Fantasy Baseball Round Table: Statistics vs. Observations

by Todd Zola, on May 29, 2013 @ 13:39:34 PDT


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Before we get to this week's discussion, next week the knights are going to be guinea pigs and participate in an exercise where we are all assigned a team in a pretend league and tasked with the challenge of consummating a trade. We'll post the negotiations of the completed trades next week. If you want a head start looking at the teams and standings, they're posted here.

For this week, I posed a rather general question to the knights:

When you're looking at a player in-season, how much do you rely on statistical analysis, how much do you rely on what you see and how much do you rely on the opinions of those you trust that have seen the player?

As an example, I am flummoxed about Patrick Corbin. The numbers scream correction, he's a 4.00 ERA guy but those that see him glow about him.

Do you have any players you're currently struggling with in a similar manner?

Brian Walton

Arizona Diamondbacks SP Patrick Corbin
It's Pat!

In terms of the three data sources cited, I don't have a formula, though as the current season gets longer and there is more actual data, I weigh that element more heavily.

On the general question of what to do, my answer is "it depends." Moving past the obvious cop-out, here is how I look at it. The "struggle" is different depending on whether I already own the player or not.

If a perceived over-achiever like Corbin is on my roster, I will probably be inclined to keep him and ride out the good results. After all, I thought enough of him to draft him in the first place. I would trade him in a multi-player deal, though, if it would help me address a need. In that case, I would talk up his current performance as the real deal.

If the generic Corbin is on someone else's roster and I had doubts, I would not pay full value in trade based on year to date numbers. His current owner would be looking to sell high and that is not how I prefer to acquire players.

Then again, the correction might not occur until next year. I would be very careful in the 2014 draft to not overpay based on potentially inflated 2013 results.

Other names? James Loney, Jeff Locke, Travis Wood and Scott Feldman come to mind.

Lawr Michaels

I actually did a rethink of Corbin a month ago on the Hotpage over at Mastersball, as follows:

I am not sure about Patrick Corbin, who is 4-0, 1.80 over his six starts and 40 innings. The former second round pick of the Angels in 2009, Corbin was part of the Dan Haren deal of 2010. As a minor leaguer, he did strike out 404 over 430 2/3 innings, with a 31-16, 3.78 line. At 6-8, 4.54 over 107 innings and 17 starts last year along with 86 whiffs to 117 hits and 25 walks (1.372 WHIP), none of those numbers really spoke to me. However, Corbin, off to that great start, should be playing in all formats at this point and should he be sitting on your reserve list in a shallow league, pick him up.

As to what I look at -- at-bats, playing time -- percentages the player will continue, past performance as good as possible, but mostly I rely on hunches and instincts. "Do I think Patrick Corbin will continue?" No, I don't think he will finish with a sub-.2.00 ERA, however I do think on this team, he can repeat what Ian Kennedy did a few years for the same team.

But, for the most part, it is about playing time, and especially in deep leagues that is the bottom line. If a team is successful, they will continue to trot the same guys out there. If not, the marginal guys will get the bench or the minors, so that is what I try to anticipate.

Additionally, every player has a good day (Chris B. Young) or week (Raul Ibanez) here and there.

So, I think the main thing is trying to be practical and objective in that respect.

BTW, in response to Todd's question, I pay attention to nothing but what I can see or know. Otherwise, TMI.

Tim Heaney

As Brian stated and Lawr intimated, we're approaching the time when players' performance becomes somewhat validated -- enough, at least, to re-gauge a player's single-season value from his preconceived preseason worth. This goes back to the point of trying to watch or read about every player as much as possible.

Consider at the basest level possible the player's makeup and whether that profile stood a chance to accomplish his current feats. Corbin had the background of someone on the brink of such a breakthrough -- not with any powerful stuff, but in approach, pitch movement, control, etc.

While they're too often used blindly to debunk such cases of perceived overachieving performance (blablabla BABIP), advanced statistics when used properly can reverse a negative opinion. For one reason or another, someone could be producing above his head, or at least his pre-established statistical one.

Maybe said player has changed something drastically in the recent past: deploying a certain pitch more or less frequently; tweaked his stance or delivery; added a little bit of velocity (a potential contributor to Corbin's leap); established an 0-1 count in a higher percentage of matchups (another suspicion as to what's fueling Corbin's great start); and so forth. Such developments prove connections between statistics (more swinging strikes produced) and eyeball observations (uptick in mph or a newly found angle on a pitch) are more tangible than many notice.

A 1.44 ERA Corbin isn't real, but certainly a low-3.00s form hardly could be considered ridiculous. The trip back to that level may be bumpy but may only last a few bad starts, so on the whole, he remains a worthy keep. 

It's about combining hunches with scouting and statistical breakdowns. Connect the dots and determine which attribute(s) holds the most water ... and the least. No one branch of a player analysis should block out the assessment of the others.

Lord Zola's wrap-up....

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About Todd Zola,

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, 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 and, 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. Fantasy Baseball

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