Common Fantasy Sense
Thomas Paine does not have a good publicist. Of course, come June 8, he'll have been dead for 204 years, so there hasn't been a huge rush to rectify the problem, but still, the fact remains. He rarely gets invited to premieres anymore, he's been passed over for "Dancing With the Stars" 16 straight seasons and kids today have no idea he was the guy who wrote "These are the times that try men's souls."
That quote was the "Gangnam Style" of its day, included in "The American Crisis," a pamphlet that Paine wrote to inspire the Army. Get this: That document was so popular in its day that, according to USHistory.org, it was read by or read to more people than today watch the Super Bowl (as a percentage of the population in 1776). That, kids, is what we call a hit pamphlet.
And it wasn't his first. No, before the celebrity girlfriends, the buggy whip endorsement deals or his ill-fated line of musket-flavored hard candy, Thomas Paine burst onto the scene with "Common Sense," which was a strong defense of independence from England. Now, this is family-friendly sports website, so we try not to comment on politically-charged issues, but I don't care. I'll say it. I support our independence from England. Preach on, Thomas Paine! I got your back!
Written in plain, everyday English rather than bogged down in flowery language, "Common Sense" laid out the entire case for revolution in just more than 10,000 words. As USHistory.org states, Paine "communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States."
Well, you know who has two thumbs and likes to stir a few hearts? Seriously, I'm asking. Do you know anyone? I'd like to get them to write this. Failing that, it seems like Paine's ideas are as classic as his "Q" rating is down, so it's a good time to bring them back. No Manifesto this season, but rather a common sense approach to fantasy baseball drafts. Something that is easy to understand by both common farmers and intellectuals, which is my target demo.
So here you go. With a shout out and thanks to Will Cohen of ESPN Stats & Information, this is the 2013 heart-stopping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Bruce-taking, common sense-making
1. Three is a magic number. Three plus 77, that is. In an ESPN standard 10-team 5x5 mixed league, the average winning team gets about 80 points. Has for years. Get close to 80, you're in the mix. Now, the key here is there's lots of different ways to get to 80. Look at this handy example I like to use.
8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8 = 80
10+10+10+10+10+6+6+6+6+6 = 80
See? It doesn't matter how you get there. Lots of different ways, so don't let anyone tell you "This is the way." There's lots of ways.
2. Third is first. A super-easy way to get to 80 is to just shoot for third in every category. You get third place in a category, you get eight points. There are 10 categories. 80 points. Magic. You don't need to win home runs or dominate steals. You don't need to crush saves or rock strikeouts. You just need one more of each than the guy in fourth place ends up with.
3. An average average is no longer average. We've discussed this at length on the podcast, but to drive the point home, you have to recalibrate what you think of as a good hitter. To wit, which seems like the kind of word Thomas Paine would use: As recently as 2009, there were 42 batters who hit .300 or better. Over the past three seasons, there have been 25 batters, on average, per season to hit .300 (26 of them in 2012).
In fact, from 2006 to 2009, the league batted .266. But in the past three seasons, the league average has dropped 10 points to .256. Last year's league batting average was the lowest since 1989. In other words, a .275 hitter is better than you think, a .250 hitter doesn't hurt as much as you think and the guys who hit .300 (and get tons of at-bats) are pretty valuable.
4. Lower average means less power? Yeah, it's not swinging for the fences that is bringing average down. Fewer hits does also mean fewer home runs. Check it out:
Home run hitters
Number of hitters to reach home run benchmarks in average season
|20 home runs||89.0||74.7|
|30 home runs||29.5||23.0|
|40 home runs||5.8||3.3|
To put it another way, home run production over the past three seasons is 92.8 percent of what it was in the previous four. When drafting, go power early, there's less of it than you might think.
5. Head to the corner, young man (and young lady). Looking for that power and average combo? You're gonna get it from your corner men. Nate Ravitz and I were discussing this over email with friend-of-the-podcast Jason Collette. In an ESPN standard league, you're looking at 30 starters for your corner infield spots. Looking at our projections for corner infield, 28 players are projected for 25 home runs or more, or 93 percent. Fourteen of them, or 46 percent, are projected to hit 25 home runs and bat at least .280. First base, especially, is deep this year, even having lost Miguel Cabrera. No issue taking one of the studs in the first round, but if you want to wait a bit on a position, this is one of them.
6. Meanwhile, in the outfield There are 50 starting outfielders in an ESPN standard league. Only 25 of them are projected to hit at least 25 home runs, or 50 percent. And we project just 10 to hit .280 with 25 or more home runs. Good outfielders are scarcer than you think, so don't hesitate to spend a high draft pick on them, and be prepared to take on some negative batting average at the position.
7. When in doubt, take power over speed. We talked about the power outage, but just the opposite is happening on the basepaths. In the past two years, teams have started stealing bases like we haven't seen since the late '90s.
Number of hitters to reach stolen base benchmarks in average season
|20 stolen bases||39.0||49.0|
|30 stolen bases||18.0||24.5|
|40 stolen bases||8.6||7.0|
In addition, the speed is more evenly distributed. The number of 40-steal guys has gone down the past two years, but there have been, on average, 10 more 20-steal guys in the past three seasons than there were in the previous four. So there's more steals guys and they are getting better at it. Last year, base stealers converted on 74.0 percent of their attempts, the second highest recorded rate in MLB history (caught stealing became an official stat in both leagues in 1951). Ideally, you're getting guys who contribute across the board in all categories, but when deciding between power or speed early on, I'm going power. And average.
8. Catcher is deep this year. Nine catchers hit more than 20 home runs last year. And that doesn't include Victor Martinez or Salvador Perez, who were injured all (or part) of last year but who should both have very good years. Guys like Jonathan Lucroy and A.J. Pierzynski are going outside the top 10. Consider also guys like Yasmani Grandal, who will be on your waiver wire about 40 games into the season, and while I get that Buster Posey is all that and a Pop Tart, I'm gonna be the last guy in my league to grab a catcher.
9. Deep pitching does not mean all pitching is created equal. You may look at rankings and think that you can wait on pitching because there are so many good pitchers. And it's true, there are lots of good pitchers. Last season, MLB starting pitchers averaged 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings, by far the best rate in MLB history. And in the past three years, the average starting pitcher has a 4.14 ERA. In the four preceding seasons, the league-average starter had a 4.55 ERA.
Another way to put it, in 2006, just 10 starters qualified for the ERA title with a mark of 3.50 or less. Last year, 28 pitchers did so.
Number of pitchers to reach ERA or strikeout benchmarks in average season
In other words, good is actually the new mediocre. Just like we need to lower the bar to think what a good hitter is, we also need to raise the bar for what a good pitcher is. Everyone loves James Shields, right? A 3.52 ERA last year, Kansas City traded a top prospect to get him well, 29 pitchers had a better ERA than him last year. Now, ERA can fluctuate and it's not the best indicator of a pitcher's skill, but it is one of the categories we play with, and if everyone has a blue car, a blue car ain't that special. So if you have a solid pitching staff you actually have a mediocre pitching staff. If you want to compete in pitching -- giving yourself a chance of a top-3 finish in the four starter categories -- you still need a stud and a very strong No. 2.
10. Don't. Pay. For. Saves.As for the fifth pitching category, well, that's a horse of a different color, as T-Paine would say in that manner that appeals to both farmers and intellectuals. I've been saying it for more than a decade now, and I will continue to say it until pamphlets become all the rage again. So now and forever, don't pay for saves.
Jim Johnson, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano and Chris Perez. Those were four of the six guys with the most saves last year. The names change every year (last season, I was reminding you that Brandon League, Jordan Walden, Neftali Feliz, Sergio Santos and Kyle Farnsworth were all top 10 in saves in '11), the advice doesn't. Craig Kimbrel is a K-stud, I get it, but in a 10-team mixed league there is no reason to waste a high or even midround draft pick on a closer if you have to pass up guys like Starlin Castro, Billy Butler and Matt Holliday, all of whom are going in the same round as Kid K-Tastic.
11. Format is key. In head-to-head leagues, you should have a higher value on players who'll start later in the season, like Curtis Granderson, Wil Myers or the aforementioned Grandal. Once you get to the playoffs, it won't matter what your team was missing in April. Don't go overboard -- you still need to get to the playoffs -- but you can take more risks with high upside, injury-prone guys and prime your team for the championship, whereas in roto leagues, where you're shooting for the best season-long totals, a shortage in April is just as damaging as a shortage in September.
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12. In a points league, be stats-agnostic. It doesn't matter how you get points; saves, wins, steals, home runs, they're all good, and while there is such a thing as too much or not enough of a stat in roto, the same cannot be said in points leagues, where you can theoretically win with nothing but leadoff hitters and relievers. If you're new to points leagues, run last year's statistics through your scoring system and see which players did well and which did worse compared to how you would instinctively value them. Points leagues are all about the specific scoring and a championship head-to-head points league team could very well end up at the bottom of the standings in a 5x5 roto style league.
13. Proven player off a bad year, Part Deux. There's exceptions to every rule, but in general, give me a guy who has proven he can play at a high level in the majors but just suffered through a bad season for some reason (injury, contract status, dating Rihanna) over the next hyped rookie. At this time last year, everyone (well, except me) was talking about Brett Lawrie like he was the second coming of David Wright, and we (as a group) ranked him ahead of Aramis Ramirez and an injured Alex Rodriguez, both of whom finished ahead of him on the Player Rater. Along with 10 other third basemen.
14. What's most likely to happen? This is my advice for any fantasy league. Starting with whom to draft from round to round and continuing on throughout the season when setting your lineup or considering trades and pickups to every other decision you may need to make, use this as your guiding principle: What's most likely to happen? And does this likely outcome help me or hurt me? And then act accordingly. No one can predict the future, obviously, so all you can do is give yourself the best odds to win.
15. Time. Like anything else in life, there are no shortcuts. Seems simple, but many people forget this. A huge asset in fantasy is, frankly, time. And desire. It's not rocket science. And there's tons of people doing good work to help cut down on some of the research. But the more time you put into this, the better you'll do. Read as much as possible. Listen to the podcast. Mock draft (for free!) your brains out. The more prepared you feel on draft day, the more confidence you'll have and the better you'll do. At least, that's the most likely scenario. And that's all we're shooting for.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- will be bringing back the Manifesto come football season. Don't get used to all this brevity. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.