"Irrational exuberance" was a 1990s warning to stock market investors who now have seen their investment portfolios return to those long ago levels.
Today, conservatism -- at least when it comes to assessing risk -- is fashionable. Upside plays suddenly seem reckless. Can we learn from our nation's financial foibles lessons that can at least reward our fantasy baseball investments?
Let's perform some statistical due diligence on hitters whose perceived value this year is significantly higher than any reasonable person would have projected heading into the 2008 season (or, for some, in light of last year's actual performance). We'll call these players the Bubble Boys. Do we want to buy in now at these much higher prices or should we pass, pull up a chair and wait for the loud "pop" once they burst?
This week, we concentrate on hitters. Next week, some "Bubble Boy" pitchers. For context, let's consult the statistically weighted, tier-based ranking from Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and then get a broad-based view of the market courtesy of hundreds of preseason fantasy drafts via our friends at MockDraftCentral.com.
Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers: Shandler's forecaster and the market seem to agree: solid mixed-league starter. His average draft placement, or ADP, is 65 and, interestingly, he was just the 65th-best prospect in baseball last spring according to Baseball America. He's K'ed 27.5 percent of the time in the Minors and 29.8 percent in the Majors in 2008. That translates to about a .260 average, not last year's .285. Given Davis has one of the most vicious swings in baseball, homers on 19.7 percent of fly balls like last year is sustainable. Average is about 11 percent.
Casey Kotchman, 1B, Braves: More agreement between Shandler's system and the market: borderline mixed-league starter (he's been drafted in 12-team mixed leagues 71 percent of the time). He's a groundball hitter with subpar power when he puts the ball in the air. The contact rate is great, but the walk rate is now below average, too (just 36 last year in 573 plate appearances). Broom him.
Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels: The Forecaster has seen the light, but the market still recklessly buys (on 100 percent of rosters and typically drafted ahead of Lastings Milledge, who could be five-category material). Forget about any power (12 homers in 945 career at-bats). The speed is of no use in mixed leagues (a ho-hum 10-to-15 bags). And all projections must factor in a significant injury risk (never more than 92 games).
Ty Wigginton, 3B/OF, Orioles: This year, 93 percent of mixed leaguers are drafting him. The Forecaster likes him even more than his ADP of 192. But he's hit homers at about 18 percent of fly balls once before; that's his ceiling. Expect the rate to decline by 25 percent, taking the homer total with it. At age 31, Wigginton is not a growth stock.
Mike Aviles, SS, Royals: He's on 99.6 percent of mixed-league rosters with an ADP of 159, which I think is fair. The Forecaster is more skeptical. I agree that last year's .357 average on balls in play wasn't supported by a high line-drive rate. Expect him to hit about .290. But the power is nearly average and he makes so much contact that his homer total should hold in the low teens.
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles: His ADP is 128 and he's been drafted in every league. Wieters is a perfect prospect who hit better in Double-A last year than Evan Longoria did in 2007. Although you can't reach for greatness more than once or twice in a draft, it's probably smart to do it at least once.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers: Even the sober types view him as a solid No. 3 outfielder. But Cruz strikes out too much and has been a Four-A player in the past (he turns 29 in July). He's often destroyed minor league pitching, so those buying at that level are too heavily weighting just 115 at-bats for the Rangers last year.
Denard Span, OF, Twins: The Forecaster is buying even ahead of the market. But his slugging percentage in 2,095 Minor League at-bats is .358. He's not a good percentage base stealer and must hold off Delmon Young, once baseball's best prospect and still younger (than Span).
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: While his ADP is 87, the range is 51-118. He strikes out a lot: 27 percent of at-bats last year. So expect his average to be about no higher than .270. Also project a 10- to 20-percent dip in homer rate and a similar drop in the number of fly balls he hits (Ludwick will not remain the most extreme flyball hitter in baseball, as in 2008). His homer environment is St. Louis is very depressive, so I can't go more than 25 to 30 homers even with a full slate of games. Late is better.