What’s The Value of HRs When Fewer Are Hitting Them?

By Eriq Gardner //

When most competitors figure out who to draft in fantasy baseball leagues this year, they typically attempt to judge a player’s prospective stats. Will player X hit 35 HR this year or merely 25? How will player Y adapt to his new playing environment now that he is moving from a ballpark that favors pitchers to one that favors hitters?
But those questions aren’t the only ones that determine a player’s prospective value. A player can produce a carbon copy of last season and still hold remarkably different value from one year to the next. That’s because the value of accumulated stats is ever-shifting.
Let’s give an example by considering the shifting fantasy value of “Mr. Consistency” Adam Dunn. One will hardly find a better player in baseball like Dunn who reproduces his stat line from one year to the next. Check out his HR totals over the last six seasons: 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38.
In 2010, Dunn hit 38 HR, tabbed 103 RBI, scored 85 runs, didn’t steal any bases, and had a .260 average.
It was a nearly identical season compared to his 2009, when he hit 38 HR, tabbed 105 RBI, scored 81 runs, didn’t steal any bases, and had a .267 average. 
And yet, according to Baseball Monster, which tabulates the comparative fantasy value of players in baseball, Dunn went from being the 115th most valuable player in 2009 to the 57th most valuable player in 2010 in a standard 12-team 5×5 league. Quite a difference!
To understand why Dunn made a huge leap in fantasy value, without really doing much different, it takes an appreciation of larger macro-trends around baseball.
Last season, there was 4,613 HR hit throughout MLB. That represented a 8.5% drop in HR production from the 2009 season when players hit 5,042 HR. In fact, HR activity was at its lowest point since 1993. Maybe it’s a tougher performance-enhancing drug testing regime, or maybe MLB switched the type of balls they use, or maybe there’s a whole series of other, more subtle reasons. Whatever the reason, homers became a much rarer commodity.
This influences fantasy baseball.
For example, in 2008, the blog Rotoauthority.com did a study of the stats needed to be ahead in each category. According to Tim Dierkes, he concluded that 313 HR were needed to finish 2nd or 3rd in the HR category. If Dierkes did another study based on last year’s results, we’d bet good money that the threshold would be much lower. In one league we competed in last year, in a similar format to the one Dierkes studied, the team that finished first in HR slugged just 258 of them; the team that finished second in slugged only 218.
A season where it takes 300 HR to win is a lot different than a season where it takes 200 HR to win. In the former, Adam Dunn’s 40 HR bring his owner 13% to the needed total. In the latter, Adam Dunn’s 40 HR bring his owner 20% to the needed total.
If you can bank 40 HR from a slugger, that certainly takes on added value, especially considering that each HR also produces at least one RBI, a run, and a hit. 
But keep in mind that the threshold for players being merely average in the power category has also changed. Five seasons ago, players with at least 500 plate appearances averaged 20 HR. Sixty-eight percent of them fell somewhere between 8 and 32 HR. Last season, players with at least 500 plate appearances averaged 18 HR. Sixty-eight percent of them fell between between 8 and 29 HR. The difference between the haves and have-nots has shrunk. Hitting 22 HR now is akin to hitting 25 HR a few years ago.
Let’s assume these macro-trends in baseball continue, and consider the significance. 
For players who far out-slug the competition, these individuals have great value in fantasy leagues. But be careful about penalizing players whose production appears to have slipped a bit. Relatively speaking, they might be just as good as ever.

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