5x5 Categories


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!



How to Win 2014: Stolen Bases

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in predicting the future is to assume that today’s trend will continue forever. That’s pretty much what I did last year, seeing that league-wide stolen bases had risen in the recent past and seemed to plateau at a high level. Steals had risen over the last decade from 2573 in 2003 to a high of 3279 in 2011. They were close to that level again 2012 at 3229, and had been over 2900 four years in a row. It seemed safe to assume that 2013 would be another great year for the stolen base.

Nope. Steals dropped to just 2693—a fall of 536 steals, or 16.6%. To put that number in perspective, it’s like five whole teams quit stealing bases. The 2013 total was the lowest since 2005 and you bet it affected player valuations. So, why did this happen? 

First of all, stolen bases are unique among fantasy categories in that they are under a player’s direct volitional control. A baseball player chooses to attempt a stolen base in a way that he does not choose to hit a single,* strike a batter out, or score a run. Of course, once the choice is made, other factors come into play in regards to success and failure—no matter how often he tried, Cal Ripken was never going to out-steal Rickey Henderson

*Of course, Ichiro was an exception to this rule for much of the 2000’s. Seriously, that guy could do whatever he wanted.

The overall trends are subject to human decisions, those of runners, pitchers, catchers, coaches, managers, and GM’s. The relevant decision-makers can’t choose for their team to hit more homers just by willing it to happen. But they can will stolen bases to go up—or down.

Maybe everybody decided that this whole stealing bases thing wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe you can attribute it all to Michael Bourn’s decline, or insufficient playing time for Emilio Bonifacio. (No, you can’t.) Maybe 2013 is an outlier in an upward-climbing trend. It certainly looks that way in this article from Fangraphs.com, which also shows at long-term trend in increasing stolen base percentages. Teams are getting better about which players and situations to call for the stolen base.

Whatever happened to change the trend of stolen bases, I’m not going to trying predict what will happen next.

What’s the implication of this for fantasy?

The first thing that’s interesting to note is that 10 teams ignored the league-wide memo to reduce the running game. If 2013 was the result of a change in strategy (big if, I know), these teams didn’t participate and might be good places to look for steals next year: Yankees, Royals, Indians, Red Sox Pirates, Mets, Astros, Orioles, Rockies, and Rangers.

Unfortunately, you can’t outsmart the future with some magic-bullet strategy. Either league-wide steals will rise and each stolen base will be less valuable, and non-specialists will steal plenty of bases…or they will stay the same or continue last year’s decline, making speed-specialists all the more important. It looks like the safest bet continues to be to spend intentionally on speed. Let’s see where to spend our auction dollars and draft picks. 

2013’s Top 12 15

 

Name

SB

CS

1

Jacoby Ellsbury

52

4

2

Eric Young

46

11

3

Rajai Davis

45

6

4

Jean Segura

44

13

5

Alex Rios

42

7

6

Elvis Andrus

42

8

7

Starling Marte

41

15

8

Carlos Gomez

40

7

9

Everth Cabrera

37

12

10

Leonys Martin

36

9

11

Jose Altuve

35

13

12

Mike Trout

33

7

13

Alexei Ramirez

30

9

14

Jason Kipnis

30

7

15

Nate McLouth

30

7

Why 15? Well, there was a tie. And the tie just happened to land on a nice, round number. I really had no choice.

We can learn a couple things from this list. First, steals come from the outfield, short, and second. But we knew that already. Second, you don’t have to be a particularly good hitter to steal bases. We also knew that. Let’s look at 2012’s data for a few more speedy names—and to see who stopped and started stealing.

2012’s Top 12 22

 

Name

SB

CS

1

Mike Trout

49

5

2

Rajai Davis

46

13

3

Everth Cabrera

44

4

4

Michael Bourn

42

13

5

Ben Revere

40

9

6

Jose Reyes

40

11

7

Coco Crisp

39

4

8

Shane Victorino

39

6

9

Juan Pierre

37

7

10

Carlos Gomez

37

6

11

Alcides Escobar

35

5

12

Jose Altuve

33

11

13

Dee Gordon

32

10

14

Jason Kipnis

31

7

15

B.J. Upton

31

6

16

Desmond Jennings

31

2

17

Ryan Braun

30

7

18

Norichika Aoki

30

8

19

Jarrod Dyson

30

5

20

Emilio Bonifacio

30

3

21

Jimmy Rollins

30

5

22

Drew Stubbs

30

7

Given the overall trend, it should not be shocking that several more players made it to the 30-steal plateau. The players who appear on both lists are a good place to start for consistency. Consider: Davis, Gomez, Cabrera, Altuve, Kipnis, and Trout. Yeah, only six guys managed back-to-back 30-steal seasons. And one of them wasn’t even supposed to be a starter. Moral: don’t bank on one guy to anchor your steals. Second moral: don’t write off Rajai Davis. Ever.

While we’re on the magically round 30-steal number, here are the nine guys who’ve averaged that mark over the last three years:

 

Name    

 SB

 CS

1

Michael Bourn

126

39

2

Rajai Davis

125

30

3

Coco Crisp

109

18

4

Jacoby Ellsbury

105

22

5

Elvis Andrus

100

30

6

Emilio Bonifacio

98

22

7

Ben Revere

96

26

8

Jose Reyes

94

24

9

Carlos Gomez

93

15

 Only three of them (Ellsbury, Andrus, and Gomez) managed 30 or more steals last year, which makes me think that we may be experiencing a generation shift in base stealers, with new players coming into their own and others finally slowing down. Maybe that's what's responsible for the Great Major League Slowdown. Moral: don’t be afraid of a short track record when it comes to steals.

 Watch Out for These Guys

If teams are getting savvier about not letting their guys get caught on the basepaths, you can probably expect runners with high CS totals to get the brakes put on them. Consider avoiding these guys with problematic SB/CS ratios: Aoki (20/12), Bourn (23/12), Shin-Soo Choo (20/11), Ian Kinsler (15/11), Dexter Fowler (19/9), Alfonso Soriano (18/9), Justin Ruggiano (15/8), and Paul Goldschmidt (15/8). Really don’t count on these guys, with atrocious ratios: Gerardo Parra (10/10) and Yasiel Puig (11/8).

Good Hitters Who Steal

One way to pad your steals total is to take your steals in medium-sized amounts from a number of otherwise good hitters on your roster. These guys all stole between 10 and 20 bases, but you aren't drafting any of them because of thier speed.

Maybe you don’t want one or two speed specialists, and didn’t snag a power/speed threat in the first or second round…if so, this tactic can be useful, as players like this frequently slip under the base-stealing radar. Consider: Jayson Werth (10 steals), Goldschmidt (15—unless they stop his running game), David Wright (17), Michael Cuddyer (10), Adam Jones (14), Ben Zobrist (11), Dustin Pedroia (17), Michael Brantley (17), Alex Gordon (11), Brian Dozier (14), Michael Saunders (13), Erick Aybar (12), Chris Young (10), Josh Rutledge (12)….

Okay, somewhere in there we stretched the bounds of “good,” but the point is to get steals out of people you don’t draft for steals. It’s worth noting that this strategy seemed more viable last offseason. If you suspect that league-wide steals will decline further, then you probably won’t think this strategy is very useful. 

Speed Bums

In deeper leagues, when everyone has to scramble to find someone to fill out their MI slot and their last one or two OF slots, I like to snag a couple players I affectionately term “speed bums.” You know the type: can’t really hit but lightning fast. Iffy playing time, no help in HR or RBI; they only don’t hurt you in Runs or Average if you’re lucky.

Do I like to count on them to carry me in the category? Of course not—but they can put me over the top, and after awhile they’re the best choices left. When they don’t work out, new speed bums can always be found on the waiver wire. (Such players also make good deep-league injury replacements when real hitters can’t be found.) 

Here are some guys to consider: the inimitable Rajai Davis (elite speed bum, pretty much of all time, 45 steals), Eric Young (46 steals, probably no starting job next year…Rajai 2.0?), Nate McLouth (30), Emilio Bonifacio (28), Craig Gentry and Brett Gardner (24 each—with surprisingly good hitting lines), Juan Pierre (23, the granddaddy of speed bums), Jimmy Rollins and Alcides Escobar (22 and reduced to a lowly state), Jordan Schafer, Ben Revere, and Elliot Johnson (22 and glad to be here), Denard Span (20), Ichrio Suzuki (20).

It’s interesting to note that there aren’t as many of this kind of player as in the past either. Maybe the MLB strategic decision was not to play these guys at all.

Some Final Thoughts 

I’m playing steals on the safer side this year, and that means paying for some speed near the beginning of the draft. You don’t have to go elite with Trout or Ellsbury to get some speed, but you’ll probably have to spread it across a number of 20-steal types with power (think Ian Desmond or Shane Victorino), or grab a couple of 30-steal guys who can help in Average and Runs (like Leonys Martin or Jason Kipnis).

Whatever happens with steals next year, you don’t want to be outrun by your leaguemates.

Check out How to Win next week for WHIP.



How to Win 2014: Strikeouts

The Award-Winning* How to Win series is back this year, and starting with Strikeouts. We’ll tour each of the ten 5x5 categories over the course of the preseason to examine data about the category’s leaders, identify surprise players, and discuss various strategies for winning the category.

*I literally just gave myself an award. It is scribbled on a napkin and stuffed into my pocket. Feel free to extend congratulations in the comments.

Strikeouts are an easy category to win. It’s simple. Stream pitchers like crazy and rack up 50% more innings than the next best team. You’ll win. Guaranteed. You’ll probably win Wins, too. If you follow this simple strategy and don’t win…stream more pitchers until you’ve got it.

Article done. 

Unless, of course, you want to win (or at least compete) in WHIP and ERA, play with a transaction limit (do you?), or an innings cap, or make your roster changes weekly. So I guess there’s more work to do than that. 

Winning any category (or getting points from the stat, if that’s how you roll) depends heavily on your format, and I’m not just talking about the big, obvious stuff like roto scoring vs. head-to-head, or categories vs. points, or daily vs. weekly roster moves. Are your innings capped at 1500 or 1400? Are your transactions limited by week or month, all year, or not at all? How many players can you keep on your bench? All these things and more will change your focus on how to win Strikeouts.

That’s why I’m including 2013’s top 12 Strikeout leaders by three separate measurements: raw whiff totals, K/9, and K%. Each measurement has its uses. Why the top 12? Think of it as—potentially—each team’s best contributor in the category.

Total Strikeouts (min. 130 IP—like it matters here)

 

Player

SO

1

Yu Darvish

277

2

Max Scherzer

240

3

Clayton Kershaw

232

4

Chris Sale

226

5

Cliff Lee

222

6

Adam Wainwright

219

7

Justin Verlander

217

8

Felix Hernandez

216

9

Jeff Samardzija

214

10

A.J. Burnett

209

11

Anibal Sanchez

202

12

Cole Hamels

202

 The first thing we notice about these names and numbers is that there’s a pretty big difference between Darvish and anyone else. In fact, he’s almost as far away from Scherzer at number two, as he is from Hamels and Sanchez. If you want elite in Strikeouts, he’s in a class of his own, and he’s the only pitcher in baseball who appears to have a credible chance of cracking 300 like Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson.

Notice also that the difference between Darvish and the 12th spot on the list is roughly equivalent to the Strikeouts you’d get from a mid-level closer. That’s like getting a roster slot for free. 

Obviously, not everyone can draft Darvish, and there might be good reasons not to, (okay, probably not?) but the other guys on this list will provide some pretty serious value. While some are elite pitchers making more money per season than anyone else ever has, others are…well, maybe retiring. The point is that most elite Strikeout artists are simply amazing pitchers and come with similarly high draft or auction prices—but there are exceptions. 

Consider Burnett and Samardzija, as well as Hamels (whose stock may have fallen), and Sanchez (who might not be believed as an ace yet) from this list. Also consider some of these guys, all with 180 whiffs or more: Homer Bailey (if the hype isn’t too frenzied), Lance Lynn (if he keeps his job), Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, and C.J. Wilson. Note that this isn’t just a list of the next guys sorted by Strikeouts, but a handful of non-elite pitchers who miss bats.

K/9 (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K/9

1

Yu Darvish

11.89

2

Max Scherzer

10.08

3

Anibal Sanchez

9.99

4

A.J. Burnett

9.85

5

Jose Fernandez

9.75

6

Ubaldo Jimenez

9.56

7

Felix Hernandez

9.51

8

Chris Sale

9.49

9

Stephen Strasburg

9.39

10

Scott Kazmir

9.23

11

Francisco Liriano

9.11

12

Justin Masterson

9.09

Obviously, there’s a lot of repetition between this list and the last…but there are some key differences, and this is the measurement you’ll want to focus on in a roto style league with an innings cap. The lower your cap or the deeper your league, the more you’ll want to focus on the Strikeout rate over the raw total.

It’s interesting to note that a few more aces fall out of elite status by this measure. You can get serious production from apparently fringy guys by concentrating on K/9—though pitchers like Jimenez and Masterson may will harm you in WHIP.

Here are some more pitchers with quality K/9 rates that won’t be priced like an ace: Matt Moore (8.56), Alex Cobb (8.41), Corey Kluber (8.31), Hector Santiago (8.28), Ryan Dempster (8.25), Julio Teheran (8.24), Ian Kennedy (8.09).

Tony Cingrani (104.2 IP, 10.32 K/9), Tyson Ross (94, 9.29), Marco Estrada (123, 8.20), Todd Redmond (69.2, 9.35), Josh Johnson (81.1, 9,18), and Sonny Gray (60, 9.15) all helped out in Strikeouts despite limited time. Of course, they didn’t all help out in the other categories….

K% (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K%

1

Yu Darvish

32.90%

2

Max Scherzer

28.70%

3

Jose Fernandez

27.50%

4

Anibal Sanchez

27.10%

5

Felix Hernandez

26.30%

6

Stephen Strasburg

26.10%

7

Chris Sale

26.10%

8

A.J. Burnett

26.10%

9

Clayton Kershaw

25.60%

10

Cliff Lee

25.30%

11

Ubaldo Jimenez

25.00%

12

Madison Bumgarner

24.80%

Yu stands very tall here again, overshadowing the fact that the difference between Scherzer and Fernandez is also very large. It’s clear that these two guys are the top Strikeout pitchers no matter the format…but you already knew that.

 

Kershaw, Lee, and Bumgarner crack this list but not K/9, and that tells us a little bit about the nature of K%, and the difference between the two stats. It’s subtle, but the difference between Strikeouts as a percentage of total batters faced, and Strikeouts per inning is important: pitchers with a K% better than their K/9 are getting more batters out in other ways and facing fewer batters. It means they get fewer whiffs…but it also means they put fewer hitters on base.

Clay Buchholz (23.1 K%), Mike Minor (22.1%), Hisashi Iwakuma (21.4%), Gerrit Cole (21.3%), Mat Latos (21.2%), and Chris Tillman (21.2%) all whiffed over 21% of their batters but had K/9 rates under 8.00. Unsurprisingly, all turned out pretty good results.

 Don’t Forget Relievers 

Below are the top Strikeout relievers, with closers omitted. You and I both know you’ll be ranking your closers based on how many whiffs they generate, and that the best ones won’t come cheap. All I’ll say on the matter is this: don’t waste a roster slot on a closer who doesn’t strike people out. 

In a lot of formats, there’s no room for non-closing relievers, I know. But for the formats in which you can use them, they can make a difference. Check out some of the top relievers for raw strikeouts. If you want your relievers to make a difference (in any format), you need them to generate the counting stats—an elite K/9 and K% is a given; the trick is pitching enough innings to matter. 

 

Player

SO

1

Cody Allen

88

2

A.J. Ramos

86

3

Josh Collmenter

85

4

Luke Hochevar

82

5

Steve Delabar

82

6

Charlie Furbush

80

7

Craig Stammen

79

8

Adam Ottavino

78

9

Jake McGee

75

10

David Carpenter

74

11

Oliver Perez

74

12

Kelvin Herrera

74

The best Strikeout artists seem to end up in the ninth, but these guys can help out fantasy teams under the radar. A lot of them aren’t even typical closers-in-waiting, which means you can nab your favorite one(s) with the last pick(s) of the draft. Reliever usage and performance is, of course, hugely variable, so consider this a starting point for padding the category, not a true guide to the next year’s highest Strikeout totals.

Differentiated Strategies

I said before that different formats require different strategies. Check out a few of your options.

Yahoo! Head-to-Head Style

Daily changes, shallow rosters, and no innings cap. In leagues like this, I’d try to get bulk strikeouts from a couple studs, and then focus on quality K% from two to four mid-rotation types (depending on what kind of funds you want to allocate to pitching). I’d finish it up in one of three ways: grab a couple high-risk guys with good K/9’s, find some high-volume relievers, or stream away with a roster spot or two.

Standard Roto

Daily changes and an innings cap—usually about 1500 IP. Every inning, every out counts. Figure you’re splitting your innings between five to seven starters in order to hit your limit. Concentrate on K% for balance and add relievers to improve ERA and WHIP, or lower-level starters with good K/9 for Wins.

Weekly Changes or Limited Transactions 

These situations throw streaming out the window, and they aren’t great for relieves either. Usually such leagues let you have a deep bench, so my usual strategy in this format is to draft two aces and a bunch of high K/9 arms and play the matchups.

If you do have a short bench in this format—or league with more than 12 teams—I’d emphasize risk mitigation and look for K% above everything else.

Check us out again next week, for a look at our first hitting category: the enigmatic Stolen Base.



How to Win: Saves

Saves are a curious phenomenon. Invented quite recently--for a stat with the weight of tradition--their presence in baseball's statistical pantheon has actually changed the way games are played and millions of dollars are apportioned. If not for this category, you might still be seeing the game's best relievers pitching the seventh and eighth innings of tied ballgames...not waiting until the ninth, only to sit down if a lead disappears or grows over three. See, saves are illogical, and that's just something we all have to accept before we can win this category.

Saves are subject to several factors, only one of which is a pitcher's performance. Since nearly all saves are doled out to just 30 pitchers at any given time, the manager's choice of pitcher matters too. For some teams (like the Braves) the choice is easy. The Tigers are having a tough time with it. What goes into the manager's closer decision? Who knows for sure, but performance, raw ability, reputation, and appearance all seem to go into it. Recent performance matters too: a quality pitcher can go into a rough patch with a closer gig and high fantasy value and leave with neither. Finally, winning games is part of it too...but, so is winning by a little. I like to target good or mediocre teams with better pitching than hitting.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to win this one: more closers, or more information. 

To help you do either one, our first list is of the 24 closers who have a firm grip on their jobs. Note that this is not the same as last year's leaders, nor is it a ranking. You can check out our RP Rankings, or our Closer Depth Chart for information on each team's backup closers.

Firm Closers*

AL West

Grant Balfour, OAK
Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
Jose Veras, HOU
Joe Nathan, TEX

NL West

Sergio Romo, SFG
Rafael Betancourt, COL
J.J. Putz, ARI
Huston Street, SDP

AL Central

Greg Holland, KCR
Glen Perkins, MIN
Chris Perez, CLE
Addison Reed, CHW

NL Central

John Axford, MIL
Jason Grilli, PIT
Jonathan Broxton, CIN**
Jason Motte, STL

AL East

Mariano Rivera, NYY
Joel Hanrahan, BOS
Jim Johnson, BAL
Fernando Rodney, TBR

NL East

Steve Cishek, MIA
Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
Rafael Soriano, WAS
Craig Kimbrel, ATL

*I say firm, but you know I don't mean it. These guys might not be fighting for jobs now, but any could lose it during the season to injury, sudden ineffectiveness, or manager's caprice.

**Brox is solidly a closer as long as the "Aroldis Chapman: Starting Pitcher" plan continues. If Chapman returns to the bullpen, expect him to bump Broxton out of the closer's chair.

With only 24 known closers this late into Spring Training, saves are already a rarer draft commodity than they used to be. It's down to two guys per team in a standard league; you could easily be stuck with just one in a deep league. The volatility inherent to closers makes me usually want to avoid them early in drafts (what I really like is snapping up three or four of the last six taken, but that doesn't look like such a good idea this year). This year, more than in others, I'd strongly consider using early and middle picks to get more than one of the top closers.

Closer Cage Matches

Not every save comes from a closer with a solid job. Each division hosts a team that can't seem to make up its mind about their stopper, and you can (with a little luck) profit from taking a chance with pitchers in those situations. Just don't depend on them. I went into a little more detail about these cases on Friday, so I'll keep it brief here.

Angels: Ernesto Frieri v. Ryan Madson

Frieri should start as closer; the plan is that Madson will return to the job when he's healthy.

Dodgers: Brandon League v. Kenley Jansen

League has been dubbed "closer" by the Dodgers...but they've done this before, and Jansen is really, really good. Especially at striking people out.

Tigers: Bruce Rondon v. Joaquin Benoit v. Al Alburquerque v. Phil Coke v. someone they haven't traded for yet.

This one's a mess. If you can spare your last round pick to have a horse in the race, go for it.

Cubs: Carlos Marmol v. Kyuji Fujikawa

Marmol is the closer. Marmol is very available in trade. Don't expect him to close in his new destination.

Blue Jays: Sergio Santos v. Casey Janssen

Janssen is hurt, but was supposed to have the job. Santos was pitching very well, but he was hurt last year and now he might be a little bit hurt.

Mets: Bobby Parnell v. Frank Francisco

Parnell is a pretty good pitcher who isn't hurt. Francisco is a volatile (but underrated) pitcher who is hurt.

Any of these situations could also end up in job shares or committee approaches. I've listed the current frontrunner first in each case (though others might be less bullish on Santos and Parnell), but all of these teams' plans are way up in the air.

Draft More Closers

Now that we've actually found the closers, we can get back into some real strategy. As I said above (long ago, by now), one of the two main ways to win saves is to have the most closers. In some years, you can do this on the cheap, by getting undervalued closers way at the back end of your draft. This year, not so much. You can also spend heavily on the most elite closers, those unlikely to lose their jobs even after blowing two or three saves in a row. (That can happen to anybody.)

I recently tried this strategy out in a Yahoo! mock draft. A standard Yahoo! league is very shallow, and it doesn't contain MI or CI spots, and only runs three OF's. What does this mean for closers? Well, if I only need one player at each premium position, then I can stand to spend a little more on closers. That's what I did. I drafted four closers, and if this were a real league, I would win saves for sure with this crew. Here's my whole team (for context), with relievers in black:

1. Giancarlo Stanton (Mia - OF) 
2. Edwin Encarnacion (Tor - 1B) 
3. Cliff Lee (Phi - SP) 
4. Craig Kimbrel (Atl - RP) 
5. Aramis Ramirez (Mil - 3B) 
6. Shin-Soo Choo (Cin - OF) 
7. Jonathan Papelbon (Phi - RP) 
8. Jose Altuve (Hou - 2B) 
9. Michael Bourn (Cle - OF) 
10. Ian Kennedy (Ari - SP) 
11. Anibal Sanchez (Det - SP) 
12. Nick Swisher (Cle - 1B,OF) 
13. Brian McCann (Atl - C) 
14. John Axford (Mil - RP) 
15. Jason Grilli (Pit - RP) 
16. Alcides Escobar (KC - SS) 
17. Todd Frazier (Cin - 1B,3B,OF) 
18. Wade Miley (Ari - SP) 
19. Hisashi Iwakuma (Sea - SP,RP) 
20. Josh Rutledge (Col - 2B,SS) 
21. James McDonald (Pit - SP) 
22. Bronson Arroyo (Cin - SP) 
23. Jason Hammel (Bal - SP) 

My starting pitching is a little thin, and I don't have much bench, but I think it's a decent team. (If you don't, let me know in the comments, so I don't do this in a real draft...) The important thing, though, is that I will win saves.

Presumably, you can spend extra on saves without going to this extreme. One way to do this is to grab closers that are better than their draft positions. In case you didn't notice, I did a little of that on the team above.

John Axford is the 5th reliever going on MockDraftCentral, and 8th on RotoAuthority's rankings, so there's no value there...except that he's number 13 on Yahoo!

Similarly, Glen Perkins is our 15th ranked closer, and he goes at a fair 14th on MDC, but you can get him 21st on Yahoo!

Jason Grilli is our 10th closer ranked, but he's going 19th on MDC and 17th on Yahoo! Grilli (and his awesome 13.81 K/9) are very underrated.

Rafael Betanourt is our 14th closer, but he's 18th on MDC and 16th on Yahoo!

Addison Reed is our 17th closer, but he's 22nd on MDC and 20th on Yahoo!

Huston Street is our number 16, but he lasts until number 24 on MDC. On Yahoo!, though, he's ranked 12th, so be careful.

Jose Veras is way down everybody's lists, but saves could be extra-hard for him to come by: even at 250 overall on Yahoo! and 303 on MDC, he's probably still the second Houston Astro taken in many drafts. Yeah, that's a bad team.

Any of these pitchers--or any other--could get very underrated in any draft you might do. Even when intending to fill some other position, remember to consider grabbing a value closer if one slips to you. In an auction, of course, this is even easier to see, though your leaguemates might make you pay a premium if they notice you trying to amass an All-Star bullpen.

Get More Information

You can succeed in saves without spending more than the competition. In last year's Silver League, the team that won in saves finished at or near the top of the whole league standings. That team didn't break the bank on closers in the draft (though I seem to recall them spending the normal amount). Instead, throughout the year, they consistently snatched up some of the best closers to take over jobs midseason. Helpfully, I believe they started by nabbing Fernando Rodney.

If you think you can succeed this way, I say go for it. All it means is more more work, and it can really pay off. Following our own @CloserNews Twitter feed is a great way to start, but I'd suggest loading up on as many information sources as you can. It helps living on the West Coast, or staying up late to catch the night games and news. Injuries and managerial decisions can happen at any time, and in many leagues, a newly minted closer will have been snatched up by the time you wake up in the morning. 

There's another way to squeeze saves out of your team, and that is to stream setup guys. It takes some seriously careful watching (it was a lot easier for me to do when I was taking night shifts on the @CloserNews feed, I'll tell you that), but when a closer has pitched two or three days in a row, you won't expect him to come in the next day, so you grab his backup and hope for a save opp. For a couple years, I've wanted to try devoting a whole team to this strategy, but I haven't gotten around to it, mostly for time zone related reasons.

A Few Final Words: Different Strategies for Different Leagues

I'm in five different leagues next season, and I'll have at least four different strategies for success in saves. If your league does daily changes and has a lot of open P slots, then either of the strategies above will work well for you. You can leave most of your relievers in on most days (or cycle in your streamers), and sit them when you need to put in extra starters. It's like reliever paradise. I'll probably go for quantity in one, and information in another and see what happens.

But I also play in leagues with weekly lineup changes and waiver wire pickups, and one of them allows only two relievers--but awards them a ton of points. For these, my plan will (probably) be to get at least one high quality reliever, one medium quality guy, and a third or fourth injury backup. Or maybe I'll go for two of the top ten and hope for the best. We'll see how the draft goes.

Some leagues do quite a few categories: 7x7 or even 10x10. The more categories you have, the less you should spend on closers. Similarly, points leagues can have very valuable closers, or make them pretty worthless. On the flip side of things, if you play in a 4x4 league (the original standard), saves just got way more valuable. Ratchet closers up your lists accordingly.

Whether you play in a deep league or a shallow league, with weekly changes or daily, with just two RP slots or more than you can even use, there is a value for saves out there. Whatever it is pay that, and not more. In a head-to-head league, you could even punt the category (but don't, because someone else will and even one closer will beat that team twice next year), but every little bit helps in standard Rotisserie.

There's an old adage floating around in the aether of our cultural consciousness that, "It's better to be lucky than good." Nowhere is this more true than in getting saves for your fantasy baseball team, so: good luck!

By the way, this concludes the standard 5x5 categories, but it doesn't conclude the How to Win series. My plan is to examine OBP next week, since plenty of leagues use the stat and it indirectly affects all leagues. If a bunch of people clamor for something else, though, maybe I'll change the plan....



How to Win: Home Runs

Homers are everybody's favorite category. Or almost everybody's. Well, they're mine. My favorite hitting category, at least. Yes, that's it: home runs are my favorite hitting category.

Why the affinity for the longball? Just because they're awesome? Because I grew up watching Ken Griffey, Jr. and the rest of our 90's heroes launching them all around town? Or because I've watched so many games at Safeco Field that I don't really remember what they look like in person and I have to resort to rooting them on in fantasy? Maybe.

But mostly it's because homers are simple. Hit the ball hard enough and high enough and nobody cares what the defense is, or what the rest of your lineup looks like. Good pitchers usually keep homers down, good hitters usually hit some out. Some parks add to homer totals, others kill them--but it isn't too hard to find out which ones are which.

Not only that, but I'm a sucker for a freebie. (If that's even possible--I mean, it's free...) Every homer is a free Run Scored and a free RBI and the best way to do well in those categories is to have a bunch of guys who do well in this one.

This is a theme I've been on all year long, but consider this article my crescendo: power is down, and the game is different. In real baseball, strikeouts are up, steals are up and homers and slugging percentage are down. For fantasy, that means that you have to pounce on power earlier than ever, because mediocre players that still hit 30 bombs are nearly a thing of the past. In 2009, there were 86 players with 20 homers or more. Last year, there were just 78. Last year the majors slugged just .405--down from .418 in 2009 and .432 ain 2006. When you're asking yourself why you should pay first round prices for a player who only helps in three categories (cough, cough, Jose Bautista), there's your answer.

Since we're lucky enough to be reviewing a category that actually tends to correlate from year to year, here are last year's top 24 home run hitters.

2012's Top 24

1. Miguel Cabrera, 44 (3B) 
2. Josh Hamilton, 43 (OF)
2. Curtis Granderson, 43 (OF)
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 42 (1B)
5. Ryan Braun, 41 (OF)
5. Adam Dunn, 41 (1B)
7. Giancarlo Stanton, 37 (OF)
8. Adrian Beltre, 36 (3B)
9. Josh Willingham, 35 (OF)
10. Jay Bruce, 34 (OF)
11. Robinson Cano, 33 (2B)
11. Adam LaRoche, 33 (1B)
11. Chris Davis, 33 (1B/OF)
14. Josh Reddick, 32 (OF)
14. Adam Jones, 32 (OF)
14. Alfonso Soriano, 32 (OF)
14. Carlos Beltran, 32 (OF)
14. Mark Trumbo, 32 (OF)
14. Ike Davis, 32 (1B)
20. Chase Headley, 31 (3B)
20. Andrew McCutchen, 31 (OF)
22. Mike Trout, 30 (OF)
22. Prince Fielder, 30 (1B)
22. Albert Pujols, 30 (1B)
22. Corey Hart, 30 (OF/1B)
22. Pedro Alvarez, 30 (3B)
22. Jason Kubel, 30 (OF)

Don't you love it when there's a tie at the end? It's even better when we're left with a big, round benchmark. I can pretty much guarantee that this won't be the exact list of league leaders from next year, but I'd be willing to bet that most of these guys will comprise most of next year's leaders. 

I listed each player's position to highlight the fact that only one of last year's 30-HR hitters played outside of the traditional power positions: Robinson Cano.

Just because they didn't top 30 doesn't mean you can't find some power at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop. Consider these guys:

Catchers:

1. Wilin Rosario, 28
2. A.J. Pierzynski, 27
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 25
4. Buster Posey, 24 
4. Mike Napoli, 24
6. Matt Wieters, 23
7. Yadier Molina, 22
8. Russell Martin, 21
9. Brian McCann, 20 

Not to mention guys who could easily better their 2012 totals: Carlos Santana, Ryan Doumit, Victor Martinez, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia

Catcher: not a bad place to sneak some power into your lineup--they look especially good when you consider how few plate appearances the typical catcher gets.

Second Base

1. Robinson Cano, 33
2. Aaron Hill, 26
3. Rickie Weeks, 21
4. Ben Zobrist, 20

Here are some under-20's who could bounce back or take a step forward next year: Dan Uggla, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Danny Espinosa 

Yeah, second base is a desert when it comes to power. That's why the top guys are going off the board so quickly, and why everyone else just sticks around looking awkwardly like the last kid picked for the kickball team. (Or they steal bases, I guess.)

Shortstop

1. Ian Desmond, 25
2. Hanley Ramirez, 24
3. Jimmy Rollins, 23
4. J.J. Hardy, 22
5. Ben Zobrist, 20

Some guys who might help with better health or more playing time: Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew (I guess), Josh Rutledge

Shorstop might actually be better off than second base, but you know things are bad when Lowrie can tie for sixth-most shortstop homers while playing just 97 games. The bar is low enough that even the 15-homer-range performances of guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Starlin Castro count as pretty good. 

Late Draft Power Hitters

If you don't like the idea of spending high picks on "power" hitters at premium positions or stacking your OF while filling your 1B, 3B, and CI positions as fast as possible, then make sure you scrape around the middle and late rounds for power hitters like the ones below. Actually, you should do that regardless, because you can't really have too much power.

Since I like big, round numbers, check out these hitters that you should be able to get after pick 150:

Pedro Alvarez, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Ludwick, Adam Dunn, Andre Ethier, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Frazier, Brandon Moss, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds, Jedd Gyorko, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Lance Berkman, Chris Young, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Olt, Cody Ross, Tyler Colvin, Jed Lowrie, Justin Smoak, Adam Lind, Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Johnny Gomes

Obviously, some of these guys are better than others, and there are varying degrees of safety and potential to be had.

Some More Power-Related Statistics

We can find more power hitters (especially the ones that didn't finish the season) by looking up some stats a little further under the hood than home runs.

Isolated Power

1. Giancarlo Stanton, .318
2. David Ortiz, .293
3. Josh Hamilton, .292
4. Jose Bautista, .286
5. Edwin Encarnacion, .277
6. Miguel Cabrera, .277
7. Ryan Braun, .276
8. Josh Willingham, .267
9. Adam Dunn, .263
10. Jay Bruce, .263
11. Wilin Rosario, .260
12. Curtis Granderson, .260
13. Ryan Ludwick, .256
14. Jason Kubel, .253
15. Garrett Jones, .242
16. Mike Napoli, .241
17. Scott Hairston, .241
18. Tyler Colvin, .240
19. Aramis Ramirez, .240
20. Adrian Beltre, .240
21. Adam LaRoche, .238
22. Mike Trout, .238
23. Robinson Cano, .238
24. Alfonso Soriano, .237 

HR/FB%

1. Adam Dunn, 29.3
2. Giancarlo Stanton, 28.9
3. Josh Hamilton, 25.6
4. Mike Napoli, 25.5
5. Wilin Rosario, 25.5
6. Chris Davis, 25.2
7. Pedro Alvarez, 25.0
8. Curtis Granderson, 24.2 
9. Robinson Cano, 24.1
10. Michael Morse, 23.4
11. Miguel Cabrera, 23.0
12. Justin Maxwell, 22.8
13. Ryan Bruan, 22.8
14. Matt Kemp, 21.7
15. Mike Trout, 21.6
16. Chase Headley, 21.4
17. Josh Willingham, 21.2
18. Ike Davis, 21.1
19. Kendrys Morales, 21.0
20. Mark Trumbo, 20.6
21. Bryan LaHair, 20.5
22. Dayan Viciedo, 20.5
23. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 20.0
24. David Ortiz, 20.0

A Brief Note on Park Factors

Park factors are typically listed for total runs scored, but that won't necessarily help you in homers. The HR factors are slightly different, and there are further differences for hitters of different handednesses. Below are 2012's top homer producing parks:

1. Milwaukee, 1.631
2. Cincinatti, 1.592
3. Colorado, 1.493
4. Chicago (White Sox), 1.349
5. Baltimore, 1.314
6. Arizona, 1.192
7. Texas, 1.168
8. New York (Yankees), 1.143
9. Los Angeles (Dodgers), 1.125

All nine of these parks add at least 10% more homers than league average. Notably, Yankee and Dodger Stadiums actually suppress runs on the whole, despite adding homers. 

And Now a Wet Blanket: "Just Enough" Homers

ESPN's HitTrackerOnline lists various types of home runs--all useful for planning your fantasy team--but here we're looking at those homers that only barely cleared the wall. Maybe in a different park, or with different weather conditions or with springier center fielders these balls would have stayed in the yard. Unsurprisingly, lots of "Just Enoughs" indicate lots of total homers--and a decent chance that a player's homers may decline without such good fortune.

16: Miguel Cabrera
15: Adrian Beltre
14: Ryan Braun
12: David Wright, Josh Hamilton
11: Josh Willingham, Hanley Ramirez, Ike Davis, Corey Hart, Chase Headley
10: Matt Holliday, Jed Lowrie, Brian McCann, Hunter Pence, Garrett Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Wilin Rosario, Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher
9: Justin Smoak, Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, David Ortiz, Billy Butler, Matt Weiters, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse

Having lots of "Just Enoughs" isn't a kiss of death, but it isn't a good sign. Consider players like Wright, Lowrie, and Smoak, for whom more than half of their homers were close, to be risky plays next year. Players like Headley and Butler, who took big steps forward, appear to have had some help in the luck department. 

When you are mentally discounting players for close homers, don't cut them all away--having several of these is a perfectly normal, even necessary, part of hitting home runs.  

A Few Final Words

Power hitting is still the name of the game in fantasy baseball. When one category practically controls two of the others, that's just how it has to be. In the past three years, home run hitting--and offense in general--has been dropping. Expect to pay more to get less when it comes to homers. You aren't getting hosed; that's just the new market price. Just as one-category base stealers were once prized commodities, now even power hitters with serious flaws will command early draft picks and hefty auction prices.

It also seems to me that homers are particularly concentrated in the outfield and on the corners. I strongly suggest making sure your lineup is fortified with several such players, even if it means waiting a little to fill scarce positions. What I really don't recommend is spending early picks on outfielders and corner hitters who aren't big helps in power. 

If I could turn sixteen hundred words into three, this is what it would look like: pay for power. Win homers and you (almost) can't avoid finishing with the leaders in Runs and RBI's. The cost has risen, but so has the value of each home run.



How to Win: Wins

Wins are as mercurial a category as any you'll find in fantasy baseball. According to ancient sabermetric tradition, it was Storm Davis and his 19-win season in 1989 that helped us to realize that last year's wins don't tell us much about what kind of pitcher someone is. After all, Davis had pitched quite poorly that year and went on to have a terrible rest of his career. The flip side of the coin happened this year, with Cliff Lee and his paltry six wins. The Phils weren't as good as they had been recently, but come on, six wins? For a pitcher with a 7.39 K/BB and a 3.16 ERA? Something here isn't fair.

You were perfectly aware of this unfairness, of course, and you've been hoping to exploit it successfully for quite some time. Unfortunately, that's a little easier said than done. Last year was a pretty good year for pitchers winning a lot of games, so we'll take a look at the leader list, not because it's likely to tell us next year's biggest winners, but because it might give us a hint as to what type of pitchers might be giving us value in the category.

2012's Top Winners:

21 Wins: Gio Gonzalez
20 Wins: R.A. Dickey, David Price, Jered Weaver
19 Wins: Johnny Cueto
18 Wins: Matt Harrison, Lance Lynn
17 Wins: Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Chris Sale
16 Wins: Matt Cain, Wade Miley, Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish, A.J. Burnett, Madison Bumgarner, Kyle Lohse, Tim Hudson, Yovani Gallardo, Phil Hughes, Max Scherzer
15 Wins: CC Sabathia, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Zack Greinke, Barry Zito, Stephen Strasburg
14 Wins: Clayton Kershaw, Clayton Richard, Jason Vargas, Mat Latos, Adam Wainwright, Ryan Vogelsong

As you can see, there are some wide disparities in skill, team quality, and pitcher type on this list, which is exactly what you would expect. The good news is that it can't be completely random; the majority of these names are guys you count on to be among the best pitchers in baseball.

Set those aces aside for a moment, along with guys like Sale and Miley who surprised us by pitching like them last year. What about the other guys, why are they here? Blind luck. Definitely some of it. But maybe a little more. Harrison, Lynn, Lohse, Kuroda, Hughes, Hudson, Zito, and Vogelsong all pitched for playoff teams last year. The three who didn't pitch for playoff teams all came from very pitcher-friendly parks: Burnett, Richard, and Vargas.

How much of this is signal and how much is noise? It's honestly hard to tell for sure. After all, Vargas was pitching for the same team as Felix Hernandez, and won one more game. We probably aren't going to be confused about which one is the better draft choice. All got several more wins than Edwin Jackson, even though he pitched for the best team in baseball. So it's definitely a noisy pattern, but it seems to make sense logically: great pitchers tend to get some of the higher win totals, and most of the other good win counts come from the ranks of the pretty good who play on good teams. Plus Barry Zito, for whom “pretty good” is a bit of a stretch.

Decent Pitcher, Good Offense

The goal here isn't to target the top aces out there, instead it's to find some mid-draft starters that might be extra helpful in wins. What they do in other categories is their business.

Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster (BOS); Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd (CHW); Anibal Sanchez (DET); Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton (LAA); Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes (NYY); Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando (TEX); Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson (TOR); Mike Minor, Paul Maholm (ATL); Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey (CIN); Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers (MIL); Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn (STL); Dan Haren (WAS); whoever ends up filling out the Dodgers' rotation.

Obviously there are quite a few pitchers who make it into this category. Some are sleepers for other reasons, and others have touched ace status before and could do it again. There are a wide variety of price tags that count as “mid-range” and I recommend getting a couple of them. You never know who next year's Matt Harrison or Lance Lynn could be. They could even do it again.

I'd also consider paying a little extra for those with shutdown bullpens. In case of a tie, consider pitchers from Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, and the Yankees a little more highly than others.

Turning Signal Into Strategy

Quantity is the name of the game in Wins, just as it is in Strikeouts. Getting good pitchers won't be enough to take this category—you need lots of pitchers, pitching lots of innings to come away with the lead at the end of the year, or just to win it week to week. There are two basic routes you can go for this category: streaming and non.

Streaming (In Full and in Part)
If you really want to win this one, stream. Rotate as many starters as you can on and off your roster and soak up the joys of wins and whiffs. Your ERA and WHIP won't like you, but maybe you weren't going to do well in those categories anyways.

There are problems with streaming of course: unhappy commissioners and leaguemates, weekly instead of daily changes, limited roster moves, and innings limits. There's also the fact that most streamed pitchers are sort of bad (or really bad in a deep league) and likely to hurt you in ERA and WHIP disproportionately to how much they help you in Wins and Strikeouts. Plus, the more of your league that streams, the worse the options are for everyone. Given all those drawbacks, I don't like this strategy much. (Also, I don't think it's terribly fun, but that's for you to decide, I guess.) The only time I'd stream would be in a shallow head-to-head matchups league, which is what a lot of the public leagues out there are.

If full streaming isn't right for your team or your league, a sort of measured streaming might be. Isolate next week's best two-start option off the waiver wire and snatch him up. Keep him for the week and drop him after his second start for next week's top candidate. In most leagues, chances are this will be a pitcher on the fringe of being worth hanging onto, so he's probably decent. You can try padding your win total this way without hurting your ERA and WHIP too badly, especially if you get to play specific matchups. You can do this with two pitchers a week, I suppose, but any more than that and you're just streaming and subject to its downsides. I think this one is best for a head-to-head league.

If you play in a league with weekly changes, then you're already all over those two-start guys, sometimes weeks ahead of time. Keep on keeping on.

What if you don't stream?
There are a few options open to those who cannot or should not stream. First of all, in a head-to-head league, expect to lose to the streamers when you play them. Even if it's not really a good idea, these leagues always have some streamers. Against the others, though, and in any roto league with an innings cap, you still want to get ahead of the competition.

One thing you can do is bulk up on mid-draft pitchers. Don't just take one or two from the back end, but take three or four across multiple strata. What I normally do, is  grab two aces and then sit on starters for a long time. This strategy seems to work well in a number of contexts (especially my offense), but it can be a detriment in the wins column. By filling out your starting rotation a little earlier you can bring a few more wins in without hurting your rate stats. This strategy could have netted you guys like Harrison, Lohse, Kuroda, and Hughes last year. If it did, then you were probably pretty happy. Of course, it might also have gotten you Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, John Danks, and Shaun Marcum, so maybe you weren't too enthused. If you do go this route, expect to play with a short hitting bench (or none at all, in a shallower league).

Pay extra for pitching. This one is simple, and it's the opposite of a strategy I suggested when talking about Runs Scored. Whether you're in an auction or a draft, you can always unbalance your team. In select leagues it might even be a good idea. If you think you can get all the hitting bargains, maybe you can afford to pay a little extra for a truly great pitching staff.

If you play standard roto, I definitely believe you should max out your IP. If you can get good pitching, do it. If you can get lots of it, do it. Once you've built up a good Wins total, trade a couple good starters near your deadline—trade 'em cheap if you have to—preferably for closers. Then, as you near your IP limit, start dropping starters in favor of the best relievers on the waiver wire. It won't be a game changer in the rate stats, but it won't hurt and it will let you tack on some strikeouts too.

A Few Final Words
There are a lot of things that go into a successful year in the Wins category, and only some of them are under your control. Complicating matters further, is the fact that slight changes in your league rules can make big differences in how to win, Wins. The strategies of your opponents will come heavily into play too. The good news is this: with a decent starting staff, you can probably expect to be near the middle of the pack in wins. Normal variations of luck could be enough to vault you up to the league leaders in the category, while paying attention to the waiver wire and the play of your own pitchers should be enough to keep a decent staff from foundering on luck alone.

If there was a category that I would give up trying to win it would be this one. Not that I would punt it—not by a long shot. But playing to win in this one is likely to leave you shorted in another category or three. Instead, I recommend aiming for that mid-pack ranking, and hoping to land near the top.  At the end of the day, though, someone who spent too much on the quantity of their pitching is probably going to win this one. I should know—I did exactly that last year.



How to Win: RBI

Runs Batted In are a tough category to prepare for. Like Runs Scored, they depend partly on the skills of the hitter you want to draft, but heavily on the context he plays in. With Runs, you wanted the hitters who sat at the top of their lineups, now you want the bashers driving those guys in. Unfortunately, we've got the same problem we had then: most of the best RBI guys are the best hitters in baseball. That means that the edge you get is going to be more on the margins. Unless you get some seriously good luck or short yourself in a another category (like speed), you probably aren't going to run away with this one, but that doesn't mean you can't win it....

2012's Top 12

1. Miguel Cabrera            139
2. Josh Hamilton            128
3. Chase Headley             115
4. Ryan Braun                   112
5. Edwin Encarnacion    110 
6. Josh Willingham        110
7. Prince Fielder               108
7. Alfonso Soriano          108
7. Adrian Gonzalez         108 
10. Billy Butler                  107
11. Curtis Granderson    106
12. Aramis Ramirez        105
12. Albert Pujols              105

On a list like this, you'd expect to see elite power hitters in elite lineups, and that's mostly what you get. Obviously, everyone on this list had a great year last year, but some of the names don't seem to come from baseball's top offenses. Willingham comes from the middling Twins, while Headley's Padres and Soriano's Cubs come from the bottom ranks of last year's offensive teams. So, apparently you can get some RBI's on mediocre offenses, but other than that, I don't see much from last year's leaders that can help us find true value.

RBI's Without Homers
Often, RBI's are connected to homers, but that means paying extra for the double-category production. These guys won't put too many balls over the fence, but they'll knock in some runs anyway. If you want some sneaky RBI value, try some of these hitters: Adrian Gonzalez (108 RBI's, 18 HR), Torii Hunter (92, 16), Miguel Montero (88, 15), Joe Mauer (85, 10), Starlin Castro (78, 14), Brandon Phillips (77, 18), Justin Morneau (77, 19), Jason Kipnis (76, 14), Chris Johnson (76, 15), Marco Scutaro (74, 7), Alexei Ramirez (73, 9), Alex Gordon (72, 14), Martin Prado (70, 10), Neil Walker (69, 14), Howie Kendrick (67, 8), Shin-Soo Choo (67,16), Michael Young (67, 8), Austin Jackson (66, 16). I didn't include everyone with more than 66 RBI's and fewer than 20 homers. Instead, I was looking simply for hitters that don't get a large part of their value from hitting home runs--or a lot of their price tag from a power reputation.

2B+3B Leaders
If you aren't putting the ball over the fence, you're still going to need some kind of power. Since doubles and triples usually bring in the same amount of runners (most or all of them),  I've just added the stats together. Here are the leaders:

1. Alex Gordon                 56
2. Aramis Ramirez          53
3. Albert Pujols                50
3. Aaron Hill                 50
5. Robinson Cano       49
5. Jose Reyes                49
7. Adrian Gonzalez         48
7. Martin Prado               48
9. Ian Kinsler                47
10. Ben Zobrist             46
11. Alex Rios                   45
11. Shin-Soo Choo           45
11. Nelson Cruz             45
12. Paul Goldschmidt 44
12. Joey Votto                44

The list continues on, and anyone with 35 or more doubles and triples is going to get some extra RBI's, on top of however many you might expect from his homers, lineup, and park. How good is Joey Votto, by the way? Forty-four doubles and triples in less than 400 AB--there's a reason you can't get him after the first round. Pujols, Kinsler, and Gonzalez, all disappointed to one degree or another--but they still batted runners in with extra-base hits.Knowing who smacks in extra-base hits is important, because you won't find that info listed with your fantasy stats. 

Of course, all the doubles and triples in the world aren't going to send many RBI's Jose Reyes's way, leading off as he does. That's why it's worth remembering a player's place in the lineup. 

Middle of the Order Hitters

A hitter in the right lineup slot can bring in a lot of runners, especially with a couple high-OBP hitters setting the table. Looking for a strong overall offense isn't so important when it comes to RBI's--you just need a decent hitter and runners on base. Without reiterating all the power-hitting superstars, here are some hitters likely to get some good RBI opportunities: Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks, Nick Swisher, Victor Martinez, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Howie Kendrick, Kevin Youkilis,Brandon Moss, Kendrys Morales, David Murphy, Colby Rasmus, Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Gomez, Garrett Jones, Yonder Alonso, Jayson Werth.

Remember that context is key, even when considering context. Remember to count a hitter's home park for or against him--but do it after the players around him. Everyone knows to get the hitters from Colorado and Texas, but consider Chicago (White Sox), Boston, Baltimore, Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and--surprisingly enough--Detroit, Minnesota, and Atlanta. 

Mid-Order Steals

Stolen bases are showing up everywhere in today's game, not just in the top couple spots in the lineup and the AL nine-hole. Sure there are elite power-speed players out there, but there aren't many to go around. That doesn't mean you can't squeeze some RBI's out of your speedsters. Check out these mid-order guys who steal a few bases: Shane Victorino, Starlin Castro, Alex Rios, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez, B.J. Upton, and Michael Saunders. All the guys above managed  20 steals or more, but you don't need to get your steals in bulk to help yourself in RBI's. There are quite a few hitters who add 10-15 steals but bat in the middle of the lineup. Grabbing several of them can pad your steals total without compromising your Runs Batted In.

A Few Final Words

Finding RBI's can be as simple as spending extra dollars or higher draft picks on the best hitters, in the best lineups, and friendliest parks. It's not to say that getting elite players isn't key...it is, but it's not really a strategy. The trick to succeeding in RBI's and finishing near the top of the pack at the end of the year (or week to week, if that's how you roll) is to add a few extra RBI's in on as many players as you can. Finding those sneaky doubles hitters, and making sure your later draft picks are hitting behind someone with a good on-base percentage can add quite a few ribbies to your fantasy lineup.

As with Runs Scored, RBI's aren't a category you can really plan on winning. There's so much luck involved in the difference between a little success and a huge amount, that a single waiver-wire selection can change the whole game. The one thing you want to avoid most is to assume that RBI's are nothing but luck, short yourself in the kind of players you'll need, and end up--avoidably--in the cellar. You can't win RBI's on draft day, but you can definitely put yourself in position to compete in the category and do enough to keep your team near the top of the standings.



How to Win: Runs Scored

If you've done fantasy baseball long enough, you've probably come to think that runs are a pretty dumb stat. If you've followed sabermetrics long enough, you're probably totally sure about that. And yet, we keep coming back to it, to baseball's first recorded stat. Its unpredictability haunts us, leaving us to the caprices of teammate performance, park effects, opposing defenses, and blind luck.

Runs scored (presumably) correlate so weakly from one year to the next that Fangraphs didn't even mention them when discussing such things last month. But Runs are a whole category in our game, so we have to find some way to cheat the system and come out on top. To start us off, here are last year's leaders:

2012's Top 12:

1. Mike Trout                          129
2. Miguel Cabrera                 109 
3. Ryan Braun                        108
4. Andrew McCutchen         107
4. Justin Upton                      107
6. Robinson Cano                  105
6. Ian Kinsler                          105 
8. Austin Jackson                 103
8. Adam Jones                       103
8. Josh Hamilton                  103
11. Jimmy Rollins                 102
11. Curtis Granderson          102 

What can we learn from this list? Not next year's top twelve, I'd imagine--though some should still be on there. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of player on the leaderboard: elite hitters who had great seasons, and the top-of-the-lineup players hitting ahead of them. Splitting the difference apparently doesn't hurt, as Rollins can attest, and at least Upton managed to do something productive for his fantasy owners. Notice, too, how many of these hitters came from elite lineups, hitters' parks, or both--only Rollins and McCutchen break that mold. Finally, we can all appreciate that Trout scored 20 more runs than anyone else despite waiting in the minors for a month. Wow. You don't have to be a traditionalist to appreciate that.

It is from these gleanings that we can begin to form a strategy more cogent than simply: "Get good hitters and good luck." You can't build a competitive advantage with that one--all but one other team in your league will be trying to get good hitters. (One will be stumbling around in the dark--you probably know who I'm talking about.) Exception: if you're lucky enough to draft near the top, grab Trout because his combination of elite hitting and setting the table for other elite hitters gives him a very real advantage.

For everyone else, we'll be looking at how to increase your runs on the margins and get more value out of the same picks everyone else has.

Top of the Order Hitters
Except in the case of your worst leadoff men, on your worst offenses, leadoff hitters are a great place to sneak in some extra runs. The nice thing is that they tend to play in the outfield--where you probably have more roster flexibility--or middle infield, where everyone is bad, so you might as well score some runs. Some teams will settle on a leadoff hitter in Spring Training, and plenty of teams will change leadoff hitters over the course of the season. Nabbing a newly-minted leadoff hitter can be a great way to swipe some extra runs off the waiver wire in the summer. For now, here are a few players who should be leading off, won't be early draft day targets, and aren't already on your depth chart for bushels of steals:

Dustin Ackley, Jon Jay, David DeJesus, Adam Eaton, Michael Brantley, Ruben Tejada, Denard Span, Nick Markakis, Starling Marte, Dexter Fowler, Darin Mastroianni, and Derek Jeter

I know, there are some names you know here, and some guys that are projected to swipe a few bags, but all of these guys--as long as they can hold down the leadoff spot--are likely to get a little extra boost in runs scored. If someone's flying off the board because of their batting average (like Jackson), or their elite steals (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Reyes), or their all-around utility (Shin-Soo Choo), they might not be a bargain. But prospects like Eaton, Mastroianni, and Marte might be. Even the shortstop once considered by everyone on the West Coast to be the game's most overrated player might be a good deal.

High OBP + High in the Lineup

Not everyone on the list above is going to be a good leadoff hitter. They may not even lead off for very long. Besides, leadoff hitters aren't the only place to look for value in Runs Scored. Anyone who can get on base and hit in the 1-3 spots of a batting order is probably going to be helpful in this category. Here are some elite pretty high OBP-players who will see time at the top of a lineup. Again, superstars are excluded.

Fowler (.389), Jeter (.362), Martin Prado (.359), DeJesus (.350), Elvis Andrus (.349), Brantley (.348), Marco Scutaro (.348), Carlos Beltran (.346), Span (.342), Neil Walker (.342), Asdrubal Cabrera (.338), Angel Pagan (.338), Ian Desmond (.335), Ben Revere (.333), Daniel Murphy (.332), Alcides Escobar (.331).

Fowler is the only one on this list whose OBP is elite, but any and all of these players should be scoring some runs. Even in lousy lineups like those the Mets and Royals will be putting out, hitting in the first couple spots in the order usually means someone pretty good is coming up next.

High OBP + Elite Lineup

Of course, runs aren't scored only at the top of the lineup. With a powerful team or a helpful home park a player who gets on base should be scoring some runs. Think about:

Miguel Montero (.391), David Murphy (.380), A.J. Ellis (.373), David Freese (.372), Paul Konerko (.371), Torii Hunter (.365), Aaron Hill (.360), Andre Ethier (.351), Adam LaRoche (.343), and Jordan Pacheco (.341).

Notice that Fowler, Jeter, Prado, and Beltran would qualify for both lists. Unfortunately, they're also four of the most expensive players on these lists. 

XBH Leaders

Obviously, just getting on base and hoping for help later in the lineup isn't always possible--especially for players hitting in the five-six spots in the lineup, since they are the help that comes later. Getting yourself to second--or third--base is a great way to help your own cause. So is hitting a home run, but that's its own category and price tag.

This time with elite hitters remaining, here are some top doubles hitters: Alex Gordon (51), Aramis Ramirez (50), Albert Pujols (50),  Cano (49), Adrian Gonzalez (47), Nelson Cruz (45), Hill (44), Paul Goldschmidt (43), Choo (43),  Prado (42),  Kinsler (42), David Wright (41),  Cabrera (40), Murphy (40), Buster Posey (39), Dustin Pedroia (39),  Jones (39), Yonder Alonso (39), Ben Zobrist (39), Pagan (38), and Span (38).

I left the top players in this time to show their relatively hidden extra value. Doubles aren't often shown on your fantasy website's searchable stats unless you're using them as a category, so this kind of production can fly under the radar. Also, is Arizona going crazy with doubles hitters or what?

Remember when the league leader in triples used to hit about seven? Not anymore. Just as stolen bases have spread throughout the game, so is baseball's most exciting play. Here are the top triples hitters: Pagan (15), Reyes (12), Starlin Castro (12), Fowler (11), Jackson (10), Michael Bourn (10), Andrus (9), Bryce Harper (9), Trout (8), Alex Rios (8), DeJesus (8), and Jemile Weeks (8).

These guys are just a sac fly away from adding to your Runs Scored; not only that, but extra base hits will help quietly pad your RBI total. So that's nice too.

Run Scoring Parks--and Divisions

If you're deciding between two players to draft for help in runs scored, consider their park factors. And--with the unbalanced schedule--the factors of other teams in the division. The AL West, for instance, has one extreme hitters' haven (Texas), but three places pitchers love (Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles). Houston's own Minute Maid Park isn't the same place that torpedoed its pitchers when it was first unveiled--it had a mildly run-suppressing factor of 0.937). So your Texas hitters will love their home games, but their road schedule will be pretty ugly. At least the Astros can't pitch, right?

On the flip side, the AL East features three hitters' parks (Boston, Baltimore, and Toronto), and one more that adds a lot of help to home run hitters (New York), and just one pitchers' park (Tampa Bay). The other divisions are more balanced than these, though the NL West balances only extremes.

A Few Final Words

Runs Scored isn't an easy category to win--I should know, I finished nearly last in the category last year. There's a lot of luck, and the best way to win it is to spend a little extra on your offense. Probably the person who does that in your league will come out near the top in the category. They might have an unbalanced team, though, and suffer in the overall standings because of it. Without breaking the bank, looking for an extra edge in each pick can get you a long ways in the standings. You aren't in as much control here as in other categories, like Homers, Steals, and Strikeouts, but looking for high OBP's, lots of XBH's, and hitters near the top of good lineups can make a lot of difference at the margins.




How to Win: Batting Average

Quick Overview
Batting average is horrible. It's unpredictable and the winner of the category each year can only be described as an overly lucky person who will surely regress to the mean next year. (The loser probably drafted Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena and that's their own fault.) 

This was more or less my attitude going into the year. What's too hard to understand probably can't be understood. Well, I learned quickly enough that other people seemed non-randomly better than me at figuring out this whole batting average thing and it was my own team that sank in the BA standings. Fun times. The good news is that I'm resolved to be less intellectually lazy this year, and that I'm happy to share my newfound industriousness with you. The bad news is that you're more likely to get hit with the same number of pitches than post the same batting average two years in a row. Yeah, BA only correlates from one year to the next at a mark of 0.477--which is considered quite poor, but better than totally random.

2012's Top 12
Below is the table of the top qualified batting averages across MLB. In parentheses, I show their BABIPs. Note that this list is only twelve names long, instead of my customary 24--with the volatility of batting average, it just isn't worth reading so many players. 

1. Buster Posey        .336 (.368)
2. Miguel Cabrera    .330 (.331)
3. Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
4. Mike Trout    .326 (.383)
5. Adrian Beltre    .321 (.319)
6. Ryan Braun    .319 (346) 
7. Joe Mauer    .319 (364)
8. Derek Jeter    .316 (.347)
9. Yadier Molina    .315 (.316)
10. Prince Fielder    .313 (.321)
11. Torii Hunter       .313 (.389)
12. Billy Butler    .313 (.341)

A couple things stand out--first of all, three catchers! Second, one of those catchers--Molina--posted his average with a BABIP nearly identical to his batting average, and a pretty low BABIP at that. That tells me he could actually post a better number next year with an unsurprising amount of good luck. Beltre's average exceeded his BABIP which seems pretty odd too. Like Molina, he could see a bump in his average next year through just a little more good luck.

3-Year Top 12
The more time goes on, the less volatile any stat is. Mayhaps the last three years of BA leaders will be more instructive than just one. Double points for the players on both lists.

1. Miguel Cabrera    .334 (.344)
2. Joey Votto    .321 (.367)
3. Ryan Braun    .318 (.342)
4. Buster Posey    .317 (342)
5. Victor Martinez .317 (.324)
6. Joe Mauer    .315 (.348)
7. Adrian Beltre    .314 (.310)
8. Josh Hamilton    .313 (.343)
9. Carlos Gonzalez    .313 (.355)
10. Adrian Gonzalez  .312 (.346)
11. Robinson Cano    .311 (.322)
12. Billy Butler    .307 (.333)  

Interestingly, half of the lists are the same, which isn't too far off from what a .477 correlation score would suggest. In fact, it's exactly what we should expect, so long as we have to round up to a whole Victor Martinez. The consistency of guys like Cano and Butler pays off here, but I wonder if injuries do too--look at the players who've missed time (or whole seasons) in the past three years. Maybe one of the components of having a good average is simply not playing much, to keep bad luck from catching up....

Some Discussion of Good and Evil BABIPs
Speaking of bad luck, here are some selected players whose lousy BABIPs hurt their averages and might be bouncing back a bit next year. While they might not become true helpers in BA, they might not hurt as much as last year. While their lousy 2012 averages are busy scaring people away, you might get away with drafting them and enjoying their good qualities. As above, the real average is first, the BABIP in parentheses.

Ike Davis    .227 (.246)
Eric Hosmer    .232 (.255)
Jemile Weeks    .221 (256)
Colby Rasmus    .223 (.259)
Curtis Granderson    .232 (.260)
Dustin Ackley    .226 (.265)
Edwin Encarnacion    .280 (.266)
Kevin Youkilis    .235 (.268) 
Ian Kinsler    .256 (.270)

So...odd list of names. I threw out players who'd posted lousy BABIPs for the last three years in a row, so I'm not expecting to see the likes of Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Pena regressing to the happy mean of .300. Some of the names I did list are young (Hosmer, Weeks, Ackley) and I have no idea where their "true-talent" BABIP will lie--maybe it's low and they won't be regressing because they were at their own, natural, bad mean in 2012. Others, though, are veterans (Granderson, Youk, Kinsler) who might be declining and also might be feeling a little bad luck. Of those, I like Granderson best for a better average next year. Finally, there's Encarnacion, who somehow hit .280 with a bad BABIP. If I didn't like him for next year, I sure do now.

The flip side of the BABIP coin are those players who won't be repeating their good 2012 performances:

Joey Votto    .337 (.404)
Dexter Fowler    .300 (.390)
Torii Hunter    .313 (.389)
Mike Trout     .326 (.383)
Melky Cabrera    .346 (.379)
Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
Austin Jackson    .300 (.371)
Buster Posey    .336 (.368)
Joe Mauer    .319 (.364)
Tyler Colvin    .290 (.364)
Miguel Montero    .286 (.362)

This list, by the way, has its PA requirement dropped down to 450, to show the red flags about a couple players who didn't qualify for the batting title (including the one who would have won it, Votto). The truly scary ones are those that didn't hit for a stratospheric average even with such a high BABIP--Fowler, Jackson, Colvin, and Montero. It's worth noting, though, that three of those guys play at high altitudes, and Jackson just barely topped his career BABIP of .370. In three Major League seasons, he hasn't been below .340, so maybe that's a skill of his. Of course, he hit just .249 with that .340 BABIP....

Park Effects
Speaking of players who hit in Coors Field, check out the hits-specific park effects around MLB here. If you'd rather stay right here, good, I've got the highlights.

Coors Field                       Rockies        1.276
Fenway Park                    Red Sox       1.173
Ballpark at Arlington    Rangers       1.117
Camden Yards                 Orioles         1.099
U.S. Cellular                    White Sox    1.081 

...

Tropicana Field               Rays            0.914
Angel Stadium                 Angels        0.906
AT&T Park                       Giants         0.901
PNC Park                         Pirates         0.871
Safeco Field                     Mariners    0.831 

Park effect numbers measure the difference between the given baseball stadium and the league average. The number 1.0 is exactly neutral, so Coors Field's 1.276 number means that park saw 27.6% more hits than the league average, while Safeco's 0.831 number means Seattle saw 16.9% fewer hits than average. Basically, the top five parks can really help your average and the bottom five are likely to hurt it. Conspicuously absent from this list are some parks notorious for adding to overall runs scored (or taking them away)--don't assume that Yankee Stadium will help your hitters' average or that Target Field (in Minnesota) will kill it. 

A Few Last Words
Batting average isn't an easy category to forecast, but with the tools of park effects, BABIP, and long-term trends under your belt, you can do pretty well. In fact, that's exactly what I recommend shooting for. If you write it off and load up on the B.J. Uptons and Adam Dunns of the world, you get what you pay for: power, speed, whatever else you want...and an ugly place in the BA standings. In a weekly head-to-head league, that might not be so bad. It's not as good for standard roto style, though. Instead, if you shoot to land towards the middle you can avoid overpaying for last year's best averages but still give yourself the chance to luck into some extra points--chances are that's what your league leader did last year anyway.
 



How to Win: Strikeouts

Last Week on How to Win, I discussed a category in which I did particularly well last year: Stolen Bases. We'll do the same this week, with Strikeouts, before we go on to the categories in which I need to improve as much as anyone else: all the others.

Quick Overview
I love me some strikeouts. Last year, my fifth place Silver League team ran away with this category (so yeah, my other categories had some rough times). Part of that might have been amassing enough innings to eclipse our 1500 max a little early (and that after dumping every starter but David Price at some point in September), but that wasn't the whole story. Volume is half the story, though, the rest comes in the rate. Below we'll examine both halves of a winning strategy--and how going overboard isn't necessarily great for your ERA and WHIP.

2012's Top 24

1. Justin Verlander               239
2. Max Scherzer                     231
3. R.A. Dickey                         230
4. Clayton Kershaw               229
5. Felix Hernandez                223
5. James Shields                     223 
7. Yu Darvish                           221
8. Cole Hamels                        216
9. Gio Gonzalez                        207 
9. Cliff Lee                                 207
11. David Price                         205
12. Yovani Gallardo                204
13. Zack Greinke                      200
14. CC Sabathia                        197
14. Stephen Strasburg            197
16. Jake Peavy                           194
17. Matt Cain                            193
18. Chris Sale                            192
19. Madison Bumgarner        191
20. Tim Lincecum                    190
21. Ian Kennedy                       187
22. Mat Latos                            185
23. Adam Wainwright            184
24. A.J. Burnett                        180
24. Lance Lynn                        180
24. Jeff Samardzija                 180 

Most of baseball's best pitchers show up on this list and it's easy to say that the best way to help yourself in strikeouts is to get at least two of these guys. That's what I was trying to do when I drafted Price and Dan Haren. The only reason it worked out, of course, is because I soon flipped Haren for Scherzer, among others. So there was a bit of good luck. None of the rest of these guys made it onto my team, though, leaving me with a need fore a little more creativity.

High K/9 Pitchers
Not every pitcher on the list above put up huge K/9 numbers, but all had good ones--in fact, only Peavy, Cain, and Latos were under 8 K/9 and all three sat in the 7.90's. Of course, not every pitcher with a high strikeout rate pitches enough to make it onto this leaderboard. Getting those guys (and hopefully for longer stints in 2013) is a great way to patch up a fantasy rotation with a bunch of strikeouts. The way I figure, is that if I have to have some non-aces on my team, they better be handy with the whiffs. Here are a few pitchers who missed the cut when it came to innings last year but might still pad your K's next year. Everyone below pitched at least 100 innings last year and struck out at least eight batters per nine IP.

Francisco Liriano        9.59
Mike Fiers                      9.52
Felix Doubront             9.34
Marco Estrada              9.30
J.A. Happ                       8.96
Matt Moore                    8.88
Bud Norris                      8.82
Carlos Villanueva         8.76
Jason Hammel             8.62
Edinson Volquez          8.57
Jake Arrieta                   8.56
Johan Santana             8.54
Erik Bedard                    8.45
Matt Garza                     8.33
Tommy Hanson           8.30
Ivan Nova                      8.08 

As you can see, results and potential fantasy value vary wildly on this list, from the misery that was Francisco Liriano, to the health-restricted performences of Santana, Hammel, and Garza, and to the late callups of Fiers and Estrada. There are a lot of ways to get a lot of strikeouts when you're pitching, without making it to the leaderboard. (To be fair, Moore and Volquez literally just missed the cut.) It might be worth noting that my own team featured Estrada, Doubront, and Villanueva from among this group.

Not only are these players interesting draft targets (from a strikeout perspective anyway, your ERA and WHIP stats certainly cringe at some of them), you can utilize 2013's versions of them, whoever they might end up being. Of course, several of these were mid-season surprises, so there's no real knowing which injury replacements might come up and help your fantasy team as much as their real team. Here's a couple fairly drowsy sleepers, though: Chris Narveson and Scott Baker. The Brewers and Cubs are both linked to more than one name on this list, which tells me how they feel about pitchers who can get strikeouts, and both Narveson and Baker have generated their share of whiffs during their oft-interrupted stays in the Majors. Don't forget about stashable pitchers coming back from injury part way through the season, like Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, and Danny Duffy.

High IP 
There's another route you can go, though, and this one's group of pitchers is somewhat less volatile than the group above. Finding pitchers who pitch a lot, whether they have high strikeout rates or not, can let you rack up strikeouts in bulk. This option is much better for those in head-to-head leagues, however, since heaping on the innings can hurt you badly when you start facing the IP cap. The nice thing, though, is that pitchers that teams entrust with tall innings counts year after year are usually a bit better than average, and (seemingly) much healthier--though obvious exceptions will apply. Here are the last three years' top innings eaters not found on the previous lists. All have pitched at least 600 innings since 2010.

Dan Haren                    650
Jared Weaver                648.2
Roy Halladay                640.2
C.J. Wilson                   629.2
Ervin Santana               629.1
Tim Hudson                  622.2
Hiroki Kuroda              618
Mark Buehrle                618
Bronson Arroyo            616.2
Ricky Romero               616
Jason Vargas               611
Jon Lester                     605
Trevor Cahill                604.1
Justin Masterson        602.1

Some of these guys fell off the list above--and out of fantasy's most valuable pitchers--last year through injuries, like Halladay, or a mysterious plunge in K/9 rate, like Weaver. Others, though, just don't generate that many strikeouts in a per inning basis. They can all be pencilled in for 200 IP, though, which means that they'll be of some help in those strikeouts.

It also seems worth noting that Edwin Jackson just missed being part of this group, with 598.2 IP, and he just missed the High K/9 group, with a 7.97 mark. To me, that makes him a really useful asset.

 
Relievers
Relief pitchers are a great way to pad your strikeout totals if you're worried about an innings limit. They get a lot more bang for their buck with their high rates than all but the best starters. Though they don't add a huge amount in raw total, using two or three in concert can be a sort of cobbled-together ace, Frankenstein-style. Of course, they eat up more roster spots than starters and tend to make small (or catastrophic) impacts on your rate stats without helping much at all in wins or, unless they're actual closers, saves. Since everybody's going to be snatching up closers, good or not, we'll only look at relievers not projected to close in 2013, regardless of what they used to do.

Antonio Bastardo        14.02
Ernesto Frieri               13.36 
Jim Henderson            13.21
David Hernandez        12.91
Steve Delabar                12.55
David Robertson          12.02
Tim Collins                    12.01
Jake McGee                   11.87
Jake Diekman              11.52
Jeremy Horst                11.49
Louis Coleman             11.47
Alex Hinshaw              11.44
Sean Doolittle               11.41
Andrew Miller              11.48
Joel Peralta                   11.38
Jesse Crain                    11.35
Alberto Cabrera            11.22
Wade Davis                   11.13

I made 11.13 the cutoff point, since that was Stephen Strasburg's mark last year--the best of any starter. The list goes on and on, though. Anyone on this list--or among the next large number of names with even a hint of the occasional save bears watching. Those at the very top of the list might deserve drafting even if they end up with no saves or wins at all.

(I don't know if Frieri or Ryan Madson will be closing for the Halos, so I'll include him here just in case.)

A Few Last Words
There are a lot of ways to go about succeeding in the strikeout category. One nice thing, is that, like steals, whiffs seem often to be available on the waiver wire. There are a number of less-than-excellent pitchers who rack up strikeouts and they can help your team if used right. Plus, real teams are always excited to call up a hard-throwing prospect and they can light up the real and fantasy baseball worlds long enough to help your team, even if they end up fizzling out. I do recommend a staff ace (actually, I try for two) who strikes people out in a big way. Think of Stephen Strasburg as a power/speed threat but for pitchers. If you play in a league with an IP cap, I'd avoid the innings-eaters altogether. If you don't, however--and especially if your league has barriers against streaming--I'd grab several. Strikeouts come from all kinds of places, and mixing several sources is always a good way to go. 




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