BY ROB SHAW
With more than 20 of the Major League Baseball teams turning to Bloomberg Sports as a business solution, fantasy managers can rest assured that their fantasy teams are in good hands.
In a previous article, we focused on ballpark, durability, age, and contract status. Now the focus is on the remaining five Fantasy Factors.
In fantasy baseball, career trends are an important aspect to be considered when evaluating players. In essence, fantasy managers like investors have to know what’s a growing stock and what’s a mature stock. A player on the rise would be a growing stock and two examples are Baltimore Orioles rising stars Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Both players are in their mid-20s and have been improving their statistics consistently over the last few seasons.
On the other hand, Yankees veteran Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are far from their prime and have recently suffered their worst seasons of their legendary careers. It’s perfectly fine to invest in a player on the decline, as long as you are realistic about what they can produce in the upcoming season.
Next, luck is a Fantasy Factor that can help forecast performance. Using an advanced statistic: BABIP, it is possible for baseball fans to find out if a player had luck on their side or if it worked against him over a given period.
BABIP is the batting average for balls in play and takes into account whether a player enjoyed a higher percentage than usual of balls in play falling for hits. For instance, if a player offers a BABIP that is significantly higher than their career norm, it is often a safe bet that in the following period his performance will regress to the previous rate.
On the other hand, if the BABIP is abnormally low, it is safe to assume the player will have better luck ahead and his batting average and other statistics will improve. The statistic can also be used for pitchers when looking at BABIP against the opposition.
Next, team support is an important fantasy factor for hitters and pitchers. For hitters, it is a matter of whether they have players around them in the lineup that they can drive in and players who will drive them in. In other words, team support has a direct impact with RBI and runs. For pitchers, it’s a matter of having run support to earn wins, plus a solid defense behind them to keep runs off the board.
Strength of schedule is the next factor, and this is all about what ballparks and teams an opponent faces. Pitching in the AL East is no easy task for pitchers who have to deal with the Red Sox offense in Fenway Park, the Yankees offense in Yankees Stadium, and additional hitters parks in Toronto and Baltimore. On the other hand, the NL West calls home to several pitcher parks and limited offenses including in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.
Consistency is a fantasy factor, as fantasy managers have to decide whether to gamble on a player who has great potential, but also great volatility. A player like Geovany Soto seems to alternate between good years, while Torii Hunter and Yadier Molina are examples of players who seem to produce consistent numbers every given season.
To see the Fantasy Factors in action visit BloombergSports.com.
By Tommy Rancel //
It was not too long ago when Geovany Soto was considered a future star in Chicago. The Cubs catcher looked like a major offensive weapon at a position largely void of heavy hitters, hitting .285/.364/.504 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his breakout 2008 campaign and earning National League Rookie of the Year honors.
The bar was set high for Soto in 2009. But his season got off to a rough start. As a member of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, word broke of a failed drug test. In addition to the off-field problems, Soto struggled on the field for most of 2009, hitting just .218/.321/.381 in his second full season.
Soto saw steep declines in several categories, including: home runs (23 to 11), RBI (86 to 47) and runs scored (66 to 27). After playing 141 games in ’08, he played just 102 games in ’09, as a strained oblique knocked out a chunk of his summer.
Healthy, and seemingly clear of trouble, Soto has rebounded to 2008 levels and beyond. The 27-year-old is hitting .298/.463/.468 after 32 games in 2010. He has already scored 17 runs after crossing the plate just 27 times last year.
Soto’s strong start is similar to that of Carlos Ruiz; whom we spoke about last week. Like Ruiz, Soto has been the beneficiary of a lucky batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His career BABIP is .310. So far this year that number sits at .353. On the other hand, his .246 BABIP in ’09 suggests there was some bad luck last season.
His high 2010 BABIP is driven by a robust 26.4% line drive rate. As mentioned in the Ruiz post, only four players had an LD% above 24% last year. Soto’s career rate is 20.3%.
There will likely be some regression here, but it shouldn’t be too damaging. ZiPs projects him to hit .275 at season’s end. That’s an expected 23-point drop from his current level, but still above his career average of .268.
In another similarity to Ruiz, Soto is walking more than ever. Soto has always had a good walk rate (12% career), but is now walking nearly 1/4 of the time. For the first time in his career, his walk rate (23.6%) tops his strikeout rate (23.4%). That’s a rare feat seen only among players with the sharpest batting eyes.
The improved walk rate has a direct correlation to improved pitch selection. Career-wise, Soto has swung at 18.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). In 2010, he is chasing just 12.5% of pitches out of the zone – the second-lowest percentage in the majors (min. 90 plate appearances).
If you own Soto, hang on to him. His batting average will likely regress, but the improved plate discipline should allow him to maintain an excellent on-base percentage. He also continues to show good power from behind the dish, another rarity.
If you don’t have Soto and need a catcher, make sure to put his name at the top of your shopping list. The bounty is likely too high right now, but if his average starts to slip, the price may come down. At that point, be prepared to strike quickly.
For more on Geovany Soto, Carlos Ruiz, and potential breakouts, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.