DAVID LUCIANI: VOLUME 7, NUMBER 4
published January 25, 2006
Q. What makes you so sure that Eric Gagne will bounce back next
year? It seems like you factor injury history in your rankings a great
deal yet you have him throwing 47 innings and returning to elite status.
Is this just a hunch or are you confident that Gagne will be healthy and back to
form in 2006?
A. It's interesting how differently everyone views the projection
because when I published the Gagne projection, I thought it was expressing my
lack of certainty about his health and not the other way around. I suppose
I could see that the quality of his pitching projection (that is, how well he
will pitch when healthy) reflects a certain degree of confidence and in that
respect, I do expect him to bounce back. Also, the procedure he actually
underwent last June wasn't as bad as originally feared and all reports were that
he would return to full ability. In fact, a lot of people don't remember
that Gagne actually underwent the more full version of Tommy John surgery
much earlier in his career and this was before he emerged as the top pitcher he would
become for a few years.
In terms of the 47 innings, that's actually quite a low total for a closer
and that's where my accounting for the carried over injury potential
exists. As a closer, Gagne pitched exactly the same number of innings each
year from 2002-2004 (exactly 82.1 innings each and every year) and so my 47
inning projection is for him to pitch only 57% of the innings he did in those
top form years. That reduces his projected value significantly though he's
good enough that even 60% of a full season from him would still be a lot better
than most other closers.
I will be watching him closely if he chooses to
pitch in the World Baseball Classic as he has said he wants to do for team
Canada. If his velocity or control isn't back (and pitchers usually do rebound
velocity-wise after surgery like his), I'll be making some otherwise unexpected
Q. When I saw your "Top 100" list of prospects, I noticed that
Lastings Milledge was nowhere to be found. I could understand if you
didn't have him ranked as high as other prognosticators do, but to leave him off
the list completely... that's a little bothersome. Every report I hear is
that he's a "can't miss" five tool player. Has his stock dropped
in the past year? Could you let me know what the thought process was
A. Milledge came in as the 12th best outfielder of the future in all of
the majors and at #103 overall, which is a projection for a strong player.
Again, I emphasize how little a "top 100" prospect list actually tells
you about the overall future baseball population as landing at the 103rd
position puts him among the top 3% of minor league baseball players. I
project him as a future 20/20 type, good enough to stick in the majors for a
long time but not at the superstar level some are projecting.
By the way, there's rarely such thing as a "can't miss"
prospect. When Ruben Rivera failed to make any of my top prospect lists
way back when, the letters I received (mailed to the post office box for our old
pre-Internet newsletter) used the phrase "can't miss" over and over
and though I could understand the phrase, I don't like it. I think there are the rarest of
exceptions such as Mark Prior who have stuff that is so good that a player is already
ready for the majors immediately but that's about the only time I'll ever refer to a player
this way - if their skills are already at the level they'll need to succeed in
Anyway, Milledge is still a good future player and so that's how close he
made it to being listed.
Q. Thanks for going in depth about Howie Kendrick... I still have to tell
you after reading this sentence: "One thing about (Alfonso) Soriano,
though, is his walk ability is actually much better (about 30% better in fact)
than my future projected walk ability for Kendrick in that per 600 plate
appearances, Soriano has averaged about 27 walks and per 600 plate appearances,
Kendrick projects as a future 21 walk guy in the BNRA." My thought
was the difference between 6 walks may look "much better" to a numbers
guy but it certainly doesn't look that way to a layman.
A. Well, I'll plead guilty to being a "numbers guy" as you
called it. In that respect, six walks is actually meaningful and you would
probably have expected me to say so. If a player gets a full season's
worth of 500 at bats and picks up 124 hits and a second player gets the same
number of at bats and gets 130 hits, you have one player who's hitting .248 and
the other player who's hitting .260, which I would suspect would "look
different (to the) layman" as you described it. They're similar
players but they're different enough that one might be of concern, depending on
other factors. By the way, comparisons of Hendrick to Soriano fail for
other reasons, not the least of which is that Soriano has much better power and
speed than Hendrick's projected prime ability.
Q. Chris Young was recently sent to San Diego from Texas. I don't
have a set of park effects in front of me but I'd guess that the difference is
close to 1.00 in ERA and 0.15 in WHIP. Young's in-San Diego projection
improved by maybe a tenth of that. I'd expect more improvement on park
effects alone. Would you care to share your thinking on this one?
A. Several readers raised this same issue. In fact, readers thought this was the case because we were lucky
enough to be able to account for the Chris Young trade in the set the morning
after he was traded, so the San Diego adjustment took place long before some
think. In our first projection set back in early December, Chris Young had
a forecasted ERA of 5.28 and a WHIP of 1.46, this when we thought he would be
pitching in the unfriendly environment of Texas. In the latest forecasts,
Young has a forecasted ERA of 4.81 and a WHIP of 1.36 so the improvement is much
more than the "tenth" you may have perceived by comparing one post-San
Diego set to another. As for the WHIP, it seems you and I were thinking
similar things as he's got about 0.10 improvement in WHIP.
By the way, if you do get a hold of some 2005 park effects, be careful when
looking at the San Diego ones. The wall at PETCO Park is being moved in
from 411 to 400 in right field. I don't expect it to make that much
difference in terms of home runs but it's just another factor to consider.
Q. Thanks to some help from your (discussion) forums we are starting up an
NL-only keeper league in my area. Do you think it's an issue that all the
players will be in the auction pool the first year, and if so, what might be
some strategies for us to correct the deflated contracts for the following
A. I'm glad to hear readers are taking advantage of the forum and I'll
use this opportunity to remind readers that the discussion forum is free to join
and you can use it to find leagues and get advice on your fantasy rosters, talk
about players and so on - also, I pop in there from time to time to put in my
I don't really see any issue such as you raised as every league starts with
all players in the free agent pool. As for so-called "deflated
contracts" I assume you mean that some owners will get the benefit of
having drafted well and thus will be able to keep players at cheaper than their
value into 2007 and beyond. This is a desirable thing and is very much
part of fantasy baseball. I wouldn't endeavor to correct anything here as
it's part of the strategy of fantasy baseball, one of the best aspects of the
game that you have to account for other teams having drafted well and thus, the
talent being thinner in future years.
One thing I do caution readers is to avoid letting their fantasy leagues
protect players at a $0 value contract for future years, which is becoming an
increasingly apparent reality in emails I get. To me, it not only makes it
unrealistic (in the majors, players at least make a minimum salary) but it
becomes possible to make unbeatable dynasties, so strong that I believe no one
can topple them. I like strong teams but the $0 value keeper takes a lot
of fun out of things so if that's your plan, you may want to re-think it if the
rules aren't already set.
Best of luck with the league!
Q. Unfortunately, the (Danys) Baez trade happened too late to get
into your latest projections. Could you give us an update for the Tampa
Bay pitchers - who gets the saves now?
A. I haven't decided (nor have the Devil Rays) but I expect that Chad
Orvella has to be the guy for now. I wouldn't be surprised, depending on
where they see themselves in the scheme of the American League East, if the
Devil Rays go out and make more moves here. They've already been stocking
their pitching staff with a near record-setting number of semi-veteran relievers
with minor league contracts - in the last set I had to create projections for
twenty-six pitchers - and so it's possible that spring training could become an
open audition for the primary job here.
For what it's worth, I think
Orvella is the best currently-signed reliever they have for 2006. Shinji
Mori is probably #2 right now and I expect Dan Miceli will be fighting those two
to win the closer's job. For now, I give the nod to Orvella.
Q. How can you justify having Miguel Cabrera ranked ahead of A-Rod
for the 2006 season? I appreciate your forecasts but I think that A-Rod is
far superior to Miguel Cabrera, especially in 2006.
A. I don't believe justification is required as it's your ranking sheet
and every order comes out differently. In some leagues, A-Rod could
theoretically come out higher but in any case, I actually was twice asked the
opposite question last year and I believe I responded in public - that is, I was
asked how I could justify having A-Rod ranked ahead of someone - I think it may
have been Cabrera even, which would be an interesting coincidence.
Basically, I make my forecasts and the ranking sheets use my valuation
system. If Cabrera is showing up higher, it means that when the program
weighs the value of his projected performance against the value of A-Rod's
projected performance, given your league parameters, that Cabrera is projected
to be more valuable to your team. In recent essays, I've already explained
why I'm projecting a strong season for Cabrera and so that's why you're getting
what you see.
By the way, I always remind readers that all of their collected information
should supplement and not replace their own opinions and knowledge about
players. If you sincerely believe after examining the evidence that Alex
Rodriguez will be more valuable to your fantasy team than Miguel Cabrera (as I
assume that was your context here), by all means, rank him ahead. I'm not
the one who needs to be convinced of anything. I make my opinion and when
you disagree, it's upon you to replace my opinion with yours if you believe the
facts favor your projections. I've already explained that I believe
Cabrera is going to have a break-out year beyond even his performance to date
and that A-Rod will regress somewhat to more normal performances below the
projection for Cabrera. That's why you see what you do on the ranking
sheets. You really can't go wrong with either player.
Q. Is the purposes of the Rookie Analysis (e-book) not to help the
fantasy manager pick keepers?
A. That's not its primary goal, though I can see that readers use it that
way. Basically, it's designed to project the future prime of a player
which, when weighed along with the more important factor of how long he's likely
to spend in the majors, forecasts what sort of total career he's likely to have in the
context of a prospect rating. It's entirely possible for a future .240
hitter to be ranked higher than a future .270 hitter if the .270 hitter is
projected, by nature of his skills, position or age, to spend only a year or two
in the majors while the .240 hitter spends ten years as a backup catcher.
It's not that I necessarily value the .240's hitter more than the .270's hitter
in terms of his prime ability but I believe, as expressed in the prospect
rating, that in sum, the prospect with the higher rating will have had a longer
and more productive career. There are so many factors that go into this
and even with an electronic book of more than 800 pages, I wish I could explain
so much more and continue to try to do so in these pages when possible.
From a fantasy perspective, you are sometimes better to focus on the
projected prime than you are on the prospect rating because it may tell you what
the player will look like in his best season. Fantasy teams are often only
interested in the best season because they can quickly cast the player aside
when he fades back to obscurity. Pat Listach is an excellent
example. His real best season was to hit .290 with 54 stolen bases in 149
games (in 1992) but he finished with just 444 career hits, 5 home runs, 116
career steals and a .251 average. I'd say that his projected prime was
quite valuable to a fantasy team and yet it didn't last long enough for him to
be worthy of the same ranking as, say, Joey Cora, who hit only .277 and never
stole more than 20 bases in a season but finished with 1,035 hits, 3 home runs
and 117 career steals. In sum, with perfect hindsight and acknowledging
that both players are from different eras, I'd say that Cora had the better
career than Listach by a long way and yet Listach easily had the better prime
I am already working on ways to make the e-book even better in future
editions, particularly with some added information for those people who like to
apply it to their fantasy leagues. I risk taking it over 1,000 pages in
the next edition but given that it's an electronic book and thus we don't have
to kill a whole tree for each copy (making the production costs quite low), I don't imagine readers will be complaining if it has even
more in future editions if they can put up with a bit longer downloading time.
Q. Has the decision by MLB to start testing for and suspending players for
amphetamines been worked into your projections for the coming season in terms of
A. Similar to what I said about steroids a year ago, the problem is
that I don't know who is secretly using banned substances. Certainly, I
have and always do consider a history of personal problems when forecasting
playing time so those people who have been caught or who have voluntarily come
forward to identify a drug addiction problem, for example, might get a reduced
forecast in playing time, but when MLB decides to test for something new that
they hadn't tested before, I suppose I'm just not a good enough forecaster to
tell you who's been hiding a problem all this time. So, the answer is, I
consider history that is already public but in cases where something new is
being tested, I just can't tell you who's using and who isn't and therefore, the
answer, unfortunately, is no. I wish I could claim to be able to account
for this but it simply isn't true.
Q. How do you see Ryan Freel's latest run-in with the law affecting his
fantasy value? Do you see the Reds disciplining him and how will his
off-field issues impact his playing time and more importantly, his steal totals?
A. I had actually written a different response here but just before we
went to press with this issue, the charges against Freel were dropped as part of
an agreement for him to enter a program to help with his personal
problems. As it stands now, I don't see this affecting his playing time
for 2006. The Reds would likely be reluctant to discipline him by benching
him because they know they need and want him in the lineup. In terms of
the steals, I've got 32 steals projected for him in the most recent version of
the forecasts, largely because he's a constant injury risk and is projected to
play just 114 games. If he could stay healthy for 150 games, that would
pro-rate to about 40-45 steals.
Q. Do any of your major league projections take into account the "whole
player" so that they may be suitable for simulation leagues like Diamond
A. By the "whole player" I assume you mean the projections
beyond just commonly used fantasy categories. The answer is an absolute
"yes" in that our mission is to constantly improve the quality and
accuracy of our player projections year after year. We project many
categories and not just fantasy categories and so I assume that applies to
Diamond Mind. The only way they're probably not applicable is that Diamond
Mind players typically use a historical season that's already in the books so if
you're looking at our projections, you would be doing so with an eye toward
picking up players for your subsequent seasons. I was under the impression
that Diamond Mind players don't draft players until after a season is finished
so that's just a friendly reminder of how much or little it might apply to your
By the way, I actually used to play Diamond Mind for a brief period when it
was still called Pursue the Pennant Baseball (I believe this is the same
game). I could be wrong but I believe they are one of the companies that
could be impacted by the forthcoming case MLB regarding the use of names and
stats without a license.
Q. I am in a points league - Please assume that I own Hidalgo and
Patterson. Further, assume that your projections are, on week one, that
for the entire season, Hidalgo will earn 220 points and Patterson will earn 180
points. Now, on week one, I will use Hidalgo because he is projected to
earn more points for the season. Now, assume on week five that your
projections are: Hidalgo 180 and Patterson 170. Should I continue to use
Hidalgo, since he is still projected to earn more points than Patterson or
should I switch to Patterson since he has only used up 10 of the original 180
points and Hidalgo has used up 40 points of the original projection? In
short, should I take into account your original projection when deciding which
player to use later in the season?
A. The Opening Day forecasts or any former forecast set have no real
value to you after a new set has replaced them, except if you're desiring to
measure the eventual accuracy of a former set. The projected number of
points is the projection for the remainder of the season at any given point in
time. So, if you're looking, as you say, at the week five projections into
the season and it says that Hidalgo is projected to be more valuable than
Patterson the rest of the way, then Hidalgo should be your preference.
There is one exception to this, as a reader correctly checked me on a year or
two, and that is when you look at the projections in terms of games
played. Let's say in your example that Hidalgo is projected to have 180
points for the remainder of the season in week five but let's say I've
forecasted him to be a full-timer and play about 100 games the rest of the
way. Suppose you have Patterson projected, as per your example, with 170
points but say I've forecasted him to play only 60 games the rest of the way for
In this case, if Patterson is active in the majors, you might consider
starting him because at least for the upcoming week, on a "per game"
basis, Patterson is more valuable to you because he's producing 170 points in 60
projected games or about 2.83 points per game compared to Hidalgo's 180 points
in 100 games or about 1.8 points per game. There are many factors you have
to consider here. For example, a catcher's reduced number of games may be
representative of a typical week for him and that's when you really need to do
your own homework by looking at your roster objectively.
In terms of the last part of your question, I cannot see any reason you
should be going back to the Opening Day forecasts in week five in terms of
deciding strategy. Be careful never to decide that a player has "used
up" part of a forecast.
In fact, this "used up" phrase comes up at least a few times a
year, particularly when it comes to misinterpretations of the law of
averages. A lot of people think that if a player starts well in April,
say, hitting .400, that it means that they have "used up" their hits
and should be expected to hit worse the rest of the way than they were projected
to do overall for the season. This is incorrect. The law of
averages, to summarize at the risk of oversimplification, simply says that the
larger the sample, the more likely an entity will perform according to its real
ability. Once the player's .400 average is in the books at the end of
April, it does not mean you should expect him to perform below his ability the
rest of the way. Rather, he's going to get the benefit of the boost that
.400 average gives him and we still have to project him to do according to his
real ability the rest of the way. It's the same as in the coin flip
example. When you've flipped four tails in a row, the fifth flip is just
as likely to be heads as it tails if the coin is a fair one. Yes, it would
have been more unlikely to have predicted five straight tail flips before you
started but once those first four tail flips are in the books, that fifth flip
is still a 50/50 proposition. The same applies to the notion of players
"using up" parts of their forecasts. Once they've done a
particular thing, unless it's one of the many times we believe it represents a
real change in ability (and that is not just possible but common), then he's no
more likely to do that same thing after that time than he was before.
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