In my real job as a teacher, and I imagine in most jobs, reflection is a useful if not necessary tool for self-improvement. In my first half-season writing about fantasy baseball I have made numerous predictions regarding the value or worth of various players ranging from resurgent former stars, slumping former stars, well-known minor leaguers, to obscure minor leaguers. I will use this week’s entry to analyze and evaluate my own predictions.
The Case for Christian Yelich: I’ve pretty much been the high guy on Christian Yelich ever since I nabbed him from a fellow owner for Ryan Zimmerman. At times it was frustrating watching him ground out to second base ad nauseum. But I stayed strong. In fact, I chose Christian Yelich as the topic of my application to write here at Dynasty Guru. I took faith in his strong finish to the season as he substituted line drives where there used to be ground balls. I feel that my faith was rewarded this year as Yelich has shown – albeit slight – increased line drive and fly ball rate which paired with a nearly 50 percent increase in HR/FB. This is actually supported by an increase in pull percentage and hard hit balls. All of the above have resulted in Yelich posting a slash line of .311/.400/.470. Additionally he has seen significant improvements in both his walk and strikeout rates. All in all, Yelich has had a breakout season. I’m convinced that there is more to come as he gets stronger and more experienced. Verdict: Home Run
Using ISO and Age to Unearth Fantasy Gems: This was my first actual bit of conceptual research, as I was not at all sure I’d even find a predictive link between minor league statistics and major league success beyond the obvious well-regarded prospects. My six deeper targets that I identified were Bobby Bradley, K.J. Woods, Derek Fisher, Tyler O’Neill, Cody Bellinger, and Jake Bauers.
Bobby Bradley was probably the most questionable player to include here, as he had actually been ranked 93rd by Baseball America, not to mention the serious issues raised by his ridiculous strikeout rate. He’s basically the same player in A+ that he was in A-ball. His strikeout rate is still atrocious and his walk rate is only slightly improved yet he continues to hit for power at an elite level. Every level that he advances to without crashing and burning makes a successful outcome more and more likely. He’s likely to continually be one of the top-ranked first base prospects until he either crashes or makes it to the majors.
Verdict: Base Hit.
K.J. Woods: I’m not sure what’s worse, the fact that a fourth round pick has been released after three-and-a-half seasons coming off a fairly successful apparent breakout, or the fact that I ignored two previous pathetic seasons to give him a whole-hearted “Strong Buy”. Let’s just leave it at that. Verdict: Strikeout on a 50-foot slider.
Derek Fisher came across as a potential power-speed asset with the ability to be a fantasy stud and I was a little surprised that prospect publications weren’t giving him more credit. This season has done nothing but increase my expectations for Fisher. His already decent walk rate has increased to an eye-opening 18% without losing anything else from his profile and being promoted to Double-A. I am convinced that Fisher will be an excellent fantasy player and it’s likely that you could have had him for free earlier this season. Verdict: RBI Double.
Tyler O’Neill had a lot of doubters coming into this season despite a strong 2015. First of all, he put up those numbers in the infamous Cal League, secondly, his performance included a lot of risk given his low base-on-ball and high strikeout rates. My most prophetic words in the article were “Improving his batting eye and cutting swing-and-miss is going to be crucial to his development into a legitimate major league and fantasy league option. Follow him closely to be the first to jump on him if these potential gains begin to surface.” To say that this has happened would be an understatement. O’Neil has built on his impressive 2015 with an outstanding follow-up. His walk-rate is now an acceptable nine percent while his previously worrisome strikeout rate is a perfectly fine 23 percent. His home run output has fallen off outside the friendly altitude of the Cal League but that happens to just about everyone. I believe that O’Neil is now a must-own prospect for fantasy considerations. Plus I give myself bonus points for being just about the first fantasy writer to write about him. Verdict: Home Run.
Cody Bellinger had a similar 2015 to O’Neil in many ways. Both put up surprisingly good power numbers with concerns about strikeouts and sustainability away from the Cal League. Bellinger has had similar improvements in those categories as O’Neil has, albeit with a larger home run dropoff. He seems a good bet to break into top-100 lists this season. Verdict: Base Hit.
Jake Bauers is the type of player that it’s hard to get very excited about. But it’s important to recognize that he played in double-A as a teenager and experienced a great bit of success aside from his lack of power. Flash forward to 2016 and Bauers is repeating the level. He’s maintained everything that was already good about his profile and has shown increased power and walk-rate. Considering his age and well-developed approach I think he’s a good bet to be a fantasy contributor even if he never hits more than 20 home runs. He’s another player who was already fairly well regarded by prospect sites so I can’t take a ton of credit for identifying him. That being said, I do believe he could have been had for free as late as this spring. Verdict: Base Hit.
Overall Verdict for ISO article: RBI Double.
The Case for the Frankenplayer: I believe that the most important finding – by Tom Tango, not me – is that regression to the mean is a powerful phenomena that should be dismissed at your own risk. The three players that I selected as the best fits for this system – using the strong side of a platoon split to make a single player – were Mitch Moreland, Matt Adams, and Adam Lind. I actually implemented this strategy for a period of time, platooning Moreland and Adams. Eventually, Mitch Moreland made this impossible and I dropped him after not one owner would give me a single FAAB dollar for him. Moreland is a warning flag to anyone who chooses to trust bias resulting from personal interest over advanced statistics. The fact that Moreland never really hit against either armed pitchers prior to 2015 should have been a red flag that 2015 might be an aberration. And it was. Moreland is 30 years old and he’s repeatedly shown that he’s a below average major league hitter. Lind’s extreme regression was a bit more surprising as he had a larger sample size to look back upon. But alas, he’s also struggling to hit against righties much less lefties. There are other underlying factors that could be confusing the matter such as changing stadiums and leagues, but my second target was also a failure. The ray of light was Matt Adams. Unfortunately, although not for his owners, his success has not validated this frankenplayer approach. He’s simply been so good that despite acquiring him to platoon, I’ve used him nearly every day. I do believe this process has value, but I am discouraged at how unpredictable splits seem to be. Verdict: Productive Ground Out.
We Both Know that Dallas Keuchel is an Ace, Right? So this post was a mixed bag. First of all, I correctly identified Keuchel as a regression candidate. But then again, he was coming off an unexpect CY-award winning campaign, so that wasn’t quite like picking Wales over Belgium. I just about nailed his strikeout rate and BABIP regression but at the same time I placed him as a solid number two starter. The problem is that his walk rate has increased by about 50 percent and his HR/FB jumped by a factor of nearly two. The very factor that led to his improvement, swings and misses at balls out of the strike zone has let him down this year. The culprit is the low-and-outside changeup. The swing and miss rate is half of last year. Not only are batters not missing it, they’re also not swinging at it as frequently, leading to better contact and more walks. His season is a disaster and he will likely return negative value to you for the season regardless of how he finishes. Much of the analysis was spot-on, unfortunately, conclusions as to its sustainability, was well off the mark. I’m not really sure that the collapse was at all predictable. Verdict: Line Drive into a Triple Play.
I’m almost embarassed to acknowledge the implication for fantasy value that I touted in Michael Wacha’s end to the 2015 season. I have confidence he’ll be a quality fantasy contributor at times but it’s obvious that he’ll be at best very erratic. Verdict: Swing and a Miss.
In April, I identified Sam Travis, Richie Shaffer, Adam Engel, and Travis Shaw to be four hitters I like better than the Dynasty Guru. Only one of these players, Travis Shaw, made the updated top-500 list which would incorporate more information that either of us had. I still really like Sam Travis but Richie Shaffer and Adam Engel can safely be ignored. Verdict: Lazy Fly Ball.
The last contribution I made that has had a reasonable amount of time to marinate looked at Jay Bruce and Mark Trumbo. I predicted that both players had substantially changed their approach at the plate to limit strikeouts at the expense working the count and that it should be reasonable for them to continue their new level of production. So far both have done that and better. They are still swinging earlier and more often and as a result are putting far more balls in play than they used to which is leading to many more home runs and far fewer strikeouts. Verdict: Run Scoring Double.
Overall, I feel that i’ve had a fair amount of success in identifying minor leaguers to target. I have found that the most profitable form of fantasy currency in a dynasty format are helium filled prospects. Get them for free and change them out for known quantities.
The evaluations I’ve made from Pitch/FX have been a bit more mixed. I consider Trumbo and Bruce to be successes while Wacha and Keuchel were not. I have come to believe that it’s folly to jump to conclusions that differ greatly from what you’ve already seen unless there’s an obvious concrete change. Matt Shoemaker’s pitch selection would qualify. I realize this isn’t groundbreaking but it just reinforces the idea that what a player has done throughout his career is more important than what he’s done over the last two months, regardless of how much data you find to justify a change.