What Have You Done for Me Lately

In 1986, Janet Jackson asked the timeless question “What have you done for me lately?” That type of thinking is what stock market investors would call “recency bias” and can cause you to make some serious errors in judgement when valuing and acquiring players this Spring. The application to fantasy baseball is assuming that however a player was performing in August and September will carry over to next April and May.

Wil Myers vs. Freddie Freeman

Myers and Freeman finished 35th and 36th on the ESPN player rater in 2016, so for the sake of argument, let’s say you got basically the same level of production last season. So why are the experts ranking Freeman significantly higher than Myers in their 2017 rankings when they are almost the same age (26 vs. 27) and had almost the same level of impact?

A credible answer here is that Freeman has a proven track record of being a consistent player over the better part of six MLB seasons and Myers does not. If that is the winning argument to make, let’s look at that track record. Before his monstrous 2016 second half, you could count on Freeman to hit in the neighborhood of 20 home runs with around an .850 OPS. That all changed when Freddie produced an epic 1.067 OPS over the second half of last season. Do you believe this to be the dawn of a superstar, emerging during his age 26 season, or do you think you will get the player he has always been?

Wil Myers was on the opposite schedule as his counterpart over in Atlanta. Myers came out of the gate strong and peaked in June posting a 1.194 OPS over the course of the month. Imagine if you had traded Myers for Freeman over the All-Star break. Myers closed the gap of yearlong production between the two by stealing a Goldschmidt like 28 bases to go with his 28 home runs. Admittedly, Myers is a more difficult player to project going forward because of his lack of a track record at this level of production.

So why is Freeman’s breakout generally being viewed as sustainable and Myers’ is not? My take is recency bias. The bulk of Freeman’s production occurred during the 2nd half of the 2016 season and most of Myers’ production came during the 1st half. If you flipped the timing of their breakouts, I believe the perceptions and rankings of these two players would trade places as well.

Trea Turner vs. Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts

Trea Turner should be a great option at Shortstop for years to come and loves to steal bases, so what’s not to love? Here’s the real question. Would you really consider taking him over Carlos Correa? I can remember all the way back to Draft Day 2016 when owners were selecting “the next A-Rod” immediately following Trout and Harper. Correa had a predictable regression in his sophomore season, but that tantalizing ceiling remains, and now we know where his floor is.

Last season, Trea Turner produced a .937 OPS and stole 33 bases in 73 games, which is a stolen base every 2.2 games. In 268 games in the minor leagues, Turner hit for an .840 OPS and stole 77 bases, or one every 3.5 games. The minor league version of Trea would be great production for a MLB Shortstop, but which version do you think you’ll be getting in 2017? Are you seriously going to take Turner over Correa based on the last half of a season? Many of the experts are suggesting you should.

“Doesn’t anyone else notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.” -Will Ferrell as Mugatu in Zoolander.

How does recency bias effect our perception of Xander Bogaerts? The three hole hitter for the Red Sox was expected to take a major step forward in 2016, both by fantasy owners and the Boston Red Sox standards. He did not disappoint. Bogaerts increased his production across the board and outperformed his contemporaries Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor according to the ESPN player rater. So why would a 24-year-old budding superstar on the upswing of his career in a stacked lineup be consistently ranked below the aforementioned players, even after outperforming them? Recency bias strikes again.

Xander posted a slash line of .329 /.388/.475 over the first half of the season and looked dominant at times. As they often do, those numbers regressed to the mean and Xander produced a slash of .253/.317/.412 after the All-Star Break. Together, those numbers were good enough to be the best of the young elite SS group on the season, but that’s not what fantasy owners and writers remembered from 2016. Flip Xander’s 1st and 2nd half production and you would see him a lot higher on rankings lists this Spring.

The Takeaway

One of the most frequent mistakes that Major League Baseball GM’s make is to pay a player based on what they have done, not what they are most likely to do. General Managers have gotten smarter, as demonstrated by this offseason. Fantasy GM’s should be getting smarter too.

Don’t be a numbers chaser. If you take Freddie Freeman over Wil Myers, I don’t blame you. If you invest significantly in Freeman believing he will maintain his 2nd half numbers, I think you’re wasting resources.

If you believe that Trea Turner is the type of young Shortstop to anchor a franchise around, the Washington Nationals agree with you. If you believe that he will continue to crush the ball at this torrid pace and swipe bases at a 70 steals per season clip, you will be sorely disappointed. Go with the sky-high ceiling of Correa over Turner and look for reliable discount options like Xander Bogaerts to fill out your roster in 2017.


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David Holler

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Proud member of Cardinal nation since the 80's, been playing fantasy sports since the 90's. Nothing better than a blockbuster baseball keeper trade in the dead of winter. Always hunting for the next fantasy version of Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith.