In last week’s column, I wrote about some methods to simplify your draft by shrinking the draft pool. This week, I will identify additional methods for shrinking the pool and look at some players to target. Initially, we will look at injured players. Then, I will focus on skills and opportunities and how to find one or the other when you cannot find both in a player.
Many players make the mistake of ignoring or forgetting about players who are injured and will miss significant time (or perhaps the entire year). This tactic works best if you can place these players in a DL slot and acquire another player for the open spot on your roster. It is also less risky in a keeper league than a redraft league.
For those players who will be back in the middle or end of this year, they are similar to making a trade later in the year. The hope is these players come back and give you an extra push towards your title. Moreover, as you get closer to the end of your draft, you do not want to get stuck with a player who might hurt you. If you have limited transactions, adding a DL player ensures you won’t get hurt. Furthermore, you have extended your draft into the regular season and now have extra time to find that undrafted gem or pick up this year’s version of 2006 Chris Shelton.
A few names to consider (there are more names than these and there will be more in spring training):
You can use the MLB site to track injuries (though it does not allow for sorting) to identify specific targets. CBS Sports also has a listing and their commissioner tool offers a way to sort through the position, status and type.
Before we leave the subject of injuries, let’s review pitchers’ injuries. In general, pitchers are more susceptible to injuries. The act of throwing a baseball is not a normal use of one’s arm. It’s puts stress and strain unlike few other movements.
However, not all injuries are created equally. In general, I will shy away from a pitcher who has (or had) a shoulder injury. I am less concerned with pitchers who have (or had) elbow injuries. The advent of Tommy John surgery has made recovery from elbow injuries almost routine. The rehabilitation from the surgery will generally yield a return of velocity initially. Then, as the recovery progresses command and control will follow with the fastball recovering first and then secondary pitches. Therefore, players recovering from Tommy John surgery will usually be WHIP risks in the first few months back from the injury.
There is no comparable surgery for shoulder injuries. And players have a greater chance of failing to recover from shoulder injuries or taking years to recover. We’ve seen examples in the last few years of Chien-Ming Wang, Dustin McGowan and Johan Santana. Last year, I stayed far away from Josh Johnson even though he hadn’t been diagnosed with a specific injury only that he’d had shoulder issues. This year, I’ll be staying away from Shaun Marcum and Jacob Turner as they’ve both noted some shoulder issues already in spring training.
Skills and opportunity
A stud fantasy player is born at the nexus of skills and opportunity. If a player has the skill to steal bases and the skill to get on base often and is given the green light to steal, you have a stolen base king. However, not every player has both skills and opportunity. And, as the draft reaches the later rounds, you will need to identify players who have one or the other.
How does opportunity manifest itself? Two of the simplest ways to identify opportunity are via depth charts and projected batting orders. Each gives us different information about a player’s potential opportunity. My favorite site for depth charts is MLB Depth Charts. They provide team by team charts (and some extras for a small price if you so choose). By knowing who will be on the 25-man roster you get a head start on those late round picks.
Beyond depth charts, you’d like to know where a player bats in the lineup. A player batting second will likely have more value than that same player in the eighth spot. Spring training lineups can offer some assistance, but can be difficult to track. Again, we’ll turn to MLB Depth Charts which also has projected lineups. USAToday’s Steve Gardner projected AL and NL lineups over the last couple of weeks. Opportunity can lead an average player to post above average counting numbers (runs, steals, etc.). Importantly, the risk of batting average (or any other ratio category) damage increases with additional opportunity for an average player. Next week, we will look at some skills to target.
The Internet is full of websites which purport to have the greatest metric to determine the next break out star. Over time, some of the more mainstream tricks have been disproved or found to be not nearly as prevalent. From the Verducci effect, to the contract year player to the age 27 player, these shortcuts have all be debunked in some way in the last few years.
One of my tactics to identify potential pitchers to target during the draft is to use the Fangraphs website. I use the Advanced tab and sort by ERA minus FIP. FIP is defined here. I generally look for players with at least 0.5 runs difference between the prior year’s ERA and FIP. This year’s data has everyone from the old (Derek Lowe) to the young (Madison Bumgarner). Again, I’ve shrunk my draft preparation pool by now focusing my research on these players. I will perform a deeper look at each of these players to see if I should roster them. The reverse of this sort will show players who might have been lucky last year and could make my avoid list. Again, more research is required as there is no one number which will tell you if a player was lucky last year and therefore due to regress or progress.
In head to head leagues, I like to look at production from the prior season per plate appearance (PA) or per innings pitched (IP). This helps to see who benefited from a lot of opportunity (but may not have above average skills). These players are denoted by high total point values, but low per PA or IP. I can now look into their projected playing time this year and see if they can be expected to reach the prior year’s heights
Players with high per PA or IP totals, but low total points from the previous year may offer a buying opportunity. Perhaps this is a player who only played part of the year due to injury or lack of opportunity. Or, perhaps he was a late season call up who performed well and may develop into a valuable player in the current year.
I will leave you with one final note on targeted research. One of the inefficiencies in fantasy baseball is the use of qualitative data. Most fantasy players are “numbers” people. They believe everything can be quantified and if a number shows them what they want to know, they will believe it. If this were true, there would be no need for human scouts of any sort.
One of my favorite stories involves Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Moore. Much of Matt Moore’s success can be traced to a simple change he made prior to a season. He moved from one side of the mound to the other. It improved the “look” of his pitches and made him the pitcher he is today. According to a recent Baseball America podcast, San Diego prospect Casey Kelly has moved from the right to left side of the mound. Kelly’s stuff has not matched his results during his minor league career. With this move, Kelly could be a great player to target for trade or in a minor league draft as his numbers look below average in the minors.
These different types of research helped me to identify a number of $1 players in my AL-only and NL-only leagues. The successful picks were Jordan Walden (earned $21), Alexi Ogando ($14), Yorvit Torrealba ($7), Cory Luebke ($13) and Chris Heisey ($12). The less than successful choices were Phil Coke (-$4) and Esmil Rogers (-$18). Moreover, these $1 players allowed me to be more aggressive in paying for starting players and also provide a solid base for my set of keepers this year.
Next week we will take a look at skills to value and some more players to target and players to avoid for your draft.