Building better player projections

Before we get started, just a quick update to my last post (http://mlblogsfantasy411.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/broxton3.jpgarchives/2009/12/player_valuation_and_sgp.html)… I provided the average stats for each first and last place NFBC team, minus the top and bottom five outliers, but I only used 10 teams to compile the averages rather than 21 (the 26 NFBC leagues minus the five outliers). So, here are the revised numbers and the SGP in each category:

 

RANK  AVG     AB     R        H     HR   RBI    SB     W   SV     ERA      IP        WHIP      IP       SO

1ST     .2857   7543  1145   2155  303  1129   199   107   100   3.583    1516.2   1.245    1450.4   1374

15TH   .2607   6985   905   1821   202   869    94     67    19    4.726    1406.6    1.438   1387.9    950

SGP    .0017   37.2   16.0    22.2   6.8  17.3    7.0    2.6   5.5   -0.076     7.3      -0.013     4.2      28.3

 

(Sorry for the tiny font, that’s the only way I could get the whole table to fit.)

 

Not a huge difference obviously, but hey, I’m the stats guy, I’m supposed to get this stuff right!

 

Now, on to this week’s topic: how to build useful player projections. The reason we need to figure this out now is that while raw SGP can be determined on a per-category basis, meaningful SGP must be determined on a per-position basis, otherwise there will be no reflection of position scarcity in your player valuations. And to determine position scarcity or any type of pre-draft player valuation, you must develop a ranking system, and the most objective way to do that is by building projections.

 

There have been thousands of words spilled all across the Internet on the value of player projections and the need for them: some think they are critical, some think they are useful but impossible to build with any meaningful accuracy, and some think they’re a total waste of time. Baseball HQ chief Ron Shandler – one of the giants of the industry – wrote a lengthy and informative piece last year on “The Great Myths of Predictive Accuracy” (http://www.baseballhq.com/books/myths.shtml), which said in essence that even the best projection systems will typically be wrong to some extent or another on every player, so fantasy players must use all projections with a certain amount of skepticism. I hope I’m not incorrectly paraphrasing what Ron wrote, and I encourage everyone to read this excellent work.

 


Pujols.jpgIn any case, I do agree with Ron that it’s unimportant whether your projection for Albert Pujols (right) calls for him to 39 homers or 42; either number would likely be part of what we would consider an “expected” season from El Hombre. But I think pre-draft projections are critical for two key reasons:

 

* Establishing relative values of players before the draft to help in ranking them, and

* Evaluating relative strengths and weaknesses of teams as the draft progresses

 

If your projections are objective and reasonable, then they should be useful for both of those purposes. So how do we make them objective and reasonable?

 

First, consider the source… there are numerous projections available on the Internet, some for pay and some for free, and while PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus has long been considered the cream of the crop, the field has been catching up in recent years. In fact, noted sabermetrician Tom Tango conducted a season-long experiment this past season (http://tangotiger.net/forecast) which concluded what many have thought to be true: the “wisdom of the crowds” approach ultimately generates results just as good as any other system. So here’s what I do:

 

1. Gather as many different projections as I can that pass the “sanity check” – no batters projected to hit 60 homers, no pitchers with 325 strikeouts, etc. – and average them all up. In recent seasons that’s been somewhere between seven and nine different sets of projections but use as many as you think are reasonable, to get the widest range of opinions and inputs.

 

2. Adjust properly for playing time. Last season in MLB there were about 187,000 plate appearances and 43,000 innings pitched… make sure your projections add up to a reasonable estimation of those numbers. Then, make sure the playing time is distributed properly… each team should have somewhere around 6,200 plate appearances and 1,440 innings, with playing time distributed between obvious regulars and reserves. Obviously there’s no way to predict who will ultimately get every at-bat over the course of the season, but the key is to make sure playing time is appropriately distributed among the players who are likely to be selected in your draft.

 

Make sure to factor in health risk and job security as well. Projecting Nick Johnson for 550 at-bats is sure to result in disappointment, but at the same time, if you only have Derek Jeter (below) with that many you’re ignoring recent history. All players are subject to unexpected injuries, but as our friend Will Carroll would say, “health is a skill.” If a player has demonstrated an ability (or inability) to stay in the lineup, adapt accordingly.

 


Jeter12.jpg3. Once playing time is adjusted properly, pro-rate all projected counting stats accordingly… if the projection calls for 400 at-bats but you bump it up to 500, add on another 25 percent in each of the other categories.

 

4. Next up, I calculate projected RBI’s based on projected extra-base hits. The formula I use, developed by a smart guy named Mark Padden, awards about seven-tenths of an RBI for each “weighted” extra-base hit, weighted as follows: singles * .2, doubles and triples * 1 and homers * 3. So a player projected for 100 singles, 30 doubles, 5 triples and 20 homers would be projected for about 80 RBI’s. Then I tweak the RBI numbers up or down to correspond to likely batting order position… if I know Hanley Ramirez is dropping down to the third spot in the order I’ll bump up his total but then shave down those who are moving away from the heart of the order.

 

5. Make sure runs and RBI’s correlate properly. Last season, roughly 95 percent of all runs scored were generated by an RBI. Add up the runs and RBI’s in your projections, then divide RBI’s by runs… if you’re not somewhere between 94 and 96 percent on a per-team basis, you’ll need to tune your run and/or RBI projections up or down to match.

 

6. When it comes to closers, keep it simple. I project each of the likely full-time closers with three wins; there are always the exceptions who will win seven or eight or 10 games each year, but those are hard to predict, so don’t bother. Tack on a bonus win or two if you really need to, but trying to predict whether Jonathan Broxton (below) will win four or eight games next year is a futile exercise. I distribute saves in round numbers, too… clear-cut top-shelf closers get 38-42 each, the second tier get 32-36, and so on.

 


Broxton.jpg7. Keep it simple for starters, too. Strikeout and walk rates are fairly projectable, but as we know, wins are typically not. So I give aces 17-18 wins, solid mid- to upper-tier guys 14-16, and so on.

 

8. Finally, in the same vein, don’t get carried away on steals. That’s a very volatile category based as much on opportunity and managerial tendencies as it is on pure speed. Guys like Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes are always going to get their 50-60 steals as long as they’re healthy, but look at how the SB’s have fluctuated for an otherwise consistent player like the aforementioned Jeter: 30-11-15-34-14-23-11-32 over the last eight years.

 

That’s the process in a nutshell. I may be forgetting something here but hey, I can’t give away ALL of my secrets!

 

Until next week, Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

 

Thanks,

Cory

 

18 Comments

Hi Guys,
I?m in a 10-team mixed 5X5 league where we keep 12 (no round or $ values attached). I have 8 solid keepers (Mauer, Votto, B. Roberts, Figgins, Rollins, Ichiro, A. Dunn, C. Carpenter) but I?m not sure on the last 4. Assuming I am unable to trade up, which 4 of these guys would you keep: Quentin, C. Davis, J. Vazquez, Webb, Hamels, Nolasco, Lackey, Fuentes, B. Wilson, Valverde?

Thanks,
Jay

Also, I’m just wondering if the mlb.com AtBat app you had for iPhone last year will be available for Android phones in 2010. If not, what’s the next best thing?

Jay

Cory (and all the 411 crew):

You guys are making the offseason really enjoyable and most importantly educational. Much appreciated.

“I can’t give away ALL of my secrets!” – we are just glad you are willing to share any at all!

Happy Hollidays right back at ya.

– BDH in DC

Guys what’s up?

I’m in a 16-team-salary mixed league, with 10 keepers. I’m banking on Jake Fox being a potenial sleeper on many draft boards this year. How realistic are his chances? Would it be more fair to say that you’d potenially get more production out of a Milton Bradley, hitting in the middle of order now with speed behind him? Although keeping Bradley was an enormous bust for me last season.

Hi guys,
Danny from Euroland again.

Id like ur take on the Morrow-League trade, do u see any significant change in fantasy value for League as a closer and/or Morrow as a SP/RP?

From internet sources I do have the impression that League (home run prone?) will stay a set-up man in SEA and Morrow is unlikely to become the closer in TOR.
My gut feeling still gives me the feeling that Torontos lack of SP and closer gives Morrow a decent chance in 2010.

Greez across the atlantic ocean,
Euro-Danny

I’m still trying to figure out the RBI projections based on extra base hits. So if singles * .2, then 100 singles equals 20 RBIs. Doubles and triples * 1, then 30 doubles and 5 triples equals 35 RBI. That puts us up to 55. Then HR * 3 means 20 HR equals 60 RBI, which puts us up to 115.

Greg in Cincy

Cory’s projections ARE better player projections. Very helpful in my 2009 prep … any idea when 2010’s will be available?

Thanks!
Big Mike

Greg,

its seven tenths of an rbi. so multiply 115 by .7

Is Cory going to be sharing his predictions again??

Hi folks, I will be sharing my projections again when they are ready but that won’t be until the spring. And yes, it’s actually .6966 RBI per weighted XBH, to be exact… although that number is likely to vary somewhat year to year, using this method for 2009 stats produces a correlation somewhere around .96, which is pretty good as far as I’m concerned!

Thanks and happy new year!
–Cory

Hi Cory,
I have used SGP for a couple years and found that I had to tweak the numbers to make useful draft rankings. I started with similar numbers as you from the NFBC. Do you find that your SGP’s….

1. Value closers too little because the saved denom. is so large, so the top closers come in after 15 starters and average closers come in after 30 starters. They are always taken sooner than that on draft day. If I used your pitchers denom’s and did a mock draft I would always draft starters and never draft closers unless I just randomly picked a round a took the highest closer left on my list.

2. Value wins too much. I know that the wins races are tight so the wins denom. is always very small but since wins are the luckiest of all the pitching statistics, should the numbers be “tweaked” to more heavily weight the statistics that are more in a starting pitcher’s control like SO, ERA and WHIP (I know they aren’t totally in his control but they are a better assessment of his talent).

I was thinking more like a wins denom of 3.5 and a saves denom of 4. But the “stats guy” inside me doesn’t like just randomly changing the numbers. Any thoughts on that concept?

Happy New Year,

I play in an 18 team(4×4) keeper league that is going to be reduced to 16 teams. While Strasburg was the obvious first selection in our spring draft before we lost 2 teams I was wondering where you would rank him now. The players available from the dead teams include Grienke, Halladay, Kinsler, Ethier, McCann, Burnett, Cruz, Philips, Hamilton, Berkman, Aramis, Kamir, Joba, and Wandy. Thanks.

Jay,

I’d go with Quentin, Vazquez, Wilson and Valverde, assuming Valverde is still a closer somewhere. If not, sub in Fuentes. A lot of fine choices here and good arguments can be made for any of them. I’m still a bit concerned about your power but Davis is no sure thing to keep his AVG at a respectable level and keeping both him and Dunn could be asking for trouble. Vazquez’s value definitely takes a hit with his move to the AL but you know he’ll give you quality innings, lots of strikeouts, a good WHIP and 15-18 wins. I also think securing quality closers is important in such a deep keeper format. Make sure to address power early once the draft starts.

Not sure about the At-Bat ap but I’ll try to find out.

Zach

weliker,

Fox’s move to a pitcher-friendly park in Oakland scares me a little but I’m such an anti-Bradley guy that I’ll say go with Fox’s upside. He’ll get a chance to play every day and the salary cap format of your league would seem to favor up and coming young guys over a player who has traditionally been very overrated.

Zach

Danny,

The guys will discuss the Morrow-League trade on today’s podcast so be sure to check that out later.
***********************************************************************
alhrabosky,

As much as we all like Strasburg as a prospect, I’m not ready to rank him ahead of any of those other pitchers just yet, even in a keeper league. The one exception I might make is Kazmir, whose inability to stay healthy and consistently throw strikes is maddening to fantasy owners. He’s pretty much DTM in my mind.

Zach

Hey Guys,
I have 8 potential keepers and we can only keep 6. The players we keep are round specific. It’s a 9×9 H2H league w/ extra cats: H, SLG, BB, K for hitters and IP, L, ER, and QS for pitchers. My 8 potential keepers are:

Mauer (1st)
Wright (1st)
Sizemore (2nd)
B. Roberts (3rd)
Haren (4th)
Greinke (7th)
Wainwright (9th)
Vazquez (13th)

If I keep Mauer, Wright, and Sizemore (as I am planning) then Wright and Sizemore just get bumped down a round each. Thanks, and Happy New Year to the 411!

Everett

Everett,

The best values you have here are Greinke, Wainwright and Vazquez. As great a season Mauer had last year, he’s just not a first rounder and Wright is borderline. That said, I don’t have a problem with you keeping these two since Mauer would essentially be your second round choice. I like Roberts but I think you might be able to get him back in the 4th if need be.

So my 6 would be Mauer, Wright, Sizemore, Greinke, Wainwright, Vazquez.

Zach

I would keep: Mauer, Wright, Sizemore, Haren, Wainwright, and Roberts. Greinke has had a tough go this season. Depending on the price your willing to pay, Greinke has a nice ERA and K/BB ratio, but absolutely no run support. Mauer got his money, and a lot of it, surely he is ready to start quickly. I wish I had that pool of players to pick from, my draft was the worst I’ve ever had, although I’m in 3rd place as we speak (out of 15).

Best,
Jesse
go cubs!

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