I’m going to cover some basics today. Since friend of TTO, Tim gave a shout today on his music blast, I imagine I may get some curious visitors who may not be as deep in the fantasy game as some. I don’t want to scare anyone away with talk of BABIP or FIP or prospects from far away lands, so lets look at some basics of fantasy baseball. Maybe a few people who enjoy baseball, but aren’t into fantasy will dig a little primer. Well here it goes.
When constructing fantasy rosters, it’s common for owners to pick players in the draft that compliment one another’s skill sets. The object of this strategy is to fill their rosters will a variety of players, the sum of which should add up to balanced offensive numbers. The classic example is drafting Ichiro and then coming back to draft Adam Dunn. These two players are diametric opposites. Dunn is the reigning god of Three True Outcomes: HR, BB or K. No speed but awesome power. Ichiro swings at and hits everything. He has modest power but steals his share of bases. Dunn the classic cleanup hitter who will drive in runs while hitting in the middle of the order. Ichiro bats lead-off, there-by getting the most plate appearances in the Mariners lineup. Batting first, he’ll score many more runs than he will drive in. Simple enough. I like to play in a league that counts On Base Percentage. This places even more value on a guy like Dunn. He may only be a career .249 life time hitter for average, but because he walks to much he gets on base at an astounding .384 OBP. Ichiro on the other hand, carries a lifetime .332 Batting Average, but his free swinging amounts to only a .377 OBP – less then Dunn’s.
Going down my roster, I have some similar analogies in my lineup. Free swinging Giant, Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, who I like to call “Fat Ichiro.” Of course he has more power then Original Recipe Ichiro, but being a big boy, won’t steal too many bags. He’s a free swinger in the Vlad Guerrero (post-Montreal) mold. Nick Swisher is like Dunn-lite. Good pop, K’s a ton and will take a lot of walks. These sorts of player pairings allow the varied player-types to fill holes in your production, so that you don’t find yourself ahead a lot in one category and failing miserably in others. Some owners will intentionally gear their teams towards extremes, in an attempt to overwhelm the opposition in one category, while “punting” others. I don’t feel punting offensive categories is a viable strategy in mixed team leagues, 12 teams or shallower, but could be used advantageously in larger leagues where you’ll be rostering many more replacement level players (or worse). I’m going to stick with 12 team or fewer strategies here for simplicities sake.
Now lets apply this idea towards our pitching staff. When selecting pitchers, I like to use the same principle that I apply to building my offense. In my experience, it seems the balance principle is not as regularly followed for pitching as it is for hitting. I frequently face teams who are heavy on strike-outs but will have inflated ratios (ERA and WHIP) and vice-versa. Of course your ace starting pitchers should produce across four categories (in a standard 5×5 game), much like many of the heavy hitters who will be drafted early on. When we go a little deeper down the line though, you’ll have to make choices between pitchers who’s skills will translate into production in one category, but perhaps a deficiency in another. Many of those high strikeout, power pitchers that you’ll find available later on in a draft will walk a lot of people. That’s sort of how it goes in baseball. Guys who throw gas, Yankee’s A.J. Burnett for example, tend to give up a higher than average amount of walks. Of course there are always exceptions, but I’ll use A.J. to describe a certain type of pitcher.
Last year A.J. sent 8.48 batters per nine down on strikes, while giving 4.22 batters per nine free passes. Both of those numbers are well above the league averages of 6.99 K/9 and 3.46 BB/9. I know from viewing that A.J. is “effectively wild.” He’s a guy who’s pitches have such great movement, that they’ll often end up outside the strike-zone. When A.J. is on, his ball breaks late, making batters swing at a ball that suddenly moves. A patient hitter can exploit his lapses in command and draw a walk, while more aggressive hitters are more likely to go down flailing. So Burnett K’s a lot of guys and BB’s a lot of guys. Along the way he finished with around league average ratios of 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP (BB + Hits/9). One knows from watching him, he can be dynamite some days or a disaster on others.
In Bizarro World, White Sox lefty, Mark Buerhle is A.J.’s opposite. In fact A.J.’s thin and clean shaven, while Buerhle’s a big guy with a beard. See, just like that Star Trek episode! I’ve already raved about Buerhle here before but I’ll do it again since he’s pitching today and I need a big win tonight. The dependable Buerhle is a control freak, who doesn’t strike many guys out (4.43 K/9 1.90 BB/9 in ’09). If A.J.’s that fast sports car that’s fun to drive, but will sometimes break down and cost you a lot of money, Buerhle’s a Honda Accord. Nothing flashy but easy to drive and he’ll be on the road a long time. So long in fact that Mark Buerhle’s pitched more innings than anyone since 2001. Admittedly, a fact like that doesn’t mean much more than the guy’s dependable and not terrible, but we like dependable and not terrible. Buerhle strikes out far fewer batters than the league average pitcher, so he’s going to hurt us a bit there. His ERA and WHIP however are pretty damn good for a guy you’ll find hanging around hours into your draft, waiting to get picked: 3.84 ERA and 1.25 WHIP last year. Now if you take the two of these guys and squish them together, you get a sort of super-pitcher, like “The Thing With Two Heads,” except they’re both white! What you get is a nice balance and balance wins.
Hopefully that balance will pay off tonight, as Buerhle tries to shut down the woeful Indians again. I need a well pitched game tonight from the lefty, since the highly volatile Carlos Zambrano, blew up my ERA and WHIP yesterday with another less than satisfactory performance. I’ll give him a Mulligan since the wind was blowing out at Wrigley yesterday but Big Z better get his act together or he’ll be riding the fantasy pine!
So to sum it up: When you’re building a better fantasy team, select players who’s numbers work together in tandem and you’ll get the most out of your picks. Don’t get too caught up in balance that you over-look serious bargains you might find, just keep it in mind. I’ve found a pleasant by-product of this plan is that you’ll often end up with some players who might be seriously under-valued by other owners but compliment your squad perfectly.
Because I can’t help myself…