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Early(ish)-Season Outliers

It’s always challenging to tell when it’s time to trust a player’s numbers. There’s a fine line between small sample size and real performance, but figuring out which side a player lies can be crucial to player evaluation. Since there’s no golden rule for how long it takes until certain numbers are trustworthy, fantasy owners often have to play these cases by ear. Some of the most extreme outliers on leaderboards present interesting examples of small sample size flukes versus sustainable performance, so let’s take a look at the best and worst in baseball in a few fantasy categories and evaluate how ‘real’ their placements are.

Batting Average
1. Daniel Murphy (.394)

Daniel Murphy has picked up right where he left off in last year’s World Series. The second baseman is doing some silly things this season, hitting .394/.427/.636. Unsurprisingly, Murphy’s .411 BABIP is incredibly unsustainable; he’s also striking out more than last season (when he hit .281) and whiffing some more. On the flip side, Murphy is hitting more line drives, staying up the middle, and making plenty of hard contact. Murphy is a streaky player, as he had three months of a batting average over .300 last season and two under .250, but Murphy played well in the final two months of 2015. I’m not going to project him to flirt with .400 the rest of the season, but there’s a good chance he can continue to hit for a great average.

179. Yan Gomes (.171)

Remember when Yan Gomes was one of the best offensive catchers in the league? That was fun. Gomes never seemed to get right after an early-season knee injury in 2015, and has hit .216/.254/.384 since returning. We know the 28-year old is talented, but he’s striking out a ton, barely walking, and has a 44 wRC+ this season. Gomes is swinging at more pitches outside the strikezone and making less contact overall, so things don’t look like they’ll get much better. The positional eligibility behind the plate partially suffers the blow of poor offensive performance, but he doesn’t have much value at this point. If you’re still holding onto Gomes with the hope that he’ll rebound to pre-2015 levels, it’s probably time to cut bait.

Slugging Percentage
1. David Ortiz (.730)

I wanted to use home runs here, but there’s six players with zero home runs and slugging percentage will work just fine. Ortiz, to put it lightly, has been otherworldly this season. The 40-year old is doing things no 40-year old should be able to do, nor frankly, any human should be able to do. But here we are, with Big Papi currently having the best season of his career. Ortiz is making more contact, whiffing less, beating the crap out of the ball, and hitting more flyballs to support his power surge. Ortiz has adopted a pull-happy approach, which might hurt his batting average in the long run but also helps the power. Take a look at his spray chart, and notice where all the home runs are from the lefty.

plot_hc_spray

Ortiz is going to slow down, sure, but outside of some age-related fatigue that may diminish his bat speed at the tail end of the season, this performance looks pretty legit.

179. Mark Teixeira (.265)

Teixeira, like Ortiz, was supposed to be an age-defying power hitter this season, just as he was last season. Unfortunately, last season’s .548 slugging percentage has given way to the ugly mark shown above. It’s jarring to see a power-hitting first baseman rank last in the league in power, but here we are. Pretty much everything about Teixeira’s numbers suggest that he isn’t slumping or unlucky, he’s just playing badly. His exit velocity is down from 90.2 mph to 87.7 mph, he’s hitting way more groundballs, and the 36-year looks lost at the plate. To make it worse, as I type this, Teixeira is leaving the game with a leg injury. Despite 2015’s resurgence, it looks like age has caught up to the first basemen. Things may click for the notoriously slow starter, and it’s hard to completely lose faith in a player with his track record. Still, it’s tough to imagine him outslugging many other first baseman the rest of this season, which essentially erases him from fantasy relevance for the time being.

Earned Run Average
1. Clayton Kershaw (1.56)

Duh, of course he’s first. Nothing to see here.

105. Anibal Sanchez (6.67)

Sanchez had an awful 2015 after a great 2013 and 2014, but many were hoping to buy-low on him after an unsustainably high 1.66 HR/9. Sanchez obviously had trouble keeping the ball in the yard, but the strikeouts were fine and he wasn’t walking too many. A normal regression in home runs should have solved his 4.99 ERA. Then, of course, his HR/9 jumped to 2.22. To make matters worse, Sanchez is walking more batters and his fastball has continued to lose velocity. A shoulder problem that has long haunted Sanchez may be back with a vengeance, harming his pitches and performance. The righty has now been moved to the bullpen and things are looking bad. I feel silly saying this, but theoretically Sanchez’s home runs should decrease. He also has an excellent track record and is still only 32, so it’s not time to give up hope. As a reliever, holding onto him in anything but deep fantasy leagues isn’t advised. But keep an eye on Sanchez. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him improve and be a serviceable—but not great—arm in the rotation in the future.


Well, this exercise may not have been the most surprising or enlightening, as I essentially affirmed that the players playing extremely well are probably good, and the players that are playing extremely poorly are probably bad. But hopefully you learned a thing or two. Everyone and everything is going to regress to some extent, though we’ve gotten to the point in the season where it’s no longer wise to ignore the outliers.

The Author

Ben Diamond

Ben Diamond

Ben is an annoyingly enthusiastic fantasy baseball player and Yankees fan, and he writes about those passions at Baseball Prospectus and The Dynasty Guru. There's a 95% chance he's ranting about Michael Pineda right now.

5 Comments

  1. Will
    June 5, 2016 at 2:24 pm — Reply

    Here’s a link to a fangraphs article that attempts to get at how long it takes (in terms of plate appearances) to draw meaningful conclusions:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/library/principles/sample-size/

    • June 6, 2016 at 11:20 am — Reply

      Interesting stuff. Stabilization will be different for every player but it’s good to have that mark as an approximation.

  2. June 6, 2016 at 12:45 am — Reply

    Love your ending. The good players are good and the bad players are bad. LOL! Even you admit it’s kinda funny!!!

    • June 6, 2016 at 11:18 am — Reply

      Haha, I’m glad you liked it! I had to own up to that at the end 🙂

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