October 17, 2016
An Avoid Retrospective
My Argument: Darvish is one of my favorite pitchers, and his appearance in this space was entirely contextual and relative to his draft position. I walked through a best-case scenario for his return from Tommy John surgery, noting that his draft price as a strong SP3 glossed over the risk assumption in pegging him to play that kind of a role on your team. Everything would have to work out best-case, I noted, including the performance of your replacement starter(s) over the first few weeks of the season, in order for you to break even on the acquisition price. There is still an uncomfortable uncertainty associated with Tommy John returns – the effect on control, in particular – and streaming is always a crapshoot. It would be a narrow path to victory.
What Happened: My “best-case” scenario wasn’t good enough; Darvish came back arguably better than ever. He elevated his release point, and that created more plane for his four-seamer. He re-established his well above-average whiff rate with the pitch, and built on 2014’s abbreviated effort to throw many more four-seamers. He raised his whiff rate by doing that, and he lowered his walk rate by not throwing as much junk to the outer margins of the zone. Despite barely clawing his way to a triple-digit innings total, he still produced the 52nd-best standard season per ESPN’s Player Rater.
The Verdict: This one’s probably off the board on account of the unknown production a given owner got out of his or her streaming performance during Darvish’s rehab. But it’s something of a push, in terms of the theory and the result. Darvish exceeded a wholly reasonable “best-case” scenario for his rate production, and built into my theory on this one there was absolutely a solid minority chance that was going to happen.
I call it a solid minority chance because between the physical progression (no setbacks, extended throwing programs, and so forth), the mechanical recovery, and the actual game-to-game results, there were just a ton of ways the brass-tax fantasy earnings weren’t going to get to pre-injury levels.
Drafters got the performance they banked on when they took him as the 34th pitcher off the board on average, but that doesn’t mean it was the most likely outcome. And coupled with the addendum of replacement pitcher performance, it’s entirely possible that this draft pick ended up resulting in a significant net value loss for a majority of drafters. Faced with the same context and draft board, I’d make the same recommendation on him again.
My Argument: I took a similar stand against CarGo, arguing that there was some ugliness lying wait in the micro-splits of his home-away and left-right numbers that, coupled with his Magna Carta-esque medical file made him a bad investment as a top-60 overall draft pick. In larger leagues especially, the idea of relying on a replacement outfielder for the inevitable and potentially lengthy stretches of inevitable missed time made him too much of a high-variance pick for my money.
What Happened: He stayed healthy to post consecutive 150-game seasons, he didn’t get traded out of Coors for some reason, and he posted the 41st-best standard-league season among hitters.
The Verdict: Whoops. I don’t know I would proclaim as unequivocally that I’d do it again with this recommendation, though it’s still an uncomfortable leveraging of early-draft assets. Perhaps I had a poor read on some of the adjustments Gonzalez made during his outstanding second-half run in 2015. It is worth noting, however, that he tailed off considerably in the second half this year, with just six homers and 75 R+RBI – replacement numbers in a medium-depth league – down the stretch there.
My Argument: I pointed to a number of indicators that combined to set off warning lights, including flagging second-half performance in back-to-back years, diminishing velocity and performance with his fastball, and gnarly exit velocity numbers. The acquisition cost on draft day was not prohibitive, I noted, but as an RP2 target there were just many, many better options than spending a 12th-round pick on a guy with Perkins’ shaky profile (and shakier team context).
What Happened: He threw 48 pitches in two April outings short three full ticks on his fastball before suffering a shoulder injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery to fix what tuned out to be a torn labrum (gulp).
The Verdict: I don’t like rooting against guys. Obviously catastrophic injury is an ever-present danger for any pitcher, but that doesn’t mean some guys aren’t more likely than others to end up on the shelf. When considering relievers on whom to spend precious draft picks – even though spending draft picks on non-elite relievers is not a strategy I’d suggest – pay attention to things like second-half performance and velocity declines. The season is long, and it is grinding, and while second-half swoons aren’t necessarily predictive, I’d rather invest in the guy who wasn’t physically and/or mentally gassed than the guy who was. Yes, bodies and minds heal over the course of an off-season. But “off-season” is a misnomer for professional athletes. Wear-and-tear accumulates, it affects off-season routines, and it carries over. A guy like Perkins fit this profile as a riskier investment, and there were warning signs aplenty. Hopefully the remainder of his rehab is successful, because that injury really, really sucks.
My Argument: Duda had put up two reasonably similar seasons in 2014 and 2015, with the big separating factor between them that he had experienced a huge spike in production with runners in scoring position in the first of those years. And as the 13th first baseman off the board at the time, people were drafting him like his true talent lay closer to the former year. Not only was the price tag too context-dependent for my liking, but beyond that something had happened to prop up his 2015 production to its already-deflated level, I warned: a fluky high left-on-left BABIP had obscured some real, developing trouble with the righties he’d built his career mashing.
What Happened: Duda suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in May after performing quite poorly across the season’s first couple of months, then limped back into action with sporadic, even poorer at-bats in a handful of games down the stretch. He ended up producing less fantasy value than James Loney.
The Verdict: Technically a “W” in the column, but it was on account of unforeseen injury, and there really isn’t enough in the sample sizes to draw many useful conclusions about his future value. The rug was indeed yanked out from under the feet of his BABIP against left-handers, but his gruesome .133/.188/.267 line against them came across a whopping 32-plate appearances. His performance against right-handers wasn’t particularly out of whack with his career norms, and he was continuing with a fly ball spike against them. That’s not a bad thing for power, per se, and indeed his exit velocity in the abbreviated campaign was exactly the same as his figure in 2015 for balls in the air, with both efforts cracking the 80th percentile. He showed more patience than he typically has, but it didn’t translate to more walks, and he made weaker contact on pitches out of the zone.
If we’re to extrapolate anything, it’s probably that there’s some decent power upside here, and he seems to be moving into a part of his career where he’s intent on getting to it at the cost of some batting average. The very real health risks associated with back injuries for power hitters moving into their 30’s—especially ones with strength swings like Duda—must be appropriately priced into his draft value going forward, as well. The former Super Two victim will enter his final season of club control this year, so he’ll return to the same mediocre lineup and ballpark contexts next year.
My Argument: In a nutshell, the power potential was nice and all, but the sacrifice you’d have to make across the rest of the board, particularly in batting average, wasn’t really worth going out of your way to acquire him even at a modest price. The batted-ball profile did not suggest he should sustain anything close to the BABIP he produced in 2015, I argued, and when you add in the strikeouts stemming from an ultra-aggressive approach it made for a potential toxic AVG.
What Happened: Schoop propped up his value with counting stats derived from playing in every single game (this, in spite of a sub-.300 OBP) and somehow managed to keep the batting average in reasonable range despite seeing his exit velocity plummet and his BABIP tumble into a more normal range as I’d predicted. He still probably overperformed what you’d expect for his BABIP given the batted ball profile, but he managed to make slightly more contact to offset some of the loss that did occur, and his ensuing .267 AVG was perfectly reasonable for standard-league players.
The Verdict: A mixed bag, this. The rising tide of production at the keystone really offset any ostensible gains in standing made by Schoop’s largely volume-based effort. He hit for the power his drafters were hoping to get, but his 25 homeruns was tied for just fifth at a position where all of a sudden 12 dudes managed to crush 20-plus homers. His run and RBI totals were okay, and his lack of speed pushed his overall value down to 18th at the position per the Player Rater. Ultimately that’s a fine return on his draft value, and it’s a push for the associated cost. He wasn’t someone being targeted as a starting 2B in medium-depth leagues, and he didn’t perform like one. He was useful as a MI or deep-league starter though, and wasn’t be any means a fantasy disaster.
That he derived a good chunk of his value from bulk volume as opposed to rate performance is something of a red flag going forward, particularly given the lack of notable progress in refining or bettering his approach. Baltimore’s Weaverian emphasis on the long ball has its limits for guys with an on-base profile as dreadful as Schoop’s, and he was a poor defender according to our metrics. My suspicion is that he’ll enter draft season in much the same shape as he entered last winter, though as a 25-year-old there may be a vocal enough minority assuming inevitable improvement that it puffs up his draft value into a higher range than it probably deserves to be.