S.O.S. – A Simple Approach to Making Fantasy Baseball Decisions

After two weeks of the 2013 season, John Buck is the fifth best hitter according to ESPN and CBS.  The Tampa Bay Rays are off to a 4-9 start and are already in last place and five games back in the AL East.  There is news that Brett Lawrie was playing second base in his rehab stint.

What Does All This Mean?

That’s a great question.  And in a minute I’ll introduce a methodology to think through what these facts mean. A main tenet of Smart Fantasy Baseball is to teach or illustrate ways to become better at the game.  One area to target for improvement is the ability to think deeper and more critically about pieces of news or a players skills and make well informed strategic decisions. I think we can all get better at doing this.  We’ve gotten a bit lazy.

I love Mathew Berry.

I think he’s hilarious.  I think he generally gives good advice.  But as fantasy baseball and football have gained popularity, Berry has been pushed to the forefront as the fantasy industry’s star.  He writes witty articles, he co-stars on an entertaining podcast, and he appears on SportsCenter where he must attempt to give meaningful fantasy advice in 60 second segments.

And this is how a large percentage of us fantasy owners get our research.  On the ESPN Fantasy Focus podcast, you’ll often her Berry say, “I like player X more than player Y.”  In fact, a staple of the show is the “Name Game” where a series of similar players are rattled off and Berry states whom he prefers among the group.

The “I like player X more than player Y” fantasy advice is a huge pet peeve of mine*.  The reason being, there is often little or no “why” attached to that analysis. Because of this, I think there is a huge opportunity to separate yourself from an average fantasy baseball player.

Slow down and think critically about the decisions you are making.

Enter the “S.O.S.” framework to evaluating a player.

Skills, Opportunity, and Surroundings

I believe there are three significant components to a player’s fantasy value:

  1. Skills – A hitter’s ability to hit for power, hit for average, and steal bases. A pitcher’s ability to strike out batters, prevent runs from scoring, and keep batters of the base paths.  These skills can be evaluated by any number of statistical measures; HR/FB, xBABIP, FIP, K/9, etc.
  2. Opportunity – Skills don’t matter if a player doesn’t get opportunity to play.  A player can be trapped in the minors, blocked by an All-Star.  Or they might play for a bad team that aggressively promotes players.  They might be on the Major League roster but trapped on the weak side of a platoon or in a crowded outfield, battling for playing time.
  3. Surroundings – Players don’t operate in a vacuum.  They play in the AL or the NL.   They play in the AL East or they play in the NL West.  They play in Coors Field or they play in Petco Park.     They hit in a good offensive lineup or they play for the Marlins.  They hit third in the order or they hit ninth.  They might be the topic of trade rumors.  Or they’re injured.

Each of these factors should be considered in analyzing a player, interpreting a news story, or before making a move.  It is easy to rush into an ill-advised transaction if you haven’t considered all of these different facets. Putting this in a more visual mathematical equation, I come up with this:

OUTPUT = SURROUNDINGS * (SKILLS * OPPORTUNITY)

“Skills” is a raw and rough estimate of a player’s statistical output.  For the sake of this example, we can set this equal to what a player would be worth if they played 162 games or made 34 starts.

This “Skills” figure is then multiplied by the “Opportunity” factor.  “Opportunity” can range from 0 – 1.  Meaning a player can have all the skills in the world, but if you multiply “all the skills in the world” by zero… you get zero.

This result is then multiplied by an adjustment for “Surroundings”.  An average or neutral set of “Surroundings” would set this factor equal to 1.00.  If the surroundings are beneficial to a player’s output (they are a hitter in a hitter-friendly park on a strong offensive team batting in the heart of the order), the factor grows larger than 1.00.  Maybe to 1.25.  If the surroundings are poor and harmful to a player’s output (they are a hitter with home games in a very pitcher friendly stadium, part of a weak lineup, and bat 8th), the factor falls below 1.00, maybe to .75.

Go The Distance

If you build it, they will come.  Alright, enough Field of Dreams quotes.  But the point is to “go the distance” with your analysis.  We all fall victim to just considering a player’s skills in the equation above and don’t make the necessary adjustments for opportunity and surroundings.

More To Come

Stay tuned to Smart Fantasy Baseball for a more detailed discussion of how to apply S.O.S. and “case studies” using some real news items from the young 2013 baseball season. Please follow SmartFantasyBB on Twitter or subscribe to the blog using your e-mail address in the sign up box on the top right of any page.  Once you sign up, you’ll get any new post e-mailed directly to you.

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*NOTE:  I repeat that I love Berry.  I “download and listen” to nearly every episode of the Fantasy Focus podcast.  I’m certain he understands advanced baseball metrics and applies them to his analysis.  Heck, he’s a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Hall of Fame.  But he’s a celebrity.  His hands are tied because of the audience he serves (the masses) and the medium uses to relay his message (in working for ESPN he has to quickly get out his message).  He can’t delve into 15-minute long explanations about FIP and BABIP.

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