Fantasy baseball is an industry based entirely upon a complete lack of secrets.
Everything about every player—every hit, every home-away split, every K—is recorded, published, analyzed and then scrutinized until those numbers eventually take on a life of their own. That's literally the ultra-abridged origin story of fantasy baseball.
Still, with all the dogma and standard practices that come with anything, a few truths do manage to fall through the fantasy cracks. This list is a combination of general strategies and current players that you might not be all that aware of.
Sort of like how Alfonso Soriano isn't one of the "secrets" in this story. It's actually one of the guys behind him.
While Albert Pujols takes his sweet time remembering which end of the bat makes the ball go, the most productive first baseman of the young season is the most chronically overlooked.
Paul Konerko won't keep hitting .389 all that much longer, but he should have little trouble maintaining his 37-homer, 110-RBI pace.
Since 2001, Konerko has hit at least 28 home runs each season except two (due to injuries), and although his career average is an unspectacular .283, he's either really on (.312 in 2010) or really off (.240 in 2008).
This year, Konerko is on.
Grabbing the next big catcher is about a great a feeling there is in fantasy—and not just because his name is always at the top of your roster.
I'm not saying the Reds' Devin Mesoraco is definitely that guy. But he's shaping up to be this year's front-runner.
He wasn't great during his 18 games last fall—he hit .180—and Dusty Baker loves catching platoons even when the other catcher is Ryan Hanigan. But Mesoraco could force a change.
He's hitting .300 with a homer and three RBI in just 30 at-bats, and that's pretty indicative of his potential. With the gig to himself for a full season, the Reds' first-round pick in 2007 is certainly capable of 25 homers, 85 RBI and a .300 average.
Hanigan, however, has just one extra-base hit in about 15 more at-bats.
Baker probably won't willingly hand over the keys to the youngster this year. But if Hanigan goes down, you should definitely have Mesoraco on your radar.
And just like that, the Orioles are finally interesting.
They finished 28 games out of first place last year to dwell in the cellar of the AL East, but there's a lot to like about the O's right now—in real life and in fantastical baseball.
Everyone's been talking up Matt Wieters for years, and he's finally justifying it with six homers and 15 RBI.
Closer Jim Johnson has been something of a revelation with six saves and a 0.00 ERA. Nolan Reimold has jumped into the useful outfielder category with a hit in all but two of the 16 games he's played in.
Note: Miguel Tejada isn't there anymore.
If you like to root for the little guy, you literally can't find anyone better to root for—at least not in the NL.
He'll be lucky to hit three balls out this year, but he's a constant threat to turn a triple into an inside-the-parker (like he did last August). He's also 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts and had five multi-hit games just last week.
Altuve's making enough noise that he's owned in more than 90 percent of leagues, but you should check yours. If he's on somebody else's team, you probably don't even realize it. He might even already be on yours.
It's just math, but it'll get you every time.
Halfway through your draft, as you run down your list of recent picks and projected stats, you realize you're sorely lacking steals. Frantically, you find a place for someone like Dee Gordon or Jemile Weeks—someone who should bring you 40 to 50 bags and little else.
You breathe easy for a round and move on to pitching.
At the end of the year, you'll have those 40 to 50 bags—but if you're in a head-to-head league, it'll likely be at the expense of your sanity.
Even 50 steals spread out over the six-month season works out to just about two per week, and that's just the average. More than likely, he'll give you three some weeks and none during others to go along with zero homers and a random RBI total.
If this sounds depressingly familiar to you, it's probably time you seriously start considering how many steals all of your hitters put up.
You need an average of about eight steals to compete each week. It's a lot less painful when you get them from guys who pitch in across a few of the other categories.
In other words, two 20-20 hitters are better than one 0-40 one.
There's a phrase commentators throw out there every once in a while: You might not be able to win your league in April, but you can lose it.
That's a lot like your first-round pick. (Unless your pick was Matt Kemp this year. Yeah, you guys are probably going to win.)
Instead of seeing that pick as a firm head start in one specific stat category or in positional scarcity, it really should be where you get the most bang for the least risk.
But anyone can get lucky with two or three players from the consensus top 50. You win your league in the fourth to 10th rounds. This is where you faced decisions like, "Starlin Castro or Alexei Ramirez?"
There was a clear right answer then, and it's the clear right answer now.
And keep in mind that your team MVP might not even be on your team yet.
Chris Capuano. Why is that name so familiar?
He was a 200-K threat with the Brewers back in 2005 when he won 18 games. But Tommy John surgery took him off the radar from 2008 to 2010 before Capuano came back to make 31 starts with the Mets last year.
Although he went just 11-12, he threw 168 Ks with a totally tolerable 4.55 ERA.
But now with the first-place Dodgers and surrounded by past and potential Cy Young winners, Capuano is proving to be worth your attention.
He's given up two runs or fewer in all but one of his starts and has 29 Ks to only 13 walks. He's 3-0 now, and you've gotta believe that if he managed 11 wins in a Mets uniform, he can top that in Dodger blue.
He's 33 and not for keeper leagues, but this year could be the last time you actually want him back on your team since 300 came out.
I don't know if your leagues are anything like mine, but I've seen three trades actually happen in seven years. Maybe four.
Whether it's a private league among friends or a public league among people who never meet, I don't think people are nearly as willing to trade as we've been led to believe.
Maybe it's our automatic suspicion of any deal presented to us (there's got to be a reason that guy wants to get rid of those guys, right?) or maybe we've all got a hoarder mentality when it comes to our fantasy teams.
But the owner who drafted Curtis Granderson probably doesn't want to trade him during a slump because, well, he likes Curtis Granderson.
If you do find an owner who is willing to trade, odds are that guy has the same information you do.
So unless your league is like a season-long first round of the NFL draft, you probably shouldn't jump to pick up all those surefire "buy lows." You'll just end up dropping them for the next surefire buys.
Sure, he ended up with a World Series ring, but last season wasn't kind to Rafael Furcal.
That's thanks mostly to his futile attempt to drive the ball. But those eight home runs weren't really worth the 70-point dip in batting average.
But leading off for a post-Pujols Cardinals lineup, Furcal is back to small-ball—and it's paying off. He's hitting .315 with 14 runs through 22 games, and looks like he could manage two dozen steals again.
For the first time since 2008, Furcal is a top-10 shortstop—even without any homers. His numbers haven't been anything amazing—just steady. But, hey, they can only go up. (Well, except that average.)
Seven out of 10 times.
That's how many times even the best hitters in the league fail and are still considered the best. That's a .300 hitter. He does nothing .700 percent of the time.
Fantasy baseball isn't about knowing when players will give you their best, it's about minimizing the extent of their worst.
Because of all that potential. But now that they're here, they're both still available in more than 10 percent of leagues.
In deep leagues where your third outfielder is Marlon Byrd, sure, there's little risk in picking one of them up. But in most leagues, where your team is probably made up of more proven performers like, say, Jay Bruce and Adam Jones, you'd probably be giving up too much.
This doesn't just apply to rookies.
When you're drafting anyone, you should always use the lowest possible stat projections. If you build a solid base on what you expect (and not what could happen), everything else is just cotton candy-flavored icing.
Because, seriously—when's the last time everything went right for you?
He's excited because Soriano just hit a game-winning RBI in the bottom of the 10th inning at home against the defending World Champions.
But it was center fielder Campana who started the rally with a base knock and a hustle into second and an intentional walk to suddenly slugging first baseman Bryan LaHair that set up Soriano.
And they walked LaHair for a reason: The clean-up man has five homers and a .780 slugging percentage. Campana, in the meantime, is hitting .370 with seven steals out of the two-hole.
While both guys—who looked to be minor-league lifers—are providing a spark for the Cubs, both play the respective positions of the organization's top two prospects: Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo. They'll both likely get the call soon, but there are already talks about finding more permanent spots for them.
It might not last forever, but both Campana's speed and LaHair's power could prove useful for a little while longer.
If it weren't for David Ortiz, there wouldn't even be a question mark after that.
But unlike Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, Aviles had assured playing time all year thanks to his middle infield-eligibility hat trick (2B, SS, 3B). That flexibility is valuable to the Red Sox—but potentially more valuable to you.
He's batting .291 with five homers, 17 RBI and a team-leading three steals. Those power numbers are competitive with the best third basemen, never mind light-hitting second basemen and shortstops.
Dustin Pedroia is right behind Aviles, but Adrian Gonzalez has been nothing to write home about, Jacoby Ellsbury was struggling before a shoulder injury put him on the DL for two months and Carl Crawford has yet to step on the field.
Daniel Bard has been the Sox's most productive fantasy pitcher.
David Ortiz is playing at an otherworldly level at the moment, and probably won't bat .400 all year.
That just leaves Aviles.
I'm not saying you can win without them—just that you don't need to worry so very much about them.
It was Jose Valverde, followed by John Axford and Craig Kimbrel. It's doubtful many owners would have drafted them over the first set of three closers. You could say it's because the others have better peripheral stats, but those stats really don't add up to all that much.
Except for Kimbrel's ridiculous 127 Ks last year, the vast majority of closers will bring you just about the same payoff: maybe a little under a strikeout per inning and slightly lowered ERA and WHIP. But with closers, all it takes is one home run to send those percentages instantly into double digits.
It all comes down to saves.
You need players who will bring in as many as possible—and that's it. Don't worry about supposedly "elite" closers with pitches that are described in various degrees of filthiness. Everyone (especially Jordan Walden) knows there's no job security for closers.
Even if they have no competition, an injury can render them just as temporarily worthless (Brian Wilson).
It's just like kickers in fantasy football. You need one because those are points you can't throw away. But there isn't a lot separating most of them.
If they don't, and finish below .500, they'll seal up the longest consecutive streak of losing seasons in the history of any of North America's four major professional sports leagues.
Nobody wants that. Well, maybe Cubs fans. But nobody on the Pirates does.
Although the Bucs are sitting at .435 at the moment, the real-life Bad News Bears have reason for hope—and that's not even counting Andrew McCutchen.
Left fielder Alex Presley is owned in only 6 percent of leagues, but you can't really blame him. He's doing his best Andy Van Slyke impression at .288 with five RBI and three steals.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez may be hitting .203, but his five homers and nine RBI are promising signs he might eventually live up to his hype.
The real Pirates you want, however, are on the mound.
Both of the mid-level arms the Bucs brought in—Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett—are playing like upper-level aces with 41 Ks between them. But righty James McDonald has actually been the most valuable with 18 strikeouts last week alone.
True, they might still end up with that losing streak intact. But tell me there were no Bad News Bears you'd like on your team. Tanner Boyle?
It's perhaps the Da Vinci Code of fantasy baseball. It's this great truth hidden in plain sight.
The best strategy to win your league? Don't give up. Cause a lot of other people will.
Of all the fantasy sports seasons, baseball is the closest to a marathon. For most casual fans, it's pretty exciting at the beginning and a little more exciting at the end.
But you can definitely mow the lawn a few times in between. While you checked your lineup 32 times each day in April, you can forget you have a team for 32 days between July and August.
I don't know about you, but I've run away with plenty of leagues just by checking my team every day, sitting starters who aren't starting, dropping players hurt for the season and picking up the right free agents at the approximate right times.
Do that too, and you'll likely be Joe Mauer's shampoo above most of your league.