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Rounding Third: Playing Time and Dollar Values

Jeff Erickson

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

Playing Time and Hitter Dollar Values

Projecting a player's value includes two major components - projecting a player's skills, and projecting his playing time. When we do our projections and dollar values, a common response we get is that I have a particular player, usually one that has well above-average skills, ranked too low. In most of those cases, it's because I have him projected to miss more than a handful of games. Usually that projection is because a player has missed a good chunk of games in multiple seasons prior to this one, or in some cases because they have a pre-existing injury. My belief is that most people underestimate the effect of those missed games.

It's readily apparent to see that problem with counting stats. Fewer games equal fewer homers, stolen bases, runs and RBI. But as RotoWire colleague Charlie Zegers demonstrated last week, there's also a good multiplying effect with ratio categories like batting average as well. Not all .300 batting averages are created equal. We have Allen Craig projected to hit .308 this year, and Shin-Soo Choo to hit .293. But because Shoo is projected to get 552 at-bats and Craig just 321, Choo actually gives his fantasy owners more value in the batting average category in a standard 12-team mixed league.

The cumulative effect is also understated. To give you an example, I recently upgraded Ryan Howard's projection on the basis of positive news on his rehab from his torn Achilles' tendon. Initially, I took an extremely conservative position on him (though given how out of line it was with others' projections, perhaps I was the aggressive one - maybe "cautious" was a more apt term than "conservative".), projecting him to miss roughly half the season. It seems now that his return will occur roughly sometime in May, so I've given him 30 more games in his projection, from 75 to 105. Let's look at the change in the results:

Before 75 282 .266 44 17 59 0 -$3.48
After 105 395 .266 62 24 83 0  $5.36

It's a pretty extreme change in his value. More often than not, any adjustments I make to a player's projected playing time will not be so extreme - in Howard's case, he received a 40 percent increase in playing time, leading to a dollar value change in nearly $8. But it illustrates how much of a swing there can be.

Here's the problem with this exercise. Projections are notoriously difficult to accurately project to begin with from a skills standpoint, because even when we break them down at the component level (batting eye, power, speed), the output doesn't necessarily translate for our game. We can get a player's OPS nearly down cold, but if he gets 10 fewer homers and 20 more doubles than we expect, that isn't necessarily a great projection for your fantasy purposes. Adding in the playing time aspect is another level of alchemy. Some players have existing injuries, and of course we have injury and playing time histories, but even then, enough fluke injuries hit to create a high error rate. Yet as we progress through spring training, the difference in drafting one player against another often hinges upon that playing time projection. I tend to believe it would be irresponsible not to discount certain players like Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz on the basis of their respective injury histories.

To that end, we'll also keep adjusting out projections throughout spring training, as job battles and health statuses come into clearer focus. Once we know a player's role and his progress in recovering from injury, we can get a slightly clearer picture of what might happen during the regular season. For a good start on what battles we're paying attention to, please check out Brian Pelowski's Job Battles article. But don't expect wholesale changes in our projections for many of those job battle resolutions - a decision made on March 25th can quickly get reversed on April 25th.

To account for the uncertainty in this exercise, I wanted to come up with a "per at-bat" set of rankings - what might happen if we projected equal plate appearances for every hitter. 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. Further, if you disagree that a certain star should be discounted because of his injury potential, you can see how he might slot with a full projection. To do this, 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'm listing the top 76 hitters (76, because the 76th player, Domonic Brown, is an interesting illustration.). I highly encourage you to do this exercise on your own and go deeper - spending some time playing with the numbers can lead to other discoveries.

Playing Time Neutral Rankings

Rank firstname lastname pos VALUE PerAB
1 Matt Kemp OF $39 4.631
2 Carlos Gonzalez OF $31 4.434
3 Jose Bautista 3B $27 4.325
4 Albert Pujols 1B $32 4.315
5 Ryan Braun OF $14 4.307
6 Miguel Cabrera 1B $30 4.210
7 Justin Upton OF $30 4.154
8 Hanley Ramirez SS $24 4.007
9 Jacoby Ellsbury OF $32 3.963
10 Joey Votto 1B $28 3.956
11 Troy Tulowitzki SS $26 3.952
12 Curtis Granderson OF $24 3.904
13 Evan Longoria 3B $26 3.882
14 Josh Hamilton OF $19 3.868
15 Mike Trout OF $2 3.793
16 Desmond Jennings OF $21 3.753
17 Nelson Cruz OF $17 3.742
18 Brent Lillibridge OF -$4 3.704
19 Allen Craig OF $2 3.684
20 David Wright 3B $21 3.668
21 Shin-Soo Choo OF $21 3.668
22 Adrian Beltre 3B $18 3.664
23 Mike Stanton OF $21 3.661
24 Prince Fielder 1B $24 3.652
25 Andrew McCutchen OF $23 3.644
26 B.J. Upton OF $21 3.620
27 Brett Lawrie 3B $22 3.604
28 Mike Napoli C $17 3.586
29 Robinson Cano 2B $26 3.554
30 Adrian Gonzalez 1B $24 3.551
31 Brandon Belt 1B $5 3.550
32 Matt Holliday OF $19 3.545
33 Alex Rodriguez 3B $13 3.545
34 Alex Gordon OF $20 3.531
35 Ian Kinsler 2B $22 3.521
36 Paul Goldschmidt 1B $11 3.505
37 Paul Konerko 1B $18 3.488
38 Brett Gardner OF $13 3.487
39 Craig Gentry OF -$9 3.467
40 Coco Crisp OF $12 3.466
41 Aramis Ramirez 3B $15 3.445
42 Jose Reyes SS $22 3.441
43 Eric Young Jr. OF -$4 3.439
44 Jason Bourgeois OF $1 3.435
45 Jay Bruce OF $19 3.426
46 Everth Cabrera SS -$9 3.398
47 Michael Cuddyer OF $19 3.395
48 Dustin Pedroia 2B $23 3.383
49 Kevin Youkilis 3B $11 3.381
50 Ryan Howard 1B $5 3.370
51 Carlos Santana C $23 3.347
52 Ryan Kalish OF -$8 3.340
53 Chris Heisey OF $0 3.316
54 Mark Teixeira 1B $20 3.312
55 Yoenis Cespedes OF $11 3.305
56 Lance Berkman 1B $9 3.287
57 Rajai Davis OF -$3 3.277
58 Elvis Andrus SS $17 3.252
59 Carl Crawford OF $17 3.248
60 Jason Heyward OF $11 3.218
61 Corey Hart OF $12 3.214
62 David Ortiz DH $12 3.211
63 Tyler Greene SS -$10 3.192
64 Ryan Lavarnway C -$3 3.190
65 Matt Joyce OF $9 3.186
66 Michael Bourn OF $19 3.183
67 Mike Morse OF $11 3.174
68 Will Middlebrooks 3B -$18 3.169
69 Drew Stubbs OF $16 3.157
70 Ben Zobrist 2B $15 3.132
71 Mark Reynolds 3B $13 3.125
72 Jarrod Dyson OF -$14 3.122
73 Chase Utley 2B $12 3.117
74 Hunter Pence OF $18 3.115
75 Adam Jones OF $16 3.112
76 Domonic Brown OF -$11 3.107

There are a lot of the usual suspects at the top, though you can see the effect of the projected Ryan Braun suspension. But you can also see a number of outliers pretty quickly. In many cases, that player that stands out does so in a particular category, such as with Craig and his batting average, or Chris Heisey and his home run rate, or Craig Gentry and his stolen bases. With a full slate of at-bats, chances are that production would slow down in that one particular category, and would drop dramatically in the categories where that player doesn't excel.

The other common theme we see here is younger players showing up that don't yet have full-time jobs. Mike Trout obviously would be worth a lot more if the Angels committed to him from Day 1 this season, as the most prominent example. Though he also falls under the weakness in this exercise - speed guys tend to be overrated here. Many of them can get their stolen bases in part-time action, but they are unlikely to improve across the board with full-time action. That's the case both with Gentry and Jarrod Dyson, to name two players. I think with the next iteration of playing-time neutral listings, I'd have to dial down the value of the stolen base considerably.

Finally, the depth of your league determines how actionable this information can be. For instance, in a 10-team mixed league, every single hitting spot is going to be filled by a full-time player by each team, and there will be plenty more full-time hitters on the waiver wire if-and-when a player gets hurt or loses a job. So you can afford to take a few more chances in your draft - Josh Hamilton is worth more of a risk, but it's so much easier to replace him when you have to put him on the DL. On the flip side, some of the really short-time players like Domonic Brown or Eric Young Jr. aren't going to be draft-worthy at all without any sort of playing time. You're better off just watching the playing time situations for each team during the season and pouncing on them off the waiver wire if and when their time comes.