with one of them acquired the ageless Mitch Moreland. Mitch has been outstanding in 2020, but he does exhibit a large righty/lefty split. His wRC+ against righties this year is 173, while vs. lefties is only 66. With Eric Hosmer now on the shelf, Moreland will likely get lots of playing time going forward.

Juan Soto was my pre-season prediction for this year’s NL MVP. Soto missed some time in the beginning of the season, as he tested positive for COVID. As soon as he started playing, he hit the ground running. He has accumulated 1.4 WAR on the season – a top 20 figure in the NL despite the missed time. In his declined 2H, Soto is still batting a lofty .305. No need to worry.

Jesse Winker is quietly having a heck of a season for the Reds. He is batting .293 with 10 HRs, 20 runs and 18 RBI. I do not worry about his second half fade, as he is walking at a 15% clip. Winker is simply an undervalued professional baseball player.

 

2020 Most Stable Players

Just for fun, here are the most stable players in all of baseball across both season halves:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Jean Segura Phillies 108 108 0
Eddie Rosario Twins 103 103 0
Kevin Newman Pirates 60 60 0
Sean Murphy Athletics 113 114 1
Jake Cronenworth Padres 151 150 -1
Avisail Garcia Brewers 81 80 -1
Giovanny Urshela Yankees 133 135 2
Trent Grisham Padres 125 123 -2
Tommy La Stella Athletics 125 123 -2
Howie Kendrick Nationals 79 82 3
Alex Verdugo Red Sox 129 133 4
Luis Arraez Twins 79 83 4
Javier Baez Cubs 57 61 4
Willy Adames Rays 147 143 -4
Travis d'Arnaud Braves 143 139 -4
Travis Shaw Blue Jays 99 95 -4
Nelson Cruz Twins 177 182 5
Nomar Mazara White Sox 81 76 -5
Bryan Reynolds Pirates 72 67 -5
Tony Wolters Rockies 18 13 -5
Franmil Reyes Indians 144 150 6
Cesar Hernandez Indians 95 101 6
Willson Contreras Cubs 101 107 6
Isiah Kiner-Falefa Rangers 95 101 6
Mookie Betts Dodgers 174 168 -6
Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres 178 185 7
Justin Turner Dodgers 126 119 -7
J.D. Davis Mets 133 126 -7
Kyle Schwarber Cubs 113 106 -7
Adam Eaton Nationals 69 62 -7
Anthony Rendon Angels 160 168 8
Chris Taylor Dodgers 114 122 8
Ryan McMahon Rockies 75 83 8
Jose Peraza Red Sox 63 71 8
David Fletcher Angels 129 121 -8
Christian Walker Diamondbacks 112 121 9
Carlos Correa Astros 127 118 -9
Eloy Jimenez White Sox 135 126 -9

All of the above players exhibited less than a 10-point difference in their wRC+ between the halves of the season. Of course, consistent hitting is wonderful if the consistency is at a high level such as for Travis d'Arnaud, Nelson Cruz, Franmil Reyes and Anthony Rendon. Sometimes the consistency shown is rather poor – as exhibited with Jose Peraza, Javier Baez, Ryan McMahon and Kevin Newman.

Particularly impressive are the players who can stay at a high offensive level for a prolonged period of time. Jake Cronenworth is a lesser-known player to many, but he is an underrated one. He hit for an almost identical 150 wRC+ in both halves. Cronenworth is batting .325 with four HR, 21 runs and 19 RBI. With a strikeout rate of only 17% in 2020, he should continue to have a high floor for his batting average as the season moves along. He also has swiped 3 bases and carries positional eligibility flexibility, which makes him quite valuable in fantasy baseball - especially in rotisserie formats.

Will these consistent players keep it up for the remainder of the season? Check back here later on in the season.



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Greg Maddux Plate Discipline Standouts for 2020

In my previous article, I wrote about my new weighted index statistic for hitters – mPDI, which stems from a famous quote by Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux:

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”

The Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for hitters led us to uncover some plate discipline standouts such as Cavan Biggio and Christian Walker. Today, we will look at the pitching version of mPDI. We can enumerate the percentage of the time in which pitchers demonstrate Greg Maddux's formulation of deception. To review, each and every pitch thrown at a baseball game can be classified into one of the following tracked six outcomes:

 

mPDI Matrix

Outcome A Outcome B Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E Outcome F
Zone? Out of Zone Out of Zone Out of Zone In Zone In Zone In Zone
Swing? Swung On Swung On No Swing Swung On Swung On No Swing
Contact? No Contact Contact Made No Swing No Contact Contact Made No Swing

Closely resembling his quote, the Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for pitchers is defined as:

Outcome A + Outcome B + Outcome F
Total Pitches

The version of mPDI for pitchers is the mirror image definition of the hitter’s mPDI [which aggregated Outcomes C, D & E]. To give context, an awful pitcher mPDI would be one nearing .250, while an elite one would approach .400. The average for 2019 was .315.

First, let’s start by looking at the 2019 mPDI leaderboard for pitchers (minimum 25 innings):

Player IP mPDI
Sergio Romo 60.3 .390
Ryan Pressly 54.3 .387
Adam Morgan 29.7 .387
Andrew Kittredge 49.7 .385
Evan Marshall 50.7 .383
Jimmy Cordero 37.3 .382
Stephen Strasburg 209.0 .372
Zac Gallen 80.0 .366
Chaz Roe 51.0 .364
Chris Sale 147.3 .364
Victor Alcantara 42.7 .361
Alex Claudio 62.0 .361
Will Smith 65.3 .361
Brandon Workman 71.7 .360
Aaron Nola 202.3 .359
Randy Dobnak 28.3 .358
Matt Bowman 32.0 .358
Tommy Milone 111.7 .358
Adam Kolarek 55.0 .358
Matt Wisler 51.3 .358
Jose Berrios 200.3 .357
Lucas Sims 43.0 .357
Jake Jewell 26.3 .357
Dominic Leone 40.7 .356
Brad Hand 57.3 .355
Blake Snell 107.0 .355
Zack Greinke 208.7 .355
Blake Treinen 58.7 .354
Kyle Gibson 160.0 .354
Tim Mayza 51.3 .354
Jared Hughes 71.3 .353
Austin Adams 32.0 .353
Tony Watson 54.0 .353
Scott Barlow 70.3 .352
Collin McHugh 74.7 .351
Jordan Hicks 28.7 .350
Zack Britton 61.3 .350
Jameson Taillon 37.3 .350
Patrick Corbin 202.0 .350
Luke Jackson 72.7 .350
Keone Kela 29.7 .349
Hyun-Jin Ryu 182.7 .349
Yoshihisa Hirano 53.0 .349
Miles Mikolas 184.0 .348
Austin Pruitt 47.0 .348
Jeurys Familia 60.0 .348
Wandy Peralta 39.7 .347
Noe Ramirez 67.7 .347
Hector Neris 67.7 .346
Tyson Ross 35.3 .346
Charlie Morton 194.7 .346
Kyle Hendricks 177.0 .346
Joe Kelly 51.3 .345
Pedro Strop 41.7 .345
Yu Darvish 178.7 .345
Jonathan Loaisiga 31.7 .345

Let’s dive into a few of these top Maddux Plate Discipline pitchers.

 

Stephen Strasburg (SP, WAS)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Stephen Strasburg 209.0 .372 .096 .129 .146

At the top of the mPDI leaderboard for starting pitchers, we find the World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg. He was my pre-season prediction to win the NL Cy Young award. Last year, Strasburg compiled a 5.7 WAR, which was third-most amongst National League pitchers. He struck out a career high 251 batters, with a 10-year best 1.04 WHIP.

But today, we give him attention for his plate discipline and deception. Last year’s O-Swing% was 37%, the highest of his career. That means he was generating more swings out of the zone than ever before. His total swinging strike rate [in and out of the zone] was an elite 13.4% - also the best of his career.

It is too early to tell whether these gains have sustained in 2020, as he began the season injured. To date, in his 5 innings thus far, he has not fared well. His fastball velocity is down 2 MPH from last season, but his command looks decent with a first-pitch strike rate of almost 70%. If Strasburg can return to full health, look for him to continue to pitch at an ace level.

 

Ryan Pressly (RP, HOU)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Ryan Pressly 54.3 .387 .122 .106 .159

Ryan Pressly has quietly been one of the most effective relievers over the past couple of seasons. His .390 mPDI was the 2nd highest of any pitcher in the majors last year. Only Sergio Romo had a higher Maddux index. What jumps out from a plate discipline perspective is his Outcome A (out of the zone, swung on and missed). 12.2% of Pressly’s pitches in 2019 fell into this cohort, which was the 2nd highest in all of baseball. His Outcome F (in the zone, no swing) was also elite. Almost 16% of his pitches were taken for a strike without a swing!

Ryan caught my eye last season in his first 26 innings. From March to May last year, Pressly yielded only one earned run. Even more impressive – he only issued two walks during that span. As we see from his mPDI result, these were hardly lucky outcomes; Pressly is an elite deceptive reliever.

Pressly started 2020 with some injury concerns, but assuming he gets through those – the closer job will be his in Houston.

 

Evan Marshall (RP, CHW)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Evan Marshall 50.7 .383 .079 .181 .123

In an uncertain fantasy landscape, I prefer at times to roster (and activate) high strikeout middle relievers, rather than to play a poor 7th starting pitcher. It behooves the astute fantasy owner to look for a few unknown diamonds in the rough.

Evan Marshall is slowly becoming a trusted option in the South side of Chicago. He is being used in more and more high leverage situations, and has found himself recently pitching in the 8th inning of games.

mPDI can give us a clue as to why. Marshall’s Outcome B (Out of zone, swing and contact) was the highest of any pitcher in baseball last season at 18%. Almost one-fifth of his pitches were contacted while out of the zone – which is a key to generating poor contact. His hard-hit contact rate according to Statcast was 30% last season, and it has stayed low thus far in 2020 at 33%.

To start the season, in his first 11 innings, he has compiled a 2.38 ERA – which FIP and xFIP agree with (2.79 & 2.51 respectively). His WHIP is a mere 1.15 and he has yet to give up a barrel. His K% rate is 33.3% - which means that one out of every three batters he faces ends in a strikeout.

Should Alex Colome falter, I could see Marshall sliding into some save opportunities. Even if not, Marshall could be an excellent play in deeper formats.

 

Zac Gallen (SP, ARI)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Zac Gallen 80.0 .366 .090 .120 .156

Zac Gallen was traded from the Marlins to the Diamondbacks in the middle of last season, in a trade of prospects. The Marlins perhaps had enough pitching depth in the organization, and wanted to secure a position player, which are often more reliable. Perhaps though, Gallen was worth keeping.

After a 2.81 ERA in 80 innings last season, Gallen is off to a brilliant start in 2020. In his first five starts he has a 2.40 ERA, a dazzling 1.03 WHIP with 36 strikeouts in 30 innings. To boot, he has a near 50% groundball rate.

As for his plate discipline, Gallen was the 2nd best starting pitcher in terms of his mPDI. His Outcome F (in the zone, no swing) was superb, and his out of zone metrics are outstanding. His swinging strike rate was 12.8% last year, and so far in 2020 it is up to 13.0%! Gallen is increasing his use of sliders in his pitch mix this year – further perfecting his repertoire.

I have high hopes for Zac Gallen long term, and mPDI is thus far confirming my intuition in the short term.

 

Randy Dobnak (SP, MIN)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Randy Dobnak 28.3 .358 .087 .134 .138

I did not expect to be writing about this next player. Randy Dobnak is an individual that I personally had not been high on for fantasy baseball. However, his results in 2020 have been stellar. In his first 5 games, he is currently 5th in the major leagues in ERA [among qualified starting pitchers] at 1.42. In fact, his career ERA is now sitting at 1.59 with a 1.01 WHIP. It seems fantastic, until one glances at his strikeouts which are sub-pedestrian. He struck out just 14 batters in 25 innings this season – less than a 5 K/9.

Then we come to his plate discipline. His mPDI of .358 was among last year’s top pitchers. Each one of his Maddux plate discipline outcomes are superb. Despite sub-par strikeouts, Dobnak has generated an elite 65% groundball rate this season; he is producing weak contact.

Succeeding at pitching is not only about raw "stuff." Effective pitching is highly dependent on deceptiveness. Using tangential guidance from Greg Maddux via mPDI, we are now clued into keeping an eye out for potentially undervalued pitchers such as Randy Dobnak.



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Plate Discipline Standouts for 2020

Last year, I unveiled a new weighted index statistic for hitters – mPDI, which mirrors a famous quote by Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux:

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”

If we consider the inverse of Maddux’s quote, the key to hitting would be to swing when the ball is in the zone, and to lay off when the ball is out of the zone. That sounds easy enough right?

 

mPDI Matrix

Luckily, my mPDI statistic for hitters attempts to emulate this. mPDI (for hitters) is a metric which quantifies the percentage of the time in which hitters demonstrate this plate discipline skill.

Each and every pitch thrown at a baseball game can be classified into one of the following tracked six outcomes:

Outcome A Outcome B Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E Outcome F
Zone? Out of Zone Out of Zone Out of Zone In Zone In Zone In Zone
Swing? Swung On Swung On No Swing Swung On Swung On No Swing
Contact? No Contact Contact Made No Swing No Contact Contact Made No Swing

Named after the legend, and closely resembling his quote - The Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for hitters is defined as:

Outcome C + Outcome D + Outcome E
Total Pitches

An awful mPDI would be one in the low .600s, while an elite one would be near .750. An mPDI of .685 was the average for 2019.

Prior to the 2019 season, I used mPDI to uncover a number of plate discipline breakouts such as Jeff McNeil and Josh Bell. In this article, I’ll give you a few player candidates to look out for in the 2020 season.

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR)

First, it might help to glance over at the mPDI leaderboard for 2019. Below are the top plate discipline batters with a minimum of 175 plate appearances:

Player mPDI
Jordan Luplow .764
Luke Voit .755
Cavan Biggio .754
George Springer .750
Curt Casali .747
Khris Davis .746
Christian Walker .744
Joey Votto .742
Mike Tauchman .742
Brandon Belt .740
Yandy Diaz .738
Guillermo Heredia .738
Carlos Santana .737
Brandon Nimmo .737
Anthony Rendon 736
Corey Seager .736
Robbie Grossman .736
Juan Soto 735
Marcus Semien .735
J.D. Davis .735
Chance Sisco .734
Ryan McMahon .733
Josh Donaldson .733
Jason Castro .731
Freddie Freeman .730

Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio has a very distinct offensive player profile - power, speed and patience. Throughout the minors, he has shown the ability to hit for a moderate amount of power, as well as to steal a fair number of bases. ATC has projected the sophomore to amass 8 homeruns while swiping 6 bags. He is a legitimate full season 20/20 threat – a valuable player for fantasy baseball – especially in rotisserie formats.

But what grabs my attention is his plate discipline. In 604 plate appearances between the majors and minors in 2019, Biggio walked a fantastic 105 times – for a 17.4% BB% rate.

2019 MLB Walk Rate Leaders:

Only Mike Trout, Yasmani Grandal and Alex Bregman had a higher walk rate than Biggio in the majors last year (minimum 300 PA).

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Cavan Biggio 430 .754 .486 .039 .229

Looking deeper at Cavan’s plate discipline outcomes, it his Outcome C which is eye opening (out of the zone, no swing). For players with more than 200 PA, no one had a higher Outcome C component. Biggio hardly swings at would-be balls.

Unfortunately, his batting average is well below where it should be. ATC projects him for a mere .236 BA this season with a rather large 27% strikeout rate. But look out – if he is able to cut down on his swings and misses, Biggio is a star in the making. So far in 2020, he has 2 HRs and a steal – picking up right where he left off. Keep your eye on this plate discipline stud.

 

Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Oscar Mercado 482 .726 .398 .033 .294

While Biggio might excel in his out of zone skills, Oscar Mercado is elite within the strike zone. His Outcome E (in the zone, swung on, contact made) is one of the best in baseball. Similar to Jeff McNeil – Mercado is superb at recognizing when pitches are in the zone. While swinging at would-be strikes, he is able to make contact 9 out of 10 times. He is a true Maddux plate discipline stud!

In only 438 at bats in 2019, Oscar Mercado hit 15 homers and stole 15 bases. He exhibited more speed in the first half, but more power in the second half. ATC projects Mercado for 6 HRs, 8 SBs and a .264 batting average in the short season.

Thus far Mercado is struggling mightily with just three hits in 35 at-bats, but his BABIP is extremely unlucky to start 2020. Mercado, a speedster, is used to BABIPs in the low .300s. This season he is at just a .154 mark, which means that he will be on the base paths in short order.

Give it a little time if you own him in fantasy, or if another owner is impatient – now is the time to pounce on this mPDI gem.

 

George Springer (OF, HOU)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
George Springer 556 .750 .440 .054 .256

George Springer is hardly a surprise breakout player. The 7-year veteran already has 163 major league homers and a World Series title. But with an elite mPDI of .750 (4th in all of baseball), I felt the need to write a few words about him.

The name of his game is OBP. Among qualified players in 2019, Springer had the 15th highest on-base percentage at .383. He does so by both hitting for average, as well as walking at an elite pace (12% BB% in 2019). When he does make contact, he does so with authority. He had a 45% hard contact rate last year finishing with a 156 wRC+ (he is 56% better than the average hitter).

I personally own Springer on a number of my fantasy teams. Even though he was an early-round pick in 2020, I still believe that he is undervalued. Batting leadoff on Houston, Springer is a lock for a 100 run season in a normal year. mPDI further verifies my intuition about the Astros’ stud outfielder.

 

Christian Walker (1B, ARI)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Christian Walker 603 .744 .422 .058 .263

Christian Walker broke out in 2019 with 29 HRs in 529 at-bats. In addition, he also stole eight bases - which made him extremely fantasy relevant, particularly in rotisserie leagues.

In 2019, Walker only hit for a .259 batting average. We might have glanced quickly over him, if not for a .744 mPDI. A top Maddux Plate Discipline Index highlights his superb plate discipline. Like Cavan Biggio, his strikeout rate is on the high side, but so is his walk rate. While the strikeouts will cap his batting average, an 11% walk rate will prop up his on-base percentage.

Superior to one aspect of Biggio’s skill set, Walker’s power stroke is legit. He now has shown a greater than 20% homerun to flyball rate in each of his prior two seasons, while his flyball percentage remains high. Walker also lights it up on the Statcast leaderboard with elite exit velocity. 25-30 HRs are what Christian is capable of in a full year of play, and he has been getting the lions share of playing time thus far in 2020. To start the season, he has amassed 13 hits in his first 41 at-bats – a .317 BA.

Walker isn't due for the magnitude of breakout that Josh Bell exhibited in 2019, but I would still keep an eye out for this streaky Arizona first baseman.



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Ariel Cohen's 2020 MLB Awards Predictions

Baseball is back! Opening day is finally upon us. We can now finally log in to our fantasy leagues and observe as the statistics start to accumulate. What a great feeling! We had to wait a few months longer this year due to the tragic global pandemic of COVID-19, but we are finally here.

I do recognize that there is still suffering in the U.S. and in the rest of the world from the disease. I am not oblivious to the global situation. However, I do think that watching our nation’s pastime played day in and day out will aid the morale of the country. There will be many challenges along the way, but I am hopeful that the MLB will be able to finish the abbreviated 2020 season in its entirety.

Today, I will share with you my 2020 awards predictions with you. Some of them are bold, while a few might be seen as overly safe. That’s okay. The ATC Projections have helped shape much of my analysis in this article, and a few predictions arise from my own personal feelings on the particular player. I will then finish off the article with my 2020 league predictions.

 

American League MVP: Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers was off to a blazing start last year. In just the first half alone, he hit 12 HR, knocked in 50 runs, scored 62 runs, and batted .322. He traded some batting average points in the second half – sinking all the way to .300, and hitting 20 home runs.

I believe that this breakout was not only real but is a trend for the young Boston infielder. Devers was able to bring his strikeout rate down last year, which was high in the minors. He had instituted a new contact approach which apparently worked. Devers sports a naturally high BABIP, which will provide a high batting average floor during his career. All indications say that his power is also indeed real.

The speed is a question mark. After stealing 8 bases in the first half, Devers went 0 for 3 in the latter part of the season. Is it possible that fatigue set in? Is it possible that the manager shut him down on the base paths? Hard to tell.

Rafael might be hurt in the real-life MVP award decision, as the Red Sox are not currently projected to make the playoffs. Both the Yankees and Rays project to outplay Boston – which could hurt his chances of obtaining votes. However, now that the playoffs have been expanded, anything is possible.

Devers is projected to be almost 2 standard deviations better than the average rosterable fantasy player in most of his 5x5 scoring categories. Devers is just 23 years old and still on the rise. The best is yet to come.

 

National League MVP: Juan Soto

I believe that Juan Soto may be the first player to surpass Mike Trout as the “Best Player in Baseball” sometime in the next few years. In 2019, Soto hit 34 home runs. He scored and knocked in 110 runs, stealing 12 bases and batting .282. This mature hitting profile came at an incredibly young age of just 20 years old for this budding league star. Think about that – he could not legally buy an alcoholic beverage, yet he amassed a 4.8 WAR.

* Projections generated prior to the news of Soto's COVID-19 positive test results.

Just as with Rafael Devers, Soto has a naturally high BABIP – which will keep his batting average high through the course of a season. In fact, it has typically been higher than Devers.

What is most eye-catching to me are Soto’s medium and hard contact rates. In 2019, medium + hard contact accounted for 88% of his batted balls. That means that 8 out of 9 balls hit – are hit with authority! Those are top of the league levels.

Soto is both an elite baseball player as well as an elite fantasy asset. His propensity to steal bases gives him even more first-round staying power.

Two pessimistic items to share are:

  • The departure of Anthony Rendon in the Washington Nationals’ lineup, which could impact his run production totals.
  • Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 today. News of this came out right as I finished penning this article (I won’t change my MVP pick just yet, as it could have been a false positive test result).

These issues aside, Soto is a rising star who will perform at an MVP level – and as early as this season.

 

American League Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

I need not spend a lot of time talking about one of the universally recognized true aces in today’s game. No, I did not go the bold route for this prediction – I chose to be rather unextraordinary here.

Few pitchers could eclipse the 100 strikeout mark this season, and Cole is one of them. ATC projects Cole for 101 Ks on the season; the next highest player (Max Scherzer) is projected for only 89. Doing the Math – Cole is projected for 13% more strikeouts than the next highest player in all of baseball. That is rather special.

The lofty strikeout totals are the product of a high K/9 rate (which was 14 K/9 in 2019), with the largest projected innings total of any pitcher in baseball. Cole will be relied upon to pitch deep into ballgames. As a $36m a year pitcher, the Yankees will make him the workhorse.

Cole is projected to pitch into the 7th inning of ballgames on average. With a strong supporting lineup, Cole will be in line to be among the league leaders in wins this year. Gerrit has such a superior projection, that rather going bold with this awards prediction, I have chosen to play it safe.

 

National League Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg

Unlike Cole, I went with more of a bold prediction for the National League Cy Young award. There is a lot to like about Strasburg in this short season. The Nationals hurler is often injured, but after throwing 209 innings in 2019 – I believe he has a good chance to make it through 2020 without hitting the IL.

In 2019, Strasburg compiled a WAR of 5.7, which was third-most among pitchers of the National League. Only Jacob deGrom and teammate Max Scherzer had a higher WAR. He accumulated 251 strikeouts – the most of his career. He managed to lower his WHIP to 1.04, which was the best full-season mark for him in almost 10 years.

The keys are in his underlying component trends. His strikeouts are holding steady at 11 K/9. His walk rate has been ticking downward. His groundball rate was up to 51% in ‘19, which was key for him. It was a distinct difference to the 30%-45% it had been in recent history.

One reason to believe that Strasburg will take yet another step forward was bad luck in 2019. His HR/FB rate (16.2%) was noticeably higher than normal – and if that should stabilize, his ERA will lower even further.

Like Cole, Strasburg will be relied upon to pitch deep into games. That will also afford him the possibility of accumulating a large number of wins. He was a contender for the award in 2019, and the Nationals stud pitcher will make a push for the hardware in 2020 as well.

 

American League Rookie of the Year: Luis Robert

Luis Robert is projected to be the most valuable rookie according to ATC Projections, and I concur. The White Sox worked out a $50m contract with him in the offseason, without ever playing a single game in the majors.

Let’s start with his defense – I had the pleasure of watching his highlight reel from the other night where he robbed Ben Gamel of a homer in an exhibition game. Even players with a poor bat, can maintain consistent playing time simply by employing a solid glove in the field. In Robert’s case – his offense speaks for itself.

In 2019, Robert started in high-A, moved to AA, and by the year’s end found himself in Triple-A. Through all three minor league stops in 2019, Robert slashed .328/.376/.624 wit 32 HRs and 36 SB.

Robert will hit for power, a decent average, and will provide plenty of speed. The White Sox have an undervalued lineup, so I expect Robert to enjoy excellent run production metrics in 2020.

There are a number of other excellent rookie candidates for the award, but many of them will be held down in the minors to start the season over service time concerns. Robert will be an impact player from the very start – and all season long.

 

National League Rookie of the Year: Mitch Keller

In 2019, Mitch Keller threw 48 innings of atrocious ball, compiling a 7.13 ERA with a 1.83 WHIP. Those are outright awful numbers.

Keller has an electric skills set – and it seemed to translate from the minors. He struck out 29% of all hitters, displayed a mid-90s fastball, and only walked seven percent of batters that he faced. In the second half of ’19, his swinging strike rate actually went up to 13%.

His 2019 line was clearly not indicative of his true talent. He was unusually unlucky last year. Other than strikeouts and home runs, pitchers typically do not exhibit much control over how their hits fall in. Voros McCracken pioneered the statistic called BABIP, which illustrates that. A typical BABIP for pitchers lies around the .300 mark. Any large deviation off of the .300 mark indicates that luck was involved; a low BABIP means that a pitcher was lucky in the season, while a high one means that hits were unluckily falling in between fielders.

Keller’s 2019 BABIP was at an almost unimaginable .475! It indicates that he surrendered almost 60% more hits than what a luck-neutral pitcher should have. On top of that, Keller’s strand rate was sub-60%. Runners on base scored over 40% of the time, well above league average. Do not take his surface stats at face value – he pitched considerably better than his line would indicate.

ATC projections value the Pirates rookie as a $5 player in the NFBC format (5x5 15-team roto). If Keller does not succumb to bad luck once again, he will compete for Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.

 

2020 League Predictions

With the announcement of expanded playoffs for the 2020 season, predicting all of the playoff teams, the pennant winners and the world series champion is a crapshoot. For what it is worth, here are my predictions for this year’s division winners:

In the American League, Houston is a relatively “safe” choice. Tampa Bay is a good bet to make the playoffs, and I believe that they will finish a game or so ahead of the Yankees for the division title. The Rays have a fantastic bullpen this season, two frontline starters, and a terrific mix-and-match lineup. Look for them to maximize efficiencies on their team all season long.

The White Sox are my sleeper team for 2020. In the offseason, they added veterans Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to their young core of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dylan Cease. Their lineup contains exciting young players (Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert), a batting champion (Tim Anderson), and a prospect finally showing his potential (Yoan Moncada). The Sox also added a few new potent additions to the lineup (Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, and Nomar Mazara) to go along with veteran Jose Abreu.

The Chicago Southside team’s bullpen is sneaky good. Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer will function as the closer and setup men. Steve Cishek comes over from the Northside of Chicago, with a career ERA of 2.69 and WHIP 1.15. The Sox also have a number of undervalued relievers as uncovered by my Weighted Plate Discipline Index (wPDI) statistic. This includes Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall, and Jace Fry in an immensely undervalued bullpen.

In the National League, the Dodgers have too much talent not to choose for the title winners. The Braves have an incredible lineup, to which they also added Marcell Ozuna (and also attempted to add Yasiel Puig). Good news Braves fans … Freddie Freeman should be back for Opening Day! With Soroka, Fried and Foltynewicz at the top of the rotation, and with an improved bullpen - the Braves should be at the top of the division all season long.

In the NL Central, I picked the Reds to outlast the other teams. There really isn’t a clear runaway team - this division will come down to the wire. The Reds have made a number of stark improvements over the past twelve months. Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer will be on the team from the start of the season and will complement one of baseball’s best changeup artists in Luis Castillo. In the lineup - Shogo Akiyama, Mike Moustakas, and Nick Castellanos were fantastic offseason acquisitions. If Eugenio Suarez can sustain his power and Joey Votto can produce a bounceback season, the Reds will make the playoffs.

Just for fun, I’ll predict that the Dodgers will beat the Rays in 6 games in the 2020 World Series.

Enjoy the season!



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Attacking Offensive Categories with Z-Scores

The way to win at fantasy baseball is to generate the most aggregate value on your roster. One cannot win with just an average fantasy team; one must be better than the mean. To accomplish this, owners must spend their fantasy capital efficiently in acquiring talent. Finding and drafting undervalued players is the key. Of course, for rotisserie baseball, an added complexity is ensuring the categorical balance of scoring statistics.

For those of you who read my work often, you might know that I prefer auctions to snake drafts. However, the serpentine draft adds the element of a jigsaw puzzle – knowing how and when to fit all of your pieces into the frame. To make it even more difficult, in fantasy baseball everyone takes turns choosing pieces from the same box. That means another team may take a needed piece before it is your turn to draw from the lot. Planning ahead is the best way to attack the game.

Today, I will use the ATC Projections along with the current NFBC ADP to uncover undervalued players. But more than that, we will go through the landscape of each offensive category, and perhaps make a few observations along the way. Let’s find out when and where to take your specific puzzle pieces in 2020.

 

Setting the Stage

The two needed components of any undervalued/overvalued pricing analysis are:

  • Projections
  • Market

Regarding the former, I will use my own ATC Projections. Over the past few seasons, the ATC Projections have been accretive in uncovering value in fantasy auctions/drafts.

As for the “market,” I will use the current NFBC published ADP (Average Draft Position). The NFBC is the gold standard these days for ADP data with competitors wagering non-trivial amounts of money to play. I find that mock drafts are somewhat unreliable, especially early in the offseason. With the NFBC’s reliability, uniformity, robustness, and accessibility of data, they are currently the best source of available ADP. This year is particularly challenging for good draft data, but the NFBC is a fine source.

For this article’s draft value comparisons, I look at:

  • The player ranks as computed by the ATC Projections run through my own auction value calculator (standard NFBC 15-team 5x5 roto league settings).
  • The current NFBC ADP (of leagues from June 28, 2020 to July 10, 2020).

Ranks are calculated for offense only; we will leave pitching for another time. In the analysis below, I will list the ATC hitter rank, NFBC hitter rank, and overall ADP information.

In this article, I refer to z-scores (sometimes referred to as standard scores). Z-Scores are an excellent way to gauge how a player stacks up with the other above replacement level players per category. A z-score of zero is an average player. A +1 z-score means that the player is one standard deviation above average. A negative z-score indicates a below-average player for the category, etc. The distribution of z-scores against market pricing will let us know which categories require us to pay up somewhat, and which ones we should not.

Today, we will only look at undervalued players, defined as a player which ATC values more highly than the market. We will also ignore all players drafted in the first two rounds of the NFBC (an ADP of <= 30), as these players aren’t likely to be a large bargain anyways.

 

Batting Average

Looking for help in batting average? There are a number of excellent choices to help you later on in drafts. In fact, we can find a number of hotspots:

Rounds 13/14 – Alex Verdugo (.297), Jean Segura (.287), Bryan Reynolds (.285), Adam Eaton (.283), Lorenzo Cain (.278)

Rounds 17/18 – Luis Arraez (.311), Howie Kendrick (.305), Daniel Murphy (.288), Starlin Castro (.282)

A hotspot is a pocket of players close in ADP, all who are undervalued, and either play the same position, or are projected for similar statistics. The theory is that if you wanted to draft a specific player, say Jean Segura – you run the risk of another league player (who is in love with him) drafting him first! However, if you head into the hotspot (here, the 13th/14th rounds) with the mindset of obtaining any piece that fits – not any one specific player - you will be able to find at least one of your identified undervalued players still available for you to draft … and sometimes even a round later than expected!

Bryan Reynolds in the 13th round is one of ATC’s most undervalued players this season. I have personally drafted him on a number of rosters this season. He batted .351 in the first half of 2019! In the second half, he batted a mere .285 … still amazing! To boot, he has also shown the ability to hit for modest power and modest speed.

Luis Arraez could be in contention for an AL batting title this season. He will hit in the currently stacked Twins lineup – and can be had in the 18th round of 15-team drafts. If you need to catch up on batting average late in the game, Arraez is an excellent plug for that hole.

 

Home runs

Unlike batting average, undervalued premium power is NOT available late. Almost all of the players on the list above are being drafted no later than round 9. In fact, the 4th - 7th rounds represent 13 of the top 20 undervalued players.

With this in mind, plan to draft your power early on. Stock up on home runs. The fable that one can wait on power is not true; homerun totals are up in baseball on the whole.

We can find a few diamonds in the rough here, available in later rounds. Khris Davis, who was being drafted in 4th / 5th rounds in 2019, now finds himself going after pick 160. Davis was injured last year, but otherwise he is a perennial lock for 40 HR power. Although starting to age, Edwin Encarnacion has been reliable in past seasons for HR, and is available this year in the 11th round.

Way down after pick 250 – Hunter Renfroe is an emergency power source. ATC is projecting 12 HR for him in the short season – at a 3+ round discount.

 

Stolen Bases

Outside of the first two rounds – most of the top bargain stolen base players can be found after round 10! There is no need to vastly overpay for steals.

Elvis Andrus has a projected Z-Score of +2.25. You can draft an undervalued player who will be two standard deviations above average – with your 11th round pick!

Rounds 13-15 is a stolen base hotspot. Included in this group are Lorenzo Cain (7), Adam Eaton (5), Jean Segura (5), Rougned Odor (4) and Ryan Braun (3). Plan accordingly. Notably, Segura was also mentioned earlier with the batting average bargains.

Before I close out the discussion on stolen bases – notice that the 20th player’s z-score on the list is A.J. Pollock at +0.12. Compared to BA (+0.76) and HR (+0.93) – that number is quite low, and close to the average Z-Score level of 0. This means that there indeed is a market premium for stolen bases. There are more overvalued speedsters than undervalued ones.

One should never go overboard on overpaying for players – but it would be wise to bank a player in the first few rounds to give you a large base of steals, even if you push him up a half-round or so. The z-Score spread confirms this.

 

Runs Scored

Of all offensive scoring categories, runs scored have historically been highly correlated with the overall winners of leagues. The fantasy teams that score the most runs - often win their fantasy baseball leagues. Do not simply “go for power and speed” - consciously put emphasis on the run production categories.

As in the power category, the undervalued players all appear early. In fact, for runs scored they lie even earlier, clustering around the 3rd  to 7th rounds. Seven players on this list arise from the 6th and 7th rounds alone. Included in this group of players is 2019 batting champion Tim Anderson. Anderson has thus far appeared on both the batting average and speed lists above. I also feel obligated to mention that we find here perennial ATC favorites Josh Bell and Eddie Rosario. More on Rosario (in particular) later on.

As for some later-round players, Carlos Santana (34), Max Kepler (33), Jorge Polanco (33) and Adam Eaton (31) are the profitable players found in the mid-rounds. However, I caution you that other than Eaton, all high runs scored players are being drafted before pick 165. I cannot stress this enough – pick up your runs early this season!

 

Runs Batted In

The distribution of rounds for RBIsappears quite similar to that of home runs. Undervalued runs batted in are found primarily in rounds 5-7. 14 of the 20 players on this list are being drafted between picks 61 and 105. RBI is another category that needs to be picked up fairly early on.

Upon inspection, there seems to be a large number of first basemen on the list – Josh Bell (37), Jose Abreu (36), Rhys Hoskins (35), Anthony Rizzo (35), Paul Goldschmidt (34) and Carlos Santana (33). You may want to plan on getting your 1B, or even your corner infielder from these three rounds.

Looking at the mid-rounds, included among the undervalued players are Khris Davis and Carlos Santana (both mentioned earlier), as well as Eduardo Escobar. Escobar hit 35 HR last year while knocking in 118 runs for the Diamondbacks. Eligible at multiple positions, Eduardo might be a sneaky good mid-round get for his fantasy owners. If you need to play catch up in RBI, this trio of players can be drafted after pick 135.

 

Multi-Category Players

Below are the players who appear in multiple top 20 categorical lists above. Once again, these are all undervalued players, are highly productive and are found after round two:

Three names come up as four-category players – Eddie Rosario, Yordan Alvarez, and Javier Baez.

Unfortunately, Alvarez might have some COVID issues to work out. Javier Baez is indeed quite useful as he qualifies upon the stolen base list. However, he is one of the earliest draft selections that we have seen today.

Eddie Rosario at roughly ADP pick 100 seems to have a bullseye on him. A fantasy bullseye! Rosario, who had his best season yet in 2019, saw his ADP drop from last year by almost a full round. Despite being injured last season, Eddie Rosario still hit 32 HR, scored 91 runs, and drove in 109. Last year’s .276 average might even be low for him as his strikeout rate continually sits at just 15%. Rosario is a stable player with second-round upside in the short season – priced at a large discount.

I will also call your attention to Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins is a three-category player found with a late ADP of 127. Rhys is a small launch angle correction away from stardom, and from 40+ HR power (in a full season).

Finally, Adam Eaton is the only three-category player found after pick 200. The only reason why Eaton is being drafted this late is his health risk. However, in a 60-game season - perhaps he can make it to the end unscathed. Consider drafting this highly-skilled World Series champion.



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Adjusting Fantasy Baseball Projections for a Delayed Opening Day

With a heavy heart I write this column. I truly wish that there would have not been a reason to write this column. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now postponed the 2020 Major League Baseball season. In an effort to employ social distancing, local governments have made the tough call to forbid the gathering of large crowds. The NBA, NHL, PGA, XFL and NASCAR have all suspended their seasons. The NCAA tournaments have all been canceled.

And for us fantasy baseball players … major league baseball has pushed off the start of its season until least mid-May. It will likely be even longer. A lot longer. Many of our home fantasy leagues have now chosen to postpone our annual drafts or auctions. The NFBC has canceled or postponed many of its high money league contests.

But many leagues have still chosen to continue with their regular draft schedule in the coming weeks. Some of my home leagues will continue as scheduled. Just this past Sunday, I took part in the Tout Wars Head-to-Head points league. I understand the merits of postponement. It isn’t a regular year. I also understand the merits of continuing to draft this March. Grappling onto elements of normalcy has its benefits. Whichever group you're in, this article will address how to modify projections and expectations for 2020 given this past week’s rapid turn of events.

 

Risk Management in Fantasy Baseball

For those of you who are unfamiliar with professional background – I am a certified actuary. I am a Fellow of both the Casualty Actuarial Society and the Society of Actuaries.

In a nutshell, an actuary is an insurance professional who is well versed in the mathematics of insurance. Actuaries price insurance contracts, decide on the amount of reserves that companies need to hold for claims, inform management on the ROEs of various lines of business and deal with many other assorted insurance-related tasks.

One of my goals as a baseball writer and analyst is to bring concepts found in insurance and apply them to fantasy baseball.

At the top of my mind this week is the broad concept of risk. During a fantasy draft or auction, every time that a player is acquired, the owner takes on all of the player’s skills. Power hitters will offer the ability to hit home runs. Speedsters will offer a high stolen base output. Combo players will offer a blend of the two, etc.

Simultaneously, when a player is acquired - the owner also takes on all of the risks associated with the player. Some examples of player risk include (but are not limited to):

  • Injury Risk
  • Performance Risk
  • Durability Risk
  • Age Risk
  • Experience Risk
  • Regression Risk
  • Playing Time Risk
  • etc.

Every fantasy owner will acquire players with varying degrees of a number of these risks. There are no “sure things” in baseball. Nolan Arenado has been an amazingly stable fantasy asset over the past five years. He may exhibit a low amount of risk relative to others, but there are a multitude of possible scenarios where his final achieved value could be far lower than expectations.

A typical fantasy owner should acquire a few players who exhibit high risk. Rarely is a team devoid of high-risk players. Risky players often come with a cost discount at a draft/auction commensurate with the amount of risk that the player holds. It is the job of the fantasy owner to determine which risks are correctly accounted for by the market, which are overpriced, and which risks are accretive investments.

Generally speaking, drafted players are mainly uncorrelated. Their production (and hence value) is largely independent of one another.

Suppose that you have drafted Ozzie Albies and Nick Castellanos. An injury to Albies should have zero relationship to whether or not Castellanos gets injured. Or at least, that’s the way we draft. If I draft Giancarlo Stanton – whether or not he comes back fully recovered sooner or later should have zero correlation with Trey Mancini coming back sooner or later from his cancer surgery. [We hope they both heal soon.] We assume that all players, and (more importantly) all risk types are independent from one another.

We don’t want to draft too much injury risk in the aggregate on our teams, or too much of any risk for that matter. We want just enough to give us some upside – and hopefully, we buy those players at the appropriate discounts.

 

Injury Risk

Guess what we just learned? Injury risk is not independent. Injury risk was not independent for any 2020 draft that occurred prior to this week. Not even close.

The injury risk taken on by rostering Eugenio Suarez has every bit to do with the injury risk taken on by rostering Alex Verdugo. What do I mean by that?

Provided that baseball is played in 2020, every single player who is currently injured and was expected to return sometime in the middle of 2020 – will likely earn a profit! Every single discount that a player received in drafts, will either go away completely or be severely mitigated for any going-forward March drafts.

I acquired Aaron Judge for a mere $14 in the Mixed LABR auction two weeks ago. Unless Judge is out for an extended period of time, or requires season-ending surgery – in all likelihood, this will result in a profitable outcome for me. The bet that I made on Judge – acquiring him via his injury discount – will likely pay off. In the Mixed Tout Wars auction that occurred on Saturday, Judge was acquired for $23 by Gene McCaffrey. Though there are differences in league format and value between LABR and Tout Wars, much of the price difference between the two auctions arises because of COVID-19.

Every single injured player’s value has changed in the past week. From Mike Clevinger to Michael Conforto to Aaron Judge to Adalberto Mondesi to Giancarlo Stanton to Eugenio Suarez, etc. – every single injured player’s worth has been altered … and in the same direction: Up.

Injured players were correlated. Highly correlated. Injury risk was not independent.

Had a fantasy owner stocked his team with 15 of these injury risk players (acquired at discounts) – he would theoretically now have a large excess in team aggregate value. I happen to know and play with fantasy players who constantly accumulate many injured players at discounts. They typically hope that one or two players breakout and vastly outperform their acquisition price. 2020 would be the year of striking gold for such a drafter.

Yes, I do understand that I am talking about a team profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic. No one had that intention. Once again, it is a sad situation to be even talking about any positive effects on fantasy baseball from an awful widespread disease. But as a fantasy analyst, these are the facts and we need to contemplate how to go from here.

 

How to Adjust Projections

Now onto what to do going forward. What is the best way to update our own values/rankings of players to reflect the 2020 prospective landscape?

It all starts with projections. We need to alter/update our former projections for every single player in baseball – in order to allow us to properly evaluate their value change relative to the rest of the player pool.

To this end, I’d first like to classify all players into the following categories for today’s analysis:

  • Injured Players
  • Pitchers with Innings Caps
  • Suspended Players
  • Prospects who will be called up on a certain date
  • Prospects with service time manipulation / who need more seasoning
  • Standard Players - All Other Players

There are many ways to partition the list of MLB players, but for today - I would like to illustrate how to deal with the valuation of these classes of players.

Let’s start with the easiest group – the “All Other Players.”

 

Standard Players

First off, let’s choose an estimated start date that baseball will resume. We need to come up with a best guess of the percentage of games that will be missed during the season. Will the regular season be extended in October? We need to make an educated guess based on the latest information available to us.

For today’s analysis, I will assume that:

  • June 1 will be the league’s start date.
  • There will be no additional games played in October (to keep things relatively simple).
  • Roughly one-third of the season will be missed. [I’m choosing to be optimistic.]

These are all assumptions that are almost impossible to predict. I won’t pretend to have a good idea of when MLB will commence. But let’s go with these assumptions today to help us run through the math of how to adjust projections.

Let’s call the percentage of the MLB season that will be missed the Missed%. The date that the season will be resumed will be referred to as the League Start Date. Numerically using our stated assumption:

Missed% = 33.3%

For now, let’s assume that rate stats will not differ. That is, we will assume that a player who was expected to hit one home run every 40 at-bats, will do exactly that in a shortened season.

The math goes as follows:

  • New AB = Old AB * (1 – Missed%)
  • New HR = Old AB * (1 – Missed%)
  • New SB = Old SB * (1 – Missed%)

I prefer to refer to the formulae as follows:

  • New AB = (1 – Missed%) * Old AB
  • HR = HR/AB * AB [New or Old]
  • SB = SB/AB * AB [New or Old]

Since HR & SB rates, etc. do not change post-translation – if we compute all counting stats as a function of playing time, we only need to adjust a player’s playing time. The key translation, and the math of our specific example:

  • New AB or IP = (1 – Missed%) * Old AB or IP
  • New AB or IP = 66.7% * Old AB or IP

Since we are essentially looking for a factor to apply to playing time, let’s refer to the multiplier as the Adjustment%.

  • Adjustment% = (1 – Missed%)

For all rates, it should follow that:

  • New BA = Old BA
  • New OBP = Old OBP
  • New SLG = Old SLG

There is no work to be done on any of the standard baseball averages.

 

Injured Players

As described above, all injured players will gain in value relative to the rest of the player pool. The reason stems from the fact that each projection considers zero production until the player has returned.

Let’s take Miles Mikolas. ATC projections previously projected the following:

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
4   115 21 120 52 7 0 90 4.05 1.22

The limited 115 innings projection was partially due to a forearm issue.

* Auction Values are per NFBC roster settings (15-team, 5x5 scoring)

At this time, I would like to give credit to Reuven Guy, who is my fantasy partner and is my co-host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitation Podcast – Beat the Shift. In real life, Reuven is an orthopedic PA. On twitter (@mlbinjuryguru), he is on top of player injuries and prognoses. Late last week, we went through all currently injured players – and determined each of their expected “comeback dates.” We put down an estimate of when they might be healthy enough to play in the major leagues.

Let’s also convert the Comeback Date into a percentage of the season that the player was supposed to miss due to injury. Here are some basic percentages that we can use:

Comeback Date InjuryMiss%
4/7/2020 4.2%
4/15/2020 8.3%
4/22/2020 12.5%
5/1/2020 16.7%
5/7/2020 20.8%
5/15/2020 25.0%
5/22/2020 29.2%
6/1/2020 33.3%
6/7/2020 37.5%
6/15/2020 41.7%
6/22/2020 45.8%
7/1/2020 50.0%

InjuryMiss% will represent the portion of the 2020 season that each player was expected to initially miss.

The key to understanding how to adjust Mikolas’s projection (for example) is the following:

115 IP = 0 IP prior to Comeback Date + 115 IP after Comeback Date

There are now two possibilities for all injured players:

1) A player’s comeback date is set on or after the league start date. [InjuryMiss % >= Missed%]

In this scenario, all of the player’s innings will be as previously projected. If Mikolas was expected to return on June 15, for example – all 115 innings would still be projected for him. In this scenario:

  • Adjustment% = 100%
  • New IP = 100% * Old IP

There is a change to this type of player’s projection. Since the rest of the league has a 66.7% adjustment factor, the player becomes far more valuable. In fact, these players will become a whopping 50% more valuable relative to the standard player (using our original June 1 League Start Date assumption).

2) A player’s comeback date is set prior to the league start date. [InjuryMiss % < Missed%]

Let’s set Miles Mikolas’s comeback date at May 1, 2020. That translates to a 16.7% InjuryMiss%.

The adjustment math is as follows:

  • Adjustment% = (1 - Missed%) / (1 - InjuryMiss%)
  • New IP = (1 - Missed%) / (1 - InjuryMiss%) * Old IP

For Mikolas, his Adjustment% would be:

Adjustment% = (1 – 33.3%) / (1 – 16.7%) = 80.0%

The 80.0% is a higher factor than the common 66.7% factor, which gives Mikolas about a 20% relative value increase over the standard player. His new IP total goes to 92, with all rate stats following suit.

New Miles Mikolas Projections:

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
6   92 17 96 41 6 0 72 4.05 1.22

 

Suspended Players

All suspended players will now LOSE value relative to others. Suspended players still have to serve punishment for the same number of games, regardless of how many baseball contests end up taking place. If for example, all MLB games are canceled in 2020 - suspended players would then have to serve their sentence in 2021, etc. They would be worth zero in 2020.

If a player was previously projected to be suspended 50% of the season, he will now be suspended for a larger part of the season. Hence, he will lose value relative to the others.

Take Domingo German as an example. His suspension was set to expire roughly in the first week of June.

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
0   76 24 72 38 5 0 82 4.47 1.26

Similar to the injured players above, it is important to understand that all of German’s projected innings occur after his Reinstatement Date.

76 IP = 0 IP prior to Reinstatement Date + 76 IP after Reinstatement Date

Let’s set Domingo German’s reinstatement date at June 7, 2020. That translates to a 37.5% SuspensionMiss%.

The adjustment math is as follows:

  • Adjustment% = (1 - SuspensionMiss% - Missed%) / (1 - SuspensionMiss%)
  • New IP = (1 - SuspensionMiss% - Missed%) / (1 - SuspensionMiss%) * Old IP

The Adjustment% is of course, subject to a minimum 0% value – the smallest amount of time that a suspended player may be able to play in a season. For injuries, the Adjustment% was never less than the standard adjustment; for suspensions - it is no greater.

Domingo German’s Adjustment% would be:

Adjustment% = (1 – 37.5% - 33.3%) / (1 – 37.5%) = 46.7%

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
-1   36 11 34 18 3 0 38 4.47 1.26

 

Pitchers with Innings Caps

There are a number of starting pitchers in the major leagues that were not projected for a full season’s worth of volume due to innings cap impositions. These pitchers might be rookies/sophomores who have not yet pitched a full season, or perhaps they might be recovering from Tommy John surgery or other health issues.

Let’s take A.J. Puk for example.

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
5   121 49 107 55 8 0 133 4.09 1.29

Projected innings for this class of player look like the following:

121 IP = 121 IP prior to Innings Cap Limit + 0 IP after Innings Cap Limit

Projections have assumed that all of the innings for A.J. Puk are frontloaded. When the season finally commences, Puk would pitch the first 121 innings, and would stop pitching thereafter.

For pitchers with innings caps, I introduce one more intermediate (but complicated) step into the process.

Without going into too many details (as this isn’t our main focus for the day) - I first generate the percentage of capacity innings that a pitcher would pitch in a full season. This is either based on organizational depth charts, on IP per start metrics, or based on skills, etc. Most starting pitchers will generally project out to 80-95% of possible capacity. Assuming that capacity is 200 IP these days, fully healthy pitchers are generally projected between 160-190 innings.

For A.J. Puk, I set his Capacity% to 80% (he would be a ~160 innings pitcher this season without team imposed innings limits).

The adjustment math is as follows:

  • Adjustment% = Capacity% * (1 - Missed%) / (IP / 200)
  • New IP = Capacity% * (1 - Missed%) / (IP / 200) * Old IP

The Adjustment% is subject to a minimum 0% value, and a 100% maximum value.

For Puk:

Adjustment% = 80% * (1 - 33.3%) / (121 / 200) = 88.0%

Auction Value   IP BBI HA ER W S K ERA WHIP
8   107 43 94 48 7 0 117 4.09 1.29

 

Prospects

Dealing with prospects is more difficult. There is no one-size-fits-all rule. Earlier in this article, I identified two classes of prospects:

  • Prospects who will be called up on a certain date
  • Prospects with service time manipulation / who need more seasoning

Prospects who will be called up on a certain date

As captioned. Treat these prospects as injured players. Assume a prior “call-up” date and substitute it as an injury return date. You will then be able to use the formulae above for injured players.

Prospects with service time manipulation / who need more seasoning

These are prospects whose organization has a monetary reason for holding the player back for some time. Perhaps keeping a prospect down some 25 days is needed to garner a year more of team control, or to push off arbitration by one season. Whatever the case may be – these prospects will be in the minors for some (fixed) set of time before coming up to the majors. Or, some prospects simply need an additional amount of fixed time in the minor leagues in order to hone their skills. No matter what the actual start date of the MiLB season, these are the players who will stay in the minors for a select time period.

Treat these prospects as suspended players. Assume a prior “call-up” date, substitute it as a reinstatement date. You will then be able to use the formulae above for suspended players.

There are many other possibilities of how one can model prospect adjustment. Hopefully, these two basic examples will cover most cases for you.

 

Limitations / Notes / Future Enhancements

In no particular order, here are a few of the limitations/simplifying assumptions of today’s article, as well as some possible variants or future enhancements:

  • The model above assumed that the season would end after September as usual. It is highly possible that the 2020 regular season (if played) would be extended well into October. That would shift/change some of the precise formulae.
  • We assumed a deterministic/static starting date for the opening day of baseball in 2020. Of course, at this point in time, we do not have a firm grasp on it. An actuarial model would pick a midpoint, assume the starting point to be variable, and run the playing time with stochastic simulations.
  • I refer to playing time in the above as at-bats for hitters. More precisely, one should be using plate appearances instead of pure at-bats.
  • I refer to IP in many of the adjustment equations above. You may substitute in plate appearances for the equivalent hitter formula.
  • One class of player not covered is the players who would be “losing their roles.” Whoever is the 5th starter in St. Louis might end up losing playing time once Miles Mikolas comes back from injury, etc. One might want to consider adjusting their projections downwards as well.
  • We assumed above that homerun rates (or stolen base rates) would be identical if the season started at any point in the year. Of course, that isn’t exactly true. HRs grow in the heat of the summer, and SB are quite variable from month to month throughout the season. Some additional adjustments would be needed to be more precise.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have gained a further understanding of the types of players requiring a rankings change - which could be either up or down. Should you participate in drafts in the next few days, consider modifying your strike price for players as described above. I have guided you on the mathematics of how to adjust playing time, should you be inclined to do so on your own.

We have also seen today that injury risk is not independent from player to player. There always exists the possibility that an entire class of risk will be devalued or may collectively appreciate in a single moment. This is a crucial concept to understand. It arises far more in life than you might imagine.

Finally, I want to aid you in knowing just how much a player's value has been translated. Below is a listing of injured, suspended and innings cap players with adjusted valuations. I provide a pre and post NFBC (15-team, 5x5 roto) value for affected players.

 

Risers and Fallers, Assuming a June 1 Opening Day

Name Player Class Old Value New Value
Luis Arraez Injury 5.8 7.1
Byron Buxton Injury 9.3 12.0
Willie Calhoun Injury 3.7 9.2
Griffin Canning Injury 0.3 1.2
Carlos Carrasco Injury 14.2 15.4
Yoenis Cespedes Injury -7.6 -4.2
Emmanuel Clase Injury -2.9 -0.6
Mike Clevinger Injury 20.6 22.2
Michael Conforto Injury 17.0 18.4
Nelson Cruz Injury 19.1 20.7
Max Fried Innings Cap 13.4 13.9
Michael Fulmer Injury -3.8 -3.3
Joey Gallo Injury 17.3 18.7
Domingo German Suspension 0.5 -1.1
Cole Hamels Injury 1.0 2.1
Jordan Hicks Injury -4.0 -2.1
Rich Hill Injury 1.1 3.8
Brent Honeywell Injury -1.1 -0.8
Aaron Judge Injury 14.6 22.0
Corey Knebel Injury 0.0 0.8
Michael Kopech Injury -1.5 -1.1
Dinelson Lamet Innings Cap 11.8 13.0
Mike Leake Injury -3.4 -3.2
Sean Manaea Innings Cap 8.7 8.9
Trey Mancini Injury 0.5 12.7
Lance McCullers Innings Cap 7.7 10.2
Andrew McCutchen Injury 6.6 9.3
Brendan McKay Injury 6.4 7.2
Miles Mikolas Injury 4.2 5.7
Adalberto Mondesi Injury 20.5 24.2
Reyes Moronta Injury -6.4 -5.7
Shohei Ohtani Injury 5.8 6.5
Chris Paddack Innings Cap 20.7 24.1
James Paxton Injury 7.9 11.7
Michael Pineda Suspension 2.6 1.6
A.J. Puk Innings Cap 5.0 7.8
Brendan Rodgers Injury -15.7 -12.1
Hyun-Jin Ryu Innings Cap 12.4 12.9
Chris Sale Injury 15.1 17.4
Giancarlo Stanton Injury 15.4 18.6
Eugenio Suarez Injury 19.6 21.1
Jose Urquidy Innings Cap 9.2 10.6
Alex Verdugo Injury 8.2 10.9
Justin Verlander Injury 29.2 31.3

I wish you all safety and health in these difficult times. Hoping that baseball is back real soon …

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Finding Combo-Player Values Using Z-Scores and ATC Projections

Towards the end of last season, I asked the question – “Draft Speed or Pound the Power?” Loaded in this seemingly simple query are two contradictory approaches – one for power and one for speed.

  • Power Approach 1: Home run totals are dramatically up in baseball these days. Therefore, there are many power bats available late in drafts, and one does not need to purchase power early on.
  • Power Approach 2: Home run totals are dramatically up in baseball these days. Therefore, fantasy teams need to acquire tons of power early on in drafts to keep pace with the inflated team HR totals.
  • Speed Approach 1: Stolen bases are dramatically down in baseball these days. Therefore, one does not need to purchase speed early on, since team SB totals will be depressed.
  • Speed Approach 2: Stolen bases are dramatically down in baseball these days. Therefore, purchasing large SB players will make a tremendous difference for fantasy teams; they are essential to purchase early.

These seemingly contradictory philosophies beg the notion of acquiring as many “combo” players as a fantasy owner can possibly afford. In my article, I showed that multi-category players are a fantastic investment for one’s fantasy team. Finding the combo players is an exercise worth undertaking.

By most people’s standards, a “combo” player is defined loosely as a player who will hit a lofty number of home runs, and at the same time will steal a large number of bases. A 25/15 player refers to a hitter who will amass 25 HRs and 15 SBs. For many, the 25/15 individual power/speed thresholds are one way to define a combo player. Today, for my very first article on RotoBaller, I will take a look at finding this year’s combo players from the perspective of Z-Scores.

 

Z-Scores

For those of you who have never used Z-Scores before, here is a brief introduction.

Z-Scores, often referred to as standard scores, are the kernel of a widely popular auction valuation method for fantasy. In a standard rotisserie baseball league, there are five scoring categories for hitters: BA, R, RBI, HR, SB. The question becomes – how do we combine all five categories into one all-encompassing metric? How do we know how many runs scored are equivalent to one stolen base, etc.?

The general idea involves transforming each categorical statistic in order to be on the same basis. The heart of the Z-Score engine calculates the following value for each player, by scoring statistic.

Where: Z[i] = Player i’s Z-Score;  X[i] = Player i’s Category Stat;  X-Bar = Average Stat for the category;  S = Standard Deviation for that category.

For all rate stats (beyond the scope of this article), we must first convert them into a counting stat. Using hits as an example (zxH), we calculate the total number of a player’s hits above the pool’s mean batting average.

Using the formula above, to calculate your player/category’s Z-Score: Take your player’s stat, subtract the average stat, and divide by the standard deviation across the player pool for the stat. Repeat for all categories. To obtain a player’s total Z-Score, simply sum up across all scoring components.

With regards to the individual Z-Scores as calculated above, a Z-Score of exactly zero indicates that a player is exactly average. A +1.00 indicates that a player is one standard deviation over the mean, and a -1.00 indicates that a player is one standard deviation below the mean.

 

Finding Combo Players

Now that we have set up the Z-Score framework, we can now look for “combo” players using these standard scores. Perhaps, one might define a combo player as having four categories with a Z-Score of at least +0.75. Or perhaps, one might choose to define combo as any 3 categories which have at least a +0.50 Z-Score.

Rather than set a hard definition for the number of categories requiring a particular threshold, I would like to use these Z-Scores as a means in order to filter for players. Let’s use the standard scores to scope out the players who are:

  • Excellent in every category
  • Great in every category
  • Good in every category
  • Excellent in most categories
  • Great in most categories
  • Good in most categories
  • Excellent in some categories
  • Etc.

The data used in this analysis stems from the ATC Projections as of February 16, 2020. Average Draft Position (ADP) data comes from the NFBC for the dates between 2/4/20 – 2/16/20.

This will be a meaningful discovery exercise. By filtering on various Z-Score thresholds, we will be able to find all of the combo players both atop the draft as well as lower down. We may be able to find some undervalued players who will be able to quickly balance out your rotisserie team’s categories.

Let’s start with the elite.

 

5 Categories with Z-Scores over +1.00

In most standard rotisserie leagues, Christian Yelich will be taken this season either first, second or third. Some will debate that Mike Trout should be taken with the first overall draft selection since he is the most stable player in all of baseball. Others will debate that Acuna should be selected first due to his potential 40/40 ability. Either way, Yelich is a consensus top 3 draft pick in 2020.

What makes Yelich special is that he is the only player to have a Z-Score of at least +1.00 in each and every category. Yelich is more than one standard deviation better than the mean in every offensive category; he is the definition of a true 5-category player. Yelich will set an incredibly strong base for his fantasy owners lucky enough to draft him.

 

5 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.75

Next up, let’s add in four more players who have Z-Scores in each category of at least +0.75.

Trout would have made the prior list, if not for his mere 14 stolen base projection which only earned him only a +0.84 in that category. Acuna makes the SB threshold by a wide margin but falls a hair short of making it in the batting average category. Similar to Acuna, Trevor Story nearly misses the opening group’s cut by just a few points of average.

Francisco Lindor almost made the elite group, but for his +0.82 in RBI. As the runs batted in category is very context dependent, Lindor has the raw skills to be among the elite.

If you are not fortunate enough to select among the first three players of drafts, have no fear – there are two shortstops later in round one that have near-elite skills in Story and Lindor.

 

5 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.50

Next, we will look at 6 more players who are should be considered strong combo players. All six have at least a +0.50 Z-Score in each and every scoring category.

Similar to Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger misses elite status because of his stolen base projection. In Bellinger’s case, he is just a small decimal point away from making the second combo tier. Mookie Betts, another early first-round player, misses the first two lists because of a lower projected RBI total. Four categories of at least +1.00 Z-Scores and an 85 RBI projection though, is not too shabby!

Jose Ramirez is the only second-rounder to make the 5-category combo player cut. ATC projections are expecting him to revert back to his 2017-2018 days where he hit 30+ homers and stole 25+ bases. ATC is also expecting Ramirez to still hit for a valuable average at .276. If you miss out on Story/Lindor in the first round, Ramirez might be a wonderful 2nd round consolation.

At ADPs just under 40, we have Javier Baez and the young Austin Meadows. Both are projected for 31 HRs and 13-14 SBs. Baez projects for slightly more run production, but Meadows will give you a few more points of batting average. Take note of the two during the 4th round of your drafts.

But the player that truly grabs my attention here is none other than Keston Hiura. In his second season, Hiura is expected to achieve a Z-Score of at least +0.50 in all categories. His greatest Z-Score maxes out at +0.68, making him a true “many paths to value” hitter. I love these types of players – who don’t do anything exceptionally well, yet do decently well in all categories. Hiura reminds me of players like Alex Gordon, Alexei Ramirez and Hunter Pence. I used to love grabbing these types on my roto teams year after year.

Hiura’s price isn’t cheap this year, but his categorical risk is lower than most due to his "combo" nature.

Next up are the 4-category combo players.

 

4 Categories with Z-Scores over +1.00

Note - Even though the 5-category players belong on the 4-category lists, I won’t repeat any names we have seen thus far. I will only be listing out the new members to each group.

You will now notice that a few numbers above are colored in red. The red colors signify players/categories which have a below average Z-Score. You will also notice that for each of the players in this tier, the one category below the +1.00 threshold is always stolen bases. Furthermore, for almost all of the players (other than Juan Soto), their Z-Score for SB are negative.

All of these players are currently being selected in the first two rounds of drafts. Soto, Arenado and Bregman are currently first round players. Freeman is going near the 1-2 turn of 15-team drafts. Devers and J.D. Martinez can be found in the back half of the 2nd round.

To me, Devers is the sharpest pick of the lot. His stolen base total is close to average. His power is superb, and for all other categories, he is extraordinary. Devers has over a +1.80 projected Z-Score in three different scoring categories. He’s a sneaky late 2nd round pick as a 4-category combo player.

 

4 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.75

Dropping the Z-Score threshold to +0.75 yields two more players – Rendon and Alvarez. Rendon had nearly made the previous list if not for his good-yet-not-elite power totals. 29 HRs these days is now merely “very good.”

Yordan Alvarez, who has a higher Total Z-Score than Rendon is being selected in drafts 20 picks later. Perhaps fantasy owners are discounting him because of his sophomore status? Perhaps he is discounted because he is DH-eligible only? Whatever the reason, ATC projections think that he is a relative bargain as a 4-category combo player.

 

4 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.50

For this tier, we now relax the 4-category requirement of Z-Scores to +0.50.

Rather than going though all of the above players, a few notes:

  • Bryce Harper is the only player to make this combo list due to his stolen bases and not his batting average. Harper has a below average BA.
  • Eddie Rosario and Nick Castellanos are the only two players found after pick 75. Rosario is especially interesting, as his overall Z-Score total is in line with others selected 25-40 spots ahead of him.
  • George Springer is statistically similar to Rafael Devers. Unless you believe that he is due for a banging or buzzer scandal related decline, he’s a great choice at his price point.

Next up are the 3-category combo players.

 

3 Categories with Z-Scores over +1.00

Now we come to the more limited combo environment, where any 3 categories will do. For our first 3-category level, each player must still achieve elite status in three different categories.

Some quick notes on these batters:

  • Trea Turner is this tier’s first-round player. His power metrics are lacking for his price point, but his speed more than makes up for it. He is somewhat riskier than other elite options as he is only a 3-category contributor.
  • Ozzie Albies is above average in all five categories (all Z-Scores > 0.00). Like Hiura above, I would deem him as a “many paths to value” player. Second base is not an especially deep position in 2020 - so I enjoy the idea of drafting one of Albies/Hiura, which sets a nice base in the middle infield.
  • Matt Chapman is available at pick 89. For elite power and run production, he’s a great option for the price.

 

3 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.75

  • Michael Conforto is a name that I didn’t expect to see in this study. But as a Mets fan, I am pleasantly surprised! Tuck Michael’s name away in case you need a 3-combo player after pick 110.
  • Rhys Hoskins is also a player available late in this group. He has more power than Conforto but could hurt your batting average and speed. I prefer Conforto to Hoskins.
  • Max Muncy appears overvalued in this tier. Simply compare his Z-Score profile to Hoskins to see that a 50-pick gap isn’t worth reaching for.

 

3 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.50

  • Josh Bell, Tim Anderson and Trey Mancini are the players found near pick 100. The trio appear undervalued according to ATC’s projected Z-Scores.
  • Batting average darling Michael Brantley is included in this group. That batting average is a rare commodity after pick 125.
  • Later picks in the tier include Carlos Santana, Paul DeJong and Adam Eaton. Eaton is an immense bargain if he can stay on the field all season long. DeJong at pick 191 is a great value.

Finally, let’s look at the players who are strong in just 2 categories. We aren’t looking at “combo” players any longer, but it is helpful to know the players who can provide a strong boost for particular categories.

 

2 Categories with Z-Scores over +1.00

  • Altuve and LeMahieu will help in runs and batting average.
  • The rest of this group will help in HRs and RBI.
  • Khris Davis currently sits at pick 177. He projects for at least a +1.25 Z-Score in both the power and RBI categories. Keep Davis in mind for power late, provided that your team has built up enough speed and batting average.

 

2 Categories with Z-Scores over +0.75

Just for kicks, here is one more listing for players who are “very good” at 2 categories:

  • Kevin Newman/Nick Madrigal are late average/speed helpers. Newman has a job in the majors; Madrigal should come up to the big league at some point.
  • Yuli Gurriel projects to be an undervalued BA source.
  • Franmil Reyes appears to be an undervalued power source.
  • Vlad Jr. seems like the overspend in this group.
  • Jeff McNeil is not far away from being a “many paths to value player.”
  • Carlos Correa projects to be above average in four categories.
  • Marcell Ozuna projects to be above average in five categories! That is quite valuable around pick 100.

 

Conclusion

Fantasy owners often do single category filtering in-draft. Instead, we can better prepare ourselves by parsing out the combo players in advance. By mapping out the multi-category contributors via Z-Scores, we are able to bubble up a number of potentially helpful players for the upcoming 2020 draft season.