Offseason Prep: The Sell-High Candidates
With the 2016 fantasy baseball season drawing to a close, dynasty league owners will soon turn their attention to the 2017 season. The offseason provides a unique opportunity for savvy owners to take advantage of their opponents’ propensity to value players solely using their seasonal stat lines, with little consideration given to the manner in which the player arrived at the outcome. This week, we’re going to take a look at a few players whose final stat lines will be significantly skewed by a short-lived uncharacteristic performance.
For this exercise, I focused on BABIP and HR/FB data, since fluctuations in these values can significantly impact statistical outcomes. I pulled all of the qualified hitters’ data by month, and then began filtering for the top values for each of these categories. Finally, I compared the monthly value to the player’s career average to identify extreme outliers.
Before proceeding to the list, a few notes. First, all of the disclaimers regarding arbitrary end points apply here. The proper way to conduct this search would be to use rolling averages over the course of the season, since it’s going to be impossible to identify hot streaks that don’t fit within our very narrowly defined time frame using this approach. However, the monthly data was readily available from Fangraphs and required little manipulation. Second, an argument could be made that every player’s season is comprised of hot and cold streaks, and to simply identify extreme hot streaks doesn’t necessarily mean that we should expect the player’s annual performance to change moving forward. During my search, I accounted for this by eliminating any player that had uncharacteristically hot AND cold monthly performances during the season (e.g. Joey Votto), as the end result in many of these cases was a seasonal stat line similar to the player’s career averages.
Without further ado, your list of offseason sell-high candidates:
Xander Bogaerts continues to defy the odds, regularly posting well above average BABIPs without demonstrating the skills that typically accompany them. In addition to his previously noted shortcomings, this year he has gone back to a pull-heavy approach, which has resulted in a power spike but has not had the degree of impact that you might expect on his batting average. Upon closer examination, a .444 BABIP in May contributed to a triple slash of .395/.429/.589 for the month, which has certainly helped mitigate the drag on his overall numbers. Those looking at his final stats at the end of the year are sure to like what they will see, and I’ve heard some pundits proclaim that Bogaerts should be a first round selection in redraft leagues in 2017. Bogaerts is certainly a nice young piece for any dynasty team, but there appears to be a rather large disconnect between his market value and his likely performance moving forward. If you regress his May numbers to his career averages, you’re looking at a .280-.290 batting average with roughly 20 homeruns and 10 steals. The widely adopted narrative (young blossoming hitter unlocks his power potential and transforms into a five category contributor) is more tantalizing than the likely production. Use it to your advantage in trade negotiations.
Back in February, Ian Desmond had no job, no prospects, and no conceivable reason for getting up in the morning. So when the Rangers had an opportunity to acquire a former all-star in the prime of his career for a contract more commonly reserved for a middle reliever, they pounced. He has rewarded them with the best season of his career, seeing his performance rebound to 2013 levels. Before buying into the reclamation project this offseason, consider that the bounce in his stats is largely a product of a hot streak in June, in which he sported a .471 BABIP and 39% HR/FB rate. He posted a 1.019 OPS that month, after which his performance more closely resembled what we’ve come to expect from him in recent years, with his line drive, pop-up, and hard contact rates regressing towards career averages. He’ll be entering his age 31 season, but as a former perennial second round pick, there may be owners in your league buying into the resurgence, making it a great time to shop him around.
As of this writing, Wil Myers has 28 homeruns on the season, which is easily a career best after missing substantial time the past two seasons. Even had he played all 162 games in 2014 and 2015, he was only pacing for roughly 15-20 homers, so 2016 represents a significant spike in his power output. Most of that homerun total can be attributed to an uncharacteristic June, in which his HR/FB rate swelled to 33%, more than double his 15% career average. Myers is only 25, and his final 2016 season line will likely inflate his value in dynasty leagues. However, if you replace his June numbers with his historical performance, you would end up with a .250-.260 hitter with 20-25 homeruns. He’s obviously still a very valuable commodity, but if you can get someone to pay a 30/30 price for Myers, you’ll walk away from the trade with surplus value.
I bought plenty of shares of Jake Lamb coming into the season, but I certainly didn’t expect this kind of performance. While he has cooled off of late, he’s going to finish the season in the 30 homerun range, making him a top ten option at the position heading into 2017. Much like his cohort Myers, Lamb hit 30% of his homeruns during the month of June with the help of a 41% HR/FB rate. With a career 15% HR/FB rate, it’s easy to see that one of these things is not like the others. While his hard contact rate gives some hope that he could create a new baseline as he continues to develop, it’s difficult to count on future performances benefiting from a repeat of his ridiculous hot streak. If you can find a dynasty league owner willing to pay for the youth and the promise of continued development, you may be able to make out like a bandit.
With the offseason just around the corner, there is no better time to begin identifying assets that will be overvalued by the market. The dynasty league owners who regularly take advantage of these opportunities typically occupy the top of the standings at the end of the season. While attempting to predict future performance is often a futile effort, those who use all of the information at their disposal typically translate good processes into good outcomes. Next time, we’ll use the same method to identify buy-low opportunities.
[…] names some dynasty assets that could prove to be solid sell-high players in the […]
Eric, very nice article, but it seems that you just flat out do not believe in players having hot streaks as a part of normal season. On the flip side would you say to buy low on someone like Justin Upton who spent a large chunk of his season in a slump?
Thanks Jack. No, I think that there are many players whose performance is historically inconsistent within each season, and to simply say that they will not perform to the same level next year because they had a hot streak this year is an over-simplification. That is why I used two filters for this search:
1. Players who significantly exceeded their career BABIP and/or HR/FB career averages during any one month of the season
2. Players who did not significantly under-perform their career BABIP and/or HR/FB career averages during any one month of the season
The majority of players that I identified who had stretches during the season that were equally hot and cold were still pacing to hit their average seasonal numbers in most cases, which is just how some players compile their statistics. In the case of each of the players listed above, they performed in line with their career averages for the most part with the exception of an extreme hot streak. In these cases, I do think it’s safe to say that it is unlikely that they will experience another such hot streak next season to buoy their overall numbers, which would make them good sell-high candidates.
What I think i’m missing, is how you factored in the slumps that some of these players experienced after their hot streak. Myers and Lamb both have had huge slumps after their hot streaks, and I’m failing to understand how that would not be enough of a balancing act for their values. In the end, we don’t know how either of us actually value these players, so we may agree exactly on their where we rank them, I just thought there were some interesting sell high candidates here.
I’m only looking at BABIP and HR/FB ratios, because both of those values are tied to skill and are stickier from year to year than the actual outcomes. In the case of Myers and Lamb, they both saw huge spikes in their HR/FB ratios, but never an equally opposing dip in these values during the season. So that leads me to believe that they out-performed their skills (based on their career averages) for a short span of time, and owners should not count on them to necessarily maintain these gains.
For Myers his career HR/FB rate is 14.8%, in the month of May he was below half of that at 7.1% (2 HR). Also keep in mind, we are talking about a guy whom had a career high of 88 games prior to this season due to wrist and and knee issues. His previous averages were established during seasons where he had issues with health, where this season he played perfectly healthy. If you anticipate another injury, then perhaps his previous averages are the bar he should be expected to achieve, but if you expect health, wouldn’t you anticipate him to perform at a higher level considering this was a player whose scouting reports were based almost entirely off of his power potential? Lastly, power is up drastically around the league, so wouldn’t random spurts of greater power production not be as wild and unpredictable as they previously were?
Most importantly, if we both think he’s something like the 60-100th best dynasty player to own, then we are just discussing production and how we think it will come, because we would then have fairly similar views.
33.3%-14.8% is more than double 14.8%-7.1%, so he was included because he did not have an equally offsetting cold streak. As for the scouts, I tend to to put more stock in the 1600+ plate appearances he has accumulated at the major league level over his minor league scouting reports at this point.
All of that being said, is a .250-.260 hitter who can put up 20-25 homers valuable? Absolutely. His inclusion in this list is contextual. I just think the market is pricing him as if 30 homers is his new baseline, and based on the fact that he put up 11 of those homers in a month in which his HR/FB swelled well beyond his career average, I don’t see it sticking.
So in general, do you think there is going to be a drop off in power across the league after this year’s huge spike?
To be honest, I’m not sure. From everything I’ve read and heard, it doesn’t seem like anyone has found a definitive reason for the spike. I know there’s been some talk about the ball being juiced, but I haven’t seen any proof of that either. At this point, I think it’s anyone’s guess.
At BIS we’ve decided its either the balls, the entire atmosphere of the world changing, or companies finding the golden forrest for bat making.
Great article Eric and I agree with 80% of what you say. My issue is that you seem to completely discount the “hot streak” each of these players went through. In all fairness, it seems that all hitters go through hot and cold streaks. Nobody really just plays their entire season on a standard day to day level. Look at Chris Davis. He’ll be hot for two weeks and cold for four weeks, then do it again and hit five homers in seven days. None of it is predictable really. I know your point is to use past averages as a precedent for future production, which is fair and reasonable. But, at the same time, using this theory would mean you can never expect a young hitter like Myers, Lamb or Boegarts to improve. I’m not buying that at all. Some young hitters do improve, some don’t.
I think you have to factor in the hot streaks as part of their norm. Otherwise you need to factor out the cold streaks too. Maybe if you took their best month out and their worst month out, then determined what they would produce I’d be more inclined to agree with you overall. Still, it’s good stuff and definitely information to think about for the future. Thanks for the article!
Feel free to agree, disagree, call me a bonehead or whatever. But I think my idea is fair and reasonable too.
Thanks Matt! I completely agree with everything you have said, which is why a guy like Charlie Blackmon, who posted a 0% HR/FB rate in July and 33% HR/FB rate in August didn’t make the list. Both are significantly different than his career average, but offset one another when looking at his overall performance for the season. I’m not suggesting that in-season fluctuations (either good or bad) alone should be looked at when trying to identify fluky performances, because the league is full of streaky players. I’m trying to identify players that for the most part performed within an acceptable range relative to their career averages, with the exception of a single extreme spike. If you remove Myers’ stats for the month of June, his seasonal HR/FB rate is slightly better than his career average. So the question owners need to ask themselves is simple: do you believe that a spike in HR/FB for a single month is indicative of a change in the player’s previously demonstrated skills? For me, the answer is no, which is why I would try to trade him.
That being said, you’re absolutely right, we’re playing a game that can’t be won when trying to predict future performance. Recognizing that, I’ve always taken a very conservative approach to player valuation. It’s a strategy that can burn you pretty badly in small samples (I traded Dallas Keuchel before his Cy Young season), but over the long haul I’ve been able to acquire more value than I’ve lost (sold high on Garrett Richards, Drew Hutchison, Jackie Bradley, and others before they regressed to career averages).
Thanks Eric, appreciate the response. I fully agree Myers had a one month spike. His June was absolutely ridiculous power wise. Just like you mentioned, he still looks pretty good at 22-24 HR and 25 steals!!!
Good stuff Eric. Always enjoy reading you. I look forward to your “Buy Low” candidates article!
Do you think Brian dozier is a sell high candidate at this point? Obviously not likely hitting 40+ HR next year but he does provide value in SB and runs too.
Dozier is interesting. He hit 23 homeruns over the last two months of the season. On the surface, that number looks flukey, as he never hit more than 28 homers in any year prior to 2016. But digging a little deeper, his hard contact rate spiked and he traded walks for strikeouts, which could be indicative of a change in approach. This might be a legitimate power breakout.