June 3, 2016
In-Season Fantasy Valuations
First Edition, 2016
Last year, I released a handful of in-season valuation articles for my readers who play in AL- and NL-only leagues. Due to limited feedback, I decided not to publish them this year. Of course, you know how this works. People wanted to know why the in-season valuation updates weren’t coming out this year, and an impassioned email-writing campaign was followed in turn by an angry swarm of readers screaming “give me valuations” outside of Baseball Prospectus’ downtown Manhattan offices. In the end dear readers, we decided that your voices mattered. What you see below is the product not just of my efforts but of what your emails, tweets, and in-person protests were telling us. You spoke… and we listened.1
In the linked document, you will find values through games of Wednesday, June 1st for:
The formulas used to derive these valuations are not based on last year’s statistical formulas but rather on 2016 statistics year-to-date. Average salaries are based on the auction rosters for the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars AL and NL-only expert leagues. The formulas are SGP-based off of the aforementioned auction rosters for CBS, LABR, and Tout.
Last year, I produced updates in 27-game increments, more or less. This is an impromptu update, so it could be the first of many or it could be a standalone article. This will depend significantly on reader feedback to this article.
Since I produced an update one-third of the way through the 2015 season and because this update is approximately one-third of the way through the 2016 season, I can compare and contrast a few data points.
Table 1: Top 10 AL Hitters, 2015 versus 2016
I thought I would look not only at where this year’s best hitters stand through the first 54 games of the season compared to last year, but also at where last year’s Top 10 hitters stood at the end of the 2015 season. Valuations tend to flatten as the season goes along, but even accounting for this the Top 10 AL hitters this year are averaging three dollars more per hitter in earnings than they did at this time last year.
Only three hitters in this year’s Top 10 were in last year’s final Top 10 (Altuve, Betts, and Trout). If this holds, this is going to be a very different group than what we saw in 2015. However, only half of the hitters who were in the Top 10 at this point in 2015 finished in the Top 10 at the end of the season. It is kind of funny to see Ellsbury, Fielder, and Kipnis in last year’s Top 10, but that’s what a 54-game sample can do.
As I have said time and time again, this is the time of year where we get fooled into believing that statistics are normalizing, even though there is still a lot of season left. This applies even more to earnings. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Bogaerts finish the season in the AL Top 10, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him finish outside of the Top 10 due to the potential fluctuation in batting average.
Table 2: Top 10 NL Hitters, 2015 versus 2016
The National League went through a mini-run in 2013 and 2014 where the best hitters were not that impressive relative to the average hitter in NL-only. If 2015 saw a bit of a bounce back, 2016 thus far has seen the best NL hitters revert somewhat to 2013-2014 norms. Yes, Murphy is $1 ahead of where Goldschmidt finished in 2015, but keep in mind that earnings tend to normalize over the course of the season. Murphy jumps out in particular because the odds of him hitting .394 for the entire season seem extremely low.
The other thing that jumps out is how the lack of stolen bases in the NL has had a significant impact on earnings year-to-date thus far. Villar certainly has had a great season, but his 19 steals would have been worth less a few years ago in what was a different offensive context. Even a down year by Billy Hamilton has him on pace to earn $21 and finish as the 40th-best hitter in the NL.
Table 3: Top 10 AL Pitchers, 2015 versus 2016
Gray and Keuchel both were on pace to earn over $40 in 2015, but this year Sale has separated himself in a way that makes it seem believable that he could earn $40 or more. Many of the top 10 in 2016 are not the arms you would have expected on top of this list.. Last year, only Soria and Miller cost under $10 in the expert leagues; this year half of the pitchers on the top 10 cost seven dollars or fewer, and Wright wasn’t purchased in any of the expert leagues. Hill, Wright, and Estrada in particular seem like strong candidates to fade, but it remains to be seen if the pitchers we expected to be top options this year manage to re-emerge and claim their “rightful” place in the Top 10. It could be one of those unpredictable seasons in the AL, but it is too early to tell.
Table 4: Top 10 NL Pitchers, 2015 versus 2016
The absence of Arrieta and Kershaw in the 2015 (54) column jumps off of Table 4. At this time last year Arrieta was the 14th best pitcher in the National League while Kershaw was 24th. This is an excellent reminder that a lot can change between now and the end of the season, although the top four pitchers in 2015 one-third of the way through the season were in the top seven at the end of the year. The pitchers who gained significantly by the end of 2015 were mostly the kind of pitchers you would have expected some growth from. Hello Kershaw. Hi Madison Bumgarner. Good day to you, Mr. Arrieta. Melancon and Familia snuck into the Top 10, but elite closers have a way of doing that.
This year the closers are missing (at 11th, Kenley Jansen is the highes- ranked reliever) while the arms in the Top 10 don’t seem surprising at all. Nola is the only pitcher whose average salary was under $10 this spring and eight of the 10 pitchers in the 2016 column cost $19 or more. These pitchers are the elites, so if you were hoping to go cheap on pitching in the NL and grab a surefire ace, the odds were not in your favor. Again, things could change significantly between now and the end of the 2016 campaign but at the moment there is stability at the top, and a predictability we have not seen from NL aces at this juncture for years.
1Dramatization. Stunt email authors on a closed course. Do not attempt.