Dollar-for-Dollar All-Stars

In the comments to my keeper round-up last week, reader/commenter LuckyStrikes wrote:

I’d like to see an Ottoneu article highlighting the top 10 players whose value far exceeded their salary from 2011 and those players primed to do so in 2012.

Well, I can’t quite do that, but I am going to try to give you something (sort of) close (I think). I’ve taken the keeper data for points leagues and the 2011 point totals for each player to calculate the points/dollar for the average price at which each player was kept, and I am going to take a look at the best and worst values out there.

Three quick notes on methodology before we start. First, by the nature of the data, this is inherently backwards looking. It probably has some value for considering players in 2012, but this is really a look at players who most exceeded their value in 2011. But while a guy like Matt Moore looks unimpressive on a pts/$ basis in 2011, he wasn’t kept because of 2011, but because of the potential for 2012. The data doesn’t do him justice. Second, to account for this, I left out of the analysis anyone who had fewer than 200 plate appearances, fewer than 20 relief appearances or fewer than 10 starts (I used a thresh hold of Relief Appearances+2*Starts>20 for pitchers who appeared in both roles). This is to account for the issue described above. Finally, I focused on FanGraphs Points leagues because a) points are easy to calculate with and b) this is the most popular format.

With that in mind, here is a table that outlines the two most valuable position player keepers, based on pts/average salary, by price band.

Price Band Player 2011 Points Average Salary Pts/$
>$3 Alex Avila 831.2 $3.32 250.4
  Casey Kotchman 710.0 $3.17 224.0
>$5 Carlos Lee 804.0 $5.35 150.3
  Michael Morse 901.0 $6.00 150.2
>$10 Michael Young 971.1 $11.21 86.6
  Aramis Ramirez 913.5 $11.40 80.1
>$15 Jacoby Ellsbury 1205.0 $15.22 79.2
  Curtis Granderson 1102.1 $15.86 69.5
>$20 Brandon Phillips 866.0 $20.48 42.3
  Ian Kinsler 1023.8 $25.07 40.8
>$25 Ian Kinsler 1023.8 $25.07 40.8
  Matt Kemp 1260.3 $31.64 39.8
>$30 Matt Kemp 1260.3 $31.64 39.8
  Jose Bautista 1257.3 $31.72 39.6
>$35 Prince Fielder 1200.4 $42.57 28.2
  Miguel Cabrera 1286.4 $49.71 25.9

It should be clear from the start why this had to be done by price band – not surprisingly a number of $3 players (remember, with the salary increases, $3 is the lowest possible price for a Major League player) led the way, by virtue of their low salary. Lee would be the 32nd highest rated player if we ignored salary bands, behind guys such as Jamey Carroll, Omar Infante, and the incomparable Yuniesky Betancourt. Alex Avila is your grand champion, the most productive player, dollar-for-dollar. That probably surprises no one – you would expect a breakout youngster with low expectations to top the charts. And I would say that there are few players I would rather keep at their price than Avila at $3. I did not, however, expect to see Kotchman so high, and I doubt he will fair as well in 2012.

Those two players in the >$5 price band are so interesting because of the expectations around them from past years. Morse is widely considered a breakout player who put up incredible numbers for a low investment; Lee is widely considered washed up. And yet, they put up pretty similar numbers, dollar for dollar. Would I rather have Morse in 2012? Absolutely. But while Morse was kept in 90% of leagues, Lee was cut in almost half. If people value him at less than $5, and you can grab him for a couple bucks next year, I bet you’ll like the outcome.

Kinsler and Kemp both managed to jump a price band, outperforming a lot of guys priced cheaper than them, but the king of that category is Miggy. At more than $49, he managed to be the second best value among players almost $15 cheaper. And his value will only go up with 3B eligibility. Pretty impressive.

Finally, on a pretty unimportant, but sort of odd note, how many of those bands have guys who play the same position? Morse/Lee, Young/Ramirez, Ellsbury/Granderson, Phillips/Kinsler, Kemp/Bautista, Fielder/Cabrera. Not sure it means anything – maybe someone else can find a rationale for this?

As for the pitchers:

Price Band Player 2011 Points Average Salary Pts/$
>$3 Doug Fister 1083.7 $3.42 316.9
  Jason Vargas 792.0 $3.09 264.0
>$5 Ervin Santana 921.3 $5.04 182.8
  Carl Pavano 871.0 $5.00 174.2
>$10 James Shields 1148.7 $11.32 101.5
  Matt Garza 1004.0 $10.71 93.7
>$15 Chris Carpenter 1177.7 $19.70 59.8
  Matt Cain 1133.3 $23.59 48.0
>$20 Matt Cain 1133.3 $23.59 48.0
  Jered Weaver 1137.3 $23.89 47.6
>$25 Dan Haren 1201.7 $26.78 44.9
  David Price 1055.7 $26.93 39.2
>$30 Clayton Kershaw 1296.7 $33.14 39.1
  Justin Verlander 1263.0 $34.35 36.8
>$35 Cliff Lee 1261.3 $38.76 32.5
  Roy Halladay 1361.3 $44.43 30.6

Again, price bands are clearly important. This time Santana would have been 27th overall. You’ll also notice that the lower-band pitchers are all better values than their offensive counterparts. This is most likely a result of two things: first, pitching is more volatile so the opportunity for a guy to put up an unexpectedly big year is greater; and second, fantasy players know pitching is more volatile and tend to discount the prices accordingly, meaning that the pitchers who do succeed are better values, on average, balancing out the pitchers who flop.

This time the guys who leap-frog a price-band are Cain, Lee and Halladay. The latter two, though, benefit from a lack of competition – only 10 pitchers were kept at over $30 (including George Sherrill in one league, who I imagine is a placeholder, not a keeper), compared to 31 position players.

I was also surprised to see not one reliever make the cut. Considering how under-priced some relievers are, I figured there would be some great pt/$ values. But the highest value pitcher was Alfredo Aceves, at 169.7 pts/$, which ranked 32nd. The highest ranked full-time reliever (Aceves made four starts in 2012) was David Robertson, whose 160.8 pts/$ placed him 42nd overall.

Finally, for those curious the lowest value keepers were Brian Matusz (1.8 pts/$) and Jeff Mathis (7.4 pts/$). Mathis was only kept in one league, so if we limit ourselves to players kept at least twice, your low value position player is Hanley Ramirez, whose $47.77 salary netted just 409.6 points, for a ratio of 8.6.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let’s Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Instead of total points, doing some kind of “points above replacement level” might help with the price band issue. The tricky thing is determining exactly how to establish the replacement level (and would it differ by position?), but then you don’t have the Yuni B’s of the world coming out with such large values.