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May 9, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Keeping Your Cool with Cold Players

by Erik Siegrist

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Probably the most common word we use over at Rotowire this time of the year is "patience." Plenty of people freak out over slow starts from their star players, and start seeing their fantasy seasons flash before their eyes because Carlos Beltran has only one stolen base through April, or because Eric Chavez's home run total isn't matching his price tag. The point we have to keep emphasizing is that a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and that a player expected to put up big numbers in all likelihood will do so, once that marathon ends in the fall. Too many owners give up and start breeding lilacs when their teams are still title contenders, because they don't have patience to wait for production that's just over the horizon.

Is it true though? Is a slow start really just a statistical blip which will sort itself out over the next five months? It's never a bad idea to challenge conventional wisdom, and every self-respecting Baseball Prospectus writer needs only the feeblest of excuses to start playing around with numbers. So let's test the hypothesis that production comes in fits and spurts, not steadily over the course of the season, and see if there's anything that can be learned in the process.

I compiled a list of every player who hit 40 or more home runs in any of the last three seasons, or stole 40 or more bases over the same stretch. The former list is longer than the latter of course (27 40+ home runs seasons, versus 16 40+ stolen base seasons), but I'm more interested in sifting through for possible patterns than proving a rigorous hypothesis, so the sample sizes on the data will do. I broke each of those seasons down by month (March stats being folded into April, and October into September) and figured out what percentage of their final total they accumulated in each month.

Before you peek at the numbers though, a trivia question: who are the only three players to reach 40 home runs or 40 steals in each of the last three seasons? I'll give you answer at the bottom of the page.

Here were the results for the speedsters.


Player                     SB Mar-Apr  May     June    July    August  Sept-Oct
Scott Podsednik    2004    70  17.1%   14.3%   12.9%   14.3%   14.3%   27.1%
Carl Crawford      2004    59  20.3%   20.3%   18.6%   13.6%   11.9%   15.3%
Juan Pierre        2004    45  13.3%   20.0%   6.7%    17.8%   22.2%   20.0%
Carlos Beltran     2004    42  16.7%   9.5%    9.5%    11.9%   38.1%   14.3%
Bobby Abreu        2004    40  0.0%    25.0%   12.5%   27.5%   17.5%   17.5%
Juan Pierre        2003    65  15.4%   18.5%   24.6%   21.5%   7.7%    12.3%
Carl Crawford      2003    55  12.7%   9.1%    12.7%   16.4%   30.9%   18.2%
Alex Sanchez       2003    52  5.8%    13.5%   23.1%   13.5%   21.2%   23.1%
Scott Podsednik    2003    43  2.3%    16.3%   18.6%   14.0%   27.9%   20.9%
Carlos Beltran     2003    41  2.4%    17.1%   26.8%   26.8%   0.0%    26.8%
Dave Roberts       2003    40  25.0%   20.0%   15.0%   0.0%    27.5%   12.5%
Luis Castillo      2002    48  18.8%   25.0%   10.4%   14.6%   16.7%   14.6%
Juan Pierre        2002    47  19.1%   19.1%   12.8%   8.5%    23.4%   17.0%
Dave Roberts       2002    45  11.1%   20.0%   11.1%   24.4%   20.0%   13.3%
Alfonso Soriano    2002    41  14.6%   24.4%   17.1%   17.1%   14.6%   12.2%
Vladimir Guerrero  2002    40  17.5%   7.5%    17.5%   12.5%   20.0%   25.0%
From a statistical perspective, there's nothing funny going on here at all. About as many months fall within one and two standard deviations of the mean--16.7%, or an even one-sixth, of course--as you'd expect, and there's no apparently meaningful pattern to specific months being good or bad. From a fantasy, and especially a Beltran-owner perspective, the news is bright. No less than three players (Bobby Abreu in 2004, and Beltran and Dave Roberts in 2003) reached the 40 steal plateau even though they went an entire calendar month without swiping a base, and in fact April features more "bad" months (four players more than one SD below the mean, and three that were more than two) than any other period.

In other words, a slow start or an off-month for a player with 40-steal talent doesn't seem to hinder a player's chances at reaching that mark. (If it did, fewer bad Aprils than expected would show up in the sample, one of the advantages of using a self-selecting group--although that can't be considered a really firm conclusion without looking at a larger data sample).

The data for the sluggers, however, is a bit more surprising.


Player                  HR  Mar-Apr May     June    July    August  Sept-Oct
Adrian Beltre   2004    48  14.6%   10.4%   14.6%   20.8%   27.1%   12.5%
Adam Dunn       2004    46  17.4%   8.7%    23.9%   13.0%   23.9%   13.0%
Albert Pujols   2004    46  15.2%   17.4%   10.9%   19.6%   26.1%   10.9%
Barry Bonds     2004    45  22.2%   8.9%    13.3%   15.6%   24.4%   15.6%
Manny Ramirez   2004    43  11.6%   20.9%   14.0%   16.3%   20.9%   16.3%
Jim Edmonds     2004    42  11.9%   14.3%   9.5%    31.0%   23.8%   9.5%
Jim Thome       2004    42  16.7%   11.9%   35.7%   9.5%    19.0%   7.1%
Paul Konerko    2004    41  12.2%   12.2%   24.4%   17.1%   12.2%   22.0%
David Ortiz     2004    41  12.2%   14.6%   24.4%   14.6%   14.6%   19.5%
Alex Rodriguez  2003    47  19.1%   12.8%   10.6%   10.6%   31.9%   14.9%
Jim Thome       2003    47  8.5%    17.0%   19.1%   12.8%   21.3%   21.3%
Barry Bonds     2003    45  17.8%   11.1%   20.0%   24.4%   15.6%   11.1%
Richie Sexson   2003    45  20.0%   15.6%   13.3%   15.6%   15.6%   20.0%
Javy Lopez      2003    43  9.3%    20.9%   23.3%   16.3%   11.6%   18.6%
Albert Pujols   2003    43  11.6%   23.3%   18.6%   14.0%   18.6%   14.0%
Carlos Delgado  2003    42  19.0%   19.0%   23.8%   11.9%   7.1%    19.0%
Frank Thomas    2003    42  11.9%   11.9%   16.7%   19.0%   31.0%   9.5%
Jason Giambi    2003    41  12.2%   14.6%   26.8%   19.5%   12.2%   14.6%
Sammy Sosa      2003    40  12.5%   2.5%    10.0%   32.5%   20.0%   22.5%
Alex Rodriguez  2002    57  15.8%   14.0%   12.3%   21.1%   21.1%   15.8%
Jim Thome       2002    52  13.5%   13.5%   19.2%   13.5%   21.2%   19.2%
Sammy Sosa      2002    49  16.3%   22.4%   16.3%   10.2%   22.4%   12.2%
Barry Bonds     2002    46  17.4%   21.7%   15.2%   8.7%    23.9%   13.0%
Rafael Palmeiro 2002    43  14.0%   11.6%   14.0%   25.6%   23.3%   11.6%
Lance Berkman   2002    42  23.8%   16.7%   19.0%   14.3%   14.3%   11.9%
Shawn Green     2002    42  7.1%    23.8%   28.6%   7.1%    23.8%   9.5%
Jason Giambi    2002    41  9.8%    24.4%   17.1%   17.1%   9.8%    22.0%
To make the pattern clearer, I'll break it down in terms of "good/great" months (at least more than one SD above the mean), "average" months (within one SD) and 'bad/awful' (more than one SD below) months.

            Mar-Apr May     June    July    August  Sept-Oct
Good(Great) 1(0)    3(0)    8(2)    4(2)    10(2)   1(0)
Average     22      20      15      18      15      21
Bad(Awful)  4(0)    4(1)    4(0)    5(0)    2(0)    5(0)
The numbers in parentheses are months where the player was more than two SDs above or below the mean. In checking out one piece of conventional wisdom, I seem to have stumbled onto another one: that offense heats up in the summer months. While the "bad" months stay normally distributed over the course of the year, there's a marked increase in "good" months for the 40+ home run crowd through June and August. (If I had to hazard a guess as to why July doesn't see a similar pattern, I would say that the plate appearances lost to the All-Star break might play a role). It's important to note that there's no corresponding increase in "bad" Aprils and Mays though, nor does there seem to be a correlation between big summers and poor springs. As a group, hitters who slam 40-plus home runs are simply prone to doing more than their share of slamming during the summer.

Of course using a self-selecting group has disadvantages as well as advantages. We have a good idea that players who reach a certain nice round number in home runs or steals can do it without sprinting out of the gate. What we don't know yet is whether a slow start has a predictable impact on a player's bottom line. A 40-home run player isn't less likely to have had a bad April, but is a player who has a bad April less likely to reach 40 home runs? That one I'm going to take a swing at next week.

Trivia answer: I tried to phrase it so you'd think it was a trick question, but it isn't--nobody appeared twice on the home run list and once on the steals list, for instance. Barry Bonds and Jim Thome hit 40 or more home runs in 2002-2004, while Juan Pierre stole 40-plus bases in each of those years.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox.

Related Content:  Bad Start,  2003,  2002

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