By Eriq Gardner //
Some players are well-rounded contributors. They post good numbers in all fantasy baseball categories.
Then, there are the players who might be strong in certain categories, but weak in others. At the beginning of the year, a player who expresses a consistent shortcoming can be a liability. For example, Ichiro Suzuki has always been phenomenal in stolen bases and average, but any team that rosters him will need to cover his lack of production in HR and RBI by rostering others who can make up for his deficits there.
As the season wears on, however, the standings necessitate a different game-plan. A team owner might find he has a big lead in a certain category, or maybe he finds a big deficit. Either way, no amount of production will yield much movement.
Instead, competitors who wish to earn extra points in the standings must examine the opportunities for best potential gain. This often means that competitors should roster players who are more one-dimensional. A player’s overall value during the final few weeks of the season becomes less important than contributions made in specific categories. If you’re up by 20 HR over the next team, but find yourself in the thick of a close steals race, a player like Ichiro can be a lot more valuable to you than even a superstar like Miguel Cabrera.
Let’s examine some players who are largely unowned in 10- or 12-team mixed leagues, who can provide great targeted value in specific counting categories:
Jim Thome is 39 years old and doesn’t play every day anymore, but he can still be an elite power producer. He’s hitting a HR in 6.27% of his plate appearances, which ranks third among all batters with at least 150 AB. The Twins have conserved their use of Thome this season because of his age and the team’s depth. But Thome’s been playing more and more as the team finds itself in a battle with the Chicago White Sox for supremacy of the AL Central, and Justin Morneau remains on the disabled list. If Thome is healthy, look for him to be in the lineup as much as possible when the team faces an opposing pitcher who is right-handed. That’s where he gets most of his at-bats, and where he does the most damage.
RUNS BATTED IN:
Pat Burrell was left for dead by many after he got cut by Tampa Bay earlier this season. But he’s become an important cog in the offense of the San Francisco Giants as they fight for a wild card spot. In the past month, Burrell has been moved to the cleanup position of the Giants lineup, hitting behind three players — Andres Torres, Buster Posey, and Aubrey Huff — who do a good job at getting on base. In this time, Burrell has done his job by knocking them home 19 times. His August RBI total ranks sixth in baseball. Burrell has the skills and now has the opportunity to continue to be a great source of RBI down the stretch.
Coco Crisp has been phenomenal since coming back from injury on June 22. On a value-per-game basis this season, only a handful of players have been better. But let’s focus on runs scored. Since June 22, Crisp ranks 15th in baseball with 39 runs. The 14 players ahead of him are owned in virtually all leagues. For Oakland, Crisp bats leadoff. A top position in the lineup translates to more at-bats, which is necessary when attacking a counting stat like runs. Crisp has decent, but not spectacular on-base skills. When he gets on base, though, it usually translates to a run, thanks partly to his great speed. No matter Oakland’s position in the standings, Crisp has motivation to produce. It’s expected that the team will buy out his contract at the end of the season, meaning he’s playing for a new deal.
Eric Young Jr. has long been touted as a beneath-the-radar prospect who could make quite the impact at the major league level for fantasy owners. In four minor league seasons from 2006-2009, he averaged a tremendous 66 steals per season. What makes Young special is not just his speed, but also his plate discipline. During this time, he was an enormously patient batter, drawing walks and maintaining an OBP above .387 in three of those four minor league seasons. Now at the big-league level in the hitter-friendly ballpark of Coors Field, Young has carried over his skills, with 10 steals in just 24 games. Stealing .42 bases per game ties him with Crisp for the major league lead. Young is batting leadoff, qualifies at 2B and in the OF, and has been earmarked for full-time playing time going forward.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine some pitching categories.