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 | Who’s Your Haddy?

The Foundation sends: SP Chris Sale ($93), 2017 4th Round Pick, 2017 3rd Round Pick
Who’s Your Haddy? sends: SP Alex Reyes (minors), LF/CF/RF Nick Plummer (minors), 2017 1st Round Pick, 2018 1st Round Pick

Andrew’s thoughts: At first glance, I really, really like this deal from the perspective of both teams.

To be clear, Chris Sale is the only piece The Foundation is sending away here. Third and fourth round picks are just whatever. To me, future draft picks that late are only a slight tick above nothing. They’re what you ship to someone if you need to buy a seventh start or what you ask for if you’re waffling about whether or not to cut a player. Or, in this case, they’re what you kick back to the team giving up first round picks to be a fair trade partner.

For Haddy, acquiring Sale this late in the season gives him not just a force at the front of his rotation to maybe go from an unexpected 9-7 to a playoff spot, but it also gives him a big time asset that he can keep. Just like I said with the recent Max Scherzer trade, I don’t believe this is a rental by any means. Earlier this year, Haddy swung a deal that effectively downgraded from Mookie Betts to AJ Pollock in 2017, while also freeing up $53. He doesn’t have a ton of easy cuts on his roster, but I think if you couple that savings with cutting someone like $30 Adrian Gonzalez or $32 Todd Frazier and then keeping Sale, you’re coming out ahead. So it’s a win-now move and sort of a long play into next year.

Let’s be clear though: Sale has some concerns. And I don’t mean his being a sociopath. His strikeouts are way down. Like, way down. He’s striking out three fewer hitters per nine innings than he did last year. He and the White Sox have been preaching a “pitch to contact” philosophy, but who knows if that’s just dancing around decreased performance. His walks are also up slightly, his home runs are up, and his BABIP is the best it’s ever been, so in some ways he’s been lucky. His FIP has gone from 2.73 last year to 3.69 and his xFIP from 2.60 to 3.74. He’s still Chris Sale. He’s still really good. He’s averaging almost 35 points a start. I’m just saying… his profile has some warts this year.

Meanwhile, for The Foundation, this move turns a lot of gears. The draft picks are fine. Haddy’s pick currently projects to be 10th overall and theoretically his team should improve, so that’s likely a pick in the 10-12 range. All first round picks are not created equal, of course, so while “omg a 1st round pick!” is cool, that really comes out to the 10th- or 12th-best prospect that is several years away from reaching the big leagues. The one in 2018 is nice too. Picks are just really hard to gauge, but for me personally, I’d always rather have them than not and they’re something I like to try to upgrade when possible. I think if you’re trading a player of Sale’s caliber, you need to recoup as much value as possible, and wildcard draft picks help accomplish that.

The headliner though is obviously Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes. I think you could easily make the case that he’s better than Tyler Glasnow, the headline piece for Scherzer, and maybe even the second best pitching prospect in baseball behind Lucas Giolito. Some might even debate that. Reyes projects to be really, really good. And as a bonus, he’ll get to pitch in a park that does a good job suppressing home runs for a team that is always competitive.

But here’s the other thing moving Sale does: it opens up the space to keep $111 Bryce Harper, $90 Paul Goldschmidt, and $59 Jon Lester. Or anyone, really. One swift trade opened up a bunch of space. And yeah, he could have just held Sale until the off-season and explored something else to free up space, but I think now was the time to strike if you can land a prospect like Reyes and some picks to tinker around with.

Overreaction Thursday, you paid what for this?!

Welcome to Overreaction Thursday! Today we are looking into the first half of Week One and overreacting to how the star players have performed already. For some of these guys, the weekend cannot get here soon enough.

$117 Clayton Kershaw – 65 points.

Good lord I told you guys he was good. How in the hell did he go for JUST one hundred and seventeen dollars!? He’s worth two hundred at least! We are all idiots for allowing BetterNameLater (by the way, when it that better name coming?) to rob us blind like this.

$109 Bryce Harper – 23.1 Points

You’re the highest paid hitter and you are getting out scored by CHRIS IANETTTA! What in the world is going on here. Just one home run? Trevor Story has four! He’s two months younger than you, you’re getting old son.

$95 Mike Trout – -8 points

This is some serious bullshit. Negative points? The could-have-been four time reigning American League MVP has negative eight points? Sucks to suck, Who’s Your Haddy’s?. You bought a complete shit bowl of a player. He’s awful. Add him to the waiver wire and pick up Leonys Martin.

$93 Chris Sale – 48 Points

For being just $24 cheaper than Kershaw, you have no reason being 17 points worse than him too. You faced the Oakland Athletics who are due for contraction sometime soon. Just eight strikeouts? The 18 swinging strikes are really nice, but Jeremy Hellickson beat you by 1.5 points. Loser.

$88 Paul Goldschmidt – 30.3 points

I bet you want me to be proud of your 10.1 points per game, huh? Well I’m not. You should be scoring 100 point weeks. You’re behind pace. Do you know who’s outscored you this week, Paul? DJ LeMahieu! We’re not even certain that guy is a real person. But, he has more points than you do. Get with it.

$86 Max Scherzer – 28 Points
$84 Jake Arrieta – 56.5 Points

$83 Jose Fernandez – 40.5 Points
$82 Corey Kluber – 9 Points
$81 Madison Bumgarner – -3 Points

It’s a God damn perfect bell curve from awesome to dog shit. Bumgarner and Kluber dropped flaming bags of poo for their investment, while Arrieta and Fernandez both did alright. Max, my buddy, you’re better than that. C’s don’t get degrees here in Dynasty Grinders. Figure it out.

$81 Carlos Correa – 52.1 points

Have mercy on our souls. How in the hell did Alex Rodriguez clone himself into a younger and better version? This Correa kid is only being bested by some guy named Yasiel Puig. Correa is unlucky he cannot be bidded up for by a greed vote. He’d be rich, bitch!

2016 Auction Review – The Foundation

The Foundation

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It takes a real piece of work to attempt to write objectively about their own team. I was going to try to do, but everyone knows I will not do it anyway. Please email Bailey with your critiques, he forwards them to me with a tip of poison. That being said, I’m quite excited about my draft, I think I did really well despite missing out on my initial targets of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper (I have a hard time writing anything at all and ignoring Bryce).

Hitting – Good

Paul Goldschmidt is a contender to finish as the best hitter in the league. He finished second last year, and there is little reason to believe he does not compete for that title this year. Adam Jones, Alex Gordon and Kole Calhoun round out a solid outfield. Derek Norris is a sneaky catcher value as he plays more and more at first base. Justin Turner‘s red beard is as fierce as his value. There’s a huge hole at short stop, I can can be heard talking up Jean Segura last year on another podcast, and I was wrong. I don’t plan on being smart here, he was just the last one left. I hate Ian Kinsler so he’ll either give me more reason to hate, or probably he’ll continue his vodoo and be good. I can hate him for being good. Byung-ho Park is the x-factor in this line-up. He fills in at 1b and the primary utility hitter. Is the power for real? So far in spring it seems to be. Two years ago I reached for an unknown Jose Abreu. Here is to hoping I did not get too cute on my own.

Pitching – Great

Chris Sale was the pitching prize left on the table. He’s quite good. Felix Hernandez had a down year last year with his lingering injury issues that he choose to pitch through, but he was still crazy good. Jon Lester can’t pick guys off, but he’s a great pitcher otherwise. The bullpen isn’t amazing, but it’ll score more points than most other bullpens in this league. Relying on getting a fifth guy from Doug Fister, James Paxton, Bartolo Colon and Zach Davies seems like a safe bet. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson could be refreshing additions to the team after they return from the disabled list. Gio Gonzalez is the weird fit in this rotation. He’s uncomfortable as your 3rd SP, but probably overqualified as the 4th SP. A good problem for me to have, last year he was let down by the Ian Desmond led Nationals’ “defense”.

Depth – Good

I am pretty in love with myself my pitching staff in particular. My hitters are also position flexible and good enough to start in a pinch. If Dustin Ackley does not win a daily job in New York, things get hairy pretty quickly. I’m giving myself credit for knowing that after I add the three or four guys to the disabled list that I took, I’ll be able to snag a few worthy players from the current waiver wire. Probably not fair, but you’ve already quit reading

Why 2016 would be bad… 

Well if those knocks happen to come, andthe pitchers I’m hoping to be able to sit on don’t come around. Yikes, things go to hell really quick. I have already ran through various scenarios to see where my team would be if Sale and Goldy are gone. It is not impossible to be good 2016 yet, but that might be enough to sink this team. Will I find myself in an early position to reload for next season?

Why 2016 would be good… 

Goldy is a top 5 hitter, there’s two top 10 starters between Sale, Felix and Lester. Those two accomplishments will carry this team from good to great pretty quickly. That is not asking a lot. The rest of the roster is in great shape and has room to take a few knocks.

Opportunity costs: the values of platoons and the elite tier

In all familiar with the fact that, in general, baseball teams have 27 outs to spend in any given game. Managers send out their players in what they believe will give the most return (in runs scored and runs prevented) on any given day in return for those 27 outs. Simple game.

Dynasty Grinders has its own out-like currency. Each week you have 10 hitter positions that could be filled each day. You also can fill three relief pitcher slots each day. Starting pitchers work a bit different, as you can only use seven starts each week, you have days with one or as many as five.

MLB managers get the benefit of knowing they will have an opportunity to use all 27 outs. In head-to-head weekly fantasy, we don’t get that benefit. We have to deal with off-days, rain outs, day games, player rest days, and surprise injuries among others.

We’re all facing the same struggle.

That being said, we can construct our roster to mitigate these pains as much as possible. Thirty man active rosters give ample opportunity to have backups at every position. Perhaps with some creative construction, and depending how many pitchers you plan to carry, you could have three players deep in most cases.

The advantage to having a good spread of players should be clear, but if it is not here’s the bottom line:

1.15

One point one five. That’s what Steamer projections have the average plate appearance worth if you take the projections from the top 350 hitters in our league. So what does this have anything to do with platoon players or the elite tier?

Elite players will average much more per plate appearance than 1.15. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are both projected for over 1.8 points per plate appearance. They also do great things like finish games, play every day and are typically platoon proof.

These are all great things. If you have a player like this, lock it up, toss him in with a replacement level player and you have one powerful punch on your roster. This also probably gives you extra flexibility elsewhere on your roster.

0.93

Zero point nine five. That’s what Steamer projections have for the average plate appearance worth for the next 100 hitters. This is not an exact science, but as you can plainly see, the difference between what’s likely to be freely available and the typical average hitter is not a huge difference on this scope. At least not compared to what Trout and Harper mean. But, the difference has significance at the weekly level.

Say,  on any given week if you start replacement level players in any one position, you could count on something around 29 points scored. The average player in the same time scores 36 points. 7 points per week is significant. But, also consider the talent level of the players we’re discussing. I’m using 4.5 PAs per game x 7 games played.

Better players get more PAs. Better players play daily. How many replacement level players do you need to get those seven days filled? Three? Mike Alives, Clint Barmes and company do play, they do perform to some degree, but we all know they’re not regulars.

This is where platoons come in. If you are planning for them, even better. Just because overall these players might be at or around the 1.00 PPPA (points per plate appearance) mark, they might hit against lefties or righties at a much better rate. That matters. The clever manager could manipulate some tier 2 or tier 3 production out of some lower level talent by just using them when they’re in favorable positions to succeed. If you can afford the roster spots to juggle them around a bit, why not?

Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera are great, because they’re set it and forget it type players. And they’ll fetch a premium in the draft because of it. But there’s a plethora of really good players in niche situations that could be put into positions for you to take advantage of. You’ve just got to find them first.

Pre-auction valuation of players, an introduction.

It is fairly commonplace now days to have a multitude of resources that help you compete in fantasy sports. Whether you use magazines, subscription websites or various crowd sourcing tools, there is usually little problem in drawing what a player’s value will be in any fantasy league.

Dynasty Grinders is not different enough to make those types of tools useless. Quite the opposite, I believe in having more information to gather to draw my conclusions. The crowd definitely has information for you to draw from.

That being said, there are differences. Dynasty Grinders is a head to head, points based scoring, dynasty fantasy baseball league. It is similar to FanGraphs‘s version of Ottoneu, but different. We have a larger budget, draft different positions, more players. It is similar to standard dynasty leagues, but different, mostly because we are not roto.

That being said they all offer a synopsis of sorts about how the crowds are assuming players are going to perform from year to year. They are just projections, but these projections offer a baseline. This baseline is necessary to judge assumed value of any given player. The trick here for Dynasty Grinders is how to calibrate various projections or draft utilities to Dynasty Grinders’ settings.

FanGraphs does offer a nice auction calculator utility. It actually works quite nicely. But, alas, it also has its short comings. Take for instance the values of these top 5’s using Steamer Projections and with standard roster construction:

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Standard Hitters

Name Team POS PA rPTS Dollars
Mike Trout LAA OF 671 1256.1 $89.8
Bryce Harper WAS OF 647 1174.0 $78.5
Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 647 1127.2 $72.0
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 1B 658 1123.7 $69.7
Miguel Cabrera DET 1B 649 1091.9 $65.3

Phew, $90 for Mike Trout? Hot damn. That’s a hefty price for the guy who’s won four one MVPs. But, in a sixteen team league, and with the projection of 1256 points, he has a value that it would take several players to make up at other positions. Let’s take a look at pitchers.

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Standard Pitchers

Name Team POS IP rPTS Dollars
Clayton Kershaw LAD SP 217 1430.3 $118.4
Max Scherzer WAS SP 212 1264.2 $95.6
Chris Sale CHW SP 210 1251.9 $93.9
Jake Arrieta CHC SP 208 1189.3 $85.3
Corey Kluber CLE SP 211 1183.4 $84.4

And there you have it. Starting pitchers! Now, nobody is arguing who is on the list. Those guys are studs, and in weeks that they start twice, your team is sitting in the clear driver seat.

Why the higher values? Well the context matters. First, this auction calculator is not considering that we’re a dynasty league, so while Max Scherzer is quite good, it might be better to throw the extra dollars on Corey Kluber who should be fairly easy to keep for the next half decade.

Secondly, Three of these guys are projected to outscore Mike Trout for the season. Now, any rational betting man would probably put their money on Trout to meet projections more than any other player. Pitchers are volatile, perform a job that biomechanically impacts their ability to stay healthy, and their statistical floors are just lower.

Finally, FanGraphs is tied to OttoNeu which doesn’t do head to head. They’re doing roto. This makes a difference too. Dynasty Grinders allows 7 starts per week. The guys listed above are going to get every chance to start no matter what. However, our league is likely to be prone to people not carrying 7 man staffs and streaming starts like FanGraphs assumes.

No, more likely you’ll be carrying a 9 or even 10 man starting pitcher staff. Why? Because, after the third or forth tier of starting pitcher, match-ups start to matter quite a bit. So while most teams will have their first four or five starts each week pigeon holed, those last ones often leave tactical match-up decisions.

Being able to keep 30 active players, it makes sense to grab more starters to have more choices, and also limit the streaming ability for other teams in a way. If you could pick 6 good starters who won’t get hurt, you could just do that. For those of us who can’t predict the future, we will be hedging.

So what does that change? Well let’s tweak the auction calculator, instead of letting it use the bench spots wherever, lets tell it that all 16 teams are carrying the following roster:

2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 1 3B, 1 CI, 1 MI, 6 OF, 2 UT, 10 SP, 4 RP

Yes, while we’re not able to capitalize on all these players as full-time starters, these guys who we will be bidding on backups, do offer coverage on a week to week basis. Each week offers an extremely limited opportunity in getting starts at each position. If Mike Trout is only playing 5 games one week, you’d rather have a backup play the other two days if possible, rather than leaving the spot open. You’d also rather have a starting capable player over the replacement level one. We’re all trying to win here…so what does the FanGraphs Auction Calculator say now?

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Adjusted Roster Hitters

Name Team POS PA rPTS Dollars
Mike Trout LAA OF 671 1256.1 $55.3
Bryce Harper WAS OF 647 1174.0 $49.7
Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 647 1127.2 $46.5
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 1B 658 1123.7 $44.0
Miguel Cabrera DET 1B 649 1091.9 $41.9

Well, that’s quite a difference… Let’s see those pitchers again…

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Adjusted Roster Pitchers

Name Team POS IP rPTS Dollars
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers SP 217 1430.3 $71.1
Max Scherzer Nationals SP 212 1264.2 $59.7
Chris Sale White Sox SP 210 1251.9 $58.9
Jake Arrieta Cubs SP 208 1189.3 $54.6
Corey Kluber Indians SP 211 1183.4 $54.2

Now these prices almost seem too low. They probably are. The truth is that the prices are most likely in between these two values of sorts. If you click on the links that I provided. You’ll see the difference more so.

In the original list, FanGraph’s AC is setting the replacement level ($1) for players ranked 16th, 17th, 18th. That’s certainly low. Addison Russell, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Crawford are all in that “zone”, and they’re all going for at least a few dollars, if not even more.

In the second list, where the replacement level for SS is being set much lower, those three guys are all being rated around $7. Low or high? Who knows. In the case of Russell, a rookie last year, perhaps its low, as the young guys attract value in dynasty leagues.

But, when you tell the calculator that there will be money spent on the bottom of the roster, that lowers how much can be spent on the top players. Over the next two and a half months leading up to the draft, I will be going over these valuations much more. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Oh, Happy New Year!