Fantasy Baseball: Player Volatility
Sometimes people miss the point. We're all guilty of this (even the great Oracle isn't always understanding of everything that is presented to him). In this piece I thought I would try to explain a few things that might be missed when people look at players and try to discern what is going on with their value.
There is no certainty in baseball. Yes Albert Pujols always hits 30 homers with 99 RBIs (has every year from 2001-12). Some day that run will end, just like it has for a guy like Mark Teixeira who went 30-100 each year from 2004-11 before injuries limited him to 24 homers and 84 RBIs last year in 123 games (he's not likely to get there this season either due to his wrist injury). Injuries play a huge part in whether or not players live up to expectations.
A player's personal life can impact his game. Did he sleep well? Did he get in a fight with his wife? Is his kid sick? Did his lawyer steal money from him? Players are people too and they are all dealing with the same things we all do on a daily basis.
Hopefully all of those things were obvious to you. Now let's dig a little deeper into some other points that are often overlooked.
Wins and loses, and I say this all the time, come and go. Cliff Lee was a top-15 starting pitcher last year in terms of his skills, but he won six games with a 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Ricky Nolasco won twice as many games, 12, and his ratios were 4.48 and 1.37. There's just no way to know how the record will play out. I think most folks get this one.
What about saves? As I've noted elsewhere, the man who leads baseball in saves the past three years – Jose Valverde – doesn't even have a team to call home right now. Moreover, only three men in baseball have had 20 saves each of the past four seasons (Valverde, Huston Street and Jonathan Papelbon). Are you really sure you can predict which closers are “locks?” I think most folks get this one too.
What about homers? A guy goes from 30 homers to 20 and people freak out. Would it surprise you to learn that both numbers fall within the realm of imminently possible for a 25 homer hitter. Think about it. That's a +5 or a (-5) in either direction. That 25 homer guy hits 30 one year and 20 the next his two year average is... what do you know, 25. Take the case of Nick Swisher. Over the past seven seasons he has averaged 27 homers a season with a high of 35 and a low of 22. That's a spread of 13 which, if you divide by two gives you 6.5. Add that to 22 and your at 28.5. Subtract it from 35 and you're at 28.5. Take a look at his year marks while keeping in mind two things, (1) that 27 average homer mark a season and (2) he is about as consistent a bat as there is in the game: 35, 22, 24, 29, 29, 23 and 24. Another way to look at his situation is to saw that he has FAILED to reach his seven year average four times in the past seven years.
What about batting average? This one is a tough to understand for some folks. We can talk about BABIP and line drive rates all we want, but let's keep things simple and take a look at Dexter Fowler. In 2010 he hit .260 and people were disappointed. In 2011 he hit .266 and people were disappointed. In 2012 he hit .300 and people were happy. As I noted we can point to the .390 BABIP as a major reason his average went up, but there is also this – what about random luck/chance?
In 2010-11 Fowler averaged 460 at-bats a season. He had 454 at-bats in 2012, a virtually identical mark.
In 2010-11 Fowler averaged 121 hits a season. In 2012 he had 136 hits.
Fowler obviously had 15 more hits last season than his average the previous two years. The baseball season is 26 weeks long. That means in 2012 Fowler had an average of 0.58 more hits a week than he did the previous two seasons. That's it folks. Barely half a hit difference per week over the course of the season led to Fowler's average going up almost .040 points. Forty. A grounder off the tip of a glove here. A bad break by an outfielder on a ball hit in the gap. Hitting the ball an eighth of an inch lower on the barrel of the bat there. Barely half a hit a week over the course of the season changed his average by nearly .040 points. The point is that a .280 hitter could just as easily hit .260 as he could .300, even if you don't want to hear or accept that fact. Remember that when you bail on a guy because his average dropped the previous season. Don't just discount a guy until you do some digging to find out what is really going on with him.
In closing hopefully something in this piece resonated with you. We focus on numbers in baseball, especially in fantasy baseball, but sometimes the raw number don't tell the whole story.
* Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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