This piece was originally titled “World’s Worst 5×5 Fantasy League Baseball Guide for Spork Users“, but I determined that was decidely too pessimistic and catered to a very small audience (spork users). It was also a ridiculously long title, so I abandoned it in favor of something a bit easier to remember. Keep in mind as you read this ginormous piece of work that I’m possibly the world’s worst fantasy baseball player (hyperbole warning). Even so I feel obligated to pass along everything that I know in hopes that you can learn from my previous mistakes. Makes sense, yes? Good.
Assumptions Made: I begin by assuming that I can’t remember every single stat about every single player of interest in MLB. If you aren’t making the same assumption, then you probably don’t need to read the rest of this article.
The Method: I use Excel. A lot. As an example, I’m participating in a 5×5 league that uses OPS, Runs, Home Runs, RBI, and Stolen Bases for the 5 categories for position players. Therefore, I created spreadsheet tabs for each position and a row for each player of interest who plays that particular position. I then looked up each player’s stats for 2010 and filled in the spreadsheet with a column for each of the 5 categories and a column next to each category column used for rankings. I then sorted the data in descending order by OPS and ranked the players 1-14 (see example for 1B below). I then re-sorted the data in descending order by “R” for “Runs” and ranked the players again. This process is repeated for HR, RBI, and SB. The “AB” field contains the number of at-bats the player had in 2010 and is used for a separate adjustment later in the process. The last column in the row is “TOTAL” which is the cumulative of all the player’s rankings for the 5 categories. I then sorted the data in ascending order on “TOTAL” to determine which player had the lowest overall ranking, thereby indicating to me which player was the best choice based on raw data at the given position.
1B: If Albert Pujols isn’t the first overall pick in your league, then color me shocked and awed. He has the lowest cumulative ranking score of all the players in my crude spreadsheets, and that says something. Nobody else is really close. At first glance, 1B doesn’t look to be all that deep. After the top 3 of Pujols, Cabrera, and Votto, there seems to be a dropoff to Konerko. That’s true, but it ignores a few things that must be taken into consideration in order to convert “raw data” into “finished product data”. Adam Dunn no longer plays for the Nationals, so he and Konerko are now together on the White Sox. That’s quite a DH/1B platoon, but nobody knows quite how many at-bats each will get. Also, Carlos Pena just went from the AL East and the Rays to the NL Central and the Cubs. Overall, I tend to think that will help improve his stock just a bit. Does that mean he’ll produce more than Prince Fielder? Maybe not, but he may narrow the gap between himself and Fielder, so the difference between the two may be minimal. Keep that in mind, because they’ll be facing very similar schedules.
Final 1B Rankings: Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena, Kendry Morales, Ryan Howard, Buster Posey, Billy Butler, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Lee, and Daric Barton.
The other part of the 5×5 league consists of the pitchers, and the 5 categories in use are Wins, Saves, ERA, Strikeouts (K), and WHIP. Similar to the method above for position players, I created two different spreadsheet tabs for pitchers – one for starters and one for relievers. For the relievers, I started by sorting the data by ”Wins” in descending order and ranking the players. I then re-sorted the data in descending order by ”Saves” and re-ranked the players using the column for rankings next to to the “SV” field. Same thing for the “K” column. Obviously, I sorted in ascending order for “ERA” and “WHIP”, because lower is better for both of those stats. If you needed me to tell you that, then please raise your hand, and Tommy will come around and hit you over the head with a tack hammer. (No fantasy league primer would be complete without a Tommy Boy reference.) You’ll notice that I included the number of innings pitched (more on that later).
The Madness: Notice that I mentioned “raw data” and “separate adjustment” in the previous section. That’s because accomodations must be made for players changing roles, players changing teams, teams rebuilding, and injuries. I’ll provide at least one example of each of these scenarios.
- Changing roles -> Madison Bumgarner => Went 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA and 86 strikeouts, 1.306 WHIP in only 18 starts. If you extrapolate that out to a full season, he’s somewhere in the top 25 starting pitchers. Since he only won 7 games, he doesn’t even appear on the list of top 80 pitchers based on wins.
- Changing teams -> Ryan Theriot => I’ve counted him as a SS, although some leagues may require that he be counted initially as a 2B. Regardless, he’s likely to see a slight uptick in some of his numbers simply by moving to the leadoff spot in St. Louis.
- Changing roles -> Buster Posey => Great partial season with 18 hr and 67 rbi in 406 at-bats. Give him just another 100 or so at-bats, and he’s no longer the 5th ranked catcher on the board. He’s in the top 3. If he’d just pick up a stolen base or two, he’d be #1. Oh, and he also qualifies at both 1B and C.
- Injuries -> David Aardsma => He’s out for the first couple weeks of the regular season. He’s the 19th highest rated closer on my sheet, so it’s not a huge deal, but it’s always good to know.
- Teams rebuilding -> David Price => He’s great, but his team may not be quite as good in 2011 as it was in 2010. Will that affect his win total?
- Injuries -> Johan Santana => He’s out, he’s in. I picked him up late based on the idea that he’ll be back in July. News broke yesterday (3.12.2011) that he’ll be out the entire season, but Santana denied the rumor. Pick him at your own risk. I picked him up late as a flyer just in case he comes back.
As for “separate adjustments”, there are some obvious ones to be considered. For example, the number of wins that a closer accumulates during a season will typically vary greatly from one year to the next. The total is often an aberration, so you should probably pick a number as a threshold above which you consider any value to be anomalous. For my purposes, I picked the number “4″. If a closer had more than 4 wins, then I considered the number to be an anomoly, so I “flattened” the rankings to reflect this perception. After doing this, closers like Heath Bell, John Axford, Matt Capps, Ryan Franklin, and Francisco Cordero no longer benefited from significantly better rankings as a function of higher win totals.
Of course, other adjustments may be performed as well. If a strikeout total seems awfully high for the total number of innings pitched, it might be worth checking the player’s historical SO/9 rate by season. If 2010 appears to be significantly higher than any other season, then you may question whether or not 2011 is likely to be more similar to 2010 or a regression toward the mean.
Did I mentioned that I included “innings pitched”? Yeah, I sure did. Just don’t look at the raw numbers and draw conclusions based on the stats that are used in your league. Tyler Clippard won 11 games last season. Guess how many games he started……0. He only pitched 91 innings. Don’t overlook someone like Tommy Hunter who pitched only 128 innings but managed 13 wins in 22 starts. Other players might miss a player like Hunter. Don’t be that person.
Is There A Draft In Here?: Seems like everybody has a different approach to fantasy league drafts. Although I haven’t tried the giant lawn grid approach with lawn darts yet, it sounds pretty fun. If you don’t happen to have a big enough yard to go that route, I suggest a few simple guidelines that have failed me miserably in the past.
- In round 1, draft the best player available and ignore what other people are doing.
- In round 2, scan your spreadsheets to determine which positions are close to hitting “dropoff points”. Those are points at which the drop in rankings between one group of players at a position and the rest of the group is significant. Think “big disparity”. At 3B, the dropoff point is 6 players deep. For 2B, the point is only 6 players deep. At 1B, it’s really 3 deep. SS is only 2 deep, so after Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, you might as well wait it out.
- In round 3, try to grab an “ace” starting pitcher. There’s really a top 4, and then there’s everybody else. Based on raw rankings, that top 4 consists of Halladay, Wainwright, Jimenez, and Felix Hernandez (or at least there was a top 4). On the other hand, Cliff Lee is ranked really low, because he didn’t get a lot of wins for all the effort he made last year. He should be ranked a lot higher than he is based on the raw numbers. The hard part is deciding just how high he should go.
- Start filling in gaps and looking for value or players that are being overlooked. Keep in mind that the value of using the spreadsheet method isn’t necessarily in the first 4-5 rounds. The real value is usually after round 10. That’s when some players are picking Mark Buehrle ahead of Jeremy Guthrie or Jack Cust ahead of Tyler Colvin.
- Make every single pick count. It’s tempting near the end of a draft just to get things over with and move on to something more important….like reading this blog or something. The blog will be here when you get done. Focus.
- Look for duel threat players. Players that qualify at multiple positions (usually by playing 25+ games at each one) are great as insurance, especially if they played some combination of IF/OF. One of the better examples from 2010 is Aubrey Huff. Huff managed to play in 100 different games at 1B, but he also managed 63 appearances in the OF as well. If all goes well, I plan to pick him up as my 4th OF guy.
Closers: Based on the raw data, Heath Bell is the top ranked closer. He’s really, really good. He also took the top spot on the strength of 6 wins and 47 saves while playing on a 90-win Padres team. Are the Padres a 90-win team again this season? What are the odds that Bell will win 6 games again? What about Rafael Soriano? He’s no longer a closer now, and he’s playing for the Yankees. That kind of moves him down the list a bit. The more homework you do on these players, the better off you will be come draft time. If you happen to know that so-and-so is nursing a nagging injury that promises to linger into the first month of the season, then maybe your valuation of that player’s stock drops a bit.
Final Closer Rankings: Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, Heath Bell, John Axford, Mariano Rivera, Joakim Soria, Aroldis Chapman, Francisco Rodriguez, Chris Perez, Andrew Bailey, Huston Street, Matt Capps, and Leo Nunez. Rationale? Wilson could be the beneficiary of even better starting pitching in front of him this year, and Marmol should benefit from a slightly improved Cubs team. Heath Bell only drops slightly, because of the aforementioned 6 wins that helped propel him to #1 in the raw rankings. Axford only had 24 saves in 2010, and I expect him to get many more opportunities this year, so he can improve his ranking even if his conversion rate drops slightly. As for Rivera, I expect the Yankees to miss the playoffs but still win 85+ games, and having Soriano ahead of him will help create prime save situations in which Mo comes into games with a cushion and nobody on base in the 9th inning. Keep an eye on Neftali Feliz, though. He was awesome as a closer last year, but he was used as a starter in a spring training game on 03.03.2011 (yeah, I’m updating this thing like crazy).
Starters: I’ve broken up the starters into two different images in order to obtain the screenshots. Most people can probably name at least 75% of the top 20 starters in baseball. It’s the 20-40 starters where people begin to typically struggle. Based on my experience, that’s where a lot of fantasy points are won/lost. Maybe you haven’t heard of Gio Gonzalez, but you’ve heard of Carl Pavano. Don’t go on name recognition alone, though. Trust the numbers. If the numbers aren’t enough, then look up the player’s career numbers and look for trends. Look at the peripheral stats like BB/9 and H/9 or ground ball to fly ball ratios. Check for anything that might indicate a trend in the right or wrong direction.
Final Starter Rankings: Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, David Price, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Roy Oswalt, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Mat Latos, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Cahill, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Johnson, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Sanchez, C.J. Wilson, Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum, Gio Gonzalez, Colby Lewis, Ryan Dempster, Bronson Arroyo, John Danks, Carl Pavano, Brett Myers, Phil Hughes, and Max Scherzer.
The Remaining Positions: If I were allowed to go through the remaining positions and just pick a “dream team” for fantasy baseball, I’d finish up with David Wright, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, and Buster Posey.
2B: As previously mentioned, this position is about 6-deep, so Uggla, Cano, Utley, Weeks, Pedroia and Kelly Johnson will likely be gone early. If they are gone before you can snag one of them, then don’t panic. Actually, I’d recommend that you focus on other positions and wait until the bottom half of the draft to grab your 2B. The raw rankings for the top 4 guys range from a cumulative score of 16-22. After that dropoff point of 22, the range is from 33 to 59. Given the actual numbers involved, you’re not giving up a whole lot by sacrificing 2B in favor of gaining an advantage at another position. Keep in mind that raw numbers are important, but differential is important as well. Maybe Mark Ellis is ranked really low, but keep in mind that the A’s added a little offensive pop in the form of Hideki Matsui in the offseason. Notice that I didn’t list Pedroia, because he only played 75 games in 2010. He’s a top 5 2B in my opinion, but he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify on the list. That makes it slightly more difficult to gauge where he belongs in the final rankings.
Final 2B Rankings: Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla, Dustin Pedroia, Rickie Weeks, Chase Utley, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler, Howie Kendrick, Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, and Martin Prado. I’d actually argue that there is Cano, Uggla, Pedroia, and then there is everybody else here, because those 3 are the most consistent producers, but guys like Weeks and Phillips can steal some bases, so that’s a huge wild card factor to consider.
3B: This happens to be what I consider the deepest infield position in the draft, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an easy position to select, either. You probably can’t go wrong with David Wright or Evan Longoria, although it’s difficult to assess how much Longoria’s numbers will change due to changes in the personnel around him. I think that the safer pick is David Wright, and that’s based in part on his ability to steal a few more bases. Speed never slumps. Once you get past those top 2, you’ve got a tight grouping of A-Rod, Zimmerman, Beltre, and Reynolds. If these guys were stocks, I’d bet on Zimmerman to go up, A-Rod to stay even, Beltre to maybe dip slightly, and Reynolds to rise. Why? Of the 4, Zimmerman has been the most consistent over the past 2 seasons, and he’s about to start a season with Jayson Werth hitting behind him. Beltre isn’t exactly known for putting up huge numbers in non-contract years, and A-Rod has been trending in the wrong direction the past 3 years. Reynolds is literally and figuratively a hit and miss guy, but he’s due to rebound after hitting .198 last season. With 211 strikeouts in 2010, it’s a wonder he managed a .320 OBP. If he can bring that average up, then he likely separates himself from the pack and makes himself a fantasy baseball keeper. Click on the pretty spreadsheet thingy to make it much larger than it appears now.
Final 3B Rankings: David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Casey McGehee, Ian Stewart, Scott Rolen, Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Michael Young probably belongs somewhere on this list, but his situation is currently in limbo, so I’m hesitant to place him anywhere at this time.
SS: Shallow. Very shallow. After Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, there’s a 15 point rankings dropoff. The good news is that there is a really good selection after the dropoff. There are 5 players clustered in the small range from 31-34, so it’s really a matter of preference or quite possibly a matter of need. If your team is in need of a little extra hr power, then maybe your guy is Stephen Drew (23 hr). If you prefer rbi, then maybe you want Alex Gonzalez (88 rbi). Jose Reyes is your guy for stolen bases in that little group with 30. Are there any “sleepers” in that group? I wouldn’t call Derek Jeter a “sleeper”, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come out in 2011 and top his 2010 performance by a bit. He’s still part of a lineup that can push him across the plate an awful lot, so 111 runs scored could be topped. It’s a gamble, but I wouldn’t bet against the guy.
Final SS Rankings: Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Alexei Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, Starlin Castro, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Drew, Jimmy Rollins, Starlin Castro, Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez, and Cliff Pennington. I like Rollins and a lot and would like to rank him higher, but I always have concerns about guys coming off of nagging injuries. Jeter is probably ranked a bit higher here than in other fantasy draft rankings, but I’m basing that on a hunch that he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he doesn’t have to improve his AVG/OPS to add a lot to his value.
C: Unless you really have a hunch on a catcher, I wouldn’t jump up and draft one too early. One reason for this recommendation is that they simply are too unpredictable in terms of injuries and numbers of at-bats. The second reason is that there isn’t one dominant catcher with an established track record of consistency that just screams “take me in round 1″. Sure, McCann, Victor Martinez, Napoli, Mauer, and Posey all look really good on paper, but they aren’t separated by all that much. My personal approach is to never draft a catcher before the 5th round.
Final C Rankings: Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana, Miguel Montero, Mike Napoli, Kurt Suzuki, Geovany Soto, Jorge Posada, Matt Wieters, Russell Martin, A.J. Pierzynski, Ryan Doumit, Yadier Molina, and Carlos Ruiz.
OF: It’s hard to fill 6 outfield spots on your roster with more than 3 players in the top 25 outfielders, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I usually go after 2 in the top 25 and 1 value pick that may come from a team that doesn’t get much attention. Guys like Luke Scott, Carlos Quentin, and Adam Jones are reasonably good 3rd OF picks, if you don’t happen to snag 3 starters in the top 25. Obviously, the more people there are in your league, the tougher it is to create depth on your roster, but even the best players tend to overlook someone or have their own biases.
Final OF Rankings: Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday, Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Shin-Soo Choo, Jayson Werth, Chris Young, Alex Rios, Nick Swisher, Hunter Pence, Colby Rasmus, Drew Stubbs, Matt Kemp, Vernon Wells, Jason Heyward, Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Nelson Cruz, Delmon Young, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Andrew McCutchen.
Of course, this isn’t the “World’s Worst 5×5 Fantasy Baseball Guide for Spork Users” for nothing. It should be noted that I haven’t played fantasy baseball in a few years, so I’m horribly out-of-practice. However, the last time I played in a Yahoo league, I did manage to finish a respectable 2nd place without much effort during the actual season. Most of the real effort was put into the draft itself. In my opinion, that’s where seasons are won and lost.
DUEL THREAT PLAYERS: Some of these guys are big name players like Buster Posey (1B / C) or Jose Bautista (OF / 3B). What about Jason Kubel (OF / DH)? Ryan Theriot (2B / SS)? Neither Kubel or Theriot should be high draft picks, but they are great insurance to back up your starters in the event of injury. Also, consider Aubrey Huff (1B / OF), especially if you can get him as a 4th outfielder. That’s a nice backup at 2 positions a luxury that most other teams in your league won’t have.
TIDBIT: This guide probably has the most relevance for people participating in ESPN fantasy baseball leagues or Yahoo fantasy baseball, but the concepts and methods may apply to any type of league.
Disclaimers, Caveats, and Lame Excuses: The player lists are by no means comprehensive, and I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information on them. Actually, I probably could, but then I’d feel obligated to make new screenshots if somebody reports an error. That’s just not going to happen, because this post was authored for informational purposes and was not intended to be a all-encompassing primer on 5×5 mixed league fantasy baseball. If that were the case, I’d probably be really good at this, and we’d find a way to hide this content behind a paywall. Besides, I’ve already typed over 3000 words. Just keep in mind that the clickable spreadsheet screenshots are only EXAMPLES.
You’ll notice that I didn’t opt for the 3-year history approach to ranking players. Why not? I don’t consider it any more accurate at predicting the future than I do the 1 year approach. There is no such thing as a “sure thing”, and that’s the attitude that I take into drafting.
Like it? Wish you had written your own “World’s Worst 5×5 Fantasy Baseball Guide for Spork Users”? Follow gr33nazn on Twitter and submit your ideas for the next one!
UPDATED BITS OF TID: I’m still particpating in the fantasy baseball draft being held by @STLDraftTB on Twitter. If you are interested in following along, I encourage you to follow that account to see how everybody is doing throughout the year. My competition includes some really outstanding bloggers, some very intense Cardinals fans, a few professional baseball writers, and the official Twitter account for FoxSports Midwest.
PENULTIMATE BIT OF TID: I’ll be updating this post with my draft picks and final rankings at each position as well, so please bookmark this one, if you’re interested in following my future bad decisions.