Perceived Value and Three Elite Players Affected

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.

Troy Tulowitzki

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.

Clayton Kershaw

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.

Matt Kemp

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.

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

16 thoughts on “Perceived Value and Three Elite Players Affected”

  1. Good stuff Kevin. I find the injury guys to be the hardest to predict (Tulo and Kemp in this case), so this is very helpful.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. And of course, even if you decide on a prediction and projection for these guys, the problem is that everyone else is going to have numbers higher and lower than yours. Unless you’ve drunk eight gallons of the Advocacy Kool-Aid… =)

  2. You are definitely right to temper expectations on Kemp. He will probably never steal even 15 bases again. But, in regards to his ankle, that was not an all year issue. He hurt the ankle when he slipped on home plate in July in one of his bone-head base running plays. This was on his first day back from another DL stint and sadly on a day where he looked great hitting a double and a HR. The man has been completely snake-bitten recently, strange for a guy that went 3 straight years without missing a single game just before that.

    1. Josh, you’re right that the ankle injury didn’t hinder him “all year.” Wasn’t the best phrase to choose. However, it kept him out for the rest of the year, and the big takeaway was that his attempts to try to come back and play through the injury could have soon become career-threatening. I’m all for hustle and grit, but if he was reckless enough to push forward in that case, he loses some points for me in terms of reliability. Playing hurt all the time prolongs the injury and, worse for us fantasy managers, decreases his abilities.

      As for the snake-bitten concept and his previous track record of never missing games, whether or not it’s simply “bad luck,” the fact is that moving forward he cannot be projected to play 145 games, let alone 160. Any lingering issues with his ankle will cause him to miss playing time at the beginning of 2014 (and it seems likely, given recent reports). I’m also not sold that his shoulder issues are fully behind him — even if he plays decent, he’s not a lock to return to 25+ HR power, especially with any missed time.

    1. Thanks for the question, J. I assume it’s Carlos Gomez? More info would be helpful (# of teams, # of keepers), but in a vacuum I’d do it. Freeman has the potential for a breakout, but I don’t think he’ll turn into Goldschmidt regarding 35+ HR and double-digit SB. Freeman MAY hit 30 HR someday, but not necessarily consistently like Goldy should.

      I like Rizzo and expect him to bounce back, especially his BA, however he’s a definite downgrade from Freeman. However, Harper is the kind of player who could break out with a .290 BA, 35 HR, and 15 SB, and he’s still very young. In new dynasty league drafts, Harper is often the #3 player off the board behind Trout and Miggy. Anytime I can get Harper and the rest of the pieces seem pretty even, I’ll do it.

      Gomez is the “oldest” player and had a drop in contact rate in the second half. He swings outside of the strike zone well over the MLB average, and for four years, with more exposure/AB, his swinging strike rate has increased. Gomez’s BA will fall going forward (had a high BABIP in 2013), and he’s rather inconsistent/streaky, which slightly hurts a H2H team.

      I say take the trade. Even if Rizzo doesn’t bounce back to 2012 levels, Harper for the next several years should be the best player in this deal.

  3. Kevin, I’m in a 12 team h2h points keeper league. Keeping kershaw, m cabrera, freeman, braun, c santana. Start 1 C, 1B, 2B, ss, 3B, 3 of, 5 sp, & 2 rp. What is your draft strategy/advice for this type of league? Thanks, J.

    1. J, Tommy gave great advice. With no MI/CI slots, you can probably afford to wait on 2B and SS unless there’s a clear top-8 MI early in the draft. Most people still concentrate on hitters even when pitching could be more valuable. If a guy like Ian Desmond is out there for some reason, I’d pounce on him first and then shift to SP.

      Also, if Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, or maybe even Greg Holland are out there and weren’t kept, I’d strongly consider taking one of them early, though likely not with the first round pick. Super-elite closers can be a big boon to a shallow league with only 2 RP slots. Otherwise, you’ll be focusing on SP like Tommy said.

      Here would be my plan for first few rounds: (1) SP, or MI who’s nearly keeper worthy. (2) SP, or elite closer. (3) whatever you haven’t taken of MI, SP, closer.

      Example: (1) Desmond, (2) best SP, (3) closer
      Or (1) SP, (2) closer, (3) best hitter at any position

  4. I am not Kevin, but I have played in many points leagues similar to that in the past.

    In my experience, in leagues like this where you only start 8 or 9 bats, the quality of replacement level hitters is off the charts. For that reason, SPs are more valuable than normal. Since you already have 4 stud hitters, I would try to focus on SPs early unless you get a stupid value on a 2B or SS.

    OF would be lowest on my priority list because there are so many good ones, but you have to take the values as they come.

    Just make sure you don’t wait too long to grab your next couple pitchers.

  5. You guys like Boegarts in the 11th (ss,3b) or Profar in the 13th (2b, dh) as a keeper to pair with Jose Fernandez in the 12th? Thanks!

    1. John, I’d take Bogaerts without hesitation. He’s more likely to be successful in 2014, and power is more helpful than Profar’s projected speed. Profar may develop some pop but not likely going to happen in 2014.

  6. Nice! That’s how I was leaning, especially with the dual eligibility at SS and 3b. I did however have some hesitation though…so thanks for that!

  7. Thanks for the advice, Kevin. What do you think of Trevor Rosenthal this year? Do you think he could be an elite closer!

    1. I’m always wary of guys like Rosenthal. They COULD be great closers, but the Cards may want to try to put him back in the rotation, too. I think for 2014 he’s a pretty safe bet to be a top-10 RP if he closes all year.

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