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Beyond the Numbers: Wake up to these sleepers

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Just a month or two ago, as we were all scrambling to find hidden bargains in our drafts and auctions, all the talk was of this year's sleepers.

Like Black Friday shoppers, though, we cause so much commotion looking for a good deal that our secret bargains don't stay secret for long. Back in March, I could call Zack Cozart or J.D. Martinez a sleeper and it would have the ring of truth. Of course, many others discovered the qualities of these players that I liked, and they may have talked them up as well. Now that both are off to good starts and owned in more than 80 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, the sleeper label won't stick to either of them.

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The shelf life on early spring sleepers often doesn't last far beyond opening day, but that only gives birth to a new crop. The Most Added list on our site is littered with players who have gotten off to fast starts or inherited a more prominent role than what was expected. Most owners are far less excited about players who have slumped early or been delegated to minor roles, but there is a lot more season ahead of us than behind us. The premium placed on the results of the first two weeks provides a new set of market inefficiencies to exploit, as today's slumpers and benchwarmers could be tomorrow's hot waiver commodity.

Particularly overlooked are players who came away from last season with disappointing results. I'm not talking about bounce-back candidates, though, as those were thoroughly discussed during draft season. I'm referring to players whose production was cut short by injury or just a general lack of playing time in 2011. My focus in this column will be on hitters who were highly productive on a per-game basis a year ago, but due to diminished playing time, their year-end stats have left them underappreciated in the early going this season.

Perhaps no one represents the early-season sleeper phenomenon better than Chase Headley. Though he was lacking in the home run department, hitting just four dingers all year, Headley made huge strides in 2011. He became proficient at hitting gap doubles, mashing 28 of them despite playing in just 113 games, and he also walked far more frequently. Despite the lack of home run power, Headley finished with 5.8 Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27), placing him just ahead of Alex Rodriguez and David Wright among third basemen. (If you're unfamiliar with the RC/27 metric, see the glossary at the bottom of the page for an explanation.) Because Headley went down with a broken finger that sidelined him for 39 games late in the year, he wound up ranking just 27th at his position in Head-to-Head Fantasy points and 21st in Rotisserie value.

It's not just an injury that has left Headley so underappreciated that he is owned in only 63 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, ranking 23rd in ownership rate among third basemen. Last season, he was cruising into the All-Star break, hitting .299 with 25 doubles, but over his next 18 games, Headley slumped to a .258 average with only three doubles. According to CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Writer Scott Miller, Headley was fatigued from playing every day, but because the Padres were lacking bench depth at that point of the season, he played through it. By the time Headley sustained his finger injury, he had trouble just lifting a bat. As a result, Headley's line drive rate plummeted and his BABIP dropped from .380 before the break to .318 during his 18-game slump.

Even with the late summer swoon, Headley finished with a career-best .289 average, .374 on-base percentage and 21.2 percent line drive rate. While he would like to hit more home runs again (and with four taters in his first 13 games, he is off to a good start), it's not a high priority for Headley. As he told MLB.com this offseason, "There are other things (besides home runs), like driving in guys with runners in scoring position and driving in runs with two outs." Headley has used PETCO Park's spacious dimensions to his advantage, hitting line drives and finding the gaps.

With more playing time this year, Headley has the potential for 40-plus doubles, and with sporadic days off, he should be able to maintain a batting average close to .300 and an on-base percentage near .400. Already this year, Headley is walking at an even higher rate, and he is still getting on base at a .414 clip. However, prior to Wednesday's two-homer game at Colorado, the rest of the 27-year-old's stats were underwhelming, making him an ideal buy-low target. Headley is still vastly underowned and now is the time to get him, before other owners start to see his upside.

Headley is not the only Padre to be underowned and underappreciated in Fantasy. We will take a look at a couple of his teammates whose 2011 stats were also comprimised by limited playing time, as well as a handful of other hitters who could be early-season bargains.

Nick Hundley, C, Padres
Ownership rate: 15 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Oblique and elbow injuries resulted in two separate DL trips.
Why he will surprise: Though it looked like an aberration, last season's .288 batting average was not entirely a fluke. Hundley has steadily improved his flyball batting average, which could be the result of increasing comfort hitting away from PETCO Park. Believe it or not, Hundley has consistently been a much better hitter at home, but last year, he finally broke the .250 barrier on the road, hitting .271. After going hitless in his first seven games this year, Hundley has already started to settle into a groove, going 7 for 15 over his last four games.

Jesus Guzman, OF, Padres
Ownership rate: 9 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Guzman was in the minors and then in a bench role until the Anthony Rizzo experiment at first base ended shortly after the All-Star break.
Why he will surprise: Guzman is a line drive hitter who is well-suited for PETCO Park. He makes consistent contact and rarely hits infield flies, avoiding easy outs on balls in play. That's why he has been able to post BABIPs of .342 or higher in each of his last four minor league stops. Guzman could be out of a job when Carlos Quentin (knee) returns, possibly within the next couple of weeks, but if he can turn things around soon, don't be surprised if he winds up cutting into the at-bats of Will Venable, Chris Denorfia and Yonder Alonso.

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Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles
Ownership rate: 52 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Reimold started the year in the minors but even after a May recall, he was never able to seize an everyday role in left field.
Why he will surprise: Maybe it's not accurate to call Reimold a sleeper anymore, since his ownership rate has doubled in the last week, but he should still be owned in even more leagues. Reimold's stock dropped two seasons ago when his power inexplicably evaporated, but last season's numbers -- 13 homers in 267 at-bats with Baltimore -- were in line with his other major and minor league seasons. Now that Reimold has an everyday job, he has a chance to hit at least 25 homers and drive in 80 or more runs. Even though he probably won't hit for a high average, Reimold is still worth rostering in most mixed leagues.

Wilson Betemit, 3B, Orioles
Ownership rate: 6 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Betemit served primarily in a part-time role with both the Royals and Tigers.
Why he will surprise: Not only should Betemit see steadier playing time with the Orioles, but he is a good bet to reverse last season's disappointing strikeout and walk rates. When Betemit does make contact, he has proven himself to be a very good hitter on balls in play. He is not only likely to help with batting average and on-base percentage, but playing home games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards should boost Betemit's home run total as well.

Marco Scutaro, 2B, Rockies
Ownership rate: 59 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Scutaro went on the DL with an oblique injury, but even when healthy, he split time at shortstop for part of the year with Jed Lowrie.
Why he will surprise: Scutaro has the second base job in Colorado all to himself, and as a prolific doubles hitter, he can only benefit from Coors Field's spacious outfield dimensions. He is an excellent contact hitter -- he has not struck out through his first 10 games -- but he has yet to notch a flyball base hit. Those will come with time, so now is your opportunity to grab him in standard mixed leagues. Even now, he should be starting in far more than 28 percent of our leagues.

Chris Heisey, OF, Reds
Ownership rate: 11 percent
Reason for missed time in 2011: Heisey was mainly a part-timer, plus he missed nearly a month with an oblique injury.
Why he will surprise: Like Reimold, Heisey is a proven power hitter playing in a very good home run park, but he does not have the benefit of an everyday role. So far, Ryan Ludwick has received the majority of the starts in left field, but he is in the midst of a steep decline and is off to a slow start. Over time, Heisey should grab an increasingly large share of playing time, making him a viable start in deeper mixed leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

Glossary
xFIP: Also known as Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on factors that a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs. xFIP is a derivative of FIP, which was developed by Tom Tango.
Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats

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Player News
Chris Coghlan homers twice in 4-for-4 performance Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:11 pm ET) Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan sparked a big comeback Saturday, going 4 for 4 with one walk, two home runs and three RBI in his team's 8-7 win over the Dodgers.

Coghlan smacked his first home run in the first inning and delivered the key two-run blast in the eighth inning to put his team up by one run. Before Saturday, he had just one home run in the second half, coming all the way back on Aug. 3. Coghlan now owns a .283/.349/.449 line with eight home runs, 38 RBI and six stolen bases in 361 at-bats.


Adrian Gonzalez smashes two home runs Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:08 pm ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez went 2 for 5 with two home runs and five RBI in his team's 8-7 loss to the Cubs Saturday.

Gonzalez put his team up big in the early part of the team, delivering a two-run blast in the first inning and adding a three-run shot in the third inning. Up 6-1 after three innings, the Dodgers would see the lead slip away by the end of the eighth. Gonzalez has hit .278/.337/.479 with 25 home runs in 568 at-bats, and he leads the majors with 111 RBI.


Jamey Wright to start Sunday, Dan Haren moved to Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:05 pm ET) The Dodgers will start Jamey Wright Sunday against the Cubs and push Dan Haren back to Monday to open the team's series against the Giants, MLB.com reports.

Hector Rondon records 26th save Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:03 pm ET) Cubs closer Hector Rondon delivered his 26th save Saturday, striking out one in a 1-2-3 ninth inning to finish off his team's 8-7 win over the Dodgers.

Rondon has successfully converted his last 12 save opportunities, allowing only one earned run during that stretch while striking out 12 and walking two in 15 innings. He owns a 2.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 61:15 K:BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings.



Justin Grimm picks up win vs. Dodgers Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:00 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm took home a win Saturday, walking one in a scoreless eighth inning in his team's 8-7 victory over the Dodgers.

Grimm (5-2) needed just 10 pitches to get through the inning despite walking a batter. It was just the second walk he has issued since July 25. Grimm owns a 3.80 ERA and 68:27 K:BB ratio in 66 1/3 innings.


Brian Wilson takes loss Saturday vs. Cubs
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:58 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Brian Wilson was hung with a loss Saturday, allowing two earned runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning in his team's 8-7 defeat against the Cubs.

Tasked with protecting a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Wilson (2-4) surrendered a two-run home run with one out to put the Dodgers behind for good in a game they led 7-2 in the middle of the seventh. Wilson hadn't surrendered an earned run in more than a month heading into Saturday's game. He owns a 4.86 ERA and 54:28 K:BB ratio in 46 1/3 innings.


Felix Doubront chased in third inning vs. Dodgers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:54 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Felix Doubront didn't factor into the decision Saturday, allowing six earned runs on six hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings while striking out two in his team's 8-7 win over the Dodgers.

Doubront gave up just three runs in 18 innings over his first three starts with the Cubs after coming over via trade, but things fell apart Saturday. He surrendered a two-run home run to Alex Gonzalez in the first inning and a three-run blast to Gonzalez in the third as part of the rough start, but the offense came back to take the lead in the eighth. Doubront owns a 5.54 ERA and 51:32 K:BB ratio in 79 2/3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Brewers next Saturday in what would be his final outing of the year.


Roberto Hernandez lasts four innings vs. Cubs Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Roberto Hernandez didn't factor into the decision Saturday, allowing two earned runs on six hits and two walks in just four-plus innings while striking out four in his team's 8-7 loss to the Cubs.

Hernandez threw more than 30 pitches in the first inning, which included a solo home run, and ended up being removed with 88 pitches to his credit after giving up a double and a walk to lead off the fifth. Hernandez owns a 4.08 ERA and 102:69 K:BB ratio in 159 innings. He's scheduled to face the Rockies Friday.


Joe Nathan pulls through for 33rd save Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:40 pm ET) Tigers closer Joe Nathan gave up two hits Saturday but was able to strand runners on second and third base to earn his 33rd save in his team's 3-2 win over the Royals.

Nathan allowed a pair of one-out singles before a groundout advanced both runners and put the potential tying run just 90 feet away. Nathan was able to get the next batter to ground out to first base and give his team a win, increasing the Tigers' lead to two-and-a-half games over the Royals in the AL Central. Nathan owns a 5.01 ERA and 52:28 K:BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings.


Torii Hunter smashes 17th home run Saturday vs. Royals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:36 pm ET) Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter went 2 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-2 win over the Royals Saturday.

Hunter put the first run of the game for either side on the board with his shot to left field in the fourth inning. He's recorded two hits in each of his last six games, driving home at least one run in five of them. Hunter has hit .288/.321/.452 with 17 home runs and 81 RBI in 518 at-bats.


 
 
 
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