Fantasy mailbag: Pitching sleepers, mock draft tips, save Dumping

Tim Dierkes writes a daily fantasy baseball blog called RotoAuthority. If you enjoy this column, check it out.

Feel free to submit mailbag questions here. Please note that I cannot answer questions specific to your fantasy team—these mailbags will focus on questions of interest to many fantasy leaguers. Let’s get to it!

As me and mine are in the process of cobbling together a new 5×5 cumulative roto league, the question I would like to put to you is this: why use just home runs and not OPS? A brief survey of the rules for “expert leagues” reflects the use of home runs, too, but it’s still nagging at me. To my mind and for my money, literally, I would rather have another rate statistic for the offensive players besides the suspect batting average, one which accounts for more baseball events than just a home run and, arguably, confers more value on more players. – Anonymous

Rather than answer this question specifically, I’ll just give my opinion on what categories I like to use in fantasy leagues. I am a strong proponent of the standard 5×5: batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs, steals, ERA, WHIP, wins, strikeouts, and saves. Do they perfectly represent the stats a GM should look at when assembling a real baseball team? Of course not. But I play fantasy baseball because it’s a fun, competitive game, not because I want to prove I’m the next Billy Beane. I fully understand VORP, OPS, strikeout-to-walk ratio, you name it. To me these stats aren’t to be used for fantasy baseball; they take some of the fun out of it. If your goal is really to approximate the real game, you’ll get so deep in advanced fielding metrics that none of your friends will want to be in your league.

A good analogy for fantasy baseball is Monopoly. Monopoly wouldn’t be improved by making it more realistic. It kind of approximates buying property, but doesn’t overdo it. I don’t want my fantasy league to be realistic; I want it to be fun. There’s a lot of skill needed to win a standard 5×5, and the fluke stats like batting average are a challenge. You can get buried in advanced stats all you want just trying to predict a guy’s ERA.

Who do you think are the starting pitchers that no one is really predicting for breakouts that could conceivably make the leap? – Patrick

To do this exercise I’m going to look at mixed league pitchers I have projected at $5 or less.

- I have Zack Greinke posting a 4.32 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 175 innings. Could he do 3.90/1.25 in 190 innings? Definitely.
- Ervin Santana is a youngster who could bounce back big-time. He did win 16 games in ’06.
- I’m still not quite ready to give up on Anthony Reyes. He could still provide 175 innings of low 4.00 ERA ball.
- Daniel Cabrera had a very poor 2007, but he did make 34 starts. He’s not yet 27, and his $3 million salary could prompt the Orioles to trade him. If he lands in the NL with the right pitching coach, who knows?
- Micah Owings, Jason Bergmann, Manny Parra, Randy Wolf, Jason Hirsh, Jair Jurrjens, and Paul Maholm could surprise some people.

Got tips for how to utilize the hidden data in mock drafts in prepping for the real deal? – Eric

Be sure to use it as a guide but don’t handcuff yourself to it. I make this mistake sometimes. I pass on Corey Hart in the fifth round because mock drafts show him being taken in the sixth or seventh. So what? Mock draft data averages tons of drafts, picks in your league will fluctuate wildly from it. Don’t miss out on your guys for fear of picking someone a round or two early. Still use it as a general guide—if Kelly Johnson is going in the 17th round don’t take him in the seventh.

It’s probably better to use mock draft data to determine who is significantly overrated in the public eye.

What are your thoughts on dumping the save stat all together? – Matt

It’s too risky to possibly throw away your entire fantasy season on a questionable strategy. If you punt a category, you need to rock in the others. It reduces your margin for error. One miscalculation or season-ending injury, you’re toast. At least in a mixed league you can wait past the 10th round to take a closer. In that case I’d grab two decent guys and speculate on a third toward the very end. But remember in an AL-only league, there are only 14 guys with closer jobs. You need at least one reliable closer.

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