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Fantasy baseball is designed to mirror real-life baseball. It allows the average fan to “play GM,” and it’s one of the main reasons why dynasty leagues, especially deep dynasty leagues, are skyrocketing in popularity. We all want to build rosters, identify talent, and see how we stack up to our buddies.

Fantasy baseball doesn’t mirror real-life baseball, though. Defensive value isn’t important. Middle relievers are basically treated as invisible beings. Walks are often treated as non-events, outside of OBP leagues. Guys who seem to be not good enough to play at the major-league level, i.e. Billy Hamilton, can be exceedingly valuable fantasy players due to their dominance on the base paths.

But it’s important to recognize that fantasy baseball also differs from real-life baseball when it comes to decision-making. We’re required to rely on smaller sample sizes in fantasy because the opportunity to wait two or three months to see if a statistical trend is “real” doesn’t exist. Players such as Juan Nicasio or Cody Anderson were snagged off the waiver wire before the season started, simply due to their respective spring training performances.

Here are some things that are statistically true:

  • Jordan Zimmermann owns a 4.8 percent swinging-strike rate, the lowest among qualified major-league pitchers. His fastball velocity has dropped by over a mile per hour.

  • Chris Tillman has seen his strikeout rate jump from 16.2 percent a year ago to 22.0 percent in 2016.

  • Juan Nicasio has seen his reliever velocity translate to the starting rotation in Pittsburgh, positively contributing to a 10.2 K/9 this year.

  • Wade Miley owns a 2.75 FIP in 2016.

  • Mat Latos has compiled a 0.75 ERA through his first two starts.

  • Yordano Ventura has more than doubled his changeup usage, throwing it 27.42 percent of the time this year. His 11.7 percent swinging-strike rate is a career high by over a percent.

  • Matt Moore’s fastball velocity has increased from 92.93 mph a year ago to 93.73 mph in 2016. He owns a 2.95 ERA through three starts.

Can we consider any of those things statistically significant at this point? In other words, can we really use any of the pieces of information above to make conclusions about what a guy fundamentally is as a pitcher? Of course not. It’s been two weeks of the regular season. No responsible major-league team would make long-term decisions based on any of those bullet points.

On the other hand, am I willing to make moves on my fantasy leagues based off any of that? You’re damn right, I am. It would obviously depend on the particular situation, but I’d absolutely take those pieces of information into account. Though this is less true in dynasty leagues, we’re largely forced to rely on small sample sizes and hope that those small samples end up proving statistically significant as the season progresses. We don’t have time to wait.

This is why it’s important to divorce fantasy analysis from real-life analysis, or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why fantasy conclusions should often differ from real-life conclusions in baseball. It takes much longer for data to become reliable evidence when it comes to analyzing real-life baseball—at least, it very much should.

With all of this in mind, as this is a fantasy column, I looked at the swinging-strike rates for qualified pitchers this year and cross-referenced them with the swinging-strike rates of pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Noah Syndergaard had the biggest jump of the 79 pitchers who qualified for the study. The right-hander’s swinging-strike rate has ballooned from 12.2 percent to 19.9 percent, a 7.7 percent increase.

Here are the top-10 increasers from 2015 to 2016:

Pitcher

2015 SwStr%

2016 SwStr%

Difference

Noah Syndergaard

12.2%

19.9%

7.7%

Danny Salazar

11.8%

16.8%

5.0%

Wade Miley

8.3%

13.0%

4.7%

Chris Tillman

7.1%

11.0%

3.9%

David Price

11.9%

15.3%

3.4%

I’m writing this article about David Price and not Miley or Tillman for two reasons: (1) Miley anchors my HACKING MASS pitching staff, so I’m not interested in weaving positive stories about his future performance; and (2) Price offers an opportunity to discuss an important point that’s often ignored in spring training and the month of April.

Velocity increases and decreases aren’t as important as the effective velocity of a pitcher’s arsenal. Why don’t I care too much that Felix Hernandez has seen his fastball velocity drop nearly six miles per hour over the course of his career? Because he’s still striking out 25.3 percent of the batters he faces. Raw velocity is easy to quantify, but the utilization of that velocity is far more important than the number itself.

David Price’s fastball velocity is only 92.87 mph this year, according to Brooks Baseball. That’s down over two miles per hour from a year ago and almost four miles per hour from 2012. We’ll undoubtedly read scare articles about Price this year, about how fantasy owners should consider bailing because he’s not throwing as hard as he once did and he has a 4.50 ERA.

As seen by the table above, though, Price is missing more bats than a year ago by a significant margin. His swinging-strike rate on his fastball has actually increased by almost three percent, despite the velocity decline. The southpaw also owns the third-best FIP in Major League Baseball at 1.47 through his first three starts.

One could perhaps make a claim that Price may be dealing with an injury of some sort, but that’s the sort of analysis that involves throwing a dart again and again at the board, hitting the bullseye after 20-some tries and claiming victory.

Velocity obviously matters. Jered Weaver wouldn’t be a running joke if it didn’t matter. CC Sabathia wouldn’t be a shell of his former self. Velocity decline is best treated in a case-by-case basis, though, and it’s my guess that it doesn’t matter as much when it’s above a certain threshold. Either way, by all statistical accounts, David Price has lost velocity and has simultaneously been harder to hit. As people are panicking about the Red Sox’s starting rotation and as more talk surrounds the lefty’s declined velocity, it might offer a nice buy-low opportunity for fantasy owners.

BUYER’S ADVICE: BUY

We’re obviously banking on a small sample that David Price’s swinging-strike rate has increased, despite his velocity dropping by over two miles per hour. But if we wait for that swinging-strike rate to stabilize, the opportunity to “buy low” will have long passed. That’s the difference between fantasy baseball and real-life baseball. We’re hoping that early trends prove sustainable, and the longer that I play fantasy baseball, the more comfortable I’ve become with that fact. It’s still important to strike a balance—not making roster moves with every hot or cold streak—but you have to be comfortable working with smaller samples if you’re going to succeed in single-season fantasy leagues.

Thank you for reading

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jfranco77
4/18
So you would say, based on his declining velo scaring people away... that the price is right?
jimmyb1799
4/18
http://giphy.com/gifs/psychusanetwork-usa-network-psych-r4QUzV1rSw20U
WickedCurve26
4/18
credit Bruton Gastor for this one