Fantasy: Worth the risk for a stats fan?

By Dave Fultz

Last week I was getting primed and ready for the fantasy baseball draft for our Daily Illini staff sports league. Well, this Sunday was the draft, and I must say, I’m pretty darn happy with my team.

Uh oh, this can’t be good.

The problem with this is that last week’s column wasn’t just about getting excited for the draft, it was about how I needed to change my strategy if I’m going to have any success at this fantasy stuff.

I wrote about how I would need to toss my real-life logic and reasoning out the window in favor of the knowledge fantasy “experts” told me was best, but I just couldn’t do it when the time came.

The argument I used last week to illustrate just how my knowledge of fantasy baseball and real baseball differ is mostly based on the discrepancies in value that come with the way players are (and should be) evaluated in each.

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    This example was personified by Juan Pierre and Todd Helton last week, but it was a different Rockies’ slugger – outfielder Matt Holliday – that inspired me to take on a new challenge for this season.

    What is that challenge, you ask?

    I’m going to try and win our fantasy league without neglecting my understanding of the importance of statistics like on-base percentage for hitters and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) for pitchers.

    Pitching is easier to translate because WHIP is one of the categories that is scored in our league but offense is a little tougher. More gaudy statistics like stolen bases and runs batted in are weighted more heavily in fantasy than OBP and the positives that come with it.

    When Holliday, an absolute masher any way you look at him, fell to me at pick No. 11, I was astonished. I was surprised that the draft pick I was about to make was both the best move for my fantasy purposes and also the smartest move if this were real-life baseball.

    So I thought I was on to something. I decided then and there that I wanted to see if it was possible to accommodate my practical side and my fantasy team.

    Holliday is a player that satisfies nearly all of our league’s fantasy categories – he hit .340 with 137 RBIs, 36 home runs and scored 120 runs in 2007 – but still fits all of the statistical criteria that a real-life ballplayer needs to help his team win.

    On top of his healthy fantasy-related numbers, Holliday had a monstrous .405 OBP and a .607 slugging percentage. The guy can just flat out rake.

    Of course it’s easy to see that this strategy could work with such an easy example of a great hitter who satisfies both needs.

    It becomes a little more intriguing when you see how I’m trying to make up for some of the other shortcomings, namely in areas like stolen bases and runs batted in, that arise when you draft with a heavy bias on OPS. Instead of picking up a guy like Pierre – 64 stolen bases and a terrible .331 OBP in 2007 – I’d draft a few guys who could swipe 20 bags but still reach base at a decent rate.

    My theory is that if a guy gets on base at a rate higher than league average, it should translate into statistics like runs scored, batting average and RBIs that will benefit my fantasy team consistently over the course of the season.

    Another player I drafted, Bobby Abreu, is a perfect example of how this can work. Abreu stole 25 bases in ’07 and his .369 OBP allowed him to score 123 runs and drive in 101 more. For the record, Pierre scored just 96 runs despite all of that running last season.

    The rest of the stolen base gap between my team and others is made up with guys like Brian Roberts (50 in 2007 with a .377 OBP) and Nick Markakis (18 stolen bases with a .362 OBP).

    None of my offensive starters – besides Paul Lo Duca at catcher – had an OBP below .355 in 2007, which was nearly 20 points higher than the league average.

    So, needless to say, I like my team.

    I drafted this way to see if a team made up of logically sound players could compete in a world of fantasy baseball that still insists on using near meaningless statistics like stolen bases and runs batted in to measure success. We’ll see whether or not that is the case this season.

    This should be a fun season, and I’ll try to keep updates coming over the summer. These updates will most likely find their way to our Daily Illini sports blog that can be found on our Web site.

    Wish me luck guys, here goes nothing.

    Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]