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August 19, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Deceptive Stat Lines

by Jason Collette

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Yesterday, Dayton Moore gave Jeff Francouer a two-year extension and R.J. Anderson did a good job of breaking that down on the Transaction Analysis Blog. The afternoon on Twitter was fun as different pundits threw out numbers for Francoeur at different points this season, comparing them to what Frenchy has done at other points in his 2011 season and in his career to show how the dollar figures in the deal probably were not the best idea around.

One of the fun games people like to play in debates is using arbitrary data points to make a point in a discussion. Francoeur’s season has been a bit of an up and down one. His OPS in May was a blistering 926 and it was again over 900 in July. Yet, May was 675, and June was 645. One could question Moore’s sanity by asking how he could extend a guy for two seasons at nearly 14 million dollars that hit .234 with a .655 OPS from the beginning of May until the end of June. Or, one could applaud Moore for getting Francoeur at a discount as he has hit .308 with an 871 OPS since July 1st.

98 percent of all statistics are made up, but as Aaron Levenstein once said, “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” The problem with hot or cold streaks in a fantasy season is that they can skew our opinions on a player. CBS Sportsline has the handy feature on the team page where you can get a quick glimpse of your player’s baseball card stat line on the season. The problem is, that line can lead to some false bravado with one’s players as pretty seasonal stats hide slumps and streaks, such as the one Aaron Miles is in right now.

If you are in a deep NL-Only league, you probably have Miles in your active lineup right now, and a quick glance at his overall line shows a rather empty .288 batting average as he has just one home run, 32 runs scored, and 32 runs driven in this season. What that overall line does not show is just how empty his batting average has been of late. In June, Miles was on fire, hitting .419/.418/.500 in 67 plate appearances. The fact that his batting average was higher than his on base percentage should have been a warning at how BABIP-driven his average was, but Miles was getting picked up in leagues. If you picked up Miles at the end of that hot streak, you have rostered a player that has hit .248/.282/.336 in 134 plate appearances with just 10 runs scored and 12 runs driven in.

The flip side of this discussion is obviously Dan Uggla, whose .185 batting average and .621 OPS in the first half and were painful eyesores, but even his insane second half—.358 with a 1.092 OPS—has his overall slash line at just .231/.297/.449. I sound like a broken record in recent weeks, but this final stretch run in your fantasy leagues is all about current production, and hot and cold streaks earlier in the season can cloud your vision of what your players are currently doing for you. Here are some other players who have some attractive or unattractive seasonal stat lines that are doing better or worse than you probably think they are.

Matt Joyce: He was a quasi-sleeper on draft day but rarely went for more than $8 in auctions. This season, Joyce has hit .275 with 16 home runs, 54 runs driven in, 57 runs scored, and 10 steals. The problem is, nearly all of that came before June 1st. In the first two months of the season, Joyce hit .370 with nine home runs, 30 runs driven in, and 34 runs. If you traded for him on June 1st or have not paid close attention, you’ve missed that he has hit .191 with a .567 OPS since that date with just six home run, 23 runs scored, and 16 runs driven in. He had a shoulder problem that popped up in early June, but only so much of his poor performance this summer can be attributed to that.

Brett Wallace: He was hitting .268 when he was demoted to Triple-A at the beginning of this month, and some people questioned how the team could send someone down who was hitting .268. The easy answer was that Wallace had stopped hitting effectively after his blistering April, when he hit .388/.458/.529. His numbers in May fell off to .250/.317/.402, and they were in a free-fall from then on. If an owner was keeping Wallace in their lineup based on his seasonal batting average from June 1st until his demotion, they were rostering a first baseman that was hitting .207/.288/.264 in 140 at bats, which is well below replacement level production for the position.

Carlos Quentin: He has hit .257 on the season for the disappointing White Sox with 54 extra base hits, 53 runs scored, and 76 runs driven in. The problem is, most of those numbers are front loaded. Since July 1st, Quentin has maintained his .257 batting average, but he has just 14 extra base hits in his last 154 plate appearances after hitting 40 in his first 321. Additionally, the normally patient hitter has lost all semblance of plate discipline as he has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 0.16 since July 1st, walked just six time while striking out 38 times. It is tough to look at trading away a guy that has 24 home runs and 76 runs driven in on the season, but when you consider he did most of that before July 4th, it makes the thought of trading him easier.

Casey McGehee: His overall slash line of .236/.289/.345 is painful to look at considering the numbers he has given fantasy players the previous two seasons. The first half of this season saw McGehee hit just .223 with five home runs while driving in 36 and scoring 26 times in 358 at bats. If you were able to buy low on McGehee at the break, you would have done well for yourself as his numbers have seen a nice bump, and he has hit .276/.319/.438 since the break with 17 runs driven in and 11 scored in just 116 plate appearances.

Jered Weaver: Weaver is 14-6 on the season with a 2.13 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP, which could be even better with a little more run support. That said, the second half of the season has not been terribly kind to him as his ERA has jumped from 1.86 to 3.07 while his WHIP has bumped up from 0.91 to 1.17. Part of that ERA spike comes from the fact that he has given up six home runs in the second half in just 41 innings of work while giving up five in the first 140 innings of the season. All are still excellent numbers for American League pitching, but if you dealt for Weaver at the break, he has not had quite the same impact for you as he did for his previous owner.

Jaime Garcia: His overall line is a 10-6 record with a 3.42 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 128 strikeouts and just 42 walks in 153 innings of work. Like others, nearly all of that came early in the season as it has been a tale of two halves for him. He is just 4-3 in the second half of the season with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP, but he has held onto the strikeout-to-walk rate and then some, striking out 70 while walking just 19 in 78 innings of work. That kind of stat line screams of unfortunate episodes, much like Ricky Nolasco’s body of work the last two seasons.

Derek Holland: He has 11 wins thanks to some solid run support, but his 4.23 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are tough to look at. He has allowed more hits than innings pitched on the season and has given up 16 home runs in just 155 innings of work. Yet, if you wipe out his 1st half of work, he is 4-0 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, giving up just three home runs in his last seven starts while striking out three batters for every one that he has walked. If you made a move to acquire a seven with pitcher with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP at the All-Star Break, your gamble has paid off handsomely.

While these numbers are interesting to look at and can potentially provide valuable insight into a player, we need to remember that a hot or cold streak will often be just that—a streak.  We shouldn’t place too much faith in them, and we need to consider a player’s entire body of work when making a decision on him.  And if we think legitimate changes have been made to cause an increase or decrease in production, we need to take that into consideration as well.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  The Streak,  Work,  Runs

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