(*) FANALYTICS: The challenge of projecting playing time
As spring training gets into full swing, one area of major focus for most of us is getting a handle on how roles and playing time are going to shake out. It's a fun and challenging exercise to see how all the pieces are going to fit... veterans, rookies, prospects, non-roster invites... nearly 2,000 players, all trying to find a spot on a 25-man roster on one of 30 teams.
Needless to say, this is important for us fantasy leaguers. We need to know who is going to get the at-bats and innings. That playing time is going to drive our player projections, which is going to drive our dollar values and rankings, which is going to drive our draft day behavior.
Playing time projections are incredibly important.
That is why we're trying to figure out who is going to play 2B in Oakland, what is going to happen if Brian Roberts is not healthy enough to play 2B in Baltimore yet again, who is going to get most of the save opps in Detroit, who is going to get most of the catching at-bats in Boston, who is going to play 1B in Milwaukee, what is going to happen if Ian Stewart's wrist is still bothering him, if Delmon Young takes longer to heal, if Ryan Braun get suspended, and on and on and on. There are dozens of questions.
The funniest part? Many of these are the same questions we had last year!
The problem is, we crave answers that simply don't exist. Not now, for sure. By Opening Day, there will be some answers and possibly more questions. During the season, there will be more answers and even more questions as players streak, slump, surprise, disappoint and get hurt.
Let's face it... there is no such thing as a finite projection for playing time.
Consider these facts... 50% of baseball's top 300 players will spend some time on the disabled list this year, thereby opening up playing time for someone else. 70% of the surprise performances this year will come from players who backed into unexpected playing time.
Think about it: Mike Trout never would have put up his amazing season had Peter Bourjos and Albert Pujols batted over the Mendoza Line last April.
Which is all a long, roundabout way of saying that we need to keep our expectations flexible. Yes, we should follow the news and see who might win jobs. But we should not be building rosters with the assumption that these are fixed, finite events. On the off-chance that Kolton Wong wins the 2B job in St. Louis, we should not treat that as a 500-AB certainty. On the off-chance that Jurickson Profar breaks camp with Texas, we should not assume that he will eventually become a full-timer because we like his upside so much. And if Cory Hart does come back in early May, we should not be mindlessly pencilling in five months of at-bats as if there is no more risk to his health.
Yes, you can speculate on Billy Hamilton and Wil Myers getting an early call. You can speculate on a healthy Carlos Carrasco. Speculate that Stephen Drew's first full-time gig in three years might yield 500 at-bats. Yes, you can speculate. But be ready to adjust. Have contingency plans for every high-risk situation (and there are far more of those than we'd be willing to admit).
When it comes to playing time projections, there is no such thing as writing anything in ink. Everything is in pencil. Everything.