When we try to build our fantasy baseball teams, we look for certain hitters to fill specific roles. When we draft someone like Michael Bourn or Juan Pierre, we expect him to steal bases. If he doesn't, he hasn't done his job. When we pick Joe Mauer or Ichiro Suzuki, we expect to get a high batting average in return. Any power numbers these guys put up is simply icing on the cake.
Now when it comes to players we drafted for power, we're actually looking for production in not one, but three fantasy categories: home runs, runs scored and RBIs. If a big bopper is not really helping you in the latter two categories, he's not pulling his weight. Meanwhile, a player like Michael Young may be causing you to pull your hair out when it comes to his home run total this season (only nine overall, with just two in July), but considering he is tied for 10th in the majors in RBIs, perhaps it's not as bad as you might think.
A few years back, I created a stat called "Wasted Power" in an attempt to identify which players are truly helping their fantasy owners across the board in all three power categories, as opposed to simply racking up "empty homers" over the wall.
For example, take Alfonso Soriano. In April, the Chicago Cubs outfielder had 10 home runs, tied for the most in the majors. However, eight of those were solo shots, and he only managed to produce 20 RBIs and 15 runs scored over the first month of the season.
Since May 1, Soriano has hit only five more home runs. Although he is currently tied for 42nd in home runs, among players with five or more round-trippers so far in 2011, he ranks just 83rd in RBIs and 125th in runs scored. The warning signs were there, in the form of Wasted Power.
By taking the run production of each hitter ((R+RBI) - HR) and dividing that by the number of home runs he has hit, we're able to come up with a raw number that tells us exactly how much a player's production has been affected by his inability to drive in runners without the long ball as well as by his teammates' ability to get on base ahead of him in the lineup so he's not constantly settling for solo shots.
Looking at the top culprits in this list (minimum five home runs) yields the following names:
The lower the number, the worse a player's production in the three power categories, and the more Wasted Power. In addition to Soriano, we see some other "frustrating" players, like batting average parasites, Dan Uggla and Carlos Pena.
Jason Giambi's appearance on this list should be no surprise. Throw out interleague play when he could be used as the designated hitter, and his non-pinch-hit playing time is few and far between. He has had little opportunity to provide much more than the occasional home run.
Mark Trumbo is a perfect example of a hitter whose fantasy value has been impacted by virtue of the shaky lineup around him. The Los Angeles Angels are 11th in the American League in runs scored, so it's not a big surprise to learn that 11 of his 18 round-trippers, including eight of his last 10, have been trips Trumbo made by his lonesome.
However, this raw number is only half the story. After all, Jose Bautista is also on this list. If he continues to hit home runs at a pace of one per 10.4 at-bats, even at a lower "payout," you're still going to get a lot more out of him in terms of power going forward than Rickie Weeks, who has a 5.0 raw Wasted Power but hits a home run only once every 21.6 at-bats.
We need to adjust our numbers to factor in the frequency of power by multiplying our raw Wasted Power by each individual's HR/AB ratio. When we do this, we get a more accurate picture of exactly where we should look for our power needs.
Let's take a look at a list of the best and worst players in terms of Adjusted Wasted Power, among hitters with a minimum of eight home runs. First, the tops:
Not a lot of surprises, except perhaps for the presence of Mike Napoli, owned in 87.4 percent of ESPN standard leagues, compared to our good friend Trumbo (see the bottom 20 list below), who maintains an even higher 92.3 percent ownership.
Now for the bottom 20:
Other disappointments include Mitch Moreland, Jason Heyward and Justin Smoak, who have double-digit home runs. Perhaps it is time to swap out some of these "wastes" for players such as Victor Martinez, Shane Victorino and Neil Walker.
Remember, one statistic never tells the whole story, and when you go looking for powe, the actual number of home runs a player has hit might be the most misleading of them all.
TOP 125 HITTERS
Note: AJ Mass's top 125 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays: He went 0-for-3 on Tuesday night, so it's time to cut him, right? Seriously, nobody thought he was going to get two hits and a stolen base in each and every game this season, but it's crystal clear that as long as he continues to get on base, his speed is going to be a fierce weapon. Plus, with B.J. Upton likely to be sent elsewhere before the trade deadline, playing time isn't going to be an issue. This kid is here to stay.
Jeff Francouer, Kansas City Royals: After a strong first month to the season (.314 batting average), Francouer struggled to find his swing until July rolled around. He has hit .295 this month, making his name a popular one in terms of trade rumors. Yes, a move to a new team might result in platoon duties, but that might not be the worst thing for his fantasy value: He's batting .309 against lefties this season, as opposed to just .254 versus right-handers.
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets: When David Wright came off the disabled list, there was some concern that perhaps there'd be no room in the Mets' lineup for Murphy, who hit .328 in 16 games in July at the hot corner. Fear not. Murphy's hot bat moved over to first base, and if Carlos Beltran gets traded, Murphy will take over the team lead in RBIs.
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants: I'm just a little concerned about the Panda breaking down as the season wears on. Maybe that's not fair, as he came back rather quickly from his recent quad ailment. Still, even when healthy, he looks so rushed at the plate, seemingly swinging at everything opposing pitchers throw his way. There just doesn't seem to be a plan here, and I don't think it's a fluke he's had just one home run since July 5.
Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels: Kendrick came back from the disabled list on June 4, but he left his power behind. Since then, in 41 games, he has just one home run, 16 RBIs and 17 runs scored. He has also struck out once every 4.8 at-bats while walking just once every 27.5 plate appearances. Like his teammate Mark Trumbo, he appears to be stuck in a rut from which not a single Angels hitter will be able to escape.
Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals: The addition of Jonny Gomes is just one more obstacle that has been in Bernadina's path to sustained playing time, and the Nationals may well add another outfielder in the next few days. Peter Bourjos and Michael Bourn are just two of the names that have bandied about as possible deadline acquisitions. There's talent here, but with a .231 batting average this month, the opportunity may have passed him by for 2011.
New position eligibility
The following players have become eligible at new positions -- it takes 10 games to qualify at a new spot -- in ESPN standard leagues during the past week: Michael Martinez (3B), Chase d'Arnaud (3B), Mike Carp (OF), Jesus Guzman (1B), Skip Schumaker (OF), Hideki Matsui (OF), Alberto Gonzalez (3B), Josh Wilson (3B).
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. His book, "How Fantasy Sports Explains the World" will be released in August. You can e-mail him here.