“The Mad Professor” Returns: Studs and Duds — Summer Solstice Edition
Hi sports fans. I’m back from a hiatus in Spain and Portugal, where baseball is not even an afterthought. Upon my return, the boss asked me to do a batting piece for a change and focus on expectations. I can do this with no trouble since, in various leagues, I’m happily sitting on Carlos Gomez, Justin Upton and a couple of other folks whose shine has dulled more than a tad so far.
So, who are the duds and what are the criteria for handing these folks their sign? While we are at it, who has exceeded expectations? We could cover a lot of ground here. So, let’s keep that in mind perhaps for next week. For now, let’s look at the stinkers.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT DATA AND PERFORMANCE
Before ranting or declaring folks mostly dead, let’s keep in mind a couple of things. First, it is seldom that the top 20 on draft day remain the top 20 throughout the season. Each year, Ron Shandler discusses this in great detail in his Baseball Forecaster.
Statistics and Probability
This is great analysis, not only because it is robust in its scope, but also because it makes us aware of the fact that ballplayers are statistical animals. As a result, we need to deal with the fact that a .280 hitter can have a .310 season or a .260 season, and still be a .280 hitter. This is due to the natural, random variation that will occur in a player’s performance from year to year over a 162 game season.
If Mike Trout is a 40 HR hitter, we’ll be thrilled if he hits 48 and irritated if he hits only 32 this year. But, both performances are equally probable and constitute part of the random, predictable variation in player performance.
So, keeping that in mind, we need to deal with the fact that, in some cases, our duds may simply be quality players who are operating at the lower end of their bell curves so far this year. The question is how we distinguish between a bona fide dud and the player having a mediocre season, but still playing within his statistical bell curve?
Trying to generate meaningful measures
One real problem we have to contend with is the translation of performance variability into changes in either dollar values or player rankings. A drop of 5 HR is a drop of 5 HR. But how do we translate that into a comparable drop (or increase) in dollar value or ranking?
For example, if Mike Trout drops from a preseason ranking of #1 to his current ranking, of #6, how do we compare that to other players’ performance? Depending on how much you paid for him on draft day, a 5 point drop in rankings could prove disastrous. Similarly, Trout’s dropping from 1 to 6 has a radically different importance than Joe Shlabotnik’s dropping from 250 to 255.
A real problem that rankings and dollar values present us with is their limits. You can’t rank higher than #1. Accordingly, the preseason #10 can rise 9 spots to number 1. The preseason #100 can rise 50 spots — something the #10 player can’t do. So, how do we compare a 50 point jump from #100 to a 9 point jump from #10?
Honestly, this is the stuff of some pretty heady math — much headier than the stuff of probability and statistics. So, let’s just look at some basics. In this piece, I look at the top 225 batters based on their Yahoo! preseason rankings (This analysis draws upon data available as of 10 AM EDT on 19 June).
To avoid the problems I note above, let’s just look at tiers of players and see who, according to Yahoo!, has dropped the most. First, some summary numbers.
- Of the top 225 batters, 130 have experienced drops in their rankings, 94 have experienced increases and one player, Josh Donaldson, has remained at his preseason rank (currently #5).
- Of the top 25 players, only two, Josh Donaldson and Mookie Betts (preseason 19, current 7), have NOT experienced a drop in their ranking.
In some cases, the drop is due to suspension (Dee Gordon) or season ending injury (A.J. Pollock, Kyle Schwarber). I’ve kept such players in this analysis simply to acknowledge that the rankings drop can occur for any number of reasons. But, as the graph below demonstrates, there has been a lot of underperformance in the league.
To a certain point, the graph is constrained. The closer you are to the left hand side, the higher was your original preseason ranking. There is, for all intents and purposes, nowhere to go but down. Similarly, as you head to the right, the upside of ones game increases significantly because there is a finite number of active players in the major leagues.
Nonetheless, we do see that there are lots of folks in the middle of the graph (preseason rank between 100 and 300), who saw their performance decline.
|Mike Trout LAA – OF||68||1||6||-5||99%||75/248||47||14||47||9||0.302||0.949|
|Paul Goldschmidt Ari – 1B||69||2||14||-12||99%||71/245||39||14||45||9||0.29||0.943|
|Bryce Harper Was – OF||66||3||35||-32||99%||54/213||41||14||42||7||0.254||0.897|
|Josh Donaldson Tor – 3B||69||5||5||0||99%||72/259||60||17||46||5||0.278||0.961|
|Miguel Cabrera Det – 1B||68||6||40||-34||99%||81/261||39||14||41||0||0.31||0.921|
|Manny Machado Bal – 3B,SS||67||7||12||-5||99%||86/271||50||17||42||0||0.317||0.985|
|Nolan Arenado Col – 3B||66||8||9||-1||99%||74/255||48||20||57||1||0.29||0.956|
|Andrew McCutchen Pit – OF||65||9||202||-193||99%||64/262||38||10||27||2||0.244||0.74|
|Carlos Correa Hou – SS||65||10||129||-119||98%||64/250||30||9||33||8||0.256||0.776|
|Giancarlo Stanton Mia – OF||57||11||299||-288||98%||43/205||24||12||31||0||0.21||0.739|
|Kris Bryant ChC – 3B,OF||64||12||33||-21||99%||69/252||49||16||46||2||0.274||0.886|
|Anthony Rizzo ChC – 1B||65||13||30||-17||99%||61/231||41||16||50||2||0.264||0.939|
|José Altuve Hou – 2B||69||14||2||12||99%||92/270||47||10||38||18||0.341||0.959|
|José Bautista Tor – OF||65||16||107||-91||99%||54/235||41||12||41||1||0.23||0.815|
|Edwin Encarnación Tor – 1B||70||17||24||-7||98%||69/264||41||18||61||2||0.261||0.878|
|José Abreu CWS – 1B||67||18||159||-141||97%||70/263||28||10||41||0||0.266||0.762|
|Mookie Betts Bos – OF||67||19||7||12||99%||85/293||60||14||49||11||0.29||0.853|
|Dee Gordon Mia – 2B||21||20||709||-689||58%||25/94||13||0||5||6||0.266||0.629|
|Buster Posey SF – C,1B||60||21||120||-99||99%||62/222||36||8||31||4||0.279||0.799|
|A.J. Pollock Ari – OF||–||22||1087||-1065||61%||-/-||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Joey Votto Cin – 1B||69||23||94||-71||97%||59/239||39||11||36||5||0.247||0.81|
|Charlie Blackmon Col – OF||54||26||102||-76||96%||61/211||36||7||30||6||0.289||0.817|
|George Springer Hou – OF||69||27||53||-26||98%||76/284||45||15||41||4||0.268||0.826|
|Chris Davis Bal – 1B,OF||66||31||90||-59||98%||52/236||48||16||40||0||0.22||0.81|
|J.D. Martínez Det – OF||65||32||70||-38||94%||72/252||36||12||39||1||0.286||0.878|
In the top 25, the biggest duds to date are Giancarlo Stanton (-288), Andrew McCutchen (-193), Jose Abreu (-144) and Carlos Correa (-119). Stanton’s drop should not come as a complete surprise. He’s returning from a frightening injury in which he took a baseball to the face.
Correa’s an outstanding talent, but he just got here; he does not yet have 750 plate appearances. His walk rate has improved, but his K% has increased as well. His BABIP is up 30 points from last year’s .296. BA is down 25 points, OBP is up 7, but SLG is down 90 points from last years’ .424. 9 HR, 33 RBI and 8 SB from the SS position after 250 AB is nothing to sniff at. Seems his biggest problem is that the pundits’ expectations were much too high and many of us took the bait. If any owners are frustrated, do make an offer.
Abreu is suffering similar problems of perceptions and expectations. He has established himself as a 30-100-.300 player. In 295 PA so far, his line is 10-41-.266. If we project that over the roughly 640 PA he has averaged in his career, it works out to 22 HR and 89 RBI for the season. He’s hitting well below his career .300 BA, so he is a buy low candidate.
What’s important to keep in mind with someone like Abreu is, as we know from Bull Durham, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is a hit a week. So, before we declare him a bust, take note that the so-called bust is a difference of 4 hits a month so far. He’s suffering, in no small part, because his BABIP is down to .297 (the last two years, he was at .333 and .356, respectively). Trade with confidence.
McCutcheon is in a similar situation. His BABIP this year is below .300. Normally, his BABIP is .340 or better. His slash line is 10-27-.244 after 293 PA. His LD and FB percentages are up, but his hard hit percentage is down. While he’s stolen only 2 bases so far this season, it’s important to note that his SB count has dropped steadily over the last 5 years.
In general, then, these tarnished stars are in funks. But they are well within their statistical spreads, and are worth talking to your league owners about over 4th of July ales. Their careers all indicate that they are solid buys.
The Biggest Losers
|A.J. Pollock Ari – OF||–||22||1087||-1065||61%||-/-||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Kyle Schwarber ChC – C,OF||2||53||991||-938||27%||0/4||0||0||0||0||0||0.2|
|Mark Teixeira NYY – 1B||48||175||1041||-866||30%||30/167||16||3||12||1||0.18||0.534|
|Travis d’Arnaud NYM – C||13||176||1024||-848||45%||“9/46||3||0||1||0||0.196||0.549|
|Prince Fielder Tex – 1B||66||54||881||-827||77%||49/245||18||5||34||0||0.2||0.579|
|Devin Mesoraco Cin – C||16||241||1059||-818||14%||“7/50||2||0||1||0||0.14||0.378|
|Michael Brantley Cle – OF||11||77||887||-810||74%||“9/39||5||0||7||1||0.231||0.561|
|Erick Aybar Atl – SS||50||279||1062||-783||5%||34/167||9||0||10||2||0.204||0.503|
|Kolten Wong StL – 2B||50||131||899||-768||30%||29/130||14||1||6||3||0.223||0.589|
|Carlos Gómez Hou – OF||48||49||806||-757||70%||36/172||15||3||12||8||0.209||0.587|
|Pablo Sandoval Bos – 3B||3||261||1007||-746||12%||0/6||0||0||0||0||0||0.143|
|Byron Buxton Min – OF||35||230||940||-710||28%||21/108||11||1||7||4||0.194||0.571|
|Yan Gomes Cle – C||52||216||921||-705||46%||31/184||17||7||28||0||0.168||0.546|
|Ben Revere Was – OF||37||104||799||-695||52%||32/150||19||1||12||7||0.213||0.544|
|Dee Gordon Mia – 2B ?||21||20||709||-689||58%||25/94||13||0||5||6||0.266||0.629|
Ignoring Pollock, Schwarber, Brantly (DL) and Gordon, we see that the biggest disappointments in terms of expectations have been Fielder and Carlos Gomez. They were top 100 (not top 25) players to start the season. But each has underperformed radically.
Fielder’s counting stats are not that far off from his career numbers. But it’s important to note that his GB% has increased, and LD% has decreased steadily the last several years. His career hard hit% is 36.2, but in his last 3 years, he has been closer to 30 than to 36. Since 2010, his walk rate has declined steadily. It has been in the single digits both last year and this year. His K% is at his career average of 16.7, but his BABIP of .221 is way below his career mark of .301. The key here is that Fielder’s value derived from his power. His OPS has decreased steadily since 2009. He’s had ups and downs, but never threatened that 1.017 mark again. While we can expect some improvement in the second half based on his BABIP, that is more likely to translate into OBP than power. This is an aging star, who no longer offers the power that made him such valuable fantasy commodity.
Gomez has been on and off of the DL, but his season has been a terrible disappointment. His LD% is down and his GB% is up. His contact rate is down. He was injured last year. But pundits said he still owned the skills and projected him as a solid buy with a strong upside. The Mets backed out of a trade for him over the winter because of concerns about his hip. Perhaps he is hiding an injury. Regardless, his performance has been lackluster at best. The good news for owners is that Gomez has seemingly begun to turn things around in June. Over the last 2 weeks, he has shown a line of 3-7-.300 with 2 SB in 40 plate appearances. His superstar caliber speed is clearly a thing of the past. But, if he can right his ship, he still offers five category value.
With the exception of Fielder, these struggling players all offer good second half value. Their performances have been below their career averages. But in some cases, I think it’s clear that they are the victims of unrealistic expectations. The All-Star break is just a couple of weeks away. We are only halfway through the season. I suspect that we’ll see significant recovery for most of the players we’ve touched upon in this article. Make some offers. They will pay dividends.
In closing, again, keep in mind that the translation of real stats into dollar values or relative rankings is a peculiar task. It’s extraordinarily difficult to convert an entire hitting or pitching portfolio into one accurate and meaningful number that amounts, essentially, to an index that you can use to compare players. Stay tuned.
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