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Why We Hate Marcel

Last week Bill Petti did battle with Marcel and came away bruised, if not beaten. Numerous mathematicians and would-be projectionists have done the same: few strategies, no matter how cunning, have been able to provide a long-term advantage over Tom Tango’s painfully simple forecasting system. But Marcel goes beyond taunting the experts; he bares his nasty little teeth at us all.

I began using projection systems in my fantasy preparation a decade ago; I lined up Marcel, CAIRO, and CHONE and let them help me break ties for the rankings I was unsure about. Many of you probably do the same. Even then, I mistrusted Marcel.  Metaphorically speaking, if the Bill James projections are the mother who pats your head and makes you hot chocolate when you make a mistake, Marcel is the crotchety old uncle who snarls at you to stop being such a screw-up. That guy hated everyone, but I could never bring myself to get rid of him.

He hasn’t changed. Here’s how Marcel felt about Mike Trout, blue-chip prospect and demigod-in-process, in 2012:

Marcel 268 .258 .313 .421 .326
2012 639 .326 .399 .564 .409

You can’t blame him for the plate appearance prediction, but the rate stats are a little on the light side. Admittedly, Marcel wasn’t putting this guess in stone (a reliability rating of .37, pretty low). Okay, but perhaps using Trout as an example isn’t exactly fair.  How about a young, up-and-coming star in Buster Posey?

Marcel 337 .289 .338 .454 .347
2012 610 .336 .408 .549 .406

That .347 wOBA puts Posey just below Alejandro De Aza in the 2012 rankings (on a side note, Marcel really liked Alejandro De Aza last year). Marcel didn’t know that Posey was returning from a horrific injury last year. It didn’t care. Absolutely no one looked at Posey’s 2011 and saw true talent level, but into the system it went.

You can accuse me of cherry-picking examples, and you’d be completely right. But this is what we all do, for the year behind and the year ahead. We don’t go to a projection system to look for how it feels about Chris Shelton or Ronny Paulino. We go to them for insight on the most interesting, the most divisive of players. And this is when Marcel turns his furry little back on us; we get no secrets from him.

Though not to the extent of football, fantasy baseball is not generally won in the early rounds. It’s the Chris Sales and the Edwin Encarnacions of the game that give a team an advantage over their foes. This is who we’re looking for: when we look at projection systems, we’re looking for the glint of gems among the rocks, not just an accurate description of how ugly all the rocks are.

It’s not that Marcel is flawed; it’s that we are. We want to see the perfect ascending arc of the promising rookie, the narrative of the guy who beat the odds and came out of nowhere. We look for reasons to believe we know the real story behind the numbers, that were smarter than the monkey. And we should all keep trying, experts and fantasy players alike. But much as we hate him, we should also probably keep him on our shoulder, like the little devil he is, to whisper his bitter nothings into our ear on draft day.