Wouldn't it be great if there was a single stat that incorporated every type of offensive event that mattered in Fantasy?
There is and it's called Runs Created per 27 Outs (or RC/27 for short). For the third consecutive year, we are rolling out RC/27 projections for all position players expected to win or compete for a regular role. For owners who play in Head-to-Head or current-season simulation formats, as well as those who play Roto games that go beyond traditional categories, RC/27 is a good metric to use when establishing your initial draft rankings. Because it takes a broader range of stats into account than just those used for 5x5 Rotisserie, it is not a particularly useful measure for owners in 5x5 leagues. In particular, players who gain much of their value from stolen bases will appear to be grossly underrated.
RC/27 is a measure that approximates how many runs a lineup would score if it consisted of nine duplicate versions of a particular player. For example, Bobby Abreu registered an RC/27 of 6.4 last year, meaning that a lineup that featured Bobby Abreu in spots 1 through 9 would have averaged 6.4 runs per game. While it is entertaining to imagine Abreu trying to field nine positions at once, the bigger value for us is that it provides a way to evaluate his total productivity against all other position players.
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Also, because RC/27 is a per-game measure, it gives us a way to gauge the potential reward of drafting hitters like Jeremy Hermida, who sit behind injury-prone players (e.g., J.D. Drew) on the depth chart. We can also use it as a tool for evaluating potential mid-season callups, who may not pile up Fantasy points over the course of a full season, but could be as valuable as many established veterans from June or July on.
We will begin this four-part series with a review of first basemen and outfielders in the American League. Then we will follow up with the less offensively potent positions -- catcher and the rest of the infield -- and then repeat the process with the National League. By the time we have gone around the horn, you will have a summary of each position -- who stands out and which players are roughly interchangeable. You will also learn why some players may be rated higher or lower than you expected.
The visualization below displays this year's projections for all selected players, as well as their past RC/27s for any of the past three seasons in which they have exceeded either 200 plate appearances or 30 Runs Created. The player selection tool enables you to compare player projections and trends, and we will be updating this as we present more projections over the next couple of weeks.
There is a clear-cut first tier among the AL first basemen, with Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis and Carlos Pena outpacing the rest of the field by 0.9 runs or more. The second tier is smaller than the graph would suggest, as Victor Martinez and Nick Swisher are more productive filling catcher and outfield roster spots, respectively. That leaves Billy Butler, Justin Morneau, Kendry Morales and injury-risk Nick Johnson making up sub-elite cohort.
Does Carlos Pena really belong with the Big Three?
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Pena certainly looked like one of the elite after his '07 monster season, but the last two years have made that campaign look like a fluke. His decline in '08 was due to a down power year, but he recaptured his home run stroke in '09. It was Pena's .227 batting average that put a damper on his Fantasy value last year. While he will continue to be a prolific whiffer, Pena is almost certain to improve his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Look for last year's .253 rate to climb back towards .300 to send his overall batting average into more respectable territory over .250. That's still not close to Miggy and Youk territory, but Pena has enough power to compensate for the gap in batting average.
Shouldn't Justin Morneau make it the Big Four?
The Twins' first baseman holds his own with Cabrera and Youkilis when it comes to hitting for power and taking walks, and he is a superior contact hitter, so what gives? Morneau is a below-average line drive hitter, which explains why he is a career below-average hitter on balls in play. He managed to drive his overall batting average above .300 in both '06 and '08, but he is a poor bet to repeat the feat. A batting average around .280 is much more in line with his batted ball tendencies, which is just enough to keep him below the top tier.
Which AL first baseman would be the best choice as an endgame 1B in a mixed league draft?
There are several choices, but you can rule out any of the Oakland candidates due to their uncertain roles and playing time, Hank Blalock due to his unsigned status, and Garrett Atkins because of his precipitous skill decline. Because of his extreme groundball tendencies, you can also rule out Casey Kotchman for 5x5 leagues, but he's an intriguing choice in Head-to-Head circuits. He won't match Chris Davis and Paul Konerko for power, but he can keep pace with them in the Fantasy points tally if he can rediscover his doubles stroke from 2007. Last year's depressed BABIP (.286, despite a 19 percent line drive rate), along with evidence that shows he still can hit with authority (an increase in home run ball speed off the bat, per data on the Hit Tracker website), suggests that Kotchman's doubles totals could easily rebound. Konerko is the safe, consistent pick, but for those who don't mind taking a risk, Kotchman and Davis both provide higher upside potential if they can recover from disappointing campaigns.
Adam Lind and Shin-Soo Choo stand out as the top producers among AL outfielders. (Could you have imagined this just a year ago?) After that, no more than one run worth of production separates the next 16 outfielders in the rankings. In other words, if you miss out on either Lind or Choo as your No. 1 AL-only outfielder, you can address several of your other drafting needs first without much repercussion. Even with some risky picks included (J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley, Johnny Damon), there is plenty of meat in the second tier.
Ben Zobrist is among the AL elite at 2B, but isn't putting him in the Top Three among outfielders going too far?
No. 2009 was a career year for sure, but even a sizable regression from an 8.5 RC/27 makes him one of the most valuable American Leaguers at any position. He is a long shot to reach 27 homers again, but his ability to take a walk and avoid excessive strikeouts will enable him to post an on-base average in the upper .300s and steal 15 to 20 bases. With an Iso that should hover near .200, that's good enough for him to keep company with Curtis Granderson and Carl Crawford on your draft list.
Why does Torii Hunter barely register as a viable mixed leaguer in these rankings?
Last season, Hunter ranked eighth among AL outfielders in RC/27, so doesn't he deserve to at least crack the Top 25? In many ways, he had a typical season in '09, posting home run and stolen base totals to which we have grown accustomed from him. It was more than a little curious, though, that he managed a career-best .299 batting average while striking out at his highest rate since 2002. Like Morneau, he overachieved when putting the ball in play, and there is little reason to believe that Hunter won't revert to being a .270 hitter. Hunter still has an advantage in homers and steals over players like Magglio Ordonez and David DeJesus, but the deficit in batting average will render him of roughly equal value.
Will Delmon Young regress even further?
The 24 year-old did manage to salvage a miserable season in '09 with a respectable second-half performance, but there are still plenty of warning signs. Even from July on, Young did not steal a base and walked just seven times in 231 plate appearances. He increased his Iso from .063 to .142, but he did so by jacking more flyballs at the expense of line drives. If Young continues this trend, he will help himself in the HR and RBI categories, but he'll likely make more outs and jeopardize his contributions in the other categories. He is still young enough to consolidate his skills, but until he can show the ability to sustain his power numbers and a high batting average, Young has no place on a standard mixed league roster.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
Al Melchior will be providing data-centric advice columns Fantasy owners all season. Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.