If you had just one stat to use for your drafts this year, what would it be?
A common complaint I see from fantasy experts is recency bias, that cognitive bias whereby we depart from the most rational decision based on an over-reliance of the most recent data because it’s fresh in our minds. Most of us are aware that this bias exists, and try to counterbalance. We use 3-year weighted projections; analyze exit velocity and launch angle instead of RBI; and pay more for a young player with perceived “upside”. In my view, there’s a danger amid smart fantasy owners of going too far the other way and discounting what just happened. Today, I want to take a look at the way a brand-new fantasy owner might answer my initial question: who played the best in 2019?
A tangent: For a couple of reasons, with the reduced schedule & delayed opening day, I’m focusing even more heavily on skills over playing time:
- The spread of Games Played should be compressed. Marcus Semien racked up 747 PA last year over 162 games, nearly 100 more PA than Cody Bellinger accumulated in 156 games. If we project 100 games in 2020, that gap is only 40 AB. There just isn’t time to distance yourself from the pack by sheer volume.
- The compressed schedule increases the cost of injuries, but not the predictability. A 1-month/28-game injury would have cost a hitter 17% of their stats in 2019; in a projected 100 games, that’s a full 28%. There’s no time to recover your value if you get hurt. Since there’s no reason to think we’re any better at predicting injuries than we used to be, I’ll be buying talent and crossing my fingers on health.
Today’s chart, then, looks at 2019 dollar values per game, to measure recent skill, and 2020 ADP to measure cost. Click to enlarge:
(For clarity’s sake, I’ve only labeled those players notably far from their peers. You can see the full chart, with all players labeled, here.)
The chart can be read in two ways:
First, if you look at a player and draw a horizontal line, you can find out what he should cost (ADP), if you were buying a repeat of 2019. Miguel Sano, for instance, earned over $19 per game last year; on average, that production costs a top-50 pick, and Sano is going at 108 overall. A bargain!
Second, if you draw a vertical line from a player, you can see about how much value you should expect to obtain from that pick. Manny Machado will cost you pick 64; on average, that pick is worth about $17 in production per game, but Manny only gave you ~$7.50.
Based on this approach, who’s cheaper in 2020 than their 2019 performance would dictate?
- It’s hard to find a bargain near the top, but Fernando Tatis Jr. hit on par with Acuna, just in 340 less PA. At pick 18, he’s got the upside of top-3 overall if he can hold or improve on last year’s performance.
- Adalberto Mondesi hit like a top-10 pick when healthy. Assuming health with extended time to heal this spring, a steal at pick 31.
- After racking up huge PA seasons the last few years, George Springer had his best per-game season in 2019, but got hurt. If he puts the two together, a top-10 player available at pick 49.
- Nelson Cruz appears on every underrated list I’ve seen this year, and yet is still available at pick 79 on average.
- Nobody really believes in Mitch Garver, Danny Santana, Tommy Edman, or Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
On the flip side, the guys sitting below the line underperformed in 2019 compared to their ADP cost this year. In other words, you are paying for a bounceback on these players:
- Everyone loves Ozzie Albies; a lot of his value last year was based on 702 PA. He’s still young and hits near the top of a good lineup, but know what you’re buying.
- Manny Machado almost always puts up monster PA totals, but they masked a per-PA down year in 2019.
- If you’re buying Vladimir Guerrero Jr., you’re paying for significant growth just to break even.
- Andrew Benintendi managed only 23 HR+SB and 140 R+RBI, despite over 600 PA in a loaded lineup. This year, owners appear to be eyeballing his 2018 and splitting the difference.
- What the hell happened to Rhys Hoskins? He stayed healthy all year and racked up 705PA, but his R, HR, RBI, BA, and Barrel % all dropped from 2018. In addition, his big-power, low-BA, no-speed skillset just isn’t that valuable in today’s game.
- A bunch of catchers (Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Carson Kelly) show up as overrated based on high PA with mediocre results. But of course, most of us would take a lot of mediocre at bats from our catcher spot.