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Welcome, to my second annual look at retrospective player valuation here at Baseball Prospectus. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of posts examining how players performed from a fantasy perspective in 2014. This is the third post in a series of six. The first two posts in the series focused on AL-only leagues. This post looks at last year’s National League hitters.

Before I dig in, here is a brief description of the charts below.

The $ value column is based on my Rotisserie-style, 5×5 formulas. It doesn’t exactly match anything in Baseball Prospectus’ PFM, but is derived using a SGP valuation model (something the PFM does offer). There are two important things to know about the values:

1) They are derived using the 168 best perceived hitters and the 108 best perceived pitchers (read most expensive or highest draft position) on Opening Day 2014, not the best 168 hitters and 108 pitchers at the end of the season.
2) The values of the 276 most expensive players add up to $3,120. This is important, and comes into play in the next two columns.

Sal is the average salary of the players. This column is derived from the prices in CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars, the three expert leagues that convene before the regular season starts and have three complete AL-only auctions with no frozen players from which to derive data. While I would love to use more leagues to derive each player’s average salary, most Rotisserie-style leagues are keeper oriented and average salary data is useless for the purposes of this exercise thanks to auction inflation.

The +/- column subtracts each player’s earnings from his salary and shows whether he gained or lost his fantasy owners play money. Decimals aren’t displayed in the $ and Sal columns, which is how Adam Jones can earn $29, get paid an average salary of $32 and lose $4.

MG is yours truly, your heroic pricer and proud prognosticator since 2013. Another good reason to look back is to see if the fantasy expert you are following is good at what he or she does. It is easy to make predictions in March and never revisit those predictions or (worse) cherry pick the ones you got right and take a hollow victory lap. But how good are we at what we do? The prices below are from my fifth and final installment of Rotisserie style bids from late March 2014. I have always taken others to task for their predictions; now it’s finally time for me to face the music.

PK is a new column for 2014. These are Peter Kreutzer’s bids for AL and NL-only leagues, published at Patton and Company’s web site. It is useful to look back and see how you did, but even more useful to compare your predictions to someone else’s.

2013 shows what the player earned in 2013.

This past spring, I made a big deal about how conservative the National League LABR auction was compared to past expert league auctions. At a glance, it appears that the results supported their reluctance to spend.

Table 1: 10 Most Expensive NL Hitters, 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Andrew McCutchen

$34

38

-4

40

35

38

37

39

$38

2

Paul Goldschmidt

$24

37

-13

41

33

38

36

35

$41

3

Carlos Gonzalez

$9

35

-27

36

37

33

34

37

$31

4

Joey Votto

$6

35

-29

34

32

38

32

33

$30

5

Bryce Harper

$11

33

-22

34

32

33

32

33

$22

6

Ryan Braun

$22

32

-11

30

33

34

33

37

$12

7

Carlos Gomez

$34

32

2

32

32

31

32

30

$36

Hanley Ramirez

$21

32

-10

34

31

30

32

32

$26

9

Freddie Freeman

$24

30

-6

32

27

32

27

30

$31

10

Troy Tulowitzki

$23

30

-7

32

28

29

31

31

$26

Average

$21

34

-13

35

32

34

33

34

$29

In retrospect, perhaps I should have been asking why CBS and Tout Wars insisted on spending so much money compared to LABR. This isn’t simply because the most expensive hitters only earned $21 (hindsight is always king), but rather because the instability I identified among the most expensive hitters in 2013 carried over into 2014.

Six of the 10 hitters on Table 1 carry over from the 10 Most Expensive hitters table from 2013. Only five of the 10 hitters from the actual 10 best hitters in 2013 are represented in Table 1 above. Put simply, the experts trusted their perceptions of what they thought would happen in 2013 more than they trusted what actually happened

I have often suggested that you would be better off simply paying for what happened the previous year. Would the experts have been better off simply purchasing 2013’s 10 best hitters?

Table 2: Top 10 2013 NL Hitters, one year later

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Paul Goldschmidt

$24

37

-13

41

33

38

36

35

$41

2

Andrew McCutchen

$34

38

-4

40

35

38

37

39

$38

3

Carlos Gomez

$34

32

2

32

32

31

32

30

$36

4

Hunter Pence

$27

27

-1

27

29

26

28

28

$35

5

Jean Segura

$13

26

-13

27

27

25

25

27

$34

6

Freddie Freeman

$24

30

-6

32

27

32

27

30

$31

7

Jayson Werth

$25

25

0

25

24

27

25

23

$31

8

Michael Cuddyer

$12

20

-8

21

20

20

20

20

$31

9

Carlos Gonzalez

$9

35

-27

36

37

33

34

37

$31

10

Starling Marte

$27

26

1

26

25

28

26

25

$30

Average

$23

30

-7

31

29

30

29

29

$34

Somewhat, yes. Marte, Pence, and Werth all would have been slightly better than Troy Tulowitzki, the best hitter from Table 1 who isn’t in Table 2. Segura and Cuddyer both disappoint, but weren’t nearly as bad as Harper and Votto, who make up a healthy percentage of the losses in both charts.

The non-overlap hitters are not all that surprising, although they do reveal one consistent bias among the experts. We generally don’t like paying the extra dollar for lower ceiling, boring stability. Pence and Werth don’t seem like studs, but the pay cuts they received seem extreme in retrospect. The idea of docking them because they won’t repeat 2013 seems reasonable; docking Pence $8 and Werth $6 seems unreasonable. Even so, maybe the reason Pence and Werth didn’t get paid more is because the experts were fairly confident that they weren’t going to show up on the next list.

Table 3: Top 10 NL Hitters, 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Dee Gordon

$34

4

30

4

2

7

9

6

$4

2

Giancarlo Stanton

$34

28

6

29

26

30

29

29

$16

3

Carlos Gomez

$34

32

2

32

32

31

32

30

$36

4

Andrew McCutchen

$34

38

-4

40

35

38

37

39

$38

5

Anthony Rendon

$31

17

14

16

18

17

17

15

$9

6

Charlie Blackmon

$30

4

27

2

5

4

3

3

$12

7

Ben Revere

$30

18

12

15

19

19

21

19

$16

8

Todd Frazier

$30

15

15

11

18

16

14

15

$15

9

Anthony Rizzo

$28

24

4

23

23

25

21

20

$17

10

Denard Span

$27

11

16

13

11

10

11

12

$21

Average

$31

19

12

19

19

20

19

19

$18

As solid as Marte, Pence, and Werth were, they don’t quite make it to Table 3, missing inclusion by decimals. For the second year in a row, only two of the 10 most expensive hitters also made it to the Top 10 list, with McCutchen and Gomez pulling off the feat in 2014 (in 2013 it was McCutchen and Gonzalez). One of the reasons LABR may have been right in holding off on spending on the top hitters is that the stability that existed a few years ago at the very top of the food chain in the National League is gone.

Stanton’s resurgence should not have been that surprising, and it could be argued that Rizzo was due to take a big step forward. But the rest of these hitters are not players any of us would have reasonably expected to land in the Top 10 in 2014. Blackmon and Gordon came out of nowhere, but beyond that the hitters in the $11-18 cost bracket were expected to be reliable hitters, not the best hitters in the league.

However, there is another reason that the LABR experts had every right to be wary. The best hitters in the league aren’t nearly as good as they used to be.

Table 4: NL Hitters by Earnings “Tier”: 2011-2014

2014

2013

2012*

2011*

+/- 2011-14

2014 LABR Sal

1-12

$366

$398

$380

$431

-65

$377

13-24

$309

$321

$314

$319

-10

$305

25-36

$264

$275

$288

$258

6

$262

37-48

$235

$235

$248

$217

18

$235

49-60

$191

$192

$210

$190

1

$209

61-72

$166

$163

$173

$161

5

$184

73-84

$145

$145

$139

$140

5

$150

85-96

$124

$119

$117

$119

5

$121

97-108

$103

$96

$90

$97

6

$100

109-120

$84

$77

$66

$73

11

$88

121-132

$59

$42

$43

$54

5

$61

133-144

$39

$25

$27

$32

7

$35

145-156

$12

$4

$7

$5

7

$19

157-168

-$6

-$6

-$8

-$5

-1

$12

*prorated

Table 4 looks back at the Top 168 hitters purchased at auction going back four seasons and the earnings that these hitters produced in groups of 12, sorted from most earnings to least. 2011 and 2012 are prorated because the NL expert leagues had 13 teams until 2013, when the Astros moved to the American League. The final column “2014 LABR Sal” doesn’t match what LABR spent on the players in the 2014 column but rather looks at how LABR spent in these specific tiers.

Even accounting for fewer teams, the best hitters in 2014 simply didn’t earn as much as they have since 2011. And you can kind of see that while LABR was almost dead on about what would happen at the top of the heap, they did indeed spend too much money in the middle, particularly from players 49 through 72. It turns out that LABR was right to avoid hitters at the top, but erred by spending more on the second tier hitters simply because they didn’t feel comfortable spending on the hitters at the top of the food chain.

Should we open our wallets in 2015 or follow LABRs example and scale our spending back?

I am inclined to do the latter. There is a small handful of hitters who if healthy and productive could exceed expectations in 2015. Stanton is one hitter who seems to fit this bill. However, a number of the hitters in the Top 10 either have most of their value wrapped up in steals or have a deficiency somewhere in their game that doesn’t make it seem likely that you will be able to bid $40 or more with confidence. McCutchen is the most stable player in the league, but despite an all-around, five-category profile he fits the model of a hitter who isn’t likely to go out and earn $50 with a sudden burst of additional power or speed (I’m sure this means he’s going to prove me wrong next year).

Something that instability at the top creates is opportunity at the middle and at the bottom.

Table 5: Top 10 Bargains NL Hitters, 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Dee Gordon

$34

4

30

4

2

7

9

6

$4

2

Charlie Blackmon

$30

4

27

2

5

4

3

3

$12

3

Corey Dickerson

$27

10

17

10

10

9

10

5

$6

4

Denard Span

$27

11

16

13

11

10

11

12

$21

5

Lucas Duda

$22

6

16

4

8

6

4

5

$7

6

Drew Stubbs

$22

6

16

4

7

7

7

9

$13

7

Todd Frazier

$30

15

15

11

18

16

14

15

$15

8

Anthony Rendon

$31

17

14

16

18

17

17

15

$9

9

Casey McGehee

$17

3

14

1

6

3

5

6

10

Juan Lagares

$15

1

13

2

1

1

1

6

$7

Average

$26

8

18

7

9

8

8

8

$9

Gordon, Blackmon, Span, Frazier, and Rendon all repeat from the Top 10 list and appear on the biggest bargains list. This is unheard of; in the past four years there have either been two or three repeaters from the Top 10 hitters list on the best bargains list.

While this sounds terrific in theory, in practice the average earnings and average salary on this chart for the past five years are nearly identical. When the earnings flatten out at the top, it makes the total earnings on the chart slip somewhat. This isn’t a historic group of hitters that is blowing everyone away, but rather a very good group of discounts.

The super cheap end-of-the-auction finds are what suffer here. Lagares is the only player who cost an average salary of $2 or less. Since 2010, there have been at least three players who cost $2 or less make the bargain list, with an average of four players per year between 2010 and 2013. Less offense makes it less likely that the best players will earn in the $40s, but it also diminishes the returns from the guys at the very end of the auction.

This table is where LABR’s early conservatism pays off. At least one of their “crazy” prices figured to work out, and they win big with Frazier. But they are also ahead of the market on Blackmon, Duda, Rendon, and McGehee. I have never been an advocate of saving your money to build a balanced team if the prices at the beginning are good, but if 2014 is indeed the beginning of an earnings trend, balance is going to be the way to go going forward.

Beyond the top players who flamed out, the other danger zone for prices in 2014 was in one obvious set of price points.

Table 6: Top 10 Busts NL Hitters, 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Joey Votto

$6

35

-29

34

32

38

32

33

$30

2

Carlos Gonzalez

$9

35

-27

36

37

33

34

37

$31

3

Bryce Harper

$11

33

-22

34

32

33

32

33

$22

4

Allen Craig

$6

24

-18

24

23

25

23

23

$25

5

Ryan Zimmerman

$8

24

-16

25

22

24

26

25

$25

6

Chase Headley

$6

21

-15

19

21

22

19

19

$14

7

Brandon Belt

$8

22

-14

21

23

22

22

22

$22

8

David Wright

$15

29

-14

32

26

29

30

28

$26

9

Everth Cabrera

$8

22

-14

22

20

24

24

21

$23

10

Paul Goldschmidt

$24

37

-13

41

33

38

36

35

$41

Average

$10

28

-18

29

27

29

28

28

$26

Four of the 10 most expensive hitters repeat here, but the rest of the group cost in the $20s. Half of the hitters on this list cost between $21-24. This is somewhat unusual. Typically, there is at least one hitter who costs less than $20 who lands on this unfortunate table.

Table 7: Top 10 busts, $3 or less in earnings 2010-2013

Year

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

2013

Danny Espinosa

-$1

17

-18

18

15

18

2013

Cameron Maybin

$1

18

-17

15

15

25

2013

Corey Hart

17

-15

17

13

15

2013

Tyler Colvin

$0

15

-14

16

16

12

2012

Lance Berkman

$2

21

-18

21

21

20

2012

Gaby Sanchez

$3

19

-15

17

20

19

2012

Marlon Byrd

-$2

10

-12

7

12

12

2011

Pedro Alvarez

$0

23

-22

29

20

19

2011

Adam LaRoche

$0

16

-16

10

19

19

2011

Ian Stewart

-$1

15

-16

14

15

15

2010

Nate McLouth

$3

22

-19

19

25

23

2010

Kyle Blanks

$0

16

-16

16

17

15

2010

Yunel Escobar

$3

18

-14

17

19

18

It is bad to buy anyone who loses money in double digits. But is especially bad to buy a player in double digits who returns nothing or next-to-nothing on your investment. There is a different calculus in a mixed league; if you lose out entirely on a player you’re likely to get something back for your trouble off of the reserve list or via the free agent pool. But in a mono league, there is a definite possibility that your investment will net you nothing.

For whatever reason or reasons, this didn’t happen as often in 2014. The money the experts spent in the $10-19 range saw only one player who cost $10 or more lose in double digits while 11 players returned $10 or more in profits.

Obviously, a year’s worth of data is not a trend. But without a clear and obvious reason to believe an offensive influx is coming, I like the idea of building a balanced offense in NL-only next year and letting someone else take a chance on Bryce Harper at $35 in the hopes that he will finally become the fantasy god many of us believe he will become. Offense is down. But it has not disappeared entirely. I have been knocked over the years for being too doctrinaire on prices, but is worth searching for your price points even more in a context with so much fluctuation and uncertainty.

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boatman44
11/18
Table 6 is the most interesting for me, looking for value next season, but the only player I would be ultra optimistic about on that list is Goldschmidt, the rest are iffy at least !
ares1800jr
11/18
Does the probability that Zimmerman pulls another hammy go up, down or stay the same playing 1st Base as opposed to 3rd? I remember him producing "when" he was on my lineup... I am stuck with him at $19 for one more year.
MikeGianella
11/19
I'd think it slightly goes down, but most of the risk of a hamstring issue comes with running, so if he's going to bat, there will always be some kind of risk.