We Don’t Know Jack

Sports fans love to prove their knowledge. They simply need to show that they know more than other fans, their friends and their family. Fantasy owners take that concept even further by putting money where their mouth is. Whether projecting breakouts, predicting busts or drafting minor leaguers they expect to become the next superstar, there are countless opportunities for fantasy owners to show they know their stuff. Unfortunately, for as much as we think we might know about the game and explaining player performance, there are examples every season that convince me that in fact, we don’t know jack.

When looking at breakouts and busts, we look deep, analyze every FanGraphs metric, watch the games with our expert scouting eyes, and try our hardest to explain why what we are seeing is happening. But that still falls short.

Let’s start with perhaps the season’s biggest disappointment, Adam Dunn. As we are well aware, Dunn has posted an embarrassing .162/.292/.308 line and .277 wOBA after years of extreme consistency.

So why has Adam Dunn sucked?

Well to start, his K% is a career worst 43.2%. Okay, well why? I don’t know.

His IFFB% of 16% is above league average and at its worst mark since 2003. Okay, well what’s the reason for this? I don’t know.

He has just 2 hits in 63 at-bats (a hilarious .032 average) vs lefties. Why the sudden massive ineptitude vs lefties? I don’t know.

His power has gone missing, as his ISO and HR/FB ratios are at career worsts. Why has his power gone MIA? I don’t know.

He cannot hit the fastball, with a negative pitch type value for the first time in his career. Fantastic, but why did he suddenly lose his ability to crush fastballs? I don’t know.

We could speculate on explanations until we’re blue in the face, from his appendectomy, to the switch in leagues and learning new pitchers to becoming a full-time DH. But the bottom line is we just don’t know.

And how about Hanley Ramirez? He has been another high profile bust this year and we could run the same exercise getting absolutely nowhere.

What is behind Hanley Ramirez‘ bust of a season?

He is hitting the lowest percentage of line drives of his career, leading to a career low BABIP. Great, but why? I don’t know.

He has posted the highest GB% of his career. That will certainly limit his power output, but why has it happened? I don’t know.

His ISO is at a career worst and below the league average. I could see that, but what’s behind this power outage? I don’t know.

According to pitch type values, he can’t hit fastballs, sliders or change-ups. Why the sudden struggles though? I don’t know.

Has Hanley’s back bothered him all season, which could explain his poor first half? Possibly, but unless he comes out and states this, then in keeping with the theme of this post, we just don’t know.

We FanGraphs/RotoGraphs authors have a tough task sometimes. When trying to analyze a surprise performance, we end up going halfway with our explanation, and I am guilty of this as well. We could explain a hitter’s struggles exactly the way I listed some reasons for both Dunn and Hanley above, but we still have no idea why. And the why is the key. Truly answering these “why?” questions could help us to determine if these performance levels will continue or a return to previous averages should be expected. Maybe HitF/X will push us in the right path, but until then, we will be left scratching our heads when these surprise performances occur. Whether these performances continue at these rates or the player reverts back to what we originally expected before the season is now just a roll of the dice.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Brad Johnsonmember
12 years ago

My pet theory on Dunn is that his appendectomy led to either a subtle change in mechanics or else reduced his bat speed. A greater incidence of infield flies and more strike outs supports the slower bat hypothesis as both often correlate with declining bat speed.

It could just be age or a combination of injury and age. Dunn wouldn’t be the first player to thrive through his 20’s and disappear in his early 30’s. And his skill set doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

Jeffrey Gross
12 years ago
Reply to  Brad Johnson

I think Brad’s first theory is worth exploring.