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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
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.
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.
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.