Have you taken the FSATs? You better hurry; deadlines to apply to the top fantasy baseball leagues are fast approaching, if they haven't already.
Here's a quick practice exam:
deceit : politics ::
(A) shoulder pads : fantasy football
(B) dizziness : fantasy NASCAR
(C) minimizing risk : fantasy baseball
(D) home-court advantage : fantasy basketball
(E) teeth : fantasy hockey
Hint: We're looking for the pair of elements in which the first is considered crucial to success in the second. Also, the answer is always C.
The deeper the league, the more this need to manage risk holds true. Many fantasy baseball champs don't own the most breakout players; they roster the fewest risks. You know, it's the person you asked, How come YOUR team isn't having this problem?
Perennially injured players like Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones and Chicago Cubs starter Rich Harden are naturally overvalued when they come off relatively malady-free seasons. Many were willing to overlook the hazards involved with Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton's lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery. One-year wonders with unsupported output, like Kansas City Royals infielder Mike Aviles, are dangerous targets, too.
Identifying at-risk hurlers and slowly dying players requires more analysis, though. At the very least, it requires a little digging.
Seminar No. 1: Do not ignore trends
Raise your hand if you drafted Colorado Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins this year. One, two, three ... c'mon, class, this was an easy one. Skip his three-year reductions in home runs, RBIs and batting average. Sometimes, other factors can explain such developments.
His line-drive percentage, in fact, remained fairly steady, offering reason for hope. However, Atkins combined a sharp regression in walk rate with an increasing propensity to strike out. His contact rate was falling, and other measures (such as isolated power and home run-to-flyball rate) indicated he was losing muscle.
No one expected Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez to bounce back to his 2007 form (.363-28-117), but optimism has to be met with skepticism for a 35-year-old. That big season is a huge outlier in many ways, most notably regarding his average on balls in play, isolated power and groundball rate. Many things suggested that Maggs was slowly becoming a singles hitter.
Aging players have become greater risks now that Major League Baseball has taken a harder stance on performance-enhancing substances and stimulants. That doesn't mean these players are guilty of anything, but you have to take the potential impact into account. Most hitters show serious signs of decline around the age of 32, 33 or 34. A pitcher can demonstrate similar fall-offs, even if it's not reflected in his record, ERA or save total.
Buyer beware in 2010
Seminar No. 2: Be wary of heavily used pitchers
Philadelphia hurler Cole Hamels just wanted this season to end - probably because it felt like 2008 didn't. Including the postseason, last year the southpaw tossed 262 1/3 innings, a leap of 72 1/3 frames from the previous period (plus playoffs).
The 2008 World Series MVP's offseason was virtually nonexistent, with problems compounded by the banquet circuit. The Phils eased Hamels, 25, into Spring Training very slowly, but he still experienced elbow discomfort during exhibition play and was shut down. Philly exercised extreme caution with their prized arm, and that's likely what saved him from complete burnout - or worse. His 2009 statistics were probably close to a best-case scenario.
The New York Mets' Johan Santana was a possible liability because of his five straight seasons with at least 219 innings pitched. Extensive use alone isn't a culprit, however. Johan's K/9 dipped sharply in 2008, his first season in the Big Apple - despite a move to the NL, which ordinarily accounts for a slight boost in said stat.
In addition, Santana's rate of free passes per nine was on a three-year rise; consequently, his command rate was falling. There was increasing evidence that Santana was losing velocity, and his normally low average against on balls in play was slowly returning to league standard.
Some teams poorly manage their young arms. Pitchers under the age of 26 or 27 who experience the innings jump - usually about 50 or more, especially if it's from a very low workload in the previous season - are very much at risk.
Meanwhile, few teams worry about overworking their frontline veterans, particularly their No. 1s and No. 2s. Burnout can eventually set in after repeated seasons of 200-plus innings, though. The indicators are your clues. Relievers who hit the century mark should scare you, too.
Buyer beware in 2010
Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove, in which we give the rotisserie spin on notable MLB transactions, is coming soon!
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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