2023 Steamer Says Bust

The first Steamer dropped earlier this week, with Jared Cross and dem boys blessing us with the initial set of projections for 2023. Our long international nightmare is over; there’s fresh data to argue about.

We’ll do just that and, as the title implies, take a look at a few players whom Steamer is projecting to have a bad fantasy year, relative to where they’re going in early ADP on NFBC. We could do this the simple way – calculate some values using the projection set, and compare those ranks to their ADP ranks. IE. “Steamer projects so-and-so to be the 70th most-valuable hitter but so-and-so is actually being drafted as the 30th hitter…Buster!”. But also, boring.

And that’s also not going to be super actionable considering how often projections are going to be wrong. In fact, why should we even be trusting projections? Aren’t they wrong, like all the time? Well, yes. But also no!

We’ll get back to the no but that wrongness is the crux of why it’s hard to just turn projections into values and draft straight off of that, always just drafting the most valuable player, as team construction will also play a large role, in addition to the likelihood that the projections won’t be realized exactly. But, to be very (very!) clear, doing that, and only that, is the easiest way to quickly level up your fantasy game, and will generally give you a significant advantage over league mates that don’t. Turning a player’s five (or however many) categorical contributions into one dollar figure gives you the best picture of a player’s total contributions, while also showing how much of that value is pushed and pulled on by the surpluses and deficiencies in each individual category.

Ok, that ends my weekly PSA for value-based drafting. So, that’s all well and good but let’s get back to projection accuracy. How will they help you if they’re supposedly always wrong? Junk in, junk out, right?

First, let me clarify my tone (and general style) – I am not dogging on projections (or their makers), in the slightest. They are incredibly useful, and considering I do my own, I at least have an idea of the difficulty in their production. They’re really hard to do well and everyone who does them for public consumption is an absolute saint.

The problem isn’t that they’re going to be wrong; in fact, “wrong” isn’t even the right word because it’s virtually impossible to perfectly project the complete line of even one player, let alone the whole league. You don’t need projections to be exact because that exactness can easily get derailed by a variety of factors that are out of their hands, as it were. To an example!

Let’s imagine a hypothetical player (call him, say, Fozzie Crablies), whom Steamer projects for:

Hypothetical Steamer Projections
Fozzie Crablies 138 570 20 69 73 13 .259

This breaks down to the following per-PA rates:

Hypothetical Steamer Projections
Per PA rates pa/g hr/pa r/pa rbi/pa sb/pa hit/pa
Fozzie Crablies 4.1 .035 .121 .128 .023 .247

Now, let’s look at just some of the scenarios where these projections (and the value created from them) can go horribly wrong.

  1. Fozzie misses a month of games (and 100+ PA) after going on a brief standup tour (or whatever, an injury, or something) – Steamer’s projected per-PA rates were somehow exactly perfect but now Crablies finishes at 446 PA- 15 HR – 54 R – 57 RBI – 10 SB – .247 AVG.
  2. Expected to possibly return to near the top of the order in 2023, Fozzie actually spends all year hitting in the five/six holes. This not only costs him plate appearances, returning the same problem from #1 but the change in order also greatly affects his per-PA rates for RBI and Runs scored, further adjusting the raw projections and driving actual value away from projected value.
  3. Everything is exactly as projected but Fozzie (and his career .296 BABIP) runs a .240 BABIP (because baseball) and finishes with a .240 AVG (or 16 fewer hits), which tanks his overall value. Projected as a top-70 hitter and drafted as a top-30 hitter, Crablies finishes outside of the top 100.

The above (and about a dozen other) scenarios all make Fozzie a “bust” relative to what he was projected for but how much of this would be Steamer’s fault? I’d argue little.

That’s not to say projections won’t completely whiff on their per-PA rates (or actual PAs, etc) but for fantasy purposes, projections help us find a range for reasonable rates of performance. They might not be perfect but they are starting points (backed up by historical data and some big ol’ brains behind the scenes) and ones that can be adjusted at your discretion (for playing time, batting order, etc).

And that is saying nothing about how much dollar value projections can dramatically shift with just a little tinkering. In other words, you can make dollar values dance just about however you want them to just by making some selective changes to the numbers they’re based on.

Take Luke Voit, for example, who according to the values I whipped up with Steamer, is projected to be the #146 hitter (624 PA – 27 HR – 72 R – 79 RBI – 2 SB – .228 AVG). But hey! While Voit did put up a .239 AVG in 2020 and a .226 AVG last year, he ran a .274 AVG between 2017-2020, so why not dream a little? We don’t have to turn back the clock completely but what if we were to give him the .250 AVG that would come with getting just 12 more hits than he’s projected for? Lookie there, with just a few flaps of a butterfly’s wings, Luke Voit is now projected as a top-100 hitter.

See? Easy to manipulate. And you can do similar things all over the place, whether by directly adding a few counting stats here and there or simply adding more plate appearances that would make the end result similar. Remember, the calculated values are relative to the entire pool of players, so the small ripples of addition and subtraction can wind up making big waves.

With all that in mind, now we at least have some direction on how to best judge projections for fantasy purposes, looking not just at the final stats (and projected dollar values) but also at the “why’s” behind them. Are the rates different from last year? And in which categories? Can we track down the likely reasons for those changes? Is playing time up or down from what we might expect? Why? Do we even agree? And how much can values change if we swap in reasonable (by our individual processes) changes, whether they be bumps in per-PA rates (trickier) or simple disagreements on playing time?

Let’s find out.

Using values (and rankings) generated with a simple z-score methodology, let’s start things off by checking in on a few players that Steamer thinks will return much worse value compared to where they’re being drafted.

Matt Olson, 1B, ATL (ADP Rank: #28, STM Rank: #48)

Steamer Says: 652 PA – 34 HR – 89 R – 99 RBI – 2 SB – .249 AVG

Olson is being projected for virtually the exact same season he had in 2022, with nearly identical totals (same HR, +3 R, -4 RBI, +2 SB, +.09 AVG) but at the slightly higher rates necessitated by them coming over 47 fewer PA. So, would putting up those numbers make him a “bust”?

Not for me. Part of Olson’s appeal is the safety of his numbers and ones that also carry upside just from batting near Ronald Acuña Jr. The better argument against taking Olson so high is that he’s being taken as the #5 first baseman but seems to be in a distinctly lower tier than the four being taken before him (Guerrero Jr., Freeman, Alonso, Goldschmidt) and isn’t getting a matching ADP discount. I think I’d rather take one of those early four, or wait for the myriad of options post-100 ADP.

Ozzie Albies, 2B, ATL (ADP Rank: #27, STM Rank: #68)

Steamer Says: 570 PA – 20 HR – 69 R – 73 PA – 13 SB – .259 AVG

Boy howdy, Steamer does not like our guy Fozzie. The biggest dip is in playing time, with just 570 PA representing a far cry from the +675 PA performances we’d grown accustomed to prior to his injury-shortened 2022:

2018: 158 games/684 PA

2019: 160 games/702 PA

2020: 29 games/124 PA

2021: 156 games/686 PA

2022: 64 games/269 PA

Ok, so betting on just a PA bounceback would significantly bump up his raw numbers. At 650 PA, Albies projects to: 23 HR – 79 R – 83 RBI – 15 SB – .259 AVG, taking him all the way up the #40 projected hitter. However, Steamer is also projecting drops in his per-PA rates, which put him a lot closer to his rotten 2022 than to his previous heydays. A projected .035 HR/PA is down from .044 in 2021 and .048 in 2020, his .13 RBI/PA is down from .15 in 2020 and 2021, and a .12 R/PA would represent a career-low.

I’m not going to argue with the rate drops because there are some legitimate red flags rolling around, not the least of which is Albies getting buried in the lineup prior to his injury last year. But while I still don’t love him at a 42 ADP, he’s probably a good buy, even if it’s only based on believing he’ll stay healthy all year. However, in drafts where he drops (currently with 68 max pick), Fozzie could be a great steal, producing a boring but balanced profile, while still carrying plenty of upside.

Gunnar Henderson, 3B, BAL (ADP Rank: #53, STM Rank: #75)

Steamer Says: 619 PA – 22 HR – 76 R – 78 RBI – 10 SB – .254 AVG

It’s hard to project youngsters but the difference between how he’s projected and how he’s being drafted is fairly simple, as I see it. It’s all about that red-hot speed, baby.

Henderson is being drafted for his +20 HR/+20 SB expectations but while Steamer has him projected for 22 HR, those come with just 10 SB, at a per-PA rate far below what he’s shown in the minors, and after stealing 22 bases in 603 PA across two levels of the minors in 2022. While he swiped just one bag over his 132 PA in the majors, his previous track record and elite speed make me a lot more bullish on thefts than Steamer is. If we keep all else equal but give him 20 SB instead, Henderson projects as a top-40 hitter, more than justifying his current draft price.

I love me some Gunnar and hate that he’s already basically opened with a top-100 cost (97 ADP, 59 min/138 max). I’m probably not getting in at those top-75 prices but count me game for anything around a 100 ADP.

Corbin Carroll, OF, ARI (ADP Rank: #66, STM Rank: #117)

Steamer Says: 524 PA – 18 HR – 61 R – 61 RBI – .243 AVG

Good lord, people, we’re really getting after Carroll like that, huh? I get that his 115 PA debut in 2022 was fairly fancy (4 HR – 13 R – 14 RBI – 2 SB – .260 AVG) but was it really #17 OF fancy? You better really, really believe considering that’s the same range as Teoscar Hernández, Starling Marte, George Springer, and Kyle Schwarber.

The funny thing is, though, is that Steamer actually believes too – at least when it comes to his per-PA rates, as his projected rates in HR, R, RBI, and SB are all coming in at least as good as in 2022, and even slightly better. The only real dip is on batting average, with Steamer projecting a .242 AVG that’s down from a .260 AVG.

No, the lukewarm projections aren’t coming from being bearish on performance but rather because of fewer PAs than what would be expected for a full-time player. Steamer currently projects Carroll for just 524 PA in 128 games, with the numbers clocking in at: 18 HR – 61 R – 61 RBI – 15 SB – .242 AVG, ranking him as the #117 hitter. But don’t be fooled – those are excellent per-PA rates, particularly for someone with just 115 PA in the big leagues.

If you instead project those per-PA rates over 600 PA, you’re left with: 21 HR – 70 R – 70 RBI – 21 SB – .242 AVG, or the #63 hitter, which is right in line with where he’s been drafted. However, even with great per-PA rates, it’ll be really hard to earn his draft price if he’s closer to 500 PA than 600 PA. So, how likely is the path there?

Right now, that path seems crowded, as Arizona is currently flush with young outfielders. Jake McCarthy and Daulton Varsho gotta eat, and Alek Thomas was the hot Arizona outfielder prospect before Carroll arrived. That’s four mouths for three spots already, though, Varsho can still play catcher and the DH is obviously available. But it still seems like a reach, at the moment, to assume that Carroll and 600 PA are destined to collide. Plus, his left-handedness (and a 61 wRC+ over his first 30 PA vs LHP) might make him ripe to get rotated out sometimes against lefties.

I do believe in the long-term success of Carroll but with the lack of a guaranteed level of starter PAs, it’ll be really hard for me to pull the trigger when there are so many other proven commodities being taken at a similar range. But! This is a situation I’m keeping an eye on because Arizona seems to have a very obvious surplus of young outfielders that might prove useful as trade chips to fill in other holes. Any sort of transaction that ships an Arizona outfielder out will make me assume that the Diamondbacks are ready for the age of Carroll.

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14 days ago

Hmmm . . . didn’t I just read something like this, with Ozzie and Gunnar mentioned? On FanGraphs maybe?

14 days ago
Reply to  Nicklaus Gaut

No, you did a fine job. No question. But did you not read Justin Mason’s Steamer Fades which came out earlier today?

Paul Sporermember
13 days ago
Reply to  Nicklaus Gaut

This is my fault for transposing the dates on posting Nick’s piece. His was supposed to go up the 12th and I transposed it to 21st which we didn’t notice until yesterday so my sincere apologies on that!

Jason Bmember
12 days ago
Reply to  Nicklaus Gaut

That was clearly the fault of Raul Snorer

13 days ago
Reply to  Paul Sporer

Paul – sorry for late notice but just realized you may have also transposed your Jonathan Schoop’s 2B ranking from last year. Listed as 19 but likely should have been 91.

(He finished as the 71st most valuable 2B)

Last edited 13 days ago by Gregg