5x5 Categories


Stock Watch: Fantasy Trading Deadline Part 2—Hitters

Even as Major League trades just get more complicated, we fantasy owners are hurtling towards our more concrete trading deadlines—probably around August 17th, but check the rules for each of your leagues. Last week, we discussed players to target if you need to add upside to your squad—or if you need to eliminate risk. Today, we’ll simply take a look at some hitters who shouldn’t be impossible to wrest from the clutches of your opponents who offer help in the five standard categories.

A note for all those offering August trades: don’t waste time trying to get the perfect deal, or trying to “win” a trade. Fill in your needs for a cost you can afford. That’s it. 

Average

With a .300 average, Daniel Murphy is a pretty valuable second base option—but his speed hasn’t matched last year’s numbers and he isn’t such a superstar that he shouldn’t be available. First baseman Justin Morneau’s .307 mark is sustained by a very reasonable .317 BABIP, so he’s a good candidate to keep hitting for average in the last part of the season. Kurt Suzuki has gotten a lot more attention this year than in the past, thanks in large part to a .305 batting average; his is also buoyed by a reasonable enough .325 BABIP.

Nick Markakis isn’t a premium name, and his .288 average doesn’t jump off the page—but it does come in a lot of at bats, giving it extra weight thanks to his spot in the order, playing time, and small number of walks. You could say the same things about Ian Kinsler (also a .288 average) and Hunter Pence (.291).

If you need some steals with your average, Ben Revere offers 30 of the former while batting .303. Alexei Ramirez (17 steals, .288 average), and Denard Span (23 steals, .296 average) are other good choices for speed and batting.

Howie Kendrick (.283) and Jonathan Lucroy (.307) are reliable choices who always seem to help in this category.

Off the waiver wire, think about Conor Gillaspie (21% owned in Yahoo! leagues, .317 average) and James Loney (23%, .290). Even Derek Jeter (41%, .277) has something left to offer.

Home Runs

These three near-stars offer nice power numbers at the expense of average: David Ortiz (26 homers), Brandon Moss (23), and Josh Donaldson (23). All three are batting .251 or under. Of course, Chris Carter blows them all out of the water, with his .216 average and 22 homers. He may be available on your waiver wire too.

Marlon Byrd (21 homers) is underrated. Albert Pujols (21) has been disappointing. Lucas Duda (20) has snuck up on people. Carlos Santana (20) has felt like a disaster. Chris Davis (18) has been a disaster. Khris Davis and Evan Gattis (17 each) weren’t given high expectations before the season. What do all these guys have in common? You ought to be able to trade for them, despite the fact that they’re likely to contribute in homers for the rest of the season.

Jimmy Rollins and Jhonny Peralta (15 homers each) haven’t been that good—until you remember that they play shortstop. At second base, Neil Walker (16) and Luis Valbuena (10 homers in just 317 AB) make good trade targets.

Off the waiver wire, some usual suspects are still available: Mark Reynolds (17% owned, 19 homers), Mike Zunino (17%, 17), Juan Francisco (15%, 16), Colby Rasmus (21%, 15), Dayan Viciedo (8%, 13), Mike Moustakas (16%, 13), and Matt Dominguez (9%, 13). Needless to say, all these guys will be giving you serious trouble in batting average. That’s why they’re free.

Runs

In this category, Pence (79 runs), Anthony Rendon (79) and the much-slowed Brian Dozier (78) top the runs charts. Actually, Dozier is tied with Mike Trout, but good luck landing that fish in a trade. (What?) These (probably) attainable sluggers are scoring more runs than driving them in: Antony Rizzo (75), Brett Gardner (71), Freddie Freeman (70), Kinsler (70), Span (70), Melky Cabrera (70), and Matt Carpenter (69).

Some more players who ought to help out by scoring runs include Kendrick (62), Christian Yelich (61), Elvis Andrus (59), Kole Calhoun (57), Desmond Jennings (57), Adam Eaton (55), Markakis (55), Austin Jackson (54), and Ben Zobrist (54). Each of these players has totaled quite a few more runs than RBI on the season. What does that tell us? Simply that they’ve been hitting in the part of the lineup that allows them to cross the plate more often, as opposed to plating others.

Since getting on base should lead to more runs, think about these high-OBP players when going after this category: Mike Napoli (.381 OBP), Seth Smith (.382), Santana (.374), Adam LaRoche (.373), Casey McGehee (.371), Matt Holliday (.370), Lonnie Chisenhall (.368), and Gillaspie (.368)

RBI

Adrian Gonzalez (72 RBI) stands out as a guy who’s knocked in a lot of runs despite a relatively low homer total (15) and a pretty marginal batting average (.259). Good lineups help, don’t they? Donaldson (78), Pujols (70), Yoenis Cespedes (67), Justin Upton (64), Morneau (63), Torii Hunter (62), and Jayson Werth (62) all know something about good lineups too.

Kyle Seager (67), Ian Desmond (66), Miguel Montero (59), Starlin Castro (59), and Kinsler (59) offer nice RBI power at premium positions. 

Sluggers Duda (62) and LaRoche (56) are relatively unheralded, while Holliday (58) and Evan Longoria (57) are contributing RBI despite otherwise disappointing seasons. All four can make pretty good trade targets.

Stolen Bases 

After this year’s Big Three of steals, Revere leads the league with 30, but Rajai Davis and Eric Young (26 apiece) aren’t far behind. With the David Price/Austin Jackson trade, expect Davis to get more playing time and more chances to steal. Young is probably on your waiver wire, but that’s just because he can’t really hit.

Span and Alcides Escobar (23 steals each) can hit though. (I can’t believe I just wrote that, after what Escobar did last year.) Elvis Andrus and Starling Marte (21 each) also belong in the steals and a little hitting category. Rollins (22) and Jose Reyes (20) are higher caliber hitters, so they’ll cost a bit more.

Jarrod Dyson (22 steals) is barely owned—he’s on teams in just 2% of Yahoo! leagues. So there’s no excuse if you need speed. (Never mind that he doesn’t really play all that often.)

It’s worth noting that needing steals isn’t that bad a problem to have; these guys tend to be pretty available.

Good luck filling out your category needs through trades. We’ve got one final installment of this series coming up next week; after that Stock Watch will be shifting into our post-deadline coverage, concentrating on waiver wire players.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: You, Sir, Don't Belong. Or Do You?

Today we’re taking a look at the leaderboards to see (as the title suggests) who doesn’t belong. Specifically, we’ll see which names raise our eyebrows as leaders in the five major hitting categories Runs and RBI (who has time for all five?) and look more closely at them. Are they small-sample flukes you need to ditch before their inevitable regression? Are they breakout candidates just pining to join your team? Something more mundane? It’s RA Unscripted, so I can honestly say I don’t have the answers yet….

Runs 

Since there are so many repeat numbers in this category, I’ll try sparing us all a lengthy table and list the Runs leaders like this: 

55: Troy Tulowitzki, Brian Dozier

52: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt

51: Jose Bautista, Hunter Pence

49: Michael Brantley

48: Giancarlo Stanton

45: Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion 

As anticipated, this list is mostly usual suspects, though three names may not belong: Dozier, Brantley, and Rizzo.

Dozier would be a big-time breakout candidate if only for his 15 homers and 14 steals (actually, we would have been happy if he’d done that on the year), but his place by Tulo’s side is downright impressive. Now, I’m well aware that Runs are highly subject to the vagaries of fortune, but Tulo has the cards stacked in his favor: quality hitters around him in the lineup; getting to play half his games in Coors Field. Yeah. Dozier plays for the Twins. In a park with a power-killing, run-suppressing reputation (though it played pretty much neutral last year for overall scoring). Just for fun, Dozier’s OBP falls more than .100 points short of Tulo’s. So, does Dozier belong?

I’m going to hedge my bets and say yes and no. To the extent that he makes his own luck by hitting homers and doubles, walking and stealing bases, I like Dozier to continue helping out in Runs. However, I’m not inclined to think his teammates will be coming to his rescue quite often enough to keep him in the top ten run scorers by the end of the year. So far, the Twins are mid-pack when it comes to scoring, and I suspect they’ll be slipping a bit over the next few months, Kendrys Morales or not.

Brantley is a big part of the reason his Indians are fifth in baseball in runs scored, but as Carlos Santana seems to be heating up a bit and Nick Swisher (or what’s left of him) has come back from the DL, the Tribe could actually be on the upswing. Cleveland actually suppressed more runs than Minnesota did last year, for what it’s worth, but it looks like the Indians should be able to continue to support Brantley. 

Will Brantley be able to support himself? That’s the real question anyway. His .327 BABIP says there could be some regression coming to his OBP, but when you’re starting with a .390 number you can lose a bit and still have enough to cross the plate on a regular basis. But let’s not pretend that Brantley’s is a story about BABIP: it’s all about his HR/FB rate, which at 17.7% is more than double his previous career best. If he keeps hitting these homers, you have to believe everything else will fall into place. Well, at least the Runs should. For my money, I’d say that Brantley has improved enough that some of it’s got to be pretty real. Even if it's mostly not, all he's got to do is hit well enough to stay in the middle of the Indians’ lineup, and he ought to keep delivering on the Runs. 

Rizzo is enjoying the way it feels to have an above-average BABIP again (.310, compared to last year’s .258 mark). Not only that, but he’s increased his BB% (15.7%) for the second year in a row and more than doubled it since 2012. I think the debate on his bat is done. But will he keep producing the Runs? That’s the question for this article. 

I’m…um…bearish on the Cubbies’ offence, to say the least. They’re currently 27th in team runs scored and I suspect Rizzo’s sweet .406 OBP is going to leave him stranded on base even more often in the second half. And consider the guys hitting behind Rizzo: Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena, and Welington Castillo. Admittedly, Castro has (very quietly) vindicated those who drafted him (unless they wanted steals), but Valbuena is enjoying a .359 BABIP—expect that deflation to cut pretty directly into Rizzo’s runs. So I like Rizzo, but expect him to slip quietly off the Runs leaderboard. 

RBI 

56: Nelson Cruz

55: Miguel Cabrera

54: Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion

53: Brandon Moss

51: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Abreu

50: Mike Trout

47: Jose Bautista

45: Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Brantley

Who doesn’t belong here? Cruz, I’m looking at you. Also, Moss, Abreu, and yes, let’s discuss Stanton. Briefly.

Cruz has been a classic all-power, nothing-else type of guy for the last couple years, but he’s seriously stepped up his game so far with Baltimore. Real? His BABIP is above-average (.326), but it isn’t crazy, while his HR/FB is off the charts (25.6%). One thing that I find really encouraging is that he’s already racked up a healthy 14 doubles to go with his homers. Cruz has been off and on with the doubles power throughout the years, and if he’s hitting those, the RBI should keep coming (if a bit more slowly) even if the HR/FB rate gets less stratospheric.

The Orioles’ lineup—which has been missing Chris Davis for a lot of the year—is mid-pack in scoring runs. Actually, that makes it pretty bad for the AL. While Nick Markakis is delivering a decent OBP in front of Cruz, Adam Jones and Manny Machado certainly aren’t. Jones, in particular, has a good chance to improve his game and deliver more RBI to Cruz. I don’t think Cruz will end the year as a top-five OF…but he should certainly end up in or near the top 10 in RBI. 

Moss shouldn’t be helping with RBI…he’s a platooner, right? The thing is, he’s too good for the A’s to keep out of the lineup, even for Kyle Blanks. (Okay, maybe that's not saying too much.) Moss has 231 AB (47 against lefties, against whom he’s hit .298/.400/.532). With a normal BABIP, a healthy portion of walks, and a HR/FB rate to match what he did last year, nothing here seems abnormal. Expect Moss to keep getting playing time against lefties and to keep driving in runs against them. 

Abreu is just impressive for being on this list at all despite missing significant time on the DL. This season will have its ups and downs for him, but he’s got the power to make his own luck with RBI. It doesn’t hurt that Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham haven’t been bad with the OBP...that may not continue...

Stanton deserves quick mention too, since he wasn’t supposed to have any lineup around him to help him deliver in Runs or RBI…and yet he’s a leader in both. His power is insane and he’s healthy, so there’s a significant element of making his own luck going on here too. While the discrepancy between his homer output and his Runs and RBI will probably increase as his teammates regress towards their normal, horrible levels of production, it might be (somewhat) fair to hold out some optimism that maybe the Marlins aren’t quite as bad as we all thought.

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

We’ve gotten far enough into the season that you ought to know if your team is a good one or a bad one. Not sure? Check your place in the standings because the results of the first couple months are probably pretty reflective of what’s likely to happen in the next ones. Even if they’re not, you’ve banked those wins and losses, or those category surpluses and deficits. So, it's time to face reality.

Give yourself a nice pat on the back if you’re among the 8.3% of fantasy players currently winning their league, allow yourself a warm feeling of satisfaction if you’re close enough to think you can take that slot over in the summer, a grim but determined smile if you know you can’t take over first, but have your pride to play for…and I’d suggest a healthy does of delusion if your team is languishing at the bottom of the standings. Realism does you no good in redraft leagues. 

Like most of us, I’m living in more than one of those categories, and today we’ll take a look at what’s worked out well…and what’s dropped me into the bottom of the standings. I’m playing in five leagues this year, but one is a draftless keeper league and another is a wacky points league in which four or five pitchers are taken in the first round every year (and it doesn’t usually torpedo the teams that do it). So analyzing those squads won’t do you much good.

Since I draft by the rankings I give you (with a healthy does of impulse and intuition thrown in), my performance each year is a decent enough way to identify whether or not my fantasy advice as turned out well. So, if you paid any attention to the draft advice I gave in the preseason, know that I’m sailing or sinking with you….

So, what has made two of these teams go mostly right and one go very, very wrong? Let’s take a look, using the opportunity to let the results judge my draft advice. 

RotoAuthority Silver League: Old Hoss Radburn
3rd Place, 12 points back
Standard 5x5 categories, roto scoring format. High quality competition with a serious buy-in. Team named for the great 19th century pitcher, the all-time leader in wins in a season. Also the leader in arm burnout and heavy drinking. 

I’ve already traded away my best player on this team: Giancarlo Stanton. (Yes, I finally worked out the details of that deal. Yes, I am now very nervous. Yes, the owner of the team I traded with has already renamed his team to reflect the fact that he has Stanton.) He’s been a beast, offering great value outside the first round and giving me some surplus power. Since his teammates have played much better than expected, he’s been more helpful than even I projected in the Runs and RBI departments. So that’s nice. 

I ranked Jose Altuve just outside the elite second basemen. He’s been even better than I imagined, with 20 steals already. 

David Ortiz and early waiver wire pickup Todd Frazier have helped out my power numbers despite not getting as much production as hoped for from my first two picks: Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto

My pitching staff has survived injuries from Chris Sale (who I was actually lower on than most, so not too much self-credit for taking him) and Hyun-jin Ryu. I’ve also survived my way-too-optimistic outlook on Matt Cain. Why? Because Ian Kennedy and Josh Beckett have rocked. Especially Kennedy. I’ll take some credit for calling that one, because if a San Diego career revival had been truly self-evident, he would have been a much earlier draft pick. The traded-away Scott Kazmir (who I had definitely ranked much higher than most) was also a big help.

Oddly enough, when I entered negotiations to swap Stanton for Kershaw, I was down in ERA and WHIP…after a week of back-and-forth offers, those became a strength and now Runs and RBI are my worst categories. A thin outfield (I’m using Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith, and Junior Lake) means I may continue to face trouble in the counting stats. 

MLBTR Staff/Friends/Family League: Wade Blasingame LLC
10th Place, 43.5 points back
Standard 5x5 categories, plus holds and OPS; roto scoring format. High opposition quality (Tim Dierkes is currently leading us), low buy-in. Team named for a real ballplayer and the greatest fictional attorney ever—who is also named for the ballplayer.

My top two picks are really dragging this team down, which is too bad because I was stoked to get Adrian Beltre and Adam Jones on the same team. I saw Jones as a near first round OF (heck, I took him 5th overall in the RA mock) and Beltre as the obvious number two at 3B. My hopes in this league are tied to these players bouncing back, and I have to admit that I think they will. (See, self-delusion helps.) 

My offense is also taking hits from losing Carlos Beltran to poor play followed by serious injury, as well as Mark Trumbo’s injury. Both were players I plugged in the preseason, so I’ll take the blame if they’re hurting you too.

Brian McCann is my primary catcher, and he’s really hurt my average. He was an RA favorite, so sorry about that. The homers have been good, though, so you're welcome. 

On the plus side, Alexei Ramirez and Brian Dozier have both been so good they’ve been added to Yahoo!’s “Can’t Cut List.” I can’t take credit for either, though: while I thought they were worth going for, I certainly didn’t predict anything like what’s happened. To be honest, I don’t feel super-confident about either going forward, especially Ramirez.

The good news is that I just snagged Jon Singleton off the waiver wire. You should do the same. 

I can’t believe that my only bad team is the only one I don’t have Matt Cain on. I did, however, spend some time with both Anibal Sanchez and Cole Hamels stashed on my DL. Stephen Strasburg and Kennedy are also helping this squad out, and I think my starting will be a strong suit…but for now I’m dead last in Wins and low in ERA and WHIP. Thank you to the since-dropped CC Sabathia, John Axford, and friends. 

Yahoo Public League: Red Right Ankles
4th Place, 16 games back
Standard 5x5 categories, head-to-head format. I’m not running away with it, so the opposition must be pretty good. I blame it on the auction format weeding out the totally inexperienced. Free, which means the teams at the bottom have probably quit. Team named for Curt Schilling and an unrelated (I presume) Decemberists song. 

Looking at my lineup for this squad, I’m not totally sure why I’m doing passably well. Lucky matchups maybe? This is another team suffering from my Adam Jones-affinity. Another favorite of mine, Aaron Hill, has been a drag on this team (or, at least, not the star I expected). Everth Cabrera has killed me with his average, Evan Longoria (who I paid a ton to get) hasn’t hit at all, and Wilin Rosario has yet to outhit the injured guy he replaced off the waiver wire.

This is, however, another David Ortiz winner (is it too early to claim triumph for the ageless DH who’s eligible at 1B?), and it’s gotten nice production from mid-rounder Anthony Rizzo and late-rounder Brandon Moss. So, my strategy of abandoning average for power hasn’t killed me. Okay, so I also picked up George Springer and enjoyed the fruits of his superpowered May.

On the pitching side, the awesomeness of Adam Wainwright (for whom I felt buyer’s remorse at his high-but-now-very-worth-it price tag) and Strasburg has offset the continued Matt Can experience (um…sorry about that) and Sanchez is now a valuable contributor, so I feel good about my starters going forward.

This team is, perhaps, proof of why you should pay more than the bare minimum for saves: I bid aggressively on every low-end closer I could get my hands on, thinking quantity would beat quality. The only reliever I got in the auction to still have a job is Casey Janssen.

Or maybe it’s proof that you should never pay for saves, since I’ve picked up three supposed closers from the waiver wire anyway (Zach Britton, Jenrry Mejia, and Hector Rondon). Go figure. 

Some Concluding Remarks

So, looking at some of the players I felt strongly enough to actually draft or bid on, there’s been a mixed bag: Wainwright and Strasburg have been great…but Sanchez was hurt and Cain has been awful. And hurt. David Ortiz has provided power, but Adam Jones is disappointing. Ian Kennedy was a sneaky-good call, as was Scott Kazmir. But I made other suggestions that I’ve already dropped and forgotten, so it’s not like they were all winners. Aaron Hill and Everth Cabrera haven’t helped us, but Brandon Moss and Jose Altuve sure have.

I could go on…but I won’t. Frankly, I’m hoping that you’ll take the simplistic explanation that I’m doing pretty well in two out of three leagues—‘cause two out of three ain’t bad.



How to Win 2014: OPS

Maybe you’ve already drafted and this column won’t be super-useful for you…but maybe you’re like me and you’ve still got an epic weekend packed with as many fantasy drafts as you and your supply of chips, beer, pizza, coffee, diet coke, chicken wings, and whatever else it is you use to power through will hold out. With the real baseball season (if your league doesn’t count the Australia games, neither do I) shockingly close, it’s the best time to draft anyway. Today’s episode of How to Win busts open the standard 5x5 categories with perhaps the most common sixth hitting category: OPS. Chances are this one comes into play somehow in just about every non-standard league, and while I might have drafted for my 6x6 format last week, I’m still here to do the research, just for you.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that OPS affects pretty much every other part of baseball and can still be informative in standard 5x5 formats—particularly for Runs and RBI.

OPS is an odd stat, insofar as it straddles modern sabermetrics and old-school baseball card stats. Made up of On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage (you knew that, I know), it directly reflects what actually happened in ballgames (though it requires some difficult math one instance of addition)…and yet it isn’t terribly luck-based. Basically, OPS is a stat for everyone, in a way that batting average and WAR are not.

Except Alcides Escobar. Sadly, OPS is not for him.

OPS Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

OBP

SLG

OPS

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.442

0.636

1.078

2

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.402

0.638

1.04

3

Chris Davis

673

0.370

0.634

1.004

4

Mike Trout

716

0.432

0.557

0.988

5

David Ortiz

600

0.395

0.564

0.959

6

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.367

0.591

0.958

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.401

0.551

0.952

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.391

0.54

0.931

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.398

0.532

0.931

10

Joey Votto

726

0.435

0.491

0.926

11

Yasiel Puig

432

0.391

0.534

0.925

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.389

0.530

0.919

 Wow…a stat leaderboard more or less correlated with the players who had the best seasons. Enjoy it for a moment, because we don’t get such things in fantasy baseball very often. It’s worth noting that a certain amount of luck does exist in the stat, in the form of high batting average players. Looking at you, Michael Cuddyer.

Since OPS is a component stat, and being great at both components is just a fancy way of being a great ballplayer, let’s look at each half, then dive into a position-by-position breakdown.

OBP Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.356

0.348

0.442

0.636

2

Joey Votto

726

0.360

0.305

0.435

0.491

3

Mike Trout

716

0.376

0.323

0.432

0.557

4

Shin-Soo Choo

712

0.338

0.285

0.423

0.462

5

Andrew McCutchen

674

0.353

0.317

0.404

0.508

6

Joe Mauer

508

0.383

0.324

0.404

0.476

7

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.363

0.345

0.402

0.638

8

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.343

0.302

0.401

0.551

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.358

0.318

0.398

0.532

10

Freddie Freeman

629

0.371

0.319

0.396

0.501

11

David Ortiz

600

0.321

0.309

0.395

0.564

12

Matt Carpenter

717

0.359

0.318

0.392

0.481

 These guys can be counted on for walks—and therefore runs. At this elite level, most are fuelled by strong averages and high BABIP’s—making Choo look all the more impressive.

SLG Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.293

0.345

0.402

0.638

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.288

0.348

0.442

0.636

3

Chris Davis

673

0.348

0.286

0.370

0.634

4

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.289

0.302

0.367

0.591

5

David Ortiz

600

0.255

0.309

0.395

0.564

6

Mike Trout

716

0.234

0.323

0.432

0.557

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.249

0.302

0.401

0.551

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.229

0.312

0.391

0.540

9

Yasiel Puig

432

0.215

0.319

0.391

0.534

10

Edwin Encarnacion

621

0.262

0.272

0.370

0.534

11

Jayson Werth

532

0.214

0.318

0.398

0.532

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.198

0.331

0.389

0.530

Just take a second and look at Davis’s ISO. Wow. Unlike most of the other leaders, nearly all of his slugging came from extra-base hit power—and you know that wasn’t a bunch of triples. It’s also impressive just how much the two shortstops on this list distance themselves from the rest of their position. It’s almost enough to make me want to draft them early instead of waiting for some fleet-footed steals specialist in the late rounds.

Let’s see what OPS means for each position.

Catcher
OPS Leader: Joe Mauer, 0.880
Top-12 Average: 0.815
Top-12 Range: 0.771-0.880
Worth Noting: There’s a big dropoff from Mauer to the next guy. And a really big drop from the first 12 to the next 12 for those on you in two-catcher formats: their average OPS is just 0.717.

First Base
OPS Leader: Chris Davis, 1.004
Top-12 Average: 0.881
Top-12 Range: 0.819-1.004
Worth Noting: Yeah…the average first base starter is better than the top catcher. And the top catcher is pretty good.

Second Base
OPS Leader: Robinson Cano, 0.899
Top-12 Average:  0.800
Top-12 Range: 0.745-0.899
Worth Noting: The next 10 players after Cano and second-place Carpenter OPS just 0.783.

Third Base
OPS Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 1.078
Top-12 Average: 0.842
Top-12 Range: 0.758-1.078
Worth Noting: The top performers are pretty decent, but it’s a quick slide into numbers that more resemble middle infielders than first basemen. Don’t go looking here for your CI if you can help it.

Shortstop
OPS Leader: Hanley Ramirez, 1.040
Top-12 Average: 0.804
Top-12 Range: 0.736-1.040
Worth Noting: Only three players topped the 0.800 mark in 300 PA. Only one of those players (Tulowitzki) did it in over 500 PA. Without the top two, the next 10 average 0.768. And you thought second base was rough.

Outfield
OPS Leader: Mike Trout, 0.988
Top-36 Average: 0.840
Top-36 Range: 0.776-0.988
Worth Noting: Looked at this way, OF and 3B appear pretty similar—but plenty of leagues require four or five outfielders while allowing you just one third baseman in the starting lineup. The next 24 outfielders OPS average is just 0.748…so still pretty close to the 12th-place 3B, and better than the 12th place player at second and short. Just one more reason not to even consider filling your Util slots with anyone but first basemen and outfielders.

OPS is strongest by far in the traditional power positions. If your league replaces BA with OPS, or just adds the category, you should definitely prioritize either the top two or three players at the infield positions, or go all in on 1B and OF.

OPS is also in opposition to stolen bases. If you're in a 5x5 league with OPS, prioritizing power/speed guys is all the more important, because high-steals guys who may not kill you in average (like Jose Altuve or Elvis Andrus) will tank your OPS. If you're in a 6x6, though, the extra category just downgrades the importance of steals, so feel free to bulk up on power.

Whether OPS (or either of its components) are direct categories in your league or not, keeping OPS in mind when drafting is well worth it. Since it provides a good rough guide to overall hitting contribution, it will affect playing time in real baseball. Since it measures how often a player gets on base and how hard he hits the ball, it will come out indirectly in Runs and RBI as well.

This is the last of How to Win 2014, so hopefully it’ll help you power through the last, glorious weekend of drafting. Baseball is just about upon us, and on Monday RotoAuthority will be in full regular-season mode.



How to Win 2014: Home Runs

Home runs are why we play fantasy baseball. You see whenever baseball has been on the brink of death, homers have been there to resurrect it. After the Black Sox scandal in 1919, there was Babe Ruth. After a decade of Yankee pennants, there was Bill Mazeroski in 1960. Amid two decades of pitcher-dominance, Reggie Jackson became Mr. October in 1977. After the strike, Cal Ripken, Jr. homered in his 2131st consecutive game in 1995 (played...not homered in...but that would have been awesome), and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and shattered the home run record in 1998.*

*Hey, not every story has a happy epilogue.

Homers keep things interesting; they change the game in an instant; their very threat keeps pitchers on their toes and out of the upper half of the strike zone; they keep four-run leads within reach. And they completely dominate fantasy baseball.

See, homers are three categories in one, score this one and you get two more for free. Homers are the most important category in standard fantasy leagues, and in plenty of non-standards as well. Homers are why Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo are studs (and they are, we'll soon see) and Chris Carter is relevant at all in our fake game, instead of the lead-footed strikeout artists they are on a real baseball field.

And home runs are a breath of fresh air. After weeks of heavily luck-dependent categories (there's a reason some states consider this gambling), homers are a highly repeatable, predictable skill. The biggest luck factor, home park, is easy to see and account for. Homers are not too hard to evaluate.

But they are very, very hard to win.* Because, you see, this ain't the '90's anymore, and it sure ain't the 2001 of Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez. Only two players hit over 40 homers last year, and only two (the same guys) slugged over .600 and qualified for the batting title. Consider that the league slugging was over .600 in 1996** and you'll see my point: homers are a lot scarcer now than they used to be.

*Okay, in a 12-team league, you've got a one-in-12 shot just like every other category. Technically.

**No, no it wasn't. Not even close.

We aren't quite back to the days when you could get called "Home Run Baker" just by hitting  three or four inside the park homers in a season, but we're pretty much back in the '80's, back to the days before Prince Fielder's dad (Cecil) smacked 50 homers and inaugurated the Golden Age of Power Hitting...

Get to the point!

...screamed the readers. Fair enough.

Point of the introduction:

1) Homers are an extremely scarce commodity, somewhat like steals were in the '90's and '00's.

2) But they are more important than steals ever were, because they directly impact two more categories.

There, hopefully that’s more direct. Those on a time crunch or with extremely short attention spans are invited to distill the rest of my analysis into the following concise statement:

Invest in homers. Pay extra in auction dollars and draft rounds for the very best home run hitters.

Also, if you're on a time crunch or have an extremely short attention span, I'd love for you to join one of my money leagues....

2013 Home Run Leaders

 

Name

PA

HR

R

RBI

SLG

                                     

1

Chris Davis

673

53

103

138

0.634

                                     

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

44

103

137

0.636

                                     

3

Paul Goldschmidt

710

36

103

125

0.551

                                     

4

Edwin Encarnacion

621

36

90

104

0.534

                                     

5

Pedro Alvarez

614

36

70

100

0.473

                                     

6

Alfonso Soriano

626

34

84

101

0.489

                                     

7

Mark Trumbo

678

34

85

100

0.453

                                     

8

Adam Dunn

607

34

60

86

0.442

                                     

9

Adam Jones

689

33

100

108

0.493

                                     

10

Evan Longoria

693

32

91

88

0.498

                                     

11

David Ortiz

600

30

84

103

0.564

                                     

12

Brandon Moss

505

30

73

87

0.522

                                     

13

Adrian Beltre

690

30

88

92

0.509

                                     

14

Jay Bruce

697

30

89

109

0.478

                                     

You definitely want a couple of these guys on your team next year. The best will help in batting average too, but they'll be gone in the first round or two...except for David Ortiz, who gets the DH discount (but he's 1B eligible in Yahoo! leagues). At the other end of the spectrum, we've got some guys who won't just hurt your average, they'll kill it. I'm looking at you, Adam Dunn.

Aside from Dunn and his Black Hole of Batting Average, it's a bit surprising to see how many of these leaders can be had at relatively low price. Alvarez will certainly hurt your average, but his prodigious power is at a position without a lot of production at all. Soriano is a very consistent home run hitter, but his age, average, and reputation seem to be keeping him low on draft boards. Moss won't play against lefties...and yet made this list with 100 fewer plate appearances than most of the others, and 200 fewer than first-rounder Goldschmidt. I think you can afford to platoon him.

Shortened Season Home Run Hitters

Raw homer totals are far from the whole story, though. There were plenty of players who contributed in the category, but had their season shortened for one reason or another. I put them into a spreadsheet with cutoffs of at least 17 homers and no more than 540 PA. It’s too big to post, but you can Download Partial Season Home Run Leaders. (Note that catchers are not included—most are expected to get fewer than 540 PA.)

Some of these players ran into injuries: Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Bautista are obvious enough, but don’t forget that Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, David Wright, Jayson Werth, Colby Rasmus, Chase Utley, and others all gave us their production before, after, and around injuries.

Other players platooned: Nate Schierholz, Raul Ibanez, Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Will Venable, and Mark Reynolds all played less than full time for their teams. They may well do so again, but can provide cheap value in homers for this season’s fantasy owners.

Of course, some are young players who came to the Majors or into a starting role later in the season—or struggled and were sent down: Yasiel Puig, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Adams, and Jedd Gyorko fit that role.

Home Runs by Position

To get an idea of how good a player is relative to his competition at the same position, let’s check out last year’s average homer totals for the top 12 home run contributors at each position.

Catchers

Leader: Matt Wieters, 22

Top-12 Average: 18.66667

Top 12 Range: 15-22

Notable: A lot of guys hover just under 20—though a couple are still undraftable.

First Base

Leader: Chris Davis, 53

Top-12 Average: 30.83333

Top 12 Range: 23-53

Notable: Seven players with 29 homers or more; 17 players with 17-25.

Second Base

Leader: Robinson Cano, 27

Top-12 Average: 17.5

Top 12 Range: 12-27

Notable: Only three players with more than 20 homers—and one was Dan Uggla.

Third Base

Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 44

Top-12 Average: 25.91667

Top 12 Range: 18-44

Notable: A very top-heavy and power-heavy position, with multiple home run hitters who hurt in average.

Shortstop

Leader: Troy Tulowitzki and J.J. Hardy, 25

Top-12 Average: 16.16667

Top 12 Range: 10-25

Notable: The leaders are below average for the 3B top 12! This makes Hardy look like a great value.

Outfield (Top 36)

Leader: Alfonso Soriano, 34

Top-12 Average: 23.63889

Top 12 Range: 17-34

Notable: A lot of potential homer leaders in the OF missed significant time last year—expect OF to be a better homer source in 2014.

Rate Power Stats

There were only 16 players who qualified for the batting title and slugged over .500. Power is rare. High SLG is normal for home run hitters—so those who don’t have a high number are probably losing it by not providing extra-base power (and so losing out on RBI), or by putting up low batting averages.

Last year, 31 players (who qualified) managed an ISO of .200 or better. And just one (guess who) managed to top .300. I wouldn’t say there is time or need to dive deeply in to ISO here, but it’s a great cross-check when you see intriguing home run production, especially in players with less than a full season. Also, it excludes batting average, so it’s subject to less luck than SLG.

Worth noting: Josh Donaldson just missed both arbitrary round-number cutoffs—he slugged .499 and had an ISO of .199. Go figure.

More to Know

By the time I finish this conclusion, I’ll be up around 1500 words (which doesn’t always stop me, I know), but there’s a lot more worth examining in your pursuit of home runs. Park effects (spoiler: Colorado, Arizona, and Texas are good for homers), flyball rates, HR/FB rates, average flyball distance, “Just Over the Wall” and “No Doubt” homer data, and plenty of other stats feed meaningfully into home runs. It’s a testament to their importance in real and fantasy baseball, I suppose, that they deserve something more like a five-part series than a single episode.

Don’t forget the original, simplified version though: invest in home runs. There aren’t as many as there used to be.

Join us again next week as we tackle a bonus category: OPS. Just in time for me to have already drafted a league that counts it....



How to Win 2014: Saves

No category and position are more closely related than Saves and the closers who luck into earn them. You certainly can't make up for lousy saves production out of your relievers by getting a third baseman who specializes in closing out ballgames. (You know...they way you might compensate for non-stealing middle infielders....) So, we're stuck with relievers.

There are more problems with relievers: they're inconsistent from outing to outing and year to year; they're pitchers and so more likely to get injured than others; they pitch in extremely small sample sizes, so luck doesn't even come close to evening out and a single bad night can ruin a season's ERA; their accumulation of Saves is subject to team performance, and that not even of winning but of winning by a certain small margin; their presence in the closer's role is dependent entirely on managerial fiat.

Wow. That list of problems is even worse in print than it was in my head. No wonder RotoAuthority's resident closer expert, Luckey Helms, argues against paying for saves

But I digress. The risks associated with relief pitchers aren't the topic of this article. How to reap their benefits is.

Strategy 1: Buy Those Saves

When you look at RA's Closer Rankings (or anyone else's, probably), you'll see four names far above the rest: Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Greg Holland. In some outlets you might see our fifth through seventh guys rated near them as well: Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan, and Trevor Rosenthal. These seven pitchers aren't so highly rated because they're the best sources of saves, though.

No, premium closers are premium because they do so much more than save games, offering the possibilities of sub 2.00 ERA's and K/9's over 12.00. All that is great if you're looking to build a balanced fantasy team (which you probably should), but it comes at a very high price. Getting one of these closers as an anchor could be a good idea if you're already willing to spend auction dollars and high draft picks on a closer, but getting two or three of them is likely a price too dear.

But that's not so bad, because there's no guarantee that the best closers will earn the most Saves. Sure, they've got the best odds to do so, but that doesn't keep Jim Johnson from saving 50 games a season with a K/9 of literally zero.* You can get saves without elite relievers. You can win Saves without elite relievers. You just need volume.

*Actually, his career number is 5.96, also known as figuratively zero.

When I advocate paying for saves, I tend to think in terms of my eighth-twelfth round draft picks--it's a lot tougher for me to part with auction cash than it is fourth-tier corner infielders and mid-rotation starters. While it's hard for me to part with a third round pick for Kimbrel and his greatness (the ghost of Eric Gagne keeps reminding me that only Mariano Rivera can be great forever), it isn't so hard for me to give up two or even three of my middle-round draft picks to lock down some saves. When I do, I'm really not looking for closer excellence; in fact, I want just one thing: job security.

Okay, I want excellence too, if I can get it, but job security is my top priority when I employ this strategy. With only this one factor under consideration, let's do a little re-ranking of closers.

Total Security

These guys have been closing games for a long time, earned the trust of their team, or just got a big pile of cash from a new team after closing games for a long time. Their managers likely can't remove them from the role without permission from the front office. They will safely ride all temporary storms:

Kimbrel, Nathan

Wow. Just two. No wonder they're so expensive.

Very Secure

These guys will have long leashes thanks to their strong track records, or standout performance, though they may not have been in the ninth very long. Their teams may have few other solid bullpen options:

Chapman, Holland, Jansen, Glen Perkins, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek

Varying levels of quality here, but some potential value.

Mostly Secure

These guys are either quite good, or their team has few other options, but not both. They may be talented pitchers but lack the "proven closer" merit badge. Or their team may have had a turbulent recent history in the closer's role and be more open than most for quick changes. An extended stretch of bad luck could result in a demotion:

Uehara, Rosenthal, Casey Janssen, Johnson, David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Parnell

There are a lot of ways to be just "mostly secure," but these guys are still good bets to keep their job all year.

Basically Secure

These guys own their job without question for now, but poor performance could change that, as they aren't established, have inconsistent histories, or their teams have multiple decent alternatives:  

Addison Reed, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Rafael Soriano, Huston Street, Jose Veras

Out of this group, falling strikeout rates and the presence of elite setup guys in their bullpens makes me think that Soriano and Street are particularly volatile. I won't be drafting either in any format.

On Thin Ice

These guys have next to no job security (but may be available very late in drafts for excellent potential value):

Tommy Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins

Fighting for the Job

These guys don't technically have the job, but are in the lead for it at the moment. When they get it, their prize will be to move to the "On Thin Ice" tier. Yay for them. Their top competitors are in parentheses:

Neftali Feliz (Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers), Nate Jones (Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb, plus a bunch of other guys), Chad Qualls (Josh Fields, the injured Jesse Crain)

Possession is nine tenths of the law in closer land, so anyone who does end up with a job is worth drafting in the hopes that good luck and inertia are in your favor.

Job Stealers

These guys have a better shot than most at stealing a closing gig at some point in the season. If your purpose in drafting non-closing relievers is to snag saves, these are your guys:

Mark Melancon, Pedro Strop, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, Rex Brothers, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Cody Allen

Also included are anyone who loses in the above closer battles.

Strategy 2: Don't Pay for Saves--but Don't Ignore Them

I spent a lot of time on the first strategy, so I won't fill up too much more space with this one. Frankly, it's pretty straightforward, just a lot easier said than done.

A caveat: I don't find this to be a worthwhile strategy in leagues with weekly free agent/waiver wire moves--you need to pay to compete in those formats.

The first thing to do is set aside some roster space for relievers. Maybe you use some late-round picks on the dark horses in closer battles, or some slightly-less-late-round picks on the leading candidates or even full closers with low job security. Or maybe you just take the best setup guys available, regardless of whether or not their closer has good security. Whatever.

No matter what you do with this roster space (and you'll want at least three roster slots for this, I should think), you'll be treating the players you draft as highly expendable. These are your rotating Saves slots for now, not players on your team.

You also need to start following @CloserNews on Twitter. No Twitter account? Get one if you don't want to pay for Saves. Use this advice not only to find out which closers are about to lose their jobs, but also who's likely to get rested the next day. Then, pick up the setup guy for the teams with resting closers. You'd be surprised how many Saves fall through the cracks each year. Back in the old days, when I worked for CloserNews, I seriously considered attempting to get all my Saves like this with a fantasy team to see what would happen. Still haven't had the guts to try it.

Get up early (if you're on the West Coast) and stay up late (East Coasters) to catch the latest updates.When they announce that LaTroy Hawkins is being removed from the closer's role, somebody in your league will already have their fantasy team loaded up. Be that person. 

Keep a particular eye on the strikeouts and velocity of closers and the guys replacing them--sometimes that's even more important than their overall stats. Remember, being "closer material" is less about being the best pitcher in the bullpen and more about being the coolest pitcher in the bullpen, selling jerseys, growing facial hair, pumping up the crowd, and blasting Metallica or AC/DC.

I'm totally on board with the first half of the rationale against paying for Saves: closers are volatile and unpredictable. The second half, that Saves are always available on the waiver wire, has grown dicier. It's totally true--but your whole league knows it, and they'll be looking for Saves too.

Strategy 3: Hybrids

You can always mix the two strategies; in fact, anyone paying for Saves should be just as active on the waiver wire as anyone else. Not only can you benefit from more Saves (and make trades if you have excess) you're protecting your investment by making it more difficult for anyone to get similar value for free. Your only limit is roster space.

You can also make Strategy 2 your primary plan, but keep an eye out in drafts for solid value. If enough of your league wants to get their Saves from the waiver wire, you might want to go the other way. Alternatively, it might be good to get one closer with high job security to anchor you while you speculate on further Saves.

Good luck in Saves--you'll need it. Or, better yet, follow @CloserNews! We'll be back next week to wrap up the traditional categories with Home Runs.



How to Win 2014: Batting Average

I'll just say at the outset that I have no idea how to win in Batting Average (though I did last year). Before you get angry and click over some more confident fantasy writer on your league's website, you should know that they don't know either. Nobody does. It's a mystery. Article done.

Or not quite. Luck-heavy categories are as much a part of fantasy baseball as they are real life (are they?) and there are ways to put yourself in a good position to win...and ways not to. Let's check out what it'll take to be competitive in Batting Average.

There are two basic components to drafting for batting average: players who help you, and players who hurt you. Both feature elements of skill and luck. Fortunately it's much easier to be a player who hurts in Batting Average--those guys are pretty predictable.

Just a quick note on park factors: only Coors Field (107 factor) was farther away from the mean than three percent by Fangraphs park factors for singles. So take parks into account for Average, but not too far--especially for singles-oriented hitters. No wonder Ichiro put up so many great season in Seattle....

2013 .300 Hitters (min. 300 AB)

We've been using the arbitrary .300 cutoff to determine a good Batting Average for a hundred years, so we might as well go with it. Plus, it gives us a bunch of names to start with.

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.356

0.348

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.363

0.345

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.382

0.331

Joe Mauer

508

0.383

0.324

Mike Trout

716

0.376

0.323

Chris Johnson

547

0.394

0.321

Yadier Molina

541

0.338

0.319

Freddie Freeman

629

0.371

0.319

Yasiel Puig

432

0.383

0.319

Matt Carpenter

717

0.359

0.318

Jayson Werth

532

0.358

0.318

Omar Infante

476

0.333

0.318

Andrew McCutchen

674

0.353

0.317

Adrian Beltre

690

0.322

0.315

Allen Craig

563

0.368

0.315

Robinson Cano

681

0.327

0.314

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.334

0.312

David Ortiz

600

0.321

0.309

David Wright

492

0.340

0.307

Joey Votto

726

0.360

0.305

Ben Revere

336

0.344

0.305

Torii Hunter

652

0.344

0.304

Jhonny Peralta

448

0.374

0.303

Daniel Nava

536

0.352

0.303

Jose Iglesias

382

0.356

0.303

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.343

0.302

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.368

0.302

Eric Hosmer

680

0.335

0.302

Josh Donaldson

668

0.333

0.301

Dustin Pedroia

724

0.326

0.301

Victor Martinez

668

0.313

0.301

Matt Holliday

602

0.322

0.300

Take a careful look at the list above: how much credence you should give that Average depends in part on its luck factor: how far is the BABIP from the player's career norms? One may not suspect that Cuddyer will post a .382 BABIP again next year, Coors Field or not. But Victor Martinez may well post a .313 BABIP. Also take plate appearances into account: it isn't just the Average itself that helps or hurts, it's how heavily that value is weighted. Part of the reason Matt Carpenter's .318 average was so good is because he did it in 717 PA for nearly a million total hits. Pretty good.

So, those are last year's leaders--how about some guys due for a BABIP rebound? Note that the list below involves significant subjective culling on my part: some guys posted low BABIP's and are not likely to rebound. Dan Uggla, that means you.

2013 BABIP Rebound Candidates

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

Chris Young

375

0.237

0.200

Edwin Encarnacion

621

0.247

0.272

Andrelton Simmons

658

0.247

0.248

Michael Morse

337

0.254

0.215

Evan Gattis

382

0.255

0.243

Mitch Moreland

518

0.255

0.232

Josh Reddick

441

0.255

0.226

Mike Moustakas

514

0.257

0.233

Coco Crisp

584

0.258

0.261

Albert Pujols

443

0.258

0.258

Anthony Rizzo

690

0.258

0.233

Brian McCann

402

0.261

0.256

Will Middlebrooks

374

0.263

0.227

B.J. Upton

446

0.266

0.184

Ike Davis

377

0.268

0.205

Todd Frazier

600

0.269

0.234

Josh Willingham

471

0.269

0.208

The first name that stands out is Encarnacion: he's due for some BABIP help and didn't even hurt you in Batting Average last year. Did I say first round pick? Not all these guys will be able to provide good fantasy impact just by upping their BABIP (Upton needs a lot more help than that, for instance), but keep them in mind when evaluating last year's Batting Averages. Players like Pujols, Rizzo, McCann, and Frazier would all be very intriguing with higher averages. Others--like Willingham and Davis--a better BABIP is necessary just to be playable. But it may well happen.

Projected Averages

Here are next year’s top 16 hitters from the three projection systems found on Fangraphs. You can find more projections (and you should), but these are a start when it comes to finding high-average guys. Why a top 16? Because the 16th-place player wasn’t tied with the 17th-place player on any of the systems. See: sometimes the number of players I list is non-arbitrary!

 

Oliver

Steamer

ZiPS

 

Name

AB

AVG

Name

AB

AVG

Name

AB

AVG

1

Mike Trout

498

0.325

Miguel Cabrera

561

0.325

Miguel Cabrera

559

0.317

2

Miguel Cabrera

515

0.324

Mike Trout

563

0.306

Mike Trout

596

0.300

3

Andrew McCutchen

519

0.310

Troy Tulowitzki

529

0.301

Ryan Braun

594

0.300

4

Freddie Freeman

524

0.305

Joe Mauer

563

0.300

Adrian Beltre

553

0.297

5

Ryan Braun

530

0.302

Norichika Aoki

557

0.299

David Ortiz

406

0.296

6

Jayson Werth

519

0.301

Andrew McCutchen

560

0.298

Troy Tulowitzki

469

0.296

7

Paul Goldschmidt

510

0.300

Buster Posey

557

0.297

Eric Hosmer

597

0.296

8

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.300

Adrian Beltre

582

0.295

Buster Posey

512

0.293

9

Adrian Beltre

544

0.300

Robinson Cano

576

0.295

Yadier Molina

501

0.293

10

Joe Mauer

523

0.300

DJ LeMahieu

408

0.295

Joe Mauer

507

0.292

11

Joey Votto

488

0.299

Joey Votto

497

0.294

Victor Martinez

471

0.291

12

Troy Tulowitzki

525

0.299

Adrian Gonzalez

587

0.293

Michael Cuddyer

458

0.290

13

Eric Hosmer

545

0.299

Omar Infante

471

0.293

Melky Cabrera

534

0.290

14

Chris Johnson

559

0.299

Billy Butler

569

0.292

Joey Votto

508

0.289

15

Jean Segura

562

0.297

Allen Craig

577

0.292

Jose Reyes

526

0.289

16

Brent Keys

543

0.297

Henry Urrutia

179

0.292

Brent Keys

456

0.289

 

It’s worth noting that projection systems are almost always pretty conservative when it comes to Average—so Miguel Cabrera is just that impressive. It’s worth noting that Oliver projects significantly higher top-end averages. Here are some players who make it onto all three lists:

Mike Trout, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, and…yeah, that’s it. But in a category with as high margins of error as Batting Average, the top 16 barely scratches the surface. Check out these projection systems (and others) while researching. Players whose names show up batting over about .280 across multiple systems represent good bets to be assets in Average.

Note: I’m not super-sure who Brent Keys is, but I’m going to find out.

Update: I googled him and no longer feel bad about having never heard of him before.

For those who want to compete in Batting Average, I definitely recommend getting an anchor in the category in the first couple rounds. You may well have to sacrifice power, but getting tons of at bats out of a high-average hitter will take you a long way.

But it won’t take you far enough. There are way too many gradations of usefulness for me to go into right now, but you’re probably going to want to shoot for a team Average just north of .270. The beautiful thing is, you can do it any way you want; while couple splashy stars won’t be able to carry the team in the category, they can give you the luxury of a homers-first, average-never sort of player in a position or two. Getting a team full of “good-enoughs” to go with your truly strong players matters.

Here are some mid-range (and lower) guys from each position that will help keep you afloat in Batting Average while your stars do the heavy lifting:

C: Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy, A.J. Pierzynski

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, James Loney, Yonder Alonso

2B: Chase Utley, Omar Infante, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Marco Scutaro, Jose Altuve

3B: Chris Johnson, Martin Prado, Aramis Ramirez 

SS: Jed Lowrie, Erick Aybar, Alexei Ramirez

OF: Carlos Beltran, Norichika Aoki, Michael Brantley, Angel Pagan, Austin Jackson

And here are some guys to avoid for the sake of your Average, though they’ll help in other categories (high-level talent included):

C: Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero

1B: Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Moss, Nick SwisherChris Carter

2B: Jedd Gyorko, Brian Dozier

3B: Matt Dominguez, Kyle SeagerPedro Alvarez

SS: Brad Miller, Andrelton Simmons, Asdrubal Cabrera

OF: Jay Bruce, Jose Bautista, Desmond Jennings, Justin Upton, Alfonso Soriano, Leonys Martin

It’s interesting to note that you can find a bunch of potential help in Batting Average at second base, but not so much outside the elite options at first base and outfield. Just remember when you take that sweet-swinging power hitter, or that spideresque elite basestealer that you may need to be compensating for his Batting Average at another position. Keep track of your Average during your draft to ensure some balance.

Also keep a close eye on your Average in April and May--once your team has a significant number of at bats under its belt, it becomes very, very hard to move the needle in this category. So don't overdo it with low-level at bat streaming for your counting categories....

As always, good luck in the category. We'll see you next week for Saves, as I steal ideas from Luckey Helms. After that, we'll close out the traditional How to Win categories with Home Runs. Best for last, you know.



How to Win 2014: ERA

In the old days, ERA was a pretty easy category to win. All it took was a team ERA in the mid-3.00's and you were set. Get an ace or two, some good relievers, and focus on strikeout pitchers decent enough to get you some wins, and you'd probably compete in ERA. Maybe even win. As a proxy for other all competitive leagues, the ERA leader in the MLBTR league rocked a 3.01 ERA. My 3.99 number was good for...last place. This ain't the '90's, that's for sure.

So, let us assume that the ERA's in your league are also likely to run from one end of the 3.00's to the other, and not get much worse (except in public free leagues when someone is bound to quit checking their team in mid-May) or better than that. The bar is high for success in ERA, which is probably why we're seeing higher ADP's for top starters, including a more-or-less-consensus that Clayton Kershaw belongs in the first round.

The category is, of course, notoriously luck-heavy, with park, defense, left-on-base rates, timing of hits and outs, and plain ol' random chance all playing parts. But there's a lot of skill going on too. As with any rate category, you can't force a win, not even by spending way too much of your budget trying to, but you can certainly put yourself in a good (or bad) position.

Let's take a look at last year's ERA leaders, with their FIP, and their ERA-FIP. We'll go back to using the top 12 players, for the potential anchor for each team in a standard league.

2013 ERA Leaders (min. 100 IP)*

 

Name

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

ERA-FIP

1

Clay Buchholz

1.74

2.78

3.41

3.2

-1.04

2

Clayton Kershaw

1.83

2.39

2.88

6.5

-0.56

3

Jose Fernandez

2.19

2.73

3.08

4.2

-0.54

4

Anibal Sanchez

2.57

2.39

2.91

6.2

0.18

5

Zack Greinke

2.63

3.23

3.45

2.9

-0.6

6

Bartolo Colon

2.65

3.23

3.95

3.9

-0.58

7

Hisashi Iwakuma

2.66

3.44

3.28

4.2

-0.78

8

Alex Cobb

2.76

3.36

3.02

2.4

-0.6

9

Madison Bumgarner

2.77

3.05

3.32

3.7

-0.28

10

Yu Darvish

2.83

3.28

2.84

5

-0.45

11

Cliff Lee

2.87

2.82

2.78

5.1

0.05

12

Max Scherzer

2.9

2.74

3.16

6.4

0.16

*Excluding Matt Harvey, who won't be pitching this season.

A lot of the usual suspects here, though Buchholz and Cobb have yet to be full-season aces, while Colon's strikeout rate is so low he's difficult to play in mixed leagues.

One might have been tempted to peg Scherzer as a regression candidate, but he and Lee are the only ones on this list to post FIP's better than their ERA. Of course, Scherzer's xFIP tells a different story...I'll sum it up as, "he'll be good," and leave the particulars to others.

Read on, and beware: there will be many charts!

Continue reading "How to Win 2014: ERA" »



How to Win 2014: RBI

Runs Batted In are our third luck-heavy counting-stat category in a row, following on the heels of Wins and Run Scored. RBI contain the same two essential features: skill factors and luck factors, so we'll be examining the category based on both. Let the reader beware: much of what matters for scoring runs matters for driving them in--and that's not at all limited to hitting the ball over the fence and doing both at once. With that in mind (hint, be ready to check the How to Win article from a couple weeks ago), let's dive in to what it'll take to bring home the RBI crown.

Making Your Own Luck

Big-Picture Factors: Park and Lineup

Park factors and overall team offense play a huge part in how many runs any given player bats in. There's a reason one expects Robinson Cano's fantasy value to go down playing for the Mariners. You already read the more in-depth analysis (right?) that I did for Runs, and it's the same for RBI. Here's the condensed version:

The Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rangers, and Red Sox were all among the top teams in projected offensive output (by RS/Game) and play in the top hitter-friendly parks. Yes, these two factors have causal relationships on one another, but getting both at once is still well worthwhile.

The Angels, Blue Jays, Tigers, Giants, Cardinals, and Braves all look to be among the top offenses in their leagues. While the difference between AL and NL clubs looks very large at the macro-lineup level, a lot of that difference (all?) is thanks to those wonderful batting pitchers. Keep that in mind when it comes to NL players in the first-third lineup slots, but after that it shouldn't matter nearly as much.

Your Place in the World (or at Least the Batting Order)

Just as with Runs Scored, a hitter's slot in the lineup matters a lot for RBI. Fortunately, entirely different slots are useful here, so we get some original analysis.

This part of the teammate/order/luck factor is obvious enough: middle of the order hitters get more RBI chances, and therefore get more RBI. Adding to the obviousness of it all, this is where most of the best hitters bat anyway. So the key to RBI is to use early draft picks and high auction dollars on good hitters. Now, that is an efficient fantasy baseball economy.

Unfortunately, my last two sentences are about as true as they are tongue in cheek, but there is still a way to get less-obvious value and more RBI onto your roster.

The first thing you can do is to check out our list (again in the runs article) of high-OBP hitters that bat in leadoff or second, and take extra care to target the hitters behind them. However good the hitter is, he'll get a value boost from the guys batting ahead of them. It's why maybe you shouldn't be too excited about the RBI chances that Joey Votto or Chris Davis will get (check out MLBDepthCharts.com to see who might be hitting ahead of them...ugh), but you can be thrilled about what Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be able to do.

Here are some teams whose four through six hitters ought to enjoy their table-setters:

Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Rangers, and probably the A's.

Over in the NL, we've got the Braves, Padres (surprisingly enough), Rockies, Cardinals, Nationals, and probably the Dodgers and Brewers getting good OBP's out of their top two slots.

Of course, change the lineup around a lotand these lists might look different by the time the season starts. They will look different by the time it ends. So keep an eye on this stuff. It's also worth noting that having a good team offense and having good table-setters are very different things.

The second thing you can do is look for middle-of-the-road hitters in premium lineup slots. These guys won't have the name value or high cost of their superstar counterparts, but they ought to drive in more runs than similar players stuck farther back in the lineup. These hitters might even be in bad lineups, but stand a good chance to luck into whatever baserunners manage to happen.

Here are some decided non-stars who seem rosterable occupying prime four-through-six batting order real estate (most platoon players excluded):

C: Miguel MonteroEvan GattisJarrod SaltalamacchiaJonathan LucroyRussell MartinSalvador Perez

1B: Justin MorneauYonder AlonsoMatt AdamsAdam LaRocheCorey Hart, Mitch Moreland, James Loney

2B: Brandon PhillipsNeil Walker,  Jedd Gyorko

3B: Chris JohnsonJuan UribeDavid Freese

SS: Asdrubal CabreraJ.J. HardyXander Bogaerts

OF: Ryan Ludwick,  Chris Young, Marlon Byrd,   Carlos Quentin,   Michael Brantley,  Avisail Garcia, Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia,  Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera,  Josh Reddick

 Narrow that down to players on the teams listed above for good table-setters and you've got a target list of guys who ought to luck into more RBI's than a player of their caliber normally would:

Gattis, Johnson, Morneau, Uribe, Lucroy, Quentin, Alonso, Gyorko,* Adams, LaRoche, Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bogaerts, Loney, Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Freese, Reddick, Moreland

*Don't actually load up on Padres hoping for RBI. But one of them really might produce with Everth Cabrera and Will Venable setting the table.

You could narrow it down by park factor too (which would get rid of those incongruous Padres from the formula), but that seems to make it a bit too narrow to be useful.

Bringing the Skills to the Table

Hidden Power

Homer power is more than a little apparent. Doubles and triples, however, fly a little under the radar. Not much, but a little. And really, who do you think is driving in more runs, a guy with 35 doubles and 20 HR's, or a guy with 20 doubles and 20 HR's? Their stats may look the same on your fantasy baseball website (which can be useful when you offer trades), but the first guy will probably be knocking in way more runs. So go after those doubles hitters.

Thrity-eight players hit at least 35 doubles last year. Since you can go to Fangraphs.com or Baseball-Reference.com and see them for yourself, I'm not going to list them here. But I will mention those doubles hitters that don't hit home runs. Any that do will have been snatched up long before you could get to them.

And yes, 35 is arbitrary. But there has to be a cutoff somewhere. Just remember that when you're looking up a player's stats in the heat of the draft, look them up from a source that actually tells you how many extra-base hits he got.

Players with 35+ Doubles and Fewer than 20 HR's

40-55 Doubles: Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie, Yadier Molina, Gerardo Parra, Dustin Pedroia, Saltalamacchia

35-39 Doubles: Brandon Belt, Alexei Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Jason Kipnis, Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist, Morneau, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Mauer, Jason Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera

 High Slugging Percentage, Low Homers

 Doubles are a specific, helpful aspect of slugging percentage, but the rate stat does a good job of encapsulating the ability to drive in runners too. Again, we'll list some heavy sluggers, but omit those with over 20 homers (or who would have gotten over 20 with more playing time).

 .460-.480 SLG: Carpenter, Molina, Mauer

 .440-.460: Jhonny Peralta, Chris Johnson, Allen Craig, Jonathan Lucroy, Jason Kipnis, Shane Victorino, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Nava, Starling Marte

 Aside from the fact that this list comprises essentially the entire Cardinals lineup, we can see that there are a some potential values at catcher and middle infield--which is good, because those aren't the usual sources of homers or of RBI.

 Some Final Thoughts

The above are ways to assist yourself on the margins. Marginal upgrades to each player in your lineup, mid- and late-round draft picks that will provide more help than their peers, that sort of thing. By far, though, the bulk of your team RBI will come from your top players, and this will be true for everyone in your league. Beware, then, of spending too much or too early on pitching, as it will have consequences in the RBI category.

As with Runs Scored, your RBI total in daily roto leagues will depend a lot on your in-season management: utilizing your bench slots, and probably streaming at bats. The more chances you have to hit, the more runs will come in. Sometimes, baseball is still simple.

Join us again next week: we'll swing back to the pitcher's mound for ERA.



How to Win 2014: Wins

Wins aren’t exactly the trendiest category since the sabermetric revolution. Apparently, they don't tell us much about a player's "true talent," and they aren't very "predictive" of future performance. Things have come a long ways since Buzzie Bavasi let Nolan Ryan go for being "a .500 pitcher."

But we still include wins in this, our enlightened, statistical game. And we have to. Wins are what keep us in touch with real baseball, what keep us interested in the outcome of the real games. Play in a couple fantasy leagues, and you'll be watching the scores in half the day's games every day. Wins are exhilarating.

 And a bit frustrating. My favorite example of this is 2004, the year I had poor Kelvim Escobar when he was pitching for the Angels. Now, you may not remember, but Escobar was really good for a couple years there, and so were the Angels. They had one of the top-scoring offenses, and Escobar was a distinctly above-average fantasy pitcher. And he ended up with a record of 11-12. He was much better than teammate Bartolo Colon and pitched the same number of innings. Colon's record: 18-12. With an ERA over 5.00. Life just ain't fair.

 Fortunately, as in Runs Scored, there are controllable luck components to getting Wins, and there are legitimate skill components too. You can chase both.

 Living with Luck Dragons: Run Support

 The Escobar/Colon example I gave was so frustrating because those guys pitched for the same team, with the same hitters supposedly trying to score some runs. Thankfully, this is an extreme example: as best as we can predict, pitchers on the same team ought to get pretty much the same run support. (Except when the team changes its defensive lineup to help the pitcher with speed and defense outfielders, or a personal catcher who can't hit.)

 Get a good pitcher on a good offensive team and you've put yourself in a decent position for some Wins. A great pitcher with a great offense is obviously even better, but don't think the results are linear: Wins should be treated as having a wide possible spread because there are so many uncontrollable factors going into every game.

 Here are the top AL teams by projected Runs Scored/Game going into next season:

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

If you're noticing that these teams look really similar to the list I posted last week...well, they are. The same thing that scores runs for hitters scores it for pitchers. Players with good teammates tend to benefit from what we term luck.

For the same reasons as last time, I'll include the top few NL offenses too: 

Rockies 4.51
Diamondbacks 4.23
Giants 4.20 
Cardinals 4.19
Braves 4.14

Standards are lower in NL (thanks a lot, letting pitchers bat), but that doen't mean that these teams aren't going to beat their competition. It's probably worth noting that the Rockies get their high number from their park more than their hitters--the D-Backs too, to a lesser extent.

Here are some teams that don't look like they'll score many runs:

In the AL, the Twins and White Sox stand below the crowd with just 4.06 and 4.04 RS/9, respectively. The Rays, Yankees, Mariners, and Astros form the next tier up, with between 4.20 and 4.24 RS/G.

In the NL, the Marlins are alone for horrible-ness, with just 3.65 predicted RS/G. Ouch. The Cubs, Phillies, Mets, and Padres are all projected between 3.84 and 3.89 RS/G. 

Real Skills: IP/G

The deeper into games you pitch, the more you'll win. It's pretty simple, actually, but pitching deep into the game is a skill worth having. Here are the starters with the highest innings per start from 2011-2013:

Name            

Cliff Lee

Wins

37

GS

93

IP

666.1

IP/GS

7.16

James Shields

44

100

705.2

7.05

Hisashi Iwakuma

23

49

345

7.04

Clayton Kershaw

51

99

697

7.04

Justin Verlander

54

101

707.2

7.00

CC Sabathia

48

93

648.1

6.97

Felix Hernandez

39

97

670

6.91

Cole Hamels

39

95

651.1

6.85

David Price

42

92

622

6.76

R.A. Dickey

42

99

667

6.74

Adam Wainwright

33

66

440.1

6.67

Jered Weaver

49

87

578.2

6.65

Doug Fister

35

89

586.2

6.59

Matt Cain

36

95

625.1

6.58

Yu Darvish

29

61

401

6.57 

This isn't perfect, as you can see from the Wins column above, but these deep-pitching guys give their teams a chance to hit the ball and score runs.

If your league happens to count up losses...well, pitching deep means more decisions. In 5x5, you don't care about the difference between a loss and a no-decision, but if your format does give a penalty for a loss, straight-up IP/GS may get you in some trouble. Usually, though, a Win is more benefit than a Loss is a problem.

Luck and Skill: Together Again

Here are some pitchers who rack up innings and pitch for teams that score runs. It's the closest thing to a magic formula that I can think of for wins--aside from, you know, just being a good pitcher.

Darvish, Cain, Weaver, Wainwright, Dickey and Verlander are the standouts from the list above.

Dropping beyond the very best of innings eaters, here are some more pitchers that also fit pretty well into the formula:

Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, C.J. Wilson, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, John Lackey, Tim Lincecum, and Mike Minor

All these guys averaged at least 6.0 IP/GS for the last three years, and play in one of the top five offenses in their league.

Are their wins a sure thing? Certainly not. But their skills combine well with those of their teammates to win ballgames for their teams and themselves.

Just in Case We Missed Something...

Like Runs Scored, Wins are an output stat. We've measured two of the biggest inputs for getting Wins, but there are more. We can't measure them all here, and most are only a tiny fraction of the Win anyway. So, for the sake of thoroughness, let's see the top winners from the last three years:

Name

Wins

Justin Verlander

54

Max Scherzer

52

Clayton Kershaw

51

Jered Weaver

49

CC Sabathia

48

Gio Gonzalez

48

Zack Greinke

46

C.J. Wilson

46

Yovani Gallardo

45

James Shields

44

Ian Kennedy

43

David Price

42

Madison Bumgarner

42

R.A. Dickey

42

Kyle Lohse

41

Hiroki Kuroda

40

Tim Hudson

40

There are a lot of repeat names here, which is probably a good sign: innings, teammates, and good luck seem to be the real keys of the Wins category. 

 Don't Forget the Bullpen

Nothing is worse than losing a lead because the relief blew it. Closers get all the fantasy press, but you can lose the Win any time after your starter gets the hook.

These are the bullpens that led baseball by WAR last year and didn’t face significant losses to their relief corps: Royals, Red Sox, Twins, A’s, Blue Jays, and Braves.

By ERA, they were: Braves, Royals, Pirates, Brewers, A’s, and Reds.

In addition, the Dodgers and Rays have added some impressive pieces. While the Rangers lost Joe Nathan (so I removed them from the above lists), they could have a seriously dominant ‘pen if Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are both back from their injuries.

Targeted Streaming

If you're in daily league, choosing the occasional streamer is a great way to enhance your Wins. What I don't mean is what often happens: streaming two or more pitchers a day, racking up a ton of wins, and losing out in ERA and WHIP. Not worth it. (Or maybe, I guess.)

Assuming you want to compete in ERA and WHIP, though, choosing a decent pitcher with a great matchup off the waiver wire ought to help you out a lot in the Wins category, not to mention strikeouts. When you find a fringy late-round/$1 flyer type of guy floating down the wire with a start against the Twins or White Sox, the Cubs or the Marlins--go for it. Over the course of the season, especially in a Roto style league.

Check us back out next week, as we return to hitters and RBI.





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