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May 31, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Fantasy Foresight: How to Use Names, Numbers and Sheer Dumb Luck to Win Your League

by Brittany Ghiroli

Do you believe in magic? Yeah, me either. Luck? Well that's a different story. There's something about the inexact science of fantasy baseball that drives us to scour expanded ratings and listen to media pundits in hopes that a waiver wire pick or trade acquisition will morph into a guy like 2008's Ryan Ludwick.

When news of Albert Pujols' calf injury broke last June, I immediately scooped up Ludwick. A bench player who was projected as a mid-to-late rounder in most drafts, Ludwick homered that same night and went on to post power numbers similar to Pujols.

Did I get extremely lucky? Yes.

But if I had waited to read fantasy analysis or tried to evaluate whether Ludwick could sustain his fast start, it's likely someone else would have enjoyed his .591 slugging percentage and .966 OPS.

Instead, I made the choice based on Ludwick's solid bench numbers, manager Tony La Russa's tendency to utilize all his players and the need for some middle-of-the-order power in a Pujols-less lineup.

My point isn't to throw away your stats sheet. What I'm saying is any fantasy player worth their salt must think like a good baseball GM and constantly anticipate what's coming. (Hats off to those who scooped up Matt Wieters.)

First, understand that all Major League hitters have slumps. That being said, one of the biggest challenges is determining whether your player's numbers - good or bad-are an aberration or long-term trend. While hitters in their first or second year season are hard to predict for a number of reasons (including the lack of scouting reports other teams have), evaluating veteran players is much easier.

Using the batting average of balls in play (Babip), you can determine whether a hitter is more likely to improve or get worse as the season progresses. A hitter's Babip is the number of balls that translate safely into a hit, excluding home runs (which are always a hit) and strikeouts (which are always an out). Put simply, it evaluates who's getting lucky and who's not. It's common sense that guys who put the bat on the ball more often have a better chance of seeing those balls begin to drop. Keep in mind the league average for Babip hovers around .300, so if a guy is posting a higher average than Babip, it's likely his average will go up more as his Babip increases. In evaluating when to buy/sell the same holds true.

Take a player like Carl Crawford, who enters Friday hitting .318 with a .380 Babip. Crawford's Babip is above his average, which means he's finding a lot of holes and figures to come down some. He's going to continue to steal bases and score a lot of runs, but depending on your needs, you may want to sell high. But taking a closer look at a guy like Melky Cabrera, who is hitting .323 with a .345 Babip, shows that Cabrera is playing at an extremely productive rate. He might dip slightly over the course of the season, but Cabrera owners should be very happy as long as the outfielder stays healthy.

But baseball is as much a game of numbers as it is a game of opportunity, and to keep your team on top through a long season requires some foresight. With the season right around the quarter mark, clubs are beginning to evaluate their best chance of going to the postseason. Here are three brewing storylines and their future impact on your fantasy team.

The Tigers turnaround

The 'line: Through 45 games, the Tigers arms are holding opposing batters to a League-low .247 average and boast a 3.86 ERA. If Detroit is going to continue to stay atop the American League Central, some unlikely heroes could emerge come summer.
Fantasy Impact: While getting the dominating Justin Verlander would come at a steep price, Edwin Jackson is still flying somewhat under the radar despite a 2.58 ERA and a vastly improved BB/SO ratio. Jackson is a No. 2 caliber starter with a mid-90s fastball and an ability to throw 100-plus pitches each start. Those indicators bode well for fantasy owners, as a healthy Jackson will not only improve throughout each game, but also over the season. A must for keeper leagues, Jackson is still available in more than 30 percent of leagues, but if you can't get him another emerging option is Rick Porcello. While he has a higher ERA (3.48) than Jackson, the 20-year-old Porcello is just getting accustomed to the Major Leagues. In his first nine starts, Porcello is holding right-handed batters to a .179 average and has 32 strikeouts against 16 walks.
Big Risk, Big Reward: Is Dontrelle Willis for real? That's the question fantasy owners who own Willis or have him available on waivers, are undoubtedly asking. With three respectable starts, and a visit to last-place Baltimore scheduled for Friday, D-Train is increasingly becoming a reliable arm in an-already strong rotation. He's a gamble and at times struggles with command, issuing four walks in his last start, and allowing 16 hits over 17 1/3 innings. But if Willis can continue to paint the corner like he did in May 19's six 1/3 shutout innings over Texas, owners will be scrambling to add D-Train in the coming weeks.

Here come the kids

The 'line: With teams scuffling and rosters shifting at an alarming rate, some of the biggest impact players - and bargain fantasy buys - aren't even old enough to rent a car. And while blue-chip guys like Wieters, David Price and Tommy Hanson are already on the fantasy radar, there's plenty more youth that could make a push before the All-Star break.
Fantasy impact: It's no secret the Rays arms are struggling and the addition of Price (who will be pulled on most nights before he reaches 100 pitches) won't singlehandedly fix a bloated 5.18 starters ERA. With a payroll already maxed out - and borrowed from future years- Wade Davis could be the answer. The right-hander has held Triple-A batters to a .190 average with runners in scoring position, and hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts. The ever-cautious Rays have limited Davis to 47 1/3 innings over nine games, and he could challenge for the slumping Andy Sonnanstine's spot or add much-needed relief in the 'pen. Also keep a watch on O's prospects Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who appear to be next in line for a promotion to join recently recalled teammate Brad Bergesen. With Wieters beginning his transition into the franchise's catcher, Baltimore could seek help in combating a 5.41 team ERA, which is mostly a result of ineffective starters.
High Risk, High Reward: The Cubs' Jake Fox answered any questions about whether his eye-popping Triple-A numbers would translate in the Majors, going 2-for-3 with an RBI in his first two games since Wednesday's promotion. The 27-year-old posts legitimate power, but playing time could be a factor. A converted catcher, Fox has seen time at the corner spots in the infield and outfield. If he's available in your league, consider holding on to him. My guess is if Fox continues to hit, manager Lou Piniella won't have a problem getting him at-bats.

An excess of arms in Boston

The 'line: Red Sox Nation is enjoying a favorable overload of arms and barring any injuries, Boston will have a logjam of quality pitchers, sooner rather than later.
Fantasy Impact: Early whispers are Brad Penny could get dealt to clear room for the rehabbing John Smoltz, who is on track for a mid-June return. Assuming Smoltz (who tossed 60 pitches in his second rehab start on Wednesday) stays on track, the Sox look prime to trade away an arm, considering the Major League-ready Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden down in Triple-A. Fantasy owners short on pitching should monitor this situation carefully. Buchholz took a no-hitter and perfect game into the ninth inning Monday night at Louisville and already has a Major League no-hitter from last season under his belt.
High Risk, High Reward: While Buchholz's numbers , 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in nine starts, are slightly better than Bowden (2-2, 1.68 ERA) Red Sox GM Larry Lucchino told the Providence Journal on Sunday that both players would be in the Majors at some point this season. For now, Buchholz appears to be ahead of Bowden, but having either right-hander in an AL-only format or deep league could provide some upside late in the season.

Related Content:  The Who,  Fantasy Drafts,  Reward

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