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How to find hidden value in drafts PDF Print E-mail
Theory and Strategy - Platinum
Written by Todd Zola   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 23:41

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Let's face it, John BuckClayton RichardGarrett Jones and Ross Detwiler will be ignored in most standard (10-team) mixed-league drafts.

But that doesn't mean they don't have mixed-league value. Depending on your league rules, these four players can be deployed in a manner such that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The underlying principle behind this takes advantage of one of the tenets of valuation theory, which is in fact a flaw of most systems (including my own). When we assign potential value to a player, it's assumed that player occupies an active roster spot for the entire season. There's no allowance for using a substitute in the event of an injury. There's no accounting for the ability in most formats to reserve a player and activate a different player with a more favorable schedule that week. As such, a player with either greater or latent potential may be pushed down or even buried on a rankings list.

Today we're going to examine three ways to squeeze more value out of players you otherwise might not consider roster-worthy and discuss examples of each. The three means are playing time, hitter splits and pitcher streaming.

Playing time

The projection for a player with an injury history, serving a suspension to begin the season or expected to be called up sometime in-season has a playing time element that reflects the games the player is anticipated to miss. This stat line then gets put into the "black box" that generates a dollar value or ranking. Devoid from this effort is the fact that you can use a replacement in the player's stead. One way to account for this is to add on the stats of the likely replacement player, as if they came from the original player, and then recalculate the value or ranking. While the aggregate batting average likely will be lower, the additional counting stats should increase the overall value of the player, to a point more practical when compared to the rest of the player pool.

Of course, the ability to replace such a player is league contextual, so the actual bump depends on your league rules. The largest ranking increase should be in leagues with daily transactions so you minimize the number of games missed. If you play in a weekly league, you could be saddled with five or six goose eggs if your player gets hurt right after the transaction deadline. Another consideration is league depth: the better the quality of replacement, the greater the bump. Similarly, positions in which the replacement is of higher quality enjoy a bigger bump.

Related to this is the intrinsic value of a player eligible at multiple positions. While Ben Zobrist's stats count the same regardless of whether he occupies a second base, shortstop or outfield spot, the fact he can jump between the three aids in assuring the best possible replacement when needed. Even players with the often-overlooked first base and outfield eligibility, such as Allen CraigMark Trumbo and Michael Cuddyer, are worthy of a little boost. The reason is the likely best replacement available is usually either an outfielder or a first baseman; having a player you can shuttle back and forth between first and the outfield gives you a better shot at getting that best player.

Now let's look at some specific examples of players who deserve a rankings boost based on having a replacement active to cover their lost playing time.

Injuries

"You can't win a league in the first few rounds, but you can lose it." How many times have you heard someone proclaim that? The implication: Avoid injury-prone and otherwise risky players early in a draft. That applies primarily to three players this season: Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and Josh Hamilton. These players are all potential first-round picks, but they're penalized due to their injury history. The trio is docked plate appearances, knocking them down cheat sheets. Some owners swear off these players altogether, which is a mistake. 

Guess who has led the majors in plate appearances combined over the past two seasons. Give up? It's Ian Kinsler, the same guy who was labeled injury-prone prior to the 2011 season and knocked down rankings lists because of it.

There's an expected return on investment for each draft pick. Assuming the player still meets the reduced playing time allotment, you realize a larger return emanating from the contribution of the substitute player while your top pick is out. You don't want to boost the ranking to the point you lose this edge, but you certainly can split the difference. Presently, Tulowitzki, Longoria and Hamilton are ranked 11th, 19th and 21st on the ESPN Top 300. Add in replacement stats for their projected missed games and Tulowitzki climbs five or six spots, and Longoria and Hamilton eight or nine places. You'd then split the difference and consider Tulowitzki to be No. 8 or 9 overall, and Longoria and Hamilton in the 14th or 15th area. You have some built-in return on investment with the possibility of more if they follow in the footsteps of Kinsler and avoid the injury bug.

The advantage fantasy owners can have with currently injured players such as Curtis Granderson and Corey Hart is they not only know approximately how many games they need to account for, but they can plan for it during their draft, and the quality of replacement is likely as good as it's going to be all season.

A quick way to approximate the adjusted ranking of a player such as Granderson or Hart is to add in the numbers of the likely replacement player and then find a player with a similar overall projection. This is approximately where the injured player should be ranked. Again, you don't want to give back the entire return on investment, so split the difference.

Doing this with Granderson is tough since there isn't a close comparison player, but here's the process. Using a standard 10-team ESPN league, the replacement would be someone like Jayson Werth, who should contribute two or three homers and steals along with eight or nine runs and RBIs while Granderson is out. This would bring Granderson's current projection to about 33 homers, 98 runs, 90 RBIs and 12 steals. A player with this line would be ranked 10 or 12 spots higher. Hart is presently ranked 123rd. Adding in six weeks of replacement stats elevates him about 40 to 50 spots, so taking him in the 10th round splits the difference nicely.

Here's a look at a few other injury risks:

Brian McCann, C, Braves: A perennial top-10 catcher, McCann is presently ranked 15th. But what if you paired McCann with John Buck? Buck will be the full-time backstop for the Mets until they promote Travis d'Arnaud, which could be as early as May, which is right around when McCann will be ready. McCann can be drafted at a huge discount with Buck in reserve. The "hybrid" backstop may not be top-10, but it'll be close.

Brandon McCarthy, SP, D-backs: Imagine where McCarthy would be ranked if his 3.36 ERA and 1.19 WHIP were projected over a full season? He'd be in Jordan Zimmermann territory, about 20th in the rankings as opposed to 58th, where he sits now. Determining the replacement for a pitcher is more difficult than for a hitter since you have the option of using another starting pitcher, an extra closer or even a solid middle reliever. Perhaps the best way to get a quick estimate would be to split the difference above and adjust McCarthy to 40th or so.

Cory Luebke, SP, Padres; and Brandon Beachy, SP, Braves: This pair is the pitching equivalent of Granderson and Hart. Both Luebke and Beachy are due back in plenty of time to make a significant contribution this season and are likely reserve-round targets, but why wait that long? Especially early in the season, before injuries set in and weaken the replacement pool, the quality of available arms to hold down the fort is sufficient to jump both Luebke and Beachy up into the regular portion of your draft, then you just reserve or disable them. Presently, Luebke is the 152nd-ranked pitcher because of his reduced innings. He's ranked after the likes of Zach McAllister and Jeff Niemann. But that doesn't mean you have to draft him there.

Suspensions

At least presently, catchers Carlos Ruiz and Yasmani Grandal are the only fantasy-significant players scheduled to miss time at the beginning of the season for being naughty. (Bartolo Colon will miss just one start.) The same ploy can be done with Ruiz as McCann. Another possible catcher whose ranking is lower due to the expectation of losing playing time is Kurt Suzuki, so he would make a viable partner. Of course, you could just use Erik Kratz for Ruiz and Nick Hundley for Grandal. That would work, too.

Prospects

My thoughts on a handful of youngsters:

Wil Myers, OF, Rays: Tampa Bay will leave Myers on the farm to delay his service-time clock, but since the Rays are not afraid to buy out the last couple arbitration and first few free-agent years, he might be up sooner than later.

Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets: Like Myers, d'Arnaud will spend some time in Triple-A, but he likely will be up well before the All-Star break.

Jurickson Profar, IF, Rangers: At some point, Texas will be forced to make room for him.

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners: The reason Seattle was comfortable dealing John Jaso and handing the catching reins to Jesus Montero was not because the Mariners trust Montero, but rather because Zunino is looming.

Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals: If he doesn't break camp with the Cards, it won't be long before he's called up.

Depending on your league rules, you don't have to wait until the reserve rounds to draft these prospects. Some other names: Dylan BundyMike OltChris ArcherDanny Hultzen, Jedd Gyorko, Casey Kelly and everyone's favorite shiny new toy, Billy Hamilton.

Hitter splits

There are two avenues to gain an edge with hitter splits: versus LHPs/RHPs and home/away. In both instances, since you won't be accruing the entirety of a player's stat line, you can rank the player a bit higher. The idea here is that you will accumulate the good stuff from one player, then reserve him for his lesser play and get a different player's good stuff. When you add the good stuff together, the composite player is superior to either player individually.

Versus LHPs/RHPs

The biggest hitter advantage is a left-handed batter facing a right-handed pitcher. In daily leagues, it's imperative that you seek out favorable matchups for the fringe players on your roster. It's a bit tougher in weekly leagues, but you often can break a tie between two players by looking ahead to their scheduled matchups and starting the lefty against more righties. Some leagues, such as the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, have instituted a midweek transaction period for hitters, so finding a favorable three- or four-game series is commonplace. Assuming you have the available roster spots, having three outfielders to occupy two active spots each scoring period is a solid strategy to squeeze out extra stats, and it's worth bumping these players up your cheat sheet to roster them. Here are some of the more useful left-handed hitters (or switch hitters) that you might not want to simply pick and stick in your active lineup. The number to the left is OPS versus righties, followed by OPS versus southpaws.

Jason Kubel: .841 OPS versus RHPs/.691 versus LHPs
Adam Lind: .836/.607
Matt Joyce: .851/.613
Garrett Jones: .852/.590
Will Venable: .772/.583
Seth Smith: .865/.572
Tyler Colvin: .786/.694

Home/away

While park factors do not impact each hitter the same way, they are a good place to find players with actionable home-versus-away splits. A player's ranking is determined by his overall stat line, but if you have a player who hits well at home active mostly when he's at home, you're going to realize a greater return on your investment for that roster spot since when the player is on the road, you'll have someone else in for him, theoretically a guy with favorable splits as well. Here are some examples of fringe players you can use primarily at home, with their 2012 home and away OPS marks.

Dexter Fowler: .984 OPS at home/.720 on the road
Gerardo Parra: .832/.630
Gordon Beckham: .763/.572
David Murphy: .917/.803
Mitch Moreland: .895/.675

Pitcher streaming

This topic is scheduled to be part of a more in-depth piece on constructing a pitching staff, so we'll briefly touch on it now. Similar to above, a pitcher's season-long expectations are used for ranking, but if you can cherry-pick the better contributions, you can piece together a roster returning more on your investment than an individual pitcher would offer. This pushes certain hurlers up your draft board, particularly those working in pitcher-favorable venues for about half their encounters. Here are a few examples of pitchers you likely would not consider if you had to keep them active all the time, but since you can pick and choose, they're useful.

Clayton Richard: 2.82 ERA at PETCO Park in his career
Justin Masterson: 3.39 ERA at Progressive Field since 2010
Ross Detwiler: 3.25 ERA at Nationals Park in his career
Hisashi Iwakuma: 2.49 ERA at Safeco Field last season

In general, National League pitchers in San Diego, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York and American League pitchers in Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim, Kansas City and Cleveland are working in favorable venues.

That will wrap things up for this installment of "Under the Microscope." The take-home lesson is there are many ways to extract value from a roster spot by maximizing the efficiency by which you use it. In each instance, the standard value of rank of a player is not representative of his value if you deploy him cleverly. You should be able to piece together some roster spots at a discount and incur a similar or greater return on investment than if you kept a single better player on that spot all season. By building a few of these hybrid spots, you free up earlier draft picks to improve your team elsewhere.

 

Comments  

 
# qhogs 2013-03-05 20:32
Todd, last year no team that finished in the top 20 O/A drafted Crawford,Morse, Utley or Howard. By drafting these players you are bypassing a proven regular and replacing them with a hit or miss mid 20 rd reserve. Not to mention burning a valuable reserve spot which negate your other two points - having enough inventory to maximize best matchups. I think we're only allowed a couple of whiffs come draft day which are out of our control. This whiff IS in our control and probably should be avoided. Of course I have NO proof of this - it's just my own personal observation
 

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