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Alex Chamberlain’s 2019 Bold Predictions – A Review

If only my fantasy teams performed half as well as my bold predictions this year.

Not that I had an entirely awful season in 2019. I entered my first two National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Online Championship leagues (12 teams, 30 rounds, standard 5-by-5 rotisserie categories) and won one of them. (I came last in the other.) I won a second league (a 12-team auction) and had good but futile runs in several others. Still, 2019 felt like a bit of a letdown.

So, again: at least I have my bold predictions to fall back on. Over the years, I find I’ve become increasingly adept at late-round draft strategy (while becoming increasingly inept at early-round strategy, or something like that). My bold predictions are honest assessments of guys I love. Moreover, I intend for them to be actionable; that is, Ronald Acuña Jr. goes 40/40 would have been an extremely impressive prediction, but he was already a 1st rounder. How much does that move the needle?

As in past years, I have forgotten half my predictions, so I’ll be just as curious to find out what they were as I will be to find out if they’ve succeeded. Let’s dig in.

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Are Foul Balls Good or Bad? Pt. II (A: They’re Good)

Back in June, I tried to tackle the age-old question: are foul balls good or bad? I tried to determine the “worth” of a foul ball by grouping plate appearances by their number of foul balls (from zero to four-or-more) and looking at two outcome metrics: strikeout rate (K%) and weighted on-base average (wOBA). Unfortunately, my endeavor turned up mostly duds. There are some interesting nuggets – a pitcher’s wOBA allowed improves by nearly 30 points in two-strike counts if he allows at least one foul ball – but most other splits were meaningless. Similar attempts to quantify the effect of a foul ball on the subsequent pitch were similarly fruitless.

I stepped back from the research to let it breathe. Intuitively, I knew there should be value here – I just wasn’t sure how it would present itself. Then, one day (specifically, June 27), inspiration struck in the form of Bryse Wilson’s third career start, during which he incurred nine swinging strikes but also 20 (twenty!) foul balls on 56 four-seam fastballs, amounting to a 16% swinging strike rate but also an absurd 36% foul ball rate (Foul%). The coincidence of many whiffs and also many fouls struck me as fascinating and extremely relevant to my previous research. It encouraged me to reframe the question at hand:

How does foul ball rate correlate with other measurements of success by pitch type?

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Contact Management Is and Is Not a Myth

If there were ever a baseball question that keeps me up it night, it’s this: how do the physical properties of pitches affect batted ball outcomes? Many researchers have tackled the subject with varying degrees of success and elucidation. My attempts have focused primarily on a pitch’s ability to generate swinging strikes and ground balls, the first of which used pitcher-level PITCHf/x data while the more recent of which used individual pitch-level Statcast data.

While modeling whiffs and grounders is interesting (and important, too), something strikes me as much more compelling and confounding: the relationship, if any, between a pitch’s physical properties and its batted ball outcomes, whether described as exit velocity, launch angle, or total base-run value allowed, as measured by weighted on-base average (wOBA) or even expected wOBA (xwOBA).

The ability to prove “contact management” as a legitimate and shared pitcher skill has long eluded the Sabermetric community. Assumptions of a league-average batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and, for xFIP, home runs per fly ball (HR/FB) pervade the common ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) we use to gauge talent and assign value. Those assumptions regarding BABIP and HR/FB imply a pitcher’s inability to control them — and there isn’t much evidence to suggest otherwise.

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Trevor Bauer’s (Deserved) Down Year

Trevor Bauer, the National Fantasy Baseball Championship’s No.-9 starting pitcher and No.-31 player overall, has pitched to the tune of a 4.12 ERA this year. All things considered (“things” being, primarily, the juiced ball), Bauer hasn’t been awful. But after compiling a pristine 2.21 ERA in last year’s breakout with equally pristine ERA estimators to boot (3.14 xFIP, 3.21 SIERA), this year’s peripherals (4.35 xFIP, 4.21 SIERA) are far less inspiring, even when adjusted for context.

The easiest way to write off Bauer’s 2018 season as an aberration is, well, to look at everything else he has ever done. He sports a career 3.97 ERA, with just one season (2018) with an ERA under 4.00. The blind squirrel who took an approach as simplistic as this in 2019 would have invariably found a nut.

Such an approach, however, would grossly undersell Bauer’s gains in 2018, which were quite legitimate. Using the most basic of peripherals, Bauer’s swinging strike rate (SwStr%) took the best 3rd-biggest step forward in nominal terms, behind only Patrick Corbin (and his slider) and Gerrit Cole (and his fastball).

Yet 2018 gains do not necessarily beget sustained excellence. Bauer’s narrative is a fairly complex one, so let’s give it proper attention.

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Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.15

Anyone within arm’s reach of my Twitter account is so. bleeping. tired. of me talking about Mike Tauchman.

But I have to bring him up. Tauchman was literally the first Peripheral Prospect. He led off the inaugural post. It’s imperative we revisit our old friend, because guess what? He is the 7th-best fantasy hitter the last 30 days, per ESPN’s Player Rater.

Seventh-best. Not out of just Yankees, not out of just outfielders — out of all hitters. His recent success alone has made this entire series worth it.

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2019 Hitter Deserved K%

This is, and is not, a Mike Tauchman post. My relentlessly Tauchman-centric brand has been, in the words of beloved pal Sammy Reid, “hotter than the sun’s ass.” Tauchman has become the folk hero Yankees fans didn’t know they needed. I also have become insufferable to everyone within digital arm’s length of my Twitter account.

When I reviewed my bold predictions in July, I lamented Tauchman’s bad-luck strikeout rate (K%). By measure of “deserved” strikeout rate (I regressed the components of every hitter’s plate discipline against their strikeout rates to derive a “deserved” rate), Tauchman had been one of Major League Baseball’s unluckiest hitters.

Despite his recent torrid streak, Tauchman still emerges as one of 2019’s unluckiest hitters. That is why this is, in a sense, still a Tauchman post. But it’s also an Everyone Else post, in that I’m eager to unearth baseball’s luckiest and unluckiest hitters this year.

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Lesson Learned: Jake Bauers

Jake Bauers entered the 2019 season a kind of wide-awake sleeper to many fantasy analysts looking to target cheap value at first base or in the outfield. Per National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) average draft position (ADP) data, Bauers was drafted, on average, 230th overall, 24th among first basemen, and 66th among outfielders — effectively your last corner infielder or outfielder, or your first bench bat. You weren’t depending on him too gravely for production; the cost to acquire Bauers was typically low, making any sunk costs a bit easier to swallow.

Still, it has been disappointing to see Bauers follow up 2018’s 11-homer, 6-steal half-season with mediocrity. Yes, his rookie campaign featured a miserable .201/.316/.384 line, but it was marred by a meager .252 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and a 26.8% strikeout rate (K%) that seemed far out of whack relative to his roughly league-average 11.0% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). It stood to reason, at first glance, Bauers would cash in on some positive regression to post a fairly solid slash line while posting double-digit home runs and stolen bases — and it didn’t seem altogether far-fetched to hope so.

Ultimately, it never came to fruition. In almost an identical number of plate appearances, Bauers replicated his home run tally but with a lower isolated power (.146 ISO to .183 ISO), a feeble stolen base rate (two steals on five attempts, versus six on 12 last year), and worse plate discipline despite a better whiff rate. Cleveland had enough and eventually optioned Bauers with his career line standing at 22 homers, eight steals, and a .218/.312/.381 line in 771 plate appearances.

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Yips Darvish is No Longer

You may or may not have heard that Yu Darvish is back. By any conventional measure, his latest back-to-back starts of six shutout innings, two hits, and seven-plus strikeouts rank among his best in a long time. By measure of “Game Score v2,” which FanGraphs includes in a pitcher’s Game Log, Darvish’s scores of 78 and 79 are his two best starts since 2017. Because some of his better Game Score starts went more than six innings: these are his two best six-inning starts, period. They happened very recently, consecutively, and he didn’t labor through them, either, throwing just 94 and 83 pitches, respectively.

The last two starts were a gift to those who took a leap of faith. Darvish, who walked at least three batters in seven of his first eight starts (33 walks in 36 innings and change!) and 10 of his first 13 (44 walks in 66 innings and change!), was an absolute mess, had compiled a 4.88 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 4.49 xFIP, and 4.96 SIERA in 13 starts, the cherry on top being a walk rate (BB/9) of six. Six! Six batters per nine innings. As my 14-year-old self quoting Ron Burgundy might say: “I’m not even mad — just impressed.”

However, from June 10 to July 3 — a five-start window sandwiched between his early-season futility and his recent wizardry — Darvish struck out 33 and walked just five in roughly 31 innings, compiling a 3.68 xFIP and 3.64 SIERA. Read the rest of this entry »

Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.14

From last week’s edition of Peripheral Prospects:

Alex likes to weave word-things before naming names. I’m impatient. Let’s jump straight into the action.

Brad’s not wrong.

This is Peripheral Prospects. We seek to identify obscure future fantasy contributors. Let’s take the plunge. Only four this week, because I’m feeling picky.

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Alex Chamberlain’s 2019 Bold Predictions: Midseason Review

If March is bold prediction season and October is bold prediction review season, then somewhere in between is bold prediction check-in season.

As always: you don’t care about this introduction, just the midway results. But, also, as always: I try to use bold predictions as an exercise in using hard data (and a little bit of blind faith) to make actionable recommendations for leveraging market inefficiencies to your advantage. While it’s fun to predict Christian Yelich might hit 60 home runs (he might!!!), it doesn’t change your opinion about him very much, whereas a bold prediction about, say, my little king Jeff McNeil might have encouraged you to draft him ahead of his lowly average draft position (ADP) of 298th overall (34th among second basemen), per National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC).

Unlike past seasons, I actually remember some of the bold predictions I made, which makes me excited to review them. At the end of each prediction, I’ll assess the percentage probability of it hitting come October. Let’s dig in.

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