keyboard_arrow_uptop

In response to one of my FAAB Reviews, a reader wanted to know why John Jaso was treated like such a fungible commodity in LABR Mixed:

I'm a little perplexed how John Jaso was available for such a low bid, he's a high OBP guy on the strong side of a platoon batting lead off in a top-5 offense. Even in my home league, a deep mixer that counts OBP, he went undrafted and has been picked up and dropped to waivers twice. Maybe he's one of those players who is more valuable in real life than fantasy?

It's a good question. My instinct is that Jaso should be owned in LABR and shouldn’t be treated like a fungible commodity. This is particularly true in a league that has six reserve slots. Even if the Pirates are facing mostly lefties in a given week, Jaso should be reserved, not released.

It turns out that my instinct is incorrect. Through Wednesday’s games, Jaso is the definition of a replacement player in a 15-team, standard 5×5 format. He is on pace to earn $0.24 according to Baseball Prospectus’ PFM, putting him 216th among hitters. A standard 15-team mixed league with two catchers features 210 players. You could make an argument that Jaso belongs in the Top 210, but the PFM doesn’t see it this way.

On the whole, the LABR experts do an excellent job ensuring that the best 210 hitters in the player pool are owned.

Table 1: Hitters in PFM Top 210 Not On LABR Rosters (Thursday, June 16, 2016)

Player

AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Rank

$

Ryan Rua

130

27

6

18

6

0.300

121

$8.72

Martin Prado

248

27

2

21

0

0.331

141

$6.84

David Freese

181

30

5

24

0

0.298

161

$4.60

Johnny Giavotella

202

25

4

21

3

0.272

162

$4.47

Mark Reynolds

199

29

4

22

0

0.296

167

$4.19

Freddy Galvis

240

24

6

23

3

0.221

178

$3.02

Dioner Navarro

131

15

3

15

1

0.214

184

$2.70

Ichiro Suzuki

126

21

0

9

6

0.349

189

$2.25

Bobby Wilson

93

9

3

16

0

0.269

199

$1.62

Bryan Holaday

80

14

2

13

0

0.250

205

$1.08

Only 10 of the best 210 hitters, or a mere 4.8 percent, are free agents in LABR. Some of these players have seen their value dip of late based on job changes or poor performance. One challenge with looking at valuation in-season is that fantasy managers have to look ahead, not behind. Bryan Holaday was extremely productive while Robinson Chirinos was out, but over the past week Bobby Wilson and Chirinos have split the playing time behind the plate in Texas. David Freese was solid for the Pirates while Jung-ho Kang was injured, but with Kang healthy, Freese isn’t playing at all.

There are a few players on Table 1 who have played all year long and have received little or no love from the LABR experts. Freddy Galvis has been a regular for the Phillies all season long and not a single LABR Mixed team has taken a shot on him. Johnny Giavotella and Mark Reynolds have been starters for most of the season but have seldom been owned in LABR mixed. Giavotella was on a LABR roster for all of one week while Reynolds has been acquired via FAAB and released three times already.

The player who stands in for John Jaso on Table 1 is Martin Prado. Despite a .331 batting average, Prado has been a free agent for the last two weeks and not a single fantasy team has taken a shot on him. Even Prado’s draft ranking shows the disrespect that fantasy managers have for players with Prado’s profile; he was taken in the 25th round, or the reserve phase of the draft in LABR.

While there are plenty of potential explanations for why batting average gets the short shrift in fantasy baseball, the two most prevalent responses offered are along these lines:

1) Batting average doesn’t have as much of an impact on the standings in fantasy as the other categories do

2) Batting average fluctuates more from season to season and even from month to month than other categories do, so it doesn’t make sense to overpay.

As far as the first point goes, instead of diving into valuation theory (yawn, so boring, right?) instead let’s take a look at what a player who derives most of his value from average can do for a team in LABR versus what a player who derives most of his power can do.

Prado is a great example of a player who derives most of his value through batting average. Through Wednesday’s games, he has two home runs, 27 runs, 21 RBI, and zero steals to go with his .331 batting average in 248 at bats. For comparison’s sake, we’ll look at Mike Napoli, who has hit 14 home runs, scored 40, driven in 45, also has no steals, and has a .233 batting average in 232 at bats.

Add Prado’s year-to-date output to a LABR team and you gain an average of 0.43 points in home runs, 3.33 points in runs, 2.4 points in RBI, and 2.67 points in batting average, for a total average gain of 8.83 points. Do the same thing with Napoli and you get an average gain of four points in home runs, 4.57 points in runs, 4.83 points in RBI, and a loss of 1.33 points in batting average. In LABR, Napoli gains an average of 12.07 points. There is something to be said for Prado’s batting average, but even with Napoli’s poor AVG, the two players aren’t even close in fantasy. Prado is valuable, but there is a limit to what even his batting average can do.

The second point can easily be proven or refuted by looking at past seasons and seeing how reliable or unreliable the top players are in each Rotisserie category.

Table 2: Variability in Top 10 by Category: 2013-2016

Player

AVG

Runs

HR

RBI

SB

2013 AL

6

4

7

3

4

2013 NL

4

3

2

1

4

2014 AL

3

2

3

5

6

2014 NL

2

4

2

2

4

2015 AL

4

5

7

7

5

2015 NL

1

1

4

2

5

2016 AL

3

5

6

3

4

2016 NL

1

2

3

5

3

Totals

24

26

34

28

35

Table 2 lists the number of repeaters in the Top 10 in each category from season to season from 2013 to 2016 in the American League and the National League. When it comes to the top hitters, batting average has the lowest corollary. However, the variability in batting average isn’t that far removed from runs or runs batted in. In deeper leagues, we often pay a little bit more for playing time over the possibility of home runs or steals from a player who might only get 300-400 plate appearances. Based on recent results, we should pay more for home runs or steals and worry about at bats later. The top players in home runs and steals are more likely to carry over from season to season than they are in other categories.

It is worth noting that the differences are not that significant. Thirty-five of the top 80 stolen base players repeating over a four-year period equals 44 percent while twenty-four of the top 80 batting average players repeating is 30 percent. So while we might conclude that batting average is somewhat less stable among the top hitters in the category, it isn’t as significantly unstable as we might expect based on our historical aversion.

Something that may alter our aversion to paying for batting average is recent analysis in the sabermetric community that has moved away from solely focusing on BABIP and moved toward focusing more on using quality-of-contact metrics as well as swing quality to ascertain how “lucky” versus how skilled a hitter truly is. A greater understanding of these underlying skills may ultimately lead fantasy players to pay more for batting average in the long run.

I am always interested to see how the fantasy community reacts to new work in the sabermetric community. I find that the sharper minds in the fantasy are willing to adapt quickly to new information, particularly if it is actionable and can help them win their leagues. We have been underestimating batting average and its impact on our teams for years. If we can do a better job of tracking the category’s variability, it could change the way that we play the game, particularly when it comes to how we construct our rosters at the beginning of the season.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
D1Johnson
6/20
Where would one go to learn more and discuss valuation theory?