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Tyler Kepner tells a pretty good story about Gift Ngoepe (en-GO-epe), the first African to play in the major leagues. He’s a slick fielding infielder from South Africa who was promoted last week by the Pirates, who have nurtured him through their system for the past nine years. Nicely, the story suggests.
You should read the story, because it is a good story, because Ngoepe is charming, because his mother was a saint and so she suffered (and died), because he worked with Barry Larkin in Italy, because he’s a great fielder, apparently, (and a bad hitter, but off to a hot start with the bat in the majors).
And maybe because it’s helpful to hear some of the details of how some person got to that point. Kepner tells a good story. Even if you didn’t care about baseball you might like this one.
I’ve been writing about how to put together the perfect pitching staff the last few years, both here and in the Fantasy Baseball Guide. The word “perfect” should be in quotes, this is a high-risk strategy this is going to fail until it works, but the idea is simple.
There are $1 starters and relievers who are out there who can help win you a pennant. But you have no idea who they are. If you did, everyone else would, too, and those $1 (or $3) pitchers would cost $8 or $10. So, you have to get lucky to have the perfect staff. You also have to plan.
Build your perfect staff with:
Lots and lots of cheap starters and closers in waiting. If you play in a league in which strikeouts count, try to buy strikeouts, though that is hard.
In Tout Wars Head 2 Head this year I devised a plan in which I would buy Runs, OBP, and Stolen Bases on the Hitting side, and ERA, WHIP and K/9 on the pitching side. The idea is to win these six categories each week and have a perfect season.
That probably isn’t going to happen. Even with lots of steals and on base guys, I’m sure there will be weeks I play against high powered HR oriented offenses that score more runs. I’m going to lose a few there.
But on the pitching side I put together a staff that could be perfect for my mission. My pitchers are:
Jose De Leon
with Tyler Glasnow, Corey Knebel, Brett Cecil, Luke Weaver, and Hunter Strickland on reserve.
The goal is to get to the league minimum 900 innings exactly, with as high a K/9 as possible, and with ERA and Ratio falling into place behind.
In the American Dream League, an AL only 4×4 keeper league, which auctions on Sunday, I’m set up to put together a perfect staff a different way. I have as keepers:
Matt Shoemaker 1, Trevor Bauer 1, James Paxton 10, Sean Manaea 10 and Nate Jones 2.
If I’m able to add an ace and a closer I should have a powerhouse staff for less than $75.
The problem is that in a keeper league many of the best pitchers are already gone. Of the top starters, Sale, Darvish and Tanaka are being kept (so is Porcello), which leaves a lot of teams fighting over Kluber, Archer, Verlander, Carrasco, Quintana, and Hamels.
Quintana might be devalued because he’s so likely to be traded. But then he’s worth less because he might be dealt.
This is a league that often bids up top starters, so my path to perfection is not necessarily clear, but there may be a way to get there. I’ll find out Sunday.
I am new to a 14 team 6×6 roto. With the standard 5×5 categories plus OBP and K/9. I get to take 8 keepers into the next year. I am one of 3 new owners in this league who got to draft from the abandoned teams. I have DJ LeMahieu for $1, I can put him on contract before this year for a new salary of $6 as contracts add $5 every year. I want to know if I should keep him this year only and no contract for $1 or put him on a 2 or 3 year contract. A two year contract would put his last year of his contract at $11. I am worried that he could get moved out of Coors if Brenden Rodgers comes up next year.
Thanks for your help!
Here’s the piece of information you need. Last year, LeMahieu went for $10 in Tout Wars mixed auction. That was coming off his breakout season. Now that he’s done it again, his price will go up some, but how much? And does it make it worth the risk of extending him?
First we look at his home road splits. He was great at home last year, and pretty good on the road. In 2015, he was fine at home and not quite so good, but not bad on the road either. That makes the trade talk less worrisome for me.
Still, he’s a guy whose main value is his outsized batting average. While he hit for more power last year, it wasn’t that much more. He could grow in that area, but he might not.
So, I wouldn’t extend him for two years, because that raises his cost too close to his draft day price.
I think you could justify not extending him at all, take the one-year benefit of his cheap price, and move on.
But I think extending him one year gets you the best of both worlds. He’s inexpensive at $6, likely to earn a profit, and maybe a nice profit if he can pull off a third straight career year. And if things go sour, as they sometimes do, you’re not on the line for that much.
10 team league, have two more spots to keep guys. Who would you go with?
Wade Davis-19th round
Billy Hamilton-21st round
Stras, Thor, Bogaerts, C Seager, Sano. All good value.
You are Midas, you are Croesus, you are Gates. You are Tut, you are Mansa Musa, you are Mugabe. You are Buffett, you are Goldman, you are Sachs.
Of course, because you can only keep two of the seven you will be taking a hair cut. Let’s see how these guys are going. I look at Tout Wars, because it was recent and I know where it is. It’s a 15 team league, but that doesn’t really make a big difference in the draft order of major league regulars (though it does in the endgame).
Wade Davis (117), Billy Hamilton (86), Byron Buxton (147), Joc Pederson (161), Kevin Gausman (179), Danny Duffy (109), Javier Baez (113).
How many rounds up do you get?
Wade Davis (+8), Billy Hamilton (+13), Byron Buxton (-4), Joc Pederson (+2), Kevin Gausman (+3), Danny Duffy (+9), Javier Baez (+7).
This is pretty clear cut. Billy Hamilton is a great price. And you have to choose between a starter, Duffy, and a reliever, Davis. I think I’d take Duffy, because he’s going earlier and good starters are harder to find than relievers. But if you decide you need a reliever more than a starter at this point, that’s a fair way to go.
Everybody’s buddy and fine fantasy baseball analyst, Howard Bender, had a piece in the NY Post this week warning about overestimating Turner this year, the way Carlos Correa was overestimated last year.
That’s good advice in general, and probably as it applies to Turner, but it raises the question of how do you draw the line on a young player with a spectacularly good partial season under his belt.
I looked at hitters who had an OPS+ of 130 or better in the year they lost their rookie status since 1980 (the Roto Era), who had 249 plate appearances or more. Sixty one hitters qualified.
Five of those seasons came in 2016. That would be Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz, Trea Turner, and the Ryans Shrimpf and Healy. One player, Kyle Schwarber, had a qualifying first season and didn’t play the next. That leaves us with 55 hitters in the pool.
What can we learn from them?
If we sort them from top to bottom based on first year OPS+:
The top 11 had an an OPS+ of 157 in year 1 and an OPS+ of 137 in year 2. Two of this group improved in year two, a man named Trout and another named Greenwell. Three had less than a 130 OPS in year 2: Luke Scott, posterboy Kevin Maas, and Miguel Sano. This group averaged 499 plate appearances.
The next 11 averaged 143 in year 1, and 109 in year 2. One of this cohort, Randy Milligan, improved. Seven had less than a 130 OPS+. Five has less than a 100 OPS+. This group averaged 442 plate appearances.
The middle 11 averaged 137 in year 1, and 116 in year 2. Kris Bryant was the only one to improve. Two were better than 130 in year 2. Only two had less than a 100 OPS+, both at 99, which is why the year 2 average went up for this group. This group averaged 349 plate appearances.
The fourth 11 average 133 in year 1, and 120 in year 2. Ryan Howard and Jason Bay improved. They were also the only two to have an OPS+ the next year better than 130. None of this group has an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 416 plate appearances.
The last quintile averaged 131 in year 1, and 113 in year 2. Josh Hamilton, John Kruk, Lonnie Smith, and Ryan Klesko all improved and had an OPS+ of better than 130. Four hitters had an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 343 plate appearances.
Another way to split these guys into groups would be by plate appearances.
The top quintile averaged 639 plate appearances, with a 151 OPS+ in year 1, and a 137 OPS+ in year 2.
The next group averaged 463 plate appearances, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, and a 136 in year 2.
The middle quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 138 in year 1, an 85 in year 2.
The fourth group averaged 337 PA, with a 135 in year 1, a 122 in year 2.
The last group averaged just 273 PA, with a 139 in year 1, a 116 in year 2.
All in all, 20 of the 55 players did better than 130 in OPS+ in year 2, 25 did better than 120 OPS+, 33 did better than 110, and 48 did better than 100. That leaves seven true busts, and 30 total who could be considered disappointing.
Eleven of the 20 players who topped 130 in OPS+ had more than 450 plate appearances. Only four of the next 20 players had 450 PA or more.
A final set of ranks, based on percentage of change from year 1 to year 2.
The top quintile averaged 428 plate appearances, posting a 138 OPS+ in year 1, and a 154 in year 2.
The next averaged 508 PA, with 142 in year 1, 131 in year 2.
The middle quintile averaged 415 PA, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, a 116 in year 2.
The fourth quintile averaged 352 PA, with a 137 OPS+ in year 1, and a 103 in year 2.
The bottom quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 153 OPS+ in year 1, and an 85 in year 2.
Comparing the top half sorted by percentage of change from year 1 to year 2, the top half had 487 plate appearances while the bottom half had 384. The average age of the top half was 23.4 years old, while the bottom half was 24.5. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bottom half hit more homers and stole more bases per plate appearance.
Plate appearances and high OPS+ are the best indicators of a repeat season of top performances for these players, but players of all types do repeat and get better.
So, what happens if we look at only those players with fewer than 450 PA in year 1? There are 37 of them.
Sort them into thirds, and we see that the top two thirds are younger than the bottom third. Older is definitely worse when you’re looking at partial seasons with a high OPS+ in your rookie year. Or maybe it is better put, younger is definitely better.
So, what do we make of this year’s crop?
Corey Seager and Aledmys Diaz should be the most trusted, because they had the most at bats, but neither had a particularly high OPS+ last year, which is a bit of a warning sign. And Diaz is somewhat older, a reason to distrust.
Trea Turner had the best OPS+ last year, but only 324 plate appearances. Still he’s young, which is a positive sign.
Ryan Shrimpf just snuck onto the list at 130 OPS+. He’s 28 years old, very old, and only had six more PA than Turner. He’s neg all the way.
Finally, Ryon Healy is slightly old, with a 135 OPS+, and only 283 PA. Not as negative as Shrimpf, but not as positive as the other guys.
Bonus No. 1: Kyle Schwarber missed last year, but will be back this year after a powerful world series. He’s still young, but is coming off a 130 OPS+ in 2015. He’s a mixed bag until you see him swing.
Bonus No. 2: Gary Sanchez didn’t make the 250 PA cutoff, but in 229 PA last year he put up a monster 168 OPS+. Only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu did better in our 250+ PA cohort. On the other hand, if you look at the cohort of those who didn’t qualify, the only hitters who did better in year 1 were Frank Thomas and Phil Plantier. Both were 22 their rookie year. Thomas followed up his 177 OPS+ rookie year with a league leading 180 the next year, and then 177, 174, 212, 179, 178, 181 in the next six years. Plantier followed his 178 with a 90 and never topped the 122 he had in year 3.
Finally, what to do with all this? Although there is data here, this sort of study is really anecdotal. The sample is small, the results so various as to mock any absolute conclusions. But maybe you read the above and feel differently.
What I think it tells us is that there are players who post a super first season and then repeat. You can’t rule that out for these guys this season.
But as you would expect, extreme performance usually regresses to the mean, so you should not count on a repeat. And you should fear charging ahead taking anyone with such a small performance sample, because the possibility of sophomore slump is always there (except for Corey Seager, right?).
Which is pretty dull and which brings us to Howard’s comment about Trea Turner. He says, “Of course Turner is a great talent, but just doubling his total because he will get twice the at-bats this year is not the proper way to project.”
The trouble with Turner is that even if you regress back his stats you end up with ridiculous numbers. My projection, which doesn’t come close to doubling last year’s numbers is 18 homers, with 49 steals, a modest 93 runs and 68 RBI, with a .307 batting average. In 5×5, that’s worth $37. First-round value.
ZIPS chops more aggressively. It gives Turner 260 more plate appearances than last year and one more homer, three more steals, a .282 batting average and modest 77/66 runs and RBI split. But even that modest projection is worth $29, which is a Top 15 hitter.
Is my projection the median projection? Is ZIPS’? That’s the trouble with Turner. Right now I have him with an NL-only bid price of $27. That’s not going to get him, and paying more isn’t necessarily going to hurt the team that buys him.
So, what you do is you keep bidding. Certainly to $27, maybe to $30. This is a place to read the room. Once you’re at $30 you don’t really want him, but the risk of bidding up the guy who does really want him isn’t huge. I mean, you might end up with Trea Turner!
At that price, that could be trouble, but might not.
But I also have A.J. Pollock, Eduardo Nunez, Jose Peraza, Jason Hammel, J.A. Happ and Jacob deGrom.
Just wondering if I’ve chosen the best 5 out of my keepers.
A quick glance tells me you have the right guys.
Donaldson is a first round pick. Votto a second rounder. Lindor a third round pick. Cargo and Villar are also third round values.
Which doesn’t mean you don’t have options. AJ Pollock is a third rounder probably, so if you decided to go for him over Cargo no one could blame you. I have Cargo ranked a little higher, mostly because Pollock is just coming back from a lost year, his second in the last three, which adds a bit of risk.
More interestingly, while Jonathan Villar is going in the third round, Jose Peraza is going in the ninth. Villar has his spectacular 2016 season under his belt, but Peraza looks to be similar type of player. Until the Brandon Phillips trade it was hard to see where he would get full time at bats, but all of sudden his way is cleared.
Steamer has Jonathan Villar projected to hit .255 with 15 homers and 54 steals. My projection is for .250 with 15 homers and 48 steals. So we’re in the same ballpark certainly.
Steamer has Peraza projected to hit .282 with six homers and 42 steals. My projection is for him to hit .300 with seven homers and 38 steals. So, again, similar, as I suppose we should be. We’re working off similar inputs.
Clearly, unless you value batting average a lot, and you shouldn’t, Villar is the better keep for you, but it is possible to see how in a BA league that Peraza could conceivably outperform Villar this year. That’s not a reason not to keep Villar, but in a league where both are available it is a reason not to reach too much for Villar. If someone else grabs him you can get a somewhat similar player about 50 picks later.
Tiers help us group players who are close enough alike in value so we can better see where the talent lies during our fantasy baseball drafts. They’re also a way to talk about player values without relying on draft dollars amounts, which vary depending on a league’s rules.
I’m going through the positions these days, one by one, looking for places where my rankings and prices can be improved. And I share them in hopes they help you, and that if you see something that you think looks wrong you write it up on that player’s page at pattonandco.com.
Or in the comments here. Thanks.
TOP TIER (The best players in the game)
Paul Goldschmidt is here because he’s always the most valuable first baseman in fantasy leagues. And always will be forever more, or until he gets older and stops running so much and someone better comes along. That’s what happens. A thirty year old can stop running at any time, almost certainly will stop running sometime soon, especially when he’s hauling around 225 pounds or so and some fair height, as Goldschmidt does. Which is a reason to try to lowball, as it were, on him. He’s dropped out of the Top 4 in draft leagues for that reason, which is not a reason to avoid him. But the quality that gives him extra value, the steals, can’t be counted on this year (though it can still be hoped for).
SECOND TIER (Solid players who in any given year might be the best at their position)
It’s very hard to downgrade Miguel Cabrera to the second tier, but that’s the goon squad calling. He’s a marvelous hitter, arguably the best we’ve ever seen, but he’s at an age where the bat has to start a little sooner, or will in short order, and his hitting smarts can only take him so far to offset that.
Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Jose Abreu, and Freddie Freeman are all professional hitters with great on base skills, decent power and (except for Votto) primetime on their side. Votto is older, for sure, but he also has the most stable skill on the planet: He knows when to swing, or not, more often than not. Which makes him an OBP god, and first tier in leagues that use OBP instead of BA. These guys will all be expensive, because they’re reliable as well as good, and they’re most likely worth it. Um, because they’re reliable.
THIRD TIER (Solid, but not quite as accomplished as the tier above)
Most of these guys are boring, fairly reliable but not immune to the occasional bad year. Once upon a time Eric Hosmer looked like he might have the kind of career Freddie Freeman is having, but Hosmer hasn’t quite reached that height. He’s young enough to still have a big career-year type of season in the next few years.
Hanley Ramirez is coming off a fine season, one that followed a disaster, and another that followed what looked like a down year but turned out to be his cue to descend from the superstar stratosphere. He’s got a good high ceiling, but we know how slippery his floor can be.
Wil Myers has one good season under his belt in his so far disappointing career. Though not if you owned him last year. There’s ample reason to suspect that he’s going to have a hard time repeating that, but if he doesn’t there is good reason to think he’ll slot into this group easily.
Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Davis, and Carlos Santana are all solid veteran hitters. Gonzalez is getting old, Davis has a whole lot of whiff (and power), and Santana makes more contact than Davis but has a lot less power. I’ve got Brandon Belt in this group, too, though he could easily be in the next one. Injuries have made him unreliable, even if his power is real.
FOURTH TIER (If they’re solid, they’re flawed, if they’re less flawed they’re flaky)
Tommy Joseph is flaky. He was called up, played 101 games last year, and hit for power. As a prospect he was a hit-first catcher whose career as a backstop was derailed by shady defense and too many concussions, which cost him playing and development time. I think he’s going to hit for power and be able to make enough contact to be solid, but there is a decent chance he’s got a hole somewhere in his swing that ML pitchers are going to figure out how to exploit, and that could be a problem. But for right now, he’s the Phillies full-time power-hitting first baseman.
Chris Carter, and Lucas Duda are big guys with lumbering games and some dark clouds in their recent pasts. Solid enough, but not to pay up for. These are guys to settle for if the best first basemen are too expensive. This is assuming that Carter will play regularly, either for the Yankees or someone else this year. As the reigning home run champ he’s be a lock, but see, he’s flawed.
Josh Bell is also somewhat big and lumbering, but he’s young and coming instead of desperately trying to tread water. He showed last summer that he belongs in the major leagues as a hitter, but he is plagued by lack of defensive value, to say the least, and lack of a home run stroke, to hit the nail on the head. He should play this year, he’s a top prospect, and he should produce a fine batting average, but right now he looks a little like James Loney without the good glove. Hard to see how that plays in the long run.
TIER FIVE (Limited expectations from platoonists, the contact challenged, the unknown)
In a 12-team mixed league, these guys don’t get rostered. In a 15-team mixed you hope to get your choice for a buck. But in an AL or NL only league, these guys can be gold, because they don’t cost much and they might earn a profit. In order of slight preference:
Justin Bour, Eric Thames, Mike Napoli, Joe Mauer, CJ Cron, and Mitch Moreland are professional hitters with successes in their past (though Thames’ were mostly in Korea), who will help in a deep league if they’re not paid too much. And have little chance of a big season, which should motivate you to stay cheap. Cron would be a Tier Four guy, if he wasn’t blocked by Luis Valbuena at first base and Albert Pujols at DH. Napoli had his huge season last year. Thames is intriguing because of the giant numbers he put up in Korea.
TIER SIX (The crummy and the unproven)
Matt Adams, John Jaso, Kennys Vargas, Marwin Gonzalez, Yonder Alonso, Adam Lind, Ryan Zimmerman, Sean Rodriguez, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison, Mark Reynolds, James Loney, Justin Smoak. These guys are crummy. They occasionally have a good year, as Mark Reynolds did last year, but generally they struggle for playing time, they pop an occasional homer, and then struggle for playing time anew. Even when they’re decent, as Marwin Gonzalez has been the last two seasons, they are always in danger of being replaced, have to scrap for playing time, and may not get it. Sean Rodriguez is out for the season after labrum surgery.
AJ Reed, Greg Bird, Jefry Marte, Dae-ho Lee, Dan Vogelbach. These guys are unproven. Each has a story.
Reed was supposed to break out last year and win a regular job, but was instead superseded by Alex Bregman and struggled in the chance he got. The Astros now have Yulieski Gurriel and Marwin Gonzalez at first, as well as Tyler White. I’m still a believer, but at least some of that thinking is magical.
Bird missed all of last year after shoulder surgery, and struggled in the AFL, which is understandable given his rust. The Yankees have now signed Chris Carter, who would seem to slot in ahead of Bird at first this year, probably, and may mean Bird will start the year in Triple-A working to regain his game. He will be a major league regular, eventually, with some chance that he’ll be a contributor this year.
Marte did a good job last season hitting for power in limited at bats, but starts this year behind Yunel Escobar at third base. Even if Escobar were to go down, Luis Valbuena might move across to third from first, and block Marte again. He could conceivable see few at bats, or spend time in the minors, but still, I sense deep sleeper potential here on a bad team that has no reason not to try to develop their future.
Lee is old, and is looking for a job in his second major league season. The Korean import seemed to show excellent platoon power and contact abilities, on the short side, but the Mariners kept finding ways to bench him. He’s here so that we don’t forget him, in case he does sign with a team that really has a need for a good bat against lefties.
Vogelbach is the guy who pushed Lee to the curb in Seattle. He has the terrific ability to draw walks and the corresponding ability to strike out. Alas, he doesn’t have a big power stroke, though some believe that will develop. A good spring could drive his price up, a bad one could knock him from the board.
Names for reserve lists, or guys you might like to move ahead of some listed above are Mark Canha, Tyler Austin, Chris Parmelee. Or not.
We can keep 10 and I have the following as keepers:
L. Martin 10
A. Sanchez 10
And either Tillman 4 or Brad Miller at 11
I like the idea of Tillman at the cheap price so I can go into the draft with 5 undervalued starting pitchers. On the other hand (I sound like Tevye), Miller gives me roster flexibility, especially if he is slated for starting at 2B. I went with Martin over Tillman and Miller because of the scarcity of stolen bases. Who would you keep—Miller or Tillman?
“Licensed to Ill”
First off, while it looked like Miller was going to play first base for the Rays, after they signed Logan Morrison he seems to have slid over to second. Since already qualified at SS, that isn’t a big deal, but it is a deal.
Second off, Tillman is literally ill, if you consider shoulder problems and illness as well as an injury. He had one of the enriched plasma injections in his shoulder in December, which is supposed to fix him up, but he is now reportedly three weeks behind schedule on his recovery. I’m not sure when in December he had the surgery, but let’s say he had it the first week. It is now 10 weeks later, at best, and he’s three weeks behind where he was supposed to be. We have six weeks of training camp ahead, and he’s living like it’s mid January, and recovering like it’s early March. And it ain’t. I would be concerned about that.
Finally, I have Martin as a $15 player in 5×5 BA, and Miller at $13, so in my book you have your pecking order right there. In OBP both are less valuable. I have Tillman at $10, pre injury concerns. That made him a slightly better keep based on price and ROI when he was healthy, but now he’s in doubt. Could he still be the better keeper?
Given what we know right now, I’m going to have to knock a few bucks off of Tillman’s price. The chances that he falls farther behind in his rehab program are significant, as are the chances that his situation will deteriorate completely. That’s a lot of risk of no return, or even worse, negative return for your $4.
So, better the Beastie in hand, than the Beastie who hobbles.