Skydome Slugger (USAT)
You might like Jose Bautista for his home-run bat, his attack mentality at the plate, or his cool sunglasses.
Me, I dig the guy because he's a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to Fantasy Myth Busting. Heck, the first three bullet points in this article will come straight from the Joey Bats file.
If you've played fantasy baseball for even a modest amount of time, you've surely come across scores of rules and tips. Some are wise and useful, while others fall under the fortune-cookie logic umbrella. And we'll never stop searching for the wisdom to tell the difference.
Settle in, settler, and let's offer up some well-regarded fantasy concepts that need to be re-examined, if not thrown into the shredder once and for all.
Any player likely to regress into the new season is a poor draft pick
To be fair, I've never heard anyone express this point in such a literal and binary way, but we can read between the lines. The Regression Police are everywhere. There are many handy ways to determine why a breakout or career year is unlikely to repeat, and no one wants to be the sucker the following year.
But regression is not a destination on its own. Regression is supposed to be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender. Even if we're confident in a regression call, we need two follow-up questions: Regression to what level? And how is the market pricing this regression candidate?
Back to Bautista, our Myth Buster. You'll remember his 2010 breakout year, a 54-homer, 124-RBI party that decided many a fantasy title. The roto public was very careful with Bautista's follow-up season, determined not to be the knucklehead chasing the one-time story. Joey Bats carried an ADP of 51 in the 2011 draft season.
And here's the punchline: his 2011 return was just as good from a roto perspective. Bautista posted a monstrous .302-105-43-103-9 line, basically earning the same 4x4 or 5x5 roto value in a standard league. Score one for the contrary thinkers in the crowd.
Rappin' Rodney (USAT)Potential regression fallbacks are all over the map. No one expects Fernando Rodney, for example, to duplicate his silly season from 2012. But that doesn't mean we dismiss him out of hand - we need to put a reasonable range of outcomes to his upcoming season, and get a sense of where our personal markets price him. You can't slap the Scarlet R on the sweater and call it a day - it's never going to be that simple.
Spring Training results are meaningless - ignore them
While most of us probably agree that spring numbers aren't worthy of deep analysis, I refuse to write them off as completely worthless. For one thing, teams will use some spring performances to determine who wins a job or a roster spot - obviously that's stuff we need to know.
Okay, when an established star has a messy spring, it's easy to write it off. I'm on board with that. So long as we don't have context clues that point to a possible injury, I won't worry much if a notable player has a disaster month of March.
Back to Bautista, our busting buddy from the Great White North. You might recall his .439/.448/.895 rampage through Spring Training in 2010, with five homers in 57 at-bats. Maybe he was trying to tell us something about a breakout season. Sure, it's a tiny sample posted against a hodgepodge of opponents, but respected statistician John Dewan has a theory about what preseason slugging spikes can mean. Here's the crux of the Dewan angle, culled from a Baseball Press missive from 2011:
For the past six seasons John Dewan (founder of STATS, Inc., co-founder of Baseball Info Solutions, Author of Stat of the Week and The Fielding Bible) successfully predicted break out seasons for hitters at a 60-percent rate using spring training slugging percentages. 60-percent may not sound too accurate, but many other methods of projecting the outcome of a players performance at a season's end usually sit closer to 30-percent.
The criteria for finding these players is rather simple. If a player with at least 200 career major league at-bats posts a slugging percentage at least 200 points higher than his career average in 40 or more spring training at-bats, he is poised for a break out year. In 2010, the player who posted the largest difference was none other than Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista. His spring training slugging percentage was 484 points higher than his career mark. Other notables on the list were Troy Tulowitzki, Nelson Cruz and Will Venable. As you can see by looking at the complete 2010 list, 60-percent is a pretty accurate number of players that may not have had break out years, but definitely improved on their previous career performances at the plate.
I'm not saying I will make sweeping changes to my draft ranks and strategy based on this angle, but sure, I'm going to consider it. You're free to do what you like.
There's no reason to put stock in partial stat samples from the previous year - numbers culled through arbitrary endpoints don't tell us anything
I see the heart of this theory and to some extent I'll agree. Maybe it doesn't matter when a journeyman pitcher finds his groove in June (but reverts to batting practice in July), and maybe it's silly to get excited when a Quad-A player socks 5-6 homers in a two-week homestand. Randomness and variance are all around us.
That said, if you can attach a reason for a player's improvement (or failure), maybe we're onto something. Granted, this type of definitive attribution can be difficult to find. We're not always aware of subtle changes in a player's mechanics or approach. A new diet or a personal change might remain a secret until after the year is complete. And as we've all heard 500 times, correlation isn't necessarily causation. Sometimes it's possible to look too hard for something, setting you up for false positives and misleading indicators that in truth mean nothing.
Old School Murph (Topps 1988)Be that as it may, players sometimes do improve, for any number of reasons. Let's go back to our poster boy, Bautista. He significantly changed his approach at the plate in the latter stages of the 2009 season, working with batting coach Dwayne Murphy. Over his final 27 games he produced this robust line: .280/.360/.660, with 10 homers over 100 at-bats. To most of baseball, it looked like a blip on the radar screen, a forgettable journeyman having a nice month. Instead, it turned out to be the reinvention of a player, the dawning of a new star.
Things won't always be that tidy, of course. Last year's breakthrough stance or pitch can be this year's albatross just as easily as it's an enduring miracle cure. There's no guarantee to any of this stuff. All I'm asking you to do here is remain open minded.
We're now done with the Bautista portion of the program. In quick-hitter form, let's mention some other Roto Myths you won't find me subscribing to.
I had to take that player in the current round - I was afraid he wouldn't make it back to me with my next pick
I'll sign off on that angle when it's in the middle or late stages of a draft, but you'll often hear it dangled as a rationale behind an early-round pick. On my clipboard, that's a major error. You're trying to play the value game with those big-ticket items and you have to accept that some players simply won't make sense with your draft slot. Just because you probably can't get Justin Upton with the last pick of the second round doesn't justify picking him at No. 1 overall. Don't flush the value of your early picks by becoming too target-driven.
It's a good idea to handcuff your closers, or get aggressive with closers-in-waiting
I've always viewed the closer-in-waiting player as a consistent fantasy loss. For one thing, teams don't always go to their perceived No. 2 option when the main guy craps out - consider what we viewed with the Yankees, Mariners or Rays last year. And chasing after last year's middle relief hero is a dangerous game - keep in mind the high volatility with relievers, players who pitch a modest amount of innings and can go online or offline with the slightest change to skill set or environment. The goal is to find this year's surprise middle-relief stud, not to chase after last year's guy.
Always bet on skills over roles
Generally speaking I view this as good advice, but there are times when it doesn't apply - notably, in the speed and saves chase. If a baseball club is willing to overlook a rabbit's lack of batting skill and defensive value simply because he's a terror on the bases, we have to pay attention. And the saves carnival is often about handicapping the managerial tendencies over anything else - if you accept the idea that most major league pitchers could be a bona-fide closer if shoehorned into that role. (Skippers are under no obligation to use their best reliever in the ninth inning; heck, it can be argued that a team would be better off not using its best reliever in the handshake role. That's a debate for another day.)
Bottom line, there's a low barrier of entry to the specialist positions in fantasy baseball, and we need to treat those players differently. It's not a complete break from the basic concept, just an occasional exception to the rule.