Bryan LaHair was designated for assignment last week by the Chicago Cubs, in order to make room for players they would rather protect on their 40-man roster. He's now headed to Japan, meaning that fantasy players will also be without LaHair in 2013. This isn't a bad thing, though, and helps strengthen what should be a cautionary tale for fantasy owners going forward.
Bryan LaHair performed well in September of 2011, hitting .288/.377/.508 in 20 games and 69 plate appearances. That isn't much of a sample at all, but when combined with his fantastic start to 2012 -- LaHair hit .388/.479/.800 with eight homers through his first 26 games -- many people bought in to him as a potential stud. The thing is, that's still just 165 plate appearances, a sample so small as to be meaningless, and by the time the year was over, that's essentially just what it was.
In this stretch, in which LaHair posted a 1279 OPS, his batting average on balls in play was an absurd .535. He struck out 30 times, just under one-third of the time, and while the walks were nice, they weren't going to last forever with those strikeouts and an eventual return to reality for his BABIP. It didn't take long for it to happen, either: from May 8 through season's end, in his last 284 plate appearances, LaHair hit .219/.285/.342 with 94 strikeouts (33 percent of the time), and just 24 more walks, or roughly half of his rate from his first fourth of the season.
It wasn't a bad luck thing, as his BABIP was .310. It was simply the league adjusting to LaHair, making life hard on him once they discovered his weaknesses, limiting his power once this was accomplished. The Cubs stopped playing him nearly as much, they designated him for assignment, and LaHair took a deal with a league in a different country rather than try to fix his reputation stateside. If you needed more evidence that even LaHair was aware of the situation, well, there you go.
The lesson here is important. Yes, some players unexpectedly break out, and you might be the owner of this shiny, new bauble of the fantasy market. And yes, given the way fantasy baseball works, you should try to grab these guys early in order to ensure that, should they be legitimate, you are the one who benefits. What you can't get too wrapped up in, though, is the idea that they definitely are for real, especially not after such a short amount of time. Manage the playing time correctly. Don't automatically use someone like LaHair and stick with them, just because they were attractive when you scooped the league on them. If you do, you could end up further in the hole than when you began if they fall apart as LaHair did.
If they keep on hitting, and start to look legitimate, you've missed some positive contributions you could have had. But that's worth the risk given how often guys like LaHair simply flame out before you ever receive anything of worth from them. Don't avoid the LaHairs of the world entirely, just be careful with managing both their playing time and your own expectations.