One of the things I absolutely love about writing for RotoGraphs is the high value interactions in the comments. I’ve found that by posting certain types of content, I can iron out the wrinkles for my own use, provide teachable moments for everybody involved, and learn about my own shortcomings as a writer/analyst. I probably learn as much from you as you learn from me.
In case you missed it, I ranked Jones as the 21st overall outfielder. It suffices to say that not everybody agreed with an upper-mid tier ranking for a perennial fantasy beast. Rather than reiterate the article, let’s focus on one of those high value comments I mentioned.
In the linked article, OrangeBlackBird looked for evidence to support or refute my concern. He found Chili Davis, Jack Clark, and Reggie Smith exhibited similar skill sets and performed well for years after their age 29 season. A couple damp blankets in Vernon Wells and Jacque Jones weren’t as tidy as comparable players.
The comparable player approach is a FanGraphs staple, but I rarely find it compelling.* A technical excuse for dismissing the comparables approach here is sample size – we’re looking at five athletes and semi-dismissing two of them. However, I’d probably have the same reaction if a list of 20 or 30 comparable players uniformly performed well into their 30’s. To borrow from the toddler block game, we’re trying to fit Jones into a square hole, but we don’t really know if he’s a square, a circle, a triangle, or some other shape.
*There are instances where it’s very compelling, but I consider it overused in an effort to provide evidence for educated guesses. Sometimes, it’s good to just say “I have an interesting guess, I find it compelling in its own right.”
For fantasy purposes, I usually treat players individually. In the case of Jones, my ranking hinges on this one concern:
any decrease in quality of contact could result in a steep decrease in results.
Jones relies on hard hit balls to drive his ISO and BABIP which in turn drives ALL of his value. Anything that causes a decline in his quality of contact could crater his performance. Think about Jay Bruce in 2014. Playing through seemingly minor knee problems (post surgery recovery) resulted in a dreadful season. Bruce, like Jones, lives and dies on hard hit baseballs. He suffered last season with his average fly ball distance dropping 10 feet and a spike in ground ball rate. Of course, his -1.1 WAR season was still worth $9 for fantasy owners (per Zach Sanders), so we can infer the cliff isn’t bottomless for Jones**.
**Ironically, I’m using a single “comparable” to reach this conclusion. Didn’t I just finish complaining about using them?
OrangeBlackBird’s questions do illuminate certain of my risk preferences. Apparently, I’d rather own a short-track record player like Steve Pearce than Jones. To put words in my own mouth, perhaps I prefer knowing it’s relatively easier to move on from Pearce if something goes sideways in his profile. I don’t know if this is true, but it is a potentially irrational component to my internalized value system. It requires more self-reflection.
With rankings and player valuation, one of two things can happen. The boring approach is to slavishly rely upon compiled rankings from numerous sources. It’s the crowdsourced approach to building a draft board. There’s nothing wrong with boring – a common fantasy saying goes something like “boring veterans win leagues.” The corollary is probably “boring drafts win leagues.”
The other approach is to test yourself and your own limits. Go out on a limb for a Carlos Carrasco (or Corey Kluber last season). If you rely more upon yourself than the crowd, you will absolutely include some odd biases in your draft plan. It appears I have a strange relationship with bust risk. Especially with players whose value revolves solely around hard hit balls. Thinking back, I’ve been bearish on Jones and Bruce for years. Always for the same reason.
Here’s the real wrinkle: as of today I don’t know if I should embrace this potential bias in my approach or seek to eliminate it. We think of biases purely as a bad thing, but in certain times and places, they can be useful. I suspect a fantasy draft is one such time and place.
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