Before we move on to the next player, something overlooked with Trout is a marked improvement in contact rate and plate patience. That is, his skills have improved as compared to 2012; he's fanning less and walking more. This very well could be a once-in-a-lifetime talent before our eyes.
The second player to be addressed is Jay Bruce. This is strictly for personal, perhaps even selfish, reasons. Back in May, I contributed to rest-of-season rankings for ESPN. I have been working on an algorithm that factors in when certain skills become reliable and incorporated that into my valuation process. Studies suggest contact rate stabilizes rather quickly. That is, if a player begins the season striking out more (or less) than normal, this pattern is likely to maintain for the season. At the time of the rankings, Bruce was fanning at a 31 percent clip, well above his career norm near 24 percent. My projection model set his rest-of-season strikeout rate around 27 percent, a bit higher than normal. That's the first part of the process.
Even though Bruce began the season fanning at a relatively exorbitant rate, he was carrying a BABIP of .366, so his average looked normal, actually better than normal in the .275 range. His early line drive rate was over 30 percent, significantly greater than his career mark of 20 percent. The same research that shows contact rate stabilizes quickly shows it takes the whole season for line drives to stabilize, so the second part of the process was regressing his rest-of-season BABIP to .305, just a little better than his career .297 mark. That is, some recognition was given to what Bruce did in the early going, but probability dictates a return to career performance.
Bruce sets lofty standards?
The final part of the process dealt with power. At the time of the rankings, Bruce had left the yard only three times. Home run rates stabilize somewhere between contact rate and line drive rate, so the expectation was for a small drop in HR rate.
So what happened? Bruce is hitting .267 with 30 HR and 100 RBI, so my rest-of-season mid-May ranking of 218 for ESPN looks pretty silly. Those trolling me on Twitter can claim a win. Or can they?
Let's break down each of the three process elements described above.
Since I crunched the numbers in May, Bruce's strikeout rate has been a little over 26 percent, so while it is still above his career norm, it is a bit better than my engine predicted.
Bruce's BABIP since that time is .320, so it indeed regressed, but not to the extent expected.
For the previous two seasons, Bruce hit a homer every 19.6 plate appearances. Since mid-May it has been once every 18, so the process was incorrect; Bruce's exceeded recent history.
There's still a week left and these percentages may change a little, but the global picture is still the same. As a whole, the process wasn't horrible. Remember, we're dealing with probabilities, not absolutes. With two of the three factors, the process pointed us in the right direction. Bruce continued to whiff at a rate above his career level and his BABIP regressed toward his career mark. The power has improved, but if Bruce doesn't hit another home this season and gets 40 more plate appearances, his PA/HR is exactly equal to his career number. Of course, Bruce is also capable of hitting five more homers by season's end.
In this case, the process under investigation is in-season projections. If someone just looks at Bruce's final 2013 line, they may chide me and insist I overhaul the process. Or just troll me on Twitter.
I'm not so sure an overhaul is required. Could it be tweaked? Sure.
But as Meatloaf tells us, two out of three ain't bad.
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.
Don't miss these great reports....