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Rounding Third: Playing-Time Neutral Rankings

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).


Playing Time Neutral Values

Evan Longoria is the Rays' franchise player, having inked a long-term extension with the team this offseason that should keep him there for the extent of his career. In many 15-team NFBC leagues he'll go late in the first round or early in the second round as the #2 third baseman to get drafted in many leagues. However, I've got him as my #35 player overall, well below his ADP both at and in NFBC Drafts. Why does Longoria rate so low? In short - we don't project him to get as many plate appearances as many of his contemporaries. Longoria was limited to 74 games last season due to a hamstring injury that ultimately required surgery, and then a subsequent procedure during the offseason. This after missing 29 games the previous season due to nagging hamstring problems. While it would be nice to presume that his November surgery cleared everything up, it would be Pollyannaish to give him a full 158-162 game projection for 2013.

And this illustrates an annual issue for those of us that do projections and valuations. It's not just a matter of evaluating a player's skills, but it's also important to project playing time. As we discussed last year, extra playing time doesn't just help in the accumulation of counting stats, but it can provide greater heft in a qualitative stat like batting average, where our projected .293 batting average for Shin-Soo Choo was worth more than Allen Craig's projected .308 average, because he was projected to get 552 at-bats compared to Craig's 321.

Of course, projecting playing time is an imperfect science. Injuries happen, Job Battles get resolved, and some players just take the leap. Of course, we adjust our projections accordingly when news happens in spring training, and job battle resolutions aren't simply settled on Opening Day.

Last year I decided to do a set of playing-time neutral rankings to at least illustrate what these players were capable of doing when at-bats were equal. Obviously that won't happen in real life, and moreover, not every player would improve linearly with more playing time. Platoon players (often, but not always) are platoon players for a reason. The idea here is that we might see some chances to find value - a player that otherwise doesn't rank high but shows up on the second list could be a nice endgame pick. When we did this exercise last year, we were lucky to focus on Allen Craig and that Mike Trout tested out well, two good examples of players taking the leap and getting more playing time than expected.

Our methodology is the same as last year. I'm using his Standings Gain Points as my unit of measure - that's the starting point for my dollar values. The actual equation is (Total Standings Gain Points / At-Bats) x 100 - basically, I wanted to move out the decimal point two places to make it a little more decipherable. This was done for standard 12-team mixed auction leagues, with a 60-40 hitting/pitching split as the starting point. I went with the top 80 hitters per at-bat this year. This year I also laid out their basic 5x5 projected stats. "VALUE" = their current projected value in $260 budget leagues. Here are the results:

Rank firstname lastname pos HR RBI R SB Ave VALUE PER AB
1 Ryan Braun OF 42 115 105 28 0.316225 $43 4.708218
2 Miguel Cabrera 3B 43 129 110 3 0.335025 $41 4.653896
3 Jose Bautista OF 44 105 102 9 0.27027 $30 4.466101
4 Matt Kemp OF 33 104 102 24 0.301394 $33 4.254112
5 Mike Trout OF 19 76 121 50 0.305141 $34 4.120581
6 Carlos Gonzalez OF 27 93 98 22 0.307551 $28 4.096596
7 Andrew McCutchen OF 30 95 103 23 0.312821 $32 4.071135
8 Justin Upton OF 28 93 106 22 0.294434 $28 4.018105
9 Joey Votto 1B 29 102 101 4 0.322936 $27 3.999148
10 Albert Pujols 1B 38 111 101 8 0.294613 $31 3.937912
11 Giancarlo Stanton OF 41 89 86 6 0.265107 $22 3.872101
12 Curtis Granderson OF 39 104 109 15 0.24386 $27 3.865303
13 Troy Tulowitzki SS 28 97 87 8 0.306513 $22 3.836279
14 Edwin Encarnacion 1B 37 94 89 8 0.27307 $23 3.806532
15 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 28 100 98 13 0.289617 $24 3.800893
16 Josh Hamilton OF 32 102 88 7 0.281132 $22 3.755797
17 Adrian Beltre 3B 33 103 89 1 0.314387 $25 3.749745
18 Evan Longoria 3B 29 98 78 6 0.287726 $19 3.728163
19 Allen Craig OF 25 107 85 3 0.307252 $21 3.68615
20 Brandon Moss 1B 24 73 63 4 0.278061 $8 3.632762
21 Bryce Harper OF 26 82 111 23 0.285229 $26 3.626912
22 Billy Hamilton SS 0 14 36 25 0.261364 -$11 3.618658
23 Prince Fielder 1B 34 108 89 0 0.299827 $24 3.606366
24 Robinson Cano 2B 31 102 104 4 0.3152 $28 3.569982
25 Jay Bruce OF 37 103 86 8 0.259392 $22 3.562447
26 Jason Heyward OF 24 81 88 18 0.286517 $19 3.504904
27 Josh Willingham OF 30 97 75 4 0.256198 $14 3.479841
28 B.J. Upton OF 28 84 89 36 0.252129 $23 3.477508
29 Matt Adams 1B 11 38 29 0 0.290816 -$10 3.477447
30 Aramis Ramirez 3B 28 97 83 3 0.306306 $20 3.45914
31 Mike Napoli C 28 68 65 0 0.261307 $15 3.452116
32 Wilin Rosario C 26 66 62 3 0.263959 $14 3.428534
33 David Ortiz DH 26 78 73 0 0.294372 $12 3.420843
34 Justin Maxwell OF 20 57 56 15 0.247253 $4 3.407278
35 Hanley Ramirez SS 23 84 84 26 0.266788 $19 3.367487
36 Buster Posey C 23 99 80 2 0.314442 $26 3.359492
37 Yoenis Cespedes OF 22 80 79 21 0.278937 $17 3.357257
38 David Wright 3B 23 96 91 17 0.288851 $22 3.331232
39 Carlos Beltran OF 25 81 71 8 0.278926 $13 3.323969
40 Freddie Freeman 1B 25 96 89 3 0.286506 $17 3.321939
41 Chris Carter 1B 22 69 64 1 0.248649 $3 3.321585
42 Jacoby Ellsbury OF 13 59 101 34 0.301226 $20 3.313141
43 Eric Young Jr. OF 3 17 44 17 0.292237 -$9 3.297836
44 Carlos Gomez OF 10 38 55 27 0.249249 $0 3.264874
45 Adam Jones OF 31 87 93 14 0.288217 $23 3.26355
46 Mark Teixeira 1B 33 106 89 3 0.251318 $18 3.244146
47 Anthony Rizzo 1B 29 101 82 5 0.279232 $19 3.235814
48 Corey Hart OF 23 68 66 3 0.274232 $7 3.234623
49 Tyler Moore OF 15 52 37 2 0.256604 -$6 3.234404
50 Paul Konerko 1B 32 91 65 0 0.29368 $16 3.229892
51 Oscar Taveras OF 4 23 20 2 0.305344 -$17 3.223591
52 Ryan Zimmerman 3B 27 98 89 4 0.287435 $19 3.221927
53 Yadier Molina C 19 70 66 10 0.31134 $19 3.203558
54 Charlie Blackmon OF 6 30 37 9 0.294643 -$9 3.201505
55 Brett Gardner OF 5 32 73 38 0.268844 $4 3.198173
56 Ike Davis 1B 31 91 73 1 0.267308 $14 3.194011
57 Nelson Cruz OF 25 87 74 10 0.268859 $14 3.18959
58 Mark Trumbo OF 32 94 70 6 0.259259 $15 3.158831
59 Darin Mastroianni OF 3 20 33 21 0.265403 -$11 3.157535
60 Billy Butler 1B 27 108 74 1 0.307438 $20 3.145828
61 Ian Kinsler 2B 22 76 109 23 0.260434 $19 3.138335
62 Coco Crisp OF 10 52 71 45 0.263158 $11 3.132523
63 Justin Ruggiano OF 16 63 62 19 0.284141 $8 3.132083
64 Brandon Guyer OF 7 31 38 9 0.281385 -$9 3.131255
65 Chris Davis 1B 30 89 78 1 0.26742 $14 3.130897
66 Miguel Montero C 18 88 64 0 0.295405 $16 3.126509
67 Desmond Jennings OF 15 54 100 38 0.256781 $15 3.12215
68 Ryan Howard 1B 31 113 74 0 0.246777 $15 3.118871
69 Adrian Gonzalez 1B 26 110 88 1 0.29695 $21 3.111384
70 Adam LaRoche 1B 28 91 73 0 0.269903 $12 3.108483
71 Chase Headley 3B 21 93 89 15 0.289256 $19 3.105872
72 Jarrod Dyson OF 1 16 50 30 0.263158 -$7 3.101403
73 Jason Kipnis 2B 17 81 96 27 0.276206 $19 3.094966
74 Kendrys Morales 1B 25 81 66 0 0.282744 $10 3.092502
75 Carl Crawford OF 13 65 77 25 0.274949 $10 3.092257
76 Melky Cabrera OF 14 72 92 16 0.315881 $17 3.092254
77 Cameron Maybin OF 13 53 81 33 0.268924 $11 3.084239
78 Carlos Quentin OF 24 76 62 2 0.254079 $6 3.080584
79 Eduardo Nunez SS 2 17 22 14 0.275641 -$15 3.079994
80 Mike Olt 3B 19 71 62 3 0.255051 $3 3.063567



Looking at the results, as always the elite players do well, though those that might get rated higher on the basis of their reliability (see also, Robinson Cano) lose a couple of spots. But we also see what happens if certain elite prospects get an extended look, with Billy Hamilton being the glaring example. Even after my recent upgrade in his playing time projection, he's a negative-valued player in a standard 12-team mixed league, almost entirely on the basis of a lack of playing time (I have him projected to play 44 games). But if you give him the same at-bats as everyone else, his value skyrockets thanks to his crazy speed.

Which leads us to one of the flaws of our methodology - hitters whose value principally relies upon speed tend to get overvalued here. That's because with extra playing time, their stolen base rate will likely decline - instead of being inserted into games where their speed is optimized, they face all situations, including blowout games, and don't get the pinch-hit and pinch-run chances.

We alluded above how platoon hitters are going to get overvalued when we do this, and Brandon Moss fits that example quite well. The logic is pretty simple - those extra at-bats for Moss aren't going to come against an infinite number of right-handed pitchers, but rather against lefties that fare much better against him.

Let's briefly talk about two other groups of players that might benefit inordinately from this - those with high walk rates, and catchers. In both cases, by definition they are going to have fewer at-bats than their peers. Walkers because those walks don't count as at-bats in a normal projection, thus artificially giving them more chances to accumulate counting stats than they would in an environment where plate appearances are equal. (Note to self: Next year, use plate appearances rather than at-bats as our baseline.) And with catchers, even in the extreme case of someone like Buster Posey or Carlos Santana, who both play other positions when they don't catch, they'll almost never get in the same number of plate appearances as the top hitters.

And yet, we still see a few players where, if everything breaks right, could provide you a hefty profit. Tyler Moore stands out the most to me in this exercise. Right now he's a "Minister Without Position" - first base and both corner outfield slots are blocked. But neither Adam LaRoche nor Jayson Werth have been ironmen in their recent history, and as much as I love Bryce Harper, his all-out playing style could lead to injury quite naturally. He seems as if he could be this year's Allen Craig - a guy that will produce if the at-bats somehow fall to him. Charlie Blackmon on the Rockies and Eduardo Nunez on the Yankees also fit that profile.

We did this exercise for 12-team mixed leagues, but you can really see the value of it when you drill down deeper. In single-league universes or mixed leagues with 15+ teams, a few part-time players are necessary to fill your roster. These are the players you want to target with your endgame dollars - guys that could provide you that massive profit, instead of the steady, boring players that will earn you all of $1 on that $1 investment. Run your own numbers if you do your own projections. The exercise will provide you a handy sleeper list.

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