I may have taken a step back from RotoGraphs, but I haven’t stopped playing fantasy baseball, and I have to take a look at all the pitchers anyway, and people keep bugging for my ranks in chats and anyway — here they are! I have some notes below the ranks, which are created for 5×5 leagues by using projections and then moving the players around subjectively for different reasons, most of which you will hear on our podcast.
But there are a few notes about tiers and places in the rankings that I like and dislike, notes that might help you think about your pitching strategy this year. Good luck!
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Early in 2011 I was training for a job at MLB.com when I got a call from David Appelman that changed my life. He gave me my dream job that day, a full time job writing and editing at FanGraphs. I’ll forever be grateful to him.
It’s not only the job that Appelman gave me that day. He rewarded me for taking a risk. I haven’t taken enough of those in my life, especially in my work life — I’ve worked mostly for three companies so far. By giving me what I had desired lustily for years, he helped alter my internal calculator.
Now risk meant opportunity. Now change was worth it. I am not the same now.
On the back end of the top 25 outfielders last year, there’s a trio of young outfielders that found success with very different approaches. Adam Duvall just hit the crap out of the ball. Gregory Polanco was a five-tooler with good patience and contact. Stephen Piscotty was somewhere in between. We all have our favorites when it comes to player types, but let’s be concrete about these things. Let’s filter the players based on a few key statistics and find historical comps that can help us better understand the futures for our three relative youngsters.
Imagine your prototypical outfielder. What does he look like? What did he look like in 2010? The numbers say he’s changed a bit. Where he might have been Jermaine Dye or a late-career Moises Alou back then, today’s outfielder looks a little bit more like Ian Desmond or Tyler Naquin. That probably has ramifications on what you expect, generally, from your outfield.
We all have our Brokeback Mountain players. Not that you have a physical desire for them — more that you “just can’t quit” them. Yes, Brett Lawrie has an eighteen pack and is more yoked than 95% of the players I’ve seen in a clubhouse, but the reasons I couldn’t quit him were more statistical in nature: he was young when he debuted, he had above-average results in terms of contact, power, patience, and speed early on. He had pedigree! And he was yoked.
By now, of course, I’ve managed to ween myself of Mr. FortyHands. Finally. He just got worse as time went on and never lived up to that pedigree. I’m hoping that the script for me and Carlos Correa goes differently.
This year, Evan Longoria hit more homers than he ever had before and ended up the tenth-best third baseman (seventh among third-base only). At 31, his age provides us some easy context to the likelihood he repeats his power at that level. But there’s a lot more context! Like the rest of the league, which changed along with him. So let’s figure out that context. Because if the league stays the same next year — if the ball stays the same, you could say — then maybe this is Longoria’s new power level. Which is to say, the same power level, but just in a more powerful league.
Carlos Santana had/is having quite the season. It’s his best by virtually any metric. Pick slugging, isolated slugging, strikeout rate, batting average, hits, home runs, even baserunning runs, and you’ll get either a career-best or second-best effort this year. He ended up the 10th-best fantasy first baseman and we have so many positive changes to choose from if we want to say why he was so good this year.
Here’s my guess: he swung more this year. I’ll explain, but it’s clear from his career-low walk rate and career-high swing rate that he was more aggressive. That might have been more important than anything else he did, and that might give us a road map to finding other mid-career breakouts like Santana.
Well, it wouldn’t be much fun if the ball just rolled to the wall every time the pitcher threw it, so obviously the game needs a catcher, even if robot umps take over. But my impression of trying to draft stud catchers from year to year is that it’s folly.
Maybe because the position is so demanding defensively, my impression of their ability to hit is somewhere between ‘American League pitcher’ and ‘Defensive Replacement’. The numbers say that catchers debut later, but even that finding is muddied by late-career backup catcher debuts. Aging for catchers seems about the same, and finding value in a catcher is easy even if they hit 13% worse than league average as a group this year, worse than any other position players — you still need to fill the position, so even an okay batter should be valuable.
Still… am I crazy? It seems that catchers are more volatile, year to year, and I just want to shop in the bargain bin for the most part. Let’s jump in and see if I am loony tunes.
We’ve done a good thing for those of you that still care about fantasy baseball right now. The Auction Calculator now has 2016 stats as an option so that you can look backwards at what has just happened. That’s going to be part of our effort, on the way to the end of the year, to look at last year to learn more for next year.
This is an important part of fantasy that usually gets ignored. Not only does the league itself change year to year, so retrospection is important in that way, but we can learn things about fantasy itself that will improve our ability to value players going forward.
The fourth-best player in the game last year, by this list, has already inspired a possible change to the auction calculator going forward. Let’s see what else it jars loose.
Joe Camp won his league, probably because he reads us and listens to our podcasts here, I dunno, but that’s my guess, totally not because he’s an Associate Professor of electrical engineering. Anyway, he won his league, and his leaguemates started chirping about a couple trades he made that year that may have appeared lopsided at the time — my personal opinion is that vetoes suck, and are a dampener on league activity, and we should all be active and talking to each other as much as possible, so if you were on it, you would have made that lopsided trade first — and so Mr. Camp set out to prove he would have won the league anyway.
The way he did it? He took the worst team in the league and replaced everyone on the team with the best free agent pickups of the year. He then compared that team with everyone’s originally drafted teams. The free agents easily won — 96 points to 87 for the best drafted team.