Rank the top-10 fantasy hitters from last year, by performance, in your head. Does the list look like this? Here is ESPN’s Player Rater’s Top 11, based on a traditional 5×5 roto league:
1. Carlos Gonzalez (#7)
2. Carl Crawford (#42)
3. Albert Pujols (#2)
4. Joey Votto (#4)
5. Miguel Cabrera (#3)
6. Josh Hamilton (#5)
7. Jose Bautista (#1)
8. Robinson Cano (#6)
9. Hanley Ramirez (#17)
10. Ryan Braun (#37)
11. Juan Pierre (below replacement)
You may quibble here and there (Pierre might seem out of place, for example), but my guess is that the list is reasonably close.
Things change a bit if you were playing using FanGraphs Points. The number in parentheses above is my 2010 rank order of hitters based on FanGraphs Points, which are built on linear weights. That ranking takes into account position, and gives incomplete credit for playing time because DL stints can be made up for with substitutions. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good ranking of value in our system.
Overall, you can see that most of the players in the top 11 in traditional roto are also top players in the lwts points system, with their order jostled around a bit here and there. But there are three players that see major differences between their ranks in the two systems: Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun, and Juan Pierre. Let’s look at the top-11 list again along with 2010 stats:
So, what’s different about Crawford, Braun, and Pierre? With Crawford and especially Pierre, the answer is pretty straightforward: steals. Crawford is a very good hitter, but what vaults him up the fantasy rankings year after year are his high stolen base totals. They certainly help win games, and they are included in both the FanGraphs wOBA calculations and FanGraphs Fantasy Points. But the simple truth is that steals are worth far more in traditional fantasy baseball than they are in real life, or the FanGraphs points system. Crawford’s wOBA, with steals included, was .378. That’s really, really good. But, relative to his position, it just wasn’t in the class of players like Votto, Hamilton, Bautista, or (as middle infielders) Cano and Hanley.
This is even more extreme with Pierre. His combination of respectable batting average and high steal and run totals last year made him a very good fantasy outfielder. You may not think he was actually the #11 hitter last year (maybe ESPN’s Player Rater is crap), but his average draft position right now is 136 (133rd by rank) at Mock Draft Central and 180 (107th by rank) in Yahoo’s game. Clearly he has some value. But, even with those steals included, he was awful in a lwts league–so much so that he was below the replacement level I set for outfielders. In fact, he was the 6th-worst outfielder that accrued at least 400 PA last season in terms of points per PA. Arguably, he’s not rosterable.
Finally, there is Ryan Braun. He got high marks in the player rater for his combination of high average, high RBI totals, and high runs totals. Plus, he even threw in double-digit steals! If you look at his wOBA, however, he’s pretty much right there with Crawford: .380 is very good, but it’s not top-10 level, unless you play a premier position. And Braun, now an outfielder, does not. Milwaukee had a terrific offense last year, and that (along with his skills) is part of the reason that his RBI and run totals were so high.
Moral of the story: players with high stolen base totals are worth less in lwts leagues than in traditional fantasy baseball. Also, players that have a combination of high average, RBI, and run totals that exceed the norms for their wOBA may also be overvalued–especially if they’ve got a few steals on top of all that.
What are examples of other hitters that you think would be overvalued by traditional roto rankings? I didn’t mention the guy that I think may be the biggest come draft day…
Justin is a lifelong Reds fan, and first played fantasy baseball on Prodigy with a 2400 baud modem. His favorite Excel function is the vlookup(). You can find him on twitter @jinazreds, even though he no longer lives in AZ.