Newsflash! It’s getting harder to win in Fantasy Baseball. Back in the early days of my Fantasy Baseball obsession (Think Jeff Conine and Jose Rijo) you could win on information alone. I remember in 2001 when a youngster named Albert Pujols came up and surprisingly grabbed the third base job in St. Louis. Nobody knew who he was. Obviously he was a flash in the pan and hasn’t done much since then.
As the internet gained steam and everyone had access to the same information we had to turn to advanced stats and improved research to keep ahead of the competition. Proper research is still important, but honestly there are plenty of Fantasy Baseball analysts nowadays who do all the leg work for you. While all this information makes it easier for newcomers to compete, it’s also brought about a great deal of parity in Fantasy Baseball. It’s getting harder to stand out from the crowd.
So where is a Fantasy Baseball enthusiast to turn if they want to gain an advantage? It’s all about finding value in the hidden nooks and crannies of the MLB player universe. We all have access to every stat imaginable so we have to find the weak spots in perception, ensuring that the bulk of our draft picks return significantly more value than we invest.
As we get geared up for the coming Fantasy Baseball season, I’ll be spending the next few weeks looking for that hidden value that will help put your team over the top in 2018. This week we start out with our old friend BABIP.
BABIP: Overrated or Misunderstood?
Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was the shiny new toy just a few years ago. Eager Fantasy writers just took raw BABIP numbers and made huge assumptions which frequently resulted in terrible results. Over the last few years there’s been a much better understanding. In fact many Fantasy players have turned away from it entirely because of its limitations. I’m here to say that, despite those limitations and misuse, we can still use BABIP to find some hidden value.
A lot of BABIP’s value lies in perception. We see a .220 and worry that it’s going to sink our team. Do we see a .260 average the same way? Nope, sometimes the difference is not as much as we think.
Let’s also not forget that with each hit lost to the whims of BABIP, we also lose runs, RBIs, and stolen base opportunities. It’s not just about the batting average category.
The key to using BABIP correctly is to look at the numbers behind it. A BABIP might be luck based, but we also need to look at each player’s batted ball profile. There may be reasons behind a lower or higher BABIP that mean a rebound may not come.
BABIP Differential for 2018
Below are the BABIP Differential numbers for use this season. All I did was take the BABIP of each batter with over 300 at-bats in 2017 and subtract their composite BABIP from the previous three years. The larger the negative number, the more they theoretically underperformed in 2017. I stopped at a differential of -.040. Why? The closer we get to zero, the less it means, and -.040 seemed to be the point where the waters got more muddled. Further down I’ll focus on a few players I’m confident will provide serious Fantasy Baseball Value for the 2018 MLB season.
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Four BABIP Bounce-Backs for 2018
Below are four players from the list above that I’ll be targeting in my 2018 Fantasy Baseball drafts. They’re not perfect players, but I believe each offers the chance to greatly outproduce the investment it will take to roster them.
Rangers’ Rougned Odor
Few players fell out of Fantasy favor faster than Odor. That’s what a .204 average in 600-plus at-bats will do. To be fair Odor will never be confused with Rod Carew and he did post a career-worst 24.9 strikeout percentage. Those strikeouts however, don’t explain the anemic .224 BABIP after averaging .292 over the previous three years. Odor’s batter ball profile doesn’t paint the picture a .204 hitter either. He is hitting more fly balls than in his first two seasons, but his 42.2 FB% is the same number he put up in 2016 when his BABIP was .297. Odor also pulled the ball a whopping 50.3 percent in 2017, but that came along with career best 36.7 Hard Hit Percentage. Odor is not going to suddenly morph into a .320 hitter, but he’s very likely to bounce back into the .250 neighborhood, and that’s not so bad when it’s accompanied by the 30-plus home runs he’s hit in each of the last two years.
Somebody DMed me asking for confirmation that Rougned Odor is a better hitter than Jurickson Profar. If by “better” you mean a 65 OPS+ vs 35 OPS+, then I guess so, but it’s sort of like saying drinking bleach is a better way to die than gunshot wound.
— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) January 9, 2018
Indians’ Jason Kipnis
Kipnis’s .256 BABIP in 2017 doesn’t appear that low on the surface, but we’re talking about a player who averaged a .324 BABIP from 2014 through 2016. Unlike Odor, we can look at Kipnis’ batted ball numbers and see some the reasons for the decline. He had career lows in line drive percentage (19.6%) and ground ball percentage (36.3%). While the case is not as clear for a BABIP rebound, sometimes you have to look at the context of a season. In 2017 Kipnis got a late start to the season because a shoulder injury. He didn’t get his first at-bat until April 21, so his Spring Training might have well lasted until the end of May. Later in the season he had multiple DL stints with hamstring issues.. Add on top of this his trials in center field and it’s easy to see how Kipnis never really got into any kind of groove. The good news is that Kipnis will come cheap and has a track record of success. We’ll have to monitor his health and how the Indians plan to use him, but a late round investment could net you one of the few middle infielders with 20/20 potential.
Francona said that Jason Kipnis, in all likelihood, will be at second. Said Kipnis: “I’m still waiting for the green light to say that it’s second base.”
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) January 20, 2018
Diamondbacks’ A.J. Pollock
Is it wrong to hope for a quiet spring from Pollock? Not if you’re looking for a bargain five category boost. You look at the back of the baseball card (do people still do that?) and you see batting averages of .244 and .266 over the last two seasons. Let’s realize, though, that those numbers only cover 124 games. Less than a season’s worth of at-bats does not erase from my memory what a beast Pollock was in 2015, and his batted ball profile says he’s still that player. Pollock had at or near career bests with a 23.3 LD% and a 35.0 Hard%. His strikeout and walk percentages were right in with his career numbers and his speed looked as good as ever, succeeding in 20 of 26 stolen base attempts. Pollock is just a case of injuries and a little bad BABIP luck, combining to take a bit of the luster off of a player many were drafting in the first round just a couple seasons ago. I know I’ll be taking advantage of that in my 2018 Fantasy Baseball Drafts.
Phillies’ Maikel Franco
Man, do a lot of people hate Maikel Franco. I get it. Many of us saw him as one of the up and coming Fantasy stars at the hot corner. We had visions of 30-HR, 100 RBI seasons and a solid batting average to boot. The ensuing mediocrity we got was a big letdown. The thing is, we’re still talking about a 25-year-old hitter with obvious power, in a quickly improving lineup. Are we really that far from a .260 hitter with 30 HRs and 90-plus RBIs? Labeling Franco a bounce-back may be the wrong term. I’m looking for more of a mini-breakout from Franco. Third base is a pretty deep position, but if you wait too long, I think Franco represents a chance for real value. He’s currently ranked at 32 on FantasyPros’ consensus rankings for third base. Is it really hard to see him putting up numbers similar to Matt Carpenter, Evan Longoria, or even Travis Shaw? A late round investment could pay off nicely and allow you to focus on more shallow positions.