Players by the numbers
After I graduated from Syracuse University (Go Cuse!) and decided to try to make it in show business, I moved to Los Angeles. And like most people who move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business, my first job in L.A. had little to do with Hollywood. It was at the (now closed) FAO Schwarz toy store in the Beverly Center Mall. I worked there for a year or so before breaking into show biz and, for a minimum-wage paying job fresh out of college, it could have been much worse. I liked my co-workers, the store had a fun energy because of the toys and the kids running around and there was no shortage of interesting people walking through the door.
I remember one of my favorite moments came when the largest African-American man I have ever seen in my life walked in. He looked at least 7 feet tall, must have been 300 pounds, but not the kind of 300 pounds you get to be sitting on a couch all day snacking, you know what I mean? I was working the register with a sweet, but fairly dumb girl. The guy grabbed an expensive teddy bear and walked to the register, where he handed it to the girl.
The girl rings it up and turns to the man.
Girl: That'll be $54. Would you like to pay cash or credit?
Large Man: Credit.
The man hands her a credit card, which she looks at. She turns to the man and says, as was store policy:
"Do you have any identification, Mr. O'Neal?"
It was then that Shaquille O' Neal looked at me, puzzled. That's right. Shaq. I gave him a shrug as if to say, hey, I know who you are, dude.
Shaq just laughed and handed the girl his driver's license.
Girl: Thank you, Mr. O'Neal. Let's get that wrapped up for you!
After he left, I turned to her.
Me: How could you not know who that is??!
Girl: I don't know! I don't watch basketball!
Me: If a 300 pound, 7-foot black guy hands you a credit card that says Shaquille O'Neal on it, it's probably him!
Hey, Matthew Berry wrote a book!
Between celebrating every aspect of fantasy -- the trash talk, the trophies, the insane draft day locations, the punishments, the clever attempts at cheating and surprisingly uplifting stories -- Matthew Berry chronicles his journey from a 14-year-old player to ESPN's senior fantasy analyst.
When a card has a name and a picture on it, we usually take it at face value that it's who this person is; a driver's license, a school ID, even a baseball card; Baseball lore is full of guys who have identified themselves at one stadium or another by showing their baseball card. But there's more to those baseball cards than a name and a picture, of course. That's why the "back of the baseball card" is a popular saying, in both real life baseball and fantasy. It's shorthand for the stats this player is known for, and the theory is that ultimately, a player will do what they are supposed to and, by the end of the year, the numbers they put up will roughly match the back of the baseball card. But we all know that's not always the case: for some reason or another, some guys have seasons on the back of their cards that don't really match the others. Such as David Wright's 10-homer season in 2009 or, more famously, Brady Anderson's 50-homer season in 1996.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at some "baseball card backs." That is, to just show some stats without names (the front) to illustrate some points, because in fantasy, when thinking about players, we often get distracted by the front without paying enough attention to the back, so to say. In the past, I've called these "blind résumés," but let's just go with the theme today and call them "backs of the cards."
Backs of the cards No. 1
Player A: .225 batting average; 42 runs, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 2 SB
Player B: .231 BA; 37 runs, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 0 SB
Player A is preseason darling Yoenis Cespedes, currently owned in 100 percent of leagues. And player B? Houston Astros 1B/OF Chris Carter, currently available in almost 60 percent of leagues. Now, Cespedes' low BABIP suggests he might be getting unlucky a bit, but with the increased strikeout rate, it's not all that surprising that his average took a dive. It depends on your league and team and what you need, but either Carter needs to be owned in more leagues (if you need power and are blowing off average, for example) or Cespedes needs to be owned in fewer.
Backs of the cards No. 2
Player A: .293 BA, 31 runs, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB
Player B: .215 BA, 39 runs, 10 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB
Player C: .285 BA, 46 runs, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 0 SB
The batting average probably gave player B away, the disappointing Josh Hamilton, owned in 100 percent of leagues. But it's just sort of interesting when you compare his numbers side by side with player A, Nate Schierholtz, currently available in over 65 percent of leagues. Runs will be an issue for him playing for the Cubs -- they're 19th in the league with 4.04 runs scored per game -- but when you compare his numbers to Player C, the 100 percent owned Nick Markakis, it makes you realize just how underowned Schierholtz is. Thank you to all the folks on Twitter who pointed it out.
Backs of the cards No. 3
Player A: .241 BA, 47 runs, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB
Player B: .243 BA, 29 runs, 18 HR, 43 RBI, 0 SB
You're getting more runs and steals with "A" and more power numbers with "B," but in general, they've been about the same value-wise this year. I had already planned to talk about Player B, Raul Ibanez (available in 63 percent of leagues) but @bearitto on Twitter suggested I compare him to Player A, the started-red-hot-and-has-since-cooled-off Justin Upton. Ibanez has never been a big runs scored guy and I expect the power to cool off at some point, but still. He needs to be owned in all leagues for the time being.
Backs of the cards No. 4
Player A: .231 BA, 34 runs, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 6 SB
Player B: .243 BA, 38 runs, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 5 SB
Player A is the 98 percent owned Starlin Castro. And Player B is the 70 percent owned Andrelton Simmons. It's not that I think Simmons needs to be owned in more leagues. I don't; he's just 17th on the ESPN Player Rater among shortstops for the season. It's that Castro shouldn't necessarily be either. Currently 32nd on the player rater, Castro's walk rate has gone down this season and his strikeout rate has increased from last year, which had increased from the year before that. He's not this bad of an average hitter but when you're not getting power or speed from a guy? In a non-keeper, 10-team mixed league, no issue dropping this guy if there's a decent option out there. Shout out to @Mrbusche on Twitter for suggesting this one.
Backs of the cards No. 5
Player A: .273 BA, 37 runs, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB
Player B: .273 BA, 32 runs, 10 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB
Player A is Indians catcher Carlos Santana, owned in 100 percent of leagues, part of the better-than-you-think Indians offense. And player B is Jason Castro, catcher for the just-as-bad-as-you-think Houston Astros. It's not a great team but he's hitting in the middle of the lineup and I feel he's legit. He's also available in 65 percent of leagues. If he's out there in yours, why not try to deal Santana for something you can use elsewhere and grab Castro from the free-agent pile?
Backs of the cards No. 6
Player A: .272 BA, 31 runs, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 0 SB
Player B: .276 BA, 28 runs, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB
Player A is owned in 100 percent of leagues, the always-on-my-"hate"-list Ryan Howard. He has put up these numbers in 265 at-bats this season. Player B, Mitch Moreland, has put up his numbers in 217 at-bats, the result of a stint on the DL. We've talked about Moreland a lot on the podcast and I discussed him in the preseason; the big difference this year is playing time. He's actually getting it on a consistent basis. I'd drop Howard for Moreland in a heartbeat and wouldn't think twice about it. Moreland needs to be 100 percent owned.
Backs of the cards No. 7
Player A: .288 BA, 29 runs, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 13 SB
Player B: .294 BA, 30 runs, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 11 SB
Player B is Michael Bourn, owned in 100 percent of leagues and part of the still-better-than-you-think Indians offense. Player A, meanwhile, has only recently become a full-time player, which maybe explains his 43 percent ownership percentage. I don't think Leonys Martin's recent power surge is legit, but the speed is, and so is the playing time and the offense behind him. Over the past 30 days, he's 21st on the player rater among all batters.
Backs of the cards No. 8
Player A: .344 BA, 35 runs, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 6 SB, 227 at-bats
Player B: .322 BA, 55 runs, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 3 SB, 295 at-bats
The .344 average probably gave away player A, Michael Cuddyer, but lots of people on Twitter suggested him because he compares very favorably to lots of big-name players, including Joey Votto, who is Player B, the only difference being runs scored (20 is a lot), but I chalk most of that up to the disparity in at-bats, as Cuddyer was banged up earlier. Both are 100 percent owned but the point here is to show the kind of company Cuddyer is in. Look at his numbers (again, he's "A") to this guy:
Player C: .256, 41 runs, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 0 SB, 301 at bats.
That's Albert Pujols. My guess is that you could get Cuddyer for Pujols and I'd do that deal.
Backs of the cards No. 9
Player A: 5 wins, 2.99 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.39 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 78 1/3 innings
Player B: 4 wins, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.97 K/9, 2.61 BB/9; 86 1/3 innings
Player B you might recognize. One of the first starting pitchers off the board, Stephen Strasburg is a fantasy stud. And I'm not saying that Player A, John Lackey, is the equal of Strasburg. What I am saying, however, is that Lackey's still available in almost 60 percent of leagues and his next start is at home against San Diego.
Backs of the cards No. 10
Player A: 6 wins, 3.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 69 strikeouts in 71 innings
Player B: 6 wins, 3.64 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 76 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings
Suggested by @SLftw23 on Twitter, I'm glad this one came up. It's not that Pitcher B is bad. Doug Fister is very solid and owned in 100 percent of leagues. It's just that I knew I wanted to talk about Player A, Corey Kluber, who is still available in 60 percent of leagues. I'm writing this before his Thursday start against Baltimore, but regardless of what happens tonight in this game, I believe in this guy, who has been terrific since joining the Cleveland rotation. In fact, his FIP is 3.43 and his xFIP is 2.98, suggesting that maybe he's even better than the back of his card suggests.
I appreciate all the suggestions on Twitter. Way too many great ones to use.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also has a funny story about the toy store and Journey lead singer Steve Perry. Ask him about it one day. 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.