When we say the phrase "balancing a fantasy baseball roster," we're not talking merely about rotisserie categories. We're also referring to types of players.
For example, one cannot construct a roster entirely of slow-starting, hot-finishing players, players who perform only in home games, or players prone to extended slumps. Too many players from any one of these groups can undermine your team.
Simply put, consistency counts.
There's something to be said for the week-in, week-out performers. Many don't even top the Player Rater, but they are comforting players to slot into your weekly lineup thanks to their low weekly downside. This is most evident in head-to-head, points-based leagues, where the threat of a "zero" can ultimately ruin a team.
So who are these consistent fellows?
To find out, we've calculated, just as we do for football, Consistency Ratings that measure a player's week-to-week utility. (You can see our final 2012 fantasy football Consistency Ratings here, for reference.) Using weekly statistics -- the 24 "weeks" as defined by ESPN's standard game -- we've graded players based on the point totals they accrued. For this, we used our standard-league points scoring system: For hitters, that's one point apiece per total base (1 for single, 2 for double, 3 for triple, 4 for home run), run scored, RBI, walk or stolen base, and minus-1 per caught stealing. For pitchers, that's one point per out recorded (or 3 per inning pitched) or strikeout, five points per win or save, minus-5 per loss, minus-2 per earned run and minus-1 per hit or walk allowed.
Now, here's how the grading system works:
A "Start": A player earns this by registering a point total in the given week that would've made the maximum cutoff for active roster spots at his position in a standard ESPN league. This means that his point total would've ranked among the top 10 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen or shortstops (one starter apiece at each times 10 teams), the top 30 corner or middle infielders (three starters apiece at each times 10 teams), the top 130 hitters overall (13 active hitters times 10 teams, meaning, at worst, he'd have filled your utility spot) or the top 90 pitchers (nine active pitchers times 10 teams).
A "Stud": A player earns this by registering a point total in the given week that ranked among the very best at his position. For these purposes, we'll define this as a rank among the top three catchers, the top 10 corner or middle infielders, the top 20 outfielders, the top 25 hitters overall or the top 30 pitchers.
A "Stiff": A player is deemed this if his point total not only missed the "Start" cutoff for that week, but was so bad that he ranked at least two times lower than the requirement for that group. This means that he ranked outside the top 20 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen or shortstops, the top 60 corner or middle infielders, the top 260 hitters overall or the top 180 pitchers. This group is meant to isolate performances that were so dreadful, they'd have had potentially catastrophic impact on your team had you started them.
These categories are calculated, then converted into a "Consistency Rating" formula, which represents the percentage of times the player was a "Start," comparative to the number of weeks in the given season (24, in 2012). This docks a player for missed time -- this is tallied in a category called "Sat" -- which is an often-asked-about wrinkle to the formula: The justification is that a player is of no service to you during his missed time, so he should not be credited with anything positive for having missed that time.
The full, sortable Consistency Ratings chart can be seen below. But before that, let's highlight some of the more curious findings from 2012:
Strikeouts and the impact on consistency: Predictably, seven of the eight players to strike out at least 160 times while still scoring at least 450 fantasy points were Stiffs at least three times in 2012, and three of them -- Pedro Alvarez (180 K's, 452 fantasy points, 9 Stiff), Chris Davis (169, 454, 8) and Adam Dunn (222, 541, 7) -- were Stiffs at least seven times. That's nearly 30 percent of the season.
You'd expect those high-strikeout, low-average types to rate among the most inconsistent players but that's not always the case. I present to you Curtis Granderson, the majors' second-most strikeout-prone player (195 K's), yet one of only 15 players in baseball who wasn't a Stiff in a single week in 2012. Remarkably, he lacked a steep home/road split, one you might've expected considering he calls a hitting-friendly ballpark his home. Granderson was a .241-26-56 hitter at Yankee Stadium, totaling 307 points; he was a .223-17-50 hitter on the road, totaling 276 points. That illustrates a slight advantage at home, but his consistency stats show that he wasn't the kind of player you needed to mix-and-match depending on how many of his weekly games were at home.
Granted, Granderson will be docked points in the Consistency Ratings department in 2013, because he'll likely miss all of April with a broken forearm, but the fact that he was as consistent as he was last season helps ease some of that injury concern.
Josh Hamilton and strikeouts: For a player who had the fourth-most fantasy points and fourth-best fantasy points per week, Hamilton was remarkably inconsistent, further illustrating the negative impact of his rising strikeout rate upon his overall fantasy appeal. Ten players had a greater Consistency Rating than Hamilton's 79.2 percent, and Hamilton was one of only two hitters to manage at least 575 total fantasy points to be a Stiff four times (Chase Headley was the other). A good way to illustrate: He had a five-point Week 4 (April 30-May 6), and followed it up with a 75-point Week 5 (May 7-13); this was the highest single-week point total all season, and you might remember it as the week Hamilton had a four-homer game (May 8) and hit nine homers in a six-day span.
Another knock on Hamilton: Though it isn't listed in the chart below, Hamilton's standard deviation in weekly totals (15.7) was also the largest of any player who scored at least 450 points in 2012. He was as apt to win you your week -- he had four weeks with top-10 overall hitting point totals -- as he was to be a colossal bust (three weeks in which he ranked outside the top 275 overall hitters).
And he's moving to a more pitching-friendly ballpark in 2013.
On pitching, and "consistency": We've stressed it countless times on these pages through the years, but it is the inconsistency of pitchers on a weekly basis that keeps them from ever making a serious run at No. 1 overall draft status. To that point, 24 hitters managed a higher Consistency Rating in 2012 than the No. 1 pitcher in the category and the "leader" was a three-way tie between two names you know, R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez, and one that might surprise you, Jake Peavy. (All three tied with a 75.0 percent Consistency Rating.)
Here are two more facts that support that point: Of the 178 players to manage a Consistency Rating of 50.0 percent or higher, only 56 were pitchers. In addition, the No. 130 hitter -- that's the number required to fill all lineups in an ESPN standard league -- had a 45.8 percent Consistency Rating; the No. 90 pitcher, by comparison, had a 37.5 percent number.
Fernando Rodney, incidentally, was the only pitcher to be active for all 24 weeks and fail to be a Stiff a single time. Amazingly, he had only the sixth-best Consistency Rating (58.3 percent) among relief pitchers, which is important to keep in mind, considering it shows that consistency was perhaps considered his greatest asset. That's a check in the "might repeat" column, because you'd think that if the performance had been fluky, he might have demonstrated greater week-to-week unpredictability, or he might have cooled off and fallen into the Stiff department at least once by season's end.
Matt Cain is another standout in the consistency department; it's one of the things most responsible for driving him into the top 10 at his position. His 70.8 percent Consistency Rating was fourth-best among pitchers, he tied Justin Verlander (12) for the second-most Stud performances, and his two Stiff performances were second only to Rodney among pitchers who were healthy for all 24 weeks. And Cain didn't just do that in 2012; his monthly 2011 ERAs went 3.34, 4.28, 1.65, 2.53, 2.74 and 2.94, cementing his consistent status.
The consistent Martin Prado: Whereas the aforementioned Hamilton had the largest standard deviation in weekly fantasy point totals, Prado had the smallest among those in the 450-points-or-more class. That helps alleviate any concern about his three Stiff performances, although his 10th-ranked 79.2 percent Consistency Rating should've had you recognizing him as a reliable weekly performer anyway. Prado might not fit the classification of a fantasy superstar, but between his multi-position eligibility -- he's an outfielder/third baseman in our standard game and adds shortstop and second base eligibility in leagues with a 10-game requirement -- and consistency, it's no wonder he has an average draft position currently placing him in the ninth round.
Consistency Ratings for the 2012 season
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the season's 24 weeks -- not weeks the player played, but total weeks on the MLB schedule -- in which his fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort. Players must have managed a "Start" at least once in 2012 to be included on the chart.