You're invested in team

ON FANTASY SPORTS

now, take stock

May 16, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

So we've about reached the quarter post of the fantasy baseball season.

It's still too early to say that struggling stars will be busts or that the surprises of April and May are breakout stars. But it's not too early to take stock of your team and see where you're weak.

Doing so is pretty simple. For each category (even the ones in which you're thriving), find the players on your team who are performing significantly above or below expectations. Then figure out where you would be in that category if they had performed at projected levels. If you do that and find that you would still be seventh or eighth in the category, you have a problem that you might want to address via trade or the waiver wire.

There are plenty of cases in which I would advise patience. In one mixed league, for example, my team ranks last in batting average. But I have (entering yesterday) Aramis Ramirez hitting .214, Juan Pierre hitting .225, Marcus Giles hitting .230, Bobby Crosby hitting .237 and Jimmy Rollins hitting .248. Even if all those guys finish with averages equal to their previous career worsts, my team average will rise. If they get back to expected levels, it will rise a lot. So I'm not panicking.

But in the same league, I projected from the start that I might have RBI problems because I drafted a bunch of top-of-the-order hitters. Experience has proved that projection out, so I might trade a speedy guy like Pierre or Johnny Damon for a cleanup hitter.

Such systematic assessments of your teams are important, because you want to address problems before they become unsolvable. Gosh, that sounded like something out of a bureaucratic leadership conference. But, hey, it's true in this case.

OK. It's also fun at this point to look at happenings across baseball and pan for broader lessons.

The first that leaps to mind is this: Pitchers will drive even the most prepared owners to lunacy. You can't count on them as you can the best position players.

I just looked at a smattering of preseason rankings for starting pitchers. Carlos Zambrano, Randy Johnson, Dontrelle Willis, Ben Sheets, Rich Harden and Bartolo Colon appeared in many top 10s.

Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Bronson Arroyo, Greg Maddux, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang didn't appear in any.

Know which group you would rather have right now? And don't even get me started on a population of relievers in which Jose Valverde has drastically outpitched Brad Lidge.

Could we have foreseen the problems that have beset the top group? Some of them, sure. Johnson, Sheets and Harden were health risks coming into the season. I put Colon and Zambrano on lists of pitchers likely to disappoint. Willis, well, I can't explain him. The bottom line is that if you have a bad hunch about a pitcher, it's almost safer to expect the worst. They're a terribly fragile species.

As for that second group, which has owners whooping from New York to Chicago, don't pat yourselves on the back too much. I guess we might have suspected that Mussina, Glavine and Maddux were capable of great last gasps, but I didn't see too many people touting them before the season. Capuano seemed like a bad play because his stats didn't support his won-lost record last year. Arroyo seemed a poor fit in Cincinnati because he's a fly-ball pitcher and homers soar out of the Reds' park.

A lot of these guys will probably fall back to earth because even average pitchers have good eight-game stretches. But the start of this season has been an abject testament to why we draft elite hitters over elite pitchers. We can trust the guys with the bats.

Except when we can't, of course. My experience so far has reminded me that it's better to be lucky than smart.

My Childs Play team, which I've discussed before, stands in second place. But not because of any logic I employed. I traded for Eric Gagne. He got hurt. I spent one-fifth of my fantasy budget on Todd Helton. He faced a terrible bout of flu and seems to have lost his power stroke. I spent another quarter of my budget on Giles and Rafael Furcal. Except for decent steals and runs totals, they've been awful.

So how am I hanging on? Try a $1 Hanley Ramirez, purchased at the end of our auction because he was the only offensive player on the board who seemed likely to start. I thought Ramirez might give me some cheap steals. Well, he has done that, but he also entered yesterday leading the National League in batting and ranked second in runs scored. I'd love to say I knew, but really, I didn't. I bought Maddux and John Thomson for a combined $16, figuring they would round out a rotation led by Jake Peavy, John Patterson and Andy Pettitte. Well, they haven't rounded it out. They've been the best things on it.

I prepare for fantasy drafts as obsessively as anyone, folks, and my plans are already scattered to the four winds. Even the best seasons rarely go as anticipated. I guess that's why this is fun. Right?

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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