Another look at stolen bases and their value…

Almost a year ago to the day, Jordan wrote a post exploring Billy Hamilton‘s value in our league. To sum his piece up: Hamilton doesn’t have much value because his only offensive skill is stealing bases, and our scoring system does not reward those much (and in fact, penalizes caught stealings more heavily than it rewards the steals themselves).

So the first question then is: why aren’t SBs worth much here?

The short answer to that is, our scoring system uses linear weights, which tries to match how points are awarded to how valuable real life events are. I suggest pausing this post, reading this explanation of linear weights, and then coming back. It does a better job explaining it than I would, and the explanation is already written. So go do that, then come back.

OK, got it?

Now that you’ve read that and understand the philosophy behind our scoring mechanisms, let’s ask this question: what, then, are SBs worth? We do give points for them, so they aren’t worth nothing.

Of hitters with 1,000 plate appearances between 2014 and 2016 (235 qualified hitters), Hamilton ranks 219th in on-base percentage, 192nd in batting average, 217th in home runs, 232nd in slugging percentage, and 234th in wOBA. Objectively speaking, these numbers define Hamilton as one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball over the last three seasons.

Of course, he ranks first of that same group in stolen bases with 171. Dee Gordon comes in second with 152.

These two players are actually very interesting, because Gordon has proven valuable in our scoring while Hamilton has not. It’s not like Gordon has any pop at all. They have very similar infield hit and line drive percentages, but the dramatic difference is a whopping 14.8% disparity in ground ball percentage and fly ball percentage. Basically, by putting the ball on the ground more, Gordon avoids easy outs, gets singles instead, and ratchets up his points totals little by little.

(To be fair to Hamilton, he’s a tremendous defender. I guess ideally defense would be rolled into our scoring, but there’s just not a good way of doing that just yet.)

Anyway, in a category (4×4, 5×5, whatever) league where stolen bases count, Hamilton goes from being one of the worst offensive players in baseball to being a weapon that can singlehandedly win you a category. Current NFBC ADP data has him as the 12th outfielder off the board and the 54th overall player off the board. But we’ve already established that he has only one offensive skill, that that particular offensive skill is not particularly valuable to real life run scoring, and that literally every other component of his offensive profile ranks at or near the bottom of leaderboards over an ample three year period. So you see the flaw here? Like, it’s very, very clear, right?

Through the lens of our league’s scoring, let’s look at Hamilton over the last three years with (top) and without (bottom) stolen bases:

In 2014, Hamilton got caught stealing a bunch of times. Getting caught stealing a base is one of the worst things a baseball player can do on the offensive side of the ball, and so doing it 23 times in a year will wipe away most of the value provided by those successful steals. Even still, he added over 70 points in 2014 from his baserunning abilities. He’s been more efficient in the two seasons since.

Without the steals, Hamilton is just kinda… bad? He would have scored 288.2 points in 2015 and 417.1 points in 2016. Even with the steals, he’s not worth much. But in 2015 he gained 118.5 points from steals and in 2016 his totals were bumped up by 122. That’s a lot! His steals are essentially adding almost six per week to his totals. It seems small, but in 2016, the difference between being worth 418.1 points and 539.1 points might be rosterability. The former might not even warrant a spot. The latter seems like a useful bench piece.

The other problem with Hamilton specifically is that, because he’s such a horrible hitter, he lends himself to being used as a pinch runner. This means that he likely isn’t in the Reds’ lineup on a particular day, thus he’s not in your fantasy lineup that day, and maybe he pinch runs and steals a base or two. So he’s accruing those points, but your team isn’t. That matters.

But this isn’t about Hamilton. It’s about stolen bases. So let’s look at a couple guys near the top of the SB leaderboard in 2016…

Last year, Jonathan Villar led baseball with 62 stolen bases. But of qualified hitters, he also ranked 23rd in OBP and 42nd in wOBA. So SBs aside, he had quite a good season hitting the baseball. With SB and CS included, he scored 1,042.2 points last year. Without them, he scored 941.2. But while he led the league in steals, he also led the league in times caught stealing, so he sort of cannibalized some of the value of his stolen bases. Still though, what he did on the base paths added more than 100 points to his total. That’s significant.

One of the most efficient base stealers last year was, surprisingly, Paul Goldschmidt. He swiped 32 bags and only got caught 5 times. With those factored in, he amassed 1,197.1 points and without them he would’ve accrued 65 fewer. So that’s 6.5 points per week which, again, is quite a lot even if it doesn’t seem like much.

My take away from this is that stolen bases actually are valuable in our league, but the offensive profile that goes with them must be sound. It’s not really a new revelation, rather confirmation of an existing one. Being fast and fast alone does not (and I’d argue should not) morph you into a valuable player, but being a quality hitter that is also fast can provide a nice opportunity to grab some extra points along the way.

Trade: The Foundation | Hustle Loyalty Respect | Capital City Ironmen

The Foundation sends: 2B Neil Walker ($18) [to CAP]
Hustle Loyalty Respect sends: SP Adam Wainwright ($49) [to CAP], C Yadier Molina ($6) [to FND], 2017 1st Round Pick [to CAP]
Capital City Ironmen sends: 2017 1st Round Pick [to HLR]

Andrew’s thoughts: So in summation: HLR gets the 4th overall pick, I slide back to the 16th overall pick, get Neil Walker and his back problems, plus Adam Wainwright, and The Foundation gets Yadier Molina. This was a fun trade.

I really needed a 2B and didn’t like any of the options already sitting in free agency or on the trade market. I also felt really torn with the fourth overall pick. My list is pretty clear for the first two or three guys, but after that, it’s just a random dart throw for me between players with low ceilings versus players that are three years away from debuting, much less being fantasy relevant. So I hedged a bit on the pick front, moving back to 16th where there are some names I like and going ahead and adding my 2B.

Walker ranks 11th in wOBA at 2B from 2015-16 and 6th if you go back to 2014-16. I have no doubts about his skills. He walks a good bit, doesn’t strike out much, and has some pop. He had the back surgery last year, which is where my doubts lie, but $18 is really not that much. I don’t see how, at that price, he’s any more risky than some 19- or 20-year-old that’s just getting their feet wet in the minors.

Oh, and Adam Wainwright! I like him. Whether or not I keep him at $49 remains to be seen, but I like having the option. He’s a little over-priced, but last year was basically the only sub-par year he ever had and pitching at auction isn’t likely to be deep, so I’ll take the wildcard. Inquire if you’re interested in him! Absolute worst case, I kept HLR from trading him to someone else for $1 and ensured that if he makes it to auction, it’s because I made the call.

Jordan’s defense: I have been after a catcher since the off season started. Yadi was on the trade block, but Jonny and I had issues making a deal that fit well. Yadi’s Steamer projections have him as the 8th best catcher next year while taking a significant step back from last year’s production.

I enjoy not having to deal with Derek Norris or catcher streaming going forward. It cost me Neil Walker who was a borderline keeper for my team anyway. I would rather have Neil Walker than not, but since I picked him up off the waiver wire (shouldn’t have been there), I felt little connection to him. I will take a starting catcher for the sacrifice of not having a good back up at 2B and UT.

For HLR the motivation for the deal is clear. Moving to the fourth pick of the draft is both exciting and potentially profitable for a catcher slated to be a back up on his team and starting pitcher headed to the auction pool.

For Andrew, well I actually think he could have sold the pick for more. But, when you have three of the top four picks, securing a starting 2B and an option on a former ace with potential to return to glory, there are worse deals.

Trade: We Talk Fantasy Sports | Hustle Loyalty Respect

We Talk Fantasy Sports sends: SP Robbie Ray ($6), SP Ivan Nova ($5)
Hustle Loyalty Respect sends: 1B CJ Cron ($4)

Andrew’s thoughts: Here’s a full list of qualified starting pitchers with better K/9 rates than Robbie Ray last year: Jose Fernandez (RIP). There. That’s it. That’s the list.

Yes, Ray struck out more batters per nine innings than Scherzer, Syndergaard, Bumgarner, and Archer. Clayton Kershaw didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify, but yes, he struck out more batters per nine innings than him too.

Ray’s problem was walks and homers. He issued 3.67 walks per nine and allowed 1.24 homers per nine. That’s rather bad. But the strikeouts are just insane, and his 3.76 FIP is tolerable either way. His 3.45 xFIP, a number that tries to normalize HR rates to league average, ranked eighth among all starters, which basically says if he can figure out how to give up a few less dingers (easier said than done, I know), there’s front line SP potential here. I mean, he had a .352 BABIP against last year, the worst in baseball among that same qualified SP group. That’s just bad luck. By virtue of sheer luck regression, he should show improvement. If the strikeouts stick, oh boy.

If you look back through his month to month splits, also, he had a 5.08 FIP in March/April and a 5.02 in September/October. Every other month, his FIP/xFIP numbers look great. In those months, his HR/9 rates were 1.42 and 1.84, which are just too high. Those’ll come down. Those two months jacked up his overall HR/9. In June, July, and August he was at 1.05, 0.94, and 0.90. Couple that with the K’s, and you’ve got yourself a #2 starter? Maybe better? He’s a young pitcher, so starting slow and ending weak isn’t alarming at all. I actually think it’s cause for optimism, because young pitchers can adjust and develop endurance, etc.

(Ray did have an ugly 4.90 ERA last year, which was fifth-worst among that pitcher group. But guess what? ERA is a highly flawed stat and we don’t score based off of it. It’s useless for our purposes.)

With any breakout guy, there’s skepticism. I’m not 100% convinced Ray’s the next Archer or whoever. Was it fake? Was it real? If it was real, is it sustainable? Is there more? I tend to dismiss these guys more often than not, which is dumb on my part, because the reward usually way outweighs the risk and if you dismiss them and they are for real, you’ll likely never get another chance to buy on them again. But he did enough last year to warrant giving up a $4 replacement level 1B. Even in 2015, Ray posted an 8.39 K/9, 0.63 H/9, and 3.53 FIP. Guess what? That’s really valuable! It’s actually shocking, in retrospect, he only went for $4 in our initial auction.

In over 1,000 career plate appearances, CJ Cron has a .327 wOBA. That’s alright. Of 1B’s with 800+ PAs from 2015-16, he ranks 23rd in wOBA. So he’s definitely useful, but he’s a back-up right now. He’s 27 though and doesn’t strike out a ton like a lot of the power hitting 1B’s do, so there’s certainly room for growth with him.

All of that is to say, I love this deal for HLR. I didn’t even mention Ivan Nova, who is a decent, cheap depth pitcher that rolled out a 3.39 FIP and 3.54 xFIP in the second half last year. Say it again: that’s valuable! I think this trade represents silly value for HLR and even if both the pitchers fizzle out, the bet he placed on them being legit here was tiny enough that it won’t really hurt him.

Jordan’s thoughts: Honestly I was surprised to wake up to the commotion over this trade even after looking at it. Bailey does a great job of summing up this deal.

Using the FanGraphs Auction Calculator that Dan Beachler took time out of his life to tune to the league (its not perfect, but its probably right enough that I’m not challenging him) you can see that Ray is worth something like $30 this year. Nova is at the $18 level. That’s two very valuable pieces. You could truly argue that either piece (clearly more so Robbie Ray) with that kind of value discrepancy already built in, plus Bailey’s arguments for their possible improvements, these guys are as valuable (if not more so) than the top minor leaguers in our league.

What did that return? Cron. Well Steamers says he is worth $14, so he’s coming at a value as well. If this deal was Cron for Nova, sure great whatever. Adding in Robbie Ray is just incredible.

Trade: Rocky Mtn Oysters | The Wilfred Brimley Diabeetuses

Rocky Mtn Oysters sends: SP Jake Arrieta ($86)
The Wilfred Brimley Fightin’ Diabeetuses sends: CF Kevin Kiermaier ($7), 1B/2B/3B/SS Jedd Gyorko ($6)

Andrew’s thoughts: I love, love, love this for WBFD. For two depth pieces, WBFD landed one of the game’s top starting pitchers. He’s expensive, but so what? If pitching is as volatile this year as it was last year, then it probably pays to splurge on reliable guys.

For Dusty, how’s this math: since December 30, he’s acquired Hunter Pence, Lance McCullers, Wei-Yin Chen, Yordano Ventura, and now Kiermaier and Gyorko. You know the return for the last two. For the other four, he gave up basically nothing, dispersing middling draft picks, an auction buck or two, and some prospects and guys that he was probably cutting to teams that were over budget and just wanted to dump. That’s fine. Pence was the first guy added there and I’d argue he was the least superfluous, safest of the group. He’s done it longer. Let’s omit him. The salary of all the other guys combined? $85.

I don’t know if there was some grand plan, but what’s happened here, essentially, is Arrieta’s exact dollars (plus those prospects, the 3rd round pick or whatever it was, negligible stuff, etc) have been swapped out for McCullers, Chen, Ventura, white Denard Span, and Gyorko. Dusty’s eggs have been distributed across many baskets.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s good or bad. There’s an opportunity cost associated with locking up four extra roster spots. But depth is good. Kiermaier is an instant starter for him at CF. Dusty had tons of cash to spend before this trade barrage and should still have money to spend. He’s probably cutting $50 Heyward and $30 Shields, plus all the injured guys he picked up throughout the season, plus others. A $13 Jesse Hahn? There’s a bunch of budget space here. He’s not hurting for room, which brings me to this…

As a standalone, this trade baffles me. Is Kiermaier that much different than Carlos Gomez, who will be at auction? Or Heyward, who will probably be? Is Gyorko that much different a Swiss army knife than Sean Rodriguez?

Like, if you’re way over budget, I get selling off Arrieta and maybe you have to sell low, because this time of year there aren’t a ton of teams swimming in budget space. I don’t really get selling him off for pieces that have reasonable comps already guaranteed to be at auction, plus whoever else ends up getting dropped. It’s nice to secure those players and not risk the auction, where you’ll have to outbid others, but the cost to do that here is really high. I mean, yeah, I’d rather trade a fringe keeper or comparable player for Kiermaier now than risk having to win either Gomez or Heyward at auction to fill my CF slot. But Arrieta doesn’t strike me as the chip you use simply to hedge.

I also don’t get doing it when you can afford to keep him. And I don’t get doing it at this time of year when, as I just said, there are only a few teams with budget space. The market for Arrieta is so, so small right now just by virtue of teams not having budget room, that I think it’s really tough to get an optimal return. Budget flexibility is great and all but talent and points-scoring trumps that. Arrieta could’ve been held until 30 seconds after auction, at which time anyone can go over the $500 budget and suddenly there are 15 suitors for his services.

I think, if I was Dusty and didn’t like Arrieta at $86 — which isn’t unreasonable, pitchers are combustible parts — I would have just cut him and tried winning him back cheaper at auction. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. I just might rather gamble on that scenario than on Kiermaier and Gyorko, who I like but I think are better rostered as depth.

As I said, I love it for WBFD. Great, great swap. He turned guys who were firmly backups on his roster into a difference making, top-10 starting pitcher.

Jordan’s thoughts: If Dusty doesn’t get the cure for diabetes in this deal, I think he went and fucked up. I think Dusty would have gotten more for just taking $1 for Arrieta.

On top of that fact: why, if you’re Dusty, would you sell this kind of a player to a team who doesn’t have to even bother cutting anyone off their roster to keep said player. I know there’s people who aren’t hyper concerned with their competition’s situation, and that’s fine. But, there should be other teams who take Arrieta for some auction budget cash or a 1st round draft pick. Most of them would have to cut a few mildly interesting players that might be useful.

WBFD last year during the draft must have been in what only can be described as a diabetic coma and he left significant money on the table. Couple that with the tragedy of Jose Fernandez. He’s basically swimming in available budget even if he decides to keep the overpaid youngsters he’s invested into.

All that being said, I’m not all that upset over this trade, it happens. Dusty probably did shop around Arrieta to a dozen teams and got what he wanted and moved on. Classic Dusty.

Trade: Rocky Mtn Oysters | Preseason Double Stuffs

Preseason Double Stuffs sends: SP Lance McCullers ($30), 2017 5th Round Pick
Rocky Mtn Oysters sends: CF Manuel Margot ($1; cost controlled), SP Luiz Gohara, 2017 3rd Round Pick

Andrew’s thoughts: I like Lance McCullers, but he’s been hurt a lot and it’s hard to place trust in him to compile innings, at least in 2017. The most innings he’s thrown in a season was 125.2 in 2015. He only hit 81 last year. Is 150 a reasonable, maybe even optimistic, over/under for him in 2017? In a H2H league, can you trust him to be healthy come the postseason? The Double Stuffs need to cut salary, so someone had to go. Given the price here of a decent prospect and spare parts, I assume McCullers was a cut or at least on the bubble.

I mean, I like this for Dusty getting a talent like McCullers. I question a bit why he’s splurging his cap space on pitchers when that’s already his strength. Of course, McCullers probably has more re-sale value in season if he pitches well to start the year or even just after the auction, when people look at their teams and feel light on pitching.

But if the Double Stuffs were going to dump McCullers anyway, getting a cheap CF prospect with some upside is fine. The other pieces don’t amount to much, I don’t think.

Jordan’s thoughts: I think McCullers ends up being a bullpen pitcher, which in our league has some value, but not at that price tag. I’d probably shy away from paying his auction salary this year to see if I’m wrong.

I like Gohara for some reason. Probably because he’s in the Mariners organization and I hear his name more often than necessary. Is Margot going to amount to anything? Easy to pay $1 to wait and see for another year.  I like this deal for the Double Stuffs.

The deal could work out for RMO, the didn’t pay a ton for McCullers, besides the presumed auction price tag.

Trade: Team Hydra | Rocky Mtn Oysters

Team Hydra sends: SP Wei-Yin Chen ($19)
Rocky Mtn Oysters sends: LF/RF Avisail Garcia ($3)

Jordan’s thoughts: I believe Avisail Garcia was cut and picked up several times because he hits for power, but he doesn’t actually hit. Chen actually had better peripherals than his performance suggested last year. Steamer seems to like him, but the home run rate is the issue. Will it stabilize? Either way I’d rather have Chen, but I can see both players being auction draft eligible in two months.

Andrew’s thoughts: As a wise man once said, “garbage for more expensive garbage.”

Trade: We Talk Fantasy Sports | Long Ball to LF

We Talk Fantasy Sports sends: 1B Chris Davis ($48)
Long Ball to LF sends: 1B/3B Travis Shaw ($5), SP Matt Moore ($11), 2017 1st Round Pick

Andrew’s thoughts: Long Ball to LF needed a 1B and got one of the better ones without giving up any significant pieces, so I definitely like this deal for them. Chris Davis is one of the best power bats in the game and at $48, he’s priced well.

On the WTFS side, I guess I get it here. They’re cutting costs and trying to find surplus value. On the cutting costs front, I’m just having a hard time figuring out who they’re chipping off value to keep. Like, with Hustle Loyalty Respect, he’s got a $49 Adam Wainwright and a $42 Garrett Richards that if he can finagle his budget enough, he might like to keep. They’re overpriced, but pitchers are valuable, whatever. With WTFS, I’m not sure if they’re hoping to have budget space for auction or positioning themselves to keep certain players.

I can’t really identify any players that make the latter seem likely. Punting Davis in order to keep, like, $17 Elvis Andrus and $27 Colin McHugh, for instance, seems weird. I want to imagine they’re dumping to keep $38 Byron Buxton. Because that means he’s got to perform that much better not just to justify his own salary, but to justify the dumping of quality talent to keep him around. :buxton: If it’s the former, well, that’d be kind of a fun “zig while everyone else zags” strategy, since it seems like the consensus is that the auction won’t have a ton to offer.

I’m not a Matt Moore fan because he’s HR-prone and that’s a dagger in this format, but pitching in San Francisco helps suppress bombs and raises his floor quite a bit. He’s worth $11 either way, as most any competent pitcher is. And Travis Shaw is only $5, moves to a full time role in hitter-friendly Milwaukee, and has bonus 3B eligibility. Downgrading from Davis to Shaw is a massive drop-off though.

And the pick is whatever. It’s the ninth overall pick, so they’ll land a top-100 prospect there almost definitely. Depending who they get and how well that player does through May or June, they could turn around and flip whoever they draft for profit.

Jordan’s thoughts: I think the haul for Chris Davis here is a bit light. Not so much that you need to make a big fuss about it. I know that Davis was shopped around and if this was the most attractive package they could get, well that’s the market. Bravo to both teams.

Trade: Hustle Loyalty Respect | TBD

Hustle Loyalty Respect sends: SP Mike Leake ($16)
TBD sends: $1 2017 Auction Budget

Jordan’s thoughts: Per usual, I’ll take the potentially useful pitcher for the price that’s just a bar higher than what Jesus Sucre goes for. I don’t love Mike Leake. But, I’d rather have the option to cut him or keep him if I potentially have a spot for another pitcher, than the dollar.

Andrew’s thoughts: Mike Leake isn’t great, but he’s a consistent innings eater. He had a 3.83 FIP and 3.76 xFIP last year, so he was better than league average there. His career numbers aren’t as good though and because he doesn’t strike anyone out, there’s not much upside here. Sixteen bucks doesn’t strike me as ideal and he was probably getting cut, but I get this move for both sides.

I prefer the TBD side adding Leake for basically free and avoiding having to bid on him, if he’s a guy they really want.

Trade: Hustle Loyalty Respect | Rocky Mtn Oysters

Hustle Loyalty Respect sends: SP Yordano Ventura ($23), 2017 5th Round Pick
Rocky Mtn Oysters sends: 2017 3rd Round Pick

Jordan’s thoughts: I’ll take a potentially useful pitcher for any back half draft pick any day. I get why HLR wants to get something in return for someone worth cutting, but this just makes crazy sense for Dusty.

Andrew’s thoughts: I’m not that into Yordano Ventura, but I certainly prefer him to a random 3rd round pick. Especially if you get 2014-15 Yordano.

Dusty has $522 of auction budget and Ventura only costs $23, so in some ways, this is just getting Yordano for free and still having the full $500 complement to work with (well, $499). The third round pick is something but I imagine with a little Google searching, you can find a guy in the fifth round or out of free agency at some point during the season that’ll be comparable. Still, if you’re just going to cut Yordano anyway, why not get a little something for him instead?

This is another scenario where, ideally, Yordano costs $13 instead of $23, so that if he (a) gets back to 2014-15, or better yet (b) improves on 2014-15 the way he was expected to in 2016, he’s priced to where you’re getting ample surplus. But again, given Dusty’s cap situation, that won’t even begin to matter until after next season. Honestly, for the mere cost of a third-round pick, Dusty could have pulled this trade off simply to ensure Yordano makes it to auction and can be bought for cheaper, and that’s still fine.

I can say that a year from now, if I’m in HLR’s shoes and have to make serious cuts, I’d like to think I’m just cutting a guy like Yordano rather than giving him away for a 3rd rounder. I mean, I get that “something is better than nothing,” but I think that on a spectrum of something to nothing, a third round pick is much closer to nothing. And again, is the guy you’re drafting 38th overall instead of 76th overall going to be markedly different? Yeah, sure, that’s a big jump. But we’re going to be 275 or so prospects deep by the time that 38th overall pick is made. Players are tiers anyway, and for prospects, those tiers are fairly arbitrary and subjective. I think the 38th pick and 76th pick are likely to be the same tier of player (a 45 FV type prospect). I’d rather throw the player back and hope three or four of my opponents bid themselves silly in the off-season or give myself the slim opportunity to win the guy back myself for cheaper.