Massive dynasty leagues have become increasingly popular among fantasy baseball players in the past half decade. They tend to involve much larger rosters than standard rotisserie leagues and may or may not utilize a contract system that impacts the amount of time an person can own rights to a player.
The most-difficult question a fantasy owner must address in a dynasty league, though, does not take place on draft day. Most of the time, the mind-numbing conundrum occurs midseason when an owner must decide whether or not his or her team will buy, sell, or hold. It’s not a simple question to address, as rebuilding in a larger dynasty league isn’t generally a one-and-done deal. Those rebuilding jobs literally take two or three seasons, at the very least. Embarking on such a strategy isn’t fun, nor is it easy to do well.
As someone who is currently undergoing a massive rebuild in a 20-team dynasty league with 40-man rosters and 35 keepers per year, I wanted to offer a few pieces of advice to owners who have decided they want to sell.
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Last week, I unveiled the May Tiered Rankings for the second base position, and readers quickly zeroed in on my rankings of Dee Gordon and Aaron Hill. They believed I had placed both of them too low. One intrepid reader even took the time to pound at the keyboard and ask exasperatingly, “WHAT DOES DEE HAVE TO DO!”
While I appreciate the lack of question mark at the end of the sentence — as it would’ve resulted in an uncouth double punctuation — it’s clearly a question about which this individual feels passionately and desires a sincere answer. After all, Dee Gordon is hitting .331/.364/.441 with 24 steals. He’s the number-one ranked second baseman in ESPN leagues and the number-three overall player, behind only the Colorado duo of Charlie Blackmon and Troy Tulowitzki.
How the [insert choice expletive here] could I possibly rank Dee Gordon as a fourth-tier second baseman?
We’re a month through the season, and fantasy owners are already jumping to huge conclusions regarding the 2014 season. These tiered rankings attempt to capture the production from the first month of the season, moving some players up and down where I felt it was necessary, but largely, I attempted to refrain from getting too caught up in the ebbs and flows of single-month performance. There are five months remaining in the 2014 season. Lots will change, and I didn’t want to make the tiered rankings a simple “who is performing well right now,” as that’s not overly useful.
Anyway, here we go.
Coming into the season, much of the hype surrounding young pitchers centered on guys like Danny Salazar, Masahiro Tanaka, Gerrit Cole, Archie Bradley, and Noah Syndergaard. The Kansas City Royals, however, opted to hand over the fifth-starter role to the flame-throwing righty, Yordano Ventura, who had limited hype and never rocketed his way up draft boards.
He burst onto the scene in 2013, consistently hitting triple-digits with his fastball and striking out over a batter per inning in Double-A and Triple-A. The 22-year-old struggled slightly after being promoted to the big leagues, which stifled the hype as we approached the 2014 regular season, but fantasy owners who swiped him late in their drafts are celebrating Ventura’s stellar month of April. He has compiled a 1.50 ERA (2.69 FIP) and has been a quality source of strikeouts.
The goal of this brief article isn’t so much to tout his first five starts of the 2014 season, as it’s rather to isolate a couple factors that lead me to believe Yordano Ventura is poised to find significant success as a major-league starter throughout the remainder of the year.
Occasionally, the collective fantasy baseball community reflects on a productive single-season performance and sees a top-10 value that doesn’t really fit the underlying skills. The title of this column belies the vagueness of that opening line, but the upshot is something many people said last year and repeated ad nauseum over the winter. While Brandon Phillips was the sixth-ranked fantasy second baseman in 2013, many people were concerned with the declined skill set that lurked below the surface — a surface that was largely buoyed by his 103 RBI.
In 2013, his ISO dropped to .135, which was a career low. He only stole single-digit bases for the first time since 2005, when he only had nine plate appearances with the Cleveland Indians. He continued swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone, and his swinging-strike rate eclipsed 10.0% for the first time since the 2008 season.
Phillips essentially experienced a drop-off in many major peripheral statistics, and he people suddenly became concerned that he was on the wrong side of 30 and about to experience a precipitous decline. I ranked him as a fourth-tier second baseman coming into the season and noted significant concerns throughout the offseason.
Of course, the overarching point of this article is to illustrate that those concerns were fully justified. Brandon Phillips has been brutal throughout the month of April, and if we pull back the veil and peak at the underlying numbers, the picture becomes even more bleak and troublesome. Things aren’t getting better. They’re getting much worse, and as the title suggests, I’m turning my back and sprinting away from him as much as possible.
If you’re participating in a fantasy baseball league and even paying moderate attention to what’s happening in that league, you’re likely aware that Charlie Blackmon is blistering the baseball and has proven to be one of the more unexpected stories of the early season. He’s currently hitting .410/.453/.692 and his .491 wOBA is second in the league (which should highlight just how crazy of a month Troy Tulowitzki, who is number one, has enjoyed in April).
Thus, fantasy owners have plucked Blackmon off the waiver wire in almost every league. He currently has a 100% ownership rate in ESPN leagues and is actually the number-one fantasy player in ESPN leagues — ahead of Giancarlo Stanton, Alexei Ramirez, Albert Pujols, and Adam Wainwright. He’s one of the few players who has contributed in all five standard categories. The 27-year-old has six stolen bases, five homers, a .410 batting average, 19 runs scored, and 16 runs batted in. To put that in perspective, here’s where he ranks in each standard category:
In short, Charlie Blackmon has been a top-20 player in all five offensive categories. No other player can claim that. Alexei Ramriez is the closest. The 32-year-old shortstop qualifies in four of the five categories, but he only ranks 27th in homers. Blackmon is the only guy who has been truly elite in every category, which is the paragon of a fantasy hitter.
Fantasy baseball analysis isn’t simply about looking to the past to explicate what has occurred. While that’s an effective story-telling tool, which is important in its own right, we’re much more interested in attempting to determine whether a player can be expected to produce at a high level going forward. Anyone can have a scorching-hot three weeks. It’s something else entirely for a fringe fantasy player to sustain an acceptable level of performance throughout an entire season.
In other words, should you be buying what Charlie Blackmon is selling?
Every season, unexpected players enjoy a huge April and either become hot waiver wire pickups or become surprise mainstays in your fantasy lineup. Guys like Chris Colabello, Emilio Bonifacio, Dee Gordon, Aaron Harang, and Alexei Ramirez weren’t high (or even present) on many draft boards during the offseason, but all five have been top-50 fantasy players in ESPN leagues to begin the year.
A year ago, we saw Yuniesky Betancourt, Lucas Duda, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Patrick Corbin, and even Vernon Wells dominate in the early season. Some of those players sustained their respective performances and became above-average players throughout the year, but others quickly tapered off and became irrelevant. The goal in April is determining which performances are ones you can trust and which players you should bail on when the going first gets rough.
Brian Dozier has been overlooked this spring because he’s being dragged down by a .219 batting average, but he’s actually the second-ranked fantasy second baseman and has even more value in on-base percentage leagues. He is the only player in Major League Baseball with at least five stolen bases and at least five home runs. Furthermore, the 27-year-old currently benefits from batting leadoff for the Twins, which means he is also racking up the runs. He leads Major League Baseball with 19 runs scored.
That’s all beautiful, but again, the trick is sussing out whether he’s going to be a top-10 fantasy second baseman going forward or if he’s more a fourth-tier guy as he was last year. He was the 14th-ranked fantasy second baseman in 2013, ranking behind Martin Prado and just ahead of Howie Kendrick. In other words, if you’re a Dozier owner, should you be looking to flip him while his value is high or should you keep him plugged in your lineup everyday and reap the benefits?
Prior to the season, I wrote an article in which I warned fantasy owners to stay away from Yovani Gallardo on draft day. I cited his velocity decline, his decreased strikeout rate, his decrease swinging-strike rate, and his increasingly-ineffective curveball. I mentioned how he could experience a bounce-back season, but the right-hander would need to reverse a couple of those worrisome trends.
After a trio of starts this year, however, Gallardo has thrown the ball brilliantly. He’s tossed a quality start in every outing. He owns a 0.96 ERA and 2.23 FIP, and the Milwaukee Brewers have won all three of his starts. He also has a .333 OBP at the dish, which is largely irrelevant, but I love when pitchers aren’t inept at the plate and it does mark the first time the hurler drew a walk since 2011.
So, where did the preseason analysis go awry? To put it differently, where has Yovani Gallardo shown improvement and what didn’t I see coming into this season?
On Mondays during the season, I generally focus on the second base position, whether that’s highlighting a specific player or breaking down my tiered rankings for the position. The tiered rankings ran last week and it’s too early in the season to meaningfully analyze individual player performance; however, I have noticed a couple things I wanted to touch on as we begin the second week of the season.
One of the more interesting aspects of the 2013 fantasy baseball season was the realization that the second base position was actually quite bad. It didn’t dip below the anemic level of shortstops, but its collective .305 wOBA wasn’t far behind and was worse than the league-average catcher. When discussing position scarcity and the shortstop position, fantasy owners should lump second base into the same group. In deeper leagues, the second base position can get ugly rather quickly.
With most teams only through their opening series, we’re not in any position to be making wide-sweeping arguments about the 2014 season. And just like fans across the country overvalue the first week of the season, many fantasy owners place too much stock in their early-season performance. Sure, it counts, but it’s tough to stay patient when your team is stuck in the cellar after the first few games, especially if you’re a Cliff Lee owner and saw him implode on Opening Day or if you bought into the Khris Davis hype and have yet t0 see him get on base in 2014.
But while we’re unable to say much about the season as a whole, I have three observations about the first handful of games that hopefully provide a kernel of insight.
(1) Do not fret about early-season offensive woes. You’re not alone.