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.