Earlier this week, I got engaged to my girlfriend of seven years. So, I feel it’s fitting that I write this week about relationship building. As owners of fantasy teams, we have relationships with players and, as in our real relationships, sometimes we are rewarded for giving our trust and support while other times such investments are unfortunately unrequited.
Also similar to building an interpersonal relationship, it’s important to know what flaws in players are going to be dealbreakers and whether somebody’s distasteful behavior is just an aberrant result of a bad day or a peek into a much deeper deficiency of character. Today, I will look into some truly bleak omens about declining player value as well as signs that may appear to be similar symptoms but are most likely benign.
We know deep down that building healthy relationships, making wise choices about those with whom we surround ourselves, and when to cut ties from a dysfunctional relationship are largely about simple values we all profess to know and abide by, even as we behave in contradiction thereto. So, most of what you will read below is very elementary, and admittedly far beneath our readership here at THT. But … never is the challenge to know these things, and always to practice them when an irrational impulse rears its ugly head.
So, don’t tell me: “Duh, this is Fantasy 101 stuff, I clearly know all this.” You want to render this column a waste of time? Practice, don’t preach. If you do, I’ll be happy to write this off as a waste of virtual ink.
Legitimate red flags
Decreased playing time/emerging platoon situations: When it comes to a player’s ability to produce, playing time is the lowest common denominator and, aside from talent, the most important determinant of whether a player will have value. In deeper AL- or NL-only leagues, virtually all starters have value, so it is important to monitor playing time dynamics and position battles.
Declining playing time as a harbinger of a player’s loss of productivity is often something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. Without regular playing time and consistent ABs, it becomes more difficult for a struggling player to right himself.
Continuance of suspected outlier trends … or not: Flushing’s faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday when David Wright hit an opposite-field homer at Citi Field to begin the Amazin’s season. Alarming results of last season kept the prices down on several players with fairly proven track records. We saw power outages from the likes of David Wright and Aubrey Huff. Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Pena saw their batting averages tumble. Ichiro ran less often than ever, and at the second-lowest success rate of his career. Brian Roberts too saw a double-digit dip in his stolen base total for the second consecutive season. These are trends that should cause legitimate concern should they look to be continuing early this season.
Another thing to be wary of is players who were helpful in the stolen base department last year but did so at poor success rates. Teams may be stingier with the green light this season as a result. Players who posted double-digit steal totals but did so at especially ugly rates include Clint Barmes (12-for-22), Corey Hart (11-for-17), Russell Martin (11-for-17), Hunter Pence (14-for-25), Ryan Theriot (21-for-31) and Troy Tulowitzki (20-for-31).
Failures by unproven, newly anointed, or low-salaried closers: When it comes to closers’ job security, one’s leash may be as long as his contract. While this may not be completely fair, such is often the truth. Whether to be concerned about a closer’s early struggles is often an individual case that is dependent upon track record, salary, and quality of the alternatives. When you have a spotty or bare resume as a closer, a relatively low price tag, and are flanked by a quality set-up man, a few early hiccups could cost you your job. The closers with the most tenuous holds on their job, that is who likely have the shortest leashes, appear to be Jon Rauch, Matt Lindstrom, Carlos Marmol and Jason Frasor.
Low batting average: We know there is a lot of luck involved in a batting average that is amassed over a comparatively small number of ABs. If you have a player with a proven track record who is simply off to a slow start, do not fret or panic. It often takes a season’s worth of ABs, of hot and cold streaks, to level out a player’s average to around where it should be. It is certainly worth checking a player’s peripherals—walk and strikeout rate, as well as batted ball trajectory rates—but the most simple and obvious explanation for many unforeseen batting average drops and spikes is simply luck. Remember, after 100 ABs, the difference between hitting .240 and .290 is a combination of five great defensive plays/non-error miscues and bang-bang out/safe or fair/foul judgment calls. And this is before we even consider whether balls have been “dropping in” or not.
Raw ERA taken out of context: Just about every starter will throw up a handful of stinkers every year. With few innings under pitchers’ belts, one or two bad outings can leave blemishes on rate stats that could take a half-dozen starts to recover from. Obviously, nobody should be concerned about Josh Beckett, even if his next start was just like Sunday evening’s. This is obviously even starker with relievers, for whom the relevance of ERA is almost always overstated, period.