Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Jose Bautista soapbox, more

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on May 23, 2011 @ 11:16:55 PDT


I am going to open today's mailbag with a little soapbox rant. I am as much of a numbers guy as anyone in the industry. I believe baseball history is a database as much as a statistical archive. I think the past is the best indicator of what might happen in the future. But I understand that we are dealing with probable events, not definitive outcomes. Something I like to say is nothing has ever happened until it happens the first time.

That brings me to Jose Bautista. Back in March, it was universally agreed he would regress from last year's historical season. There was definitely some debate as to the degree, but no one came out and said "He will hit another 50 bombs." Most people set the over/under for homers around 35. Early in the season, the party line was the over was looking good, but there was no way Bautista can keep this up.

Well, guess what? Not only is Bautista keeping it up, he is conjuring up comparisons to Barry Bonds, in more ways than one. There is no way a change in approach can lead to this level of production. There is no way a tweak to his swing mechanics, allowing Bautista to use a longer, heavier bat can result in more homers. No, the only plausible explanation is Bautista must be juicing. He must be using one of those designer PEDs not yet detectable in the laboratory.

Player name
Brown: strictly speaking, more upside

For those that believe this, do you really think Bautista is the only player in the league with access to this PED? If it exists, why aren't others using it and enjoying the same result? All we hear about is this is the year of the pitcher, in large part as a result of flushing PEDs out of the clubhouses. Yet, Bautista is the only one using. Really? REALLY?

It already bothers me every time someone throws a no-hitter; my first thought is "He was lucky." Some may say I am being myopic because I refuse to question if Bautista's performance is real. I say they are more myopic for insisting it is not.

Thanks, I feel better. Now let's get on with your regularly scheduled mailbag. If you have a question, please e-mail it to me at lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.

Speaking of Twitter, that is where we get our first question.

Who has better upside, Eric Hosmer or Domonic Brown?

While this may seem like a cop-out answer, I believe Hosmer and Brown have extremely comparable upsides. Perhaps the best way to express it is in terms of fantasy value; because he will run a little more, Brown's upside may be a smidge higher. However, because Hosmer's contact rate and plate discipline are better, he has the better chance of realizing his potential, or at minimum, should be more consistent than Brown. Hosmer will be steady, Brown's value will fluctuate a bit as his batting average fluctuates. Let's take a look at each exciting prospect.

Hosmer forced the hands of the Kansas City Royals, earning a promotion as Kila Ka'aihue struggled mightily in April. Picked third overall in 2008, Hosmer's career was delayed due to a question surrounding the timing of his contract signing. He has more than made up for lost time with a rapid rise through the Royals' system, exhibiting a very good eye and developing power. Truth be told, Mike Moustakas was the Kansas City prospect expected to be called up first, but a scorching start to the 2011 campaign led to Hosmer's promotion. Through his inaugural 15 games, Hosmer is holding his own but is struggling a bit lately. He has three homers, but has also fanned 15 times in 59 at bats. Long term, Hosmer can be expected to threaten .300 with 20-25 homers while chipping in with double digit steals. He may have seasons where he surpasses 30 homers, but he is not going to be a proverbial slugger - maybe a slightly better Kevin Youkilis with more speed.

Brown has more raw power and speed than Hosmer, but his contact rate and plate disciple wane. In the minors, Brown's athleticism has compensated for his high strikeout rate. But in limited major league time, he has fanned at an even more accelerated rate. This will no doubt abate; to what level, however, is up in the air. High strikeouts lead to a tempered batting average and reduced production. Brown's power and speed will keep him fantasy useful. If he can get the whiffs under control, he has the chance to be a four or even five category contributor.

Given my druthers, I will take the steadier profile of Hosmer over the riskier potential of Brown. However, if the question is strictly upside, with no regard to the likelihood of realizing said upside, the choice is Brown.

Hey Todd, I keep hearing people say so-and-so is lucky or unlucky because of their BABIP. Can you explain to me what they mean? Confused in Ohio

No problem Confused, assuming that is your real name. Here is the Fantasy 101 BABIP lesson.

BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play. It is an offshoot of what is commonly referred to as DIPS theory, which is defense independent pitching statistics. This is a concept elucidated several years ago by Voros McCracken. The crux of the theory is a pitcher has limited control over the fate of a batted ball in play. Regardless of the pitcher, the BABIP each sports usually falls between .290 and .310. Better data tracking has led to some notable exceptions, but for the sake of this discussion, if we consider the BABIP to be that range, we are pretty much covered.

Batted balls come in three general forms: ground balls, fly balls and line drives. Approximately 75 percent of all liners are hits, 25 percent of all grounders are hits and 15 percent of all non-home run fly balls are hits.

With respect to pitchers, if they are sporting a BABIP significant higher than the above range, they are considered to be unlucky. That is, they are giving up more hits than normal. Sometimes this is due to allowing more line drives, which may actually be bad pitching and not just bad luck. Others, the number of allowed line drives is normal, but a higher percentage of grounders have snuck through the infield and/or a greater number of fly balls have landed safely. This is simply misfortune. Going forward, the hurler can be expected to incur normal luck with respect to BABIP and their hit rates will normalize. Bad luck should not be expected to turn into good luck, but a return to what was originally anticipated going forward is reasonable. The opposite can be said for pitchers with a lower than average BABIP. The line drive percent can be low, leading to fewer hits, or more grounders can be converted to outs and/or more fly balls find leather. Going forward, these fortunate pitchers should see a correction and more normal hit rates. There are some definite differences of opinion with respect to whether a high or low line drive rate is luck or skill, but for the scope of this discussion, it is fine to assume a pitcher's low BABIP will rise and a high BABIP will fall.

Hitters are different in that they develop their own baseline and do not cluster around a global baseline like pitchers. I will not go into this in great detail other than to say some hitters get hits at a rate higher or lower than the above percentages. Some run faster or slower, some hit the ball with more or less authority. The analysis is similar to pitchers in that some hitters have a BABIP above or below their career norm. Those below are snake bitten and can be expected to see an improvement in average. Those above have been fortunate and will see their averages drop.

As suggested, there is a pretty large gray area that is still under investigation with respect to BABIP research. But in general, if used properly, the concept can be used to identify players that should see some statistical correction to their numbers.

When Todd is not justifying the performance of Jose Bautista, you can find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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