Runs


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!



Stock Watch: More of What You Need

So, you're in the top three of your Roto-style league, but you just can't seem to crack the real money spots. Your pitching is pretty good, but nothing you do seems to help you climb up the standings in Runs. Time to make a trade.

You're in the lower half of your Head-to-Head league, with a couple good players on the DL. You know your team should be competitive in September...but getting there might be another story. Each week you seem to split, winning most of the hitting but always falling short in WHIP. Time to make a deal.

Last week on Stock Watch we checked out some players you should target if you're in need of Homers, Batting Average, Wins, or ERA. This week we check out Runs, RBIs, Strikeouts, and WHIP and highlight trade and pickup candidates that might fly just under the radar. 

Runs

Runs are a tough category to win--indeed, the best most common strategy is to draft good hitters and hope things work out. That's what I usually do, at least. So if you're stuck in a Runs rut, here are some hitters to target in trade. Unfortunately this category is unlike stolen bases (or even home runs) in that there are some pretty bad (and therefore cheap) players who can help you a lot; no, you'll have to target players who can actually hit a little.

When searching for potential high-scorers, I went looking for players who hit at or near the top of powerful lineups, like those of the Rays, Tigers, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Orioles. Also the Braves, somewhat, but they need better top-of-the-order hitters.

Austin Jackson has sort of become the Runs poster boy, and RA's Mark Polishuk has a great write-up on him, so I won't say any more. Fellow Tiger Torii Hunter might as well be Jackson's elder clone this season--something tells me that hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder is good for your runs total.

The Rays sit Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist on the top of their batting order most days, and while both have proved disappointing this year, both should keep scoring runs. Matt Joyce doesn't play every single day, but he tends to score when he does.

Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava benefit from hitting before David Ortiz. If Nava gets to keep hitting on top of the order, he'll have Runs value.

Matt Carpenter is one of the hottest names at second base for his batting average, but if you need to help yourself in two categories, he's your guy. Matt Holliday ought to be coming off the DL soon and he may come at a discount. 

Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis have been setting the table for the O's, while Chris Davis and Adam Jones have been among the best in clearing it. McLouth's steals will drive his price up, but, as with Carpenter, at least you get to help yourself in multiple categories.

In the last month, Chase Utley and Jason Werth have been high-scorers. In fact, Werth has been hitting the cover off the ball.

Alex Rios keeps hearing his name in trade rumors, and I'd bet that if he gets moved, it will be to a team that puts him at the top of the order, making him a good Runs candidate. Of course, this advice could backfire when he gets stuck hitting sixth and scoring RBI's...but maybe you need those too.

RBIs

Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, and Joey Votto are all among the league's top run scorers. Why do we care in the RBI section? Because you should pick up or trade for anyone who hits behind these guys. Brandon Phillips is having a perfectly pedestrian season--and yet he's among the league leaders in RBIs with over 80. Why? Just look at the names above.

You'll notice that a lot of top RBI guys come from the same lineups as the top run scorers. Take Jhonny Peralta. Between his crazy BABIP and the Biogenesis link, there's every reason to trade him away. And yet, he's hitting behind Prince and Miggy, so if you need RBIs and a shortstop upgrade, he could be your guy. Similarly, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are hitting behind Ortiz. 

Allen Craig and Freddie Freeman have disappointed in homers, keeping them from truly elite first base production, but don't make the mistake of thinking the RBIs aren't there. Dan Uggla joins Freeman in a Braves lineup that keeps generating runs.

With his trade to the Yankees (and batting cleanup in his first game), Alfonso Soriano just saw his RBI potential go way up. Now, these Yankees aren't exactly Murderers' Row, but they're better than the Cubs. Hitting behind Robinson Cano shouldn't bother anyone.

Strikeouts

You can get to the top of the standings in Strikeouts just by pitching the most games, but there are all kinds of obstacles to that: innings limits, anti-streaming rules, and the poor performance of volume-heavy pitching staffs. So here are some guys who can help you compete in K's. Many of them are widely available, so that's nice too.

Hector Santiago (13% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Corey Kluber (29%), and Tony Cingrani (49%) are all striking out more than a batter per inning without killing your ERA. (They aren't all great for your WHIP, I admit.) As you can see, there's a good chance that one of them is available on your league's waiver wire.

Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija, and Justin Masterson are a step above Santiago and company, and they'll require a trade to go after.  They will probably be better for your rate stats. Ubaldo Jimenez, is a step below, but only owned in 17% of Yahoo! leagues. He will kill your WHIP, though.

In the last month, several pitchers have stepped up their strikeout game: Tim Lincecum and Mat Latos are striking out over 11 batters per nine IP. John Lackey and (to my great surprise) Jeremy Hellickson are whiffing more than a batter per inning. 

On the lower end of the scale, Jose Quintana (18% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Tom Gorzelanny (5%), Jonathan Pettibone (5%), and Erik Bedard (2%) are screamingly available and all generating strikeouts over the last month. If you're in position to play the hot hand in a deep league, these are the guys to look out for.

WHIP

I can't do much about the hits part of WHIP--it's notoriously luck-dependent, all the more so over as short a time span as what remains of the season. So, let's take a look at the BB/9 half instead.

Jordan Zimmermann hasn't pitched well in his last few starts, but he's still got a 1.34 BB/9 on the season. If you want to risk that his recent slump is temporary (I would), he could be a big help to anyone's WHIP category.

Hiroki Kuroda's 1.76 BB/9 looks good, but his ERA is already so lucky that you should be prepared for it to rise even if he helps your WHIP. 

With Tim Hudson's injury, the chatter about Julio Teheran getting dropped from the rotation with Brandon Beachy's return from the DL has ended, though his 1.89 BB/9 suggests that such talk might never have been serious.

Ervin Santana and A.J. Griffin share 1.95 BB/9 marks, though if Santana gets traded he'll lose the benefit of baseball's top defense.

Rick Porcello (1.86 BB/9) is only 14% owned in Yahoo! leagues, and Eric Stults (1.98 BB/9) is only 31% owned. 

Some pitchers who've been hot this month include Bronson Arroyo (49% owned), Bartolo Colon, Kyle Lohse, John Danks (3% ), and Scott Feldman (41%). All five have BB/9 rates of 1.10 or below in the last 30 days, though Colon comes with significant baggage.

Some Guys Worth Picking Up

Christian Yelich is owned in every daily and keeper league, I know. But don't give up on him in weekly formats.

David DeJesus is returning from the DL, as should be half the Yankees' infield. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't exactly who they used to be, but both could pay dividends for a waiver claim. Long-term, we can expect Biogenesis fallout for A-Rod, but don't be shocked if the appeals process lets him play most of the rest of the season. Whether or no he hits is another story. 

Warning: A previous version of this article contained an unintelligible section. It has been altered from that sorry condition. 





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