Limitation of Baseball Savant’s Graphic Snapshot

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure everyone has seen this graphic on Baseball Savant but if not, go take a look.

This may be the most trusted but misleading graphic used in (fantasy) baseball analysis. It was all over Twitter today with the Teoscar Hernández trade to show off his greatness.

My biggest issue with these Patriotic Lollipops (note #1) is the extreme focus on power. The first seven items (yes, even xAVG) all correlate to how hard a batter hits the ball. Those seven make out half the power but a hitter’s value is not wrapped up into just hitting with authority.

As in Hernandez’s case, he lights up the top half of the chart, but then some glaring holes show up. The next four sliders point to his horrible plate discipline (6% BB%, 28% K%). At least the plate discipline metrics gets some love.

Sprint Speed shows how fast he can run and can be helpful with predicting stolen bases. The final three metrics bring to light the defense. Besides it keeping a guy on the field, these measures are worthless for our fantasy game. Even with the bottom factors, it is simply a power-centric graphic.

The key when using, seeing, and even hearing that it’s great, is just to assume the player can hit the ball hard and nothing more. Don’t even assume the guy can hit home runs. As a counter example, here is Yandy Díaz’s graphic.

Diaz hit just 9 HR last season in 558 PA because he drives the ball right into the ground. The Barrel% indicator gave might have given away his career 53% GB% but some additional red from a decent eye might have hidden the flaw. Don’t trust your first impression from your eyes with these. Pull out the useful information to a table.

The deal is that the metrics in the graphic are not to be predictive.

Tango then stressed that the expected metrics were only ever intended to be descriptive, that they were not designed to be predictive, and that if they had been intended to be predictive, they could have been designed differently or other metrics could be used.

For me, I’m down to just using Hard Hit% to measure a hitter’s raw power. When paired with launch angle, they are a reliable predictor of home runs.

Instead of going to each player’s page, I’ve decided to average their factors (those with 14 or more) to get an idea of who gets labeled as a Savant darling. Here are the top, middle, and bottom 20 guys (Note #2).

Some thoughts on the list.

  • The only names who surprised me were Diaz (20th) and Taylor Ward (10th). Ward had three great months and three absolute disasters surrounding a mid-season injury and has an NFBC ADP of 136 .
  • The middle group is by far the most interesting. Oneil Cruz has only a 50% average with many people considering him a Savant darling. Marcus Semien and Andres Gimenez are ranked back-to-back. It’s loaded with a bunch of veteran first basemen (Eric Hosmer, Joey Votto, Luke Voit, and C.J. Cron).
  • When I initially had Outs-Above Average included, I ran this poll to see who people preferred.

The players were:

  1. Oneil Cruz
  2. Steven Kwan
  3. Bobby Witt Jr.
  4. Tommy Pham

The crowd picked Witt as the winner but Pham came in as a surprising second place.

  • The bottom twenty were all disasters. This is where the power part of these graphics comes into play. There needs to be a baseline of power for any hitter to be a fantasy asset.

These patriotic lollipop portraits aren’t going away, but fantasy managers need to understand what they focus on (power) and what they don’t (almost everything else). I just use Savant’s HardHit% (> 45% is elite, it gets dicey below 30% to 35%) here at FanGraphs and would recommend not using the graphic for any analysis.

 

Note #1: If you have a better name for the graphic than Patriotic Lollipops, please include it in the comments.

Note #2: There is a full list of players (Out Above Average removed so everyone has the same number of categories.

To get your own copy, to File -> Make a copy and manipulate the sheet.

I’ve added a feature to get a player’s closest comps. Select a player from the yellow drop-down menu at the top left. Then promote (upside down green three-line triangle) from A->Z (smallest to largest). The table on the Downloadable Comps tab will then be updated with the closest comps. For example, here are Teoscar Hernandez’s comps.

A decent list of hitters.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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dezremember
20 days ago

How DARE you, sir?!?!

Kidding of course. This is fantastic work. I’ve become a devout user of these sliders the last few seasons with great success. Not because I think they’re predictive, but because they’re not quite mainstream yet (among people I know and have played with).

So it still gives me an advantage, I think, since the sliders provide accessible descriptive info. And it actually led me to what I think is the more valuable feature on the page…the Breakdowns link. Which takes you to the Batting Rolling Stats Line Charts. Filter that to the current season and it helps identify very useful trends for free agent pickups, etc.
Lollipops and line graphs. Baseball nerdom made visually awesome.

Thanks for the interesting read, Jeff!