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Splitsville: Law of Averages

Matt Buser
Yahoo Sports

Come draft day, fantasy owners often have a good idea of which players they would like to target (I say often because it's clearly not always the case), and they've arrived at this understanding based on what kinds of stats they think the players will accumulate. They've looked at past performance, potential team and ballpark influences, and the player's age or penchant for injury. Obviously, that is a rudimentary assessment. The reason for that rehashing: I want to get a bit past those fundamental concepts and examine two often overlooked areas of draft-day preparation. They are the average stats that it takes to win league categories, and the average production of each roster position. The former is not something that is readily available to the average fantasy player – it is, however, available to me, and I thought I would pass it on, along with some commentary. The latter is useful in establishing which players will give you an advantage or disadvantage relative to the contributions of other players at their position.

In 2006, the average winner of a public rotisserie league with default settings in the Yahoo! game finished with 95.7 points in the standings. That's 9.57 points per category – a very strong showing. The following is the average stat total for each category winner, again taken from default public roto leagues from the 2006 season.

R HR RBI SB AVG W SV K ERA WHIP
858 232 833 125 .290 79 111 1,031 3.80 126

Bear with me here: for a complete sweep, you would have needed a 162-game average of 95 R, 26 HR, 93 RBI, and 14 SB, with a .290 AVG from your nine active offensive positions. On the pitching side, we'll assume you carry five starters and four relievers en route to 1250 innings; you would need averages of 14 W and 157 K from your starters, and 2-plus W, 28 SV, and 62 K, on average, from your relievers, while maintaining the 3.80 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Those are lofty numbers, and it's ludicrous to set up a complete category sweep as your main objective entering the season. But, of course, winning your league is the main objective – so, keeping those average league winners stats and per-player averages in mind, now let's turn our attention to per-position production from the 2006 season.

Note: For all positions, statistics were compiled using players sorted by "Rank" based on the "2006 Season (total)" qualifier, but with their 2007 positional eligibility. For catchers, the top 15 players were used; for the infield positions and OF1, the top 20 players were used; for OF2, players 21-40; and for OF3, players 41-60.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
C 64.1 15.3 71.7 3.4 0.301 238.1

The one thing that jumps out is that .301 average, the highest at any position. The big three of Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and Victor Martinez buoy all the numbers, including average, but it's not a position devoid of guys who can hit.

Standouts: Mauer, McCann, and V-Mart are truly the class of the position. Michael Barrett could move into the upper echelon with enough at-bats. Russell Martin could emerge as a true five-category contributor. Jorge Posada, Ramon Hernandez, Mike Piazza, and David Ross provide above-average power. Jason Kendall and Paul Lo Duca hit near the top of the order and produce above-average runs totals, and Kendall will also steal a few bags.

Average Joes: Kenji Johjima is a reliable option but lacks much upside. Ivan Rodriguez is still viable, but no longer is a top option. Johnny Estrada and A.J. Pierzynski are decent fall-backs if you don't take a catcher until late. Jason Varitek is looking to rebound at age 34.

Sub-standards: Look elsewhere for power if you draft Kendall or Lo Duca. Ross' power potential is shackled to a poor average.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
1B 94.2 32.8 107 2.8 0.294 67.1

First base is where you find your big boppers, as the home run and runs batted in totals lead all positions, and 2.8 steals was the lowest at any position.

Standouts: Albert Pujols is the best and most reliable fantasy option known to man. Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, and Lance Berkman are three of the most prolific power hitters in the game. Mark Teixeira went for .282/33/110 in 2006 and it was considered a disappointment. Justin Morneau not only erupted for 34 home runs, but hit .321. Derrek Lee's injury-plagued 2006 campaign was preceded by .335/46/107/15 steals.

Average Joes: Paul Konerko, Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield, and Prince Fielder all will come in around the position average for most numbers. Adam LaRoche, Michael Cuddyer, Lyle Overbay, Adrian Gonzalez, Conor Jackson, Nick Johnson, and Ryan Shealy are all part of a respectable group of No.2 first basemen, but there is a drop-off.

Sub-standards: Richie Sexson will hit for power, but his average and runs scored totals leave a bit to be desired. Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher's averages do not help the cause. Nomar Garciaparra lacks the power (and durability) of most players at his position. Kevin Youkilis will score a lot of runs, but needs to improve his other numbers.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
2B 81 15 68.2 14 0.293 168.7

In terms of truly productive players, second base is about as shallow of a position as you will find.

Standouts: Chase Utley is truly in a class of his own at the position – 131 runs, 32 home runs, 102 runs batted in, 15 steals, and a .309 average are that much more impressive when they are stacked up with the positional averages. Dan Uggla, Ray Durham, Ty Wigginton, and Rich Aurilia all provided above-average power at the position last season. Chone Figgins, Brian Roberts, and Ryan Freel are great sources of steals, while Freddy Sanchez and Robinson Cano are boons for team batting averages. If he can stay healthy, life should be good for Julio Lugo atop the Red Sox lineup.

Joe Averages: Rickie Weeks, Josh Barfield, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler, and Chris Burke all form an intriguing group of up-and-comers. Tadahito Iguchi is a great mid-round choice for above-average production. Jeff Kent is looking to rebound at age 39. Marcus Giles and Jorge Cantu are looking to rebound, period.

Sub-standards: Weeks, Kent, and Freel bring injury concerns. Uggla's production came seemingly out of nowhere, so concerns of a regression loom. Figgins needs to hit higher than .267 or he's a one-trick pony. While Sanchez and Cano are brilliant hitters, they won't net you many steals, and Sanchez isn't a home run threat.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
SS 95.9 15.7 71.6 22.3 0.298 113.9

Shortstop is top-heavy with talent and has a bevy of base-stealers. The shortstop position ranked first in steals, was second in runs scored, and was third in batting average.

Standouts: Jose Reyes has joined the game's elite and is a true five-category contributor. Derek Jeter had one of the best seasons of his career at age 32. Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Tejada, Hanley Ramirez, Michael Young, and Rafael Furcal are all excellent options on draft day. Troy Glaus (38 home runs) and Bill Hall (35) are the only true sluggers at the position. Felipe Lopez is a top base-stealer (44 steals).

Joe Averages: Carlos Guillen is an excellent option after the top-tier players are off the board. Positional depth makes Julio Lugo and Freddy Sanchez slightly less attractive options here than at second base. Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera are truly average for their position, and Stephen Drew figures to join them this season.

Sub-standards: Jhonny Peralta, Khalil Greene, and Bobby Crosby need to rebound from poor performance and/or injury, but all possess above-average power potential. Draft Tejada, Young, Glaus, or Hall, and you'll need to augment steals elsewhere. Glaus (.252), Hall (.270), Lopez (.274), Rollins (.277) all hit for a low average relative to the position.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
3B 93.6 23.7 93.6 9.3 0.291 92.4

Third base boasts some nice individual talents, but does not come to the forefront in terms of production by the position as a whole in any category.

Standouts: Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, and David Wright are the three benchmarks of the position, but Garrett Atkins and Aramis Ramirez aren't exceptionally far off of the pace. Troy Glaus, Bill Hall, and Joe Crede have above-average power. Chone Figgins, Ryan Freel, and Julio Lugo bring surplus steal totals with their multi-position eligibility, while Freddy Sanchez brings his .344 average.

Joe Averages: Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones were right in line with positional averages in 2006, although the veterans both battled injuries. Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Teahen could take steps forward in 2007 after solid 2006 seasons. Adrian Beltre rode a superb second half to surprisingly solid overall numbers last season. Chad Tracy, Crede, Aubrey Huff, Edwin Encarnacion, and Mike Lowell all are middling for the position, and Akinori Iwamura projects to join this group.

Sub-standards: Eric Chavez, Morgan Ensberg, Hank Blalock, and Melvin Mora all battled injury and/or inconsistency in 2006, and none is a sure bet to rebound – Ensberg does have tremendous power potential. Glaus and Hall are a detriment to batting average no matter where you play them. Figgins, Freel, Lugo, and Sanchez won't carry their weight at this position with just one superlative stat.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
OF1 103.7 31.2 102.9 17.8 0.299 30.3

OF1 ranked first in runs scored and batting average rank, and second in home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, and batting average. This first group of outfielders has some of the most productive players in fantasy baseball and a number of true five-category performers.

Standouts: Alfonso Soriano joined the 40/40 club last season, and has averaged 34 home runs and 35 steals in his six full seasons. Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Lee, Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore, Vernon Wells, Jason Bay, Bobby Abreu, and Johnny Damon all had sparkling overall numbers. Lance Berkman, Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, and Jermaine Dye are big-time sluggers. Ichiro can anchor a team's average and standing in steals single-handedly.

Average Joes: Given the typical output at the position, even the "average" players are elite fantasy options.

Sub-standards: Ichiro, of course, is lacking in power numbers. Berkman, Ramirez, Jones, and Dye won't steal many bases, and Jones' average needs some help. There is concern of a regression for Dye.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
OF2 83.7 21.1 79.1 16 0.277 127.2

OF2, as you might imagine, is a scaled-down version of OF1. You will find some good overall performers, but this is also where a number of category specialists can be found.

Standouts: Magglio Ordonez, Jeff Francouer, Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher, Torii Hunter, Josh Willingham, Aubrey Huff, and J.D. Drew are solid run producers. Adam Dunn is one of the game's best power hitters. Juan Pierre, Chone Figgins, Willy Taveras, and Corey Patterson are top-flight options for steals. Alex Rios, Delmon Young, Nick Markakis, and Carlos Quentin are the up-and-comers.

Average Joes: Mike Cameron's 2006 season – 88 runs scored, 22 home runs, 83 runs batted in, 25 steals, .268 average – was ideal for this collection of players. A healthy Coco Crisp – 86 runs scored, 16 home runs, 69 runs batted in, 15 steals, .300 average in 2005 – is another across-the-board contributor.

Sub-standards: Dunn's batting average fell to a disturbing low (.234) in 2006. Many of the run-producers (Francouer, Ibanez, Drew, Willingham, etc) will net you only a few steals. On the flip-side, Pierre, Figgins, and Taveras' contributions are heavily dependent on stolen base totals. Baldelli and Drew's injury concerns weigh heavily on fantasy owners' minds.

POS R HR RBI SB AVG Rank
OF3 73.9 15 66.4 9.4 0.282 221.2

OF3 is where you'll find fringe fantasy contributors – late-round flyers on draft day, injury fill-ins throughout the season, and players who are added and dropped throughout the season during hot and cold streaks. Since it's tough to break down OF3 as we have the previous positions, let instead take a look at some upside or potential for specific category help:

Jeremy Hermida, Chris Burke, Chris B. Young, and Nelson Cruz are the youngsters worth taking a chance on at this stage. Brad Hawpe, Matt Murton, Chris Duncan, Luke Scott, and Corey Hart will move up the ranks if they play every day. If Jim Edmonds is healthy, he'll hit, but it's the proverbial "big if." Ryan Freel, Scott Podsednik, Chris Duffy, Dave Roberts, and Kenny Lofton are great sources of steals this deep into the player pool. Jacque Jones, Eric Byrnes, Austin Kearns, and Milton Bradley do the most across the board, relative to other players found here. Craig Monroe and Jonny Gomes have solid run-producing potential.

Next, we'll move on to pitchers, which I've broken down a bit differently. Going back to the assumption that, in order to reach 1250 innings pitched, fantasy owners will use five starters (190 innings each) and four relievers (75 innings each). The top 60 starters and top 48 relievers, sorted by "Rank" based on the "2006 Season (total)" qualifier, but with their 2007 positional eligibility, were grouped in sets of 12 to see what kind of production each group gave as you moved further down the ranks. Whether you have precise projections or simply a feel for how you think certain pitchers will perform this season, use the following as a guide as to where they fall in line, relative to the pitchers tiers in fantasy.

POS W SV K ERA WHIP IP Rank
SP1 15.2 0.1 184.5 3.2 1.15 213.2 38.5
SP2 12.1 0 164.1 3.69 1.21 188.2 81.6
SP3 14.3 0.1 147.6 3.93 1.28 196 115.3
SP4 12.9 0 131.7 4.09 1.28 178.1 147.6
SP5 12.6 0 141.3 4.32 1.33 178.2 182.5

Of course, SP1 is where you find your absolute studs. The only way you can be deficient in any one category and remain here is to absolutely excel at most or all of the others. C.C. Sabathia is an example – he had only 12 wins, but his ERA and WHIP contributions were substantial enough to make him a top-tier starter. There was a pretty steep drop-off to SP2, with significant gaps in wins, strikeouts, and ERA.

SP2 had the lowest average for wins overall, and also saw a serious decline in innings pitched – the reasons: players like Chris Young, Jake Peavy, and Jason Schmidt helped keep the average wins down (11 each), while partial (but brilliant) seasons from Jered Weaver (11 wins, 123 innings), Roger Clemens (7, 113.1), and Scott Kazmir (10, 144.2) suppressed both numbers.

SP3 saw an uptick in win and innings averages, while all other numbers declined. Here you'll find pitchers who stayed healthy all season, had reasonable amounts of wins and strikeouts, but whose ERA and/or WHIP were fairly average. A win specialist (for lack of better) like Chien-Ming Wang falls in here, as did players like Brett Myers and Matt Cain – high-volume strikeouts with other numbers that leave a bit to be desired.

SP4 production was affected by shortened seasons from Pedro Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Cole Hamels, and Ben Sheets – on average, however, the gradual worsening of overall performance continued.

SP5 is a mixed bag – high win and/or strikeout totals with poor ERA and WHIP (or vice-versa). The players that fall into this category will either spend some time on waivers over the course of the season or, at the very least, will have some of their starts skipped by fantasy owners.

POS W SV K ERA WHIP IP Rank
RP1 4.7 33.6 87 2.08 0.97 76.1 60.1
RP2 5.1 21.3 73.5 2.92 1.21 74.2 135.8
RP3 5.4 10.8 70.5 3.26 1.23 86 185.5
RP4 4.4 5.7 67.8 3.38 1.21 71.1 219.4

Relievers break down much in the same way that starters do. RP1 is loaded with studs, so much so that any sub-par K/9 is offset by a sparkling ERA and WHIP.

RP2 is where you'll find closers at slightly below rock-solid stud level. It's also where the truly elite non-closers fall in, like Joel Zumaya and Scot Shields – elite middle relievers are a vastly underutilized resource in most fantasy leagues.

RP3 has the closers who are pretty much only good for saves (low strikeouts and/or average ERA/WHIP) and solid relievers who are save vultures, like Dan Wheeler and Fernando Rodney.

RP4 will have the true dregs of the options at closer, along with a collection of save vultures and above-average middle relievers.