Those of us that play in multiple leagues usually have some players that populate multiple rosters. To an observer, they may be considered our guys – players we like. In my case, the likely reason is these players all fit one of my philosophies – water seeks to find its own level. In a fantasy baseball sense, this means established players usually end up with their usual numbers. Or, perhaps on a more granular level, a particular skill set usually results in an expected level of performance.
The problem is two-fold. First, we are dealing with humans and not simulating skills so the outcomes are not absolute. Second, there is an element out of the player’s control that influenced the outcome. Call it luck, call it whatever you want, it exists. And sometimes, it takes more than season for the water to be level.
You’re probably aware of the notion of Gambler’s Fallacy. If not, consider this scenario. I flipped a coin and it came up heads. When I flip it again, what are the odds it is head or tails? Is it 50/50 or because it was heads the first time, and after two flips there should be one of each, odds are it will be tails? Gambler’s Fallacy chooses tails, expecting the outcomes to even out. The true probability is 50/50 as the ensuing flip is independent of the result of the previous flip(s).
Here’s the tricky part. Say I flip a coin 50 times and it is heads 30 and tails 20. If I keep flipping, eventually the outcomes will be the same (water will find its level). However, this does mean the odds of any individual flip favors tails. Each slip is still 50/50. But if the sample is large enough, eventually there will be a cluster of tails and the number of heads and tails will be even.
How does this relate to fantasy baseball? There are some that believe that player with a career average of .270 that is currently hitting .250 will hit over .270 the rest of the season so his average ends up at .270. Then there are some that label that as a version of Gambler’s Fallacy and say to simply assume the player hits his career mark of .270 the rest of the season.
Truth be told I think they both are but my suggestion is the latter, expect .270 going forward. Given that there very well could be a different skill level than originally expected, remember, we are dealing with flesh and blood as opposed to nuts and bolts, it’s cliché and almost feels like lazy analysis, but in most cases, there is an element of bad luck impacting disappointing performance (and vice versa) and the safest assumption is to anticipate neutral luck going forward. I think I now hold the Fantasy Alarm record for most commas in a sentence.
So why do I also feel the person saying luck will even out is also right? Well, because they are. Except the sample size of one season isn’t always sufficient for said luck to even out. Sometimes the regression is slow and steady while sometimes it happens all at once. Sometimes it takes a long time for it to correct, sometimes it squares up pretty quickly.
Did Jim Johnson just forget how to pitch or was he getting by on some good fortune last season? Johnson’s ability to induce ground balls certainly mitigated his pedestrian strikeout rate, but that fact remains Lady Luck smiled upon him kindly last season. It took more than 162 games, but a cluster of his ground balls found holes and blown saves ensued.
Did Matt Cain suddenly forget how to keep the ball in the yard? For several seasons, Cain baffled the sabermetricians with his ability to prevent home runs, especially for a fly ball pitcher. Sure, his home park helped, but not enough to account for the extreme low numbers. Early on it was assumed he was lucky. Then after he was lucky for a couple of years, number crunchers started to look for an underlying reason, or perhaps rationalization, depending on your point of view. Fast forward to this season and Cain has seen his homers allowed sky-rocket. Is he doing something differently or has it simply taken several years for his fortune to flip?
Tying this back together with the notion of my philosophy, one of the most frustrating elements of fantasy baseball is to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. Or at minimum, know when to reserve them. By nature I’m bull-headed and obstinate. Water is going to seek its level. I expect a pitcher to sport a certain ERA and by season’s end, he’ll be there. Right now he may be struggling, but his peripherals are still fine so I keep running him out there. My fear is if I follow the lead of the vast majority of those in business of giving fantasy advice, I’ll have my guy on the bench for a couple of excellent starts before putting him back in my active lineup. The thing is those excellent starts were accounted for in my season-long projection, so now I will be devoid of some of the good stuff that balances the bad stuff I already have incurred. By missing those starts, I will not even break even on my investment. Even if the player performs as expected going forward, my net return is going to be negative. This bugs me and it bugs me when I hear this advice being doled out. Granted, context is everything and if you have a viable replacement then the stats left on the bench may not be startling different than the replacement stats, but we all don’t play in 10 and 12 team mixed leagues -- not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Have I mentioned that I own Joe Blanton on a bunch of teams?
Yeah, the truth comes out. This whole thing was a vehicle to talk about Blanton. Think about it, if I began the piece with “today we’re going to talk about Joe Blanton”, how many of you would still be reading? That’s what I thought.
Lame jokes aside, I do believe in sticking with a player and you’ll eventually be rewarded. But I also know that sometimes the poor performances will continue. As we’ve talked about in previous installments, a great deal of analysis is separating the wheat from the chafe, siphoning out the luck. When I’m not writing or making lame jokes, I’m usually at a spreadsheet trying to hone my skill to discern skills. If I am going to heed this philosophy, I best be prepared to suffer as well as be rewarded.
Speaking of suffering, let’s get back to Blanton. Who wants to make a gentleman’s bet with me – rest of season, Blanton or Patrick Corbin? I’ll take Blanton, and probably lose but it will be closer than you think.
Blanton and Corbin are sporting similar strikeout and walk rates, but Corbin is a fantasy darling while Blanton is a fantasy disaster. Corbin has enjoyed extreme fortune with respect to all the luck-related metrics: BABIP, HR/FB and LOB%. The opposite is true for Blanton as he is carrying an unsightly 5.94 ERA.
However, Corbin’s xFIP is 3.70 while Blanton’s is 4.20. I’ll spare the gory details, but for those not familiar, xFIP is one of the many forms of an expected ERA. That is, xFIP translates the skills exhibited by a pitcher and renders an expected ERA devoid of luck. So while Corbin’s real ERA of 1.71 is light years better than Blanton’s 5.94, their skills are much closer.
In order for me to win my gentleman’s bet, all I need is for Blanton and Corbin’s ERA’s to be more reflective of their skills and some help from Lady Luck. If Corbin rolls a few snake eyes while Blanton opens with a couple of elevens, I’m in the money.
But, my chips are worthless if Blanton is on my bench.
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