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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.

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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.