Forecaster and Handbook are out!

I got my copy of the Baseball Forecaster about 10 days ago, but closing the magazine meant not cracking it, even though I’ve got a short bit in it (which happened to run here first, about WHIP v. WH/9), until now.

Ron’s lead essay is very smart. It’s about how wrong we are about players, year after year, and he wonders why we pursue exacting but nearly always wrong projections. Then he comes up with something new, called the Mayberry Method.

There’s a lot to like about the way the MM summarizes a player’s skills in a descriptive way. Yet despite it’s simplicity, I’m not convinced it is going to catch on. New stuff often doesn’t, even when it has real merit. On the other hand, the benchmarks MM describes so succinctly are becoming increasingly entrenched as leading indicators, making me wonder why–if we’re getting better at defining leading indicators–we’re not getting better predicting breakouts.

As Ron says in the piece, we may be smarter now than we were 20 years ago, but that may not be such a good thing.

Steve Moyer always gives us so-called experts a copy of the hot-off-the-press Bill James Handbook at First Pitch Arizona, for which I am very grateful. Not that I wouldn’t buy it, I have many times, but this way it ends up in my hands even sooner.

The book continues to grow, with increased focus on the defense awards and rankings, focus on baserunning skills, and the ever useful park factors. I’m a great fan of and, both of which I use all day long, but I sit and read the Bill James Handbook, poring over its pages as if it were a ripping good yarn, which in many ways it is.

I’m glad for both these books and recommend them highly.

Eriq Gardner Looks at Player Raters

THT Fantasy Focus

My April prices will finally get posted here, later today. They are like a primitive version of a player rater like those found at ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and Rototimes, the kind Eriq Gardner writes about at Hardball Times today. Primitive in the sense that the sophisticated big-media versions calculate their values automatically, plugging the stats into a formula and spitting it forth, while I cut and paste stats into a rather elaborate spreadsheet, make some adjustments because of the number of samples, and then generate a report.

Gardner’s point about what the player raters are actually measuring is a good one. Head to head values are a lot less useful to a classic Rotisserie player than straight 4×4 values. And vice versa. And, it doesn’t need to be repeated, values generated from current stats measure what has happened, not what will happen. But I think Eriq misses the main point with the raters and why they’re of value: they synthesize (or should synthesize) the fantasy categories into one score.

Looking at the stats of two players with different profiles, it can be hard to judge which is more valuable. A player rater that properly reflects the values of your league (or at least lets you know what it is measuring) let’s you assess the aggregated value of a player in all the categories. That Jason Frasor is more valuable than Felix Hernandez thus far tells us something about the teams these guys are on, and it tells us something about their stability in the standings.

The player rater also tells us which players are running ahead of pace, and which are running behind. If we know that Ian Kinsler is currently earning $52, we can judge that he is likely to earn relatively less for his team the rest of the way than he has thus far. If we know that Big Papi is earning $2 right now, we can hope that his contribution is going to increase dramatically the rest of the way (though, if we expected him to earn $20 on the year, and he’s earning $2 now, he needs to earn about $23 each of the remaining five months to get back on par). 

I don’t think you could tell the difference between a set of $20 and $23 stats, unless they were side by side.

Player Raters are overrated and underrated, too, it seems. Like most tools, it depends on what you do with them.

Is it too late to win?

KFFL – Baseball HQ

There is something weird going on at KFFL. Old stories from BaseballHQ are showing up, which is fine, but with new dates. This story is from 2003, I think, but the data is important. I’m not so sure about the conclusion.

It is good to know when you can count on the overall volatility of the standings to have “setttled.” I’m not sure I wouldn’t have guessed mid May, but I like some evidence.

I’m also sure that the volatility by category indexes, showing that stolen bases and saves change the least, is counterintuitive and correct. Alas, I’m pretty sure that the article’s conclusion, that this means buy steals and saves on draft day and trade for power later, is wrong, for all the reasons the article points out these categories are the most stable.

Still, despite its date of birth, this and probably other baseballHQ goldies are well worth checking out at KFFL.

It May Be Time to Acquire Power

Derek Carty–THT Fantasy Focus

The Hit Tracker reports that home runs are flying about five feet farther than they were last year and there is little chance this is random, which may mean the ball is juiced. Derek Carty explains how you can turn this into an advantage, maybe.

I’m not sure what to make of The Hit Tracker, Greg Rybarczyk’s trajectory simulator software. It is certainly impressive and I feel comfortable relying on it’s individual stats for the fun business of characterizing blasts, but is it really accurate enough to get granular over an average of five feet per homer? Is it accurate enough to say that the ball is juiced based on the Hit Tracker reports? 

I’m not saying I know it isn’t, but I’m skeptical. Still, it isn’t a bad idea to look at guys who had just barely enough power last year (Jack Cust leads that list, along with Ryan Braun and Mark Reynolds in the AL) and think that they just might benefit. 

Also, to clear up an issue in Carty’s story: If there is m ore hitting in the year, the value of the best pitchers generally goes up. And if there is more pitching, the value of the best hitters usually goes up.

Panic? Or Don’t Panic? Which Is It?

by Peter O’Neil

Many fantasy baseball experts admonish those who express nervousness over a high-priced superstar’s slow start. “Don’t panic!” they say. “Players always revert to their norm.” Others chirp in on public forums: “It’s only April, the stats are meaningless.”

And the most obnoxious will annoyingly declare:  “Gee, I wish you were in my league. I’d take you to the cleaners, offering you my red-hot Chris Duncan for your slow-starting Carlos Lee.”

It is of course true that you should never trade a slumping elite player for a hot-starting unknown.  But given all the available information and expertise out there these days, are there really players in remotely serious leagues who make those kinds of deals?  Even if they did the scorn heaped down on them assures they will too petrified to do it  again, and the beneficiary would earn a “shark” reputation that could make future trading difficult.

To me the real question is this: Should we really be so quick to dismiss April stats? Is a star’s slow start, or an unheralded player’s heroics, really meaningless?

I have always felt that April stats are fairly significant.  And I’d like to cite some research I’ve been looking over, produced by one of fantasy’s top gurus, to back up my views.

Ron Shandler’s 2009 edition of the Forecaster reproduced his study of the 2005 season that looked at players who had surprisingly good, or bad, years, and sought to determine if these breakouts and breakdowns were identifiable by the end of April.

The study concluded that a little over 40 per cent of hitters and pitchers who earned $10 more than projected for the whole season were red-hot in April.

More than half of hitters (56 per cent) and 3/4 of pitchers (74 per cent) who earned $10 less than projected were also identifiable in April.

Shandler’s conclusion was that, for other than pitchers about to have lousy years, “April was not a strong leading indicator.”

The study also looked at major breakouts — players earning $20-$25 more than predicted — and found these were identifiable in 45 per cent of the cases. His conclusion: “April surgers are less than a 50-50 proposition to maintain that level all season.”

I love the research, so once again the fantasy baseball community has benefited from Shandler’s great work. But I have a different perspective on the conclusion.

If everyone in fantasy agreed that 100 per cent of players off to amazing, or miserable, starts in April were going to maintain that level, then this study would poke a pin in that balloon. But we know that’s not the case.

The fact is that the vast majority of fantasy participants are inherently skeptical of players who come out of nowhere to start strongly.   They might find it interesting that Chris Duncan is hitting more than .350 right now, but how many would pay a price to have him on their teams?

Similarly, while owners might be a little worried right now that David Ortiz is well under the Mendoza line, it’s going to be a while before they give up on the idea that their star asset will come back with a vengeance. Of course, experts constantly urging them to be patient and assuring them that players revert to the mean reinforces this view.

So I doubt very much if fantasy players realize there is at least a 40 per cent chance the player performing well above expectations will remain that way, and that more than half of the league’s slumping hitters, and three-quarters of struggling pitchers, won’t recover.

A second study, also by Shandler, reinforced my view.

Last May he proposed a theoretical trade of hot April starters (including Fred Lewis, Ryan Doumit, Kyle Lohse, Chipper Jones, Cliff Lee among them) for strugglers (like Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, Kenji Johjima, Austin Kearns, Adam Laroche, and Roy Oswalt). He suggested tongue somewhat in cheek that the buyer of the slow starters would have to be nuts to accept such a group of struggling bums as Oswalt and Cano.

Of course, his point was that the former group of overachievers were obvious sell-high candidates, while the underachievers were ideal buy-low opportunities. He said the goal of this column was to “prove that early season mass hysteria” about hot or cold starters “is really tiresome.” He stated as fact that his underachievers would out-earn the overachievers, and made a joking reference to the absurdity of anyone who would rather have Lohse over Verlander.

But the result was a shocker, to me and I assume to Shandler. The 10 so-called overachievers actually performed better the rest of the way, with Lohse playing a key role by clearly pitching better than Verlander.

I think these results open our eyes to changing realities. Shandler deliberately chose the overachieving Doumit among the group of players he wanted to trade away, and cited the underachieving Johjima as an ideal target. The message here was obvious: the smart money should be betting on Johjima, since he had a longer track record and the projected stats were so much better.

Yet here we are a year later and Doumit is an elite catching option and Johjima is unrosterable in numerous formats.

Things change, and sometimes the signs are obvious in April.

So what can we do as fantasy players with this information? Well, that’s a tough one. Ideally, fantasy experts should be doing a version of the 2005 study every year to give us more information on the springtime genesis of breakouts and breakdowns.

But until then? I’m not advocating panic trades, of course. It’s still going to be tough figuring out which of your hot starters is headed for a career year. And it will always be hard to try to sell struggling players, particularly if you have a reputation of being one of the smarter cookies in your league. People will assume you know there’s an underlying problem.

But if there’s a shark in your league trolling for slow-starters, and offering some flash-in-the-pan who’s leading the league in RBIs, don’t necessarily assume you’re about to be duped.  There’s a not-unreasonable chance that you could be getting a stud for a dud.

(Peter O’Neil is the Paris-based Europe correspondent for a Canadian news agency. He writes for