The third week of the fantasy baseball season represents the point in time when many team owners look at their rosters in a panic wondering what they were thinking or drinking on draft day. Their top picks are sporting Mendoza line averages, haven’t hit a home run, stolen a base or created any significant scoring points. This is also when you may be congratulating yourself for selecting that player in round 20 who’s leading everybody in every category.
If either of these scenarios are you, read on and prepare yourself for a dose of reality. Truth is, that it’s way too early to panic or making room for the championship trophy on your mantle. Much of what you’re seeing are performance levels masked by plate appearance samples sizes too small to represent their true skill.
The good news is there are a few stats we can look at to help us determine if the numbers we see should be of concern to us. This article will identify the key stats that will help you make better decisions as the season goes on. As a bonus, we’ll use these stats to evaluate a handful of over and under achieving players through the first 2 weeks of this young season using this article as introduction to a regular series we’ll be providing you as the season progresses.
When sample sizes are low, we need to look at career levels, regardless of the statistic we’re looking at. Review of career statistics should be limited to the most recent seasons. A good rule-of-thumb, is 3 years (if available). If there are less than 3 years to review, you can only use what you have.
Identifying the Right Stats to Evaluate
The statistics I look at are:
BABIP (Batting Average/Balls in Play)
There is no steadfast rule for BABIP, although the league average over time is generally about .300, with each year varying slightly. However, an individual player establishes their own BABIP with that number eventually ending up near the overall league average. This is really what makes this statistic very valuable when it comes to evaluating whether a player is player way over their head, or simply having a streak of “bad luck”.
wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average)
This statistic is very valuable in evaluating the overall value of a player as it attempts to incorporate all the events that lead a batter scoring runs for their team. This statistic is a bit more straightforward when it comes to performance levels. Below are the general guidelines used industry wide, taken from Fangraphs.
HR/FB + ISO + Contact% + BB% + K%
I don’t use any hardline rules here for these statistics. The stats outlined here are primarily used as a reference for the player and used to give me an idea of whether the player is performing within his historical averages. While there are, actual averages established, I personally use these to give me a little context to where they player is currently at compared to historical numbers.
How to Use These Statistics to Your Advantage
It’s easy to look at the numbers, but difficult sometimes to put them into perspective when it comes to making decisions on a weekly basis. The method used for me relies on differentials in each of the categories that allow me to quickly see if the numbers coincide with a players’ historical performance levels.
What I’m trying to see is if the current numbers vary from historical and/or league norms by a wide margin. If they do, it potentially identifies whether the player is over or under achieving. Once this aspect of performance is determined, we can then identify whether regression to their normal levels can be expected.
Oftentimes, this process can be quite easy as you will see from the week 2 data in our next section. When we can see wild swings in BABIP and wOBA varying from career and/or league norms, we instantly know that regression is soon to follow.
However, sometimes we need to dive into other statistics such as Contact%, HR/FB and other to determine if other anomalies exist. Please note that the statistics identified in this article are not the end-all/be-all statistics to be used.
I sometimes find myself going deep into the batted ball stats and even pitchFX data to see if where the cause for change lies. If I can’t see the obvious, it leads me to start digging deeper. This should be your mindset as well if winning your league is the goal. Being diligent in identifying whether regression is due or a performance level change has occurred is the key making better roster decisions throughout your fantasy baseball season.
Applying this Knowledge to Current Over/Under Achievers Going into Week 3
The table below outlines the players used in our example for this article. Can you identify the over and under achievers listed below?
|Player||wOBA 2017||wOBA 3 Yr.||+/-||BABIP 2017||BABIP 3 Yr||+/-||ISO 2017||ISO 3Yr||+/-||HR/FB 2017||HR/FB 3Yr||+/-||Ct% 2017||Ct% 3Yr||+/-||BB% 2017||BB% 3Yr||+/-||K% 2017||K% 3yr||+/-|
Joey VottoSome of the data just screams over/under achievement while others appear to a mixed bag of data. Were you able to spot which was which? Below we’ll break down each of the players to see if we can assist in turning the data into decision making facts.
- A 125-point difference in BABIP and 227-point difference in wOBA tell us that Votto is due for a comeback career norms sooner rather than later.
- Virtually unchanged ISO & HR/FB combined with an improvement in contact rate indicate that he’s just getting warmed up.
- Improvements in K% and a sharp decrease in BB% indicates he may be reaching a bit.
Don’t worry! Sit back and wait for the explosion in performance to happen. It could be just around the corner. I noticed that in 2016, his BABIP dropped off the map followed by May and June that sat near the .400/.500 mark. Be patient and you’ll reap the reward.
- A bit more of a mixed bag here with Bryant. His BABIP and wOBA appear to be in-line. But, his power just hasn’t arrived yet. A .103 ISO compared to .238 career norms is out of whack and will soon correct itself.
- Although his Contact % seems to be just a slight improvement, a deeper look indicates a 3-year improvement so the 75% could be a reality indicating his batting eye is improving. This, combined with his elite power, can only help his overall value.
- An improvement in his walk rate indicates an improvement in his batting that further supports the increased contact rate improvements. Bryant’s BB% doesn’t tell the whole story here. If we look at his BB/K rate, we see a 3-year improvement and this does support the contact % improvement being real.
Bryant’s power will soon show itself and his underlying core skill improvement indicates a potential to improve upon his batting average as well. Again, sit back and you’ll reap the profits.
- As much as I hate to admit this (because I own Owings on one of my teams), this performance level will NOT last long. A BABIP of.464 is not sustainable. This is supported by a wOBA just a shade over his career level of .299, which is not good.
- His contact rate is good, but is power is not. His 2017 HR/FB of 20% compared to 6% over the past 2 years looks like an improvement. However, if you look at his ISO, it represents virtually no gains. This tells us that the power uptick is most likely a mirage.
- A deeper look at his BB% and K% tells us a story of poor plate discipline that will eventually show itself.
If you have a chance to sell high, now is the time to do it. Trust me, this level cannot be sustained and base skill levels do not show any marked improvement that would warrant keeping him.
For more detailed player profiles, please visit The Fantasy Baseball Report.
As we move forward, we’ll continue to look at over and under achieving players using this same methodology. Each week provides us added sample sizes, so as we progress, we’ll be able to incorporate more in-season data although historical data will always be used as the baseline indicator to whether a player is playing within their actual skill level, or perhaps progressing or regressing to a new level.
In a future article, when a larger sample size is available, we’ll look at the over and under achieving pitchers. Until then, if you find this article to be helpful, please feel free to share it with others.
Your feedback is always welcomed, so feel free to leave your comments below.