Evan Longoria is the Rays’ franchise player, having inked a long-term extension with the team this offseason that should keep him there for the extent of his career. In many 15-team NFBC leagues he’ll go late in the first round or early in the second round as the No. 2 third baseman to get drafted in many leagues. However, I’ve got him as my No. 35 player overall, well below his ADP both at and in NFBC Drafts. Why does Longoria rate so low? In short – we don’t project him to get as many plate appearances as many of his contemporaries. Longoria was limited to 74 games last season due to a hamstring injury that ultimately required surgery, and then a subsequent procedure during the offseason. This after missing 29 games the previous season due to nagging hamstring problems. While it would be nice to presume that his November surgery cleared everything up, it would be Pollyannaish to give him a full 158-162 game projection for 2013.
And this illustrates an annual issue for those of us that do projections and valuations. It’s not just a matter of evaluating a player’s skills, but it’s also important to project playing time. As we discussed last year, extra playing time doesn’t just help in the accumulation of counting stats, but it can provide greater heft in a qualitative stat like batting average, where our projected .293 batting average for Shin-Soo Choo was worth more than Allen Craig’s projected .308 average, because he was projected to get 552 at-bats compared to Craig’s 321.
Of course, projecting playing time is an imperfect science. Injuries happen, job battles get resolved, and some players just take the leap. Of course, we adjust our projections accordingly when news happens in spring training, and job battle resolutions aren’t simply settled on Opening Day.
Last year I decided to do a set of playing-time neutral rankings to at least illustrate what these players were capable of doing when at-bats were equal. Obviously that won’t happen in real life, and moreover, not every player would improve linearly with more playing time. Platoon players (often, but not always) are platoon players for a reason. The idea here is that we might see some chances to find value – a player that otherwise doesn’t rank high but shows up on the second list could be a nice endgame pick. When we did this exercise last year, we were lucky to focus on Allen Craig and that Mike Trout tested out well, two good examples of players taking the leap and getting more playing time than expected.
Our methodology is the same as last year. I’m using his Standings Gain Points as my unit of measure – that’s the starting point for my dollar values. The actual equation is (Total Standings Gain Points / At-Bats) x 100 – basically, I wanted to move out the decimal point two places to make it a little more decipherable. This was done for standard 12-team mixed auction leagues, with a 60-40 hitting/pitching split as the starting point. I went with the top 80 hitters per at-bat this year. This year I also laid out their basic 5×5 projected stats. "VALUE" = their current projected value in $260 budget leagues. Here are the results (PDF version here):
Looking at the results, as always the elite players do well, though those that might get rated higher on the basis of their reliability (see also, Robinson Cano) lose a couple of spots. But we also see what happens if certain elite prospects get an extended look, with Billy Hamilton being the glaring example. Even after my recent upgrade in his playing time projection, he’s a negative-valued player in a standard 12-team mixed league, almost entirely on the basis of a lack of playing time (I have him projected to play 44 games). But if you give him the same at-bats as everyone else, his value skyrockets thanks to his crazy speed.
Which leads us to one of the flaws of our methodology – hitters whose value principally relies upon speed tend to get overvalued here. That’s because with extra playing time, their stolen base rate will likely decline – instead of being inserted into games where their speed is optimized, they face all situations, including blowout games, and don’t get the pinch-hit and pinch-run chances.
We alluded above how platoon hitters are going to get overvalued when we do this, and Brandon Moss fits that example quite well. The logic is pretty simple – those extra at-bats for Moss aren’t going to come against an infinite number of right-handed pitchers, but rather against lefties that fare much better against him.
Let’s briefly talk about two other groups of players that might benefit inordinately from this – those with high walk rates, and catchers. In both cases, by definition they are going to have fewer at-bats than their peers. Walkers because those walks don’t count as at-bats in a normal projection, thus artificially giving them more chances to accumulate counting stats than they would in an environment where plate appearances are equal. (Note to self: Next year, use plate appearances rather than at-bats as our baseline.) And with catchers, even in the extreme case of someone like Buster Posey or Carlos Santana, who both play other positions when they don’t catch, they’ll almost never get in the same number of plate appearances as the top hitters.
And yet, we still see a few players where, if everything breaks right, could provide you a hefty profit. Tyler Moore stands out the most to me in this exercise. Right now he’s a "Minister Without Position" – first base and both corner outfield slots are blocked. But neither Adam LaRoche nor Jayson Werth have been ironmen in their recent history, and as much as I love Bryce Harper, his all-out playing style could lead to injury quite naturally. He seems as if he could be this year’s Allen Craig – a guy that will produce if the at-bats somehow fall to him. Charlie Blackmon on the Rockies and Eduardo Nunez on the Yankees also fit that profile.
We did this exercise for 12-team mixed leagues, but you can really see the value of it when you drill down deeper. In single-league universes or mixed leagues with 15-plus teams, a few part-time players are necessary to fill your roster. These are the players you want to target with your endgame dollars – guys that could provide you that massive profit, instead of the steady, boring players that will earn you all of $1 on that $1 investment. Run your own numbers if you do your own projections. The exercise will provide you a handy sleeper list.