Even though I spend a lot of time looking at stats, sometimes my overall perception of a player's current fantasy value can be a little bit off. Occasionally weird patterns can emerge that lead to me thinking a player is doing either much better or much worse than he actually is. For instance, while I have watched a lot of Rockies games this season, I think I've only seen Trevor Story hit two or three of his 27 home runs live -- it seems whenever I tune in, I witness a strike out or a routine grounder. On the flip side, I feel like every time I'm watching Jason Heyward at bat he gets a hit... which any Heyward owner, of course, can tell you seems highly unlikely given his putrid .228 batting average. I keep having to remind myself just how spectacular a season Story is having, and just how disappointing Heyward has been. Now, in writing this article, I realize that I may, to an extent, have been having a similar perception problem with Adam Conley.
I actually expected this article to be a giant sales pitch for Conley. But after looking a little more closely at his numbers, I'm realizing that I may have been overvaluing him by quite a bit. I own him in two NL-only leagues, and he has definitely been one of the brighter spots of both of my pitching staffs. But now I see that just because he's been a complete stud compared to NL fantasy team killers like Francisco Liriano and Patrick Corbin, doesn't mean he is necessarily someone that I will target next year in all of my NL-only leagues, let alone in shallower formats.
His numbers across the board tend to be good, but never great. His home numbers are better than on the road (3.25 ERA/1.20 WHIP as compared to 3.88/1.36 away from Miami). But I've always tried to stay away from pitchers who give up too many walks, regardless of how the rest of their numbers shake out. Conley's overall BB/9 is 3.58, which makes me wary. Even though Conley's 1.28 WHIP (before Wednesday's start) on the season doesn't look horrible, he's now had eight games where he's allowed three or more walks, including one where he issued a horrific seven bases on balls. In his 2015 AAA season, his overall ratios looks great: 2.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP. But his 81 strikeouts and 40 walks in 107 innings don't necessarily scream future fantasy ace, and while he's still relatively young (he turned 26 in May), I'm starting to think that he may be closer to his major league ceiling than I previously suspected.
Conley has been quoted as saying that he is more comfortable with the instruction he's received at the major league level than he was in the minors, in terms of feeling like he is pitching to his strengths and taking an approach that is most comfortable for him. He sounds like the kind of player who likes to watch tape on himself, analyze his strengths and weaknesses, and make changes accordingly. I believe I even remember one of the Marlins announcers suggesting earlier this season that Barry Bonds had been instrumental in giving him advice and aiding his development at the major league level. So Conley is definitely a hard worker, and it seems to be paying off, but it's not like he has turned his minor league numbers on their head. I can't see any reason to think that he'll ever be a fantasy stud simply given his lack of precise control/propensity to just walk way too many guys. Until and unless he can find a way to up the Ks and cut down on the BBs significantly, I suspect he'll be one of those players who tends to provide more value to a real-life baseball team than he does to a pretend squad.
I suspect that the main reason I've been overvaluing Conley is that when I've watched him pitch, I've generally been watching the first few innings of the game. I don't think it's a secret that overall, pitching stats tend to get worse and batting stats tend to get better in the second and third times through the order, and this issue seems to affect Conley more than most. This year, the first 9 batters he faces in a game are hitting .232 against him, the second 9 are hitting .212, and then with the third+ 9 batters, the number jumps to .272. Meanwhile, his corresponding strikeouts: 49, 42... and 15. I feel like there have been several of his starts where I've checked scores and have been happy to see the Marlins up, say, two to nothing in the third or fourth inning, then have felt a bit of a gut-punch to check in a few innings later and find them losing 5-3. Perhaps Conley will find a way to make adjustments and figure out how to pitch effectively deeper into games, but for now I'm proceeding with caution... there definitely appears to be some smoke and mirrors surrounding what I at first glance thought were some fairly dominant pitching performances.
One of the leagues I own Conley in is a deep keeper league that uses K/BB as a category, and going in to next season I'll be able to keep him for $7. I would have considered this a slam dunk before looking so closely at his stats, but now I'm not so sure. His start Wednesday against the Phillies is a good example of how I've been perceiving his value at a higher rate than he's actually providing. A quick glance at the box score and I was happy to see that he pitched what looked like a gem: 6 2/3 scoreless innings, 6 strikeouts, and a win. But what I didn't immediately notice is that he also not only didn't help me in two of my league's scoring categories, he actually hurt me with a 2.00 K/BB ratio (my team is currently in the middle of the pack in that category at 2.91), and an ugly 1.65 WHIP on the day. As I said, even in standard formats, I hate guys who give up too many walks. And this becomes magnified with a league that is structured to basically penalize my team twice for walks -- I have made a concentrated effort to completely avoid guys who give away too many free passes, even if they come on the cheap. Given his minor league numbers, I think Conley may continue being one of these guys. And while he may ultimately provide more than $7 in value next season, I'm guessing I may be able to put that money to better use -- and if I can get another owner to pay about twice that, which is what I suspect he'll go for next year barring a complete collapse in 2016, all the better.
I'm definitely not saying I won't draft Conley at all next season; if the price is right in a 5x5 NL-only league, I would be happy to add him to my team. I just don't want to overvalue him or count on him as one of the important cogs of my pitching staff, even in a deep league. And in shallow leagues, I'll eye him as a nice streaming option when the situation is right -- but if I end up counting on him as a permanent part of my rotation, I'll know something definitely went awry with my overall draft plan.