Thursday, June 21, 2018

Midseason Assessment: Using Projections To Predict The Future

Keeping with the theme of overcoming life’s malaise, sometimes you just need to sit on a pier, breath in the fresh ocean air and let the sounds of the waves shower over you. Experiencing the raw elements of nature help clear your head and see things with more conviction; they help make the going a little less rough.

As we meander roughly halfway through the baseball season, perhaps it’s time for us to go sit on the pier. Have a seat for a second. And what better way to clear our heads than assess where we’ve been and where we want to go.

In fact, in a recent Roto Pope podcast, my co-host, Sean, asked me how should we approach our team strategy midseason, saying he was considering trading his star pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, punting on pitching ratios of ERA and WHIP. I responded with another question, stating we really ought to first answer, “What are the end-of-season standings likely to look like?” And what information can we glean from that, making moves to potentially improve our rest-of-season outlook—do the numbers say it makes sense to punt on high-end starting pitching? This process might also help identify more pressing needs. Maybe you’re sitting on a treasure chest of stolen bases, but are starved for more home runs—looking ahead and knowing those things now allow you the knowledge and time to maneuver before it’s too late.

While midseason is as good a time as ever to do this, it’s really a useful exercise once or twice per month. Anyhow, enough preaching. How to do this? It’s really quite simple, requiring three things: current league standings, current league rosters, and rest-of-season projections. Throw in a taste of patience and time, a little Microsoft Excel, and you’re done! You’re now armed with information to help you win your league.

Let’s bust open our favorite Internet browsers, Excel, and break this process down into five steps:

Step 1: Download Current League Standings
Visit your league page and download or copy/paste your current league standings into Excel. I find it helpful to get the underlying numbers behind rate stats—hits and at-bats for batting average or earned runs and innings for ERA, for instance. If you’re using platforms such as CBS, you can even download custom reports to access those numbers. If you’re not able to find those numbers, not a big deal, but you’ll at least need at-bats and innings.

Step 2: Download Current League Rosters
This part can get more involved, but essentially, you’ll need to download or create a master sheet of which teams own which players. The goal here is to create a roughly accurate view of every team’s starting lineup—for most leagues, 14 hitters and 9 pitchers, but cater to your league format. Again, CBS allows you to download reports but otherwise, you should be able to copy/paste a view of everyone’s roster from somewhere on your platform. Don’t get caught up in getting this matrix perfect—we’re looking for rough-order-of-magnitude here.

Step 3: Identify and Download Desired Rest-of-Season Projections
You might be tempted to think that current performance trumps all—if a guy is hot, he’s likely a sexy “breakout” and will continue to be hot. I sure love the feeling of looking at my roster and seeing highly-ranked players.

But the problem with this analysis is that it’s inherently backwards-looking. In almost all cases, and certainly on average, rest-of-season projections are more predictive for future performance than current performance, according to research done by Mitchel Lichtman, author of the The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.

The only thing you might want to consider when looking at rest-of-season projections are playing time estimates, something potentially impacted by “hot” or “cold” players.
Luckily, we have tons of free, public projections at our disposal. Head on over to FanGraphs for well-known projection systems such as Steamer, ZiPS, Depth Charts, and a new addition this season, THE BAT. Razzball’s Rudy Gamble has projections, as well, essentially taking Steamer and adding his own playing time estimates.

Take your pick and run with it—I don’t think there’s a noticeable difference between them. They all likely exist within a tight band of each other and alternate year-to-year in predictiveness. On particular ambitious days, I’ve been known to consolidate and take an average of the set—you don’t need to do that here.

Step 4: Map Projections to Players in League Roster Matrix
Remember that league roster matrix you developed in step two? Well it’s time to map your selected rest-of-season projections to each player on that matrix. Most people would recommend using the Excel VLOOKUP function here—a reasonable and functional recommendation—but friends don’t let friends use VLOOKUP. Use INDEX/MATCH instead.
Either way, the key is to pair your existing league roster matrix with the rest-of-season projections.

Step 5: Consolidate and Combine Projections
I’m a consultant by trade and we tend to operate in clean lists of 3, 5, or 10. So I might be intellectually dishonest here by combining two pseudo steps into one (hehe). Sue me (please don’t).
First, I’m sure you recall those rest-of-season projections we just mapped into our roster matrix? Well, it’s time to consolidate those from a player-level into a team-level. Create a “SUMIFS table” for the teams and categories in your league and run SUMIFS formulas for each team in each category to determine their total rest-of-season projection in each category.

Once complete, it’s time to sum our current standings (from step one) with our freshly consolidated and summed rest-of-season projections. Run RANK formulas on top of that to convert those stats into rotisserie points and—BAM!—you’ve now got glorious intel for a rough-order-of-magnitude view on your league’s end-of-season results. Analyze away.

The last “step,” if you will, is to synthesize this intelligence into actionable plans and strategy. Notice you look strong in a category but weak in another? And a competitor has the exact opposite problem? Engage in trade talks. Go to your league matrix that you created and execute hypothetical trades to see their impact on your end-of-season standings. Relentlessly pursue trades that reliably add points to your team’s outlook. Take one last deep breath of that fresh beach air and run through those seagulls for a strong finish!

Author’s note: Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter (@RotoPope) with any tactical questions, such as how to execute this in Excel or anything else to complete this analysis. Always happy to help—best of luck!

Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

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