Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Impact of Fielder and Pujols Leaving

The baseball world was shocked yesterday when Prince Fielder signed not with the Nationals (as expected) or with the Rangers or Mariners (less likely, but not out of the realm of possibility) but with the Tigers. With the loss of Victor Martinez, the Tigers had been linked to Johnny Damon and to a few other low level DH-types, but no one thought that the Tigers would jump into the pool and grab Fielder.

Within the fantasy community, there was a rapid flurry of speculation and questions regarding how Fielder's migration to the American League would impact the value of first basemen - as well as other elite players - in the National League. If you rolled all of this into one, broad comment, it sounded something like this:

Holy crap! Albert Pujols is gone! Fielder is gone! Who knows when Ryan Howard's coming back? It's Joey Votto and a bunch of mediocrities. Is Ike Davis the second best first baseman in the National League? What should I pay for Votto? $40? $45? $50?

Knee jerk reactions like this are fairly common when a top-tier player enters or leaves the N.L.-only or A.L.-only player pool. However, the actual impact of losing Pujols AND Fielder will turn out to be marginal.

Average N.L. Draft Hitter 2011: 348.6 AB, 91.8 H, 44.9 R, 10.5 HR, 43 RBI, 6.9 SB .2634 BA
Average N.L. Draft Hitter 2011 without Pujols/Fielder: 342.3 AB, 89.9 H, 43.8 R, 10.1 HR, 41.8 RBI, 6.9 SB, .2627 BA.

Pujols ($36) and Fielder ($35) earned a combined $71 in 2011. That sounds like a lot of stats to replace. But adjusting the formulas for life without Albert and Prince doesn't change what the top players earned all that much...if at all.

Top 10 N.L. Hitters in 2011 with and without Pujols/Fielder

Adj $
Joey Votto

If I didn't include decimals, it would appear that players like Reyes, Gonzalez, and Castro hadn't moved at all.

This chart assumes that Pujols and Fielder's replacements will put up goose eggs in the way of stats. This is obviously a fallacy...but an analytical mistake that even some experts tend to make. Even if Mat Gamel only puts up 30% of the numbers that Fielder did, this will push the numbers in the Adj $ column slightly lower.

As my longtime readers know, I'm an advocate of paying elite players what they're worth and perhaps even a little more. However, don't make the mistake of assuming that the absence of Pujols and Fielder is going to change the context that much. Pay Votto $1-2 more because he's the best first baseman on the board. But don't pay him $45-50. I guarantee you he won't earn it. 

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