Monday, July 23, 2018

Exploiting Recency Bias: Future Projections > Current Production

In sports, we must always look forward. We’re in a particularly dangerous stage in baseball right now: enough games have been played where we start to overweight year-to-date (YTD) production, thinking that what a player has done so far is indicative of what he’ll do in the future. Research on this topic suggests that is a dangerous—and frankly, false—assumption.

In fact, research by Mitchell Lichtman, co-author of the The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, tells us that rest-of-season (ROS) projections are more predictive of future performance than current performance in nearly every single way (as measured by wOBA)—whether we’re one month or five months into the season. Put another way, if you were to project how a player were to perform on the last day of the season, you’d still be better off using ROS projections than YTD performance.

Of course, this isn’t a novel concept. Shortly after I mentioned this pending piece on the recent Roto Pope podcast, The Athletic’s Eno Sarris conducted a similar exercise—identifying players with the biggest discrepancies between their YTD actual, YTD expected and ROS projected OPS. Sarris also highlighted a key update to Lichtman’s 2014 study—the advent of Statcast data, which we can use to better understand “expected” production and unearth new insights, such as potential injuries through lower exit velocity readings.

We also did a similar exercise on these very pages just a couple months ago. Looking back, you can see the value in looking forward—for instance, if you had invested in the top recommendation at the time, Matt Carpenter, you’d have acquired a player who recently homered in six straight games and moved up 400-plus spots in the rankings since then (from 454 at time of writing to nearly top 30 today).

After research of this piece, I stand by each of those previous recommendations to differing degrees and, depending on acquisition cost, would still recommend investing—Carpenter, Carlos Santana, Yadier Molina, Ryan Zimmerman and Joey Votto. But the point of this exercise isn’t to regurgitate previous analysis. Instead, let’s highlight some new names—hopefully one of these players provides a 10x-type surge like Carpenter.


First, let’s clarify the difference in approach for this analysis. The objective of this analysis is to identify hitters with the biggest discrepancies between YTD performance and ROS projection—ideally with supporting evidence provided by expected stats. To do this, I used the FanGraphs Auction Calculator to determine hitters’ ROS value across each of the available projection systems—Steamer, ZiPS, Depth Charts and THE BAT.

I then calculated the median value from the four projection systems for each player, ostensibly creating a ROS ranking. To understand YTD performance, I re-visited the Auction Calculator and ran a report for YTD values. After removing less-interesting players—as defined by a median ROS rank of less than 100—I was left with a tidy list of 100 players.

Let’s highlight a few of the more interesting cases below, as judged by a relatively large discrepancy between their YTD and ROS ranks—that is, they’re projected to be much better than they have been thus far. According to Lichtman’s research, they “should” play much closer to their projection moving forward:

YTD Rank: 150 | ROS Proj. Rank: 32

Cruz has been a divisive player by production calculators, ranking anywhere from 53rd among hitters (ESPN) to 150th (FanGraphs)—both figures deflated by a freak ankle injury that forced him to the DL and a relatively slow start. Yet, all he keeps doing is hitting, currently ranking in the top 10 among max exit velocity (EV), average EV and percentage of balls hit 95+ MPH, with a .289/.378/.539 “expected” triple slash, per Projections see him as the 32nd best hitter moving forward, a bettable rank and a price you may not have to pay.

YTD Rank: 153 | ROS Proj. Rank: 42

Apparently, projections don’t want to let go of these old sluggers, Cruz and Encarnacion. That might also highlight a market inefficiency to exploit: unsexy names like Cruz and Encarnacion don’t cost full freight. Is he worth buying though? At 35, he’s certainly declining—walks are way down while strikeouts are up. Still, he ranks top 25 in barrels per plate appearance and his expected triple slash of .251/.334/.498 is still plenty tasty. Projections bake in aging curves and E5 should come at a discount.

YTD Rank: 105 | ROS Proj. Rank: 16

Sticking with sluggers but moving to the younger end of the spectrum, Kris Bryant has been disappointing for those that drafted him in the first two rounds expecting a superstar performance. He did miss some time with a sore shoulder that landed him on the DL. His power is down and exit velocity figures don’t suggest the power hitter we conclusively thought Bryant was after his 39 homers in 2016. Still, he’s 31% above league average as a hitter and his expected wOBA is 10-15 points within his previous years. His 11 HR to date are disappointing, to be sure, but his expected 15 HR are a lot more interesting and, assuming his shoulder is okay, projections think he should continue on that expected home run pace, particularly as Wrigley heats up in the summer.


YTD Rank
ROS Proj. Rank
Khris Davis
Marcell Ozuna
Anthony Rizzo


Remember, on the whole, players are most likely to perform to their ROS projections rather than their current performance. This thought process may lead to some misses, but the idea is that owners in your league may start to overweight YTD performance and rank. Exploit that recency bias by paying for YTD performance, pocketing the difference between that and their ROS projection.

Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Roto Pope Podcast -- Episode 11! MLB All-Star Game, MLB Playoff/WS Race, Kawhi, Best Seinfeld Episode Of All-Time

Sean Burch (@seanb44) and Aaron Sauceda (@RotoPope) engage in various topics for the latest episode of the Roto Pope Podcast, including:
  • 0:00 Opening on swimming, misc.
  • 0:04 AIDS gym guy
  • 0:05 Screen-gazi (aka Screen From Hell)
  • 0:10 World Series Hypothetical 
  • 0:11 All-Star Game thoughts 
  • 0:13 Blake Snell analysis from Aaron
  • 0:18 Mannywood 2.0 (forgot to mention El Maniaco!) 
  • 0:24 Second half MLB musings
  • 0:25 Kawhi Leonard update: Should Lakers hold off on selling young core for Leonard?
  • 0:36 Seinfeld Countdown! Our #1 overall episodes
Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Blake Snell Is Good, Not A Snub

First, I should disclose: I like Blake Snell. I think he’s good, man. He checks nearly all of the boxes for a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Good fastball? Above average left-handed velocity of 96 MPH, check. Nasty off-speed pitches? Elite curveball and plus slider, check. Improving control? Check. Elite prospect pedigree and size? Former top 100 prospect and 6’4” and 200 pounds, check.

On a personal note, as a fantasy owner I’ve been a direct beneficiary of his excellent season to date. I feel invested—I noticed his 3.49/3.56 ERA/FIP in the second half of last season and penciled him in as a “get-at-all-costs” draft target. The feeling of vindication he’s provided so far is invigorating and sponge-worthy.

In fact, he’s one of the biggest success factors behind one of my most important fantasy teams, a team that’s currently in first place in a competitive high-stakes home league. He’s currently ranked 14th to 19th overall in standard 5x5 leagues, depending on the source, despite a preseason ADP of 196. That’s a borderline fantasy MVP and league-winning type selection. Bottom line: I’d love to see Snell as an all-star.

But is he really a snub? Whenever all-star teams are announced in any sport, we experience an outburst of endless debates across bars, television, and Twitter. Sometimes these debates are well-founded and justified. Other times, it’s mindless blabber. No, Lance Stephenson shouldn’t have been an all-star in 2014—cue the violins.

Following MLB’s release of this season’s all-star teams, this “snubs” conversation was inevitable. And so far, much of the discussion has been about the apparent snub of Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell. His teammate, Chris Archer, released a video on his personal Instagram account imploring players to perform better due diligence and stating that Snell’s omission from the all-star team “can’t happen.” Snell himself expressed frustration and disappointment, conceding that being selected as an alternate wouldn’t be satisfying.

He has a point! He’s been objectively quite good this season. Among all qualified AL pitchers, he’s 1st in ERA (13th in FIP), 8th in WHIP, and 8th in strikeouts. No one should be arguing that Snell doesn’t have the resume for a spot on the team.  

Even so, as with all debates, it’s one thing to point out a problem—in this case, a snub—but what about solutions? These all-star teams are stacked. To get one of these snubs onto the team, like Snell, you have to remove a similarly deserving and talented player. Major League Baseball’s rules of having at least one representative for each team further complicates the calculus, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

The question is, was Blake Snell truly a snub? Comparing Snell to the other American League all-star starting pitchers, the answer is … maybe?

Player fWAR bWAR AVG
Chris Sale 4.4 5.1 4.8
Luis Severino 4.2 5.1 4.7
Trevor Bauer 4.5 3.6 4.1
Justin Verlander 4.2 3.6 3.9
Corey Kluber 2.8 4.6 3.7
Blake Snell 2.3 4.3 3.3
Gerrit Cole 3.3 2.9 3.1
Jose Berrios 2.2 2.5 2.4
J.A. Happ 1.7 0.8 1.3

While he’s certainly deserving, it’s difficult to credibly make an argument for Snell to be in the game instead of any of the names ahead of him there. Berrios and Happ are the lone representatives for their teams—again, a conversation for a different day, but perhaps that’s the emerging theme as the real problem here, assuming we believe these snubs are a huge problem.

The Gerrit Cole versus Snell discussion is interesting based on WAR. Cole ranks ahead in fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) while Snell ranks ahead in bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR). Cole bests Snell across many key indicators—FIP, SIERA, K-BB%, WHIP, and innings. The Astros have the best run differential and 3rd best winning percentage in baseball; it’s hard to cry too hard about choosing Cole over Snell, even if WAR suggests there could be an argument.

There is no question that Snell deserves an all-star bid. However, all the snubs lists currently polluting the Internet and radio airwaves fail to recognize that this is a conversation starter, not a mic drop. While it’s a fun conversation to have, all-star teams only have so many roster spots—exacerbated further by MLB’s move from 34 to 32 roster spots beginning in 2017.

The conversation instead needs to turn to, “who needs to be removed?” And upon further examination, the problem isn’t necessarily with the selections—nearly all of the pitchers selected ahead of Snell have just as strong a case to be there, if not stronger. The problem might be the system, artificially forcing participation trophies upon each team. Maybe Chris Archer should be targeting that instead.
Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Roto Pope Podcast -- Episode 10!

Sean Burch (@seanb44) and Aaron Sauceda (@RotoPope) engage in various topics for the latest episode of the Roto Pope Podcast, including:
  • LeBron is here (LA)...
  • ...and so is Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee, and Rajon Rondo??
  • Other free agency talk
  • Seinfeld countdown! Our #2 overall episode
Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

Morbi aliquam fringilla nisl. Pellentesque eleifend condimentum tellus, vel vulputate tortor malesuada sit amet. Aliquam vel vestibulum metus. Aenean ut mi aucto.