I’m taking a break from March Madness to bring you the madness of me thinking I can get some of my bold predictions right this year.
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On Wednesday night, one of my Ottoneu baseball leagues had its second-year auction. I’m a bit of an Ottoneu junkie—I’m in three different baseball leagues and one football one—but this is the first time I remember completing a draft before March. As such, I thought it would be fun and hopefully useful for readers for me to share some of the results from the auction as well as my thoughts and strategies.
A quiet January of free agency came to a close when Alex Avila reportedly agreed to a deal to join the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. Avila is not enough to ease the pain D-Backs fans will feel if they lose J.D. Martinez in the next few weeks, but his recent performance suggests he could be a nice addition to the team and one at a position where they needed the help. With Chris Iannetta signing in Colorado, the D-Back’s remaining trio of catchers from last season—Jeff Mathis, Chris Herrmann, and J.R. Murphy—each played below the replacement level in 2017.
For the first seven years of his MLB career, Marco Estrada was treated like a swingman. But after he earned some MVP votes in 2015 and made the All-Star team in 2016, Estrada entered last season as an entrenched member of the Blue Jays’ rotation and fantasy-relevant starter. Then it all fell apart. He finished last season 4th-worst of 58 qualified starters with a 4.98 ERA. Sabermetrically-minded analysts like Paul Sporer had entered the year with concerns that Estrada had outperformed his peripherals in the 2015-16 seasons, and his reversal from FIP overachiever to FIP underachiever looked like a confirmation.
The Rockies have spent more than $100 million on relief pitchers this offseason. It’s a strategy with an obvious eye turned toward the postseason, when relievers are becoming increasingly important to team success. But Dave Cameron made a compelling case that the Rockies may not be ready for that sort of roster refinement. They overachieved their expected win total by five games last season and have yet to replace several key contributors—including Carlos Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Mark Reynolds—that helped them eke into the playoffs with 87 wins. I don’t dispute that they will still need to fill some of the holes on their roster, but I did stumble upon some evidence that the Rockies’ bolstered bullpen may pay major dividends in the regular season, not just the postseason.
I’ve already done some research on batting order’s impact on RBI and runs scored, and if a fantasy player is indifferent between the two—the way he likely would be in drafting a new team in a traditional roto format—then there isn’t a ton at stake. Over the first five spots in the lineup, a typical fantasy-relevant batter can be expected to gain or lose at most 6 RBI plus runs in a full season.
Jake Arrieta may be the most important free agent pitcher this winter. He’s not the best pitcher available. At least by Dave Cameron’s criteria, that would be Yu Darvish. But he’s been good enough to likely earn a $100 million contract, and he’s shown signs of both brilliance and potential decline over the last two seasons such that a $100 million contract feels like it will be either $50 million too expensive or $50 million too cheap and nowhere in between.
In my most recent article, I estimated that a typical power hitter should lose 7.6 RBI over the course of a season if he bats second in the order compared to if he bats fourth. From a narrow perspective, that’s bad news for fantasy owners. But typical fantasy formats deal with more than just RBI, and runs scored in particular seem to have an inverse relationship with RBI where, as a hitter moves toward the front of the order, his runs should increase to offset some or all of his RBI loss. The question is which influence is bigger.
I received some really interesting comments on my previous article on RBI luck, and that has steered me toward several new avenues of related research. Commenter Bill identified that several of the unlucky batters who had fewer RBI on home runs than I expected batted second in the order. Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense for batting order to influence a player’s opportunities for RBI, but that issue can be a bit difficult to disentangle from the quality of the offense he is a part of. Still, I think it is possible, and I’ve made an attempt to do so with a model that chains some league average rates to a hypothetical power hitter’s expected batting outcomes.
This being FanGraphs, I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about RBI and runs. Both of those stats are contextual in nature and say less about a player’s quality of performance than many of this site’s context-neutral metrics, such as wOBA and WAR. But I still play in a number of roto leagues where RBI and runs are categories, and just because they mean less in real life doesn’t mean I can’t put some analytical thought into how players accumulated them.