Let’s cut straight to the chase. Take a look at the statistical snapshots below:
|Player 1||97||0||9||4||6||2||11.3 %||11.3 %||.306||.392||.376||.071||.351|
|Player 2||91||1||10||7||6||2||15.4 %||5.5 %||.235||.278||.318||.082||.271|
Obviously, Player 1 is benefiting from a higher batting average on balls in play while Player 2 is getting burned a bit by his. Still, take away their triple-slash lines (but leave the isolated power) and you have two players with almost identical numbers, down to the six steals on eight attempts and the meager isolated powers (ISOs). Where they differ a bit is in plate discipline: Player 1 has a much healthier walk rate than Player 2 and a couple fewer strikeouts. So while Player 1 is benefiting from the a higher BABIP, he can also reasonably be expected to post a marginally higher batting average and noticeably higher on-base percentage. Most importantly, the two hitters are eligible at the same position and are, thus, substitutable.
So, based on the table above, who would you rather own: Player 1, or Player 2? Don’t think! Well, you can think, but just don’t think too hard. Don’t cheat, either (although I don’t think the names will be especially difficult to decrypt).
If you don’t feel particularly drawn to either player, I don’t blame you. On paper, they are highly comparable, if not almost identical. Yet their perceived values couldn’t be farther apart: Player 1 is owned in a mere 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues and was drafted 364th overall in them on average. Meanwhile, Player 2 is owned in 72 percent of them and was typically drafted 148th.
I admit that historical context likely plays a role in their perceived values. Player 1 peaked as a 10-homer, 30-steal guy (in his debut) and has never batted under .285, but is 33 years old, so his power, which disappeared last year, may never really return. Player 2 is only 27 and once stole 36 bases (also in his debut) but has never hit double-digit home runs and sports a .262 career batting average. Age certainly has stronger implications on power for Player 1, but in regard to speed, both players are on the wrong side of the stolen base aging curve.
As for more context on what they’re currently doing, Player 1 sports an unfavorably high 63.5-percent ground ball rate but also a line drive rate more than eight percentage points higher than that of Player 2. Meanwhile, Player 2 is not hitting to the opposite field with much authority, coinciding with a 15.4-percent infield fly ball rate that is very likely contributing to his low BABIP. On his spray chart, 10 of his 15 fly balls are infield pop flies or shallow fly balls to left field (note that spray charts don’t automatically update, so his spray chart is not current). Furthermore, each of his two doubles (out of four that presently show up) were ground balls just inside the base lines and the fielders — balls possibly hit with authority, but certainly not gap power that makes me think his ISO has places to go.
Regardless of who you picked, my primary objective is to point out a salient example of a market inefficiency caused by behavioral bias. Perhaps Player 2 is the better player, but I don’t know if he’s better by more than 200 draft picks or 40 percentage points of ownership. In fact, one could argue that a couple fewer home runs is a fair trade-off for 25 points of batting average across 600 plate appearances, both of which Player 1 provides. (Now here’s hoping Zach doesn’t see this and correct me on that valuation.) There is a disconnect between each of these players’ perceived values (especially relative to each other) and what’s actually happening.
Ultimately, Player 1, despite his age, is showing a willingness to run, more so than in years past, making him probably more valuable than most of us expected and a legitimate free agent addition in most leagues, especially points-based ones that penalize for strikeouts. If I owned Player 2 and could package him with a decent player in exchange for a better player (that could upgrade said decent player) and Player 1, I would absolutely try to do so.
There are other guys like Player 1, too, waiting on your waiver wire:
Desmond Jennings, available in 74 percent of Yahoo! leagues, is hitting for near-zero power but has shaved off more than a third of his strikeout rate. He could steal another 15 to 20 bases without hurting your batting average for one if he can sustain his plate discipline gains — and I believe he can, given current career bests in his swinging strike, contact and chase rates. A few of those infrequent fly balls will clear some fences eventually, so his power (and batting average) should only improve in those regards. (Among the three names here at the bottom, Jennings was drafted latest on average in Yahoo! leagues.)
Dexter Fowler, available in 61 percent of Yahoo! leagues, is more than halfway to his stolen base total last year in a mere 82 plate appearances; he will hurt your batting average, but he’ll also post double-digit homers, too. At this point, he could easily pull off a repeat of his 2012 season (12 HR, 19 SB, .263) — a valuable one in all but the shallowest leagues — with a chance at better counting stats amid a potent Cubs lineup.
And Odubel Herrera, available in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues, can be helpful in deep (deeeeeep) leagues, as his only calling card at this point is speed — speed for which Prospect Purveyor Kiley McDaniel graded him out at 50-plus, which makes his calling card not really a calling card at all. Still, four steals in 80 plate appearances is a full-season pace of roughly 30 swipes, which is nothing to sneeze at. Besides, are Austin Jackson’s two homers, two steals and extra 15 percentage points of ownership any better?
* * *
Sorry for being so cryptic and never revealing the players’ identities. I just figured you would’ve deciphered them by now. Hover over “Player 1” and “Player 2” throughout the post for their identities.