The Prospect Hype Cycle

A while ago, before I started writing for Fantasy Assembly, I did a piece about the expectations of prospects and how it affected their value in fantasy baseball. As we all ponder decisions for our dynasty/keeper leagues I thought revisiting it might be helpful.

In an effort to explain the life cycle of new technological innovations: smart phones, e-scooters, ultra-soft toilet paper etc., research and advisory firm Gartner, Inc. created what they call the “Gartner Hype Cycle.” Now, some people discredit this theory as “unscientific” because it’s not based on “data” or “analysis”, but that just makes me believe it’s the perfect tool to help with the irrational world of fantasy baseball.

Let’s take a look at this graph that probably earned a team of consultants millions of dollars for about 37 seconds of work.

The Technology Trigger is the point where an idea is conceived and anticipation begins to build – like when Pizza Hut came up with the idea of putting cheese inside pizza crust. As more people become aware of the innovation its visibility amongst the general public increases.

The Peak of Inflated Expectations occurs around the time of the product launch, when the media starts running stories about this astounding innovation – how finding a way to add even more cheese to a pizza will stem the tide of nuclear proliferation, or whatever drivel passes for journalism these days.

As people begin to realize that the idea of stuffed crust pizza was better as a concept than as an actual product, the hype dies down and enters the dreaded Trough of Disillusionment (which sounds like either an obscure theory of Plato’s or a rejected idea for an artifact from an Indiana Jones movie).

If the necessary tweaks are made to improve the product: more cheese in the crust, increased baking time for the right crispiness, etc.., the advancement ascends the Slope of Enlightenment (yup, someone was paid real money to come up with that) to the Plateau of Productivity (bonus points for attempting alliteration here, but Productivity Plateau would have really nailed it) meaning that it has attained mainstream acceptance as something useful – like the occasional stuffed crust pizza.

Now that we have that out of the way it’s time to explain how any of that relates to fantasy baseball. Well, allow me to introduce the Fantasy Baseball Prospect Hype Cycle:

Prospect Trigger

This point varies from player to player. For some it’s the day they are drafted or signed as an international free agent. For others it’s when they start garnering recognition as collegiate players or in the World Baseball Classic. For Vlad Guerrero Jr. it was when people saw YouTube videos of him crushing mammoth home runs as a 15 year-old.

Ohtani Ascension

This part of the graph represents the process of absurd rumors and speculation about a player. There is no better way to describe building hype than the circus surrounding Shohei Ohtani leading up to the 2018 season. Remember when people were predicting Ohtani would hit 30 HRs, win the AL Cy Young, and end world hunger? This is usually where the problems start for fantasy owners who are enamored by prospects. You start putting your faith in sources that you normally wouldn’t trust to tell you the correct day of the week, but when it comes to your favorite prospect their word is gold.

The beginning of the Ohtani ascension is your first chance to invest in a young player at a reasonable value.

Peak of Irrational Decisions

We’re talking 3B right now on Fantasy Assembly, which works out perfectly because Vlad Guerrero is absolutely at the peak of irrational decisions. All signs are pointing to stardom for the young slugger, both in real and fantasy baseball, but now is the wrong time to consider trying to acquire him via trade.

At this point I don’t think anything short of José Ramirez and the naming rights to your first-born child will land you Vlad Jr. When a player is at this level of hype you need to scold yourself for not getting him on your team sooner and start strategizing a way to grab him once everyone remembers that he is in fact just a human being.

There are generally two points when irrationality peaks regarding a player. The first is the situation Vlad Jr. is currently in – the imminent MLB debut. The Other point at which irrationality peaks is when a prospect starts vastly exceeding projections. The only thing more annoying than a fantasy owner who believes that they have stashed away a perennial All-Star is one who thinks he/she has outsmarted everyone by uncovering a diamond in the rough.

Glasnow Grade

For those of you not familiar with my work, let me catch you up. Tyler Glasnow infuriates me to no end. He has all the tools to be a lights out starter or reliever, but he hasn’t figured it out yet, and until he does I am going to try to find as many ways to voice my displeasure about him as possible. This steep decline in fantasy fervor for a player usually occurs after a weakness has been found and the league begins to exploit it. This can happen within a few games or it can take months.

The other reason excitement about a player typically declines is due to injury. This is currently where Nick Senzel is on the Prospect Hype Curve. The poor guy looked like he was going to get an extended look in Cincinnati in 2018, but instead he dealt with two bouts of vertigo, a torn tendon, and just recently had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow.

After a .340/.413/.560 line in 57 Double-A games in 2017 I had Senzel stashed away in several leagues hoping for a breakout 2018 season. But, if your league doesn’t offer an extended bench or minor league spots it’s tough to stick with a guy who keeps finding himself on the DL in the minors. Like many people I had to move on from Senzel to continue to compete. The silver lining to this being that there is a clear buying opportunity here.

Senzel is a guy who can flat-out hit, and I for one am not going to write him off for 2019 because he was banged up in 2018. A deep discount on a player who will have multi-position eligibility (most likely 3B/OF depending on league rules – maybe 2B), who has elite bat-to-ball skills, above average power and decent speed? Sign me up.

Buxton Crater

When someone’s performance has sunk to the point that the only way to go is up they have hit the Buxton Crater. This is a point where even the staunchest supporters of a player have given up hope. This period can be as short as just a few weeks before a meteoric rise to stardom, like when Mike Trout slashed .220/.281/.390 when he got called up for 40 games in 2011. Young pitchers can take a longer period of time to get things right, as evidenced by Blake Snell taking over a season to settle in.

The crater is when you have a second opportunity to buy-in on a player at a bargain. It’s not nearly as much fun as getting in on the original ground floor, but it can be extremely lucrative in terms of fantasy value.

Berrios Bounce-back

There was a time in 2016 where Jose Berrios seemed as hopeless as his teammate Buxton, with his 8.02 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and a 1.4/1 K/BB ratio. During that season Berrios went from the Peak of Irrational Decisions all the way to the Buxton Crater. Those who let him go in keeper leagues missed out on a productive 2017 season. It only took a couple of outstanding starts to begin that season for his value to skyrocket again. This means that you really need to do your homework when a player is at his worst to see if the underlying skills say that he will eventually reach his potential.

Fantasy Relevance

After the rollercoaster ride of the hype cycle you hope that every one of your gambles on a young player leads to this stage. It took Alex Bregman about a season and a half worth of games to find his way to producing consistent fantasy value (though there were plenty of flashes of brilliance before then), but it was worth the wait.

How long will it take for Vlad Guerrero Jr. to get there? What will Nick Senzel’s peak fantasy value be? We will find out soon enough.

Jake Blodgett

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Like most of you I am addicted to fantasy baseball. Since I spend most of my time talking about it, I figured I would write some of my thoughts down. I am a shameless promoter of Mike Trout and an even more shameless Shohei Ohtani apologist.

One thought on “The Prospect Hype Cycle”

  1. What a great and useful article! You stated perfectly what I’ve know for a while but couldn’t put into words when talking strategy with friends. Thank you!

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