The fantasy alphabet, part six: U-W

U is for Underrated in fantasy

Sabermetrics are fine and dandy to use in fantasy, and when used correctly, are highly recommended. But it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that fantasy baseball, in most leagues, is still based on counting stats that are dismissed by many as flawed and dying. RBIs, wins, ERA are just a few of the conventional stats that are more widely questioned in both the fantasy and baseball communities, but it’s important to bite the bullet and draft the un-sexy at times.

Ryan Howard was a 1.6 WAR player last year, a number that makes most cringe. He was essentially a below average major league ballplayer, and made a whopping $20 million. The fact that he made back only 40 percent of the price tag is another notch on the belt of RBI haters, who will no doubt (and probably rightfully) connect Howard’s out-of-this-world contract and his RBI totals the years before. People rarely see him as an elite talent these days. It’s easy to forget, at least for me, that he still consistently drives in 100 plus runs.

I’m not implying that you should draft Ryan Howard in most leagues next year (it’s tough to say how long he’ll be out, but he’s clearly not a reliable fantasy option in 2012), but rather extending Howard as an example of someone dismissed generally in the sabermetric community, and widely viewed as overrated in the baseball realm.

It’s important to remember when you digest more sabermetric writing and analysis in the fantasy world that the good ol’ stats still count here, though, and that Ryan Howard, however flawed he is, serves his purpose on a fantasy roster. Don’t let the overriding opinion of a player turn you off to him—there may be valid reasons why he is grilled so universally, but if he helps your team, that should be all that matters.

V is for Victory

I won my most competitive league last year on the back of a Matt Kemp, whom I drafted for a hefty $38 and rode to victory. I tempted myself in the last month of the season, while keepers were on my mind (though I admit our keepers don’t lock until April), to view Kemp as a keeper. I have cheap speed and batting average, I convinced myself. He was worth around 50 bucks this year and even with some expected regression, he could be worth his price tag in 2012. I’ve decided, firmly, that I was dazed by my victory, overconfident in the man that brought me to it, and was living in the past, not the future.

I won that league, after all, because I targeted a player ravaged by luck regression in the previous season. People clearly still believed in his natural ability and counting statistics that were continually there—and Kemp’s ability and inflation meant I didn’t get such a bargain. I gambled on the regression to the mean (or more), and after a solid group of keepers, took a risk.

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This is how you outsmart your intelligent league-mates: take calculated risks, of course. If you believe, don’t step in with one foot. Target a player, and bid what it takes to get him. This is not for the risk-averse, who would feel more comfortable building around an Albert Pujols, whose $50 price tag is the most likely to be reproduced. But if you’re feeling lucky, go for the boom. Just don’t get drunk off victory, and fall in love with your Matt Kemp. I’m letting someone dole out the most money to him next year (only three players in my league were worth more than $50 last year, so the odds of a repeat performance are slim), while I grab Evan Longoria (hypothetically… I do play in mostly NL only leagues) and break the ribbon at the finish line.

W is for Which day to play: splits and platoons

In daily lineup leagues, it can be particularly useful to platoon players based on match-ups and home/away splits, with the obvious logic that the best of one player and the best of another can be added together to make a super-player of sorts. Here are some splits that may be useful on draft day:

Jeff Francoeur is a noted lefty-masher, and has lived up to the reputation over the last three years, hitting .317 with a solid 17 homers and 70 RBIs in only 422 at bats. Francoeur puts up good enough counting stats to already be drafted in most leagues, but he’s worth a late round pick to pad your batting average stats with 100-150 at-bats.

Alberto Callaspo has hit .309 against lefties since 2009, totaling 443 at bats in that time span. He’s hit only five homers and still has 45 RBIs to show against southpaws, making him sneaky valuable.

Nyjer Morgan is probably drafted in most leagues next year for his natural speed ability, his celebrity, and his flukish batting average, but the fact that Morgan has been particularly impressive against right-handed pitchers since 2009 makes him worth grabbing should he stay on the board until the tail end. He’s put together a .311/6/81 line in 1,075 at-bats in that span.

Chase Headley is a better player away from PETCO Park. Who would’ve thought it? He’s a .306 hitter since 2009 away from the land of warning track power, and has mashed 16 homers in 813 at-bats, while putting together a .229/11/71 stat line at home. After hitting only four homers all of last year, he’s probably slipped into obscurity to the point where he can be drafted as a backup third baseman and provide you with top 10 talent in his 82 away games.

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