HEAD-TO-HEAD: The idea of usable weeks

Introduction

Fantasy baseball in its traditional rotisserie form is a season-long game. That’s trained us to study player’s season-long stats in assessing their contributions to our team. Even as different scoring formats have emerged—those that utilize weekly scoring as opposed to season-long, for instance—our thought process for player valuation hasn’t changed. This article seeks to start the process of giving managers in head-to-head leagues a different way to think about player valuation.  

Method

Given that framework, I sought to measure how many “usable weeks” players recorded in 2019 in each of the traditional five hitting categories. To set the baseline for a usable week, I used data from head-to-head category leagues that I compete in as well as publicly available league data. Based on those numbers, each player on a 13-man roster would have to contribute roughly 4.3 runs, 1.7 home runs, 4.15 RBI, and .50 stolen bases to be a top-four team on a weekly basis. Thus, the threshold for a usable week was set at the following: two home runs, four RBI, four runs scored, one stolen base, and a .280 batting average. (Note: The first matchup of the season and the matchup that included the All-Star break were extended a week, and required at least three home runs, five RBI, and five runs scored to qualify as usable. There were 20 total weeks, excluding traditional periods for playoff matchups).

After logging how many usable weeks from the Top 18 catchers, Top 24 of every other infield position, and 60 outfielders for a total of 131 players (counting multi-position eligible players only once), I tried to preliminarily determine which Baseball HQ metrics best explain a player’s consistent (or lack thereof) performance in each category.

Findings

As could be expected, categories that an individual player has more control over had statistics more directly tied to their tally of usable weeks. For example, the highest-linked skills to home run production on a weekly basis were PX (.581 r2), HR/F (.567), and xPX (.491), and are no surprise given what those metrics measure as well as the research published yearly in the Baseball Forecaster. The highest number of usable weeks from the players studied was 13, which was achieved by Jorge Soler (OF, KC), Pete Alonso (1B, NYM), and Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, LAD). In total, only 32 of the players studied achieved 10 usable weeks, though 48 achieved seven or more usable weeks. Some late-round sources of potential power production emerged based on current HQ projections, and include: Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR), Luke Voit (1B, NYY), Kyle Lewis (OF, SEA), Brian Goodwin (OF, LAA), Jake Fraley (OF, SEA), and Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR).

Results for the correlation between stolen bases and expected leading indicators is even stronger. SBO (.848 r2), RSPD (.775), and SPD (.50) all correlated strongly with productive stolen base performances. Similarly, players posting the highest number of usable weeks in the stolen base category were unsurprising and included: Starling Marte (OF, ARI), Elvis Andrus (SS, TEX), Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL), Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, MIA), Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE), and Mallex Smith (OF, SEA). In total, the highest number of usable weeks was 17, achieved only by Andrus. The remaining five players listed above recorded at least 15 usable weeks in the category. Altogether, only 18 players managed to post 10 or more weeks of usable production, though that number grew to 42 when the threshold dropped to seven usable weeks. Though speed is difficult to acquire cheaply in drafts, the following are potential sleepers based on their projected SPD and RSPD scores: Brett Phillips (KC, OF), Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TAM), Jorge Mateo (SS, OAK), Richie Martin (SS, BAL), Leury Garcia (OF, CHW), Victor Reyes (OF, DET), JaCoby Jones (OF, DET), and Cesar Hernandez (2B, CLE).

Average is the final remaining category entirely dictated by individual skill. Unsurprisingly, players who posted a high contact rate (.455 r2), Eye (.264), and HctX (.254) were among the most useful at the position. Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) posted usable weeks in all 20 matchup periods, with Michael Brantley (OF, HOU) logging 14 and coming in as the second-best contributor. All told, 43 players posted at least 10 usable weeks in the category. Some candidates available later in the draft that may contribute to this category consistently in the 2020 season based on their projected skills include: Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA), Luis Arraez (INF, MIN), Nicky Lopez (SS, KC), David Fletcher( INF/OF LAA), Willie Calhoun (OF, TEX), and Alex Verdugo (OF, BOS).

The correlation between skills and production became less clear in terms of both RBI and runs scored, as a player’s skill was diluted more by context. Of the skills, Eye (.404 r2 for runs, .394 for RBI), HctX (.272, .374), and PX (.314, .397) all correlated most strongly with consistent performance, but fell short of the correlation presented by other categories. Mookie Betts (OF, LAD) and Rafael Devers (3B, BOS) were the only two players to achieve 16 usable runs scored weeks. Three additional players logged 15 usable weeks, while five provided 14. All told, 98 of the players studied provided at least seven usable weeks in the runs category. The results for RBI were similar, with Anthony Rendon (3B, LAA) being the only player to log 16 usable weeks in the category. Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL), Xander Bogaerts (SS, BOS), and Devers all recorded 15 usable weeks, with 76 of the studied players providing at least seven usable weeks.  

In an effort to determine whether skills could overtake poor context for runs and RBI production, I studied the bottom five offenses from the 2019 season in terms of both wRC+ and runs scored per game. The teams included the Royals, Marlins, Reds, Tigers, and Giants. While both the Tigers and Giants lacked nearly any player with above-average skills that correlated most strongly with usable week performance, the remaining teams had players that flashed above-average skills in multiple of the relevant skills. They included: Brian Anderson (OF, MIA) (115 HctX, 0.39 Eye, 117 PX), Hunter Dozier (1B/3B/OF, KC) (112 HctX, 0.37 Eye, 132 PX), Soler (113 HctX, 0.41 Eye, 168 PX), Eugenio Suarez (3B, CIN) (108 HctX, 0.37 Eye, 166 PX), and Yasiel Puig (OF, FA) (102 HctX, 0.33 Eye, 103 PX). Despite their poor offensive context, each managed at least seven usable weeks in runs scored and minimum of eight usable weeks for RBI.

Similarly, I also looked at players with solid skills, but who were relegated to the bottom of their team’s lineups. As could be expected, this combination returned a relative few number of players. Among them, however, was Nick Ahmed (SS, ARI), who batted seventh for 567 of his plate appearances in 2019, but showcased solid skills (104 HctX, 0.46 Eye, 95 PX). He recorded nine usable weeks in runs scored, and six in RBI. Meanwhile, despite suffering through what many considered a disappointing season, Jurickson Profar (2B, SD) spent 224 plate appearances batting seventh and an additional 158 batting eighth all while posting a 109 HctX, 0.64 Eye, 93 PX. He managed five usable weeks in runs, seven in RBI.

Conclusion

While these results only offer a glimpse of the player pool, they suggest that we should be searching for skills over role or team context (where have we heard that before?) when looking for players who consistently produce in head-to-head leagues. Team and lineup context matter even less when searching for players who will consistently produce home runs, stolen bases, and batting average based on their leading indicators.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.