4 Unsexy Fantasy Baseball Names That Project Well in 2014


Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

We return to the countdown today with a look at some veteran names who can provide good value on the market. Tanner Bell is looking at 4 Unsexy Fantasy Baseball Names That Project Well in 2014.

Previous Countdown Pieces: 141312111098765 (hitters), 5 (pitchers)

You’ve surely heard the  phrase “market inefficiency”.  It’s what allows the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays to perform so well every year with limited resources.  It’s picking up solid, under-the-radar players that other teams aren’t interested in.  Think Bartolo Colon, James Loney, Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena, Josh Willingham, and a 37-year-old Johnny Damon.  Nobody wanted these players.  But the A’s and Rays were able to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of them.

We can apply this same line of thinking to fantasy baseball.  No, I’m not here to suggest we begin drafting teams full of .230 hitting defensive specialists for our fantasy teams.  But I am here to tell you to be on the lookout for market inefficiencies we see in fantasy baseball.

A fantasy baseball draft is a zero-sum game.  For every person that reaches in the draft, there is at least one other person that benefits.  For every young, shiny, and sexy Michael Wacha, Sonny Gray, Billy Hamilton, or Xander Bogaerts that might get taken too early in a draft, there is an unsexy, aging, steady, but unspectacular veteran that falls.

Doug Fister

His ERA went from 3.45 in 2012 to 3.67 in 2013.  More noticeably, his WHIP has ballooned from 1.06 in 2011, to 1.19 in 2012, to 1.31 in 2013.  His strikeout K/9 decreased from 7.63 in 2012 to 6.86 in 2013.  He is entering his age 30 season.  All things that may depress the level of interest in Fister.  Granted, he was traded to the Nationals, a team everyone expects to be better defensively than the slow infield lineup the Tigers fielded for much of 2013 (Cabrera, Fielder, Peralta), but he is still being drafted well behind sexier names like Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Shelby Miller, Masahiro Tanaka, and Andrew Cashner.

Here’s what we do know.  Fister struck out 159 in 208+ innings last year.  Fister will not face an innings limit like some young pitchers will encounter.  On top of the innings advantage he will face over younger pitchers, the move to the NL will most certainly help Fister.  This article is a couple of years old, but in 2011 Derek Carty determined that pitchers see an average of 0.53 increase in the K/9 ratio while moving from the AL to the NL.  We’ll give it some credence, since Carty’s study in 2008  found an average increase of 0.57 in K/9.  The studies also show he’s in for a decrease in ERA and WHIP too.

There does not appear to be any decrease in Fister’s velocity.  He has increased his GB% each season of his career, to the point where he is an elite ground ball pitcher (fourth among qualified starters in 2013).  He’s moving to a more neutral park.  And you could argue he was bitten by the BABIP monster last season, giving up a .332 mark.  Even with that included, his career BABIP mark is .298.

Fister’s 2014 Projection:

[table id=406 /]

Alfonso Soriano

It is scary drafting a 38-year-old that just posted a career high in HR/FB rate, fueled mostly by a ridiculous 27.9% HR/FB after being traded to New York.  But do yourself a favor and look at Soriano’s career HR marks.   His lowest out put is 18, as a rookie!  13 seasons ago!  Other than that his career HR for each season is littered with numbers in the 20’s and 30’s.  You can’t question the power this guy has.

He projects for a strong HR total even if you give him a very conservative projection.  Projecting a HR total essentially boils down to determining the percentage of fly balls a player will hit and the percentage of those fly balls that will become home runs.  Look at the table below and keep in mind that Soriano’s career FB% is 47% and his career HR/FB% is 15.4%.  Even my “aggressive” HR projection below is below his career FB%.  And while an 18% HR/FB% is higher than his career average, it does represent an approximation of the last two years.

[table id=412 /]

The truth surely lies somewhere in the middle.  But this illustrates that we’re likely looking at a HR total somewhere in the mid-20s.  The counting stats should be respectable as he’s surrounded by an improved supporting cast (Ellsbury, Teixiera, Beltran, McCann).  There’s a decent chance at 10 SBs or so.

Let’s put the analytics aside for a minute.  The ESPN Player Rater ranked Soriano as the 26th best player in 2013.  Fangraphs ranked him as the 16th best earner in 2013. He can’t repeat a 34 HR – 18 SB season.  Nobody is going to pat you on the back after drafting a 38-year old player coming off a year like this.  But you’re not going to find many (any?) other 25 HR – 10 SB candidates once you get past the first 120 picks in the draft.

Soriano’s 2014 Projection:

[table id=417 /]

R.A. Dickey

Nothing sexy about an aging knuckleballer who moved to the AL East and got roughed up last year, right?  At the time of writing he’s being drafted around pick #220.  So he’s definitely not piquing a lot of interest.  But a pitcher you can lock in for 220  of at least average innings is a valuable commodity (Dickey has a 1.24 WHIP last year).  But 220 below average innings are a killer (and a 4.21 ERA).  So which Dickey can we expect?

What many may not realize is that Dickey was pitching through pain for about half the 2013 season.  By his own account, this injury prevented him from throwing the “hard” knuckleball he rode to such success in 2012.  You can see here that Dickey was gradually increasing the velocity of his knuckleball, until the beginning of the 2013 season when his velocity plummetted.  And then it began to rise again.

We’re told not to buy into first and second-half splits, because of the small sample sizes.  But that rule does not apply if there is a real underlying change in the player’s skill or approach.  If such a change does occur, it only makes sense to measure and compare performance before and after the change.  The small sample size warnings still apply, but we now have qualitative information to support a change…  So let’s look at Dickey’s first and second half splits (info courtesy of Fangraphs):

[table id=416 /]

Now that’s interesting.  Look a little deeper and you can see a “sexy” pitcher with a shot at a 3.50 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 180 Ks.

Dickey’s 2014 Projection:

[table id=419 /]

Matt Holliday

There’s not much sabermetric analysis to bring to a discussion about Matt Holliday.  He produces the same stat line every year, so no sense in splitting hairs over his BABIP or batted ball profile.  So instead of talking about statistical measures, let’s talk theory and strategy.

It’s hard to believe that a guy who is essentially a lock for 22 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, and a .295 BA could be considered unsexy.  But that’s what is happening.  He’s aging.  He doesn’t bring the spectacular potential of Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, or Matt Kemp.  But he does bring unmatched reliability, and in my opinion, reliability is undervalued.

How safe do you really feel about picking any of these players:  Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gomez, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Starlin Castro, Matt Carpenter, or Albert Pujols.

A lot of the guys in that group have the potential to return top 10 value.  Or they might just as easily blow up in your face.  Many drafters will chase the ceiling of players like this.  This is a viable strategy, but it should always be weighed against the need for consistency.  When you’re trying to construct a team that will reach certain targets (e.g. .250 HR, 1,110 R, 1,000 RBI, .275BA, etc.), the value of being able to put in a safe and reliable 22-90-90-.295 season is incredible.

Whether developing your own projections or using an available system, it’s important to consider that every projection should be a weighted average probability of all possible outcomes.  So while there might be a 10% chance that Matt Kemp can throw together another  115R-39HR-126RBI-40SB season, you don’t draft him simply on that premise.  You must also consider the 50% chance of a 85R-25HR-80RBI-15SB season and the 40% chance of an injury-riddled 40R-10HR-40RBI-5SB season.  Follow the methods to calculate the weighted average of those three possibilities and it kicks out 70R-20HR-69RBI-14SB.

This is a simplified example, but the point is an important one.  Steady and reliable 90R-22HR-90RBI-.295 looks a whole lot sexier now, doesn’t it?

Holliday’s 2014 Projection:

[table id=418 /]

The Take Away

The “unsexy”, aging, skilled, and reliable players are a market inefficiency in this fake baseball game that we play.  Know this and use it to your advantage.