Twisting Oliver: Mirage or oasis

This happens every year. A handful of players start hot and owners around the fantasy world start adding them at a ridiculous pace. Some of those players turn out to be Ben Zobrist. One even turned out to be Albert Pujols once upon a time. Usually, they end up being Chris Shelton.

With Oliver’s “Rest of Season” projections making their working debut, I figured it was time to take a closer look at the 10 most added players over the past week in ESPN leagues. As usual, I’ll use the Tango calculations to determine general values of players.

Jose Guillen (plus 65 percent)
For better or for worse, the Kansas City outfielder is a pretty well-known commodity. He has nearly 6,000 major league plate appearances to his name, and has alternated between barely useful fantasy asset to completely useless. In his good years, he’ll get you 20-plus homers and drive in about 85-95 runs, and score about 80 more. Nothing to turn your nose up at in many leagues but hardly worth getting excited over either. When he’s not good, however, he doesn’t do much but take up space and drag down your batting average. Before a single pitch was thrown, the numbers suggested he’d come in around the 182nd-best offensive player. Olivers sees about 15 more homers and 57 more RBIs, which would make him about the 190th-best offensive player.

Ricky Romero (plus 46 percent)
I don’t know exactly how Oliver works (I’m merely reporting its results), but I get the impression that it’s probably too early for anything to change its mind much. That said, Oliver was really down on Romero to start the season and it has improved its outlook somewhat. Of course, in Romero’s case that means adjusting its projected ERA down from 5.62 to 5.20 and bringing his projected K/9 rate up from 6.39 to 6.57. Both sets of numbers obviously represent a significant dropoff from his current 1.57 ERA and 8.61 K/9 rate. I get the sense that there’s probably a decent market out there for Romero and he seems to fit the classic sell-high model.

Kevin Gregg (plus 34 percent)
It should come as no surprise that the Blue Jays’ new closer is among the most added players in baseball. All indications are that he has the closer’s job for as long as he can handle it, thus making most of the projections moot. Oliver has him at seven saves the rest of the way, which is probably way off. Even if he barely meets Oliver’s projected line of 4.23 ERA and a K/BB ratio of about 2:1, he’ll end up with at least 20 saves and maybe a bunch more. He managed to save 23 games last year despite playing for a bad team, posting a worse ERA (4.72) and a slightly better K:BB ratio (9.31:3.93).

Scott Podsednik (plus 32 percent)
Remember what I just said about it being too early for Oliver to change its mind? Well, the speedy Kansas City outfielder may be the exception. At the start of the season, Oliver projected him to be about the 135th-best offensive player, or barely worth owning. He now projects around 87th, largely on the strength of an improved outlook on stolen bases (Oliver projects 19 more after projecting just 20 at the start of the season) and batting average (up to .289 from .271). My personal biases steer me away from players like Podsednik, but if he’s still available for pennies on the dollar he’s worth a gamble.

Ivan Rodriguez (plus 31 percent)
The Washington catcher pretty much falls into the same category as Guillen for me. Rodriguez is now three full seasons removed from the last time he was relevant from a fantasy perspective. He’s hitting .444 with a .600 SLG right now. Obviously, he’s not going to come anywhere near that. Oliver actually seems to think he’s merely accumulating his stats early, downgrading his overall rating from 231 to 238 since the start of the season. He projects at a .255 batting average and a .370 SLG. I doubt he has much value on the open market. If you have him, ride him as long as he’s hot and then find a realistic longterm solution.

Cameron Maybin (plus 30 percent)
I at least understand this one. The Marlins’ one-time top prospect is finally hitting, and providing hope that he can attain the glory that has so far eluded him. Oliver is not so optimistic, projecting a .256 batting average the rest of the way, which is actually a tad lower than what it predicted at the start of the season (.258). Oliver also projects nine more homers, 53 RBIs and 11 stolen bases, which are fine numbers, I suppose, but won’t make him worthy of a roster spot. There’s probably not much to lose by holding onto Maybin on the off chance that he really has figured it out.

Josh Willingham (plus 29 percent)
Of all the players on this list, the Washington outfielder projected the best numbers at the start of the season. Oliver’s projections slapped him with the 118th-best offensive numbers. I imagine his track record is keeping his strong start from boosting that projection. The reality is that Willingham’s most useful fantasy season came during his first full year when he was largely eligible at catcher, even though he only caught a total of 14 innings. Back then, his 26 homers and 74 RBIs were quite a bounty. He’s essentially put up very similar numbers ever since but lost his catcher eligibility. This is all just a long way of saying that Oliver’s projected line the rest of the season (16 homers, 60 RBIs, .257 batting average) should really come as no surprise despite his .592 SLG 15 games into the season.

Alex Gonzalez (plus 27 percent)
At the start of the season, the Toronto shortstop projected as the 22nd-best shortstop option. After a five-homer, 11-RBI, .627-SLG start to the season, Oliver projects him to finish out as the 26th-best option. Basically, Oliver seems to suggest that Gonzalez’s best days are well behind him (from a seasonal standpoint, at least). The projections have 12 homers and 57 RBI (which isn’t bad, actually), but say he’ll hit .242 and steal two bases the rest of the way. Hope you got the most out of that start.

Brad Penny (plus 24 percent)
While the St. Louis pitcher was mostly ignored at drafts (he’s still barely owned in over half of leagues), Oliver was quietly projecting a perfectly adequate season. A 4.67 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in about 170 IP was the projection. Those numbers are actually lower now (4.45 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) after a 2-0 start in which he’s allowed a total of three earned runs in 21 innings. What should make his start especially intriguing is that Oliver projected those numbers while also projecting a K/9 of 5.56, which is almost exactly what Penny’s been doing so far (5.57). To me, this suggests a promising start (factoring in some obvious regression).

Mike Pelfrey (plus 23 percent)
Like Penny, the Mets pitcher was basically ignored on draft day, as he’s still owned in less than 25 percent of leagues. Unlike Penny, Oliver was not even a little optimistic with Pelfrey (predicted 4.94 ERA, 1.54 WHIP). Pelfrey’s start has helped revise those numbers downward (4.76 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), but still not quite in ownable territory.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

It’s hard to use this article without knowing more about what makes Oliver tick.  For example, how did Alex Gonzalez go from the 22nd to the 26nd best projected shortstop option according to Oliver?  That’s the clearest example of something that doesn’t make sense unless we can give the author a better sense of how the in-season Oliver projections change.

Jeremiah Oshan
Jeremiah Oshan

Wish I could help you with that. I know that Oliver is somehow factoring in playing time projections, which are evolving. Beyond that, I’m not sure how a player like Gonzalez is affected if he’s vastly outperforming his projections.


If you’re looking for a fantasy topic to write about, I’d like to see a comparison between the in-season adjustments by Oliver versus ZiPS at Fangraphs. It seems like Oliver is more conservative. Using rate stats and the change from pre-season projections to rest-of-season projections would be interesting for players who are off to hot or cold starts.