Hot Streaks


RotoAuthority Unscripted: A Second Base Cage Match

This is an article about old versus new. This is an article about years of production versus what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? This is an article about season-long performance and predictability versus unexpected hot streaks. And I don’t know how it’s going to end. 

Yes, you guessed it. This article is about Chase Utley and Luis Valbuena.

I suppose a bit of context is in order. In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I entered the month of September (or at least I exited August) with a pretty sizeable lead of 14 points in the standings. I kind of figured on coasting into championship, since the lead hadn’t changed much in at least a month or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

Hat tip to the owner of Tanaka Flocka Flame for shrinking that lead to 3.5 points, despite being without their name-inspiring star. So, I’m not exactly coasting like I expected to. Desperate might not be quite the right word…but maybe it is.

My hitting needs some more work, as I can conceivably pick up points in Runs, HR, and RBI—and I need to not lose them in AVG and SB. Which brings me to my dilemma.

Assuming for the moment that I don’t have the flexibility to drop anyone else, am I better off taking the surging Valbuena over the slumping Utley?

Let’s take a look.

Round 1: Recent Performance

In the last 30 days of 5x5 stats (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG)
Valbuena: 18/6/10/1/.292
Utley: 6/0/11/2/.189

Obviously, it’s an easy win for Valbuena—that’s why we’re having this conversation, and that’s why his ownership is up from 4% (in Yahoo! leagues) on August 27 to today’s 23% number. He leads my waiver wire with those 18 runs scored and six home runs—though Oswaldo Arcia beats him on the latter account in plenty of free agent lists, I suppose.

Notably, it’s not a knockout, as Utley bests Valbuena in RBI and steals. Plus, while the batting averages would be nice to switch retroactively, is there any indication they’ll continue? And it’s not like runs scored are the most predictive stat in the world.

Winner: Valbuena. On to the next round.

Round 2: 2014 Season

On the season, 5x5 plus some more: (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP)
Valbuena: 499 PA 61/16/48/1/.245/.329/.440
Utley: 617 PA 69/11/76/7/.273/.342/.414 

Utley runs up huge advantages in RBI, steals, and average—making it harder for me to believe Valbuena really will out-average Utley over the rest of the season, but Valbuena does noticeably better in power. Some of that difference—especially in RBI—can be chalked up to a big difference in plate appearances, so that makes Valbuena’s runs total even more impressive compared to Utley’s. Looking a little further under the hood, we can see that Valbuena’s got a strikeout percentage of 20.8%, compared to Utley’s 13%; Valbuena’s BABIP is sitting at .286, while Utley’s is .297. So, over any relevant stretch of time, it seems likely that Utley will outperform Valbuena in batting average, but I’m comfortable enough predicting that Valbuena will hit for more power. Call this one for Utley, but by perhaps less than it seems.

Winner: Utley

Round 3: Career Track Record

Uhh…yeah. You don’t need the stats to back this up, but I’ll give you them just so you can be reassured that I’m not lazy. Well, not that lazy, anyway.

Again in the (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP) format.
Valbuena: 205/45/170/6/.228/.309/.374
Utley: 921/228/884/136//286/.370/.489 

I told you. Considering his shorter career, Valbuena’s career numbers are perhaps more relevant than Utley’s, but that doesn’t make this fight any less daunting for the upstart. It also gives us even more to worry about in the batting average department.

Winner: Utley But enough about the past. What about the future?

Round 4: Schedule and Teammates

Anyone who’s played fantasy baseball for more than a week or two has figured out that player performance has a bit of variation from week to week and month to month. With about two weeks left to go (is that it?) we have to take the context of the games each player will be playing into account.

Also, anyone who’s played fantasy long enough to start a second season knows that runs and RBI have about as much to do with the player generating them as they do his teammates helping him along—or getting in the way. 

On the season, the Cubs’ current roster of players has only generated about 3.0 more WAR than the Phillies…but they’ve done it with nearly 1000 fewer PA, because so many Cubs players have come up from the minors recently. Despite the gap in PA, the Cubs have actually hit 24 more homers than the Phils, and the squad has a .311 wOBA compared to the Phillies’ .297 mark. If you’re starting to think of this in degrees of badness, I’ll agree…but the degrees are relevant: the Phillies are a lot worse.

How about their place in those lineups? Valbuena has been bouncing around the top of the order in the last week, recently behind Jorge Soler and the recently-returned Anthony Rizzo, and in front of Welington Castillo. Chris Valaika, Javier Baez, and Chris Coghlan have also been batting in front of or behind Valbuena. Uh…keep in mind this is about degrees of bad, though things look a lot better with Rizzo back. 

Utley’s team has been a lot more stable, so it’s more fruitful to look at his season-average lineup slot: typically third behind Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere and in front of Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. So it’s no surprise that Utley has more RBI by a wide margin. The lineup-context makes things look more salvageable for Utley in this, now very extended round.

But how about the schedule?

Well, I profiled the Cubs’ and Phillies’ schedules in the same article. Let’s see how they look: about Philadelphia, I said, “You don’t want any part of their lineup.” For Chicago, however, I suggested that “Cubs hitters could be sneaky-good, with a slate of bad pitching staffs to face in the last month.” But that was on the month. Half the month is gone. So, who are the Cubs and Phillies really facing?

Cubs: Home (9): Reds (2), Dodgers (4), Cardinals (3); Away (3): Brewers (3)

Phillies: Home (3): Braves (3), Away (9): Padres (3), A’s (3), Marlins (3)

Wrigley Field (park factor of 0.894) has been the one of the worst parks to hit in this year, and while the Phils’ Citizens Bank Park is also pitching-friendly (park factor 0.917) it’s still friendlier to hitters than the Friendly Confines has been. The Cubs’ three games in Milwaukee are also in a pitchers’ park…while the Phillies get games in the hitting Death Valley that is San Diego, but get some good news: Oakland and Miami have, somewhat surprisingly, played as hitters’ parks this year. Park-wise, I’ll give this to Utley.

Unfortunately for both players, though, their schedules feature games against four of the top five pitching staffs in the NL (two series each, of course). The Cubs and Valbuena get a reprieve in the form of Reds and Brewers games, while the Phillies have to take on the Padres at home and the A’s.

Recapping a long Round 4: The Cubs’ lineup is a little better, and their schedule is a little easier. The Phillies’ home park is less unfavorable, and Utley hits near players that are at least sort of producing within his bad lineup.

Winner: Tie! I know, I know, we all hate ties, but this one does seem to be pretty close, with the most relevant information being that neither player is in a good situation.

Final Winner: Chase Utley

Yes, champion fends off the challenger in this cage match. Valbuena has put up a great month so far, but should we be surprised? There was a reason I said Cubs hitters could be “sneaky-good” this month...but Valbuena actually hasn't. In fact, he put up his impressive 30 day numbers almost entirely in the last couple weeks of August. Go figure. Maybe his "hot streak" has already cooled off.

After getting really excited to pick up Valbuena (he just about had me after Round 1), I have to say I don’t really recommend it. I’m sticking with the more consistent—albeit slumping—Utley.

Feel free to second-guess me when the rest of my lead slips out of my fingers….





Site Map     Contact     About     Advertise     Privacy Policy     MLB Trade Rumors     Rss Feed