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By the Numbers: Eight players who taught me a lesson

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Fantasy is fun but it also serves an infinite supply of humble pie.

With each season, we make new mistakes and discover new blind spots, and sometimes we'll even revisit some of the old ones. If this was one of those seasons that has left you with a bitter aftertaste, you can wash it away by looking forward instead of backwards, recognizing that the players who frustrated you most are also your greatest teachers.

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Anyway, that's what I've attempted to do here. I can stew over the fact that I was the last owner on Earth to recognize Matt Carpenter was an elite at several positions, or I can figure out how to learn from my mistake. Likewise, I can determine how to better handle players like Chase Headley, in whom I invested a lot but got little back.

Along with Carpenter and Headley, I have found six other players who could be my mentors, if I just take a little time to listen to what their performances from the past season are telling me. Just maybe they'll provide a useful lesson or two for others as well, and while I'm at it, I'm also looking ahead to see which players I can apply these lessons to for next season.

It looks like Profs. Carpenter and Uehara are about to take the podium ...

Lesson #1: Don't let a player's previous roles interfere with your appreciation for a desirable skill set.

The teachers: Matt Carpenter, 1B/2B/3B, Cardinals and Koji Uehara, RP, Red Sox

The lesson in detail: Maybe I shouldn't be blamed for shying away from Carpenter on draft day, as it wasn't clear that he would be entrusted to hold down a full-time role. However, it became apparent early on that Carpenter would settle into everyday play as well as a spot at the top of the batting order. While it would have been impossible to predict the Cardinals' absolute mastery of hitting with runners in scoring position, Carpenter's knack for getting on base alone made him a threat to be one of the best sources of runs in Fantasy (if not the runaway leader in the category).

I was far too late to the Carpenter run-scoring party, as I let my perception of him as a utility player color my expectations, even when that perception became obviously outdated. Because he lacked a steady role in 2012 and entered the 2013 season as a 27-year-old, I discounted his prior major and minor league stats. Yet nearly every thing Carpenter did this season -- which landed him among the top six first- base eligible players -- was presaged by his statistical track record. Carpenter had been good at hitting for contact, getting base hits on balls in play and drawing walks for awhile, and only his 55 doubles stand out as a stat that is likely to drop off next season.

It took Uehara longer to establish himself in a high-profile role, but once there were even whispers about him taking over as Boston's closer, I should have been pursuing him in every league. As with Carpenter, I underestimated Uehara due to his age, but he was every bit as enticing as a closer-in-waiting option as Kenley Jansen. Uehara has been putting up crazy-good strikeout-to-walk ratios throughout his career as a reliever, and between his miserly walk and BABIP rates (the latter of which is not simply a matter of luck due to his flyball tendencies), he was a lock for an ultra-low WHIP.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Khris Davis, Eduardo Nunez, Grant Green, Elliot Johnson, DJ LeMahieu, Brandon Kintzler.

Lesson #2: Don't hold on to preseason expectations for too long.

The teacher: Chase Headley, 3B, Padres

The lesson in detail: I bought into Headley's 2012 breakout and made him my sixth-ranked third baseman during the preseason. The months rolled by with Headley providing only a portion of the production I expected from him. Headley did finish the season strong, hitting .305 in September with five home runs, but with the news that he played all season with a knee injury, it's clear I should have given more weight to his protracted struggles, at least when they spilled over into the second half. We may not always know the reasons why a player fails to meet expectations over a period of several months, but the time to move on should probably come before August, not after. Maybe for most owners this is not news, but I am heavily biased towards giving my early-round picks a very long leash.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: We'll see next July.

Lesson #3: Keep minor league sample sizes in perspective.

The teacher: Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros

The lesson in detail: Heading into this season, I saw an opportunity for Altuve to break out. In his first season-and-a-half, he had already shown he could steal bases and hit for a decent average, but he had yet to duplicate the power he had shown in the minors. Altuve's most impressive power numbers came in Double-A and Advanced Class A, but that experience was comprised of all of 118 games. Only 35 of those games came at Double-A, yet I gave too much weight to a small sample of games in the minors as compared to a larger sample of major league games.

Going into 2014, now I know that the smarter move is to expect Altuve to be the Astros' answer to Elvis Andrus, but with fewer walks and run-producing opportunities.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Anthony Rendon, Leonys Martin, Adeiny Hechavarria.

Lesson #4: Target high upside players over steady but unspectacular types.

The teacher: Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS, Giants

The lesson in detail: I wound up with Scutaro in several leagues, as I figured he would be a reliable contributor with a batting average close to .300 and at least 80 runs. Scutaro delivered on the batting average, but the Giants had a less potent lineup this season, and his run production suffered greatly. Partly because of injuries and partly because of his team's lackluster offense, Scutaro was not able to build on a solid track record.

When you choose a player with little upside because he has been steady, when the unexpected happens, you have little to fall back on. Though it would have represented greater risk, I would have been better off with less-proven middle infield options like Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, Jean Segura, Everth Cabrera and Andrelton Simmons, all of whom were far less known quantities and available later in most drafts. At the very least, I should have drafted a higher-upside hitter and stashed him in case he panned out.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Mark Trumbo, Todd Frazier, Michael Brantley, Matt Garza (as the steady types to be avoided).

Lesson #5: Do your homework on managers' tendencies to give the green light on stolen bases.

The teachers: Clint Hurdle, manager, and Starling Marte, OF, Pirates

The lesson in detail: Some managers, like Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon, are notoriously aggressive about having their players steal bases, while others, like Buck Showalter and Fredi Gonzalez, have been more cautious. Most managers are somewhere in the middle, and the likelihood that they'll be aggressive will vary depending on their personnel.

This is something I ignored when making preseason projections for Marte. Despite reasonably good accuracy in many aspects of his projection (.269 Avg, 16 HR, 79 runs, 138 K, 28 BB vs. actual .280 Avg, 12 HR, 83 runs, 138 K, 25 BB), I was way off in terms of Marte's overall Fantasy value. That's because I projected him for 22 stolen bases instead of his actual 41. While Hurdle hasn't always been prone to sending his runners, he has done so when he's had a superior base-stealer, like when he had Willy Taveras with the Rockies. The 12 steals that Marte got under Hurdle in just 47 games in 2012 should have clued me in to his potential to far outstrip the relatively modest totals he accrued in Triple-A and Double-A.

Largely as a result of shortchanging Marte by 19 steals, I projected him as the 53rd most productive outfielder in Rotisserie leagues, but he finished the season ranked 18th among outfielder in standard Roto value.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Junior Lake, Nick Franklin.

Lesson #6: Be patient with top-flight players returning from injury.

The teacher: Victor Martinez, 1B/DH, Tigers

The lesson in detail: Even after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL, Fantasy owners had to typically invest a mid-round pick to get Martinez. If he could pick up where he left off and hit .300 with double-digit homers and 100 RBI, owners would have a bargain on their hands, but that didn't look likely three months into the season. At the end of June, Martinez did have six home runs, but he was batting .232.

This was actually a lesson I didn't have to learn the hard way, as I stuck with Martinez through the bad months, and starting him finally paid off in July. Over the final three months, Martinez batted .367, as he started hitting more line drives and fewer grounders. He also finished with 14 home runs and 83 RBI.

Martinez's case doesn't prove that one-time star players will always be able to rebound after an injury-plagued season, much less a year-long layoff, but it does show that it's possible, and that patience is warranted.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Matt Kemp, Corey Hart, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Revere.

Lesson #7: Don't write off pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery, even if they were unsuccessful prior to the procedure.

The teacher: John Lackey, SP, Red Sox

The lesson in detail: Upon joining the Red Sox in 2010, Lackey's career went into free fall, with the descent accelerating in 2011. After having suffered through two years of disappointing stats, it was easy to forget how good Lackey was as an Angel and the role that health may have played in his decline. We were reminded of both once he returned from Tommy John surgery this season, as Lackey rediscovered his command. The possibility of a rebound season seemed remote before the 2013 season got under way, especially since he hadn't been especially effective in spring training. (Another lesson: Don't get fooled by spring training stats.)

Lackey finished as a top 60 starting pitcher and would have ranked much higher with better run support. The Red Sox's potent lineup somehow managed to give him only 3.8 runs of support per nine innings. I didn't even have Lackey ranked among the top 60 starters in the AL in my preseason projections, as I expected another season of mediocrity.

Players lesson could apply to in 2014: Joel Hanrahan, Chad Billingsley.

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 .

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Player News
Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances continues to struggle on the mound
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances is still not quite right on the mound. Betances gave up another run Saturday, his fifth in seven appearances this spring.

"At the end of the day, you've got to try to prepare yourself," Betances said to MLB.com. "But I guess it's better to happen now in Spring Training where I can fix it before we leave and head up north. I'd rather it happen now than in season, when it's a little tougher there when the games count more."

Betances is working to fix his leg kick on the mound with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"It's not like I'm missing as bad as I once was," Betances said. "I'm around the zone. I felt way better even before I came in. I felt like my direction was better, something I'll try to work on more. As that gets better, I think I'll be able to throw more strikes and put guys away."


Braves pitcher Alex Wood surrenders three runs in outing
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:05 pm ET) Braves pitcher Alex Wood went six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.

"I thought it was good for the most part. I think I'm getting closer," Wood said to MLB.com. "I think they hit a lot of weak ground balls. Hit a couple hard, but overall I thought it was good. ... Get that next [start] done, and I'll be right where I need to be."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez liked that Wood was able to see some real game scenarios in his appearance.

"You know what was good about it today? He got himself in a couple jams," Gonzalez said. "It was nice to see that he had to get out of those jams, working through those things.

"Because sometimes you go 1-2-3, 1-2-3 every single time, it's a little different. You don't get the adrenaline, the juices flowing. Today he faced a really, really good right-handed dominant lineup and he did great."


Royals pitcher Danny Duffy posts uneasy start Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:57 pm ET) Royals pitcher Danny Duffy gave up four runs in five innings of work with seven strikeouts against the Diamondbacks Saturday. Duffy was dominant early on, striking out six in three scoreless innings. Duffy likes his progression through spring training, reports MLB.com.

"I feel like it's building perfectly," he said. "The ball has been popping for me. I feel the best I have in years [springs]. I got a little fastball happy [today]. I tried to double-up with fastballs to Pollock and Goldschmidt and it hurt me. You get happy you throw one by them, and then the next thing you leave one over the plate."

Manager Ned Yost was so-so about the outing.

"He was OK," Yost said. "He had a very good first three innings and then just started getting the ball up a little. The slider he threw to Pollock for the homer wasn't a real sharp slider."


Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker tosses 20 pitches in simulated game
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:51 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker was able to throw 20 pitches in a simulated game Saturday, touching 92 mph on his fastball, reports Bay Area News Group.

Manager Bob Melvin "pumped" about the good news on Parker, who is expected to start the season with an extended spring training. Parker is still recovering his elbow from Tommy John surgery.


Royals grant infielder Ryan Roberts release
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:45 pm ET) The Royals have decided to part ways with infielder Ryan Roberts and given him his unconditional release, the team announced Saturday.

Roberts, 34, hit .219 with a double and a triple in 18 spring training games this season.


Diamondbacks pitcher Rubby De La Rosa could be No. 2 starter
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:33 pm ET) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale has named his Opening Day starter, Josh Collmenter, but has yet to unveil the rest of his starting rotation. Because Collmenter and another starter, Jeremy Hellickson, have similar styles, Hale is considering Rubby De La Rosa as the No. 2 when the season begins, reports MLB.com.

"We are in serious discussion about doing something like that," Hale said.

De La Rosa has a 3.75 ERA in four appearances this spring. He's recorded 11 strikeouts with five earned runs allowed in 12 innings pitched.


Padres P Tyson Ross feeling good, ready for start of season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:46 pm ET) Padres pitcher Tyson Ross is feeling ready to get the season under way, according to the Press-Enterprise.

“Physically I felt good,” he said. “It’s been a good spring so far, another step in the right direction … I had a good feel for my sinker today and I was able to get some strikeouts with that, running it back away from right-handed hitters and not just using my slider.”

Ross is working on his changeup and he wants to use it more often.

“It’s kind of hard when the other pitches are working well, but it’s going to be a pitch I need to use the third time through the lineup, to get a little separation (in speed) off the fastball and slider,” he said. “I mixed in a couple today and I’m going to keep working it in.”

Manager Bud Black said that could be what he needs to get to the next level.

“It’s tough, because if you take a regular season game and he’s fighting like heck to keep the other team from scoring, you never want to get beat on your third or fourth pitch,” Black said. “The other two are so devastating, it’s tough not to go in that direction.”

On Saturday, the right-hander struck out 12 batters in six innings while giving up six hits and one run.

Ross, 27, has a career ERA of 3.70 with 416 stirkeouts and 186 walks in five years of play.


Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta does it all in start Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta tossed five strike outs over four scoreless innings of work Saturday. Arrieta also added a three-run home run and an RBI double to help his own cause, something he simply called a good work day, reports MLB.com.

"i like it," Arrieta said. "I think it allows us to put a little speed behind me. I feel I can handle the bat well. Depending on the situation, I feel I can put a bunt down efficiently."

Arrieta feels comfortable with the bat in his hand, partially why manager Joe Maddon is considering batting the pitcher eighth in the order.

"It is the pitcher, and it seems like a break in the lineup, but we feel we can do some damage there and help us out," Arrieta said.


Astros pitcher Roberto Hernandez making final staff decision difficult
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:39 pm ET) Astros pitcher Roberto Hernandez is still in the fight for the final spot on the pitching staff. He continued to prove why he belongs Saturday, allowing one run on three hits in five innings of work against the Marlins.

Manager A.J. Hinch continues to like what he's seen from the veteran, who is battling with Asher Wojciechowski, reports MLB.com.

"He had a nice game by getting through some very difficult jams and also getting a lot of ground balls," Hinch said. "I don't know what his total was, but it felt like they were pounding the ball into the ground, which is vintage Roberto Hernandez. There's a reason he's lasted this long in the league and you know what you're going to get and he found a way today."

Hernandez threw 71 pitches Saturday with 43 going for strikes.

"I don't think about that," Hernandez said when asked about his chances of making the team. "I want to continue my work and I never think about, 'Is it my last start?' I'm happy."


Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva expecting to make team
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva wants to make sure he is on the major league roster this season, reports MLB.com.

After St. Louis announced the trade of Sam Freeman earlier Saturday, it opened things up for another arm to make the team. Villanueva also has an opt-out clause in his contract to be released if he is not on the roster for Opening Day.

"My preference is to stay here with this group," Villanueva said. "After that first game out there, I felt that I've thrown the ball very well. I have no regrets about how I've pitched. It's not like they haven't seen it before. I think what they needed to see from me is what they've seen in previous years. It's a decision that's out of my hands after that."

Manager Mike Matheny still doesn't know what he plans to do.

"It's coming down to the wire," Matheny said. "We probably have more questions than most clubs do late because we've given ourselves flexibility to not have it done halfway through. We're taking our time to watch these guys compete and also allowing for the potential if something doesn't go right."


 
 
 
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