“It is better to be lucky than good.”
This is a quote you’ve heard, and maybe agreed with, many times in your life. Lefty Gomez popularized this train of thought and I’m sure he was a wise person … but not a very good Fantasy baseball owner. Getting “lucky” isn’t a bad thing, as long as you know you’re getting lucky. The second you confuse luck for skill is the moment you take yourself out of serious competition.
Once you turned 18 and could legally buy a lottery ticket in the United States, did you? If you did, did you win? Winning on a single scratch off isn’t all that unlikely, but purchase a ticket consistently and you’re going to lose money. That’s how the system is set up, like it or not. You’re supposed to win enough to keep you encouraged, but the house will win in the long term. Fantasy sports rely on luck, but they also rely on being good about managing your luck. Determining if a player is positioned to regress to their career mean can result in the maximization of Fantasy value.
Here are five players that have been lucky to return their value, but with the help of advanced metrics, look to be like the lottery example: a losing proposition over the long haul.
Jonathan Lucroy (C, MIL): Don’t get me wrong, I like a catcher that hits in the middle of a loaded lineup and has proven the ability to generate considerable power. From the beginning of 2012 to the end 2013, an amazing 33.2 percent of Lucroy’s hits went for extra bases, so the fact that he has been a Fantasy asset two months into this season isn’t a surprise. What worries me is the fact that he is putting the ball in play at a level well above his career level and is being rewarded for the increased contact at an unreasonable rate. His BABIP is more than 40 points above his career average, not to mention 60-plus points ahead of his 2013 number, and his K-rate is 26 percent below his career mark. That strikeout rate is not only a career-low for his MLB career; Lucroy didn’t even make contact like this in AAA. Lucroy’s road slash of .379/.439/.612 is not only light years ahead of his road slash from 2011-2013 (.285/.334/.427), it is comparable to AL MVP frontrunner Nelson Cruz’s season slash of .314/.384/.672. His regression could potentially coincide with a decline in team production, as only three teams have a higher K-rate and BABIP than the BrewCrew, a combination that would result in the number one ranked catcher in Fantasy falling down the ranks in a hurry.
Carlos Gomez (OF, MIL): With a 2014 BABIP of .390, the .259 career hitter has been a Top 10 hitter all season long. He showed signs of breaking out last year, but are we ready to buy him as a strong batting average play? I’m not there yet, as he is striking out in one-quarter of his at-bats and currently holds a BABIP that is 73 points above his career average. The strikeouts make him much more prone to significant cold streaks than your average Top 10 option, and I have my concerns that he can make those hits count to the extent he has this year. His home run to fly ball rate is nearly twice that of his career average, not to mention that through June 1, Gomez’s fly balls were resulting in homers more often than those of Edwin Encarnacion. Finally, his Z-Contact% (percentage of time in which a batter makes contact when swinging at a pitch thrown in the strike zone) is on the decline for a second consecutive season and currently sits at a career-low 82.6 percent. Gomez has the power/speed combination to rank as a Top 25 hitter, but few players in MLB history have proven the ability to produce such lofty numbers with such average contact numbers, stacking the deck against Gomez continuing to excel at his current rate.
David Wright (3B, NYM): The Mets third baseman isn’t having a great season like the aforementioned players, and the advanced metrics would indicate that things are going to continue trending downward. His BABIP is 28 points above his career average, yet his batting average is down five points and his wOBA (weighted On Base Average) is down 51 points. In other words, even with an increase in “luck”, Wright’s declining plate skills (3.35 strikeouts per walk) have resulted in a disappointing start to 2014. What happens when/if his BABIP regresses to the mean? A decline in batting average isn’t unheard of for players who are looking to add more of a power aspect to their game, but the exact opposite is true of Wright, as his Isolated Power is roughly half of what is was a season ago. Over the past three seasons, Wright has proven to be a better pre- than post-All Star Break hitter, and with very little help on this roster, I expect the disappointing 2014 to continue.
Adam Jones (OF, BAL): I love the Orioles and think this offense is going to get going sooner rather than later, but the advanced metrics want you to temper expectations for Jones. He’s always been a free-swinger, but with a K-rate that is nearly ten times his BB-rate, what motivation do pitchers have to challenge him? The continually low OBP curbs his stolen base upside and puts pressure on him to produce elite counting numbers when he does make contact, something that simply isn’t happening in 2014. His ISO is as low as it’s been since 2008, a dangerous trend when you pair it with a career-low line drive rate and the second highest ground ball rate of his career. Jones has proven to be a strikeout prone batter, but if his contact isn’t hard contact, Jones’ Fantasy value isn’t going to bounce back any time soon.
Josh Beckett (SP, LAD): Sure, he no-hit the hapless Phillies and has looked much better this year than in years past, but you won’t find him on any of my teams. Is it possible that he has made some serious adjustments to compensate for his declining velocity? Yes, but not enough for his BABIP to drop 67 points or his Strand Rate (LOB%) to rise 18.8 percent above his career average? I have my doubts about the sustainability of these changes for the often inconsistent 34-year-old, partly because opponents are going to adjust. As a result of his 4.33 ERA from 2010-2013 and his increasing walk rate over that period of time, batters have entered 2014 with a patient approach and are swinging at less than half of his pitches. A quick glance at all of the hitting metrics, from line drive rate to HR/FB ratio, will tell you that the only reason Beckett’s Fantasy value is on the rise is because batters are swinging less, not being less productive when they do swing. His 2.06 ERA over his last nine starts is impressive, but with the White Sox (tonight), Reds, and Diamondbacks next up on his schedule, regression could set in sooner rather than later for the former World Series MVP.
“It’s better to be good at being lucky than just good.”
Now that’s more like it … and that version is straight from the Kyle Soppe book of Fantasy Goodness.
Wade Miley has struck out 341 batters over his last 71 starts, while Yu Darvish has sent 581 back to the dugout via the K in his 71 MLB career starts. Miley, however, has struck out 20 batters and walked just one in his last two outings, a feat that the great Darvish has never accomplished.
Chris Sale gave up at least four hits in each of his final 21 starts of 2013, yet he has given up a total of four hits in his last four outings (25 innings pitched). Over this current stretch of dominance, batters are more than four times as likely to strike out as they are to reach base.
The Boston Red Sox rank as the 24th most powerful offense in the league in terms of total home runs hit, yet they remain the only team to touch up Mark Buehrle for a round-tripper this season (at this point last season, four different teams had already taken him deep multiple times).
Since last September, Jon Lester holds a 1.43 ERA with 29 hits allowed, a remarkable 57:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first start of a given month (44 innings pitched).
The Blue Jays won 17 games last season in which Edwin Encarnacion hit a home run: they’ve won ten such games over the last month.
Through June 1st, Coco Crisp ranked fifth on his Athletics team in runs produced (runs scored plus runs driven in) with 43. Seth Smith was the Padres team leader with 42.
He was obviously injured a bit last season, but Ryan Braun had five games in which he recorded an extra base hit in a multi-hit effort after April 29th last season. The Hebrew Hammer recorded five multi-hit games five times from May 25-June 1, recording an extra base knock in each.