In an article that was nominated for “Most Amount of Jibberish Put into a Blog” by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, I made two points:
- Rankings are — for the most part — meaningless.
- The culture of ranking incentivizes safe ranking.
When I say that rankings are meaningless, this is because rankers have maybe a middling accuracy in predicting the median outcome of a player’s performance. You can see Rudy’s tracked success on the Razzball Ombotsman (and Rudy’s a really good ranker). The TL;DR of that portion of Razzball is that top players generally perform within their expected performance bracket about 50% of the time. Crappy players perform within their expected band of crappiness about 50% of the time as well. What do players do the other 50% of the time? Great players can be crappy, and crappy players can be great.
All we have to do to evidence this claim is point to a guy like Alek Manoah — who was third place in Cy Young voting last year and garnered MVP votes — and his demotion to Rookie ball this year. Meanwhile, Nathan Eovaldi — who has pitched in 260 MLB games and has a career ERA above 4.00 with a .500 record over his last 5 seasons despite playing on the Yankees and Red Sox — is SP3 on the year.
If you compare my pre-season rankings to current standings, there are some interesting takeaways.
Nathan Eovaldi was my SP55 in the pre-season. Draftable but droppable. As we would expect from a guy with a 4.10 ERA in his past 100 starts. Eovaldi has surged to SP3 in 2023 much in the way that Tony Gonsolin or Julio Urias used to climb the SP ranks — Win luck. Eovaldi has 10 Wins in 18 starts, which gives him the 4th overall rank for Wins in MLB. He’s walking batters at a rate we haven’t seen since 2019, and his BABIP is 5% lower than his five-year average. Eovaldi is also K’ing nearly 1 batter less per nine innings than his previous 5 year average.
Suffice to say, Eovaldi — a guy who already had a fairly uninteresting data set coming into the year — is actually performing worse than he has in the previous five years. More walks, less strikeouts, better hit luck. QED.
This is the trouble of ranking. Eovaldi can continue his current trajectory for the next part of the season — all he has to do is not get injured, which is a big ask given that he he’s had one full season of pitching since 2014 — and he’ll comfortably finish in the top 5 starters.
There’s one ranker on FantasyPros who had Eovaldi as SP13 in the pre-season. Never mind the fact that Eovaldi has never finished above SP40 on the Razzball Player Rater, and in 4/5 of the past years has finished outside the top 100.
So, is ranking Nathan Eovaldi as SP13 demonstrate lack of understanding of historical data, or does it demonstrate boldness? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments.
Of course, this is all a precursor to having readers think differently about the mid-season recap I’m about to walk us through. I’m not perfect. Rudy’s not perfect. You’re not perfect. Embrace imperfection.
I think what’s important when it comes to rankings, is the boldness return on investment. A fair chunk of you readers pay something for your fantasy baseball articles. Whether you pay in the form of attention and time for ads or cash for a subscription, that’s your call. I know a lot of you pay for multiple analysts. How many people have a subscription to Razzball, Fangraphs, The Athletic, and maybe a Patreon of your favorite small site? How many people check in with the free content on FantasyPros and PitcherList? And maybe you’re grabbing a reduced-price subscription to FTN to finish out the year. Just doing napkin math, you might have a couple hundred bucks per year wrapped up into your total subscription package.
Some of those guys at the big sites — this is their full-time job. Me? I do this maybe 3 hours a week if I’m fast. I’m also free. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: there are many full-time analysts who rank players not by data, but by hunches.
I’ll ask again: Was Nathan Eovaldi at SP13 a bold take or a lack of understanding?
I’m not saying that I have some secret, mystical understanding of sports analytics. If I did, then I’d be rolling in dough from my winnings of big money events. You know why MGM has a giant illuminated sphere in Las Vegas right now? Because a sucker’s born every minute. People willingly walk into grandiose casinos to put money down on professional sports. Or now, you just load it into the app. DraftKings publishes their outcome stats: 77% of players lose money, with 8% breaking even. The house always wins.
If sports could be predicted, then casinos wouldn’t offer betting.
Nathan Eovaldi is currently +1000ish to win the AL Cy Young. You bet $100 and walk away with $1000, simple as that. For a guy who has 2 healthy years to his resume and a 4.00+ career ERA.
Do you take the bet?
Why do I talk about betting when I’m thinking about free fantasy baseball rankings? Because casinos have super-computers, and the super-computer thinks that the casino will make enough return on investment on a +1000 bet for Nathan Eovaldi that they will make enough money to pay their debts, pay their employees, build a giant sphere in the desert, and still make profit. I told you — a sucker’s born every minute. The implied percentage for a +1000 bet is about a 9% chance of occurring. So, a casino is looking at the same stats that I am, and the casino says, “There’s a 9% chance that Nathan Eovaldi is the top AL starting pitcher in 2023.” There’s an implied saying as well: “There’s a 91% chance that he doesn’t maintain his current performance.”
I’ll ask again: does ranking Nathan Eovaldi at SP13 seem like a bold take, or is it just a misreading of data?
The number one critique of my ranking system is that it doesn’t seem to reflect reality. And that’s fine. I don’t try to predict reality. I try to predict fantasy value. This has always been my goal. I add in factors that try to add boldness because it’s useless for my readers to look at a list of top performers that they can’t add to their rosters.
Is Gerrit Cole doing well? Probably. I don’t care because you’ll never be able to add him from the waiver wire. If you trade for him, you’re probably overpaying. But Mitch Keller? I told you about him in Week 2 of this year. He’s in the top 10 SP, and he was completely free in every league. I kept you on the Spencer Strider train when he struggled, and he’s still SP1. Jose Berrios and Charlie Morton were practically free in drafts after miserable 2022 performances, and they’re SP23 and SP34 respectively. Early in the season, everybody said Chris Bassitt was donezo, and I asked y’all to keep the faith. He’s SP37 now. Braxton Garrett was free in every league and I asked people to take a chance on him early in the season. He’s SP44 right now.
Y’all remember my strong push for Joe Musgrove in the pre-season, despite the guy falling 10+ rounds due to a toe injury. Musgrove came out of the gate cold but has dominated since the end of May — 6-0 over his last 8 starts with a 2.01 ERA / 2.52 xFIP. He’s SP43 on the year and racing to the top. Over Musgrove’s last three starts, he’s got a 24:2 K:BB ratio and a 1.80 ERA. Here we go, Joe!
Y’all know I told you not to draft Sandy Alcantara. He’s SP104 right now. Kyle Gibson was the hottest add of the early season, and I warned y’all about his impending collapse. Gibson is SP71 at the time of writing. Lance Lynn had that game with 16 strikeouts and I told y’all to keep chill. Lynn is SP109 right now. Even my best friend Coolwhip went all-in on Jared Shuster to start the season, and Shuster is SP146 on the year.
That’s not to say that I’m perfect. Along with Grey, we led the Brady Singer hype train. Singer hasn’t panned out and is SP185 on the year. But Singer isn’t awful. Singer’s FIP is 1.6 points better than his ERA. Singer has a .340 BABIP that is unsustainable, and he’s got his lowest HR/9 of his young career. The Royals are flat-out awful as well — there’s no Win luck to help Singer soar through the ranks.
My system loves Reid Detmers because the guy’s K rate is elite. Detmers’ BB/9 is tolerable but could use improvement. Detmers’ FIP/xFIP/xERA/SIERA? All well below 4.00. But he’s only got 2 Wins on the year and a 4.31 ERA, which means a disappointing SP84 performance.
The Wiffonator is infatuated with Hunter Greene. 12.3 K/9, 3.93 ERA / 3.53 FIP…and a .340 BABIP. Greene’s 1.35 WHIP and measly 2 Wins have been a nightmare for fantasy owners. Greene messed up his hip and is one of the top Reds prospects, meaning that they don’t want him hurting himself more. Because Rudy thinks that Greene will still sneak in 9 starts on the year, my system outputs Greene as a top performer. And who can argue with 12 K/9 on a team that has the NL Central to deal with?
This is the long way of saying: data may not agree with perception. There are dozens of rankers out there. Some of them are literally charging you when they throw darts at a board and call it a day. And they make a career out of it because a sucker’s born every minute.
Me? I’m just reasonably good with spreadsheets and trying my best to give you insights into players that you otherwise wouldn’t look at. I don’t do this professionally. I don’t do this for the money, although I do get paid for my work. I don’t do this to get reactions or social clout. I’ve quit social media and walked away from all the connections I made. I do this because, ostensibly, it’s meaningful. Not that the rankings are meaningful. But me walking through data and teaching y’all? That’s meaningful.
Enjoy the All-Star Break!