Chris Taylor: The Buy-High Candidate
Chris Taylor is due for some major regression in 2018. This is a universal truth. The outfielder and second baseman had a massive 2017, slashing .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs and 17 stolen bases over 140 games. With a spotty track record and a luck-induced line — courtesy of a .361 BABIP — most dynasty owners will be jumping ship, expecting Chris Taylor to be a one-hit wonder. And when your fantasy league zigs… you zag. With most people are selling high, take a walk on the wild side and, well, buy high.
If your dynasty league is like mine, competition is getting stronger. Most modern fantasy players understand that luck plays a factor in games and that outliers regress to the mean. Whoever owned Chris Taylor in 2017 (as I did in one league) felt like they hit the lottery. They probably claimed Taylor to fill in for some injured player in late April, then rode him for most of the summer until his performance dipped in September. They know that he isn’t .361 wOBA good, and every smart fantasy analyst is telling them not to rely on Chris Taylor next year.
But here’s the thing: they probably don’t have a good idea what Taylor’s true present value is. We all know that the arrow is down, but your Chris Taylor owner is likely to misjudge how far down it should go. Research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky shows that we almost always overshoot the direction of probabilistic misjudgments like these. This is to your advantage as a buyer.
How Good is Chris Taylor?
Before we can make a market on Chris Taylor, we need to establish his fair market value. This will obviously vary based on your league’s rules. He ranked 8th among 2018-eligible (20 games minimum) second basemen in 2017 according to ESPN’s Player Rater, and was arguably top-5 under my league’s rules. He likely won’t be that good next year, but where should we rank him?
My first step is always to look at batted ball luck using Statcast’s xwOBA statistic. Chris Taylor put up a respectable .331 xwOBA last season, 8th best among qualified second basemen last season and ahead of guys like Whit Merrifield, Jonathan Schoop, and Cesar Hernandez. Taylor is also quite fast, and we can adjust his performance for sprint speed. Statcast’s xwOBA underrates fast players. After adjusting for sprint speed, Taylor put up a very respectable .355 xwOBA. Despite this, he will likely be drafted behind all three second basemen this Spring. The batting average will fall, sure, but it is unlikely to plummet — he should still contribute in that category.
However, what if Taylor regresses in his underlying performance, rather than just his batted ball luck? Between 2014 and 2016, Chris Taylor bounced between the majors and minors for 318 plate appearances, hitting a pedestrian .267 wOBA. Should we expect him to revert back to the listless player he used to be? I argue we should not. Taylor regularly put up wOBAs above .390 in the minor leagues, and 318 plate appearances is not a large sample. He always posted solid walk totals in the minor leagues. On the other hand, Taylor’s 25% major league strikeout rate is much higher than his 17.4% minor league strikeout rate.
Taylor is also a relatively safe bet to swipe 15-20 bases if he plays. He stole 17 in 21 attempts (81%) over 140 games last season, and has shown a similar skillset in the minors. Even if his contact slips, the stolen bases will keep his value afloat in a speed-starved environment.
On top of all of this, Taylor plays multiple positions. He will be eligible at second base and outfield in all leagues and could gain eligibility at shortstop or 3rd base in many leagues. The 27-year-old’s versatility should keep his bat in a strong Dodgers’ lineup, while also providing a boost in value in any sufficiently deep dynasty league where few useful players are available on waivers.
Of course, Taylor does carry significant risk. There’s a reason why he’s become accustomed to the fantasy trade block this offseason. Taylor’s on-field talent could very well regress along with his batted ball luck. We don’t have all of the projections yet, but Steamer puts his 2018 wOBA at .321. Taylor had a terrible month of September, posting a .264 wOBA (although his second half overall was almost exactly equal to his first half). In addition, with the Dodgers boasting strong depth behind Taylor, his margin for error isn’t as large as we’d like. Players like the aforementioned Merrifield have much better job safety, increasing their value against Taylor’s.
Still, we have to take the good with the bad, and Taylor’s inherent risk will allow you to acquire him at a relative bargain. Since I haven’t seen many dynasty rankings for 2018, save for Triston Cockcroft’s Taylor-less top-300, it isn’t easy to discuss new dynasty drafts. However, we can discuss potential trades. Taylor is about to play his age-27 season. I’d take Chris Taylor well ahead of players ranked above him like Josh Harrison, Jedd Gyorko, Marwin Gonzalez, or Chris Owings. Your Taylor owner likely wants to sell high, so he won’t come for free, but I bet he comes at a discount over any of these guys.