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Welcome to my third annual look at retrospective player valuation here at Baseball Prospectus. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of articles examining how players performed from a fantasy perspective in 2015. This is the fifth article in a series of six. The first four articles in the series focused on NL-only and AL-only leagues. The final two posts examine mixed leagues, with this article examining hitters.

Before I dig in, here is a brief description of the charts below. (If you have been reading along for the entire series, note that there are some changes for the mixed league articles).

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 210 best perceived hitters and the 135 best perceived pitchers (read most expensive or highest draft position) on Opening Day 2015, not the best 210 hitters and 135 pitchers at the end of the season.

2) The values of the 345 most expensive players add up to $3,900. This is a fundamental difference from many pricing systems that use z-scores and assign the top 345 players an aggregate value of $3,900. While perhaps more “accurate”, dollar values derived from the best 345 players at the end of the season do not reflect how a fantasy team should behave in an auction environment or what these dollars actually represent.

Actual Rank lists where players ranked overall based on my dollar valuations. Since the NFBC rankings do not differentiate between hitters and pitchers, this column does not do so either.

The NFBC column lists the average draft position (ADP) as measured by the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts.

LABR, Tout Draft, and Tout Auction are the results from three of the most prominent fantasy expert leagues in the country. LABR and Tout Wars Draft use a draft format, while Tout Wars Auction lists the auction price (again, out of a $3,900 budget).

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 fourth and final installment of Rotisserie style bids from late March 2015. I have always taken others to task for their predictions; now it’s finally time for me to face the music.

Table 1: 15 Highest Drafted NFBC Hitters, 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

Mike Trout

$32

1

11

1

1

$48

$47

2

Andrew McCutchen

$26

2

31

2

2

$44

$44

3

Giancarlo Stanton

$14

4

139

6

4

$40

$41

4

Paul Goldschmidt

$38

5

6

5

3

$44

$41

5

Miguel Cabrera

$21

6

58

10

7

$39

$40

6

Jose Abreu

$23

7

43

4

6

$36

$41

7

Carlos Gomez

$14

8

138

7

8

$39

$39

8

Jose Bautista

$26

9

32

14

9

$36

$37

9

Edwin Encarnacion

$26

10

29

8

12

$35

$38

10

Jose Altuve

$35

12

8

13

23

$31

$35

11

Anthony Rizzo

$28

13

21

11

10

$40

$29

12

Adam Jones

$17

14

99

9

18

$26

$38

13

Troy Tulowitzki

$15

15

126

15

15

$28

$35

14

Robinson Cano

$18

17

84

17

13

$29

$30

15

Josh Donaldson

$34

18

9

28

19

$32

$31

Average

$24

9

56

10

10

$36

$38

Even with all of the explanations above, there are a lot of data to look at in these tables. Without an experienced eye, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and get lost in the minutiae. The first thing that always jumps out at the reader in every single one of these charts is that among experts and the NFBC drafters, consensus is significant.

It is understandable that Trout is the highest-ranked hitter across the board, and while he probably shouldn’t have been quite as universal as a no. 2 pick, McCutchen in that position made a good deal of sense as well. However, throughout the top 15 there is considerable agreement on this group in the aggregate. There aren’t many differences between NFBC’s top 15 and those found in expert leagues. LABR took Anthony Rendon 12th and Ian Desmond 16th. The Tout Wars drafters grabbed Joey Votto (11), Yasiel Puig (14), and Hanley Ramirez (16). The Tout Wars auction experts drifted from consensus a little bit more than everyone else, with Bryce Harper at 11 and four hitters tied at $31.

The top 15 may vary a little bit in terms of the order but in terms of who is there it was almost exactly the same from league to league. Some of this is colored by the savvy nature of NFBC, which is likely a more competitive mixed league environment than your garden variety, vanilla home-league mixer, but given the lack of consistency among the best hitters over the last couple of seasons, it is a little surprising that there isn’t more fluctuation in Table One. As often happens, the best hitters from 2014 are more varied from the NFBC’s top 15 as any of the other expert leagues’ best hitters are.

Table 2: Top 15 2014 Hitters in 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

Jose Altuve

$35

12

8

13

23

$31

$35

2

Michael Brantley

$25

21

35

26

35

$29

$28

3

Mike Trout

$32

1

11

1

1

$48

$47

4

Victor Martinez

$3

52

408

89

65

$18

$18

5

Jose Abreu

$23

7

43

4

6

$36

$41

6

Carlos Gomez

$14

8

138

7

8

$39

$39

7

Giancarlo Stanton

$14

4

139

6

4

$40

$41

8

Andrew McCutchen

$26

2

31

2

2

$44

$44

9

Jose Bautista

$26

9

32

14

9

$36

$37

10

Miguel Cabrera

$21

6

58

10

7

$39

$40

11

Dee Gordon

$41

41

2

59

51

$18

$21

12

Anthony Rendon

$2

22

483

12

20

$26

$23

13

Nelson Cruz

$30

67

17

83

70

$14

$20

14

Charlie Blackmon

$33

76

10

76

78

$14

$21

15

Ben Revere

$25

120

33

95

155

$6

$17

Average

$23

30

97

33

36

$29

$31

Brantley, Martinez, Gordon, Rendon, Cruz, Blackmon, and Revere were in the top 15 in 2014 yet the market didn’t want to pay the same high price in 2015. In the cases of Martinez and Rendon, this made sense due to injury but for everyone else the market simply discounted them due to various valuation prejudices. Even accounting for the two injured players, the 15 best hitters in 2014 nearly earned in 2015 what the 15 expected best hitters earned.

What I am looking for when I put these tables together and perform this analysis are trends that are instructive in terms of how I should allocate my draft picks or spend my money. This is a little more difficult in mono leagues, where there is very little variation on spending patterns and it is often difficult to spot the difference between a trend and a blip within the realm of variance. In mixed leagues, it is a little easier to find the valuation gaps. Not only does the market undervalue stolen bases, but it refuses to acknowledge that the value proposition has changed considerably in the last few years. Stolen bases have dropped in the majors from 2,959 in 2010 to 2,505 in 2015. What was once a category that could easily be replaced via the free agent pool has become a category that you should not ignore in your draft or auction.

Because of this specific valuation gap, the bargains at the top of the food chain in mixed leagues are even more impressive than they are in mono formats.

Table 3: Top 15 Mixed League Hitters, 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

Dee Gordon

$41

41

2

59

51

$18

$21

2

A.J. Pollock

$39

157

3

167

184

$9

$9

3

Paul Goldschmidt

$38

5

6

5

3

$44

$41

4

Bryce Harper

$36

29

7

31

42

$33

$27

5

Jose Altuve

$35

12

8

13

23

$31

$35

6

Josh Donaldson

$34

18

9

28

19

$32

$31

7

Charlie Blackmon

$33

76

10

76

78

$14

$21

8

Mike Trout

$32

1

11

1

1

$48

$47

9

Manny Machado

$32

130

12

142

170

$12

$16

10

Lorenzo Cain

$32

194

14

188

261

$3

$7

11

Nolan Arenado

$30

43

16

56

48

$19

$20

12

Nelson Cruz

$30

67

17

83

70

$14

$20

13

Starling Marte

$30

32

18

22

37

$24

$24

14

Joey Votto

$30

72

19

85

11

$31

$19

15

Yoenis Cespedes

$30

65

20

48

59

$15

$16

Average

$33

63

11

67

70

$23

$24

There is significantly more “free loot” floating around in mixed leagues than there is in mono formats. Even so, the impact of a Lorenzo Cain—a 13th-round pick on average in NFBC leagues—is significant. The relative depth of the free agent pool in mixed leagues makes it somewhat easier to snag a free agent who can replace a bust you acquired during your draft, but the same precepts that apply to deep leagues apply to mixed formats to some degree. Value is value, and selecting Javier Baez or Oswaldo Arcia was hazardous to your fantasy team’s health last year. Both of these players were taken in the same round of LABR mixed as Cain was last year.

Where I lagged behind the experts in the mono leagues, I’m out in front of the Tout Wars auction crowd on most of my mixed league pricing. This was particularly true with the most expensive hitters in Table 1, and regardless of the actual results, I am pleased that this was the case. Even though the best hitters are extremely unlikely to earn what I recommended paying for them in mixed leagues, I am inclined to pay more because the pool of replacement level players is so much better in mixed leagues than it is in mono formats.

Table 4: AL, NL, and 15-Team Mixed League Stats: Auction/Draft and Free Agents

Player Pool

AB

H

HR

R

RBI

SB

AVG

$

%

AL Auction

62,600

16,159

2,107

8,086

7,871

875

.258

$2,101

77.4%

AL Free Agent

19,918

4,963

525

2,554

2,257

310

.249

$615

22.6%

NL Auction

60,909

16,169

1,855

7,810

7,473

1,115

.265

$2,101

82.2%

NL Free Agent

17,312

4,193

397

1,959

1,839

203

.242

$455

17.8%

Mixed Draft

92,198

24,410

3,141

12,190

11,893

1,514

.265

$2,626

61.6%

Mixed Free Agent

68,541

17,074

1,743

8,219

7,547

989

.249

$1,634

38.4%

Table 4 shows the 168 most expensive hitters in AL and NL only formats, the 210 most highly drafted hitters in mixed formats, and what the free agents did in these respective formats.

Not every free agent makes it to a fantasy roster. If I included the accumulated stats from the Tout Wars and LABR leagues instead of the total stats from each league the overall numbers would be lower, although the dollar values from the mono leagues might not be too different, since the worst batting average drags seldom if ever are activated or acquired. However, Table 4 does a sufficient job of telling the story. In mixed leagues, the opportunity to acquire statistics during the season is significantly higher than it is in mono formats.

The confusion many beginners have when it comes to mixed valuation is that since there are so many opportunities to add statistics from the free agent pool at the draft, they believe that the value of the best players should be lower than it is. Working off of a pure SGP valuation model this is theoretically correct. Without any kind of adjustment for replacement level, Dee Gordon’s raw stats were worth 4.4 times more than those of Franklin Gutierrez, the 210th-best hitter in fantasy baseball last year. Regardless of the format, a home run is a home run is a home run. It doesn’t matter whether it was a Chris Davis home run that put you over the top on the final day or a Travis Jankowski dinger: you won either way. While it doesn’t matter where your stats came from, the rich free agent pool does matter in terms of how we allocate our auction dollars.

Table 5: Top 15 Mixed League Free Agent Hitters, 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

DJ LeMahieu

$24

378

39

373

$1

2

Kevin Pillar

$21

553

53

3

David Peralta

$21

364

57

387

394

4

Matt Duffy

$19

919

66

5

Ender Inciarte

$19

411

68

6

Billy Burns

$19

512

69

7

Gerardo Parra

$18

481

73

8

Carlos Correa

$17

581

89

9

Cameron Maybin

$17

617

94

10

Logan Forsythe

$16

695

101

11

Odubel Herrera

$16

465

102

12

Yunel Escobar

$16

472

103

13

Francisco Lindor

$16

398

106

398

402

14

Delino Deshields

$15

624

117

15

Mitch Moreland

$15

432

119

412

334

Average

$18

527

84

345 players are drafted in a 15-team mixed league, and only Peralta, LeMahieu, and Lindor even come close to being taken in this general area. Not a single player on this list gets even a $1 bid from the 15 Tout Wars experts. I am no better; only LeMahieu gets a recommended $1 bid from me, which means I probably wouldn’t have owned him in a mixed format. The variance at the bottom of the player pool along with the multitude of choices in the endgame means that I’m extremely unlikely to bid $1 on a player with a $1 bid limit in a mixed league.

This added uncertainty at the back end skews prices for the players at the top of the food chain. Jedd Gyorko’s stats could have been replaced quite easily with Addison Russell’s and no one would have noticed the difference, but no one in the free agent pool is going to quite duplicate what anyone above LeMahieu did in terms of valuation or stats. The dollar values skew up on the top players, flatten out in the next few tiers, and then the hitters from around the 100th best on down start taking pay cuts. We want to make sure we get the best players’ statistics and aren’t particularly concerned about the players who are right on the fringe.

In theory, this works. In practice, when the players who are expected to be the best in fantasy baseball disappoint, we feel the blow just as severely as we do in mono formats.

Table 6: Top 15 Hitter Losses, Tout Wars Mixed Auction, 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

Devin Mesoraco

-$9

80

1066

82

81

$20

$23

2

Yasiel Puig

$3

23

416

21

14

$31

$29

3

Giancarlo Stanton

$14

4

139

6

4

$40

$41

4

Carlos Gomez

$14

8

138

7

8

$39

$39

5

Anthony Rendon

$2

22

483

12

20

$26

$23

6

Hanley Ramirez

$9

20

221

18

16

$31

$28

7

Corey Dickerson

$4

42

368

53

42

$25

$21

8

Andrew McCutchen

$26

2

31

2

2

$44

$44

9

Miguel Cabrera

$21

6

58

10

7

$39

$40

10

Ian Desmond

$11

19

187

16

29

$29

$33

11

Matt Holliday

$2

92

469

74

109

$20

$14

12

Chris Carter

$3

107

412

91

98

$20

$15

13

Adam LaRoche

$0

149

677

138

175

$16

$12

14

Jonathan Lucroy

$4

66

379

62

25

$20

$20

15

Mike Trout

$32

1

11

1

1

$48

$47

Average

$9

43

337

40

42

$30

$29

Losing $16 on Trout seems awful, but he was still one of the best hitters in fantasy baseball, despite the high price tag. The hitters who only brought back $0-4 really stung.

Outside of Mesoraco, there is a good chance that every time one of these players returned from injury that his fantasy owner plugged him into his lineup. This is one of the biggest differences between a shallow mixed league (10-12 teams) and a deeper mixed league (14+ teams). You had the luxury of leaving Hanley on your bench in a 10-team mixer and if you wound up plucking Correa or Lindor off of the free agent pool, maybe you even cut Ramirez, assuming a shallow bench. In LABR or either of the Tout leagues, there’s an excellent chance you stuck with all of these guys until the bitter end.

The myth of mixed leagues is that you can simply find a replacement and soldier on, that your draft isn’t all that important if it even is important at all. The reality is that while there is some truth to this old chestnut, taking a hit on any of the players on Table 6 was a big blow to your fantasy team.

One thing that mixed leagues do is minimize the impact of the players on the final table.

Table 7: Top 15 Hitter Profits, Tout Wars Mixed Auction, 2015

Rank

Player

$

NFBC

Actual
Rank

LABR

Tout
Draft

Tout
Auction

MG

1

A.J. Pollock

$39

157

3

167

184

$9

$9

2

Lorenzo Cain

$32

194

14

188

261

$3

$7

3

Brandon Phillips

$24

275

38

293

333

$1

$3

4

Dee Gordon

$41

41

2

59

51

$18

$21

5

Manny Machado

$32

130

12

142

170

$12

$16

6

Ben Revere

$25

120

33

95

155

$6

$17

7

Charlie Blackmon

$33

76

10

76

78

$14

$21

8

Kendrys Morales

$19

317

67

312

354

$3

9

Nelson Cruz

$30

67

17

83

70

$14

$20

10

Josh Reddick

$17

299

95

302

366

$1

$1

11

Curtis Granderson

$18

234

74

255

266

$3

$6

12

Yoenis Cespedes

$30

65

20

48

59

$15

$16

13

Alex Rodriguez

$17

305

93

388

343

$4

$2

14

Mark Teixeira

$15

293

123

287

348

$2

$4

15

Adam Lind

$15

287

112

193

303

$3

$4

Average

$24

191

48

193

223

$7

$10

This isn’t to say that Lind, Teixeira, Rodriguez, and Reddick weren’t significant factors in mixed leagues last year. But with the quantity of free agents who earned $15 or more in mixed, if you missed on Lind, it wasn’t as big of a deal as on an $11 bargain in NL-only.

I suspect this rationale is why so many fantasy players—regardless of whether they are experts or home leaguers—shoot the moon on rookies with mid-range draft picks. They figure that while it would be nice to obtain a bargain veteran, that they can always pluck these types of players off of the free agent pool or off of the waiver wire later. While this idea has a certain logic to it, the bargains on Table 7 are dominated by veterans, many of the post-peak variety.

Charlie Blackmon and Curtis Granderson are the only players on Table 7 who also graced mine and Bret Sayre’s winning LABR roster, but these are the types of players that I like to obtain in mixed leagues. When everyone else is chasing unpredictable youth, boring veterans are where the bargains typically are. And as players like Correa and Lindor show, trajectory and timing are unpredictable when it comes to rookies. You can just as easily speculate in the reserve round—or with your FAAB later—than in your draft or auction. Mixed leagues give you more wiggle room for mistakes, but this wiggle room isn’t infinite.

The NFBC and expert league columns display a consensus that can and should work to your advantage. You don’t want to pack your team with too many moderate ceiling players, but you do want to make sure that the floor isn’t rock bottom either. If your league is letting you fill out your team in the middle and later rounds with players like the ones who appear in Table 7, do it. You won’t be sorry, and the richness of the free agent pool will give you plenty of opportunities to fill in later if you do swing and miss.

The complete list of Mike’s valuations can be found here, and will be updated as this series continues.