Splitsville: Law of Averages

Matt Buser
Yahoo! SportsFebruary 22, 2008

You may or may not remember my Law of Averages column from last season. I presented it in the hopes of shedding light on some underrated info (average production per roster position) and some hard-to-find info (average roto stats and points from Yahoo! leagues) that I thought could be very useful on draft day. This season, I've expanded on both parts to the extent that they each are getting their own column. In this first installment, I'll break down the numbers by position from the past two seasons and talk about players who you can expect to exceed, meet, or fall below the numbers of their positional peers. In the second installment (coming soon), I'll take a deeper look at the standings from standard Yahoo! roto leagues last season. We'll break down the numbers (from more than just the category and league winners) and discuss strategies that will help you set and meet draft-day goals, with the ultimate goal being your league's championship.

Note: Note: For all positions, 2006 statistics were compiled using players sorted by "Rank" based on the "2006 Season (total)" qualifier, but with their 2007 positional eligibility; 2007 statistics were compiled based on the "2007 Season (total)" qualifier, but with their 2008 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.

Catcher – 2006 64.1 15.3 71.7 3.4 .301 238.1
Catcher – 2007 56.3 14.6 70.1 2.8 .279 459.5

The first thing that stands out is the significant drop in AVG and, subsequently, Rank. These numbers can be directly attributed to Joe Mauer and Brian McCann – in 2006 they combined to hit .341 in 963 AB, but that fell to .280 in 910 AB in 2007 (they also dropped a combined 34 R, 12 HR, 25 RBI, and 3 SB, and their average ranks went from 72.5 to 278.5). Jorge Posada's career season and Russell Martin's breakout were not enough to make up the difference – the position fell from first overall in AVG to second-to-last. What does it all mean? It means that Mauer and McCann had ridiculously good seasons in 2006, and that how well the top-tier players perform has a sizeable effect on how far below average the team with the eighth- or 10th- or 12th-ranked C is getting in terms of production. You don't necessarily have to reach for one of the elite C, but don't plan on taking a mulligan at the position either, and a gamble on a young player with upside makes sense over a veteran who has proven himself to be mediocre at best.

Standouts: Victor Martinez has four-year averages of 78 R, 21 HR, 99 RBI, a .302 average, and an overlooked 550 AB. Russell Martin's five-category line could push him past V-Mart for position supremacy. Mauer, McCann and Posada are wild cards. Mauer could challenge for another batting title, but his fantasy impact is directly tied to his games played total. What will McCann do versus RHP this season, after .351/.398/.603 in 2006 and .273/.332/.448 in 2007? And can anyone reasonably expect Posada, a career .277 hitter, to even approach last season's career-best .338?

Joe Averages: It doesn't get much more average than Kenji Johjima, with two-year averages of 57 R, 16 HR, 69 RBI, and a .289 average. Here lies a muddled group of crusty vets that includes Ivan Rodriguez, A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Varitek, and Bengie Molina. Ramon Hernandez has struggled to stay healthy, but he's averaged 19 HR per 140 games over the past five seasons.

Youngbloods: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Geovany Soto, and J.R. Towles are youngsters who offer more upside than all but the elite choices. Salt is too popular to be considered a sleeper, despite the chance that he could begin the season in Triple-A – just 22 years old, he hit 11 HR in 308 AB as a rookie in 2006. Soto hit .358/.425/.654 with a combined 29 HR and 117 RBI in 439 AB between Triple-A and the majors in 2006, but his career minor league line stands at a more modest .279/.359/.426 in 1,959 AB. Towles hit .300/.390/.470 in 907 minors AB, but with just 83 above Double-A – he'll give up playing time to Brad Ausmus even as the expected starter for the Astros.

Sub-standards: Most of the lower-tier options at the position are going to be a drag at least somewhere, more than likely on team AVG, so just be careful that you don't end up playing someone who is a net loss in terms of fantasy impact.

1B – 2006 94.2 32.8 107 2.8 .294 67.1
1B – 2007 88.5 29.2 102 2.6 .289 76.7

There's not a lot of mystery when it comes to what most fantasy owners want from their 1B – a big bopper, and everything else is gravy. The position was tops in HR and RBI, middle of the pack in terms of R and AVG, and last in SB in consecutive seasons – the surplus run production also led to the 2nd-best average Rank (after OF1 on both occasions).

Standouts: Concerns about Albert Pujols' elbow and the St. Louis lineup have taken some shine off of his rep, but it's certainly not a matter of any decline in skills. Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard both figure to hit around 50 HR again this season, and both anchor high-scoring lineups. David Ortiz finished at the top of the position and No.8 overall in season Rank in 2007. Mark Teixeira (2005), Lance Berkman (2006), Justin Morneau (2006), Travis Hafner (2006), Derrek Lee (2005), and Garrett Atkins (2006) all have elite seasons on their recent resumes.

Joe Averages: Being average at this position doesn't exactly mean you are a slouch. Victor Martinez and Carlos Guillen have significantly more value in their "other" positions, but their numbers play just about anywhere. Carlos Pena is a massive risk/reward pick – he hit 46 HR in 148 G last season, but his track record isn't exactly stellar. Adrian Gonzalez's park holds back his production, while Nick Swisher's new digs could mean a boost in power numbers. Paul Konerko, Todd Helton, and Carlos Delgado are on the downside of distinguished careers.

Youngbloods: James Loney is a very good hitter – he put together a .332/.385/.508 line in 1,045 AB between Triple-A and the bigs over the past two seasons – but does not project to have a high power ceiling. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, like V-Mart, should be in the C slot, but he's not a terrible choice as a 1B2. Alex Gordon is a sleeper thanks to a down 2007 overall – he's just 24 years old and hit .274 with 12 HR and 10 SB in 102 games after June 1. Ryan Garko is a good young player, but he'll lose AB to both Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner over the course of the season. Casey Kotchman struggles to stay healthy, but he can hit. Joey Votto is ready to take over in Cincy, but Scott Hatteberg looms. Daric Barton and Billy Butler are already on rosters in keeper/dynasty leagues.

Sub-standards: Chris Duncan has struggled with injury and inconsistency, but he stands out as a serious sleeper – he hit .287 with 36 HR in 457 AB between 8/1/06 and 8/1/07. Richie Sexson will remain a detriment to fantasy teams overall if he can't get his AVG back above .260. Kevin Youkilis, Casey Blake, Ty Wigginton, Mark Teahen, and Aubrey Huff are nice multi-position bench players but not productive enough to count on every day in standard leagues. Injuries may prevent Nick Johnson from ever being a consistent contributor.

2B – 2006 81 15 68.2 14 .293 168.7
2B – 2007 89.2 15.2 70.2 14.2 .296 124.4

No position saw a higher positive change in Rank than 2B – after having just two players place in the top 75 in 2006 (Chase Utley, Dan Uggla), six made the cut in 2007 (Brandon Phillips, Utley, Brian Roberts, B.J. Upton, Robinson Cano, and Placido Polanco). While it's seemingly top-heavy, there is no shortage of talent for fantasy owners.

Standouts: Utley's per-150 G averages for the past three seasons include 112 R, 28 HR, 106 RBI, and 14 SB to go with a .310 AVG. Phillips was always thought to possess massive potential – in 2007, he realized it to the tune of 30 HR and 32 SB in 158 G. Roberts has three-year averages of 93 R, 13 HR, 62 RBI, and 38 SB, along with a .296 average. Upton is the consensus "next big thing" at the position after hitting .300 with 24 HR and 22 SB in 129 G last season. Chone Figgins is a big help in SB and AVG, while Cano has serious run-producing potential in the Yankees lineup. Ian Kinsler, on his plus-combination of HR/SB, and Howie Kendrick, with his career .359/.402/.567 minor league line, appear poised to take big steps this season.

Joe Averages: Rickie Weeks has as much talent as anyone, but he's been trapped in a vicious cycle of injury and inconsistency. Uggla led 2B in HR (31) last season, but he doesn't figure to improve much on what is now a career .268 average. Dustin Pedroia and Placido Polanco make up for sub-par power and speed with AVG and favorable lineup situations. Kelly Johnson, Orlando Hudson, Aaron Hill, Mark Ellis, Freddy Sanchez, and Ty Wigginton are reasonable options if you need to dig a bit deeper. Jeff Kent (.302/20 HR in 2006) has to completely break down at some point, right? Kazuo Matsui, Felipe Lopez, Ryan Theriot, and Luis Castillo can get you steals, but not much else, late.

Youngbloods: Yunel Escobar hit .328/.383/.453 in 499 AB between Triple-A and Atlanta last season, with 7 HR and 12 SB. He's got a chance to do some things at or near the top of the Braves' lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera's line with the Indians late last season (.283/.354/.421 in 159 AB) was right in line with his career minors numbers (.284/.348/.416 in 1,475 AB), and he's shaping up to be a poor man's Pedroia. Jayson Nix could start for the Rockies, but his minor league track record is spotty (.256/.342/.399 in 2,956 AB) and he doesn't figure to be an immediate success.

Sub-standards: Brendan Harris, Jose Vidro, Mark DeRosa, and Jose Lopez only make sense in the deepest of leagues. It's doubtful that the move to PETCO Park will help Tadahito Iguchi return from fantasy irrelevance. Ray Durham's numbers fell as much as anyone's in baseball last season, and he's waiver material at age 36 until he proves otherwise.

SS – 2006 95.9 15.7 71.6 22.3 .298 113.9
SS – 2007 90.2 15.2 73.2 19.1 .289 141.8

The SS position saw its average numbers fall overall, thanks to drop-offs in production from 2006 for Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Furcal, Troy Glaus, and Bill Hall. SS ranked second in SB and R but near the bottom, as you might expect, in HR and RBI.

Standouts: The big three at SS is comprised of Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins – their combined two-year averages are 125 R, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 54 SB, and a .296 AVG. Ramirez and Rollins have the edge in power, but Reyes is a near-lock to lead the league in SB for the third consecutive season. Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Guillen form another terrific trio. Jeter's numbers fell after his phenomenal 2006 season, but he's still a great option at age 33; Tulowitzki hit .297/.361/.524 with 76 R, 22 HR, and 77 RBI in 105 G after June 1 last season; and Guillen doesn't figure to venture too far from his two-year averages of 93 R, 20 HR, 94 RBI, 17 SB, and a .308 average.

Joe Averages: Rafael Furcal, Miguel Tejada, and Michael Young all have the ability to rejoin the standouts at the position. Furcal was slowed by an ankle injury for much of 2007, but is healthy and looking to rebound; Tejada has to play with the specter of PEDs hanging over his head and a possible federal investigation into whether or not he lied about their use; Young's HR totals have tapered off but he remains an anchor for AVG and consistent R/RBI in the Rangers' lineup. Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera are money in the bank, and they've both joined high-powered offenses. J.J. Hardy, Jhonny Peralta, and Khalil Greene are above average run producers but offer few SB and questionable AVG.

Youngbloods: Yunel Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera (see 2B Youngbloods above).

Sub-standards: Stephen Drew was horrific (.238/.325/.411) in 2006, but his career .315/.385/.546 minor league line suggests he's a better hitter than that. Felipe Lopez, Julio Lugo, Ryan Theriot, and Jason Bartlett are options for cheap SB when all else fails. Yuniesky Betancourt, Brendan Harris, Jack Wilson, and Alex Gonzalez are the dregs of the everyday players.

3B – 2006 93.6 23.7 93.6 9.3 .291 92.4
3B – 2007 83.4 22.6 90.2 8.8 .298 125.2

The two-year numbers at 3B jumped around a bit, but it all shook out with the position coming in around the middle in just about every stat. You can't pigeon-hole what kind of production you'll get here – it's a mixed bag of players who bring different things to the table, and question marks abound once you get more than 12 or 14 deep.

Standouts: Alex Rodriguez is coming off of one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory and should be drafted first overall in every league except those that are skewed towards close and late situations with a man on second base and two outs with his team either tied or behind by one run in extra innings of a game with potential playoff implications. David Wright was one of three 30/30 players last season, hit .325, and is only now entering his prime. Miguel Cabrera's numbers only figure to improve in Detroit, and Ryan Braun's full-season potential is downright scary. Aramis Ramirez, Garrett Atkins, and Chipper Jones are a step down from the top options, but all figure to produce very solid lines. Chone Figgins has elite speed at the position, but lacks run production.

Joe Averages: Ryan Zimmerman is a popular candidate to break out, but he's flashed more gap power than HR power in his first two seasons. Adrian Beltre has settled in as the poster-boy for average production at the position. Mike Lowell batted a career-high .324 in 2007 and set a personal mark with 120 RBI, but he's bound to regress a bit in both areas.

Youngbloods: Alex Gordon is a sleeper thanks to a down 2007 overall – he's just 24 years old and hit .274 with 12 HR and 10 SB in 102 games after June 1. Josh Fields hit .258/.340/.486 with 33 HR in 578 AB between Triple-A and the majors in 2006, but he'll compete with Joe Crede for a starting gig. Evan Longoria is on the fast track to the bigs, but the chance remains that the 22-year-old will begin the season in Triple-A. He has a .304/.398/.546 line in 733 minors AB. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit .303/.355/.504 in his final 124 G last season, with 56 R, 17 HR, and 70 RBI.

Sub-standards: Kevin Youkilis, Edwin Encarnacion, Casey Blake, Ty Wigginton, and Aubrey Huff shouldn't be counted on for enough production in standard leagues. Troy Glaus, Hank Blalock, Scott Rolen, and Eric Chavez all figure to miss time to injury this coming season, and only Glaus offers significant fantasy impact with a clean bill of health. Akinori Iwamura will have some value at 2B once he makes enough starts to qualify there.

OF1 – 2006 103.7 31.2 102.9 17.8 .299 30.3
OF1 – 2007 102.9 25.7 97.5 20.5 .303 29.5

For the second consecutive season, OF1 finished first or second in every stat category and was easily first overall in Rank. It's a position full of four- and five-category contributors, and all 20 players who fell into OF1 in 2007 finished in the top 60 in overall Rank.

Rundown: Matt Holliday improved in all five standard categories last season, and his prodigious season included a .340 AVG, 120 R, 36 HR, 137 RBI, and 11 SB. The specifics have been all over the map, but Alfonso Soriano has averaged 106 R, 37 HR, 92 RBI, and 31 SB over the past six seasons, while hitting .286. Carl Crawford's HR total dipped to 11 last season, but his AVG increased for the fifth consecutive season and he topped 50 SB for the fourth time in five seasons. Grady Sizemore, Carlos Beltran, B.J. Upton, and Curtis Granderson are among the most tantalizing power/speed combos the game has to offer. Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Manny Ramirez, and Adam Dunn are run producers extraordinaire. Ichiro Suzuki single-handedly carries a team AVG and significantly helps R and SB totals. Chone Figgins and Eric Byrnes are other premier speed threats. Alex Rios, Bobby Abreu, Hunter Pence, and Nick Markakis are five-category contributors. It's unlikely that Magglio Ordonez hits .363 again, but he'll have another fine season in the powerful Tigers lineup.

OF2 – 2006 83.7 21.1 79.1 16 .277 127.2
OF2 – 2007 82.6 19.2 81.6 15.3 .282 109.9

OF2 was once again just a less productive version of OF1. It's where the less-than-elite players fall in, and AVG takes a fairly significant hit overall, but it includes plus-contributors in all five categories.

Rundown: Torii Hunter, Gary Sheffield, Brad Hawpe, Hideki Matsui, Nick Swisher, and Jeff Francoeur are solid choices for run production. Vernon Wells, Jason Bay, Andruw Jones, Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon are veterans looking to rebound from poor 2007 seasons. Chris Young, Corey Hart, Delmon Young, and Matt Kemp are young players that offer the proverbial power/speed upside. Shane Victorino, Juan Pierre, and Jacoby Ellsbury are the speed merchants, and Kosuke Fukudome hit .330 and averaged 28 HR and 11 SB for every 500 AB during his final three seasons in Japan.

OF3 – 2006 73.9 15 66.4 9.4 .282 221.2
OF3 – 2007 74 16.2 70.2 7.8 .269 213.3

OF3 contains many players who won't play every day for fantasy owners in standard leagues – they are part-timers who get a shot during a hot streak or pickups for owners looking for specific category contributions. Just as we did last year, let's forego the usual rundown and look at players who have the potential to rise above OF3 purgatory.

Raul Ibanez, Ken Griffey Jr., Pat Burrell, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham, Bill Hall, Casey Blake, and Jose Guillen have above-average run-producing ability at this stage. There is a sizeable crop of young players worthy of consideration – it includes Josh Fields, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, Colby Rasmus, Jay Bruce, Michael Bourn, Joey Votto, Nate McLouth, Andre Ethier, Adam Jones, Billy Butler, Cameron Maybin, and Lastings Milledge. Take a chance one of them before settling on a veteran with little chance to overachieve. Willy Taveras, Rocco Baldelli, Michael Bourn, Rick Ankiel, Mark Teahen, Chris Duncan, Jack Cust, Wily Mo Pena, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Kubel represent a mixed bag of players that should be on the fantasy radar.

SP1 – 2006 15.2 0.1 184.5 3.2 1.15 213.2 38.5
SP1 – 2007 16.8 0 199.4 3.15 1.15 215.1 37.3
SP2 – 2006 12.1 0 164.1 3.69 1.21 188.2 81.6
SP2 – 2007 14 0 176.7 3.56 1.22 198.2 92.6
SP3 – 2006 14.3 0.1 147.6 3.93 1.28 196 115.3
SP3 – 2007 13.2 1.8 136.9 3.77 1.27 179 143.6
SP4 – 2006 12.9 0 131.7 4.09 1.28 178.1 147.6
SP4 – 2007 10.4 0.1 137.8 3.88 1.28 181.1 190.6
SP5 – 2006 12.6 0 141.3 4.32 1.33 178.2 182.5
SP5 – 2007 9.3 0.2 102.4 3.88 1.32 141.1 245

You may notice something strange about the Rank columns – SP2 improved in nearly every statistical category, for instance, but dropped in Rank. It's because we adjusted our ranking algorithms for baseball prior to the 2007 season, and our previous ranking method had overvalued pitching. For that reason, pay more attention to the stats than the Ranks.

SP1 saw improvements across the board – simply put, more pitchers had big-time seasons. As was the case in 2006, you can't be too far below average in any one category unless you are that much better than average in a few others. As an example, Erik Bedard's 13 W were relative low, but his 221 K and 1.09 WHIP more than made up the difference.

SP2 is where you'll find pitchers who are deficient enough in one or two categories that they just don't stack up to the elite performers. Chris Young only had 9 W to go with a 3.12 ERA and 1.10 WHIP; Kelvim Escobar won 18 games and had a 3.40 ERA, but his 1.27 WHIP and 160 K weren't among the league's best; even Scott Kazmir's 239 K didn't overcome just 13 W and a 1.38 WHIP.

SP3 was the next step down – ratios suffered even more and strikeout totals took a big hit (Brett Myers' multi-eligibility is somewhat to blame there). For the second consecutive season, "win specialist" Chien-Ming Wang fell into this group. Partial, but effective, seasons from Chad Billingsley, Orlando Hernandez, and Ben Sheets were in this group, as well.

SP4 and SP5 is where you see plus-contributions in just one or two categories, or SP with good and bad stats working against each other. Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP4) had 15 W and 201 K, but his 4.40 ERA and 1.32 negated much of his positive impact. Jeremy Guthrie had just 7 W and 123 K, but his 3.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP were solid relative to his SP4 peers. Shawn Hill had only 4 W in 97.1 IP, but his 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP were good enough to make the SP5 cut. Jeff Francis was a poor man's Dice-K, with the good (17 W, 165 K) and the bad (4.22 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) putting him squarely in SP5 territory.

RP1 – 2006 4.7 33.6 87 2.08 0.97 76.1 60.1
RP1 – 2007 3.4 32.6 77 2.13 0.95 69.1 67.8
RP2 – 2006 5.1 21.3 73.5 2.92 1.21 74.2 135.8
RP2 – 2007 4.3 16.1 70 2.45 1.04 71 110
RP3 – 2006 5.4 10.8 70.5 3.26 1.23 86 185.5
RP3 – 2007 4.1 12.6 75.9 2.99 1.16 80.2 146.4
RP4 – 2006 4.4 5.7 67.8 3.38 1.21 71.1 219.4
RP4 – 2007 5.7 9.6 76.9 3.63 1.21 90 178.4

RP tiers work out in much the same way that SP does. RP1 has your stud closers with near flawless lines and the truly elite MR – Rafael Betancourt and Heath Bell made the cut thanks to high K/9 rates, ERAs around 2.00, and sub-1.00 WHIPs. RP2 has the full-time closers who either didn't have sparkling ratios (like Mariano Rivera) or had low K totals (Trevor Hoffman). It also includes the best and brightest save vultures (Joaquin Benoit) and the second tier of MR contributors (Russ Springer). RP3 starts to get into the closers with average ratios (Kevin Gregg) and further down the MR list in terms of fantasy impact (Pat Neshek). RP4 is for closers who only contribute saves (Joe Borowski), and is where you'll find a host of reasonable choices at MR (Lee Gardner). I say it multiple times every year, but you shouldn't underestimate the positive impact that a MR can have on your fantasy team, particularly when it comes to ratios.