I’m not sure I have this whole bold predictions thing figured out. As has been the case for me in the past, several of my predictions this season produced useful fantasy advice. In particular, avoiding Jake Arrieta and drafting Jose Berrios, Dylan Bundy, Ender Inciarte, and Luke Weaver would have helped your team. But that was not enough to make any of my predictions actually correct.
Previous bold predictions reviews: 2016, 2015, 2014
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Mookie Betts hit a pair of home runs against the Athletics on Tuesday, which hopefully for the Red Sox means that their star player’s power slump is over. Entering last Friday’s game, Betts had not homered in more than a month. Then, he hit this Fenway special.
Two weeks ago, Wil Myers stole three bases in a game against the Phillies. All three came in the fourth inning when he stole second, third, and home to single-handedly manufacture a run following his single. Since then, Myers has stolen two more bases to raise his August total to six. That isn’t Billy Hamilton or Byron Buxton territory, but it’s really useful in a player who also provides power.
Over the last two weeks, the hitter walk rate leaderboard features some usual suspects. Joey Votto is first at 31.7 percent. Mike Trout is third at 25.9 percent. But sandwiched between them is Yasiel Puig at 27.3 percent. 27.3 percent! This is the same player who finished the 2016 season with a 6.5 percent walk rate over 368 plate appearances. This is the same player who swung at this pitch:
In my previous article, I created an approach to examine pitcher strengths of schedule by aggregating the hit frequency projections of the hitters they faced. So, for example, Dee Gordon was projected to hit 0.229 singles, 0.032 doubles, 0.015 triples, etc. against right-handed pitchers when he faced Stephen Strasburg in the first plate appearance of the season. By adding together all of those fractional singles, doubles, and other possible results, I was able to calculate an expected wOBA for pitchers based on the quality of the batters they faced.
If you think of the differences in expected wOBA as schedule luck, then that initial research suggested that the difference between the luckiest and unluckiest pitcher so far in 2017 was pretty small. The former was Patrick Corbin, whose batters faced combined for a .324 projected wOBA against left-handed pitchers. The latter was Ricky Nolasco, whose batters faced combined for a .337 projected wOBA against right-handed pitchers. That difference of 13 points of wOBA is the same as the difference between Kyle Seager and James Loney. It’s something, but it isn’t huge.
I’ve always been interested in the contextual differences of player seasons. Take two random starters. Over the course of a season, they will have subtle differences in their frequencies of starts in pitcher-friendly parks and their frequencies of starts versus various teams and divisions. If the two starters are from different leagues, they will face a major difference in the number of designated hitters and pitcher batters that they face. Most of those factors are small on their own, but it feels like they could snowball on each other in extreme cases enough to make a noticeable difference in the difficulty of the pitchers’ strength of schedules.
It has taken me a while, but I think I’ve finally found an elegant way to test for those types of differences. It involves result frequencies and is best illustrated with a specific example. Stephen Strasburg started the season with a game against Miami. The first batter he faced was Dee Gordon. At that time, Gordon would reasonably have been expected to hit a single on 22.9 percent of his plate appearances versus a right-handed pitcher. He would have been expected to hit a double 3.2 percent, a triple 1.5 percent, and a home run 0.7 percent of the time.
Mookie Betts does remarkable things pretty regularly on a baseball field, but what he did earlier this week struck me as particularly remarkable. On Sunday, Betts knocked in eight runners against the reeling Blue Jays. That is a rare feat. Only 19 other players have done the same since the start of the 2007 season. Meanwhile, Betts accomplished that rarity from the leadoff spot, which is even more unusual. He’s the only hitter who has done so over that same decade.
Betts is much more of a power hitter than a typical leadoff man, and so he was as good a candidate as anyone to make history. Also the Red Sox are in the AL and are in the upper third of teams in runs scored this season, so they should provide more opportunities for their leadoff men to plate runners than a typical team. But Betts’ accomplishment and the feat’s rarity bring up two contradictory thoughts. Is Betts good enough and is the Red Sox’s offense good enough to overcome the fantasy handicap in RBIs Betts should face batting first in the order instead of third or fourth? Or is Betts a little bit less valuable than he could be in fantasy, at least in that specific category (recognizing that the leadoff spot should counterbalance the loss of RBIs with some extra runs and extra plate appearances to add weight to Betts’ batting average)?
In my last two articles on streaky hitters, I came up with a method to identify when hitters entered and exited hot and cold streaks. However, to really make a difference for fantasy players, streaks must both be identifiable and persistent. There’s no point in benching a hitter in a cold streak if that streak is just as likely to be over with as not when you realize it is happening. And so, for this article, I decided to look at hitter performances in the days following the recognition of streaks.
In my introductory article on streaky hitters, I used Anthony Rendon as a narrative hook. I wish I had waited a couple of weeks so I could have used Scooter Gennett instead. Gennett hadn’t hit a home run since April 11 before he smashed four on Tuesday, and based on my criteria, Gennett has now officially snapped the cold streak he had been on since May 12 which featured just one hit over his most recent seven games. More to the point, now that I’ve defined what I consider a streaky hitter to be, I wanted to look at some multi-year trends to see if I could identify certain hitters as consistently streaky or not streaky and hopefully pinpoint some specific skills that lead to those tendencies.
I wanted to take a break from my Effective Velocity research, and so, in honor of Anthony Rendon, I decided to take a look at streaky hitters. Before this season, I did not have a perception of Rendon as streaky. But so far this season, he has produced 5 of his 7 total home runs, 7 of his 21 total runs, and 15 of his 28 total RBI in just two games. That’s insane. It may not mean anything in this case; however, it makes intuitive sense that some hitters would be more consistent than others. And beyond even the desire to roster consistent hitters over streaky hitters in weekly formats, I think it is at least worth exploring whether it is possible to identify hot and cold streaks as they are happening and make start-and-sit decisions with them in mind.
The first step toward that goal is defining what hot and cold streaks are. Rendon probably isn’t the best example of that. In general, I think of a hot hitter as one who produces well above his typical level of production for an extended period. As a starting point, I decided to look at players who produced a wOBA over seven consecutive games or more that was either 110 points above their seasonal line (hot) or 110 points below their seasonal line (cold). That 110-point threshold is fairly random, but it is based on the difference in the glossary markers for an excellent and awful player over a full season.