This is the time of year that everyone is starting to really get into fantasy baseball. Magazines are starting to show up on the newsstands, mock drafts are heating up on line, and everyone is going about starting to piece together their cheat sheets for draft day. But a key component of how to put together the best team on draft day is often neglected, and that is how you actually evaluate a player. In what follows, I'll point out some key thoughts to help you to learn how to properly address the question of what a guy's value is for the coming season, and in order to do so I will focus on John Buck.
First, some general rules.
(1) You need to take into account what happened in 2010, but you need to be forward thinking, not rear looking.
(2) There is more to a player than 5x5 fantasy stats. Make sure you add into the equation where he plays his game (does the park favor hitters or pitchers?), where he will hit in the lineup and who will surround him in that lineup. Remember, counting numbers like runs and RBI are largely a function of the performance of teammates.
(3) Identify trends - but make sure the sample size is relevant. If a player has improved his batting average against left-handed pitching 4-straight years that trend means something. If he merely improved over 45 at-bats in the second half of last season, is that really relevant?
(4) Understand which measures to really focus on. Here is where many people are tripped up as they get bogged down focusing on the wrong things.
Lets get to Mr. Buck to illustrate what I mean.
Last season Buck hit 20 homers, a career best. So he should hit at least 20 homers again, right? WRONG.
You need to look deeper than the surface numbers.
(a) Buck received more at-bats than ever before which partly explains the 20 homers. In fact, his HR/AB mark of one every 20.5 really isn't drastically different from his 25.8 career mark.
(b) For the third time in four years his fly ball ratio was over 44 percent. However, it was actually a career-high of 44.7 percent, which when matched with a 14.7 percent HR/F ratio, the second best mark of his career, allowed him to reach his career best in homers. That's a lot of factors coming together to help aid that homer total.
(c) In 2010 his home stadium in Toronto was the 2nd best park in the AL to deep in for right-handed batters according to Park Indicies. Buck will be playing in Florida in 2011, and last year Sun Life Stadium was just 13th in the NL in homers allowed to right-handed batters. That's a massive change he will have to deal with. Buck will also be counted on to be one of the main power bats in Florida, whereas in Toronto he was just a depth guy at the end of the lineup (last year the Jays hit 257 home runs while the Marlins had more than 100 less at 152).
Given those three data points, it really isn't wise to expect another 20 homer season from Buck. It could happen, but the odds are certainly against it.
Let us move to the batting average category.
Do you know what the difference is between hitting .270 and .300 is over the course of 500 at-bats? You'd produce 150 hits in 500 at-bats to hit .300 while you would produce 135 hits for a .270 mark. The 15 hits difference sounds like a wide gulf until you realize that the baseball season is basically six months long. That means the difference between hitting .270 and .300 is about one 2.5 hits a month or roughly a hit every 12 days. That's a razor thin margin.
In the case of Buck, there are plenty of reasons to think his career best .281 mark last season was a fluke.
(a) Buck is a career .243 hitter.
(b) In seven seasons he has only hit .250 once.
(c) Buck led baseball with a .409 average against left-handed pitching (min. 50 at-bats). That mark is .142 above his career level.
That's the history which says he has no chance to repeat. As for an in depth look beneath the .281 mark, all the indicators also say to be very afraid of a repeat.
(a) He had the worst walk rate of his career at 3.7 percent (career 6.5). A lack of patience does not bode well for continued batting average success.
(b) He struck out in more than a quarter of his at-bats. Moreover, his 27.1 percent K-rate was actually worse than his career 26.3 percent mark. If you strikeout that much it's very difficult to consistently be a productive batting average option.
(c) Despite the career best average, Buck had a line drive rate of 16.1 percent, a mark that was 0.7 worse than his career level. How was he able to better his career batting average by almost .040 points while hitting fewer line drives than normal? How about this - he was lucky. Buck's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) mark was .335. Only once in his previous six seasons had that mark been over .300, and his career rate is just .289. It makes no sense that his line drive rate dropped while his BABIP sky rocketed.
Bottom line: Buck will hit home runs, he has a lot of power, but a run to another 20 homers seems improbable. As for his batting average, he has about a three percent chance of once again hitting .280. In fact, I'd lay better than 50/50 odds that his average will once again drop below .250.
Hopefully this brief primer will help to point you in the right direction when you start to put together your cheat sheets for draft day. Take into account the opinions of people that you know and respect, but at the same time don't be afraid to role up your sleeves and do some analysis on your own - you might surprise yourself with how fun it is.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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