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May 14, 2013

Sporer Report

Evaluating Early-Season Outliers

by Paul Sporer


We are about to hit a big date in the fantasy baseball world: May 15. While it doesn’t carry any inherent significance on the calendar (unless you’re John Smoltz, George Brett, Josh Beckett, Justin Morneau, Michael Brantley, Brian Dozier, or Brandon Barnes; happy birthday, gents!), it is another mile marker on the fantasy landscape, as many see it as a point beyond which they should begin addressing needs and making serious moves with their ballclubs. With the general chorus of advice being that you should be patient with the players you drafted, there are a handful of these early mile markers at which fantasy managers feel they have been patient enough based on their perception of what it means.

The first is usually Tax Day, April 15. Yes, two weeks is long enough for some, and then it’s time to get in there and start rearranging the puzzle pieces. For others, May 1 is a big day. Essentially a sixth of the season has passed, we’ve flipped the calendar, and now trading large chunks of your original squad doesn’t seem like such a panic move. The other two biggies are May 15 and Memorial Day (or June 1, but those are close enough that we can lump ‘em together). Not only are these markers used for deciding whether or not you should make that big eight-player deal with Fred from accounting, but the fantasy community also uses these dates to start judging the legitimacy of performances.

Whether they are going by gut and just saying that mid-May is an adequate sample for them to pass judgment, or if they are more scientific about it and adhere to Russell Carleton’s excellent work on sample sizes, even the most patient fantasy managers are ready to start believing in hot starts or freaking out about cold ones. With that, I’d like to dive into the performances of two surprise standout pitchers who have burst onto the fantasy landscape so far in 2013 and see whether or not we have something worth believing in or merely a flash in the pan.

Travis Wood, CHC (2.03 ERA, 0.90 WHIP in 53 1/3 innings)

After another brilliant start on Monday night, Wood now has a quality start in all eight of his tries having allowed more than two runs just once (in 7 2/3 against the Padres). His component numbers haven’t been terribly special with a 17.7 percent strikeout rate and 8.4 percent walk rate, which yield just a 2.1 K:BB. However, Wood does have an 83 percent left-on-base rate and a .186 BABIP so far, both of which exceed league-average rates by leaps and bounds. Now, one of my least favorite things on the fantasy baseball landscape of analysis is when someone simply looks at these two rates, sees that they are much better than or much worse than league average and instantly suggests that the pitcher has been lucky or unlucky. It’s as annoying as it is lazy, and it doesn’t do anyone a single bit of good.

Yes, Wood is living outside of the norms, but he also has components within his profile that give an idea as to why he has been able to eclipse the average by such a wide margin. With regard to his BABIP, you should first look at the pitcher’s batted-ball profile before assigning gobs of luck or handfuls of misfortune. In the case of Wood, his .244 BABIP from 2012 was a bit depressed by the fact that he allowed a ton of home runs, which don’t count against the metric. In 2013, his homers are way down, his line-drive rate is down by seven percent, and his 45 percent fly-ball rate includes a hefty 15 percent infield-fly-ball rate. Line drives are mostly likely to turn into hits, whereas infield fliers are the least likely batted balls to become a hits.

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Premium Article Monday Morning Ten Pac... (05/13)
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