If you’re anything like me, you’re addicted to any and all fantasy sports. Thus, the All-Star break officially marks the start of the stretch run towards winning the fantasy baseball championship. While I can’t claim to be a fantasy expert in the way that Matthew Berry can claim to be a fantasy expert, I can vouch that I most certainly participate in an unhealthy amount of fantasy sports and have been for about fifteen years now. Because of this, I can safely say with an overwhelming amount of confidence that I know more about fantasy sports than you, or pretty much any person I’ve ever met.
Let me then counter my arrogance by saying that this doesn’t mean that I just win every league that I join. As any experienced fantasy player knows, winning a league requires an extraordinary amount of luck. The trick is to reduce your amount of luck required as much as possible. As is oft repeated by fantasy columnists around the world, the advice I’m about to give is not a one-stop shop for fantasy advice. Like any subject, you should be consuming a variety of content from a variety of different sources so that you don’t become ignorant and stubborn. My final disclaimer is that I don’t pretend to have an advanced understanding of statistics, mathematics, modeling, or any of the other fancy words attached to the analytics movement in sports. I have a basic understanding and know how to use these advanced metrics to my advantage though, with quantifiable results. With all that said, let’s see if I can’t help you find some value in the last half of the season to help you eventually win your league trophy.
There is no doubt that the biggest competitive advantage to be had right now in fantasy sports is still the under-usage of sabermetrics by owners. While this is great for stats-obsessed losers like myself, it still astounds me how little the average fantasy player knows about advanced stats, given that we’re about a decade removed from Michael Lewis releasing Moneyball. More importantly, it astounds me that they don’t know how to use advanced stats to help them build a solid squad. A fantasy owner in 2012 doesn’t need to be able to explain how to calculate a stat like WAR or xFIP, but at a bare minimum they need to know how to use them to aid in building and tooling their team.
I’ll save long explanations on using the advanced stats for another column. Basically what I’ve done here is compiled the players who have either gotten extremely unlucky or extremely lucky in the first half. Based on this knowledge you can either find some undervalued guys to target in trades or you can look to sell high on players before they start to suck. Here’s the list, based on what the advanced stats are telling us.
Pitchers You Should Target
1. Tim Lincecum – Take a quick look at Lincecum’s first half numbers and it’s quite clear that it was a disaster. A shocking 3-10 record, an alarming 6.42 ERA, and a sky-high 1.58 WHIP aren’t exactly helping out his owners. Many of them would have ditched him by now, if his name wasn’t Tim Lincecum. This is exactly the kind of guy you should be looking to grab, while his value is at an all-time low. While I can’t promise that he’ll return to the Cy Young form of old, Lincecum is due to start getting luckier. In fact, he’s pretty much been the unluckiest pitcher in all of baseball thus far. The advanced stats say he’s getting extremely unlucky on balls hit into play and that his fielders are letting him down right now. He also has the second lowest left-on-base percentage among qualified starters. These are all things that tend to average out over time so cash in now and enjoy Lincecum’s return to normalcy, especially when he dials it as the Giants shoot for the NL West Crown. You can also take satisfaction in that he still delivers one of the best strikeout rates in MLB while you wait for the other numbers to come down.
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Josh Johnson
4. Max Scherzer
5. Jon Lester
Pitchers You Should Consider Trading
1. Ryan Vogelsong – Tim Lincecum’s lesser-known teammate enjoyed a second consecutive year of proving the critics wrong before the All-Star Gane. He boasts one of the lowest ERAs in all of baseball and won a very respectable seven games. The time is now to get as much as you can in return for him. The numbers suggest that Vogelsong is unusually lucky in situations with runners on-base and that he’s getting extremely lucky on balls that get hit into the field of play. There is some sucker in your league who has been salivating all year about his ERA and you should be able to rope him into a deal where you can fix another weakness on your roster.
2. C.J. Wilson
3. Jeremy Hellickson
4. Ryan Dempster
5. Kyle Loshe
Hitters You Should Target
1. Jose Bautista – Okay so it’s not exactly an open secret that Bautista is the man. It’s far from likely that you’ll be able to get him on the cheap either, given that he’s leading the league in home runs. Let me defend this by saying that it’s possible Bautista is still due to see his numbers go up across the board after getting extremely unlucky in the first half with balls he hit into play. So despite having league-leading power numbers, he still technically may have underachieved. If you have an owner out there with Bautista who is desperate for some pitching, make the Blue Jays slugger your primary target.
2. Eric Hosmer
3. Cameron Maybin
4. Brian McCann
5. Rickie Weeks
Hitters You Should Consider Trading
1. Carlos Ruiz – If you were one of the lucky few who grabbed Ruiz with the last pick in the draft only to enjoy perhaps the finest offensive first-half by any catcher offensively, give yourself a pat on the back. Now, start trying to move Ruiz, like yesterday. If it seems like his numbers came out of nowhere, that’s because they did. Ruiz is not only going for career-high numbers in all the traditional categories, but the advanced stats also suggest he’s getting the luckiest breaks of his career too. He’s also bound to be hurt by the returns of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard which will push him back in the order.
2. Alex Rios
3. Jason Kubel
4. Austin Jackson
5. Edwin Encarnacion