Week 1 Quick Grades (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Greetings, friends, and welcome to the first instance of our new Fantasy Baseball Quick Grades series. We finally made it to the regular season, and it looks like we are actually going to get a full 162-game season after that messy 2020 we endured. I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely pumped. The start of the baseball season always feels like a fresh new beginning each Spring, and there’s nothing we need more in the world now than a refresh.
Zachary Hanshew does a fantastic job with this series for football, and I’m going to do my best to follow in his footsteps over here on the baseball side of things. But baseball is obviously much different than football, so let’s quickly go over how this series will work this season.
The Quick Grades Series
Each week, I’ll provide grades for hitters and pitchers based on a formula that I created. The scoring system is on a scale of about 40-100, with the grades being something similar to what you would see in school (90-100 = A, 80-89 = B, etc.). There are four categories, each weighted differently, and each has a grade that tops out at 25 (4 x 25 = 100).
These grades provide valuable insight but are not intended to be your end-all-be-all when making lineup decisions. You will see that Ronald Acuna, for example, has a grade of 88.8, while Salvador Perez comes in at 91.3. We all know that Acuna is one of the best players in baseball and one of the most valuable hitters in fantasy baseball because of his ability to provide elite production across the board.
In this shortened first week, though, his grade is hurt by the Braves only having three games and facing one ace and one above-average starting pitcher in two of those three games. Perez and the Royals have great matchups this week, but we also know that Perez is a catcher and isn’t going to play every day. But in a short week like this one, that isn’t a contributing factor (it will be for full weeks).
And these grades wouldn’t be all that useful if guys like Acuna, Mike Trout, and Juan Soto received 100s every week, right? The point here is to provide grades based on recent performance and similar production potential in the upcoming week. More on the specifics of the system below.
The Grading System for Hitters
To develop these grades, I created a weighted formula that juxtaposes recent performance with upcoming matchups. Here’s a brief outline of how it works and how the grades are created:
- wOBA — This is weighed significantly more than the other three factors because, at the end of the day, we care about production, right? Recent production and projected production. That’s what we want. We’ll focus on wOBA from the last 14 days to really hone in on recent performance during the season. We’re looking at wOBA from the 2020 season for these first couple of instances since we don’t have any 2021 data yet (and no, spring training doesn’t count). I created ranges with associated grades for wOBA on a scale of 9 to 25.
- Matchups — wOBA measures recent performance, but we also care about the matchups for the week. For this factor, I assign a grade to every starting pitcher each hitter is projected to face that week based on their value-based ranking (VBR). From there, I grab the average of those grades to create an overall grade for the week. This is weighed less than wOBA but more than stolen bases or total games.
- Stolen Bases — wOBA is a great catch-all statistic but doesn’t account for what happens once a hitter gets on base. Steals are weighed the least here, but we need to include them since they are relevant in just about every fantasy league.
- Games — This one might sound odd at first, but hear me out. The number of games a player plays in a given week matters, especially in weekly formats. If a player is only scheduled to play five games instead of seven in a given week, we need to consider that for their grade. Fewer opportunities means less production. This is weighed less than wOBA and the matchups and slightly more than stolen bases.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Mike, you crazy son of a gun, no one uses wOBA in their fantasy leagues. Why are you using it for these Quick Grades?”
I’m so glad you asked. Here’s why.
wOBA is a good catch-all statistic based on the idea that not all hits are created equal. Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) all tell part of the story but don’t weigh the different ways that hitters get on base accurately. wOBA combines all of the various hitting metrics into one catch-all metric and weighs them according to their value. If you’re interested in learning more, FanGraphs has a ton of information about wOBA here.
Lastly, here is what Eno Sarris had to say about wOBA in a piece for The Athletic back in 2019:
“wOBA rewards hitters for being good hitters by correctly weighting every input with respect to its value to wins on the field. Hitters with good wOBAs play more often, hitters with bad wOBAs lose playing time. It’s not usually a fantasy stat, but it can help us see who the good hitters are.”
And that’s the point here. We are looking for good hitters who are likely to continue hitting well.
What About Pitchers?
We’ll be covering both hitters and pitchers in this space in the coming weeks. I decided not to include them in this first instance for two reasons. One, this first short week is really messy. We know most of the Opening Day starters, but everything else is a little unclear after that. And rather than try to project the starting pitchers for this first week, especially with teams likely skipping starts for young starters early in the season to keep their innings down after a shortened 2020 season, I thought it best to wait. The other is we are covering A LOT of information here, and this is supposed to be an introduction to the series. Let’s take it slow.
The Plan Going Forward
As I mentioned above, we will transition to recent production once we have the available data. We’ll also probably break these hitters out into positions so that it is a little bit more digestible. For hitters, we’ll start by focusing on wOBA over the last 14 days to see who is producing the most (and likely to continue producing in the short term). For starting pitchers, we’ll start by looking at their FIP over the last 21 days, once we have enough data.
This is a work in progress, and I’d love any feedback. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @mikeMaher with any questions or suggestions, a grade on a player not listed, or if you just want to talk baseball.
Now, to the grades! Note that this table is two pages and is searchable and sortable.
This week, hitters on the Padres, Royals, and Red Sox have the best potential matchups. And the Padres get an added boost because they have four games in this shortened 4-day week, all against the Diamondbacks in Arizona (and they won’t have to face Zac Gallen). That’s part of why you see Fernando Tatis Jr. at the top of those grades with a 96.88. The Red Sox get three days at home against the Orioles, while the Royals are home for three games against the Texas Rangers.
Fade of the Week
Early Bounce-Back Candidate
Christian Yelich hit 12 home runs and stole four bases in 2020, but he batted .205 with a .343 wOBA that was nearly 100 points lower than his .442 number in 2019. As he attempts to get back on track, he’ll get three games at home against Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and probably Michael Pineda. In 14 plate appearances, Yelich has a .385 career batting average against Maeda.
That’s it for this week. Again, if you have any questions, feedback, or requests, hit me up on Twitter!
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Mike Maher is an editor and featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaher, and visit his Philadelphia Eagles blog, The Birds Blitz.