Did you know that Andrew McCutchen will hit 27 HRs, steal 24 bases, and hit at a .298 average for the 2013 fantasy baseball season? I did, because my spreadsheet spit those numbers out at me! It’s written in stone, ordained by the gods. Count on it.
OK, that’s being a little too confident in my projections. But how do you – a fantasy baseball player on the rise – know which projections in which to place your confidence? Last week I shared how to choose the correct fantasy baseball rankings, and this week we’re going to dig into fantasy baseball projections.
Think about the “3 P’s” of projections:
- Performance Projections
- Playing Time Projections
- Person Projections
Playing Time Projections
Some projection sources will use absurdly complicated formulas for their projections, only to receive very nominal gains over simpler methods. The fact of the matter is that projections come down to plate appearances or innings pitched. Sure, Brandon Beachy had some peachy projections, until his season was lost to Tommy John surgery, that is.
The math might say that Prince Fielder hits a home run every .059 plate appearance, but if he loses half a season to injury, then it doesn’t take a math major to know that his home run projections quickly become worthless. It’s a good thing that the big fella is about as healthy as they come, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that’s it’s an easy thing to predict when the injury gremlin will hit.
Injury is a big part of it, but that’s not all. Minor leaguers need a clear path to a starting position, struggling players can be benched or, worse, platooned. A player like Melky Cabrera can be having a stellar season and then a suspension hits. On top of that are fickle managers with their hard-to-read bullpen decisions.
Playing time isn’t always linked to injury; it is most assuredly linked to talent as well. Here’s a fun trick for you. Use these numbers as a floor in determining replacement players: .275 wOBA for a middle infielder or catcher, .290 for a 3B or CF, or .310 wOBA for a 1B or corner outfielder. Why are these are reasonable replacement player numbers? Easy. If a player is worse than these numbers, they won’t be given a chance to play. They’ll grab a seat on the pine and be replaced in the lineup because just about any Triple A player can beat those numbers.
Don’t assign too many at bats to a rookie who has a solid veteran blocking him in the lineup, be wary of players on teams who are carrying 5 outfielders who’ll fight for at bats, and remember that a leadoff hitter gets on average about 55 more plate appearances than the teams cleanup hitter.
This is a lot of information on playing time projections to take in, but it’s all relevant in that you can’t trust fantasy baseball projections that don’t factor in every bit of the above information. Realistic playing time projections are extremely vital in terms of making accurate fantasy baseball projections.
The final “P” of projections is a subjective element, although not all forecasting systems agree with this. Some simply take the numbers that the computer spits out and print them as is. Others, like Ron Shandler, are known to sometimes go in and tweak a number if feels like the computer is speaking binary crazy talk.
You might call this going with your gut, but it’s really just using your experience of evaluating fantasy baseball players to make a more reasoned projection. While “he’s in the best shape of his life” is an absolute cliche at this point, it’s still true that you need pay attention to a player’s personal life, stadium changes, lineup rumors, off-the-field drama, and so on.
Begin with reasoned data, but do trust your gut. I didn’t trust my gut with Mike Trout. His brief call-up in 2011 was weak, so his projections were understandably poor, given the little data to work with. But I watched him play his first game called up in 2012. A ball was hit deep into the left field corner and I watched Trout make a jump on the ball that just stunned me. If I would’ve trusted my gut in that moment, I would’ve treated him as a special player. Instead, I picked him up and immediately flipped him, thinking I could use his hype to score a big return. I did get a fantastic return in the trade, but I lost out on the story of baseball, because I didn’t trust what my eyes had just saw.
Within reason, go with your gut. Begin with strong numbers, and take care that you don’t blindly get swept up in where the rumor winds blow, but do know that there is a place for subjectivity in making fantasy baseball projections. Read the latest rumors the day before your fantasy baseball draft and pay attention to the scuttlebutt coming out of Spring Training.
The Final Word
The reality is that I listed the “3 P’s” of projections in the same post because you need all three in unison to make the best fantasy baseball projections. Beware of projections that are all “look and feel”, because you need a strong mathematical base to keep things honest. Beware projections that give little regard to batting order, depth charts or injury risk, because you’ll know that those projections don’t understand the importance of plate appearances in forecasting fantasy baseball numbers. And beware of projections that say 100% of the game can be explained by math. Sixty-five percent? Sure. But 100%? Not a chance.
Instead, choose your fantasy baseball projections where you trust that the forecaster is using all the “3 P’s” in balance.