2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

We’re handling the offseason’s fantasy content a little differently this year, and with good reason. The plan is for me to go through all of the rankings I made in the preseason so that we can see what went right and what went wrong, and see what we, as a group, can learn about the process and how it should be improved for 2010’s rankings. I think this kind of transparency will be healthy for the BP Fantasy Beat, as it will give me loads of time to think on my mistakes from 2009 and to judge them appropriately as legitimate errors in the process or see them for what they really were, which is something I, nor anyone else could not foresee-you know, the kind of stuff that happens in baseball hundreds of times a year, the kind of stuff that makes us love the game, but also screws up our fantasy teams.

In addition, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves: Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let’s get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there’s plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010’s rankings.

We’ll start where I started this past February, at first base. One ranking at a time, we’ll get through this-though I hope there’s more that went right than went wrong, I haven’t given it much of a look until now, so we’re going to figure out what my batting average is at the same time. We’ll do their 2009 ranking, their name, PECOTA forecast in parentheses, and their actual performance, along with my summary of their goings on. I’ll also do my best to mention any sleepers I wrote about in other articles somewhere in the piece; that way, we can get a sense of everything outside of the rankings as well.

1. Albert Pujols (.339/.443/.609 PECOTA) .327/.443/.658: PECOTA picked up two-thirds of Pujol’s slash stats, but missed out on his power surge. Still, I thought Pujols was the most important pick in the draft, and he did not disappoint. There is not a whole lot to say here; it’s pretty obvious he’s awesome.

2. Lance Berkman (.299/.402/.534 PECOTA) .274/.399/.509: Berkman struggled as a right-handed hitter this season, and it brought his overall line down. He also did not hit anywhere near as well on the road, and he slowed down as the season wore on. In actuality, his 2009 looks a lot like his 2007, so I may have been a little overzealous in thinking he could replicate 2008 when I ranked him this high. Injury issues may have also been the cause of some of his problems, so it’s a little early to worry about Berkman in 2010; this ranking though, needs some work.

3. Mark Teixeira (.287/.379/.506 PECOTA) .292/.383/.565: Teixeira slugged .627 at home in the Yankees‘ new ballpark, which is why he ended up performing better than expected. He hit .272/.380/.502 in away games, which is pretty close to his forecast; given how early I put this first base list together relative to when we learned NuYankee may be a hitter’s haven, I’m not too broken up about this ranking-all I would do differently is rank him second instead of third. Moments like this are why a tiered system may trump a straight out ranked system. There’s much more meaning and context in tiers.

4. Ryan Howard (.270/.374/.547 PECOTA) .279/.360/.571: Howard’s season was a little strange. He hit fewer fly balls per homer than in any year since 2004, but he hit more fly balls overall than last season to counter that. For most of the year, he was average at first base (though an average first baseman in 2009 was 33 points of EqA better than an average hitter, so he was still really good) but he turned it on in the second half and finished with a more impressive .314 EqA. If he’s going to keep hitting for average, he’ll keep his fantasy value up, so this ranking (or at least this area) still works for me.

5. Miguel Cabrera (.294/.369/.527 PECOTA) .324/.396/.547: His batting average was higher than projected, leading to the rise in the other two slash stats. Assuming the Tigers keep him to a two-drink minimum, he should be able to replicate at least his 2009 forecast in 2010.

6. Prince Fielder (.286/.380/.527 PECOTA) .299/.412/.602: PECOTA and I both thought he would improve on his 2008 campaign, which had seen his power numbers drop precipitously, but a complete reversal to 2007-level numbers again was not what I had in mind. I figured Fielder as an A-type at the position, but if he wants to slug .600 consistently, then I’m open to scaling that grade in the future.

7. Joey Votto (.289/.370/.514 PECOTA) .322/.414/.567: This one I’m pretty happy with, as I kept saying Votto was a very safe pick at first. He was basically the Justin Morneau of the NL, with the potential for better numbers than Morneau himself (hence my ranking him higher).

8. Adrian Gonzalez (.277/.356/.480 PECOTA) .277/.407/.551: From the previous rankings, I said, “He hit .308/.368/.578 last year on the road, and .304/.367/.560 away in 2006-08 combined. As it is, I like him better than his forecast, and potentially better than Votto’s, even with Petco in the way.” Again, no problems here.

9. Carlos Pena (.239/.359/.476 PECOTA) .227/.356/.537: I’m a little torn on this one. I was right about him beating out his PECOTA-projected power, but he still hit .227, so he ruined one category. On the other hand, he hit 39 homers, drove in 100 runs, and probably wasn’t selected among the elite in many leagues, so all in all, he had a pretty great year. He definitely has more value in OBP/OPS leagues than in traditional scoring though.

10. Chris Davis (.259/.312/.490 PECOTA) .238/.284/.442: There we go! I was waiting for my first facepalm moment to show up, and here it is. Despite his strikeout issues, I thought his raw power and home ballpark would help him get over the hump, but things just got worse. Unlike Pena, he doesn’t even get on base, so he’s less help in an OPS-based league and no help in a traditional one. That said, he was much improved in the second half, hitting .308/.338/.496. Still, I should have given those whiffs a little more consideration to at least form a lower floor than I expected.

11. Justin Morneau (.281/.354/.475 PECOTA) .274/.363/.516: I said it once (“Being ranked 11th is not a knock against Justin Morneau; first base is just loaded with talent”) and I’ll say it again here. He did hit better than his forecast, but it seems like the entirety of first base (Chris Davis excepted) did that, which is why the position has an average EqA of .293. I would bump him into the top 10, but the next guy in line might be upset about that.

12. Kevin Youkilis (.275/.366/.475 PECOTA) .305/.413/.548: I wrote a piece saying Youkilis wasn’t as good of a power hitter as he looked like, that Fenway Park had a lot to do with it. While true-he hit .321/.422/.570 at home-he pulled up the bottom end and slugged .521 on the road, so maybe there’s something to his development as a hitter. He has been more aggressive of late, and he does a better job picking pitches he can crush; I stand by my original thoughts (not top tier, but still great), but I will also make note of his progress going forward.

13. Derrek Lee (.289/.369/.464 PECOTA) .306/.393/.579: I kind of wish Lee would make up his mind. Are you done hitting for power, or are you going to drive the ball into the bleachers consistently? You’re killing me, Derrek. After two sub-.500 slugging years with a .513 in the middle, Lee nearly slugged .600 and posted his best season since 2005. While I’m annoyed I didn’t have some miraculous premonition of this turnaround, it’s hard to be too broken up by a guy on the downward slide rebounding for a big year. I’ll delve into this in more detail when I do the actual rankings, but my instinct is to say this is the kind of season I should avoid getting worked up about.

14. Conor Jackson (.295/.373/.461 PECOTA) .182/.264/.253: Uh, whoops. Jackson picked up just 99 at-bats, got very sick, and had setbacks in rehab that kept him from reappearing. I would like to say I think he would have hit well enough to justify his ranking and forecast were he to play everyday, but we just won’t know that until 2010 is rolling.

15. Carlos Delgado (.277/.355/.486 PECOTA) .298/.393/.521: Delgado didn’t crack 100 at-bats either, but at least he hit before he went down. Assuming he’s healthy in 2010, he should hit again, but I was really hoping to get some 2009 confirmation for his 2008 rebound. I guess we’ll have to wait on that.

16. Adam LaRoche (.270/.353/.487 PECOTA) .277/.355/.488: You can thank his .311/.377/.538 second half for that eerily similar actual and projected line. He was a monster with the Braves, and it will be interesting to see how much of it was real and how much of it was just good timing on LaRoche’s (and Atlanta’s) part.

17. James Loney (.286/.347/.445 PECOTA) .281/.357/.399: Congratulations, James Loney! You may have played yourself out of the top 20 for 2010! From the rankings: “What is it about potential sluggers turning into mid-range first basemen for Los Angeles teams? Loney is starting to look like a better version of Casey Kotchman, but that’s not enough in fantasy leagues that use both AL and NL rosters.” That was when he was slugging .445, ergo…

18. Nick Johnson (.266/.410/.472 PECOTA) .291/.426/.405: I ranked Johnson this low due to injury concerns, but he ended up playing the whole year and then did not hit for power, so it came out the same anyway.

19. Casey Kotchman (.288/.353/.423 PECOTA) .268/.339/.382: He lost his job as a starter and was dealt to Boston to play as a backup. Kotchman had very little fantasy value to begin with, and he lost the last of it in 2009. Other options emerged during 2009 that will take his place, and had I done my list a little later during spring training, Kotchman would not have appeared at all.

20. Todd Helton (.291/.405/.449 PECOTA) .325/.416/.489: Helton was another hitter ranked low due to injury concerns more so than his performance, but he ended up both playing and hitting. If you took a flyer on him, congratulations, but I think the process was right here given his back troubles. Maybe I jumped the gun though.

My “Just Missed” players: Jason Giambi (.201/.343/.382) failed to give the A’s the spark they needed offensively. Nick Swisher was done as a sleeper/rebound candidate at first (he was eligible there, as well as in the outfield) and he rebounded. Paul Konerko ended up returning to relevancy as well, hitting .277/.353/.489 after a disappointing 2008. To borrow a phrase from President James Dale, I got two out of three, and that ain’t bad.

As for other sleepers, right before the season began, I singled out Kendry Morales as a breakout candidate, due to his winter league performance and spring training numbers. He ended up hitting .306/.355/.569 with 34 homers, so he will be on the 2010 list in a legitimate capacity, rather than as a last-minute addition.

That’s one position down, and all things considered, the rankings weren’t half-bad. Chris Davis was a miss, and injuries to some players mucked up their rankings, but overall it worked as a drafting guide. I think, given how close some player’s performances were, that first base is proof a tiered value system would work better than pure rankings, but I want to hear what you have to say on the matter.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Listing your top 20, and simply mentioning when one tier ends and another begins, would be helpful.

Also, could you report projected "standard fantasy" categories like R, HR, RBI, SB, BA for those of us (probably the vast majority) who do not play in leagues with "advanced stats". Pena's 360 OBP doesn't help most of us if he bats 230.

Thanks, and keep up the great work.
Agreed, most fantasy leagues don't use slash stats.

Re: Pena, his walk rate, similar to Dunn, cuts down the negative affect of his batting average.

Also, can you directly link to last year's articles so I and others can see what comments we made without sifting through a year's worth of archives?

Also, add in two lines, one showing what an average player at each position did in the 5X5 stats for waiver wire success and another that shows the 5x5 average for the Top 20 to gauge how sleepers/rookies did.
I think I'd have to agree about the standard category statistics. While it goes against one of the big messages that BP tries to relay to it's readers, that RBI is not an individual stat, the fact remains that the majority of fantasy leagues use them.

Of the 3 stats projected in these articles, only average is used in a standard 5x5 league. That means we're missing 4 other categories. And while a typical BP article would probably steer away from them, I think an article geared towards fantasy baseball purposes should try and find a way to include them.
That's really interesting. My league is all about non-standard metrics like OBP instead of AVG. We also use Total Bases instead of HR, so seeing the SLG is relevant to me. There are very few sources to find rankings that include OBP and SLG, so that's a plus for BP.

I would recommend including traditional stats for ranking, and then in using the commentary to adjust a player if they are particularly influenced by high or low walk rates, doubles vs. HRs, etc.

I'll second the reader's suggestion two above about adding the average 5x5 stat line and the top 20's average. Also agree that adding a tier system is likely the way to go versus a straight top 20. I'm not sure exactly what the measure is for defining the cut off points. It's usually easiest for the top tier, but can get pretty difficult the further along you go.
SI's fantasy annual does a plus/minus system for each 5x5 category showing if a player will likely help or hurt you in each category when compared to an average player at that position.

Some HitTrack data, especially the Just Enough homers would help too.
This review of the rankings is a stellar idea. I do the same every year for my personal rankings. While we all know there's nothing you can do about injuries, the review process is highly enlightening nonetheless.

I think ScottyB has a great point to combine the top 20 with a tier framework. The more information, the better.

Thanks for all the insights.
I would love to see the addition of $ values for auction leagues.
Marc, tiers is pretty much how I draft so I am all for that.

Really I think the problem with straight rankings is people pretty much read the comments rather than use them pro actively so if you are looking at strategy I would say perhaps it may be a good idea to compare the tiers to ADP at a site like mock draft central and comment e.g. the next tier don't take until round 8 or something of that ilk.

You could put in a rough guide next to them e.g. 4th round (37th-48th overall)
I like the concept of tiering and combining it with an anticipated draft round as well. Could be beneficial if you're trying to decide between, say, a catcher and a second baseman and you're wondering what you'll have left to choose from next time around.
I agree completely with including tier levels, but numeric ranking is still important.

I would suggest that you include more direct reference to players at their secondary positions, particularly if they have equal or more value there.

For instance, last season if you felt that Miguel Cabrera equally valuable for fantasy at 3B as 1B, then I think he should be mentioned in that discussion of the 3B players. If you felt that Miggy would be a five-star player at 3B, then you can just list him at the end of the five-star players to indicate he's eligible at the position. Same for Youkilis. You could leave these secondary position playes out of the numeric rankings for the 'purity' of the position ranks, and leave a complete discussion on them under their primary positions.
Three cheers for tiers! Agree that's the way to go. It's particularly useful when you're trying to settle on overall rankings.

Agree that traditonal stats, though not as informative about a player's abilities, are the reality in the majority of fantasy/roto leagues. As such, they are useful--no, vital--to each person's fantasy rankings.
Mark, another miss (no offense) was Russell Branyan. I don't know how you account for 30-something year old sluggers who have never played full time, but he was named the full-time 1B before the season began, and many of us targeted him for the same reason we targeted Morales - the upside, regardless of age. May need to add a "diamond in the rough" category to predict/suggest the Branyans of the world.
I don't think Branyan was the starter at the time I was writing this, but I could be wrong. This was back before spring training even started. The Diamond in the Rough thing is still a good idea though, regardless.
Thanks. If it was before spring training, I think you're right then. I believe there was still noise about Jeff Clement possibly playing some at first. If I remember correctly.
I was going to add this to my previous post, but it's a different topic. Keeper leagues are more and more prevalent now than ever. I don't play in any leagues that AREN'T keeper leagues, one of which is 20 team, 20 players, with 10 kept per year and a prospect drafting system. I know you don't care about the details, but working from a player pool that is minus its top 400 players makes prospecting and keeper-sleepers pretty important.

My point is, having a column for "2010 value" and a column for "long-term value" would be a really great addition that I have not been able to find at any other site.

On a long-term list, Justin Smoak could rank top-10, but he might not sniff it on a 2010 list, and therefore the list gets much less valuable for us keeper-leaguers.

(For all you nit-pickers, I'm not suggesting Smoak is a top-10 1B yet, he was just an example.)
Just a plug - it also makes the hot stove season a lot more fun.
Incidentally, I expect a big rebount for Chris Davis next year. Clint Hurdle will be a big help to him (in ways that Rudy J hindered him), and he had a big second half after his repromotion. Plus, he's kinda playing for a job in 2011, as Smoak will see the majors next year and be pushing to play fulltime in 2011.

marc, well done overall.

When looking at the players, i'd like to see some sort of risk score. When i see how Davis, for example, turned into a real bust, I think the risk warning would be appropriate. At the outset of the season, pretty much everyone was aware that Davis had enough power to hit 35+ bombs, but could also easily top 200 strikeouts for the season. As a younger player, there's always the risk that he starts off in a slump and gets benched, platooned, sent down, or at least moved down in the order. On the flip side his upside would be something more like what Nelson Cruz ended up doing.

There's something to be said in favor of, say, Justin Morneau, if he starts the season in a slump, he's going to get the benefit of the doubt and he'll stay in the cleanup spot and will at least get some counting numbers. Even though Davis may project for a PECOTA line comparable in value to Morneau's, the fact that Morneau has more of a guarantee of playing time.

Injuries aside, I wouldn't mind seeing an upside/downside figure on ABs for hitters. This is particularly handy when thinking about outfielders - it can be tempting to snag a good hitter like Hideki Matsui or JD Drew and forget that they might be limited to 400 ABs because they get platooned. In a lot of leagues (and of course you have to adjust for format) i might prefer to just take a David DeJesus, who i think might get more playing time, and provide similar value at a lower price:

Here's 5x5 stats for those 3 this year:
Drew 84 24 68 2 .279
Matsui 62 28 90 0 .274
DeJesus 74 13 71 4 .281

It's a pretty wonky league where DeJesus has the same value as Drew or Matsui.
"Regular" fantasy stats, and more than 20 players.

I'm in a deep AL only league - the fun starts in the players ranked 20-30 at their positions.
First off, great job as usual. You weren't the only one that swung and missed on Chris Davis.

I think ranking numerically is fine, with tiers inserted as I think most of us do rank players in that manner. Projected standard fantasy stats would be fine also, however, I think that is available in the player projection spreadsheet produced annually. I also like that BP utilizes non-standard stats, as I find that if players deliver on non-standard stats (OPS, Total Bases), the counting stats are there at the end of the year.

It would be nice to expand with a sentence or two on the "just missed" as all of those players mentioned above are drafted in standard 12 team, 5x5 leagues and sometimes this are the best value players of the draft. Also adding suggested auction values for standard 12 team, 5x5, $260 budget would be helpful.
Another vote for tiers.

And another vote for a risk score. In my opinion, this is more important than the ranking and the one area where PECOTA has a clear advantage over the other projections out there.

The difference between winners and losers in fantasy baseball is the management of risk. Every experienced and informed fantasy player comes to the draft/auction table with roughly the same mean expectations about how players will perform in the upcoming year. The ones who win are the ones who have their first round/high $ picks perform to expectation and grab late round picks who outperform expectations.

And, although it may be heretical to say this here, PECOTA's weighted mean projections are only marginally more accurate than most of the sabrmetrically-based projections out there on the web. Where PECOTA really stands apart from the pack is the fact that the PECOTA projections are a distribution, not just a mean projection. When the PECOTA weighted mean spreadsheet comes out each year, I ignore the projected numbers and go straight to the "Break, Improve, Collapse, Attrition" columns. That tells me which major hitters to target with my early round picks (i.e., those with a low Collapse rate) and who to target with my late round picks (i.e., those with a big Breakout rate). So, these things would be great to add as well.
Marc, thanks for your analysis! I enjoy reading it every time. You do a great job!

The only adjustments I made with your 2009 forcast were that I ranked Morneau and Youkilis 9th and 10th respectively ahead of Pena. After having Davis on one of my 2008 rosters when he got called up, I wasn't sold on him. He struck out way too much with a lack of plate discipline. Like you, I ranked Votto high and was able to grab him in drafts after players like Morneau, Youkilis, and Lee were taken. He made a great utility guy for me. Good call on Morales too. I was able to get him on 2/3 of my rosters last year.

Here are some thoughts:

1. Tiers are the way to go. ADP would be useful too.

2. When you get to the OF position, it would be very helpful if you continue to rank all 3 OF positions in conjunction with all 3 combined into 1 ranking.

3. Other stats that I think would be useful are BB/K ratio and ISO power. It's my belief that AVG/OBP/SLG are key indicators for a good ball player. Yes, most people play in standard 5x5 leagues, but when forecasting a players likelihood, stats like OBP and OPS are more useful.

4. It would be helpful that players who are eligible at multiple positions would be ranked at those respective positions.

5. Who saw Mark Reynolds (1B eligible in all of my leagues with 28 games played there) having the year he did? He was a late round flier for me since he is the king of strike outs, but wow! And he stole 24 bases! It will be interesting where he's ranked.

I definitely agree with combining all three OF positions together in rankings.

I like BB/K and ISO and agree it should be included, but I also find it instructive to look at players whose BB/K and ISO improved or decreased to determine breakout and collapse potential. It's also a pretty decent barometer for how repeatable a rookie's performance is.
I would like to see a slightly longer list, as I participate in an NL only league.
Wouldn't mind seeing PECOTA and actual EQAs for players.
Just did a quick analysis of the data (dropping Jackson & Delgado).

Here are PECOTA vs. actual correlations and deltas

Correlation 0.72 0.82 0.73
delta(PEC-actual) -0.006 -0.012 -0.025

PECOTA did better predicting OBP than BA or SLG
PECOTA on average is conservative at predicting actual values
Repost Table with spacers

....................BA... OBP... SLG
delta(PEC-actual)-0.006 -0.012 -0.025
I second the suggestion to expand the list beyond 20, not necessarily by ranking beyond 20 but as someone else suggested, with a "just missed" category.

I also really like the idea of highlighting collapse/breakout potential.
Collapse/breakout potential _must_ be in 5x5 or playing time terms though. I generally don't care about a .010 SLG spike.
I'd like to see tiers and we use OBP and SLG in our league.
I'll also put in my 'vote' for a tiered system. Standard 5 X 5 scores are fine, but having triple slash stats on top of it would be helpful. As far as risk assessment goes, I am fine with the idea proposed by others, but to me, that's where Will's Team Health Reports come in.

Finally, having a 'sleepers' tier would be of great benefit. These could include guys like Kendry Morales last year (your mention of him last year re-affirmed my faith and helped me to decide to pick him up..thank you). You could also throw in a couple of prospects there (not necessarily the best prospects, but the ones most likely to have fantasy value this season). I know that there are many of you in keeper leagues (I want to get in one myself). While including long-term investment rankings is nice, I assume that anyone in a keeper league is going to be reading as much as they can on this site.

Overall, the key to a good rankings list is to keep it meaningful and concise. The more 'stuff' you add to it, the more you run the risk of making the rankings cluttered, thus decreasing its usefulness as a tool.
While I agree with what you are saying, it's hard to get the "stuff" at other fantasy outlets, so I don't mind a bit of extra clutter and how the "stuff" gives further insight on who is hot or not.

Besides, most of us make our own lists so we'll remove any of the stuff we don't think is relevant to our leagues.
I agree that a tiered system, with perhaps a base ordering within the tiers, would be the way to do it next year for all positions.
What happened to Billy Butler?