Playing time is the currency of today’s fantasy game. The more at-bats you can find, the better you’re going to do which is pretty obvious with four of the five categories in a standard being counting categories. The difference these days is that guys just don’t play as much as they used to due in large part to injuries, but also because teams are more willing to platoon guys perhaps in response to sharply declining offense.
Since 2000, an average of 87 players have logged at least 600 PA, but the league hasn’t reached or exceeded that average since 2010 (89). The following season saw just 68 players reach that mark, a 15-year low. From 2000-2009, the average was 92, but in the last five years it has tumbled to 78. This places an even bigger premium on the handful of stars who have shown stability year-to-year with their playing time.
Guys like Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Cano are among a group of 11 players to log 600+ PA seasons in all five years since 2010. Justin Upton, Carlos Santana, and Prince Fielder are in a group of 16 with four such seasons in the same time period. Fielder used to be a first rounder in large part because he was a lock for at least 158 games and even had a run of three 162-game seasons before 2014’s debacle. Of course, his story also shows just fragile that stability is for players. You’re healthy til you’re not. It’s kind of a trite phrase, but it’s also true.
Embracing the changed playing time landscape means being keenly aware of the situations in which particular players are at their best and deploying him in that situation as often as your league allows. There aren’t a ton of straight platoons, but they’ve grown more plentiful and created pockets of value within the draft pool. Sometimes it’s wiser to roster the platoon player with his lower playing time output over the starter whose skills lag behind the other guy so the extra volume won’t really help much.
It probably goes without saying, but the more flexibility your league allows (i.e. daily moves), the more valuable these three guys are, but they are still worthwhile in weekly moves leagues. Sure, they might miss a game or two in a given week, but you’re looking for bottom-line numbers so how they get there is mostly irrelevant. This brings us to our next and probably also obvious point regarding these players: they are least valuable in H2H weekly moves leagues. Playing time is king in short samples and it’s hard to justify a four-game week from a platoon guy whose team has an off-day and two bits of kryptonite (left-handed pitchers) on the upcoming docket.
Luis Valbuena (HOU, 2B/3B) – His career numbers don’t show anything particularly special, especially from a platoon standpoint with just a six-point difference in favor of his work against righties (.687 OPS). He has experienced something of a renaissance against righties, though. Or maybe it’s more of an emergence as he reached new heights in 2014 with an .811 OPS and 15 HRs against righties in 453 PA. Now he moves to Minute Maid Park which gives him a huge boost in HR park factor, from 91 to 120 (where 100 is average). Also, the 2015 Astros are likely to be better offensively than the 2014 Cubs so his counting numbers should jump, too. Throw in dual eligibility plus a rock-bottom draft cost (he’s probably on the wire in many leagues) and Valbuena is worth rostering.
John Jaso (TB, C) – Jaso returns to his original team this year and while he is catcher-eligible, he will be a full-time DH in 2015 which definitely adds to his fantasy value. Anytime you can get a non-catching catcher, there is at least some value based on the playing time alone. Even as a platoon player Jaso is likely to play more than a lot of catchers. He also has a better chance at staying healthy and logging a career-high in plate appearances for himself (currently 404). He has a 283-point platoon with his .793 OPS against righties and he reached .927 back in 2012. Jaso doesn’t have a standout category, but he will batting second regularly for the Rays so we could see a 60+ R season, something only three catcher-eligible players did last year. Jaso gives a little bit of pop and a solid AVG, too, and if you’re in an OBP league, his value jumps even higher.
Seth Smith (SEA, OF) – Smith showed what he can do with a strong season in San Diego last year (.807 OPS, 12 HRs) and he has spent his career ripping righties (.839 OPS, 234-point advantage), yet he still costs next-to-nothing, even in deeper leagues. He moves to Seattle, another pitcher-friendly ballpark, but still gets a small boost in HR park factor from 97 to 102. He will also be batting second for a much better lineup than the 2014 Padres mess. His solid on-base skills should yield an improved runs scored total ahead of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Of course, we don’t roster these platoon players with the hopes of massive R/RBI totals because the playing time just isn’t there for that, but 60 runs and 55 RBIs are both in play for Smith.
All three of our platoon guys are slated to bat second against righties (according to Roster Resource) which definitely enhances their value for us in season-long leagues, but also makes them prime picks in DFS situations. Not only will they hold a platoon advantage, but they will bat high in the order and they’re often very cheap. Just poking around an Opening Day game for FanDuel shows Jaso at $3,100, Valbuena at $2,800, and Smith at $2,600. I wouldn’t really be looking to use Valbuena against Corey Kluber, but Jaso v. Chris Tillman and Smith v. Jered Weaver aren’t bad plays.