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How to Win 2014: Runs Scored

Winning Runs Scored isn't an easy thing to do: the category is highly dependent upon luck, including plate appearances, lineup order, park effects, opposing pitchers and more. Some of these things you can account for, but others can never be known...and a player's spot in the lineup might change five minutes before any given game. A big part of success in this category is putting yourself in the position to benefit from possible good luck.

There is good news: there's some skill involved too, especially the skill of being a good baseball player. All right, it's more specific than that. On-base skills are by far the most crucial (your teammates can't hit you home if you're sitting in the dugout), and having either power or speed to go with the on-base really, really helps. They call second and third base "scoring position" for a reason.

In discussing how to win Runs Scored this year, we'll take a look at both parts of the category and see how you can steer your fantasy team towards the plate more often.

Embracing Luck

Just because we call something “luck” doesn’t mean it can’t be predicted. A player’s slot in the batting order, the hitters behind him, and the park he plays in are lucky (or unlucky) only in the sense that the player himself has no control over them. They don’t tell us much (if anything) about a player’s true talent, but it’s not like they’re chosen by a random number generator before every at bat. (But wouldn’t that be cool? No...probably not.)

Below, we’ll take a look at some things you can predict and price into your player valuations.

Park Factors!

You know how to do this by now, I imagine. This isn’t 2002. Predictability is this: Colorado is so much of a hitters’ park that it makes all the other parks look pretty much the same. The nine points that separated the Fangraphs Colorado park factor (115) from second-place Texas (106) were as much of a difference as between Texas and Oakland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh (97, tied for 21st).

Even aside from Colorado, the parks do matter. The top non-Coors park factors belonged to the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Orioles, and Yankees last year.

The bottom slots were held by the Giants, Rays, Padres, and Dodgers. The differences aren’t enough to base your whole strategy around, but they’re definitely important to keep in mind at the margins. Runs Scored can easily be won or lost by less than 5%.

Team Batting

Sure, the impact of the immediate two or three hitters in the order matter most, but that information is very much subject to serious change. When you know a player’s slot in the batting order and who’s batting after him (like how you know Jacoby Ellsbury will lead off for the Yanks and that Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano will come sometime after him), act on that information. But when you don’t have it, picking guys from good hitting teams is a perfectly good proxy.

Using Fangraphs.com’s 2014 Projected standings, here are the top teams by Runs Scored per game:

Angels 4.55
Rangers 4.52
Red Sox 4.51
Rockies 4.51
Blue Jays 4.49
Tigers 4.44

Other than the Rockies, NL lineups are projected for fairly low runs totals—probably thanks to the batting pitchers. That’s good reason to avoid their seventh and eighth hitters, but the rest of the lineup shouldn’t feel the effects too much. Here are the best non-Colorado NL teams:

Diamondbacks 4.23
Giants 4.20 (what?)
Cardinals 4.19
Braves 4.14

Batting Order

Batting orders are far from set, but you can make some reasonable predictions nonetheless. Here are some hitters projected to bat first or second (and thus garner lots of PA) and have at least decent hitters in the third through fifth slots behind them. Lineup projections  are based on MLBDepthCharts.com.

Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Gerardo Parra, Aaron Hill, Jason Heyward, Nick Markakis, Billy Hamilton, Zack Cozart, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Nolan Arenado, Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Jean Segura, Erick Aybar, Mike Trout, Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Starling Marte, Everth Cabrera, Kyle Seager, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Ben Zobrist, Matt Carpenter, Peter Bourjos, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Reyes.

Is this long list rather subjective? Yup. So feel free to root through their projected lineups and make your own evaluations about what counts as “decent” third through fifth hitters, who’s really likely to platoon, and who’s so bad they won’t score runs no matter where they’re allowed to hit.

Finding the Talent

Scoring has two components that are largely up to the hitter: getting on base and getting into scoring position with power or wheels.

On Base and Speed

Steals aren’t the only way to advance on the basepaths, so we’ll use Fangraphs’ Baserunning (BsR) scores for speed.

Mike Trout leaps off the page with the third-best OBP (.432) and the fourth-best BsR (8.1). We also know he hits for power and plays in a high scoring lineup with (possibly) good hitters behind him. Yes, Trout is a Runs Scored perfect storm.

But here are some more players worth thinking about for run scoring possibilities, with OBP’s .340 or above and decent BsR scores of at least 3.5.

Andrew McCutchen, Matt Carpenter, David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Everth Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ben Zobrist, Starling Marte, Justin Upton, and Hunter Pence. Okay, so Pence just misses the cut, with a .339 OBP. We’ll include him anyway.

These guys combine elite BsR’s of 5.0 or better with decent OBP’s of .325 or better. Man, on-base standards have gone down….

Elvis Andrus, Alex Rios (another cheat—.324 OBP), Carlos Gomez, Coco Crisp, Austin Jackson, Desmond Jennings, Carl Crawford, plus Ellsbury, Pence, and Cabrera, who make it to both lists.

On Base and (Doubles) Power

Homers will get you across the plate, but home run hitters are easy to find. Doubles and triples are less obvious and aren’t a category of their own, but when you hit one, you don’t need speed: you’re in scoring position already.

The following players had at least 40 doubles + triples and OBP’s of .340 or more:

Matt Carpenter, Jed Lowrie, Yadier Molina, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Davis, Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Carlos Santana, Andrew McCutchen, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Josh Donaldson, Jason Kipnis, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury

If You Did It Once Before…

Runs Scored don’t correlate incredibly well from one year to the next, but they are an output that captures at least some inputs that the rest of this article hasn’t. So here are the top scoring players from last year. If they don’t meet any one of these criteria, maybe they came really close in several, and that’s plenty good enough to help you in the category. All had 90 or more Runs Scored last season.

Matt Carpenter, Mike Trout, Shin-Soo Choo, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Holliday, Joey Votto, Adam Jones, Austin Jackson, Andrew McCutchen, Justin Upton, Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Murphy, Evan Longoria, Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, Elvis Andrus, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Gordon, Torii Hunter

Looking at these names, one thing is apparent: scoring lots of runs seems to correlate pretty well with being a very good baseball player.

A Final, Important Note for Daily Leaguers

The last thing to consider in the Runs Scored category transcends the individual players on your team—it’s maximizing the runs you can squeeze out of your roster. That means storing a couple decent players on your bench, making use of real-life platoons, and streaming at bats. As much as possible, don’t let any of your lineup slots take a day off. Rack up those at bats and the Runs (and RBI) will follow.

Good planning will bring you a long way in Runs Scored, but good luck will probably still put someone over the top--there are a lot of variables that go into the category. My last advice is not to weigh runs too highly in your draft or auction, since they are so difficult to predict.

Join us next week, as we return to pitching with another luck-heavy category: Wins!

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