Fantasy Comparables: Ceilings, Floors, and Most Likely Situations

I’m entering my fourth season of fantasy baseball this year and in my quest for my first championship I stepped up my preseason work to include making my own projections for players and creating my own dollar value system for my league’s custom scoring (6×6, standard with OPS and K/9 added). When making projections for players this year, I looked at their last three seasons in the Majors and used their Steamer and ZiPS projections to make sure I was in the same universe or had solid reasons for my different projection. I made projections for about 300 hitters and 200 pitchers, which I feel are grounded in reality and will give me an edge in my fantasy endeavors this year.

However, while I’m pleased with my projections and it’s definitely better than when I first started playing and just knew Yankees and other AL East players, my projections are still very limiting. One of the main problems is that I’m producing a single stat line for each player. It’s based on what they’ve done previously, how they’re trending, and how I and other systems think they’re mostly likely to produce in 2014, but it’s still just a single projection. More advanced projection systems, like PECOTA, compare a given player to thousands of other Major Leaguers to find comparable careers and produce various projections and each projections probability of occurring.

Projection systems like this recognize the inherent uncertainty of projecting future baseball performance and instead of giving one stat line, give us a range of outcomes with their likelihood and produce more accurate results. Now, I am just dipping my toe in the water of finding comparable players and making projections based on that but I wanted to see how this type of system would change my valuation two outfielders who will turn 27 this season, Justin Upton and Jay Bruce. Bruce will turn 27 in April and Upton turns 27 in August. They’ve both been big fantasy contributors in the past, Bruce is more consistent in his production while Upton has been streakier, with hot and cool months and peaks and valleys of home run and stolen base totals. I’ve put my projections for them below with a dollar value based on a 12 team league with 22 roster spots and a 70-30 hitters-pitchers split.

Player

AB

BB

Hits

2B

3B

Runs

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Dollar Value

Jay Bruce

590

62

154

38

1

88

33

100

7

.261

.331

.497

.828

$29.39

Justin Upton

550

68

150

28

2

95

25

78

13

.273

.353

.467

.820

$26.96

I’m projecting them to produce similar value, but Bruce definitely has an edge. To find comparable players to Bruce and Upton, I looked at all MLB season from 1961 through 2013 (61 being an arbitrary start date based on how much data my laptop could sort through and organize with John Henrying it’s CPU). I narrowed down to players with similar home run and stolen base totals in their age 23 to 26 seasons, along with average, OPS, strikeout and walk percentages, and playing time in an attempt to find a list of similar hitters.

For Jay Bruce I found 19 comps and I found 26 for Upton, there’s a link to the google doc with the full list below which I recommend checking out, it’s not included here so I can save some space. Now that I have the comparable players, I want to see how the performed in their age 27 season to give me a range of outcomes for both Bruce and Upton. I’ve included some bullet points here, again with the full spreadsheet linked at the end.

Mean and Median Value of Comparable Players’ Age 27 Season

  • The average dollar value of Upton comparables was $27.17 and the median value was $31.49.
  • The average of Bruce comparables was $21.39 and the median value was $19.51.

Best Case Scenario

  • The best case scenario for Upton would be to follow Bobby Bonds’ age 27 season, where he put together his power and speed (39 HRs and 43 SBs) and bumped his average up to .283 from .260 in the previous year. I don’t think the HR total is out of the question, definitely hard and more than I’m predicting, and I think the average is within reach, but Bonds was regularly stealing 40 bases a year at this point which Upton is clearly not.
  • The best case scenario for Bruce would be to follow Dale Murphy’s age 27 season. Murphy hit .302 that year, with 36 HRs, scoring 130 times and driving in 121 RBIs. While a .300 average may seem unfathomable for Bruce, Murphy hit .281 the year before and .247 the year before that. What makes this situation most unlikely, is that Murphy had a little more speed than Bruce (most seasons stealing bases totaling in the high single digits or low double digits) but he swiped 30 when he was 27, probably out of Bruce’s reach.

More Realistic Good Scenarios

  • While I don’t expect Upton to reach Bobby Bonds level, it’s not hard to imagine him producing a line similar to Reggie Jackson’s 1973 when Jackson was 27. From 1970 to 1972, Jackson’s home run highs and lows by season were 23 to 32, his stolen bases ranged from 26 to 9, and his average fluctuated from .237 to .277.  There’s the volatile situation that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Upton. In 1973, Jackson put it together and hit 32 dingers, stole 22 bags, and hit .290.  Upton has already produced remarkably similar lines (2011 – 31HR/21SB/.289 avg) and could put it together for 2014.
  • Jay Bruce isn’t going to steal 30 bases but he easily follow the 27 year old season of a former Cincinnati Red, Adam Dunn. Dunn was reliably hitting 40 home runs a year at this point (seriously, four straight season with exactly 40) and while Bruce has yet to reach the 40 mark, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities. The big difference with Dunn’s age 27 season from his other years is that he got his average up to .260 (bookended with .230 seasons), stole 9 bases, and had over 100 runs and RBIs. With Bruce entering his power prime, I think 40 homers is definitely possible, if still unlikely, and hitting .260 is definitely in his wheel house.

Outside of Injury, Worst Case Scenario

  • For Upton, if he stays healthy the worst case scenario is following former Phillies 2B, Juan Samuel. Samuel had between .264 and .272 the four previous season, with home run totals as high as 28 but reliably in the high teens, and had stolen at least 30 bases each year. At age 27 though, his average fell to .240, he only hit 12 home runs (and never exceeded 13 again), and while he could rely on his speed and stole 30 bases he failed to produce 70 runs or RBIs. Not the most likely situation for Upton, but I could envision it with less stolen bases.
  • For Bruce, the floor doesn’t get that low. If he reaches 500 Abs the worst comparable is Torii Hunter’s age 27 season where he only hit .250 and stole 6 bags, but still hit 26 homers and drove in 100 RBIs. Given Bruce’s consistency and the consistency of his comparables, I’d expect a high floor.

The Merciful Conclusion

 I know this took up a lot of room and we’re all happy this is almost over, but what does this mean. First, this is pretty rudimentary with no set formula for finding comparable players, I did my best but they’re definitely not one to one matches and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I think this helps articulate a fundamental difference between Jay Bruce and Justin Upton. Bruce is a high floor, more limited ceiling guy and I’ve got more confidence that his 2014 will fall close to my projections. I know I’m buying about a .260 average, with a couple of stolen bases, mid 30s home runs with a little wiggle room, in a good lineup.

Justin Upton is a lotto ticket guy. I’m sticking with my projection for his season which falls between the extremes, but if he repeats his 2011 or puts together his tools that he has demonstrated at different points of his career, he could finish right behind Mike Trout among fantasy outfielders. At the same time, I could see him producing a line like his big brother BJ did last year, okay maybe not that bad, but definitely not worth his draft price. Who you take depends on what path you want to believe and who you already have on your team, but I think laying out these options and using player comparables definitely adds to fantasy projections and will be a staple I’ll use next year.

 

As promised, here’s the link to the full list of comparable players used for this article: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmP-CH5MqzENdFZSZ0xhQVZiYWxNSVQxYzBsOFh3YkE#gid=0



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