Oct 7, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) climbs and watches a two-home run by St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (not pictured) clear the wall during the sixth inning in game four of the National League divisional series at PNC Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

How to Know When to Trust Fantasy Baseball Projections

My spreadsheet spit out that Andrew McCutchen would hit 27 HRs, steal 24 bases, and hit .298 for the 2013 fantasy baseball season. His actual totals were  21 HRs, 27 stolen bases, and a .317 AVG. Not bad…considering I was trying to predict the future!!

How do you know which projections in which to place your confidence? You can’t type a URL into your googling machine without finding a set of  fantasy baseball projections this time if year. I heard that if you printed out all those fantasy baseball projections and lined the paper up end-to-end that it would circle the entire world 12 times. 

So how do you choose a good set of projections? Think about the “3 P’s”:

    1. Performance Projections
    2. Playing Time Projections
    3. Person Projections


    Performance Projections

    The gist is that you predict a player’s future performance by studying their past performance (or comparable player’s past performances in the case of Nate Silver’s PECOTA). Therefore, players with little past history (I’m looking at you, rookie) are tougher to project with a great deal of accuracy.

    This is the most important step. Fantasy baseball is a numbers game so it is vitally important that you have an objective, bias-free, reasoned set of numbers to work with. That way the projections aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, nor are they overly doom and gloom.

    A good set of projections must be reasoned and realistic, at least as far as the player’s past performance has indicated. If the math is good and the spreadsheet gods are pleased, there is about a 65% chance that a player will finish within a small +/- range of his projections (see: McCutchen, Andrew above).

    As you select which projections to rely on for your fantasy baseball draft, make sure that your source uses a reasonable mathematical foundation and offers a bit of transparency in terms of methodology. Don’t trust a projection source that seems to just pull numbers out of the air based solely on gut.


    Playing Time Projections

    Some projection sources will use absurdly complicated formulas for their projections, only to receive very nominal gains over simpler methods. The fact of the matter is that projections come down to plate appearances or innings pitched.

    The math might say that Ryan Braun hits a home run every .059 plate appearance, but if he loses a season to suspension, then it doesn’t take a math major to know that his home run projections quickly become worthless. Sure, Bryce Harper had some peachy projections in 2013, until his season was lost when he ran into a wall. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that’s it’s an easy thing to predict when the injury gremlin will hit.

    Injury is a big part of it, but that’s not all. Minor leaguers need a clear path to a starting position, struggling players can be benched or, worse, platooned. On top of that are fickle managers with their hard-to-read bullpen decisions.

    Playing time isn’t always linked to injury; it is most assuredly linked to talent as well. Here’s a fun trick for you. Use these numbers as a floor in determining replacement players: .275 wOBA for a middle infielder or catcher, .290 for a 3B or CF, or .310 wOBA for a 1B or corner outfielder. Why are these are reasonable replacement player numbers? Easy. If a player is worse than these numbers, they won’t be given a chance to play. They’ll grab a seat on the pine and be replaced in the lineup because just about any Triple A player can beat those numbers.

    Don’t assign too many at bats to a rookie who has a solid veteran blocking him in the lineup, be wary of players on teams who are carrying 5 outfielders who’ll fight for at bats, don’t draft Matt Adams, and remember that a leadoff hitter gets on average about 55 more plate appearances than the teams cleanup hitter.

    This is a lot of information on playing time projections to take in, but it’s all relevant in that you can’t trust fantasy baseball projections that don’t factor in every bit of the above information. Realistic playing time projections are extremely vital in terms of making accurate fantasy baseball projections.


    Person Projections

    The final “P” of projections is a subjective element, although not all forecasting systems agree with this. Some simply take the numbers that the computer spits out and print them as is. Others, like Ron Shandler, are known to sometimes go in and tweak a number if feels like the computer is speaking binary crazy talk.

    You might call this going with your gut, but it’s really just using your experience of evaluating fantasy baseball players to make a more reasoned projection. While “he’s in the best shape of his life” is an absolute cliché at this point, it’s still true that you need pay attention to a player’s personal life, stadium changes, lineup rumors, off-the-field drama, and so on.

    Begin with reasoned data, but do trust your gut. I didn’t trust my gut with Mike Trout. His brief call-up in 2011 was weak, so his projections were understandably poor, given the little data to work with. But I watched him play his first game called up in 2012. A ball was hit deep into the left field corner and I watched Trout make a jump on the ball with an athleticism that just stunned me.

    If I would’ve trusted my gut in that moment, I would’ve treated him as a special player. Instead, I picked him up and immediately flipped him, thinking I could use his hype to score a big return. I did get a fantastic return in the trade, but I lost out on the story of baseball, because I didn’t trust what my eyes had just saw.

    Within reason, go with your gut. Begin with strong numbers, take care that you don’t blindly get swept up in where the rumor winds blow, but do know that there is a place for subjectivity in making fantasy baseball projections. Read the latest rumors the day before your fantasy baseball draft. Pay attention to the scuttlebutt coming out of Spring Training.


    The Final Word

    I’ll end this by telling you how Crackerjacks makes our projections, and we of course take all 3 “P’s” into account. They were created by Tanner Bell (read more on how he used a monkey for help). Tanner is a mild mannered CPA trainer by day and a genius fantasy baseball spreadsheet nerd by night.

    In fact, you can make your own fantasy baseball projections. Tanner has also partnered with Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs to develop an eBook and spreadsheet bundle that literally takes you step-by-step through building your own projection spreadsheet in Excel.

    Seriously, it’s step-by-step.

    If you are interested in making your own projections, take a look at Tanner’s spreadsheet. With a little experience, you can be the master of your own fantasy baseball dynasty. Until then, we hope our Crackerjack projections can help you win your league.

    Tags: Andrew McCutchen Fantasy Baseball Mike Trout Projections

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