I’m happy to be given the opportunity to write for RotoFanatic and will be contributing on a regular basis. For my first article, I’m going to step through how I evaluate a hitter’s fantasy value using Willie Calhoun as an example. I’ll do so by gauging the hitter’s market value, his industry projections, and finally my own secret sauce.
Note: I’m keeping all projections and estimates based on a 162 game season. I know the 2020 season will be shorter but by how much is still up in the air.
A player’s average draft position (ADP) can not be ignored if a fantasy owner is trying to get every bit of value possible from each player rostered. The NFBC ADP has become the industry standard and for good reason. A large majority of the owners have fronted some money and have more at stake with each choice. Also, it is the only ADP source with that a date range can be set. Even with these advantages, it’s not a panacea.
The biggest drawback is that the NFBC focus’s on just 5×5 roto leagues with no point league options. It’s great for the single format but incorporating other sources and help to get a better understanding of a player.
For the preceding reasons, I like to utilize the multisite ADP available and Fantasy Pros. Additionally, I’ll add the last few weeks of NFBC ADP to see if the player has been moving up or down. After collecting the ADP values, I convert the ADP to 15-team auction values by using formulas I’ve previously calculated. I find a 15-team league provides a nice balance between shallow 10-team leagues and deep AL or NL-only leagues.
I make this dollar value adjustment because ADP differences mean more with top talent than later when the talent curve flattens out. A $2 auction value difference can be one or two spots with the top talent. Later on, it can be the difference of three to four rounds.
With all the reasoning out of the way, here are the market values Willie Calhoun
Calhoun has a range of 24 picks or $1.3 of value. In all fairness, the market is at a consensus.
My next step is to navigate over to FanGraphs and collect the standard 15-team auction calculator values for all the available projection systems. I like using multiple projection systems to find any variance. Early in the offseason, I may have to use other sources like Mastersball where Todd Zola makes his projections available in October. I want to find why differences may exist. Most of the time, it’s a disagreement in playing time but sometimes the variance is a little deeper.
So here are Calhoun’s auction values.
Besides the variation, the average projection auction value is lower than any of those from the ADPs. Part of the difference could be related to when the site’s drafts happened in relation to Calhoun’s broken jaw that is now healed. Maybe ATC (450 PA) still has his projected playing time muted. Also, the various ADPs could have more weight based on pre and post-injury news, but his draft NFBC draft position hasn’t changed over the past month.
Just going off comparing the projections and ADP, I’m a little worried Calhoun could be overvalued.The difference is pretty stark with a range of $9.4 between The BAT and Steamer. As expected, playing time ranges from 450 PA to 566 PA. Just going over the rate stats, they are all similar except The BAT. The difference is over 50 points of OPS with the cause being split between power (ISO) and batting average. The other three projections are within 14 OPS points.
With the market and industry projections valuations in hand, it’s time for my own detailed evaluation. I used to just stick with the standard projections but The Model Thinker by Scott Page emphasized to “not put too much faith in one model”. All the projection systems are based on previous season weighted stats with regression baked in. I’ve taken the step to create different ways to evaluate players and created the following table. The cells that are colored green are above league average and red below.
It combines several different ways to view a hitter’s talent with some unique projections.
Details on the categories:
- PA Projected: This is a value I’ve created with gives the hitter a projected plate appearance total based on age, previous playing time, injuries, and talent level.
- OPS vs RHP, OPS vs LHP, Diff: These values help to point out potential platoon candidates.
- Two seasons ago, Previous Season, 1H, 2H, Sept/Oct: The focus with these values is to find any possible like improving plate discipline or power.
- 3 Year Max: Simply, this is the base the player has performed in any of the categories over the past three seasons. I consider this line to be the hitter’s upside.
- 3 Year Avg (600 PA): This row takes the hitter’s stats from the previous three seasons and prorates them to 600 PA.
- 1 Year Proj: This projection is based just on how the hitter performed last season. This projection set is for players who remade themselves in several and old projections are no longer applicable.
- Savant Proj: I created these projections based entirely on inputs from baseball savant (e.g. launch angle, sprint speed).
- The columns are grouped by general talent (OPS, AVG), plate discipline (K%, BB%), power (ISO, HR, MaxEV, Barrels/BIP), batted ball trajectory (LA, GB%), the chance of being shifted (Pull% and Shift%), and speed (SB and Sprint Speed).
- Comps: These are the hitters with the most similar profile based on plate discipline, power, batted ball trajectory, and speed.
Besides the preceding information, I like to incorporate is the hitter’s batted ball profile to find any possible trends. In Calhoun’s case, it doesn’t provide much because of his sparse MLB playing time in 2017 and 2018
This may seem like a lot of information but it’s the guts on how to evaluate if a projection is off for a hitter. Instead of navigating around different websites to collect the needed information to make an informed opinion on a hitter, it’s one-stop shopping. Here is a step-through on Calhoun.
The first item that sticks out is how Calhoun’s plate discipline has steadily improved over the past two seasons with his strikeout and walk rate almost equalizing last September (13% K% vs 11% BB%) after having a near 4:1 K/BB rate in 2018.
The power numbers are mixed with the home runs and ISO being above average while the power StatCast power metrics are below average. The mixup continues with an improved launch angle but he continues to hit balls on the ground. These mixups can partly be explained in the graphs where his ~5 deg Hard Hit Angle (launch angle with the hardest contact) is about 25 deg lower (AHHD) where he hits his weakly hit balls. It’s either hard line drives and weak popups (8% infield popups). Even though he hits the ball hard for hits, his batting average is going to suffer from those easy to catch popups, shifts that eat up his pulled batted balls, and no speed. The slug is not going to steal a base.
Moving over to the hitting comps, three of the first four stick out (Moustakas, Seager, and Arenado). They all hit for a low park-adjusted AVG (Arenado at .265 on the road) with above-average power with no speed. While Arenado gets a huge boost from playing in Colorado, the other two are being valued higher with Moustakas at an 85 NFBC ADP and Seager averaging 130.
The most interesting comp is Ozzie Albies. All of their difference is based on speed. Going to the traditional projections, all the stats are similar expect Albies is expected for a higher AVG probably being able to leg out some infield hits. Also, he’s right-handed so he can’t be shifted as much even though their pull rates (~45%) are similar.
Finishing the Puzzle
I can see why some owners are excited about the 25-year-old Calhoun. Doubling his second-half home runs to 32 along with the improved plate discipline numbers makes him seem like someone on the rise.
The problem is that his batted ball profile doesn’t exactly jive with the home run increase. All signs don’t point to breakout, so doubt remains as seen in The BAT projection. Also, his batting average will be muted because he pulls the ball, hits too many pop-ups, and is slow.
For me, I’m taking the risk with him and holding off roster power-hitting outfielders knowing he’ll be available later with 6th round upside (Moustakas). I understand why the market values him more than the projections. I know he could implode and become waiver wire fodder, but players with Willie Calhoun’s potential are why owners can wait on power. They can fill other needs early knowing there is 30 home run potential available later in a draft.