The real value of fantasy stats

Certain hitting categories can carry more weight than others depending on context

Updated: July 24, 2013, 3:22 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Most fantasy baseball owners know that crafting a balanced lineup can go a long way toward winning your league title. To that end, certain hitters are expected to fill certain roles. When you slot an Everth Cabrera, Eric Young Jr. or Rajai Davis into your lineup, it's expected that your stolen base total will rise. If it doesn't, they haven't done their job. Insert guys such as Joe Mauer, James Loney or Omar Infante into the mix and you're doing so with the expectation that your team's batting average will get a boost. Any power numbers these guys put up are merely icing on the cake.

Hit Parade

It's a bit different when we target players with an eye on improving our fantasy team's power. With these bats, we're actually looking for production in not one, but three fantasy categories: home runs, runs scored and RBIs. So if a guy is clearing the wall on a regular basis, yet not really helping you in the latter two of those categories, then he's not pulling his weight. Meanwhile, a player such as Allen Craig may have seen his HR/FB rate tumble by 6.1 percent so far this season, resulting in only 10 total homers thus far in 2013, and only one in July. But considering he is tied for fourth in the majors with 79 RBIs, it's not a tragedy that he's well off his 2012 power pace.

So how can we identify which players are truly helping fantasy owners across the board in all three power categories, as opposed to simply padding their stats with "empty" homers? Take for example, Raul Ibanez. He may be tied for sixth overall in home runs with 24, but 14 of those blasts have been of the solo variety. That's big reason why he's not even in the top 30 in RBIs. All that power doesn't seem to have paid the dividends you'd expect from someone with that many homers. Compare Ibanez to Nelson Cruz, who is tied for eighth in RBIs despite hitting just one fewer homer.

The warning signs were there, in the form of wasted power.

The value of power

By taking the run production of each hitter (R + RBI - HR) and dividing that by the number of home runs they have hit, we're able to come up with a number that tells us exactly how much a player's production has been affected by both his inability to drive in runners without the benefit of clearing the fences, as well as by his teammates' ability to get on base ahead of him in the lineup so that he's not constantly settling for solo shots.

Looking at the top culprits in this list (minimum eight home runs) yields the following names:

The lower the number, the worse a player's production in the three power categories, and the more "wasted power." In addition to Ibanez, we see some other "frustrating" players, such as batting average parasites Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla.

Justin Ruggiano's appearance on this list should be no surprise. After all, he plays for a Miami team that ranks last in the majors in batting average and next to last in terms of runs scored, a good 54 runs behind the next-worst club. He doesn't have a lot of opportunity to drive in runs or get driven in himself.

However, wasted power tells only half the story. After all, Chris Davis is also on this list. If he continues to hit home runs at a pace of one per 9.8 at-bats, even at a lower "payout," you're still going to get a lot more out of him in terms of power than Jay Bruce, who has a 5.15 WP, but who hits a home run only once every 20.5 at-bats.

If we normalize our numbers to factor in this frequency of power, we can get a more accurate picture of exactly where we should look for our power needs. Let's take a look at a list of the best and worst players in terms of this new calculation, among hitters with a minimum of eight home runs. First, the tops:

Marlon Byrd, prior to last week, was owned in only 64.2 percent of ESPN standard leagues but his presence in the company of some of the other names on this list is certainly part of the rationale behind his 32.5 percent ownership increase over the past seven days. Both Byrd and Daniel Nava are still on the waiver wire in some leagues, which is something that cannot be said about Martin Prado, Howie Kendrick and Joe Mauer, all located in our bottom 15:

Other disappointments include the injured B.J. Upton, as well as double-digit sluggers such as J.P. Arencibia and Mitch Moreland. Perhaps it is time to swap out some of these "wastes" for players who are making their power count a little bit more across the board such as Brandon Moss, Alejandro De Aza or Torii Hunter.

Remember, one statistic never tells the whole story, but when you go looking for power, the actual number of home runs a player has hit might be the most misleading one of them all.

The power of value

Before I go, I'd like to try to get you thinking about the value of fantasy stats in a slightly different way. Jumping off from the concept that not all home runs are created equal, is the question of which has more pure fantasy value: a home run or a stolen base? If you had your choice to trade a player with 20 home runs for a player with speed, how many steals would a player have to have in order to be considered equal value? Would it take a 30-steal guy or would the bar be set much lower?

Looking at the total stats for the season, you'll see that there have been 2,939 total homers hit so far in 2013, but only 1,635 successful stolen bases. Because steals are the "more precious commodity," in terms of pure value, they're worth about 1.8 times more to a fantasy owner than a home run. In other words, the exchange rate for a Chris Carter (18 HR, 0 SB) -- all else being equal -- would be a Denard Span (0 HR, 10 SB).

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to send Evan Longoria packing for D.J. LeMahieu just because the combined value of each player's home runs and stolen bases is just about even. In that case, certainly "all else" is far from equal. But it's important to know exactly how much each stat is truly worth in relation to all the other categories before you go shopping so you don't end up letting your presuppositions set the bar at a level that may prevent you from making a deal that's actually more than fair. After all, I'd wager that each one of us has a skewed view on what the "average player's" stats look like.

Humor me and go to the ESPN Player Rater for a second and scroll down the list of hitters until you reach the name of the player who you think is the closest to the league average across all five offensive categories. Got that name in mind? OK. Let's check our work together, and see if your perception matches reality or not.

Based on the overall stats accrued by major players this season, we can calculate an approximate average value fairly quickly, which I have done in the following table:

The real-life player who comes closest to this theoretical average is ranked No. 86 on the Player Rater. May I introduce you to Mr. Average 2013:

Essentially, this delineates Johnson as the "Wandy Line" for hitters. Ranked above this point, and you need to have that player in the lineup regardless of opponent. Below this point, you're likely getting below-average numbers in at least one, if not several categories and you should start or sit based on a closer analysis of the categorical weaknesses of your lineup and which players best produce at an above-average rate for those targeted statistics.

OK. One last example that not all stats are what they seem before we end this parade: Which one of the following two stat lines would you want to have added to your roster for the rest of the season?

Obviously, the only difference here is the batting average, so why wouldn't you want the player with the better batting average? The answer lies in the one stat I didn't provide you with: each player's at-bat total. If Player A gave you 300 at-bats of his .240 average, while Player B was able to accrue the same exact counting stats over just 100 at-bats of a .210 average, then it's possible you might want to choose Player B.

If I have a team currently with 5,000 at-bats and a batting average of .256 or higher, it actually hurts me more to have Player A added to my roster than it does Player B. And the higher my current average, the larger the negative impact would be.

Sure, that .00001 may not seem like a whole lot of difference, and it probably wouldn't cost you a fantasy crown if you chose Player A. But hopefully, this extreme-case example might well keep you from dismissing a trade deadline deal for the likes of Travis Hafner or Mark Reynolds out of fear that even a small dose of their toxic batting averages somehow makes them less ownable than a Todd Frazier or Russell Martin. If you're saying no without even thinking about it, you need to change the way you think about value.

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