6 Players Who Offer More Value in Fantasy Baseball Than Real Life
Ralph Freso/Getty Images
Fantasy baseball success does not always correlate with MLB players’ actual production.
In leagues that stick to the simple 10 categories, a player’s true merit can be over- or understated in our imaginary game.
Speedsters with an otherwise limited skill set are precious commodities in fantasy leagues. Sluggers who slack defensively get a pass. Relief pitchers without saves attached to their names often get the cold shoulder.
Of course, some leagues have shifted to implementing different statistical measures that help blur the line between fantasy and reality. For the thousands of participants in standard 5x5 formats, the perception of these players’ worth is overrated due to their ability to master those specific categories.
Curtis Granderson should be eternally grateful for Alex Rodriguez.
The aging, slumping third baseman absorbs most scorn from furious New York Yankee fans, but Granderson is one of several other superstars falling short.
This postseason, the center fielder is 1-for-23 with 16 strikeouts. After belting more than 40 home runs for his second straight season, Granderson still played sloppily all season.
Despite hitting .232 with a .319 on-base percentage, the 31-year-old ranked 32nd overall among fantasy players by Yahoo’s measure. Not that it matters for fantasy owners, but Granderson’s success from 2012 resulted from playing in pinstripes.
Capitalizing on the short porch and nearly non-existent fences at Yankees Stadium, Granderson crushed 26 of his 43 homers at home. Surrounded by a star-studded cast (not so much in October, though), Granderson picked up 106 RBI and 102 runs despite dropping off from his MVP-caliber season last year.
These strikeout woes inflicted on Granderson in the playoffs are nothing new; he struck out 195 times in 2012. His seemingly resolved issues against lefties also resurfaced, as he hit .218 against southpaws.
It's rarely mentioned, but Granderson defended sluggishly this season, leading FanGraphs to value him at a 2.6 WAR despite all the home runs.
Had Granderson played on an average offense in a more spacious ballpark, his mediocre output would have been exposed.
Ralph Freso/Getty Images
Looking solely at the five categories used to evaluate hitters throughout many fantasy leagues, Starlin Castro resembles a young Derek Jeter.
The 22-year-old notched 14 home runs and 25 stolen bases in his third season. He hit below his career .297 batting average this year, but even his .283 mark is still solid.
Considering the weak selection at shortstop, that’s enough to keep Castro afloat as one of the position’s premier fantasy players. The youngster, however, still must make significant strides before entering that discussion outside of fantasy circles.
Fantasy owners don’t care how a player acquires his steals, but Castro’s aggressiveness probably hurts the Chicago Cubs more than it helps. Castro cost his team 13 outs with his eagerness to run.
Many fantasy players simply monitor Castro’s average, but he posted a meager .323 on-base percentage this year. While Castro’s 14 home runs are good enough for a fantasy team, his .430 slugging percentage and .753 OPS resemble an average hitter.
Castro, who has committed 83 errors during his short career, is often criticized for spacing out on the field. Manager Dale Sveum threatened to bench him earlier in the season for repeated mental lapses.
Continue to rank Castro as a top-10 fantasy shortstop, but the Cubs are mistaken if they think he’s the face of their franchise.
Jeff Curry/Getty Images
Every preseason, Yovani Gallardo enthralls drafters into a spell that convinces them this is the year.
Fantasy gamers keep waiting for the year when Gallardo progresses from a tremendous strikeout pitcher to a legitimate ace.
After six seasons, we’re still waiting.
Gallardo joined Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez in elite company as the only starting pitchers to accumulate at least 200 strikeouts in each of the past four seasons. Unfortunately, he has yet to post an ERA better than 3.52 or a WHIP below 1.22.
Due to his strikeouts and high win totals during the past few years, Gallardo typically enters the season as a top-20 fantasy starter and trendy breakout candidate.
The 26-year-old appeared to fix his control issues when he earned a 2.56 BB/9 ratio in 2011, but the rate skyrocketed back to 3.57 this season. With the wildness rearing its ugly head again, Gallardo posted a subpar 1.30 WHIP.
Just like observers can recognize Tim Hudson’s body of work as an accomplished pitcher despite low strikeout numbers, the baseball community should realize that Gallardo is very good, but far from an ace, despite high strikeout totals.
The strikeouts still make him a worthwhile fantasy commodity, but Gallardo will never be a true ace if his struggles to stay in the strike zone persist.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Accept B.J. Upton’s one flaw in the batting department and a bounty of power and speed will follow.
After he failed to spike his average above .250 for the past four seasons, owners know what they are getting into when drafting Upton. Sacrifice a little in batting average for 20-plus homers and 30-plus steals.
That formula led Upton to a No. 61 overall ranking in Yahoo’s database, but there are plenty more than 60 MLB players who a baseball fan would rather see on his or her team.
It’s easy to overlook Upton’s deficiency in a 5x5 rotisserie league, but he’s a much more blemished player in the bigger picture. Upton used to draw walks with fervor, but he registered a .298 on-base percentage this season with a 7.1 percent walk rate.
His fantasy owners are usually pleased with the final product, but the Tampa Bay Rays must endure wildly inconsistent play throughout the season. Upton salvaged an otherwise poor year by catching fire in the final two months.
A dual power and speed threat almost always makes for a reputable fantasy option, but the value does not always translate to his actual employer.
Tony Medina/Getty Images
Hunter Pence is a staple on many fantasy teams, so why does no MLB team want to keep him? For the second straight season, the unorthodox outfielder shipped locations near the trading deadline.
Pence is the perfect player for drafters to target fairly early for their fantasy squads. He consistently plays a full season, hits 20 to 25 homers, delivers a respectable average and until recently provided double-digit steals.
Never really a star, Pence has also never given fantasy owners a bad season. Pence’s actual numbers as a player don’t exactly jump off the page, though.
Due to his free-swinging ways, Pence sports a career .339 on-base percentage. He defensive play has regressed, leading him to produce a mediocre 1.8 WAR on FanGraphs in 2012.
Even in a rough season, Pence still amassed 104 RBI by playing every day in the middle of the batting order. Fantasy owners can live with that as a down year, but his .253/.319/.425 hardly represents All-Star production.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The MLB leader in saves is often heralded as a key component to the Baltimore Orioles’ unexpected postseason run, but was Jim Johnson any more valuable than setup man Darren O’Day?
As the closer for a team that excelled at winning tight games, Johnson converted 51 of 54 save opportunities. Shining in his newly obtained role in the ninth inning, Johnson posted a 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP along with those saves.
On the other side of the coin, Johnson’s 5.37 K/9 ratio weighed down fantasy owners, yet paid no consequence to Baltimore. Still, anybody who scooped Johnson off the waiver wire likely finished close to the top in saves.
Johnson certainly played a massive piece in the puzzle for Baltimore, so I do not intend to belittle his achievements. But here it goes…
O’Day pitched only 1.2 fewer innings than Johnson in the regular season, but he tossed five hitless innings in the playoffs. The sidearmer earned a 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 28 more strikeouts than the closer, which should levy him into consideration as Baltimore’s top reliever.
So if O’Day combats a team’s top hitters in the eighth inning while Johnson retires the bottom of the order in the ninth, who’s really the more valuable contributor?
Unless holds counted as a category, O’Day served no use to fantasy owners in most standard leagues. Fantasy baseball is partially responsible for the culture that places closers on a pedestal above all other relief pitchers who do the same work in a different inning.