Making a run for—or from—the money

A few columns ago, I touched on the idea that some categories are valued more highly than others. On offense, I theorize that the stat that gets the shaft is runs. In fact, perhaps this theory is an outgrowth of my own bias. I’m having a rough fantasy season this year and may not earn a single league title for the first time in at least four years. This weekend, I spent a bit of time looking into whether there were trends across my teams that could provide insight into strategic flaws in my preseason approach. Besides my penchant for drafting injured players, the other trend that became rather clear was that I didn’t draft enough top-of-the-order hitters and thus have experienced an omnipresent lack of runs scored.

I can peg two reasons why I dug this hole for myself. First and foremost, I am guilty of not paying too much attention to runs, for their own sake, during my drafts. I’m a sabermetrically inclined guy, as I’m sure many of you are as well, so I have a preference for higher OBP-type players, even in non-OBP leagues. I think there’s value to be had in these types of players because their walks bump their ability to score runs and keep the AB total a bit lower, helping to ease the impact of subpar batting averages. So, my way of addressing the need for runs scored has largely been to draft heavy on offense with my top picks and lean toward high OBP players, under the assumption rest will take care of itself. Maybe this autopilot method isn’t sufficient on its own.

The second contributing factor to my dearth of runs scored may have to do with my strategy regarding middle infielders. I’m known to employ something of a stars and scrubs approach to my middle-infield slots. I have no problem spending for a Chase Utley or Troy Tulowitzki, but I often feel that the second- and third-tier middle infielders are poor values. Many of the higher-caliber middle infielders lean more toward being run scorers as opposed to RBI-men, so perhaps that’s been skewing the skillset balance on my rosters.

But the question at hand here is really, how I do rectify this strategic blind spot? How much attention is it advisable to pay toward run scoring as a “skill” when drafting, and in what sort of metrics should I use as a proxy when drafting to ensure I’m getting enough of what I need? Intuitively, it still feels like folly, or at least not the greatest value proposition, to spend all that much effort tracking my runs. It’s hard for me to get past how much of a team stat runs scored really is. I also feel like once you get past the stars, runs scored totals are difficult to predict. And then there’s the question of volume. Runs scored are the most plentiful stat out there, which leads me to consider small differences in expectation all but meaningless at draft time.

Perhaps, filling this void would best be accomplished by proxy. One strategic modification that might help could be to scale back my willingness to take on players with poor batting averages. This might lead me to draft fewer lumbering slugger types and more top-of-the-order hitters. Perhaps, I’ve been all too willing to draft the Carlos Penas, and all too hesitant to draft the Michael Youngs.

Another way to address this might be just to track the projected line-up slot of my players as I’m assembling my team. You can never have too many third- and fourth-place hitters, but a quick overview of my rosters reveals that on most of my teams, I have more fifth- and sixth-place hitters than first and second.

As a columnist here, I don’t have all the answers. But sometimes it’s a good start to just come up with the questions. What are your thoughts about drafting runs scored?; do you pay that category equal attention to every other one or do you just use sort of proxy? I presume the full-on quants will say that one should pay each category equal attention. So, to them, I will ask whether their models have shown to be equally accurate in predicting performance in each category. And, if not, which categories are the most volatile, and do you attempt to address that volatility when drafting or just use the model and hope it’s having a good year in terms of accuracy?

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  1. Pat said...

    I think you hit the nail on the head with drafting OBP players. Ironically, alot of guys with high OBP don’t score a ton of runs. They usually hit lower in order.

    I do think scoring runs takes some skill (speed, baserunning), but the majority of it is team dependent.

    I think the best indicator of runs scored is team and lineup position. Having a good OBP does help, but I think team/lineup position is much more important. I use a combination of the 3, giving more weight to the team/lineup position.

    Also, I think runs get overlooked because they are not a “glamor” stat. Alot of the non-elite guys with good run totals are weak in HR and RBI.
    Michaal Young is boring. He does not hit a ton of HR or SB, but is a solid all around player. People rather have the 20HR/20SB guy or like the Pena 35HR/100 RBI type. I guess that is a different argument.

    When I draft, I try to keep the runs and RBI on my team about even. If I look at my team and see that I have Howard/Carlos Lee/Carlos Pena, I would draft say Austin Jackson over an Adam LaRoche.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    If there’s a stat I tend to ignore, it’s steals. The way I draft players usually leaves me with a roster full of 10-15 steal players. I usually try to trade to get a higher steal player later on because I just am not willing to spend an early pick on a Jacoby Ellsbury type.

    I draft runs by looking for top of the order hitters in the value rounds, i.e. guys who slip through to the later rounds but are expected to hit 1/2 like a Placido Polanco.

  3. Jonathan Sher said...

    This is my first year playing in a league that counts runs so consider these observations preliminary and guarded:

    (1) In a typical ten-category fantasy league, on the offensive side, I would suspect that the two categories that are most correlated are homers and rbi’s. While there would be some positive correlation between runs and batting average or even runs and stolen bases, I don’t expect the correlation to be as strong. If that’s the case — or, more precisely, if most fantasy players assume that to be the case—there would be a tendency to place more value on drafting players that are high on the homer/rbi scale.

    (2) In my league, while I am comfortably ahead in rbi’s an in a top grouping in homers, the race for runs is much tighter, with half the league bundled closely near the top. That make the marginal value of a run more than the marginal value of an rbi. I can’t say if that distribution is typical or unusual, but it would be helpful to know.

    (3) In a league where owners tend to wheel and deal, I would simply go after the best players overall rather than filling needed categories because you can trade surplus in other categories. In my current draft league, where there has been almost no trading, I’d pay more attention to filling specific needs.

    (3) At the end of August the pattern I mentioned in (2) was becoming obvious so I made free agent acquisitions with that in mind, picking up Jose Tabata and later Coco Crisp, both top-of-the lineup guys who have put me more solidly near the top of what is still a tightly-packed race for runs.

  4. Pochucker said...

    Its all about position in lineup and offensive power of team player is on. As someone else mentioned Polanco is often referred to as having “empty production” by many experts.

      As long as he is batting at top of order on good offensive team he is valuable player. .300 avg with lots of runs is valuable to me. Put him on team like Giants or bat him low in order—then he is useless.

    I consciously try and draft runs equal to my Rbis. A large part of my off season preparation is spent evaluating projected batting order and potential offensive capability of teams and players.

  5. Dan P said...

    Value, value, value. R and RBIs may be the hardest categories to predict but a great player will get those stats no matter what.

    But you hit it right on the head; slot order has a huge effect. In the preseason, I don’t care as much about the SSS performances, I look out how the batting order will slot out.

    Finding that value guy, slotted in a value position, you have the makings of a great stat building year.

    This year I took Marlon Byrd mid-draft because his bat was solid and he’d be hitting 5th on the Cubs. He’s been fantastic.

    Josh Willingham seemed to be a sure #5 in Washington and a sleeper pick. He was a great late grab.

    Austin Jackson seemed like an extreme flier but he’d be leading off, so it had potential. It did.

    Beyond just look at the batting order as a stat predicator, its an amazing playing time predictor. If your player is due to bat in the 2-hole you know 2 things.

    (1) He’ll get plenty of AB’s
    (2) The Team really likes your guy

    A great OBP is fine. But have him batting 1-4 backed by a team who loves him, and you got a fantasy star.

    Lastly, Mike Napoli and Geovanny Soto have been the exact opposite of my rules. The teams don’t like them and haven’t slotted them to succeed. Despite this they’ve done well, but they could have done MUCH better.

  6. Pat said...

    While I think batting order is important for runs/RBIs and for finding sleepers, you also have to remember that the lineup is not permanent. A good lineup position does not always mean the player will perform well.

  7. struggler said...

    Runs/SBs are the most underrated stats throughout the season that can easily be procured. Overdraft power. Pickup/Trade for fast, top-of-the-order guys throughout the season. Chicks, as well as fantasy geeks, dig the long ball.

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