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Silver League Update: Running With It

Like most of us who play fantasy baseball, I like to think I look at baseball form an analytical, sabermetric angle. When I evaluate a player, I try not to look at output stats like wins, runs, RBIs, and such. We all know how little a pitcher has to do with how many runs his team scores (unless he's Micah Owings or Babe Ruth), and I don't care how often you get on base, you probably won't score too many runs in the next two hitters in your lineup are Chone Figgins and...any other Mariner. Going into this season, I had the attitude that the final runs scored and RBI totals were going to be little more than a crapshoot and the best anyone can do is to draft good hitters in good lineups and hope for the best.

Well, now I'm sitting in twelfth in runs scored (just eleventh in RBIs!) and I'm starting to wonder if maybe there's something I should have known earlier.

Trying to be fair to myself, I figured that batting order could matter a little, and parks too, so I wasn't surprised at all to see Ian Kinsler topping the runs scored chart with 59. Kinsler's got everything you'd expect out of a great run scorer: awesome hitter, great park, great lineup, and leading off. The only thing he's missing is a top-notch OBP. Following him on the list, though, is Carlos Gonzalez, who doesn't hit leadoff. He's got all the other factors, though without Troy Tulowitzki to hit behind him, I wonder if he'll slip further down the leaderboard as the season progresses. The next two hitters on the list are David Ortiz and Jose Bautista, two more middle-of-the-lineup hitters. It's worth noting that these hitters play for four of the top five run-scoring teams in baseball, and all but Bautista play in parks that have increased runs so far this season.

The rest of the top run scorers are -- unsurprisingly --a bit of a mixed bag. You've got superstars like Joey Votto and Robinson Cano next to players like Melky Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza. There are two Yankees on the list and three Rangers, but Giants and A's make it on too. Speedsters like Elvis Andrus are right there with power hitters like Josh Hamilton. Let's face it, there are plenty of ways to score a run. Aside from all being good hitters (or at least off to good starts) the ting most of these hitters have in common is that they fall into one of two groups: top of the order hitters (mostly with speed), and middle of the order power hitters.

Not everything that's true for the very best will run true for the middle of the pack players that can end up making so much difference, let alone the free agents you can use to bolster your team now. Diving further into the information, I see three players among the top 50 run scorers (that is, the second page of Yahoo! stats) that are owned in fewer than half of all leagues. Carlos Pena (44% ownership, 44 runs scored), Zach Cozart (26%, 43 runs), and Marco Scutaro (34%, 41 runs). Pena will kill your average, but those runs are a nice complement to his homers. Cozart plays short and helps in a category; that's better than you can say for plenty at his position. Scutaro might be the most desirable of the three. Yahoo! has conveniently placed him right next to Derek Jeter, whom he trails by just three homers, one RBI, and thirteen points of batting average. With Coors Field and two positions of eligibility, grab him if you're in one of those 66% of leagues where he's available. 

I thought about looking at the top run scorers among likely free agents, but that doesn't honestly seem very helpful -- just because a player has scored some runs this season, doesn't mean he'll keep scoring them at the same pace. Assuming for a moment, that all or almost all middle of the order hitters are taken in most fantasy leagues, let's take a look at some leadoff and number two hitters that might be available and ready to score some runs. The following hitters are owned in 80% of leagues or more, and bat near the top of their respective lineups. It's not exactly a group of All-Stars, but at least I've weeded out the Willie Bloomquists of the world.

Jordan Schafer (21% owned--I'm already cheating a little)
Gordon Beckham (19%)
Denard Span (18%)
Kirk Nieuwenhuis (14%)
Gregor Blanco (8%)
Norichika Aoki (7%)
David DeJesus (4%)
Mark Ellis (3%)

Yeah...I said they weren't All-Stars. They can have some value, though, and in a category like runs you can only help yourself on the margins with free agents. Some of them are better pickups than others. Schafer is a pretty prolific base stealer and Beckham sort of has that old upside. DeJesus is the outfielder who (supposedly) won't be losing playing time to Anthony Rizzo. Leading off, Aoki stands to benefit if the Brewers get things in gear over the next couple weeks. If they sell, you probably won't want too much to do with him, though. Ellis was scoring pretty well before he got hurt and  should be back soon--extra use for those of us in MI leagues.

Nieuwehhuis and Blanco have been the most successful so far, but I'm the most wary of those two. Nieuwenhuis (doesn't he have a nickname yet?) is likely to keep regressing, and the contending Giants might think of Blanco's lineup spot as a place to improve at the deadline. 

While you're looking for hitters on the waiver wire, don't forget to think about how their environments might change this month. 

Runs scored -- as I'm learning -- isn't an easy category to prepare for, but it might be even harder to improve midseason. The best news I can think of is that it is such a volatile category. A hitter with lots of homers is pretty likely to keep on homering. A hitter with lots of runs...it's a little harder to tell. Finally, if you really need the help on the margins, considering adding a platoon hitter -- or flat out streaming at bats. 




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