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ASK 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 adjustments.

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 behind that?

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 the majors.

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 years?

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 two cents.

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 season.

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 games played?

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 Mind?

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 league.

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 whatever reason.

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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