As the regular season draws to a close, it is with not a little melancholy that Dr. Easy and I bring you one last adventure with the Razzball Season-to-Date Player Rater (STD PR). Thanks for hanging with us for all these weeks! If you take one thing away from this series, it’s “next season, use the Razzball Player Rater” (pre-season and during). It’s free and it’s eye-opening. We thought that for our last post, we’d continue with our look back to the beginning of the season. This time, with the help of the Razzball Pre-Season Player Rater (PS PR), we wanted to check out some of the biggest surprises and biggest disappointments among hitters and pitchers who managed to stay healthy for most of the season (hitters who made it to 500 plate appearances or more; starting pitchers who hurled 100 innings or more). This means we can rank them by the good ol’ Player Rater $ (for previous posts, we’ve used the $/G rubric for players who have missed time due to injury). Where are the biggest differences between the pre-season and now, both positive and negative? Note: With all these players who have surprised big time, we expect a high variation on where they will be drafted next year. We don’t know about you, but we’re generally risk averse: we see big variation and let others take the flyer, unless it’s in the late rounds. Note 2: this is a bit of a selective list; we’ve talked about other big surprises and disappointments like Andrus, Judge, Villar, Cabrera, Upton, and Jose Ramirez, in previous posts.
The Pleasant Surprises
Chris Taylor: Ranked 1454th pre-season, Chris Taylor has shot up, meteorically if you will, to a pretty lofty 57th overall. He hasn’t been of much value in $HR (21 on the season…okay, 2017 is weird, that we’re saying that) or $RBI terms, but he’s been pretty good for steals: 33rd overall, 17 for the season. Back in late July, we talked about him and speculated that his performance wasn’t sustainable (and that’s us quoting us!), and it turns out that we lied a little: he was ranked 89th by $ in July, 57th now. You do you, Chris Taylor. You do you.
Mark Reynolds: Most likely because of his pre-season estimation of 144 plate appearances, Mark Reynolds was ranked an astonishingly low 1399 before the 2017 season got underway. In the off-season there was the assumption that Ian Desmond would play 1B in Colorado over Reynolds, but with Desmond’s injury, Reynolds ended up getting a lot more playing time than anticipated, ultimately bumping him up to the ranking of 72nd at time of writing. With 29 home runs, he’s ranked 37th in $HR, because again, 2017 is crazy. Note he has been faring less well lately, with only 1 HR and a .230 average in September, and his ownership has dropped to 80% in RCLs. The big question is what happens to him next year: his contract with Colorado is up, so it remains to be seen where he will play and what kind of playing time he’ll have. In 2018, he’ll probably be in the same situation as this year: on waivers. If he finagles another contract with Colorado, he’ll be worth a waiver pick-up. If not, fuhgeddaboutit.
Justin Smoak: In the pre-season, Smoak was ranked 764th and has climbed to 52nd. He was ranked this low in the pre-season because he was so bad last year he ended up being benched by the end of 2016. He then, of course, went on a total tear in 2017 and has slowed down only now. We know he changed his approach somewhat, which led to his success earlier this year, but could it be that the pitchers have now adjusted back? And what does this mean for next year? It seems reasonable to think, though, that unlike at the start of the 2017 season, when he was available on waivers, that will not be the case in 2018.
Chase Anderson: From a low, low ranking of 1067 in $ in the pre-season, Anderson has … chased lesser pitchers out of his way to climb to the heights of 115th overall, 25th out of all starters. He’s ranked an excellent 8th out of all SPs in $ERA (he’s sitting at a beautiful ERA of 2.81 on the season), and 12th in $WHIP (with a WHIP of 1.12). His $W is only 1.7, so it’s not as if the total $ are a fluke. Pre-season, he had a projected innings pitched of 68; who knew he’d go 128 (with 128 Ks). He’s improved his peripherals at the age of 29. It’s hard to bet on him to repeat these numbers, but as a 3rd or 4th starter on a roto roster, he seems serviceable.
Gio Gonzalez: Not as massive a jump as some we’ve been focusing on, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Ranked 170th pre-season, National Gio-Graphic is currently sitting at 46th by $. He’s been the beneficiary of a lot of wins (12th overall when ranked by $W). He’s a sweet, sweet 4th out of all starters in $ERA (2.68 on the season), 10th in $WHIP (1.13), and a not-too-shabby 20th in $K — 179 in 192 innings pitched. However, an xFIP of 4.17, highest since 2009, tells us a different story than his 2.68 ERA, lowest since 2012. When you factor in that $W 5.6, enjoy the season you got out of him, but don’t count on it repeating.
Hanley Ramirez: In the pre-season, Hanley Ramirez’s 28th-place ranking made him a second-round-ish draft pick (give or take your level of enthusiasm for him). He’s currently 334th. Over the year he’s underperformed in every single category; in fact, he’s negative in every single category except $HR (22 on the season, which is still only enough to rank him 98th… Two below Jose Bautista. Three below Trevor Story, who is featured below as Another Disappointment). Who knows what went wrong: is it age or injury or both? But I for one won’t be drafting him next year.
Mark Trumbo: Overall, Sad Trumbone was ranked 51st pre-season, and is currently 224. Where did all his home run potential go, that’s what we want to know? Like Hanley above, Trumbo has underperformed in every category but let us down particularly in homers. The PS PR had him pegged as 6th in home runs for the season; he’s currently 37th (23 home runs), in a year when everyone and their mother are hitting ’em. We kept counting on him to bounce back, but he just never did. We weren’t even expecting him to hit 47 home runs, like he did last year, but 35 or 40 would have been nice. Is it a nagging injury of some kind? Maybe a late-round flyer, at this point.
Trevor Story: Last year, Trevor Story burst onto the scene like some great Colorado hope, enough to get him a ranking of 58th in the 2017 pre-season. He’s currently 228th. This year he’s a totally different Story from last year: in 2016, he did better in some categories in 97 games played than he’s done this year in 140 (67 runs in 2016, 62 in 2017; 27 home runs in 2016, 22 in 2017; 8 steals in 2016, 7 in 2017; add all this to a .272 in 2016, .233 in 2017). He’s striking out slightly more this year (34.9%) than last year (31.3%), but not by much. Here’s a great in-depth piece from August on Story’s struggles, which seems to say he’s not hitting the ball as hard (ongoing thumb troubles?) and he’s not being as patient; or maybe it’s that pitchers have figured him out. He may turn it back around for next season, but we’d proceed with caution. Last year, he did what he did in only 97 games, so we knew the risk, drafting him so early this year: there’s not enough data on him yet. That said, he will always have some value as long as he’s hitting in Colorado.
Johnny Cueto: With a ranking of 37 in the pre-season, Cueto is currently sitting at 347 (pretty efficient how he just stuck a “4” in the middle and called it done). Admittedly he is on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to number of innings pitched (136 in 2017), having missed half of July and all of August with injury, and we should take that into account when ranking by $ in the Player Rater, but the fact remains that his ERA is up almost 2 runs from 2.76 last year (currently 4.43). His HR/9 has ballooned from last year, too: 1.33 this year compared with 0.61 last year. And while his projected numbers pre-season had him at ace-like status (ranked 5th overall in $ERA, for instance), in reality he’s been negative in every category on the STD PR. At 31, he’s not too old to have a bounce-back; he’s pitched much better since returning from injury, so we suspect some nagging injury affected his performance (velocity, spin rate), and we’re back on his bandwagon.
Jon Lester: Lester ranked 41st in the pre-season and is currently a neat and tidy 200th (not sure his owners are so pleased, mind you, and note that he’s 97% owned in RCLs…). Pre-season, Jon Lester was expected to be in the 4- to 5-dollar range in every counting category, and in actual fact he’s been negative in everything except strikeouts: $K 3 on the STD PR, 173 on the season, ranking him 27th (K/9 8.6; BB/9 3.07, though). He’s also benefited from being part of the Cubs: his $W 1.7 gives him a ranking of 43rd overall. He’s been a disciple of Saberhagenmetrics, but at the age of 33 and 8 months, it’s harder and harder to ignore the fact that there’s a lot of mileage on that arm. Let someone else take the bait.
Honorable mention to Michael Fulmer, who was ranked 177th pre-season and is currently…177th. #consistency