Unearthing insight from early numbers

by BaseballHQ.com on April 23, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT


The opening of a new season brings with it hope for all fantasy leaguers. As the first couple of weeks of the season come to a close, for some the harsh reality sets in. No, that speculative arm you picked up in the 23rd round is not going to win 18 games this year. No, that aging power hitter is not going to revert back to his 27-year old self in his new digs. The first couple of weeks send many owners scrambling for the fantasy scrap heap, hoping that a utility infielder, hitting .400 on April 15, can cure the ills of poor drafting.

Seasoned fantasy players will know that the last thing you want to do after two weeks is jump all over the fast starters. Baseball is not football, where each week has dramatic impact on the overall. You need to ride out the 1-25 slumps and remind yourself that it is a long season.

The wise will evaluate the early stats for what they are: glorified spring training stats. Look with a critical eye, and don't be afraid to jump on a player who has exhibited the skills you look for, but doesn't yet have the numbers to show for it. Here are some other early-season suggestions to help you evaluate the early stars.

1. For hitters, look for dramatic style changes.

You made your pre-season projections (or at least copied and pasted them) based upon some basic assumptions: player history, team context, new strike zone, new ballparks, etc. In two weeks, it's unlikely that any of these have changed dramatically. But what may have changed is an individual's approach to their game.

A good example of this was Randy Velarde (2B, TEX) in 2001. Hitting 2nd between Rusty Greer, with his outstanding batting eye, and Alex Rodriguez, whom no one wants to pitch to with two runners on, Velarde changed his approach at the plate from being patient to being more aggressive. This is a guy who slugged .455 in his career year of 1999, but was at .625 through two weeks of 2001. What was even more telling was 3 walks and 17 strikeouts. Velarde's batting eye declined from .81 in 1998, to .71 in '99, .57 in 2000 and .38 in 2001. This is a dramatic shift in style, one that should lead to increased power numbers with a lower batting average.

The flip side of this is that you also need to look out for players who "appear" to have changed, but really haven't. Jose Hernandez (SS, MIL) would have been a wonderful pickup if you only looked at his Rotisserie numbers. He was hitting .352 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI through two weeks. A deeper look, however, uncovered the old Jose Hernandez; a 0.18 batting eye, and very inconsistent productivity. 13 of his 15 RBI came in 3 games, meaning the other 11 games produced a .250 BA (10-40). Of course, fantasy baseball counts every game, but this spotty productivity shows that he really had not improved as you might have believed.

2. Live and die by the rule of T.O.G.

Here's how this can play out for your bullpens:

Talent: Find the great skill guys who may currently not be getting enough opportunity in someone's bullpen. Grab those guys, because eventually, they are either going to vulture wins or saves. The cream always rises.

Opportunity: When are your guys being pitched? Not every team is as clear cut as the Yankees, whom you know will bring Mike Stanton into the 8th inning in a tie game or with a lead. However, you will start to see some trends evolve if you follow each team's bullpen usage.

Guile: No matter how bad Jose Mesa might have been, he never stopped believing he could get people out. Don't forget about guys like Mesa who, when push comes to shove, can grit out a few saves on simple guile alone.

3. Track every start.

Early in the season, a starting pitcher's numbers are significantly impacted by each and every start. A guy who gets hammered in one game and pitches well in three will look exactly the same as a pitcher who's been mediocre in all four starts. A good practice to start the season is to track the PQS scores of every starting pitcher, every day, for the first few weeks, noting opponent and ballpark, to look for trends. This exercise will force you to drill down into each start and really get a good perspective on who may have had one great or terrible start, and who is truly pitching well.

In summary, don't be overcome by the natural desire to tinker. Look beyond the stat sheet and evaluate the true skills of the guys that owners in your league may be falling all over or completely ignoring.

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About BaseballHQ.com

Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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