Near the end of the 2009 season, Jose Bautista was encouraged to start his swing earlier and be more aggressive by the Toronto Blue Jays. Fifty-four homers later, he's the 2010 fantasy baseball darling.
New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long helped tighten the swing of struggling outfielder Curtis Granderson. From Aug. 12 to the end of the year, Granderson tallied 14 homers and 34 RBIs.
Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper helped fix Edwin Jackson's whacked throwing motion after the team traded for him. Jackson had a strong stretch in Chi-town while his fantasy bandwagon reloaded.
But countless players also aim to steal more bases, add a new pitch, slim down or get LASIK surgery. Results can vary, from a breakout season to the same old struggles.
However, many fantasy baseball managers buy into some form of improvement after a player changes his mechanics, physical fitness or approach to the game. When is it roto-relevant? Which reports warrant skepticism?
Where did that come from?
Consider the tinkering player's MLB experience, ability and acumen. Is he learned enough to make the revision quickly and effectively?
Bautista and Granderson had been around for enough time - even Bautista as a part-timer and bench player - to know what would make them comfortable. It's nice to get excited about a deep, deep sleeper altering his makeup, but such alterations often stop their progress before they can even start to turn things around.
How possible is the change? A major overhaul, such as that of a batting stance, doesn't often produce quick results; revising a smaller component - hand positioning, for example - could help sooner. Granderson was benched for a few days in-season to work on the problem. Bautista's experiment came before the start of the campaign - he had time, and therefore better odds, to succeed. More often, changes made during the season take time to materialize but can work depending on the work put into it.
Many Spring Training changes - especially those focused on physique or philosophy - don't mean results automatically follow, though. Great, he lost 12 pounds and wants to test catchers more often, but he still can't hit breaking pitches. Fantasy prospectors must logically connect theories and output.
Sometimes team practice comes into play. A bunch of Milwaukee Brewers were probably primed to steal more bases after skipper Ken Macha hinted they might run more. Oops, he's a base-running Rush Limbaugh.
Is the coach adept at fixing problems? Not every sage is a wizard. Consider his depth of experience. Try to find other cases where that coach or skipper has guided a struggling player. Many times, his claims of a player working on something merely amount to noise.
Rarely do improvements last forever. Mechanics often slip - it's human nature. Coaches change their minds about team strategy. Elbow positioning doesn't always stay firm for a pitcher. It takes only a few inches for a batter to lose bodily control. Sometimes anatomical improvements don't take (see: visual issues of the Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann).
Not all tweaks work, but identifying the best situations can pay off. In general, the more skilled and seasoned the player, the more likely a change will produce results. Put more stock into technical reconstruction than physical changes.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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