It happens every year in your league. Team A trades with Team B, and you can hardly believe it. “What is he smoking? I would’ve offered so much more for that guy!” you yell to your dog, who is under your desk and barely moves in reply. You also propose trades where you feel you’re making a fair or even overpaying offer… but your trade partner barely gives it a second glance before rejecting it outright. “Oh c’mon, that was a good deal! What’s wrong with you?” you shout as you pound the top of your desk. At this point your dog moves to another room and really thinks you need to get out more.
The great thing about fantasy baseball is that we all value players differently. Yes, I say this is great even though at times it can be frustrating. It keeps things interesting, because if everyone valued every player in the same way, there would be no guesswork or surprise in the game, and nothing would get done. If the value of every player was known, you’d never be able to make a deal and come out ahead, because no one would trade a $20 player for a $18 player. Each manager’s perception must be taken into account during trades and drafts, and therefore the perceived value of certain players can vary greatly.
Before I get to some specific examples, I want to touch on a few aspects that I’m not talking about. First, Jeff did a great piece on the advocacy effect, but the focus there was on falling in love with players you defend, meaning the value may be more in your head, and I want to concentrate more on players who have more of a industry-wide variance in value. Second, I’m not talking about getting a player at a discount in the draft, such as buying an OF for $16 when you have his projected value at $19; this is simply a case of a profit in what you value the player at versus what someone else was willing to pay, or other teams ran out of salary cap. I want to touch on the players whom some people value at $15 or $20, but others value him at $25 or $30. With that said, let’s get started.
I hate that he wins the #1 SS slot almost by default. In my opinion, consistent injury risks shouldn’t be at the top spot, but the other big bats (like Hanley) are equally risky. And that’s why Tulo has such a perceived value disparity: you know that he could hit 35 HR with a .300 BA and 100 RBI. However, in seven “full” seasons he’s never posted 500+ AB in consecutive years, so clearly he can’t stay on the field. Some people (like me) can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger on him in the first round of redrafts leagues. Others drool at his ceiling and consistently take him in middle of the first round: at Mock Draft Central, his ADP was #4 and #5 in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
In redrafts, you have to understand that players drafted in the first round return an actual first-round value only about a third of the time; the remaining two-thirds get hurt, don’t live up to the hype after one hot year, start their decline from their peak, or simply get pushed out of the top-15 by hitters who had better years. With Tulo, you’re greatly increasing the odds of being on the “failure” side. In any league, the best time to trade him away is before the season starts or at the beginning of the season — in other words, before he gets hurt. If you’re in a keeper league and playing for next year, you may want to wait until he gets hurt and make an offer. Good luck dealing with the perceived value swings, however — some people will never value him less than a first-round talent, even when he’s hurt. And of course, any good trader will try to talk you down on your asking price, so they’ll certainly bring up his injury history. For this reason I try to avoid dealing with him at all costs, because not only does his actual value fluctuate (based on the number of AB he puts together), but his perceived value varies between managers so much that I may never get the return I want. According to Larry Schechter, a detached and objective projection and value for Tulo should account for that inability to stay healthy, but too many owners cling tightly to Tulo’s 2009 season, which causes a perceived value gap.
In the old days (read: more than five years ago), there were some SP who were touted as potential #1 overall fantasy draft picks. I remember Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, and Randy Johnson having top-10 ratings for 5×5 leagues, and not for just one year. Now, most people scoff at that concept and think how silly it is to consider a pitcher in the first round, let alone as one of the first picks. With power and 100-RBI hitters becoming a bit more scare in the post-roids era, and with an almost-golden age of pitching talent creating more SP depth, these managers have a good argument — but it’s not the right one.
Kershaw absolutely deserves to be considered as a top-4 pick. In my book, he’s behind Trout and Cabrera, and then most likely Goldschmidt. After that, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take the best SP on the planet. Forget about the “higher risk to SP” argument, because even though TJS looms over every pitcher, in any given year, any player can get hurt and miss significant time. It doesn’t matter whether your first pick was Kershaw or Tulowitzki — if your guy gets hurt and misses half the season, you’re taking a major hit in production that’s hard to recover from. (Curse you, 2009: Reyes, A-Ram, and Beltran all on one team.) In the past 10 years, at least one SP has ranked in the top-15 of all players, and five SP made the cut once. The most common number of SP in the top-15 were two and three. However, rarely were these pitchers drafted in the top-15. It’s true that SP production can fluctuate from year to year, and there’s always one guy who outperforms expectations and isn’t a true first-round talent (like Peavy or Weaver in recent memory). But there’s a reason Kershaw and Verlander appeared on those top-15 lists multiple times, and they’re not being drafted near where their consistent production says they should be due to the perceived value of SP.
Here are some points to think about regarding Kershaw’s value. I play in several CBS points leagues, each with their own scoring format, and in 2013 Kershaw outscored Trout and Cabrera in all of them. In 2012, Kershaw had more points than Trout in every league. Cabrera did beat Kershaw in 2012, but in one of the leagues Cabrera’s edge in points was less than 0.5% (2736 vs. 2725). And let’s not forget Kershaw’s dominant 2011 season, when he outscored every hitter by a solid margin. Do you think this advice doesn’t apply to your roto league? You’re wrong. For standard 5×5 format, Kershaw was the #5 overall player in 2013, the #17 overall in 2012, and the #6 overall in 2011. When you take the 3-year averages for those seasons, he’s #2 overall behind Cabrera. I’m sure if Trout had three full years of data at this rate, he’d be #2 and Kershaw would be #3, but that’s a minor quibble. Kershaw’s floor isn’t that much lower than his ceiling, and you’re going to get elite value out of him, especially if your league mates still maintain a lower perceived value for him simply because he’s a pitcher. Even in keeper leagues, his young age makes him dynasty gold.
There’s no denying the appeal of five-category producers. Who doesn’t love to see a stat line of .324/115/39/126/40? That was Kemp’s 2011 season, and it doesn’t seem too long ago. Fantasy managers think, “Hey, one or two injuries aren’t a big deal — he can get a mulligan for 2012 and 2013, right?” He’s the OF version of Tulo: a potential stud in every roto category who’s simply a bit injury prone. The perceived value of Kemp’s peak years often outweigh the risks and realistic projections moving forward.
Know his injury history. He had a left hamstring issue that caused the loss of playing time in 2012. Then he had offseason shoulder surgery. In 2013 he missed time for three reasons: right hamstring, the shoulder again, and an ankle issue that hindered him all year. Then he had surgery on the ankle and his shoulder this offseason. None of these were minor, insignificant injuries that have no bearing on his future game. This isn’t a case of someone having a freak injury from running into a wall and getting over it quickly. Kemp played with the ankle issue for most of the season, but eventually they shut him down because “he was warned by doctors that further damage to the involved bone could be career threatening” (see link). The Dodgers will want him to stay as healthy as possible, and with an ankle injury and two hamstring strains over the last two seasons, Kemp’s stolen bases are going to be limited.
A lack of speed is likely going to affect his average as well. He’s often had a high BABIP well above the league average, and at least part of that was due to his ability to beat out plays with his speed. The one season he was near league-average BABIP was 2010, when his BABIP was .295… and his BA was .249. Now look at 2013’s BABIP of .353, which was in line with his career level, and note the BA of .270. A Kemp without speed is a Kemp without an elite batting average. When you factor in the shoulder injury as well, it’s hard to assume he could produce anything near a 25/20 season. Assuming he nets 500 AB, I wouldn’t bank on more than .280 BA, 20 HR, and 10 SB.
I fully admit I’m pessimistic on Kemp going forward, though I do have my reasons. That’s why he’s in this perceived value list. Some will still assume he can bounce back to top-10 OF levels, and others are going to assume he can’t stay healthy or won’t produce even if he is. Is he a second round pick in 2014 redrafts, or is he a fourth round pick or lower? Mock Draft Central’s ADP has him as the 29th player overall, with the earliest pick being 17 and the latest being 41. Personally, 41 is still too early for me, which is why I won’t own him in 2014.