Forgot Log-in or  Password? |  Help  Not a member, Register Now!
      
Fantasy Football Today
Fantasy Football Today Blog
Gameday Inactives
2014 Draft Prep Guide
Downloadable Draft Kit
Mock Drafts
Get Your Draft Board
Player News
Stats
Players
Depth Charts
Roster Trends
Columns
Injury Report
Projections
Rankings
Schedules
Scores
Fantasy Games
Playoff Challenge
Commissioner
Prize Leagues
Free
Office Pool Manager
Game Pick'em
Player Challenge
Fantasy Baseball Today
Fantasy Baseball Today Blog
2015 Draft Prep Guide
Mock Drafts
Player News
Stats
Players
Depth Charts
Roster Trends
Columns
Injury Report
Rankings
Projections
Schedules
Probable Pitchers
Scores
Standings
Fantasy Games
Commissioner
Free
Prize Leagues
Player News
Stats
Players
Columns
Injuries
Projections
Rankings
Schedules
Message Boards
Fantasy Games
Commissioner
Free
Player News
Stats
Players
Columns
Injury Report
Projections
Rankings
Schedules
Mock Drafts
Scores
Standings
Fantasy Games
Commissioner
Free
Prize Leagues
Downloadable Draft Kit
Player News
Stats
Players
Columns
Injury Report
Projections
Rankings
Schedules
Mock Drafts
Scores
Standings
Fantasy Games
Commissioner
Free
Prize Leagues
No Fantasy Teams Found
 
 
 

Reality Check: Stats don't always tell the story

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

The highest-scoring hitter in Fantasy Week 4 (April 22-28) wasn't Edwin Encarnacion with his five home runs or David Ortiz with his .478 batting average. It wasn't Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton or Bryce Harper. It was a guy who hit .221 with a .665 OPS from ages 28-30, during what should have been the prime of his career.

So what's gotten into Nate McLouth?

The easy and most logical answer is that he's on an unsustainable hot streak fueled by an abnormally high BABIP and, therefore, destined to return to hitting weak grounders and pop flies the moment you put in a claim for him.

OK, fair enough. But what if logic doesn't win out here?

Perish the thought, right? With all the new metrics at our disposal, we've come so far in explaining the inexplicable and predicting the unpredictable that sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking we actually know what's going to happen.

But of course, baseball doesn't work that way. If it did, we would have seen Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski coming. At this time last year, they were basically Nate McLouth, their hot starts dismissed as aberrations as they went untouched on the waiver wire, passed over by all the owners who "knew better."

But you know what? Those simple-minded folk who broke the boycott and added one of those two ended up happier than a pig in slop.

Now, just chill for a minute. This isn't one of those chest-thumping, testosterone-laden, down-with-the-nerds kind of rants. I enjoy Firefly way too much to get away with that. I'll be the first to admit that the Sabermetrics community has improved our understanding of the game by so much that, by now, we take it for granted. Most of what it comes up with is insightful, interesting and dare I say cool.

But the danger is in making the latest metric the end-all, be-all of player evaluation. It's evidence. Most of the time, it's better evidence than anything else at our disposal, but it's not in itself a conclusion. If it was, we'd have cracked the code by now, and everyone would have stopped playing Fantasy Baseball due to its mind-numbing predictability.

Sometimes, players get better in ways the numbers can't measure. They get stronger. They get smarter. They discover what works for them. And though, unlike McLouth, they often do it prior to age 31, I again submit to you Ruiz and Pierzynski.

One advantage McLouth has over those two is that he was actually an All-Star-caliber player earlier in his career, finishing one steal shy of back-to-back 20-20 seasons in 2008 and 2009. Nobody really knows what caused him to drop off thereafter, but it went on long enough that, sooner or later, people just accepted those earlier seasons as the aberration.

Here's a theory. After putting up impressive power numbers in 2008 and 2009, McLouth decided that he must, in fact, be a power hitter and started trying to force the issue instead of just letting the home runs come to him.

I didn't pull that idea out of thin air. Here's what he recently told the Baltimore Sun about his hot start.

Most Added Players (as of 4/30)
Player Name % change
1. Nate McLouth, OF, Orioles 57
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B, A's 37
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies 36
4. Kyle Kendrick, SP, Phillies 31
5. Yuniesky Betancourt, 1B, Brewers 30
6. Andrew Cashner, SP, Padres 28
7. Jose Valverde, RP, Tigers 25
8. Ted Lilly, SP, Dodgers 24
9. Kevin Gregg, RP, Cubs 22
10. Russell Martin, C, Pirates 21

"I feel like that's my job, to get on base as many times as I can," he said.

Oh really? And not to hit home runs?

"I think that I see the ball better when I just [swing] nice and easy and not try and do more than I'm capable of, so I think that's a big part of it."

If he's saying that's a big part of his hot start, then you can infer he wasn't doing it before. The batted-ball stats seem to support the idea. So far this year, McLouth's line-drive rate has dramatically cut into his fly-ball rate. He won't hit as many home runs if he keeps it up, but he'll be a much better hitter overall.

And I'd guess the transformation actually began midway through his stint with the Orioles last year. Over his final 42 games, he hit .277 with seven home runs and nine stolen bases in 166 at-bats. Combine those numbers with what he's done in 22 games this year, and he's batting .300 with eight homers and 17 steals in almost half a season's at-bats.

You say that's a hot streak? During those down years in Atlanta, he couldn't put together even a week as good as that.

So basically, you have within your reach a former All-Star performing at a 20-40 pace over the last two-fifths of a season, and you won't give him the time of day simply because he has a high BABIP? Puh-lease.

You know what? His batting average will fall. I can say with complete confidence he won't be hitting .351 at season's end, but as long he keeps hitting the ball hard and drawing walks, you'll like where his numbers end up.

You disagree? Well, even if that's not the most logical end to his 2013, what's the harm in entertaining the possibility? Let's say you have a roster spot to play with. Leonys Martin has been stuck on your bench for a while, so you swap him out for McLouth just to see where it goes. You may look like a dodo head to the rest of the league, but if that move ultimately wins you the title, who cares?

What, you think you're taking a test or something? You think if every one of your moves is rooted in Sabermetrics, you might actually end up with Kevin Towers' job when all's said and done? It's a game. Have some fun with it. Admit you don't know what's going to happen with any of these guys, and roll the dice once in a while.

Carlos Villanueva is another hot starter who I've made a point to add in some of my leagues for no other reason than because, hey, it's not so far-fetched. Yeah, he was always susceptible to the long ball as a reliever, which could make his time as a starter harrowing, but he had a 3.03 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his first 11 starts for the Blue Jays last year and has already shut down the Braves, Giants, Rangers and Reds this year. Plus, Theo Epstein believed in him enough to sign him. He knows a lot more than I do.

Brandon Crawford is probably the poster child for early-season standouts who require a leap of faith. Neither his major- nor minor-league track record hint of him being capable of these numbers, but he is entering his prime at age 26 and has kept it going for a month now. At a weak position, he could be a game-changer if he's even half of what he's been so far.

Russell Martin hasn't hit for a respectable batting average since 2008, but his best years were in the NL. He's showing similar plate discipline to what he had then, and he's hardly washed up at age 30. Who knows? Maybe he's this year's Ruiz.

Check out our Fantasy Baseball podcast!
Stay a step ahead of your competition in 2014 by checking out our popular Fantasy Baseball Today podcasts. Adam Aizer, Scott White and Al Melchior will entertain you and help you dominate all season.
Latest episode | Subscribe!

Jose Valverde and Kevin Gregg aren't the kind of relievers you'd expect to hold on to the closer role, but they'll get some slack just because their clubs have already burned through so many other options. As long as they pitch adequately, they could make a big impact in saves.

Travis Wood's hot start is probably too good to be true, but it's not entirely unprecedented. He had a 3.51 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 17 starts as a rookie and a 3.56 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 13 starts last year.

Now, I should probably warn everybody that taking a chance on whatever the cat drags in can be self-defeating if not done correctly. Obviously, I'm not dropping Josh Hamilton for McLouth or Asdrubal Cabrera for Crawford. If you want context for when adding such a player is warranted, you need only look at my rankings.

But generally speaking, I value these players more than most people do. As long as by adding them, I don't put myself in a position where they have to perform to make up for what I've lost, I can only benefit from everyone else's skepticism.

Try arguing that logic.

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

Get player news notifications, manage your team and check scores
- all updated in real time. Download the CBS Fantasy App.

  •  
 
CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
COMMENTS
Conversation powered by Livefyre
 
 
Player News
Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


 
 
 
Rankings