Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Handling hot starts, like Bryan LaHair's

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on May 16, 2012 @ 13:00:00 PDT

 


Today's query of the knights is a double edged epee (for all you crossword puzzle aficionados out there). The question appears to be about a particular player, but the underlying motivation was to learn more about how the pundits handle fast, if not unexpected starts.

For the rest of the season, which player would you prefer:

Perry Van Hook sees through the facade:

Dealing with underperforming players in fantasy baseball is a severe test of patience - a commodity not in good supply with most players. Obviously part of that has to do with league formats/rules, as it is considerably easier if you can just reserve a Kevin Youkilis or Scott Rolen until you see him regain his normal levels of performance. But really the time to take that into consideration is when you draft your team, not a month later when you are going to over manage it. Players who are vastly over-performing expectations/projections are a different animal - you either want to ride the hot hand as long as you can or in trading leagues make your best guess at the point of maximizing value in the returning player(s).

In the particular player sets Lord Zola has asked us to look at my answers are based on non trading leagues and on what I expect the players to do from today until the end of the season (not what they have already produced).

  • Gaby Sanchez or Bryan LaHair - I will stick with LaHair who will always have more power even when the average goes down.
  • Michael Cuddyer or LaHair - tough call here but I will take Cuddyer
  • Adam Lind or LaHair - easiest of the group; give me LaHair
  • Adrian Gonzalez or LaHair - I think Gonzalez will have a higher average and more RBI for the rest of the season, but if home runs were the decider, I would go the other way.

Lawr Michaels, who in reality is never dismissive

First, I will admit to incorrectly dismissing LaHair out of the box, thinking he was more of a Brett Pill type (which is not bad) when I think he is really more of a Kevin Millar type (which is a lot better).

Improved walks and strikeouts and related OBP totals should have tipped me off, not so much with the number of walks, but reduced differential between the two since 2008, I should have noticed.

That said:

Ryan Carey gets right to the point:

  • Gaby Sanchez or Bryan LaHair - I think LaHair's OF eligibility and power give him the edge here the rest of the way.
  • Michael Cuddyer or LaHair - Cuddyer also qualifies in the OF and I'd rather have his balance (5 SBs) than LaHair's power upside the rest of the way.
  • Adam Lind or LaHair - Lind getting dropped to the 8th spot in the lineup, Travis Snider and Vladimir Guerrero lurking are enough for me to go LaHair in this matchup.
  • Adrian Gonzalez or LaHair - You have to stick with Gonzalez here. He's still in the middle of one of the better offenses in baseball and hasn't really gotten going yet. All it will take is one patented hot streak to remind us who's the better player. Still, if I could send A-Gonz for a package that included LaHair and something else that you might need to compete, then I think LaHair would be a serviceable option the rest of the way.

Greg Morgan with his take:

Colorado Rockies OF Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer: better than LaHair?

At the risk of sounding like a parrot, I'm going to have to agree with Lawr here.

  • Gaby Sanchez or Bryan LaHair - Gaby hit .219 with only 3 HRs the last two months of 2011. The beat goes on, only worse, six weeks into 2012. His LD% is down to 10%. I think he'll snap out of it, but how long will that take and will he be able to catch up to Bryan once he has righted the ship? I'd place my chips on the Cubbies cleanup hitter.
  • Michael Cuddyer or LaHair - Cuddyer. Track record, hitting well enough now, and plays half of his games at Coors field.
  • Adam Lind or LaHair - Adam runs hot and cold. The problem is that his cold streaks can last 6 months. I'd take LaHair.
  • Adrian Gonzalez or LaHair - Adrian and it's not close. He has a long track record, has never had a bad season, and regularly bats 3rd or 4th in the Red Sox lineup (ranks 3rd in the majors in runs scored).

Tim Heaney with a different view

Raises hand to join "irked at underestimating LaHair" group.

  • Gaby Sanchez or Bryan LaHair - Sanchez was viewed as "safe" but hasn't put it all together yet to take a step forward. I'll take LaHair's difference-making pop.
  • Michael Cuddyer or LaHair - Cuddy's versatility has defined his value in recent years. Do you prefer a more stable track record with eligibility at 2B, 1B and OF or LaHair's likely BA downturn along with similar power? Cuddy's SB binge could very well last. I lean in his direction if I need the keystone and he's eligible, but if I need 1B or OF, I'll stick with LaHair.
  • Adam Lind or LaHair - Lind's batting average and playing time jeopardy will drag him down. LaHair's clip is ridiculously bloated, but I trust it more, even if it normalizes soon.
  • Adrian Gonzalez or LaHair - The Green Monstah is probably taking away some of his HR, and his lift isn't there (shoulder bothering him?), but the gap power is still there, and he left the yard much more frequently on the road. I foresee Gonzalez kicking it back up. Merely because I sense LaHair's palpable potential for a batting average drop and want to buy A-Gon at a lower price, I would prefer A-Gon from here on out.

Nick Minnix cleans it up:

Toward the end of the Cubs-Cards telecast on ESPN the other night, I think it was Rick Sutcliffe who said that LaHair told him that things began to click for him in the last year or two when he began to worry less about hitting home runs or (I think the other was) striking out and just focus on hitting the ball hard. That kind of realization, well, it might seem too simple, and his stats may not reflect it, at least right away, but it can go a long way. Basically, he became unconcerned with the results and - man I say crap like this a lot - instead focused on the process. When you do things the right way and trust that they'll work out, eventually, they often do.

Once the pixie dust wears off, he should be able to hold a big-league job for several years, I'd think.

  • LaHair, not Sanchez. Sanchez has picked it up a little, and they may hit for about the same average the rest of the way, but even if not, LaHair hits ding dongs, and in Marlins Park, Sanchez does not.
  • Cuddyer, not LaHair. Don't think it's too tough. Cuddyer has a track record, is in perhaps the best hitting environment in baseball and is doing just fine now. LaHair is still a very good candidate to hit the skids by the break and carry it through. Don't think he'll go in the tank, but he's going to have some downs.
  • LaHair, not Lind. I think this one's a tough call. The only thing that gives LaHair the edge, in my opinion, right now is how each has performed until this point. That's what the organization each plays for is going to go by, obviously. Each has a potential threat to his playing time in the minors. A chance on Vladimir Guerrero cost the Toronto Blue Jays nothing, so the Impaler still has to hit to take Lind's job. Unfortunately for Lind, Vlad is a pretty damn good bet to do it better than Lind in the short term.
  • A-Gon, not LaHair. I understand the concerns about Gonzalez's fading power, but I thought this one was a joke.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up:

To begin, there is no shame in missing LaHair's breakout. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. We can point to whatever indicators we want, and for every player that broke out "because of that," there were probably twice as many demonstrating the same thing that are still the same guy.

Looking at LaHair, he is a number cruncher's nightmare. There is no doubt there is some good fortune when it comes to hit rate and home run rate. On the other hand, it is almost assured that there is also an uptick in skills. But throwing a complete wrench into the equation is the fact LaHair is still striking out at an alarming rate.

Perhaps Nick nailed the reason, and it is a matter of approach. LaHair has been compared to Jose Bautista as related to his emergence, but in certain respects, I think he is more like Curtis Granderson. Joey Bats fanned fewer times after his breakout, the Grandy Man, like LaHair has kept up the whiffs, along with the power, but the average has dropped. This is what I expect from LaHair, a sustained increase in pop but an average harpooned via low contact. For those wanting a more in-depth analysis of LaHair, the fine folks at FanGraphs crunch the numbers HERE.

In the name of full disclosure, the impetus of this question was a statement I made in a column I write for the ESPN Insider, contending there are some scenarios where I would sell high on LaHair and buy low on Sanchez. Keeping in mind that the standard ESPN game is 10-team mixed, I was taken to task for that remark. I received a measure of vindication after polling my fellow National Fantasy Baseball Championship brethren, posing the same series of choices as I did for the knights. The majority favored LaHair over Sanchez, but it was not unanimous. Based on history, some still prefer a track record over a luck-driven hot streak. That said, Greg astutely points out Sanchez started to struggle late last season. On the other hand, so did several other players who are doing just fine right now.

The rest of the players were designed to represent different levels of regression to where LaHair may fall. The idea being there is no doubt he will slow down, but just how much? Admittedly, Lind was not a great choice as he and Sanchez are in similar situations. Perhaps Freddie Freeman or Eric Hosmer may have been better.

Real quickly, I agree with the consensus, give me Cuddyer and Gonzalez; I'll roll the dice with LaHair's power spike being real and keep him over Lind and Sanchez. And, for what it's worth, I'll take Hosmer and Freeman over LaHair.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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