Fantasy Baseball 2013: The 15 Best-Kept Secrets in Fantasy Baseball

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

Fantasy Baseball 2013: The 15 Best-Kept Secrets in Fantasy Baseball

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    If I let you in on a few secrets to help increase the odds of winning your fantasy baseball league, do you promise not to tell anyone?

    As the wise stripper from that one episode of The Office once told Michael Scott, “Secrets secrets are no fun. Secrets secrets hurt someone.” So it only seems fair to share.

    Anyone who blindly enters a draft without diligent research will fail to pinpoint the keys to success, along with the accompanying players who can help them achieve it.

    For example, before assuming that catcher is yet again a barren wasteland, take notice of the excess of talent arriving at the position.

    Not all fantasy baseball participants have adopted these tenets that are vital to assembling a winning squad, and the players listed will unfairly enter drafts as late-round afterthoughts.

    Keep these hidden trends (and the players associated with them) in mind as your fantasy baseball draft approaches.

1. Catcher Is Deep This Year

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    If you’re playing in a standard league that only requires one starting catcher, sit back and wait to grab your backstop at the end of the draft.

    With a slew of young talent emerging from the catcher spot, drafters will find that the position’s No. 10 or 12-ranked player will perform just fine at a spot usually bemoaned for its scarce options.

    Instead of reaching for Joe Mauer or Matt Wieters with an early pick, grab Jonathan Lucroy or Jesus Montero in one of the later rounds.

    Savvy drafters could also buy low on Brian McCann or Mike Napoli, former top catchers coming off disastrous seasons.

    Even if you swing and miss with your selection, you can always play the hot hand through free agency. A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia bailed out drafters fumbling to find a catcher in 2012.

2. Jonathan Lucroy

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    So with all those options available in the later rounds, who should you target?

    After Buster Posey at No. 1 and Mauer at No. 2, there’s no way of knowing who will go when in a jumbled assortment of catchers.

    Pounce on McCann if he falls too far, but his name value should prevent that scenario from happening.

    Salvador Perez is another intriguing option, but one that is gaining steam as a fantasy darling who will likely enter drafts as the popular “sleeper” that everyone fights over.

    Between a group of well-known veterans and hot-shot youngsters, Lucroy finds himself lost in the fray.

    The 26-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season, hitting .320 with 12 homers in 96 games before a suitcase fell on and broke his hand.

    As the .336 BABIP dips down to a more realistic level, the average should descend a bit, too. That, however, doesn’t mean he can’t hit .290 with 15-20 home runs, numbers most managers would gladly accept from their catcher.

3. Steals Are Easy to Find

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    Everth Cabrera, Ben Revere, Tony Campagna, Norichika Aoki, Jose Altuve and Jarrod Dyson all finished among baseball’s leaders in stolen bases despite entering the season without appearing on many cheat sheets.

    At best, Revere, Altuve and Cabrera earned a late-round flier in deeper leagues, but nobody on that list cost a massive amount to obtain.

    Power hitters hardly pop up from nowhere, but the waiver wire frequently houses veritable speed threats

    So when you feel a little dense in the steals department during the draft, don’t overextend for Juan Pierre or Rajai Davis. You’re better off drafting guys who offer power and speed and waiting for a lower-cost speed option or two in the later rounds.

4. Carlos Gomez

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    Hopefully everyone had shifted their focus to football by the time Carlos Gomez hit his stride.

    Previously known as the bust received by the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Johan Santana, Gomez finally delivered toward the end of 2012.

    The speed demon stole a career-high 37 bases, but that wasn’t the sole catalyst to his sensational fantasy season. Gomez also wiped away his previous personal best in the power department by smacking 19 homers with a .463 slugging percentage.

    Most of this resurgence occurred in the waning moments of 2012, as Gomez hit 14 homers and swiped 26 bags during the final 75 games.

    Since his torrid finish earned him regular at-bats heading into the upcoming season, Gomez could produce a 15/40 effort as the Milwaukee Brewers everyday center fielder.

5. Power: Not So Easy to Find

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    On the other side of the spectrum, how many times does a scrappy journeyman give you 30 dingers?

    Now that the steroid era is well in the rear-view mirror, power bats are a viable commodity.

    The home run leaderboard predominately consists of stars snatched up in the opening rounds and all-or-nothing sluggers in the Mark Reynolds mold who can torpedo your team’s batting average.

    This ups the ante on locating the right power hitters to build your team around. Unless you’re comfortable putting all your eggs in the Pedro Alvarez basket, there’s more pressure to land a Prince Fielder or Giancarlo Stanton in the first or second round.

    So in the few instances where you can find an affordable power source in the middle rounds, you have to take notice.

6. Alfonso Soriano

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    Even though Alfonso Soriano turns 37 in a few days, hits for a low average and can only be counted on for around four steals instead of the 40 he offered during his prime, he deserves a place on fantasy squads because of the homers.

    Soriano smashed 32 home runs, placing himself among a short list of 27 names to collect 30 or more in 2012. Considering a majority of those names are studs who will get snatched in the early rounds, Soriano is one of few sluggers you won’t need to break the bank to get.

    He might not exceed 30 homers again, but he averaged 26 during the previous four seasons.

    There’s no mystique to Soriano. There’s no unforeseen upside enticing owners to envision anything spectacular.

    Swinging for the fences with your team is highly encouraged, but sometimes it’s sensible to mix it up with a steady, boring option who often succeeds at swinging for the fences.

7. Batting Average Fluctuates

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    A frequent folly made by drafters is placing too much weight on a player’s batting average from the previous year.

    Too often do fantasy participants jump ship on a guy after tallying a .240 average once. Just think what happened when those people wrote off Matt Kemp after 2010.

    By the same token, a hitter receives undying attention from the fantasy community after achieving a higher average. Come on, did you really expect Mike Napoli (a career .259 hitter) to replicate his .320 mark from 2011?

    Aside from Mauer, Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, few hitters are a consistent bet to hit .300 annually.

    Averages often vary from year to year. Don’t get too caught up on the mark from the last season if his career arc paints a vastly different picture.

8. Dustin Ackley

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    When he made his highly-anticipated major league debut in 2011, scouts and fans alike were giddy about Dustin Ackley’s potential.

    A year and a half later, not so much.

    Ackley began his career with a respectable .273/.348/.417 slashing line, with six homers and six steals in 90 games. Not exactly the resume of a fantasy game-changer, but drafters still jumped for Ackley after reading scouting reports that touted the second baseman as a future batting champion.

    He fell a bit short of that bar in 2012, hitting .226. But change that first two to a three, and well, actually he still wouldn’t have topped Miguel Cabrera’s .330 mark.

    So how did a line-drive hitter finish near the league’s basement in hitting efficiency? His .265 BABIP could go a long way in explaining the letdown.

    Don’t go overboard and expect that batting title, or even a .300 average in 2013, but Ackley could bounce back to around the .270s. Combine that with the potential for a 15/15 season and Ackley’s a serviceable middle infielder whose exceptional minor league track record should not be forgotten.

9. Wins Are Worthless

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    Hopefully this isn’t a secret anymore.

    Constantly used as a convenient metric to easily weigh a pitcher’s merit, wins say very little about a pitcher’s effectiveness.

    From a fantasy perspective, they simply cannot be trusted since they are so fickle and ignore the role offense, defense and relief pitching play in swaying a game's outcome.

    If Cliff Lee netting just six wins despite a 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP does not push some baseball fans to change their stubborn ways, nothing will.

    You can look at a pitcher’s situation to try to surmise a logical guess, but even that’s a wildly inexact science. While Lee suffered from a wins outage, Cole Hamels pitched just as well on the same team and won 17 times.

    Don’t even look at a pitcher’s win total when ranking them. Anyone who drafts Barry Zito with the plan of reeling in 15 wins again will live to regret it. 

10. Jonathon Niese

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    If he ever won 15 or more games, Jonathon Niese would probably have earned respect as a commendable pitcher by now.

    During a breakout season where his surface stats finally caught up with the peripherals, many fantasy players still didn’t seem to care. Winning 13 games probably didn’t help his cause much.

    The 26-year-old posted a 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 7.33 K/9 ratio in his third full season as a starter, but poor luck and poorer finishes torpedoed his numbers in prior years.

    Niese usually hangs around until the very end of drafts, but don’t let him fall too far in 2013. He may not help you dominate a particular category, but Niese will offer serviceable production across the board as an ideal middle-of-the-rotation hurler.

    Maybe he’ll even get lucky and win more games. Or maybe not.

11. Middle Relievers Can Help (Even Without Holds)

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    Some leagues ensure that middle relievers don’t feel secluded by introducing holds as a category.

    This makes all pitchers important, a welcome change from standard leagues that unfairly place closers on a pedestal.

    Fantasy leagues propagate the untrue belief that all closers are superior to the guys pitching the seventh and eighth innings. Oftentimes, the middle relievers are securing more important outs at earlier junctures of the game.

    Even in your standard fantasy league without holds, that allows daily lineup changes, rostering a couple outstanding setup men can help win your fantasy championship.  

    By utilizing David Robertson and Greg Holland in 2012, a fantasy manager could have accumulated nine wins, a 2.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 172 strikeouts through 127.2 innings.

    Those numbers would catch anyone’s attention coming from a starter. 

12. David Hernandez

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    Judging by the past few seasons, David Hernandez is a prime target for drafters to grab in one of the final rounds.

    Last season, the 27-year-old punched out 98 batters in 68.1 innings, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in the process.

    It was a career season for Hernandez, but one that resulted from improvement rather than luck. Over the past three years, he has increased his strikeout rate while slashing his walks.

    He earned every bit of that sparkling 2.50 ERA, registering a 2.08 FIP despite the highest BABIP (.291) of his professional career.

    Since J.J. Putz has a firm grip on the closer’s role in Arizona, most fantasy owners won’t give Hernandez the time of day in 2013 drafts.

    In the worst-case scenario, you dump him for another reliever getting the job done.

13. Closers Are Wildly Unpredictable

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    If you conducted a preseason poll that asked every fantasy baseball expert to determine which closers would finish the 2012 season with the most saves, how many would have correctly placed Jim Johnson, Fernando Rodney and Rafael Soriano in the top four?

    Johnson received 54 save opportunities during the Baltimore Orioles’ improbable playoff run. Soriano lucked out when the one sure-thing reliever in baseball suffered a season-ending injury.

    Rodney went from below average to unhittable, something that can’t be labeled as unprecedented since Kyle Farnsworth underwent the same transformation the previous year as Tampa Bay’s closer.

    Let’s look at the few “safe” bets. Craig Kimbrel will warrant a massive investment on draft day. Mariano Rivera is 43 and recovering from surgery. Joe Nathan is 38 and a few years removed from Tommy John surgery.

    Remember Heath Bell and Brian Wilson? Those guys were two of the best closers in baseball. What happened to them?

    Your best bet is to wait closers out and pair a somewhat solid, sturdy reliever with some upside selections late in the draft.

14. Rafael Betancourt

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    Rafael Betancourt will probably fall to the bottom of most closer rankings, but his stat sheets indicate that he’s one of baseball’s most dependable relievers.

    Finally receiving a chance to attach saves to his pristine stat line, Betancourt failed to become a mainstay in fantasy circles because he only converted 31 saves while playing for the lowly Colorado Rockies.

    Though Betancourt fell short of carrying out his dominance from previous seasons that would have solidified him as a top-10 closer, he still produced solid numbers across the board.

    The veteran posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 57 strikeouts through 57.2 innings. Prior to 2012, he posted WHIPs below 1.00 in each of the past few seasons. Not many closers display such a sturdy pedigree.

    Since you’re better off drafting closers late anyway, Betancourt makes a solid second or third closer for your fantasy squad.

15. Fantasy Baseball Is Just a Game

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    As someone who lives and breathes baseball stats and cares more about draft day than all other holidays combined, it's still baffling to see peers lose their cool over a game.

    There's nothing more off-putting than watching a grown man or woman freak out and call shenanigans on every transaction made by fellow owners who flaunt the audacity to make smart moves.

    Don't be the person who moans about every trade because two other teams improving their roster should be forbidden. 

    Even worse, don't try to "protect" a fellow owner who knows what he or she is doing. Not every trade needs to be a win on paper for it to benefit that specific squad.

    And don't be the person who wishes ill on Jacoby Ellsbury for wasting your precious first-round pick.  

    Take it seriously enough that the league remains competitive, but don't follow the path of that protagonist from every movie and TV sitcom ever made, who lets the insatiable desire of winning get in the way of what really matters in life.

    Just relax. Have fun with it.