Man vs. Machine: Undervalued and Overvalued Players (THE BAT vs. Nick Mariano)
Each year, FantasyPros tests the accuracy of the leading projection systems. I’m happy to say that for 2018, THE BAT was the most accurate projection system in fantasy baseball*! After putting in so much work over the years in developing THE BAT, this is a very humbling accomplishment. So, naturally, you can’t be at the top without a slew of villainous foes trying to knock you off the pedestal. I have graciously accepted a challenge from one such worthy foe to do battle with in the vile, dastardly Nick Mariano.
Actually, in all seriousness, I hung out with Nick last weekend at Tout Wars, and he’s a great guy. When he floated this idea by me, I thought it was fantastic. Nick, you see, won the corresponding FantasyPros accuracy contest for fantasy baseball analysts. So we thought it would be fun to look at the players that the Most Accurate Man and the Most Accurate Machine disagreed on for the 2019 season. We each chose five players we are high on and explained why we like them, and then defended why we were low on the opposite five. Below, you’ll find my 10 explanations. And if you head over to RotoBaller, you’ll find out why Nick feels differently about each guy. Let us know whose side you’re on in the comments section!
*Excluding aggregate projection systems, which are just averages of other systems
Players THE BAT Likes More Than Nick Mariano
Matt Boyd and Tigers SPs – SP, DET
THE BAT’s Rank: 53rd SP
Nick’s Rank: 73rd SP
I posted a Twitter thread recently that explains THE BAT’s love for Tigers SPs these year, and it all comes down to context.
/THREAD— Derek Carty (@DerekCarty) March 7, 2019
THE BAT loooves #Tigers SPs in 2019. Matt Boyd projects for a career-best ERA and K/9. It’s weird, and I had no idea why. So I dug in.
THE BAT sees two significant contextual shifts for DET SPs:
1) weaker opposing hitters scheduled
2) stronger pitch-framing catchers
The AL Central is very weak this year. Even the normally dominant Indians (while still dominant on the pitching side) have a merely league average offense this year. The Royals and White Sox are atrocious. And better yet, there are a lot more Ks to go around. The Royals used to strikeout the least in baseball; this year they project to strikeout the most.
The Tigers for years have also had bad pitch-framing catchers. This year, projected starter Grayson Greiner will be their first plus framer since guys like Boyd were on the team (and potential backup Bobby Wilson is also good). Contextual shifts like these add up and create value, and THE BAT wants to capitalize on it.
Michael Pineda – SP, MIN
THE BAT’s Rank: 36th SP
Nick’s Rank: 123rd SP
No pitcher was more enigmatic than Pineda before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, so between the injury, the lack of fanfare around his return, and how much owners got bit by him in the past, he’s just plain old going overlooked this year. THE BAT likes AL Central pitchers in general, and Pineda gets an extra bad offense to face over Boyd since the Tigers are also very bad. But mostly, this is a guy who we still thought had a chance to regress closer to his peripherals before the injury, who has looked good this spring, and who historically has had elite strikeout and walk numbers. He has monster upside and is basically free in drafts this year, so he wouldn’t even need to approach that upside to be valuable. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Chris Paddack – SP, SD
THE BAT’s Rank: 18th SP
Nick’s Rank: 111th SP
Chris Paddack has the best rookie pitcher projection I’ve ever seen. Better than Walker Buehler or Shohei Ohtani last year, better than Blake Snell or Jameson Taillon in 2016. It’s insane. He projects as a top 25 pitcher in all of baseball. There are wide error bars around that projection because he has very little experience at the upper levels of the minors, but his stuff is great and he’s absolutely dominated this spring. The constant stream of GIFs on Twitter has led to his price rapidly rising, as has the speculation that he could start on Opening Day. He’ll be on an innings limit this year, so don’t go crazy, but if you’re still getting him at any kind of discount at all, I’d jump on it both for value and upside.
Rougned Odor – 2B, TEX
THE BAT’s Rank: 4th 2B
Nick’s Rank: 11th 2B
THE BAT has long been a fan of Rougned Odor, suffering through his rough 2017 (driven by a terribly unlucky .224 BABIP) and start to 2018. But 2019 is his year. This is a guy who hits the ball in the air, hits the ball very hard, and made big gains with his plate discipline last year (doubling his BB%). He also contributes more speed than people credit him for based on a measly 12 SBs last year. He was also caught 12 times. The stickiest part of SBs is the attempt rate; the success rate is very noisy. Assuming Odor continues to run at the same rate (which, again: stickier), he’ll succeed more often this year and should approach 20 steals.
Caleb Smith – SP, MIA
THE BAT’s Rank: 70th SP
Nick’s Rank: 91st SP
Anyone who used THE BAT last year knows how early it was on these Marlins pitchers and how much it liked them. Well, season-long fantasy players still haven’t caught on, because guys like Smith, Trevor Richards, and Pablo Lopez are going at the end of drafts, if at all. These are all guys with quality stuff and the added benefit of pitching in the #1 pitchers’ park in baseball. Not only that, but they are in a division with the #2 pitchers’ park (Citi Field) just a single true hitters’ park (Nationals Park). They all project for a sub-4.00 ERA, and Smith trumps the rest by projecting for over a strikeout per inning. Sure, the Marlins will provide abysmal offensive support, but these guys will be great in the other categories. As a late-round SP choice, Smith is way too cheap for what he brings to the table. The only issue is that the Marlins have more arms than rotation spots, so volume will be important.
Players Nick Mariano Likes More Than THE BAT
German Marquez – SP, COL
THE BAT’s Rank: 58th SP
Nick’s Rank: 21st SP
Coors is the hardest place in baseball to pitch. By a lot. Putting up a sub-4.00 ERA in Coors is rare. Doing it twice in a row is even rarer, almost unheard of. It takes a special kind of pitcher, and often it also takes some luck to even do it once. Marquez is special, no doubt, but he’s the 25th pitcher off the board in drafts this year, and he’s Nick’s SP21. Because of how Coors works, in order to be Fantasy SP21, you have to believe Marquez is actually Real-Life SP6 or SP7. You have to believe he’s better than Corey Kluber. Up until July of last year, most people hadn’t heard of German Marquez, and if they did, they equated him more with the likes of Nathan Eovaldi or Nick Pivetta. Are we really going to believe that because of a great three months, this guy is now has risen to become one of the absolute best pitchers in all of baseball? That’s crazy talk. If Marquez pitched in Cleveland, would you be taking him as one of the first 5 or so pitchers in drafts? If not, you shouldn’t be taking him 25th now.
200+ strikeouts are great (and likely), but if that comes with an ERA near 4.00, you just wasted a valuable early pick. I love Marquez’s talent, but THE BAT thinks people are putting too much emphasis on his elite second-half and not enough on his merely good 2016, 2017, 2018 first half, or on Coors. Recency bias kills championship dreams.
Ramon Laureano – OF, OAK
THE BAT’s Rank: 77th OF
Nick’s Rank: 56th OF
Fantasy players love a good breakout story, especially for a rookie, but very little about Laureano’s breakout looks real to THE BAT. It’s dangerous to buy into a single year to begin with, but it’s more dangerous when that year comes with a very lucky 25% LD% and .388 BABIP. The power numbers were good, but Laureano never showed much in the minors prior to 2018 (even at the lower levels). We can buy him for a little pop and good speed, and the possibility of hitting leadoff boosts his value, but his 2018 numbers are coming down, probably by a lot.
Cole Hamels and Cubs SPs – SP, CHC
THE BAT’s Rank: 105th SP
Nick’s Rank: 42nd SP
THE BAT is down on the Cubs in general this year, seeing them missing the playoffs and even barely missing out on being a .500 team. While they have holes, regression, and aging issue, the division around them continues to get better. The Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds all made big additions this winter and all now have better offenses than the Cubs themselves do. I like Hendricks more than Hamels, but this is still a potentially tough year to be a Cub.
People want to believe in Cole Hamels as a good or even great pitcher because of the ace he used to be, but he’s not that guy anymore and hasn’t been for a while. People want to buy what he did after getting traded to the Cubs in 12 starts (which was good but still not great), but you can’t throw out the previous 50 terrible starts with Texas. Yes, he dealt with harder context, but even when you adjust for it, his numbers were still bad over a much larger sample than his Cubs data. Oh, and he’s 35 years old now and still pitches in a strong hitters’ park. It’s a pass from me and THE BAT.
Carlos Santana – 1B, CLE
THE BAT’s Rank: 19th 1B
Nick’s Rank: 13th 1B
THE BAT generally loves older, boring players. People want the shiny new toys and underrate and underdraft the boring guys as a result. THE BAT thinks Santana’s ADP is almost exactly correct, though, so I imagine this is more about Nick being high on Santana than THE BAT being low, although you can make the case THE BAT is low merely because it’s not high on him the way it is other boring players. His numbers—almost across the board—have declined three years in a row. His turtle-like speed leads to low perpetually low BABIPs and batting averages. And his power is basically just there. It’s not good, it’s not bad, and it certainly doesn’t stand out among a loaded power position like first base. His diminishing real-life value is buoyed by walks, which don’t do fantasy players much good. Boring is good, but Santana might actually be too boring. Or not boring enough? Either way, I’m not super interested.
Jonathan Villar – 2B, BAL
THE BAT’s Rank: 15th 2B
Nick’s Rank: 8th 2B
This seems to be about differences in valuing speed more than anything else. In my own drafts this year, I’ve noticed speed players going higher than I had them projected for. Stolen bases are valuable, but they’re only one category, and overpaying for them—especially early in a draft—can really set you back in the other nine categories. I’m all for a guy like Starling Marte that can give you other things early, but Jonathan Villar is a straight-up weak hitter. He’ll give you a bad batting average and, even if he leads off, probably won’t give you many runs. He doesn’t get on base much, after all, and plays for one of the worst offenses in baseball to drive him in when he does. There’s also always risk with bad hitters like Villar that they could get moved to the bottom of the order or benched entirely. I’d rather get those same steals from Dee Gordon or Mallex Smith or even Billy Hamilton several rounds later.