Fantasy baseball owners are an impulsive bunch. It is even harder to resist such impulses when the clock is ticking down in the draft, and those who have not prepared find themselves yelling out "Chipper Jones!" and becoming the laughing stock of the league.
Fortunately, if you are reading this, you have begun preparing, not early, but right on time. The statistics in the coming slides do not just highlight certain major leaguers, many of whom you already know are good players. They also reveal trends that should be taken into account.
Welcome back to baseball season!
Since 2009, Aaron Hill has more home runs (96) and runs batted in (322) than Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips or Ian Kinsler.
It is not going out on a limb to say Pedroia, Kinsler and Phillips will all go very early in drafts, while Hill may fall outside the top 60 players selected. He was second among second basemen in home runs and second in RBI last season. He was also second in OPS and third in runs scored at his position.
This is not as much cause to reach for Hill as it is reason to let the top guys go, knowing you can get a player like Hill (2012 line: .302, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 93 R, 14 SB) or Ben Zobrist (.270, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 88 R, 14 SB) much later.
Curtis Granderson is the only player with 40-plus home runs in each of the last two seasons.
Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Braun and Adam Dunn also reached 40 home runs last season. Only Granderson and Jose Bautista did it in 2011. While power, as you will see later, is more widely available, top-end power is difficult to predict, and Granderson has been money in the bank since moving to New York.
This is another cautionary note: There is no need to reach for Granderson. In many cases, he will fall outside the top 10 outfielders drafted, meaning he can be had in the third round of many drafts. That is the time to jump.
Jim Johnson led the league with 51 saves last season. Fernando Rodney was second with 48. Jason Motte tied for third with 42. Rafael Soriano tied Motte with 42. Aroldis Chapman was seventh in saves with 38.
Those five men had 24 saves in 2011. Combined.
We know Craig Kimbrel is a beast, and is clearly the top closer to draft in fantasy, but there are more questions than answers behind him. Rafael Soriano signed with the team that already employs Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Mariano Rivera is returning from major knee surgery at 43 years old.
It is wiser to load up on young strikeout machines (Addison Reed, Bruce Rondon, Kenley Jansen) than to pay early-round picks for players who are, at best, 50-50 to keep their jobs?
Seventy-two players hit 20 home runs or more last season. Forty-eight stole 20 or more bases. But only four players have done both in each of the last two seasons. Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez are likely to cost you a first-round pick.
B.J. Upton can be had in the fifth round.
Now, Upton's owner is likely to take a hit on batting average. He has not eclipsed .250 since 2008. But he has provided 20 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 75 runs and 75 RBI each of the last two seasons, and now finds himself in the best lineup he has ever been a part of, with brother Justin, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann.
At 28 years old, Upton is in his prime and is fully capable of reaching 25-30 home runs and 40 stolen bases, as well as scoring well over 100 runs in 2013; a fifth-round bargain.
In 2012, 28 outfielders had an OPS (slugging plus on base percentage) over .800. Twelve first basemen did it and seven third basemen. There were even five catchers who managed .800.
But if one were to combine second base and shortstop, only three players total reached the same plateau. The aforementioned Hill, as well as Robinson Cano at second base, and Ian Desmond alone at shortstop achieved an .800 or higher OPS.
While the talk in Washington hovered over Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, Desmond batted .292, with 25 home runs, 21 stolen bases and topped 70 runs and RBI. While the well-known shortstops will likely be reached for in an attempt to secure the position, Desmond may slip into the sixth or seventh round in many leagues and could once again be an undervalued power/speed combo with a useful average to boot.
Strikeout-to-walk ratio is an excellent gauge of a pitcher's ability. It shows who can miss bats while not allowing runners to reach for free. Most of the league leaders are the pitchers with the most devastating stuff, combined with control of each pitch in their arsenal.
In 2012, the top 10 in K/BB included nine guys with an ERA under 3.40, nine guys with a WHIP under 1.20, and eight who struck out over 190 batters. It also included Joe Blanton.
This is not an endorsement of Blanton. This is proof that every statistic will have outliers, but it also goes to show the benefit of looking at numbers outside of the usual fantasy categories. Most leagues do not use K/BB, but if you used it as one measure of pitchers going into the draft, you probably did very well.
Wins are impossible to predict.
In 2012, 13 starting pitchers had over 20 quality starts (six-plus innings, three or less earned runs) and 170 strikeouts. The 12 not named "Lee" averaged 16.4 wins. Cliff Lee won six games.
Of course, fantasy owners were devastated because wins are a category in most leagues and they paid a hefty price for Lee, expecting 15-20 wins. But his bad luck in 2012 is not cause to downplay the fact he finished with 207 strikeouts, 3.16 ERA and 1.114 WHIP. He also led the league with a 7.39 K/BB.
If any of your league-mates pass on Lee, scared off by his low win total, count yourself lucky. Lee should be taken among the top 10 pitchers of any league.
In 2012, Tim Lincecum mysteriously fell apart. The two-time Cy Young Award winner struggled for most of the season before being sent to the bullpen during the San Francisco Giants' run to the World Series title.
However, of the top 15 starters in strikeouts per nine last season, 14 had an ERA under 3.90. Lincecum's number was 5.18. Lincecum actually struck out more batters per nine innings than in 2011, when he finished with 13 wins and 2.74 ERA.
Obviously, "The Freak" will plummet in most drafts due to his disastrous 2012, and I would not advocate reaching into the top 20 starting pitchers to get him, but if he falls into the eighth, ninth, and 10th rounds—outside the top 30 pitchers—there is still upside worth grabbing.
He could very well be a top-five fantasy pitcher in 2013.
In 2012, 30 players stole 25 bases and 44 hit 25 home runs. The numbers were similar in 2011, with 42 hitting 25 bombs while only 26 stole as many bases. In 2010, 44 reached 25 home runs and 27 stole that number of bags.
The moral of the story is, speed is valuable.
This may sound obvious, but fantasy owners fall in love with the home run. They reach for mashers like Adam Dunn despite the batting-average nightmare they bring along. They argue that home runs also mean RBI, but stolen bases are similarly connected to runs scored, as a single and a steal immediately puts the batter in scoring position.
Balance is the key. These trends are also why Mike Trout, a player who could reach 30 home runs while stealing 50 or more, is my No. 2 overall ranked player. But No. 1 is No. 1 for a reason.
In 2012, 18 players were in the top 100 in all five typical fantasy categories (AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB). Three players were in the top 50 in each of those, but only Ryan Braun was in the top 20 in all of them.
Braun was, in fact, in the top six among all players in four of those categories, finishing No. 17 in steals with 30. He has been over 95 RBI and 90 runs in each of his six big league seasons. He has hit .300 or better in five of them and has now stolen 30 bases in back-to-back years.
At 29 years old, Braun is right in the middle of his prime and there is no reason to doubt he will do it again. That is why he is my No. 1 overall player for 2013.