Last week I took a look at the three hitters who were not included in the initial Steamer preseason projections who are now projected to be above average fantasy players for the rest of the year. Today I want to look at the hitters who were included in the preseason projections who have seen their projected value increase the most one month into the season. I explained the methodology in the last post, but the short version is that each player is assigned a standardized score for each roto category (using z-scores) and when those are added up and an adjustment is made for positional scarcity we get a number called fantasy value above replacement (FVARz). Full disclosure: I’m using the numbers I calculated using the rest-of-season projections on April 29. I didn’t have time to re-run the numbers for this post, but that shouldn’t have a huge effect.
This list pairs nicely with the players discussed last week in that none of the players on either list were considered above replacement level when the initial Steamer projections came out. But all six players here are considered above replacement level from here on out (in 12-team mixed leagues) according to this methodology.
I did my own projections during the preseason and ran them through the same z-score method, and I agreed with Steamer that four of the six players were below replacement level. But I disagreed with Steamer pretty strongly on Christian Yelich and Brandon Moss. I had Yelich with a preseason FVARz of 2.66 and Moss at 2.81. That made Yelich a top 40 outfielder and Moss a top 15 first baseman in my preseason rankings.
The difference on Yelich was primarily a playing time thing. Steamer only had Yelich getting 57% of the plate appearances I was projecting. But if you were to extrapolate the roto numbers that Steamer was projecting out to as many PA as I was projecting, Steamer would have projected him for 12 HR, 61 R, 60 RBI, 16 SB and .260 compared to my 14 HR, 75 R, 62 RBI, 20 SB and .260. I still liked him more but not substantially so. Steamer now projects him to finish the year with as many PA as I originally projected him for and the following line: 11 HR, 76 R, 53 RBI, 17 SB and a .269 average. With those numbers, Yelich would finish as a top 45-50 outfielder.
To date Yelich has been a top 25 outfielder according to ESPN’s player rater. But neither Steamer or I believe he’ll continue to perform at that level. He still only has 412 major league PA, and in that small sample he hasn’t shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching with a 67 wRC+ without the platoon advantage. He’s raked against right-handed pitching, but that’s propped up by a .412 BABIP. He’ll likely maintain a well above average BABIP against right-handed pitching, but no qualified batter in the last three years that isn’t named Mike Trout or Joey Votto has maintained a BABIP over .380 against right-handed pitching for a full season. And neither Trout or Votto has has a BABIP over .400. There’s some regression coming there.
As for Moss, Steamer just didn’t see him hitting 30 home runs in only 500 or so PA again. I didn’t either, but I had him coming close with 28. Steamer also didn’t have him approaching 85+ RBI again. Steamer hasn’t come all the way around in their latest projections, but they now expect him to finish closer to those marks than they originally forecasted. For what it’s worth, Moss is on pace for about 25 home runs, but his HR/FB rate is a couple of percentage points off his career average.
The most interesting thing about Moss in the first month of the season didn’t have anything to do with the HR/RBI totals from which he derives his value. No, the most interesting thing is his much improved contact rate. For a guy who has always struggled with strikeouts and thus his batting average, an improvement in contact rate is really nice to see. And given contact rate stabilizes fairly quickly, we shouldn’t necessarily assume this is an outlier and that Moss will regress back to his old contact and strikeout rates. He’ll likely regress somewhat, but it seems some improvement has been made.
If Moss’ HR/FB rate was in line with his career average, he’d be on pace to hit 28-29 home runs as opposed to the 23-24 he’s on pace for now. Assuming some of the contact rate improvement holds and assuming his HR/FB rate tends towards his career average, we could see Moss do basically exactly what he did last year with an improved batting average. He’s been a borderline top ten first baseman so far according to the player rater, so you probably can’t buy low on him or anything. But if you were worried about the power declining and the average regressing, you shouldn’t be looking to sell high either.