In our last post, we discussed the problem of placing a value or ranking on a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw, someone nominally expected to be a top starter but is projected to have fewer starts than other top starters. How do we incorporate the value from his replacements when drafting him? My conclusion was that we were not effectively doing so already, but there are a few related points from that discussion that I still wanted to follow up with this post.
On our SiriusXM show today, Chris Liss and I discussed Clayton Kershaw’s projection, his rank our cheatsheets using our algorithm and the role of replacement value during his projected absences in determining his rank. I’ve spent plenty of bandwidth discussing Kershaw’s decline, most notably last summer in this space. I’m worried about the decline in his strikeout rate, his fastball velocity, his fastball usage and effectiveness. Most of all, I’m worried about his health, and his lack of innings. My original projection for Kershaw 163 innings, 2.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 12 wins and 173 strikeouts in that span. Such a projection would place him 64th overall in the current rankings, good for 13th among starting pitchers.
In the last week I’ve participated in three early drafts – the RotoWire Magazine Mock Draft, a Draft Champions NFBC league, and an annual Scoresheet Mock Draft that I’ve participated in the last eight years. All three drafts are reasonably deep, the shallowest of which is a 15-team, 30-round draft. The Draft Champions league is a shark-tank league – there are so many NFBC vets in there that have started doing drafts in November, avoiding football almost altogether. It’s 15 teams, and 50 rounds – with no free agent transactions. And the Scoresheet draft obviously is a different format, but it’s 24 teams, and 16 rounds.
These two mocks and the one live draft are fantastic. Great competition, taken seriously, and provide me a good framework about where guys are slotting, and whether my projections are in the ballpark. I don’t want to match ADP, and I don’t even mind having outliers, but at the very least I want to know who my outliers are. Once I see those outliers, I try to take a deeper dive on the players in question.
Two such players have stood out to me so far, one pitcher, one hitter.
Having started down this path trying to find negatives, I thought that it would be worth a look to find a few pitchers that might be underpriced by looking at their Swinging Strike Rates. My methodology will be similar – using Fangraphs.com’s leader boards, I’m looking for pitchers with high SwStr%’s, comparing it to their K% and their ADP so far in the NFBC. Keep in mind right now we’ve only been looking at a small number of drafts, most of those in the 15-team, 50-round Draft Champions contest.
The first thing I noticed is that the SwStr% leaders correlated really well with a high K% last year:
About this time last year, I was pretty enthusiastic about projecting and drafting Luke Weaver. The 2014 first-round pick by the Cardinals was coming off of a relatively strong half-season in majors, preceded by an excellent campaign at Triple-A Memphis. He had a 3.88 ERA, but also had 72 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. I grabbed him (exceedingly early) in an annual Scoresheet Mock Draft that I’ve been doing for six or seven years (and for what it’s worth, the pick was panned by the room – each pick frequently draws a lot of intelligent comments from the room of high-level players). Much of the industry and my competition in the NFBC felt the same way. His final NFBC ADP was 109.97, with a range between 55 and 185 overall. I participated in a 15-team Draft Champions League comprised of industry members in January where he went at the 6/7 turn, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get my shot towards the back end of the seventh round.
But my outlook on Weaver changed after reading Alex Chamberlain’s “Finding Reasons to Doubt Luke Weaver” article on Fangraphs late in January. I met Alex at First Pitch Arizona in November of 2017 and am a big fan of his work. The gist of the article – as always, you should read the entire piece rather than rely upon my summary of it – was that Weaver’s 2017 28.6% strikeout rate was unsupported by the quality of his stuff, and the underlying stats. In particular, Alex was worried about Weaver’s swinging strike rate (SwStr%), chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%) and contact rate on those pitches outside the strike zone (O-Contact%).
Alex’s article persuaded me, and I downgraded Weaver’s projection and consequently didn’t draft him anywhere, owning him only in one NL-only keeper league. And sure enough, that pessimism from Alex’s article was well-founded. Weaver’s strikeout rate dropped to 19.9%, his BB% jumped from 6.8% to 8.9%, his HR/9 rate jumped from 1.04 to 1.25, and more importantly for fantasy purposes, his ERA skyrocketed to 4.95 and he was out of the Cardinals’ rotation by the end of the season. He was included in the Paul Goldschmidt deal with Arizona and will likely get another shot to start there, but suffice to say enthusiasm for him has dropped, with his current NFBC clocking in at 339.14.
After six years of seemingly either falling just short of a title, or finishing near the basement or subterranean – maybe there was one year of an in-between result – I finally reached a professional goal in 2018, bringing home my first Tout Wars expert-league title in the mixed auction.
I’m not aiming to make this into a “look at how great I did in one league” summary, though it always pays to take lessons from any victory or defeat.
We should look at any trophy-winning season in two parts: (1) dissecting your players’ performance, and (2) examining whether the strategy that got you there was valid or mostly good fortune.
I won the overall championship in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational and finished top 10 in the NFBC RotoWire Online Championship among 1,764 teams.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. And realistically, nobody wants to hear about my successes anyway. It’s my opinion that in this game, looking at one’s failures is more productive than looking at one’s successes, so I wanted to take some time to look back at what I got wrong.
This is just scratching the surface:
Jose Peraza, SS, CIN – This was probably my biggest whiff of the season, and it was with a player on my favorite team. What I saw with my own two eyes in 2017 was beyond ugly. Part of it was body language — he wasn’t confident at all — but the numbers backed it up: no power (.066 ISO), no patience (3.9 percent walk rate), a 21.6 percent line-drive rate (down nearly six percentage points from 2016). I thought an ADP around pick 200 was way too high. I guess the lesson here is that it’s OK to overlook some warts and gamble on a player with pedigree outside the top 175 or so, especially when he plays a premium position, plays in an advantageous home park and helps in a scarce category.