[ed – 2017: while slightly outdated, much of this article still applies. The images are new, replacing those which were in the original article]
Every spring since launching the Player Forecast Manager, we at Baseball Prospectus have tried to improve it to make it more useful for our subscribers. The PFM, for those who haven't tried it, is a tool that uses our Depth Chart projections to create player values for use in fantasy baseball drafts. It's popular among our users—enough that its use has occasionally bogged the entire site down in the past—but its potential has still not been fully realized.
Since last year, the PFM has been given a major overhaul by Ben Murphy, Rob McQuown, and others, who entirely rewrote and streamlined the code to improve the speed of the program. The PFM itself was also moved to a separate server so that it would run faster (and keep it from slowing down the rest of the site), and it was given a new coat of paint that is part aesthetics, part user interface. Today, we'll run through some PFM basics, while explaining the additions we've made, and some still to come.
The Player Forecast Manager—which you can reach through the new, easy-to-remember address of pfm.baseballprospectus.com—gets its strength from customization. Is your league rotisserie, or points style? Are you using a standard 12 teams, or just six? How about 30? Maybe you play in an AL- or NL-only league, rather than mixed. All are customizable options. Even if your league uses a complex scoring system that involves statistics like RBI + R + HR, or Saves + Holds, or Quality Starts, you can set the PFM to base its calculations on those as well.
Once your league settings are in place, the PFM will spit out dollar values and draft rankings that reflect your choices. For instance, there are often discussions about how someone like Adam Dunn would be worth more in a league that uses on-base percentage—the PFM can tell you exactly how much the difference is. (For reference, the answer is $21 for standard, $28 for OBP leagues.) If your league uses two starting catchers and five outfielders, the values for those positions will change, as more of them are required—Logan Morrison is worth $5 in an OBP league (with everything else standard), but in a league with six outfielders and 14 teams, he's worth $10, thanks to new scarcity and replacement levels.
Those are the base values, but they can change as a draft progresses. This is why we include inflation. Let's say the first five outfielders in this hypothetical OBP league are all auctioned off at $40 apiece as the first five players, which is somewhere between $8 and $12 more than they are worth. The PFM will recognize that there is less money in the pool and that there are fewer outfielders to choose from, and will adjust prices accordingly. In this scenario, Hanley Ramirez's price drops by roughly 10 cents, but as a draft goes on (and depending on how high or low you set the inflation influence), those numbers will continue to drop, assuming people continue to overpay. Conversely, if players all go for less money than expected, more money will be in the pool to spend on the remaining players and their values will rise accordingly.
If you want more details about these different areas of customization, check out our detailed help page, which you can also find in one of the orange buttons atop the new PFM. And that's as good a segue as any for getting into the meat of the shiny new things the PFM can do for 2011.
For one, those orange buttons, which are very much not hidden:
The help page, as mentioned, is new. The "News & Updates" button also leads to a new page, which details the changes within the PFM and which version we are currently running. (For example, the last major change was made to version 2.2 of the PFM on February 23, when (H+BB+HBP) was added as a scoring category.) The two buttons at right export spreadsheets with all of the data contained within the PFM, minus the calculations for customization. Think of it as a depth charts projection spreadsheet. (You can also export whatever customized setup you output to the PFM, for further sorting/customization/offline usage.)
Beneath those buttons is another new area for saving your inputs. Maybe you're tired of adding in the same stat customizations for your league every single time you enter the PFM, or you don't want to continue to bookmark each league and its various rules in order to visit them later. You don't have to now, as you can save your setups and return to them at any time—they are saved to your account, and so as long as you are signed in to Baseball Prospectus, you can access the data. I, for one, am thrilled that I don't have to revamp the offensive categories every time I want to check prices for players in one of my personal leagues, and we hope that you get the same kick out of being lazy.
You may have noticed the Configuration Options section looks very different as well:
See those little blue circles with the "i" in the middle? Those are tooltips. Mouse over the circle, and a message will appear detailing what that specific option does. Observe:
You don't have to keep checking the detailed help section if you don't want to, and the mystery surrounding some of these options has been removed.
["Show Expert Ratings" is no longer available, but these images should help explain how to mark a player as "taken"]
Second base is an example of why this is a useful service—while PECOTA and the PFM see Brandon Phillips as an impact second baseman, I'm a bit more pessimistic, and would prefer any of the three second basemen who follow him in the PFM rankings. This doesn't mean you have to agree with me, but it does show you that this player's 2011 isn't an open-and-shut case. By clicking on the "Tier 3" text in Phillips' row, you can open up the second base rankings where I commented on him, and see why I'm more pessimistic than the PFM is. (We hope in the future to make these comments available within the PFM simply by mousing over them, just like the tooltips.)
Another new addition can be found under the "League Used" setting under "League." For those of you who play in custom fantasy leagues that don't employ any of the mixed, AL- or NL-only options—maybe you only pick from certain teams, or divisions, or what have you—we now have you covered, as you can choose any combination of 30 teams, and the PFM will offer output only on players from those selected clubs. (Testing for this option made me want to play in a six-team league that uses just American League East clubs.)
Those are the major changes—you can read about the smaller ones in the News & Updates section—but it's not the end of them. We have one final addition, which is the player health ratings produced for the Team Injury Projection series. In the past, these were released as their own spreadsheet, but now, just like the Expert Rankings, they can be switched on in the PFM and exported. The PFM will now allow you to see its own customized valuations, my fantasy rankings, and the health ratings of every player covered, all in one place on your draft day.
The Team Injury Projection series (formerly the Team Health Reports) are an important fantasy baseball cornerstone, and they will be coming in their new format soon, courtesy of Corey Dawkins and myself. The health ratings for those players will appear in the PFM before they release in article form, for those who need that information for their drafts. That's courtesy of our brand new injury projection system, which you will be hearing much more about in the coming weeks and months.
There, in a 1,600-word nutshell, is your 2011 PFM. (Just as a reminder, the PFM, depth charts, and injury risk ratings are available to both fantasy and premium subscribers.) We won't rest there, though, as we have more ideas for future versions of the program, and are always taking feedback from you, the reader. Let us know in the comments what you think about the new PFM, and what else you would like to see implemented in the future. We're always listening, and always tinkering.