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October Heroes = April Fantasy Warnings

Every baseball fan has an interest in the postseason, but let's be honest -- if you're a hardcore fantasy player, the playoffs seem just a little bit anti-climactic.  After all, the "real" playoffs have already taken place if you're in a head-to-head fantasy league.  The Giants and Tigers still have to decide the World Series, but that pales in comparison to when your Teixy's Midnight Runners team beat your arch-rival Wolfgang Amadeus Cozart in an epic weeklong fantasy finale that came down to one batting average point.

After analyzing your fantasy roster(s) for six-plus months and making moves on a daily basis, once the regular season ends, you're just suddenly...watching the games.  That's it.  No wondering how each at-bat could affect your roto stats or taking note of two-start pitchers or keeping an eye on streaming matchups.  It can be a relief to finally just revert back to being a pure baseball fan in October without having any ulterior fantasy motives clouding your enjoyment of the postseason.  And yet, you're reading Roto Authority this month so CLEARLY you can't wait to begin the 2013 fantasy campaign.  Here's how the MLB playoffs can be a harbinger for next year's fantasy owners...

* Extra Innings.  Unless you're the Washington Nationals, teams generally throw caution to the wind when it comes to letting their pitchers throw in the postseason.  Pitch counts, innings caps, starts on regular rest?  Pfft, this ain't a May series against the Royals.  If a team needs a pitcher to throw, he throws, as winning a World Series trumps all.  It's a sacrifice that pitchers themselves are happy to make; what young starter doesn't want to be the next Jack Morris by growing an awesome mustache carrying your team on your back to a championship?

The reciept for being a postseason horse, however, can often come the next season.  Perhaps the best recent example is Cole Hamels, who won both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards en route to helping the Phillies the 2008 World Series.  Hamels posted a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts and looked to have firmly taken the mantle of Best Pitcher In Baseball, thus making him one of the first few pitchers taken (or perhaps the first pitcher taken) once the 2009 fantasy draft season rolled around.  Unfortunately for those owners, however, Hamels underachieved, posting a career-worst 4.32 ERA in 32 starts and battling elbow issues.

Hamels' postseason heroics made it easy to overlook his age (25) and that he was entering just his fourth pro season in 2009.  He pitched 132 1/3 Major League innings in 2006, 183 1/3 innings in 2007 (plus 6 2/3 more IP in one postseason start) and then a whopping 262 1/3 combined regular season and postseason innings in 2008.  With that kind of major increase in innings, it's no wonder Hamels had arm problems the next season.  This year's playoff workhorse can be next year's fantasy bust, especially when you're dealing with a younger pitcher.

Is there a Hamels from the 2012 postseason?  The top four starters in innings pitched through the LCS series are Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia and Kyle Lohse.  These are four veterans who are used to pitching a lot of innings and pitching in the postseason, so theoretically the added workload shouldn't be a problem for them come 2013.  (With the caveat that Sabathia is having his arm checked out, though that could stem from related injuries during the season moreso than his 21 1/3 postseason innings.)

Among young pitchers, however, I'd be worried about Jarrod Parker.  The A's right-hander pitched 130 2/3 minor league innings in 2011 and also made his Major League debut that season, tossing 5 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks.  This past season, Parker's innings count jumped from 136 1/3 IP all the way to 214 2/3 IP, combining his totals from the minors, Majors and two postseason starts.  It's a big increase for a pitcher who doesn't turn 24 until November and who missed all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.  I have to pick between Parker or another similarly-talented pitcher in a draft next spring, I'll go with the guy who has fewer red flags.

* Inflated Values.  If you were a Delmon Young owner this season, how galling was it to see Young suddenly come alive against the Yankees and win the ALCS MVP?  If he keeps it up through the World Series, there will surely be some fantasy owners who will think this is a sign that Young has finally turned a corner and will mark him down for a draft pick in 2013.  These fantasy owners are fooling themselves.  Four good games shouldn't erase the .267/.296/.411 stinkbomb that Young posted over 151 regular season games, nor should it erase his middling career numbers.  

Young is likely to join the likes of Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein, Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria as recent surprise LCS/World Series MVPs who followed up their big postseasons with mediocre performances the next season.  Every fantasy owner knows enough to be wary of small sample sizes during the season, yet a hot 20-plate appearance stretch in October is often not taken with the same grain of salt.  Some of it is just pure emotion; what Giants fan wouldn't have felt good about taking Ross in their 2011 drafts, just months after Ross helped bring San Francisco its first Series? 

To paraphase Tom Hanks, however, there's no emotion in fantasy baseball!  The emergence of unlikely heroes is one of the reasons why postseason baseball rules, but there's a reason why the Youngs, Rosses and Renterias were Cinderellas in the first place.  Enjoy these guys getting their days in the sun and then keep them in the shadows come your next fantasy draft.

* The Reverse Is True.  Along the same lines, the small sample size of a playoff series also shouldn't dissuade you from taking an obviously good player who just had a bad few games.  Yadier Molina, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Buster Posey and Robinson Cano are just a few of the first-tier fantasy stars who have had tough postseasons, yet they should absolutely still go early in next year's drafts.  Younger stars like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters or Madison Bumgarner struggled in October and aren't as established as the first-tier guys, yet I'd still happily take any of them next season. 

There are surely a few guys whose fantasy value has been torpedoed by their performances this fall, such as Jose Valverde or Alex Rodriguez, yet those guys were harmed less by their disastrous postseasons than by their shaky numbers during the regular season.  I was already planning to avoid Valverde like the plague in my next draft; his losing his closer's job during the ALCS was just the final nail in the coffin.  Valverde and A-Rod were question marks already, but if you think Cano's stock has dropped just because of his bad playoffs, then I hope I'm in your league next year.


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