Projecting Prospects: What to make of makeup

One of the best parts about the offseason is evaluating new or available prospects for dynasty and keeper leagues.  We all probably follow similar processes; read the prospect lists from BA, BP, and Sickels, then project those players based on how they fit into our league rules.  Now we have websites that are doing some of that work for us, coming up with fantasy-specific prospect lists.  I currently use faketeams.com, thedynastyguru.com, and the great new site fantasyassembly.com.  That said, no owner plays directly from a list (just write a computer program at that point), as we all like to put our own personal stamp on our valuations.  Some of us like starters that are close to the bigs, others prefer middle infielders, while others lean towards five category hitters.

My process is probably pretty standard, start with the industry lists as a baseline, then start looking at age, level, tools, K%, BB%, HRs, SBs, and XBHs.  For pitchers, take a look at their velocity, arsenal, injury history, and feel for pitching.  One element I always devalued was makeup.  I figured that I don’t need the guy to come up big in pressure situations and I won’t be sharing a locker room with the guy, so makeup was not really a concern.  More succinctly, I didn’t need the guy to be a saint, I needed him to produce.  I also figured that makeup was something that scouts like to embellish and overuse because it’s a way for them to differentiate their work from statistics; you can’t see makeup unless you’ve actually seen the guy in person.

That said, when listening to Daniel Pink’s Office Hours podcast, I came across the work of Angela Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  Duckworth has studied the importance of grit and self-control in predicting the future success of individuals.  Before you start thinking of Nick Punto and Kevin Towers, let me give you Duckworth’s definitions of grit and self-control:

“Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.”

I don’t know about you, but the above definitions of grit and self-control sound a lot like player makeup to me.  What is interesting for fantasy owners is that Duckworth found that grit and self-control were greater indicators of success than intelligence or talent.  Duckworth found that this held true across multiple platforms, whether it be for West Point entrants, National Spelling Bee competitors, or Chicago public school students.  My prediction is that this holds true for our beloved prospects too.  By all accounts, the minor leagues is an absolute grind; thus, players who have better makeup, who can stick to their goals and avoid distractions during their long journey are the best bets to make it as major leaguers and productive fantasy assets.

All that said, am I avoiding bad makeup players all together?  No way.  Am I making makeup my number one factor in evaluating prospects? Nope.  I am, however, definitely changing the equation.  I will be making makeup a bigger part of my prospect projections going forward.  How will I do so?  I am not quite sure.  Most likely, I will value “good makeup” prospects as assets with a higher chance of reaching their potential and a better chance of overcoming flaws in their game.  Conversely, I will probably reduce the chances of “bad makeup” prospects reaching their ceiling and will value them as having a higher bust rate.  If you were already taking makeup into account, great; if you were not, like I was, I recommend doing so.

To find out how much Grit you have you can take Duckworth’s 5 question survey here: https://sasupenn.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_06f6QSOS2pZW9qR

If you like thinking about thinking, I highly recommend Daniel Pink’s podcast Office Hours as well as his books A Whole New Mind and Drive.

Sources:

Duckworth, Angela. (2013, August 1). Research Statement | The Duckworth Lab.

Retrieved November 10, 2013, from https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth/pages/research-statement

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What to make of Big Papi in 2014

Ask any fantasy baseball player for the first words that come to mind when they consider David Ortiz for 2014 and you will get the following: DH-only, old (turns 39 in November), home runs, good line up.   You might even get “over-valued” because of his popularity and World Series heroics.  You might get that he will be under-valued because of his age and position.

In evaluating Ortiz, we need to and will ask the following:

  • How important is his age?
  • How important is tying up your utility spot?
  • How will he be valued?

How important is his age?

It is correct to say that players get worse as they age, especially power hitters, and especially power hitters in their late 30’s.  This is true for power hitters in aggregate, but is not true for every power hitter and it has not been true for Ortiz.   After a climbing K% in ’09 (21.4%) and ’10 (23.9%), smart money was on Ortiz being in full decline mode heading into ’11, his age 36 season.  Ortiz missed that memo, however, lowering his K% to below 15% the past three seasons, while posting wRC+ of 154, 170, and 154.  Looking more svelte than ever, I see no reason to think Ortiz is slowing down.  Steamer does not see a reason to think Ortiz is declining either, projecting .291/95/30/103/2 for Ortiz in 2014.

Note: With the current set of “old” players, it is important to note that the numbers they put up during their peak years were accumulated in a more offensive run scoring environment, which may mean that their declines are not as steep as they look. 

How important is tying up your utility spot?

To answer simply: not at all.  With positional scarcity being hugely overrated, the point of the utility spot is to get the most possible production out of that roster spot.  Unless you are going Davis, Encarnacion, Freeman in the firs three rounds, you are not going to fill your UT spot with more production than Ortiz.

How will he be valued?

Currently, we cannot tell.  This will depend on ADP and the biases of you and your league-mates.  While you should be hoping that others are afraid of investing in a 39 year old DH, it is unlikely that he slips into under-valued territory because of the previously mentioned reasons.

Ortiz was recently drafted by me at the end of the 4th rd in an early mock draft (#earlymock14) that I am doing with writers from fantasyassembly.com and faketeams.com.  No praise was received for this pick.  While I could have waited to take Ortiz with the third pick in the fifth round, I grabbed him in the 4th because I valued him as the most dependable power source left and also knowing I had other options I liked coming back around the next round.  I preferred him over, seems crazy to say, Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez who both seem to have no legs underneath them.  We all saw how Pujols was moving last year and Gonzalez only managed 69 runs in 156 games in a pretty good Dodgers offense.   I also prefer Ortiz to batting average risks Cespedes and Trumbo. If I had drafted more power earlier (I had Goldschmidt, Ellsbury, and Gomez), I would have taken Hunter Pence, but with Myers, Holliday, J Upton, Bautista, Hosmer, Heyward, and Rios going earlier in the round, I went with Ortiz.

Do I think I got a bargain with Ortiz? Absolutely not.  That said, I do not think I paid a  premium.

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The Roto-Advocacy Effect: A bias towards our own reasoning

You have been there, I know you have.  The situation where, for whatever reason, you are stuck defending something that you are not particularly passionate about, but by the time the argument is over, you feel more strongly about the position than you had before the argument started.  This is the advocacy effect; the tendency for a person’s opinions and values to become stronger and more extreme as he or she advocates for those opinions and values.  Some examples:

  • The supreme court justice that becomes more liberal/conservative on an issue with each opinion she issues on the topic
  • The TV pundits who become more polarizing the more they give their opinions
  • The daughter who keeps her loser boyfriend around because she is constantly defending him to her parents

This happens in fantasy sports too.  Just as a parent can convince himself that his 12 year old should be starting at 3B despite not having the arm strength to throw it across the diamond, I am fully capable of convincing myself that Felix Doubront is worth $7 as a keeper, even though he has never returned that kind of value.

The roto-advocacy effect is thus overvaluing players who you spend the most time promoting or defending.

The roto-advocacy effect is why experts end up drafting players from their “sleepers” article despite the fact that everyone else in the league has read the article.  This is also happening in your fantasy league.  Ever notice that you (and you are not alone) tend to have the same guys year after year, even in redraft leagues, regardless if you had a good or bad year?  More notably, if you participate in multiple leagues, ever notice that you tend to have the same players in different leagues, regardless of format?  What are the odds that you have been the highest on a particular player, every year, and often regardless of format?  The odds should not be good, but apparently they are because we see this happen every year.  So why do fantasy owners fall victim to the advocacy effect?  As soon as a draft or auction ends, we immediately start defending our picks to our league-mates and, more importantly, to ourselves.  Also, as we engage in trade talk throughout the year we start talking up our own players to other owners.  Now I am not saying you should not talk up your players, that is just a good negotiation practice, but you should make sure that you do not start drinking your own Kool-Aid.  Instead, you should be constantly reevaluating your assumptions and valuations while being aware of the advocacy effect and your own biases.  It is impossible to fully filter out your own biases, but being aware of them is the best way to minimize their impact on your decisions.

Lastly, and maybe most helpfully, you should be looking at how the advocacy effect affects your league-mates.  Who are the players they can’t quit? Who are the guys they did not keep, but got back in that year’s auction?  Those are the players you will have to overdraft or overbid on draft day to acquire and they are the players who you will have to overpay for in a trade.  Make sure to plan accordingly, and let others overpay for their biases.

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Back, Reconstructed, and Better than Ever

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Dylan Bundy.  I had my knee reconstructed in late August, hence, the lack of content.  More frequent content will start spewing come Sunday.

Enjoy the October baseball in the meantime.

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Actually Buying Low and the Roto-Disposition Effect

“There is no such thing as buying low” has become popular advice among the fantasy baseball expert community.  Does the classic buy low opportunity, where an underperforming player gets moved for 50 cents on the dollar, really exist?  Not really.  However, there are still opportunities to acquire players below their actual value.  The disposition effect is a phenomenon of behavioral finance that shows the tendency of investors to keep their losers and sell their winners.  In other words, when people invest in a stock that underperforms the following story often plays out: they hold onto the stock as it continues to underperform and then sell the stock as soon as they can make the smallest of gains.

The roto-disposition effect is thus refusing to sell low on an underperforming player and then selling him as soon as you can cash him in for approximate original value.

How can you take advantage of the roto-disposition effect?  When an underperforming player starts to play better, make an offer to that player’s owner, giving the owner a chance to “cash out” with an offer that recognizes the players improved level of play.

Example: In the beginning of June of this year, I was a frustrated Adam Dunn owner in an AL only league.  Not only did I keep Dunn at $11, I was watching him hit .156 through May, while cheaper first basemen like Mitch Moreland, James Loney, and Adam Lind significantly out produced the Big Donkey.  So when Dunn started to turn things around in early June and I got a decent offer to sell Dunn for a younger, cheaper keeper, I was immediately tempted to make a deal.  Hindsight tells us that this would have been a poor choice, especially as my team is in contention, and as Dunn has gone on to hit .281 with 18 HRs.  While I did not make this deal, the owner making this offer was using the disposition effect to his advantage, as he was providing me with an opportunity to cash out.

Another example (where an actual deal was made):  Last year, Ben Zobrist had a rough April and May.  As the owner who fell a buck short of landing him in the auction, I was badgering Zobrist’s owner about acquiring him all year.  While my offers failed to gain traction as Zobrist’s poor play continued, his owner became interested in moving him once he started playing better, once Zobrist could fetch a decent return.  I was happy to provide that return, and I was rewarded with a strong June through October.

Given the highly scientific sample set above, it becomes apparent that buy low opportunities are out there, but they require more nuance than one would expect.  That said, go forth and target players who are rebounding towards their original values as their owners will tend to want to get these disappointments off their hands.

Note: I know it is a little late this year, but this is a great strategy for targeting players if you are “going for it” because it allows you to get more bang for your buck. 

 Sources: Fangraphs.com

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Targeting Eddie Rosario: Underrated and then some

If I am targeting minor leaguers, I am targeting the Twins 21 year old, Double A second baseman Eddie Rosario.  While Rosario is clearly not the most valuable dynasty asset, he is one of the most underrated.  Rosario has received some love from some of the internet’s fantasy experts, but I declare that that love is still not enough.  Rosario has a decent chance of becoming a top 5 dynasty second baseman and, better yet, he is not valued as one.  What we have on our hands is a prospect who is victim of two of the most powerful phenomena that lead to prospects being underrated:

  1. Gap in fantasy and actual value
  2. Productivity in “boring” categories

Gap in fantasy and actual value

Rosario will never be a top 30 prospect in any of the traditional prospect lists because he is a tweener, because his defense will never be enough at second base to accumulate the wins above replacement of a true superstar.   Even as dynasty owners become savvier in differentiating between real and fantasy value, there is still a bias towards higher rated prospects.   I like to use these traditional rankings for dynasty purposes by asking, “How would this guy rank if he had average defense?”  In Rosario’s case, I  am guessing he could be a top 30 prospect.  I will concede that we do need to factor in the risk of him not sticking at second, but his recent promotion to Double A as the everyday second baseman makes me more confidant in him sticking.  Also, as more and more teams employ atypical keystoners (Carpenter, Uggla, Kipnis, Gyorko, Murphy, Rendon) my confidence in Rosario sticking grows.  So assuming Rosario sticks, what makes him a future top 5 fantasy second baseman?

Productivity in “boring” categories

In 2012 Rosario hit .299 with 13 hr, 67 runs, 74 RBI, and 11 SB in 100 games (95 in A ball).  In 2013 Rosario is fantasy slashing .306/9/73/60/9 in 105 games across High A and Double A.   At first glance, there is nothing to get too excited about.  Why?  Because when it comes to homers and steals, our favorite categories to salivate over, Rosario is only good, but not great. I am not here to tell you that his HRs or SBs will improve either.  What I am here to say is that Rosario has a good chance of being a top 5 second baseman because of his ability to perennially hit .290+ and produce a combined 170+ runs and RBI.  Rosario is one of those guys who is always hitting the ball the hard and is consequently rewarded with lots of singles, doubles and triples; thus, he is always scoring runs or driving in runners.  Will you get the satisfaction of watching Rosario hit 30 bombs a year? No.  Will you get an undervalued player who at the end of the year helps you win your league? Most likely.

Not only is Rosario victimized by the above two phenomenon, he has also been consistently overshadowed by stud prospects within the Twins organization.   First it was Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia, and now as Rosario has blossomed, he has been outshined by uber-prospects Byron Buxton and Double A New Britain teammate Miguel Sano.  As a result, Rosario only makes our favorite columnists’ bottom blurbs rather than headlining the articles.  All this adds up to Rosario being pure profit for us arbitrage mongers.  If Rosario is un-owned or his owner underrates him like the rest of the community, you cannot pounce on the opportunity fast enough.

Sources: Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com

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