In my 20s I played a lot of fantasy baseball, but kids and work eventually made that time commitment harder to manage. Still, every January and February as the impatience for baseball starts to grow, I tend to start looking at some fantasy stuff just to pass the time. The Royals faces you expect to see are all there in the top 300 lists, but the one that jumped out at me was Bobby Witt Jr. He seemed a lot higher than I was expecting, even in points leagues. I knew his stolen base potential made him more attractive for rotisserie owners, but even without that advantage he was still put on par with Francisco Lindor. What, if anything, do fantasy outlets know that I don’t?
The craziest draft is at NFBC where Bobby is being taken in the first or second round with an average of seventh overall. This high selection is due to rules that make stolen bases worth a lot more than at other places, and thus inflates his value a lot. Still, a couple of other sites have him going very high, and Yahoo! has him at 15th overall. To see a bit more, I signed up for a team on ESPN, and though he is a bit lower, many people are still drafting Witt in the first few rounds. They have him as the fifth-ranked shortstop and 40th-ranked overall in the points format. In traditional rotisserie he is ranked similarly. It is clear that their projection system is expecting a lot of growth out of Bobby.
Since it is a points-system for most fantasy leagues, that is what it focuses on for the projection, but ESPN gives the slash line too. Their line for Witt is .273/.322/.482, which is a lot better than any other projections I have seen. That is about a 20-point increase in batting average, almost 30 in OBP, and almost 55 in slugging over last season. Most projection systems are expecting increases, but of about half that magnitude, for instance, ZIPS has him at .263/.313/.462 and all the other Fangraphs projections are somewhere near that. That puts most of his projections at 110 wRC+ give or take a few points. ESPN’s would have him above 120 I think, though I am having to eyeball that not knowing if their overall average projections are higher.
I would love to see projection distributions to be able to tell if there is something in particular that these different systems are keying on, but I don’t think anyone publishes all of their projections for each player with that level of detail. I have seen Dan Szymborski reference player percentile projections at times, it just isn’t something publicly available for all the players as far as I know.
Anyway, I’m not sure it means anything. In some ways, fantasy outlets have an incentive to inflate numbers overall to get people more excited for drafting. Maybe if someone tracked fantasy projections over a few years versus the non-fantasy projection systems we could learn if they are more optimistic. If you told me I could lock in .273/.322/.482 for the coming year right now on Bobby Witt, then I would do it. It might give up some upside, as again I’m sure his 90th-percentile projections are pretty good, but that would be a solid second season. It just seemed interesting that fantasy baseball players seem more excited about Witt than anyone else does.