There's no "way" to win at fantasy baseball. I assume you know that, but it's worth repeating. You can go pitching-heavy, homer-happy, all leadoff hitters, lefties only, limit yourself to just guys from San Pedro da Macoris. If you hit on the right guys, you can win with any of them.
A couple seasons ago, I tried to Moneyball my main league. My list of potential keepers was uninspired, and I knew a few things about my leaguemates - they undervalued saves and steals as fantasy categories (a couple guys literally never owned relievers). In addition to that, I used a very aggressive campaign to get us to move to K/9 over K's, plus a few other moves to rate stats over counting ones.
The result, then, was that I loaded up on guys who were undervalued in the traditional categories. High-OBP guys with steals and runs scored. Homers and RBI were fine if I ended up with them, but I wasn't going that way. And I totally punted on wins, only getting enough starters to meet the innings minimum while grabbing every closer I could, locking up saves while hopefully rolling through the rate categories.
And it would have worked too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids and their dog. (In this case, "those meddling kids and their dog" means "injuries to Joey Votto, Mariano Rivera, Ryan Madson, Brett Gardner, Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, Wilson Ramos ..." I lost something like a dozen guys to season-ending injury that season.)
Anyway, the point is that any strategy can work, but you're still always looking for that market inefficiency. Going heavy on the power? You'll probably be fine with like eight different first basemen, but who are you going to use at shortstop? Need steals? Catcher's going to be a tough position for you.
Those who have been around the last week or two probably saw my Fantasy Average piece, in which I attempted to use standard deviations to present every offensive players' fantasy contributions in terms of a batting average-like number. That presentation is a useful ranking tool and, since it's on a scale we're all familiar with, is a heck of a shorthand for overall strength. If your guy hit ".300" by Fantasy Average, he's a heck of a player.
Well, the obvious next step in Fantasy Average - suggested by more than a few on the original piece - was to break it down by position. In my initial calculations, I weighed each player against every offensive player with 400 or more plate appearances. That's all well and good, but how often are you actually considering the prospect of Elvis Andrus vs. Mark Trumbo? No, it's more likely you're wondering whether Jonathan Lucroy or Wilin Rosario is the catcher for you, or if Paul Goldschmidt's well-rounded game does enough to overtake Chris Davis' power.
So I went back and found each player's Fantasy Average against only his position mates, lowering the threshold to 300 plate appearances so as to have sufficient player population to make standard deviations worth considering. I then re-ranked every player by his position-only Fantasy Average.
As you might expect, most players didn't see a huge difference from their overall numbers, particularly the outfielders. Robinson Cano, who puts up good numbers for a generic hitter but great numbers for a second baseman, saw his Fantasy Average climb from .299 to .311, and his overall rank climb from ninth to fifth. Fellow second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Ian Desmond, both of whom supply power numbers at power-starved positions, reached the top 10, as did the leading base-stealer among catchers, Jonathan Lucroy.
Below, I have listed the top 25 at each position (75 in the outfield), and the top 200 overall. Some players played multiple positions and had different Fantasy Averages based on each position; in the top 200, I have listed only each player's highest score.
One note: In addition to being a handy little sorting tool (at least in my opinion), I'm running these pieces as a sort of statistical crowd-sourcing. I'm planning to figure a longer-range (three years, probably) Fantasy Average for regulars, in an effort to track consistency and see if I can offer more predictiveness to the tool. But I'm happy to hear any other critiques/suggestions for fine-tuning the metric as I go. Let's see what we can do with this puppy.
This was the position that was probably the most interesting. Catchers, as a rule, just don't produce on a level comparable to many of the other positions - they naturally tend to play fewer games, and they wear down more quickly. But when they are just scaled against one another, the top tend to rise a lot. It was also notable how low Buster Posey - the widely accepted position leader - ranked against his own position mates. It's true 2013 wasn't as good as 2012 for him, but I was still surprised by his low rank.
The guys who get steals did well here. Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer - the only first basemen to steal double-digit bases last year - did the best against their own position. For those who are trying a strategy like the one I outlined at the top, guys like Goldschmidt and Hosmer who do something no one else at the position can do offer huge value.
Someone like Brandon Phillips, who was blown out of the water in WAR among second basemen, ranking 13th in 2013, does really well in FA, which just takes his gaudy RBI total as a gaudy statistic, so he came in sixth at the position. It's a nice reminder of the difference between fantasy value and real value.
Miguel Cabrera had the single biggest lead at any position, which makes some level of sense. Even with guys like Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Evan Longoria (in some order - you rank them, I dare you) at the position, Cabrera as a pure offensive player is pretty unparalleled.
Elvis Andrus, top shortstop in the American League. Sure, that's in part because Jose Reyes was limited to 93 games, but Andrus as a fantasy contributor is seriously underrated. For more on that, check out Zach Smith's piece from Tuesday.
There weren't as many surprises here, owing to the deeper position and the lack of a positional "stereotype." Outfielders can be speedsters (Jacoby Ellsbury), sluggers (Jose Bautista), or anything in between, meaning the position statistical profile is pretty similar to the all-hitter one.
|26||Alejandro De Aza||.278|
|Eric Young Jr.||.265|
Just as a reminder, these numbers are the position-only results sorted together. Robinson Cano's .311 is still just what he scored against other second basemen, but it illustrates his overall draft value.
|66||Alejandro De Aza||.278|
|Eric Young Jr.||.265|