The Difficulty in Valuing Jose Abreu and Wil Myers by Rylan Edwards November 1, 2016 The beauty of our updated auction calculator is that it turns us all into masters of hindsight. Personally, I like to abuse this power by offering grating “I told you so” proclamations with little or no written accountability for the things I got wrong. But I also use the calculator to identify players who might be tough to evaluate going forward. Usually these players have greatly under-performed or outperformed their average draft prices and the sustainability of those performances is not always clear. Just because a player provided a certain end-of-season value doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll provide that value the next season. Obviously. Or if he does, that he’ll provide it by the same means. With that in mind, I’d like to look at a couple first basemen whose 2016 performances leave us with a muddled picture of how to value them going into next season. This is a list of the Top 25 first baseman in 2016 sorted by how much they outperformed their draft price. 2016 First Basemen Values Player End of Season Value Avg Draft Price* Delta Wil Myers $24.10 $1.45 $22.65 Daniel Murphy $27.20 $5.15 $22.05 Mike Napoli $17.00 $0.75 $16.25 Carlos Santana $16.80 $1.95 $14.85 Hanley Ramirez $22.40 $8.35 $14.05 Chris Carter $14.30 $0.70 $13.60 Freddie Freeman $25.80 $16.25 $9.55 Brad Miller $8.60 $1.75 $6.85 Albert Pujols $18.50 $14.95 $3.55 Brandon Moss $3.70 $0.60 $3.10 Joey Votto $28.20 $25.80 $2.40 C.J. Cron $2.30 $0.50 $1.80 Mark Reynolds $1.00 $- $1.00 Eric Hosmer $15.60 $14.60 $1.00 Brandon Belt $8.60 $8.20 $0.40 Travis Shaw $1.00 $1.05 $(0.05) David Freese $(0.90) $0.65 $(1.55) Edwin Encarnacion $27.30 $29.85 $(2.55) Miguel Cabrera $28.20 $35.35 $(7.15) Adrian Gonzalez $10.10 $19.55 $(9.45) Anthony Rizzo $24.20 $33.70 $(9.50) Matt Carpenter $8.20 $18.15 $(9.95) Jose Abreu $15.00 $26.45 $(11.45) Chris Davis $13.40 $25.05 $(11.65) Paul Goldschmidt $30.50 $48.60 $(18.10) *average of Yahoo and ESPN auction values I compiled a similar list for catchers in last week’s piece on J.T. Realmuto, in which Buster Posey, due to his draft price, ranked 19th despite being the second most productive catcher in fantasy. Ranking players based on their deltas penalizes high-priced players who may have failed to exceed lofty expectations but were nevertheless highly productive. Turning to first basemen, there’s nothing inherently interesting about Paul Goldschmidt ranking 25th in surplus value if he was still the most productive player at his position. But there are a couple intriguing names on this list who I expect to be the subject of serious debate this off-season. Jose Abreu In the end, you can live with Abreu’s final numbers. Even in 2016’s inflated offensive environment, 25 homers, 100 RBI, and a.293/.353/.468 slash line are nothing to sneeze at. And there were certainly some positive takeaways. While Abreu’s 118 wRC+ ranked 11th at the position, he struck out at the lowest rate of his career. He also amassed 695 plate appearances in 159 games, both career highs, cementing his durability despite lingering foot issues. But as you might have guessed from his place on the table above, you paid for more. Much of the season was a slog; through July, Abreu’s line stood at .269/.325/.413 and his wRC+ a deflating 95. The power that defined him through his first two Major League seasons appeared to defy him instead. Long-held concerns about his bat speed seemed suddenly prescient as pitchers began challenging him inside with heat. As illustrated in the heatmaps above, Abreu saw more inside fastballs in 2016 (right) than he did in his first two seasons (left). And, at least through July, Abreu did indeed scuffle. But did those troubles stem from the adjustment pitchers made against him or were concerns about his bat speed largely overblown? Abreu’s Statcast data is a mixed bag. While his exit velocities and barrel frequency declined, his batted ball distances increased due to a greater concentration of fly balls and line drives. Jose Abreu’s Batted Ball Data Avg Exit Velocity Avg FB/LD Exit Velocity Avg DST Avg HR-DST Barrels/BBE Barrels/PA LD% FB% 2015 91.7 94.5 212 396 11.40% 7.00% 20.70% 32.10% 2016 90.1 92.9 216 402 7.80% 5.20% 21.30% 33.30% But Abreu’s heatmaps show that he actually made more contact on those inside fastballs (even during his slump) than in 2014 or 2015. And by the season’s end, Abreu had arguably made better contact on pitches inside as well. That’s a Statcast heatmap of his exit velocity by location in 2015 on the left and 2016 on the right. If anything, Abreu appears to have taken a step forward on pitches in at the expense of pitches up and over the plate. Perhaps guarding against the sudden onslaught of inside fastballs left him more susceptible in other parts of the zone but encouragingly, he appears to have made the adjustment. So a better batted ball distribution but declining exit velocities. Improved contact inside at the expense of quality contact away. The most plate appearances of his career but during a second year of declining production. And there’s another data point further muddling the picture. This is a chart of Abreu’s rolling average wOBA this season. You might be asking yourself what’s so special about August 9th? From a baseball perspective, I’m not sure there’s anything significant though it appears prelude to a period of improved performance. From a personal perspective, that’s the date Abreu was reunited with his son, Dariel, who still lives in Cuba. Now this is Fangraphs, where we attempt, at least to the best of our ability, to strip away as much noise and speculation from our analysis as possible. And while I can’t say with any conclusiveness what impact, if any, this event might have had on Abreu’s season, it’s still another data point and, quite frankly, it’s one I don’t know how to value. It makes sense to at least consider that a major personal event, such as reuniting with his child, might have some kind of positive on-the-field impact and that absent a clear erosion of skills, some may have begun writing Jose Abreu’s obituary prematurely. To be clear, this isn’t to say reuniting with his son had an effect, just that in the context of a season that was already difficult to interpret, it might have. Where does this leave us in 2017? For the right price, I’d gladly roll the dice on Abreu but what is that price? Looking at the names ahead of him in the auction calculator, I’ll take him over the next five players. And because I don’t really consider Daniel Murphy a fantasy first baseman, that makes Abreu arguably a top 8 player at the position next season. This seems reasonable even if 2016 was the second straight year that his production declined. But going into next year, Abreu’s range of outcomes seems enigmatically high. Wil Myers Atop the chart sits Wil Myers, a popular sleeper pick entering 2016, though likely not for the reasons that made him a fantasy MVP. Myers did a few things differently but most notably, aside from staying healthy, he ran wild. His 28 steals ranked second among first baseman behind Paul Goldschmidt and eighth among all hitters, sandwiched between such speedsters as Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Melvin Upton, and Mookie Betts. In fact, his combination of speed and power made Myers the 23rd most valuable hitter in 2016, shocking once you consider he went 208th in NFBC drafts. The power going into next year isn’t in question just as it wasn’t going into 2016. Wil Myers will hit his share of homers. And his ability to take a walk bodes well for his opportunity to score runs, even on a team that ranked 29th in wRC+. Still, absent the steals, that kind of production makes him a solid yet uncompelling commodity in this new offensive environment, though somewhat more enticing in OBP leagues. The question is what happens to the steals next year? Given that Myers’ previous career high in stolen bases came in 2013 when he stole 12 across AAA and MLB, he doesn’t have much of a track record. It feels far too close to the type of outlier season we’ve all fallen prey to before. Between his short history of steals and checkered injury past, it’s fair to question if 2016 was a mirage. And it might be. If we pull some comps however, the future doesn’t look quite so dire. Going back to 1990, there are 31 instances of players aged 24 to 26, who finished the season within 10% of Myers’ stolen base total and within 10% of his speed score. Removing the four players who accomplished that feat this past season, the group, on average, saw both its stolen bases and overall attempts fall by just 15.5% and 14.4%, respectively. Applying the same trajectory would bring Myers down from 28 steals to about 24 and his attempts from 36 to 29. Considering the Padres’ aggressiveness on the base paths – they ranked third in baseball in steal attempts per plate appearance – a repeat 20-20 season seems less contingent on track record than health and opportunity. Now, for someone who logged fewer than 1000 plate appearances over his first 3 seasons, that’s a real concern. Myers has missed significant time due to multiple wrist injuries already and he’s not yet 26. Going into next year, many will question whether he can repeat his production on the base paths but I wouldn’t be so quick to take for granted the sudden emergence of another skill, durability.