We’re going to take a quick break from my beloved “Eye Test” column. This is because the other night, I found myself singing a tune I haven’t sang much the past three years. I found myself saying these words:
“I am absolutely fuming. I have the paper champ of paper champ fantasy rosters. And I’m in the middle of the pack? Or maybe even out of the playoff picture? But I did everything right!! I got all my sleepers. This team is better than my last two, and I WON those years. Built around rock hitters and even paid up for some aces*. What the hell is going on? “
I had this exact tirade in front of my girlfriend and her entire family after watching my ”stud pitchers” implode yet again. Thankfully I’m in 7 leagues so there are a few I’m doing well in. But still, I’m legitimately furious. So I can only imagine how you only play in one league. Or maybe if you’re a multi-leaguer, it’s happening to you everywhere. I am here to remind you to “trust the process” as a Philadelphia 76ers big man might also tell you.
Here’s the honest truth, a truth I hate to admit: luck is a factor in fantasy baseball. Analysts like me speak with strong conviction on behalf or against players based on underlying numbers or peripherals. We may take that one step further and use our own “eye test” to scout players and decide whether the picture matches the numbers. And many of us talk down to Fantasy Football as being way more luck dependent (I’m super guilty of this).
Despite the numberous advanced data metrics I’ve learned to decipher, and no matter how many at-bats I watch, I do not know exactly what is going to happen. Guys have bad seasons for no reason. Others don’t pitch or play to the ceiling we expect from their pedigree.
Ricky Nolasco was the Michael Pineda of his day as far as perennially disappointing drafters who dared to take chance on peripherals. Maybe Nick Castellanos just isn’t going to be what many thought he would be. Maybe Cutch’s .200-ish BABIP isn’t going to regress back to career norms. Maybe Ervin Santana and Mike Leake are this year’s Rick Porcello and Kyle Hendricks. Who the hell saw that coming? Anyone who says they did is a homer, a liar, or just insane.
“So what is your point? Okay, it’s not your fault if you’re not right on every call? Fine, sure writer guy – you are off the hook on that. Us Fantasy Assembly readers are reasonable folks. You didn’t need to tell us that… so what’s your damn point?”
My point is that it remains vital to trust the process! You spent time going through projections, reading scouting reports, and deciphering advanced stats to identify all the best breakouts, bounce-backs, and sleepers. Trust your research. Obviously check back in and make sure what you saw two months ago is still there. But overall, trust your research and trust the numbers.
Playing fantasy baseball based on data, scouting reports, etc. is the “right” way to play fantasy baseball. OK, there is no “right way” to play fantasy. That said, if you want to win your league(s), this way will give you a far better chance at sustained success. Some clown may win your league this year with a staff of Ervin Santana, Mike Leake, Zach Godley, and C.C. Sabathia. I still wouldn’t bet on it, but it definitely could happen. It happens less in Roto, but make no mistake – it still happens! That’s okay.
Keep sending Jacob deGrom out there with confidence. Keep trusting Justin Verlander. Drop a disappointing player like Maikel Franco or Nick Castellanos if you need to, but add him to your watch list in case he starts to percolate. Keep starting Kyle Seager, and don’t sell low on Matt Carpenter. Keep buying low on Tanaka and Jonathan Lucroy. Play smart, and play informed!
We do the best with the information we have. Yes, hard hit rate, exit velocity, pitch fx, swing rate, etc. are not perfect. But think about this, 7-8 years ago most players didn’t know or use things like BABIP, something that is now a standard reference. If you relied solely on BABIP analysis at this point in the sabermetric revolution, you would be taunted by even novice players. BABIP, of course you know his BABIP! We need to dig deeper!
Why is his BABIP so low? He has a 70% ground ball rate and he’s 290 pounds? Okay, so yeah… maybe the .190. BABIP is legit then. What about this Johnny Cueto guy? How can he pitch to ace levels with such an average strikeout rate? And that goes double for Dallas Keuchel! Then you watch how dominant they are and how consistently they elicit weak contact and it makes sense.
It is possible that we analysts overstate the absolute veracity of the statistics and scouting reports that we invoke. We have a lot of tools and numbers, but they’re not perfect. But they’re what we’ve got! Don’t shy away because of a bad month or even a bad season. Trust the process. I still have hope that more good teams will raise flags this year than garbage pretender teams.
Some quick thoughts and advice to help you continue to add value to your season by doing the “right thing.”
Masahiro Tanaka – Profiled here last week.
Justin Verlander – Velocity up. Good offense and he was just as bad for almost as long before becoming Cy worthy last year.
Aaron Nola – He may not have the ace potential I was hoping he had, but he should be better than this. An unlucky BABIP, drop in contact and hard hit rate plus increase in soft contact signals better times are ahead.
Kyle Seager – All the underlying stuff looks good, and don’t forget he started this same way last year.
Carlos Gonzalez, – It might be too late, but get your auction paddle ready if you still can. Our own Josh Coleman agrees with this.
Jonathan Lucroy – Don’t like how much time he loses out to Chirinos. Also don’t like how fluid his position in that lineup seems to be. Still, the catcher position is a wasteland, and Lucroy should eventually start producing enough to push Chirinos out of the pitcher.
Cody Bellinger – People love prospects, especially before they’ve ever had a rough spell or two. Do you remember how good Joc Pederson was for a half season before becoming a borderline scrub? Not saying Bellinger will do that, but he is all oiled up in “prospecty” goodness. You should be able to get more than he’s worth and far more than you originally paid (which I’m assuming was a waiver claim).
Greg Holland – I love him, but come on. Sell to anyone who gives you top-5 closer value.
Robbie Ray – He’s not an ace – I don’t think so anyway. Scoreless innings and Ks are impressive. The Padres and Pirates making up 3 of his last 4 starts is not. I expect some normalization when he comes back home to the currently still humidor-less Chase Field. If someone thinks he’s made the leap to top-20 stardom, sell instantly. I also profiled him a few starts back.
Lance McCullers – He’s an ace now, and if you have to pay that price now he is worth it. If you pay for a #2 starting pitcher or less, you crushed the trade.
James Paxton – See Lance McCullers above. I would try to pay SP2 price if possible, only because of the injury stigma – outside of that he is a future ace.
Adam Wainwright – I wouldn’t pay old school ace prices, but the metrics suggested he was unlucky before this hot stretch. I would pay for a startable fantasy pitcher though, which is high compared to where many had him ranked a month or so back.
Rich Hill – if you can get anything, do it. He might be great still, but you can’t handle the blister nonsense – and whatever other injuries that may crop up.
Trea Turner – This doesn’t mean to give him away. And in roto, you might not be able to because of the stolen bases. You may have picked him in the first or early second round, and it’s been rough. His K rate went up and somehow his 4.3% walk rate from last year dropped even further. If you can capitalize on some of the pre-season hype and convince someone else that they are buying low by paying 2nd, 3rd , or maybe even 4th round value – I would likely pull the trigger. Would you really turn down Nelson Cruz for Trea Turner right now?
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