A look at some players who have added value in non-standard categories.
The fantasy baseball community refers to a standard league as one that uses the following ten categories: Runs, Home Runs, RBIs, Stolen Bases and Batting Average for hitters; Wins, Strikeouts, Saves, ERA and WHIP for pitchers. Not all leagues, however, use those categories. I'm going to take a look at some surprising players who get a boost in leagues that count different categories.
On Base Percentage
Fowler has a really taken to his role of leadoff hitter and table-setter for the Rockies. He's increased his walk rate each of the last three years and, consequently, he's seen his OBP rise from .347 in 2010 to .389 in 2012. Some of that increase is due to a .390 BABIP that is due for some regression but Fowler has a career walk rate of 12.1%. Fowler's abilities to take a walk, hit the ball on the ground and run make him a safe bet to post an OBP above .350.
Avila had somewhat of a down year last year in pretty much every offensive area except for his walk rate. Although his isolated power and batting average dropped significantly, Avila was able to post an OBP over 100 points better than his batting average. It's encouraging that even when he was seemingly struggling, he didn't press and stayed true to his approach. His strikeout rate was almost exactly the same as his breakout 2011 season and he actually swung at less pitches outside of the strike zone but made more contact on the ones that he did. I believe that Avila bounces back in the standard categories, but even without them he has value in leagues that use OBP.
Slugging Percentage/Extra Base Hits/Total Bases
Jose Reyes is known for his speed. He's as much of a lock for 30 stolen bases and has stolen at least 39 bases in 6 of his last 7 full seasons. He's also a good source of runs and is a career .291 hitter, but most people don't associate Reyes with power. In terms of home runs, that's accurate. Yet, over the past three years, Reyes' .450 slugging percentage is second only to Troy Tulowitzki among shortstops. He averages 35 doubles and 15 triples per 162 games so while he may have only average over-the-fence power, he racks up total bases with a gap approach and excellent speed.
Once a highly touted prospect, Gordon struggled for a few years before breaking out in 2011. That year he hit 45 doubles, 4 triples and 23 home runs. All of those extra base hits resulted in a slugging percentage over .500. His home run total dropped to 14 in 2012 but he hit 51 doubles and 5 triples so it's encouraging to see that he was still a source of extra bases. His fly ball percentage decreased a bit but his line drive percentage spiked to 25% so he was driving the ball nonetheless. He'll be 29 this season and in the middle of his power prime so I expect Gordon to keep putting up a healthy amount of total bases, even if the home run total does not return.
Brandon Morrow, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Brandon Morrow underperforms against his metrics year after year. He has a career ERA of 4.10 versus a career SIERA of 3.74. He has excellent stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider which lead to excellent strikeout totals. His biggest drawback remains his injury risk and that's where Morrow is able to boost his value with his K/9 rate. His K/9 rate fell pretty dramatically last year but he had a strained oblique and also reduced his walk rate for the third year in a row. I think the decrease in free passes is more important than the falling strikeout rate as I feel like this is a step in the process of Morrow becoming a better starting pitcher (2012 was only his third year as a full time starter). I fully expect the strikeouts to return. Although the impact would be greater if he pitched more innings, Morrow's career K/9 rate of 9.63 is elite even when he doesn't rack up the totals if he misses time.
Norris is another player who's numbers don't always match expectations. His 10.4% swinging strike percentage was 17th among starters last year and he seems to be balancing out his swing-and-miss stuff with improved control. He's lowered his WHIP over the past two years from the 1.50 range to around 1.35. He strikes out almost a batter per inning making him a great play in leagues that use strikeout rate and, for a guy who doesn't help much in other ratios and can't be counted on for wins, that moves him up the rankings.
Mike Adams has been among the league leaders in Holds each year since 2010 and, with his third team since then, this may be his best situation yet. While he and Luke Gregerson were a formidable duo in San Diego, Adams teams up with Antonio Bastardo to form one of the league's best right-lefty set up combo in the league and doing so for Jonathan Papelbon should result in plenty of holds for both of them. Roy Halladay is supposedly healthy and the addition of John Lannan gives the Phillies an innings eater in the fifth rotation spot. I expect Adams to inherit a lot of leads and to hand those over to Papelbon who leads the majors in saves since becoming a closer in 2006.
Robertson is one of the best relievers in the game and has value even in standard fantasy formats because of his great ratios and excellent strikeout rate. When accounting for holds, Robertson's worth gets a large bump. He's the primary setup man for the best closer in baseball history and, with a Yankee lineup that may score fewer runs this year than we're used to, it could mean more holds and saves opportunities. Robertson is a great play for those who miss out on closers because he'll help in at least three categories. Throw in holds and he's now a four category stud.