Let's make a trade, me and you.
I'm gonna trade you "Player 1." Player 1 is an on-base machine, top 10 in baseball in walk percentage and the leader at his position in pitches per plate appearance. He improved his home run and runs totals, as well as his slugging percentage, for the third straight season, drove in 41 more runs than the previous season, was top 15 in home runs at his position, sixth-best in OPS and had a perfect stolen base success rate. You know opposing pitchers fear him; only one other player at his position drew more intentional walks than this guy, he greatly increased his line drive percentage last season and decreased his ground balls by a wide margin, a good sign for this slugger. I won't list every stadium, but get what this guy does at "pitchers' parks;" a career .367 hitter at AT&T Park; .333 at Citi Field; .320 at Petco; .300 at Safeco; .375 at Target Field.
And you'll trade me "Player 2," whom you should be thrilled to get rid of. This bum's batting average has gone down for four straight seasons, same as his stolen base totals. Despite more than 600 at-bats last season (the most of his career!), he still managed the fewest home runs and runs of his career and tied for a career low in hits. His on-base percentage and OPS have declined for five straight seasons, and both his slugging percentage and total walks drawn were at a 12-year career low! The only season in which he struck out more was during his rookie campaign. Considering the declining power and speed numbers, you hate the fact that only two players at his position hit more groundballs than he did, and when you realize he actually had a higher BABIP in 2012 than in 2011, you can't chalk up his struggles to bad luck, either.
No go, huh? Thought we might have had something there.
Welcome to the 2013 fantasy baseball season and my first column of the year. I wanted to start off with the "100 Facts" column, an annual one for me, because chances are you're just starting your prep and there's an important lesson to consider as you absorb all the information you'll be given in the next month.
It's a crock.
Oh, stats and scouting have lots of value, of course, when taken in context and more importantly, with a grain of salt.
I love stats. They are used to keep score in fantasy, and they are the dominant method of player analysis in fantasy baseball. So as someone who makes his living in fantasy sports and the use of stats overall, I think it's fantastic that sabermetrics and advanced stats have crept into the mainstream and become more prevalent by the year.
But it also can be a bit much. See last season's AL MVP debate as a prime example. Because truthfully, you can make a stat say anything you want, as I just showed in the "trade analysis" above. There's very little in this world that I am good at, but one thing I am fantastic at? Manipulating stats to say whatever I need them to.
And it's not just me who does it, it's everyone who does any kind of analysis. Political to pop culture to finance; you name it, if there are people trying to convince you of something, they have carefully framed their fact to do so.
They (and I) do it because we have to. There's only so much time or attention span someone has. You can't listen to a podcast or watch TV or read an article forever; you've got stuff to do, dammit. I've taken the liberty, of course, of assuming you have a life. But if not, it still wouldn't matter.
Because even if you had infinite time to read/listen/watch and I had infinite time to write/speak/wear makeup and you had some sort of fantasy Rain Man-like ability to memorize and understand every stat for every player in every situation, it's still impossible to get an accurate overview of a player that way.
Is he hiding an injury? Does he have an injury he isn't even aware of? Is he worried about his contract? Or about his girlfriend? Or about his wife finding out about his girlfriend? Is he a party guy, going out late every night? Does he hate the manager? Does the manager hate him? Is he holding the ball or bat differently? Maybe he's gripping the ball a tenth of an inch farther from the seam than he normally does and he's not aware of it. Or his foot is pointing slightly out of the batter's box and he usually points it toward the plate. Maybe he's an outfielder but his best friend on the team (and the guy who always calmed him down before big games) was the long reliever who was just released. You never know, and often, players themselves aren't that self-aware.
Every time I've gotten "inside info" from a player about himself (anyone remember my Jeff Francoeur love a number of years ago?) it's about 50/50 as to whether that info proves correct.
So what we all do is make a choice. After studying all the stats and scouting, reading news from beat reporters and talking to some insightful colleagues here at ESPN, I make a call. I then present that call to you, choosing a few, very carefully selected stats to make my case. If I like the guy, I choose good stats. If I don't like him, I choose bad stats.
Which is exactly what everyone else has done, as well, whether they admit it or not. Always. Every time. Never forget that. It's all opinion, cleverly disguised as "pure stats." And you should remember that as you prep throughout spring training. Read, absorb and mock draft as much as possible. And then choose which stats you believe and which you don't. Because whichever side of the fence you fall on about a player, I assure you, there's a stat for it.
In what follows, I have tried to shape your opinion about certain players with a selection of carefully framed stats, with a big help from The SWAN, Zach Jones, of ESPN Stats & Information. What you ultimately do with this information is up to you.
Just remember: Every stat you are about to read is 100 percent true. And not a one of them tells the whole story.
1. In each of the past four seasons, there has been just one player in major league baseball to have scored at least 100 runs and driven in at least 100 runs every year: Ryan Braun.
2. In that time, he's never hit less than .304.
3. Or had fewer than 563 at-bats.
4. In 2009, Felix Hernandez's average fastball velocity was 94 mph, 5.1 mph faster than his average changeup.
5. In 2012, Felix Hernandez's average fastball velocity was 92.1 mph, 3.3 mph faster than his changeup.
6. From 2009 to 2012, no pitcher in baseball has pitched more regular-season innings than Felix Hernandez, with 954.
7. Since 2010, R.A. Dickey is 4-0 against AL East opponents with a 1.71 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP in six total starts.
8. He has allowed those opponents to bat .137.
9. According to our Park Factors page, Rogers Centre, Dickey's new home park, was 15th in the home run factor last season.
10. Citi Field, Dickey's home park last year, was 12th.
11. In 2012, "Pitcher A" had 200 strikeouts, a 3.48 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 212 innings pitched.
12. "Pitcher B" had 194 strikeouts, a 3.37 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 219 innings pitched.
14. Greinke's career ERA against the NL West is 5.03, his worst mark against any
division in the majors.
15. In 2011, his only full year in the National League, Greinke's ERA was 3.83.
16. His career ERA is 3.77.
17. Yovani Gallardo has 48 quality starts over the past two seasons.
19. Gallardo (204 strikeouts, 3.66 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 204 innings pitched) is going five rounds later than Greinke.
20. In 30 career starts, Kris Medlen has averaged 8.0 K/9 IP and 1.8 BB/9 IP.
21. During Medlen's career, the only pitcher to make at least 20 starts with a K/9 rate of 8-plus and a BB/9 rate under two is … Cliff Lee.
22. Justin Upton's career batting average at Chase Field is .307, his highest at any park in which he has played at least 10 games.
23. But his second-best mark is .293 at Turner Field, where he will now be providing defense and run support for Braves pitchers rather than facing them.
24. In 2011, "Player C" batted .220 with a .281 OBP and .672 OPS.
25. In 2012, "Player D" batted .270 with a .340 OBP and .817 OPS.
27. Bryce Harper turned 20 on Oct. 16. Happy belated, Bryce.
28. Buster Posey batted a career-best .336 last season.
29. He also batted .368 on balls in play.
30. In three major league seasons, his previous best single-season BABIP was .315.
31. Posey has played more than 110 games once in his career.
32. Since his rookie season (2010), he has averaged 116 games per season.
33. Nine catchers hit 20-plus home runs last season.
34. That's the most in a single season in MLB history.
35. Salvador Perez was the only player in the majors last season with a batting average better than .300 but a BABIP less than .300.
36. Perez has 463 plate appearances in two seasons (his age-21 and age-22 seasons).
38. Salvador Perez is going, on average, 10th among catchers.
39. For the first half of last season, Andrew McCutchen had a .362 average with a 1.039 OPS.
40. From August to the end of the season, he had a .253 average with a .779 OPS.
41. In 2011, he hit .259 with an OPS of .820.
42. Entering 2012, Chase Headley had 2,114 plate appearances for his career and had hit a combined 36 HRs with a .392 slugging percentage.
43. In 2012, he hit 31 HRs and posted a .498 slugging percentage.
44. Chase Headley turned 20.5 percent of his fly balls into home runs last season.
45. Over the previous three seasons, his average was 5.9 percent.
46. The league average HR/FB rate last year was 11.2 percent.
47. That's the highest it's been since 2002.
48. In 2005, just 27 players in the majors stole at least 20 bases.
49. Last season, that number was 48.
50. In fact, 23 players stole at least 30 bases in '12, the most in a season since 1999.
51. The number of 30-plus base-stealers has gone up every year since 2008: 16, 17, 19, 20 and last year's 23.
52. In each of the past five seasons, Michael Bourn has stolen at least 40 bases.
53. No other player in the majors has more than three such seasons in that span.
54. And other than Bourn, only B.J. Upton has at least 30 steals each of the past five years.
56. In every season of his career, Trevor Cahill has improved his K/9 IP rate.
57. He has decreased his HR/9 rate each season, as well.
58. Brandon Morrow's BABIP against in the past three seasons, starting in 2010: .344, .301, .253.
59. In the past two seasons combined, in 669 at-bats, Allen Craig has 33 HRs and 132 RBIs.
60. Projected over a 162-game season, that's .309, 28 HRs, 111 RBIs, 92 runs, 70 extra-base hits.
61. You know who didn't have 70 extra-base hits last season? Andrew McCutchen.
62. Or Mike Trout.
63. 21, 22, 25, 32, 34. Those are Jay Bruce's HR totals for the past five seasons.
64. He has the most home runs in the majors among players currently 25 or younger.
65. The past three seasons, Adrian Beltre has hit for a higher batting average than David Wright in each season and has hit more home runs in two of three of them.
66. Over those three seasons, Beltre's slash line is .314/.353/.558. Wright's is .285/.365/.480.
67. David Wright is being drafted ahead of Adrian Beltre in pretty much every draft except ones in which I am faced with picking one of the two.
68. Every year since 1993, we've seen at least one player 35 years or older finish the season with an OPS of at least .900 in at least 300 plate appearances.
69. Last season, 36-year-old David Ortiz hit 23 home rune in 383 plate appearances (1.026 OPS).
70. Before last season, Matt Kemp had played at least 155 games in four straight seasons.
71. In the second half of last season, no first baseman had more home runs than … Ike Davis.
72. Last season, Carlos Gomez hit 19 home runs in 452 plate appearances.
74. He also stole 26 bases in the second half, second most in major league baseball.
75. Gomez didn't play three consecutive games with at least four at-bats until June 19.
76. Starting June 19, only one player had more steals than Gomez.
79. He hit .258 in that time frame. Which sounds bad. But …
80. Only 38 outfielders hit better than .258 last season. We discussed this on the podcast. And I'll make it more of a focal point in future preseason stuff, but for now, consider this …
81. Last season, the average, er, batting average among major league players was .255.
82. Only 25 players in all of major league baseball hit .300.
83. My friend Paul Sporer points out that only three players managed at least 10 home runs, stole 30 bases and hit at least .288 in 2012: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout … and Norichika Aoki.
84. Not saying they are in the same class, but still … interesting, no? Aoki also had 81 runs
and 50 RBIs. He's going in approximately the 22nd round.
85. Shout out to Tristan H. Cockroft for this; James Shields' career ERA when pitching in a dome is 3.34.
86. When pitching outdoors, it's 4.67.
87. Of players with at least a 10 percent walk rate, only two players in major league
baseball had a higher walk rate than strikeout rate last season: Joe Mauer … and Prince Fielder.
88. Here are Aaron Hill's home run totals for the past four seasons, starting with his most recent
season: 26, eight, 26, 36.
89. Even with the one outlier season, Dan Uggla and Robinson Cano are the only second basemen with more home
runs over the past four seasons. Or RBIs.
90. Hill is also seventh in runs scored over the past four seasons among second basemen.
91. And tied for 10th in steals.
92. He's third in total at-bats over that time frame and hit .302 last year. He's also a career .272 hitter.
93. Which, again, is 17 points better than the league average last season.
94. Over the past three seasons, only two first basemen have had three straight seasons of at least 25 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .298 average: Miguel Cabrera and … Paul Konerko.
95. Cabrera no longer qualifies at first base.
97. Konerko is going, on average, in the 14th round.
98. Only one player has had at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases each of the past three seasons: Carlos Gonzalez.
100. Remember to smile. It's fantasy baseball, for Trout's sake. It's fun.