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Sometimes it's good to follow the crowd. Other times, it's better to create your own way. In Baseball Challenge, the key is knowing when to take which path.
In more practical terms, the key is knowing when you should pick BBC's most popular players, and when you should go with players who are hardly owned at all. For example, the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff is currently the game's most widely owned commodity, residing on 32.9 percent of teams. Troy Tulowitzki is next, as he's on 32.2 percent of teams. It's hard to go wrong with either, but owning such widely-owned players can make it difficult to gain ground on your opponents (or create distance between your team and those behind you if you're near the top of the standings). Thus, owning different players than your competition can sometimes be beneficial.
With that in mind, here's a quick rundown of some lesser-owned players who are still performing at high levels this season. (Rankings are as of Thursday.)
John Buck is the No. 4-ranked catcher in the Baseball Challenge but is owned by just 1.6 percent of teams. A top-10 catcher, Chris Iannetta is owned by only 1.2 percent of teams. Paul Konerko is owned by just 2.6 percent of BBC teams but is ranked fifth among first basemen. Owned by 1.9 percent of teams, Gaby Sanchez is ranked seventh at first base. Another first baseman, Adam Lind, is ranked 11th at first base and is owned by just 1.4 percent of teams. Danny Espinosa, ranked seventh at second base, is owned by only 1.0 percent of teams. Brian Roberts, who is ranked 10th, is on only 2.1 percent of teams. Ryan Roberts and Mike Aviles rank eighth and ninth, respectively, at third base, and both are on less than 2.0 percent of teams. The sixth-most productive BBC shortstop this season is Jhonny Peralta, who is owned by only 1.7 percent of teams. Stephen Drew is ranked right behind Peralta, and he's owned by just 1.5 percent of teams. In left field, Brennan Boesch, Johnny Damon and Sam Fuld are all top-10 left fielders, and all are on less than 2.0 percent of teams. And in right field, Ben Zobrist, Jeff Francoeur, Hunter Pence, Justin Upton and Jay Bruce are all ranked in the top 10, and none is on more than 3.0 percent of teams. The San Diego Padres pitching staff is ranked sixth in the BBC but is owned by just 1.5 percent of teams.
Of course, sometimes there's great value in owning the Troy Tulowitzkis of the world. It does go to show you, however, that sometimes it pays to go against the grain and pick players who aren't getting as much buzz.
And with that, here's a look at our Week 7 lineup
C: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (@KC-2, @CWS-2, CIN-3), 5.5 market price: Santana has been the top catcher in Baseball Challenge over the past two weeks, accumulating 25 total bases and 49 points. His 5.5 price tag ties him with Buster Posey for the most expensive at the position, but he's worth it.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox (BAL-2, DET-2, CHC-3), 5.5 market price: Gonzalez hit .314 in April, but the power didn't start coming around until just recently. He's hitting .375 with five home runs over the past week, and his 76 points over the past 15 days are significantly more than anyone else at the position (Gaby Sanchez is second with 63).
2B: Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (@OAK-2, @SEA-2, ATL-3), 6.0 market price: Kendrick's price tag is a little steep, but he's earned it of late, hitting .396 over the past two weeks. His 47 BBC points during that time are tops at second base.
3B: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (NYY-2, @TOR-2, @FLA-3), 4.3 market price: If you've been waiting to buy Longoria, now is a good time. He's still super affordable (his 4.3 market price is 23rd most at third base), and he's hit .348 with two dingers over the past week. Grab him now and lock him in before his price starts escalating.
SS: Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels (@OAK-2, @SEA-2, ATL-3), 4.1 market price: Aybar has little power, but that hasn't stopped him from being a valuable BBC option. He's hitting .347 on the year, and only Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera have produced more points at shortstop over the past two weeks.
LF: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies (@STL-2, COL-2, TEX-3), 4.5 market price: Ibanez has been a disappointment this season, but he's been turning things around of late. He's batting .385 over the past week, and he gets five home games, where he has all three of his home runs and 13 of his 14 RBIs.
CF: Rajai Davis, Toronto Blue Jays (@DET-2, TB-2, HOU-3), 3.2 market price: We're going bargain shopping at the center-field position this week, and Davis is a great value. Out of the 37 options at the position, Davis is cheaper than 32 of them. He's also batting .400 over the past seven days and gets five games at the Rogers Centre, where he's hitting .316 this year (.162 on the road).
RF: Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays (NYY-2, @TOR-2, @FLA-3), 4.5 market price: Can you guess who's leading the American League in hitting? Well, the fact I'm asking the question tells you it's Joyce, but it's still impressive. He's batting .358 on the year, and his 69 points over the past two weeks are second most at the position. He's currently on only 0.8 percent of Baseball Challenge teams.
DH: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (@NYY-2, @TOR-2, FLA-3), 4.5 market price: Some BBC owners will shy away from Dunn and his .213 batting average. However, the slugger is hitting .435 over the past week and has at least one extra-base hit in each of the past five games.
Pitching staff: Atlanta Braves (HOU-2, @ARI-2, @LAA-3), 7.3 market price: I normally focus on bargain pitching staffs, but I have the salary-cap flexibility this week, so why not use it? The Braves staff has racked up 577 points over the past month -- the most in Baseball Challenge -- and the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks are a combined 15 games below .500.
Total salary: $49.1 million, $0.1 remaining
These are players I'm keeping an eye on.
Russell Martin, C, New York Yankees, 5.0 market price: Martin started the season on a tear, but he's hitting just .135 so far in May. Was the hot start simply an aberration?
Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Florida Marlins, 5.1 market price: First base is stocked with elite options, but Sanchez has out-produced players like Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira thus far.
Carl Crawford, LF, Boston Red Sox, 4.9 market price: Crawford's price is a lot lower than it should be due to his early-season slump. However, he's starting to look like his old self, hitting .327 over the past two weeks.
Note: A ballpark that ranked top 10 in terms of home runs last year is considered hitter-friendly, while the bottom-10 parks are pitcher-friendly. In order to be listed below, a team must have two series at hitter-friendly venues, or two at pitcher-friendly parks.
Hitter-friendly schedules: Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles.
Pitcher-friendly schedules: Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Florida Marlins, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Minnesota Twins.
Seven-day workweeks: All teams have seven games this week.