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February 20, 2008

Fantasy Beat

Collapse Rate Considerations

by Marc Normandin

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Since we looked at hitters who had breakout potential last week, it's time to look at those who may collapse now. For this, we will use another PECOTA feature, Collapse Rate. According to the BP Glossary:

For hitters, Collapse Rate is the percent chance that the player's EqR/27 will decrease by at least 20% relative to the weighted average of his EqR/27 in his three previous seasons of performance. High Collapse Rates are indicative of downside risk.

Collapse Rate avoids some of the pitfalls of Breakout Rate, as those players who were terrible in the past can still collapse relative to their performance without skewing the number. For the purposes of this article I will still be handpicking the players, looking for those that you may have interest in during the draft that PECOTA thinks you should not.

This may come as a surprise given his recent production, but PECOTA is not a fan of Edgar Renteria heading into 2008. His forecast is just .279/.343/.393 with a Collapse Rate of 50 percent. Part of the reason why for that decline is easy to spot-his BABIP was .375 last season, which helped him hit .332 on the season. There's a significant drop in his projected power production as well, stemming from a combination of his getting older and also switching from the better league for hitters. If we adjusted his line from last year just for his BABIP, he would be somewhere around .307/.365/.445; that high Collapse Rate is PECOTA's way of saying he isn't as good as his 2007.

There are things that make Renteria an attractive option for fantasy owners though. He is going to be in that stacked Tigers lineup, so he should pick up plenty of Runs and RBI even if he only matches his projected forecast. Shortstop is a thin position as well, so there's no reason not to pick up someone like Renteria who might top out at .285/.350/.400 or so if he's going to rack up the team-dependent stats. Let someone else overdraft him, but if your whole league is being overly cautious about picking him up, keep Renteria in mind.

Miguel Tejada had his issues last year offensively, hitting just .296/.357/.442. Granted, given the shortage at productive shortstops around the league, that's still pretty impressive for the position, but it isn't the Miguel Tejada we're used to seeing. PECOTA thinks he will continue to drop from his better days, forecasting him for .290/.340/.428 with a Collapse Rate of 44 percent.

There are a few things working against Tejada heading into 2008. Supposedly, he is going to be 32 years old this year. I say supposedly, because there have been whispers, especially this winter after his 2007 season, that he is older than his listed age, which means he is further from his peak years than we thought. Either way, he is past his peak, has looked slow and sluggish as of late, and his power production has dipped, as he's seen his Isolated Power rates drop from .211 to .168 to .146 the past three seasons.

He will be heading to a lineup that is even more problematic than the one he was just a part of in Baltimore. Even without black holes in the lineup like Craig Biggio and Brad Ausmus, the Astros will have trouble scoring runs outside of what they get from their big three. This will hurt Tejada's Run and RBI opportunities, which are the key at shortstop given the lack of attractive rate-stat lines to draft. If he does collapse as badly as PECOTA thinks there is a significant chance of happening, those numbers are going to drop even further. He won't get much love from Minute Maid either, as it boosts homer production from righties but does little else in the way of offensive assists-Tejada's projected ISO of .138 should be evidence of this. Like Renteria, because of position scarcity you don't want to avoid him on draft day, but don't get your hopes up that he is going to return to form now that he's left one hopeless franchise just to land in another.

Even with the shortage of quality fantasy catchers in the game, drafting Ivan Rodriguez at this point could be a costly mistake for your club. PECOTA's forecast is especially grim this year, as he's at .266/.294/.389 after his .281/.294/.420 season in 2007, and his Collapse Rate clocks at an ugly 40 percent. Like Renteria though, Rodriguez is going to be in an otherwise stacked lineup where his RBI and Run totals may very well outshine his overall line and real-world value.

Chances are good that in casual leagues, we will still see Rodriguez drafted higher than he should be due to name recognition with the assumption that last year was a fluke. More competitive leagues will most likely shy away from him, but be enticed by his team-dependent stats in standard 5x5 leagues. Personally, I'm shying away from him after seeing the PECOTA forecast, potential for collapse, and with an eye towards his BABIP. Even with a .329 BABIP last year, Rodriguez only hit .281 and couldn't even crack a .300 on-base percentage. If his BABIP falls any further, he will indeed hit his ugly PECOTA forecast. Catcher may be a position lacking in offensive-oriented players, but you can do better than that. Adopt a wait-and-see stance with Pudge, keeping him in mind for a mid-season pickup rather than a draft day selection.

PECOTA doesn't think that Jason Giambi's .236/.356/.433 showing last year was a fluke, as it has projected his 2008 at .235/.363/.453. Many leagues do not use the DH slot, but there are many who use a Utility slot for the best hitter at any position left available. Giambi used to be drafted for this spot in many leagues during his prime, but as his career production has declined as of late, he isn't even worth a look there any more.

Giambi's Run and RBI numbers from '07 had their uses given the lack of playing time he had, but that playing time may not increase much in 2008 thanks to his awful defense at first base. Relegated to a DH role that he must split time on, Giambi's value is as low as it has been in years. With the low batting average, Giambi's OBP and power combination is what made him useful for fantasy owners, but with his power dipping-a .197 ISO is disappointing after a .305 mark in 2006-he loses a lot of his value. If that trend continues-and PECOTA seems to think it will, with a .453 projected SLG and a Collapse Rate of 48 percent-you will want to steer clear of him and see what leftovers are there from the other positions for your Utility slot.

Ichiro Suzuki and PECOTA have never been the best of friends during his career, as he is a historically unique player in the context of forecasting performance. Usually, Ichiro will hit somewhere between his 75th and 90th percentile forecast, as he did last season, due to the singular nature of his game (and his consistent excellence in executing it). Ichiro is a high batting average player, and PECOTA expects his lofty BABIP figures to regress closer to the league average each year. That's why his Collapse Rate heading into 2007 was 43 percent, and why this year's rate is a staggering 58 percent.

How much should we trust that figure? Although I certainly am not suggesting that Ichiro's productive days are behind him, I'm more wary of him these days because of a few small red flags. First of all, his BABIP was .390 last year, much higher than he normally delivers. At the same time, his liner rate was around the league average. Those factors combine to make me think that we'll see some dip in his average next season. Ichiro hits for a high average thanks to an amazing number of infield hits and ground-ball hits, so liners aren't the only source for his production, though. Still, even if we expect Ichiro's BABIP to hover around .350 next year-still well above the league average-that's around 40 points lost across the full slate of AVG/OBP/SLG for him, which is essentially what his .304/.346/.384 PECOTA forecast is telling us.

Another consideration is that the Mariners' lineup this year looks terrible. Ichiro is once again the best hitter in it, and he will pick up runs by nature of his being on base often, but you could make the argument that there isn't another hitter on the team who is well above the average at this position. He may be lacking in Runs and RBI to go along with the drop in average, and his power (.080 ISO and 4.3 percent HR/FB, both career lows last year) continues to dip. Ichiro has a place on almost any fantasy club, but you may want to wait to pick him a bit longer than in years past.

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