It's That Time of Year: Fantasy Season Begins

So in all probability, you’ve drafted. Now we’re in that weird fantasy baseball limbo time of year, after the draft but before the season. Surprisingly there’s more to do than stare endlessly at your team, wondering if Robby Cano over Dustin Pedroia was the right pick (it was) or why everyone was so nice to you when they recommended Joe Nathan. (I mean, he had a lot of saves last year, right? Right?!?!?) Strategy isn’t just necessary for draft time, it’s important for the season too. Certain players start quicker than others and have good opening months, while some lag and have poor Aprils and Mays. Once again, you’re not going to find the obvious guys here. Everyone knows that Teixeira isn’t on the Mark until at least May and that Carlston Charles Sabathia needs a few games to work off the turducken he polished off after Easter (he gave up eating three meats at the same time for Lent). Here are some other strong starters and Spring suckers for early in the season, and the implication for fantasy purposes.

Strong Starters

Dan Haren (SP) – Arizona Diamondbacks
If the season ended in July, Danny would have a shelf full of Cy Youngs. The fact that he is notoriously crappy post-All Star Break and still ends every year as a top 10 pitcher should say enough, but here are four numbers for you: 2.10, 3.07, 1.80, 2.77. Those are Haren’s ERA’s for April, May, June, and July respectively, over the last three years. That’s Greinke-esque, but every year. His K’s are also consistent all year, so even when the ERA balloons (4.97 August, 4.38 September), he can still help. He’s starting to decline, as his home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) went up for the first time in three years (8.9% to 11.7%), so people are making better contact on him. Despite that, call him “Graduation Money” because you can bank him in the Spring.
Fantasy Spin: Draft him, but you better start shopping him in June or July. Get his full value, then laugh at the guy you traded him to come August.

Kevin Youkilis (1B/3B) – Boston Red Sox
The “Greek but Actually Jewish God of Walks” has developed into one of the most reliable fantasy players in baseball. Every year he’ll hit .300, bash around 20-25 home runs, and get 90-100 RBI’s. From a third baseman, that’s awesome (especially this year). This member of the “Tribe” kills it around Passover, painting pitchers’ blood on his door post to the tune of a .331 average in April and a .348 average and 17 homers in May for the last three years. His OPS is trending up and he’s right in his prime, so expect these numbers to continue. Overall, “Jewk” is one of the surest bets in fantasy sports.
Fantasy Spin: Take him, then don’t worry at all. You’ll have to weather the July storm, where he’s hit .264 over the last three years. If you can get high value before then, great. Don’t force it though, he’s solid in August (.305 and 13 homers over the last three).

Sure that's lambs' blood, Youk?

Torii Hunter (OF) – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Los Angeles
Sure, he’s 34 years old and sure, his sabermetrics are wildly inconsistent (his charts look like the Stock Exchange), but there’s interesting information here. Over the last three years, Hunter has hit .322 in April and has his most homers of any month then as well, with 17. He’s a rarity in that his only trending deeper stat is BABIP, which is consistent for most players. His has gone up each year since 2005. To me, that means that he’s learned how to hit more and pick his spots as his natural skills erode, so I’m not afraid of the higher number. He’s hitting third for the Angels this year, so that can’t hurt either. His home runs have taken a dive as he’s gotten older, but he’s a solid player. Hang onto him and expect .280 with 20-25 homers and 90-100 RBI’s. Those can easily go up if Mike Scioscia figures out how to manufacture runs with this team as he has every year.
Fantasy Spin: He’ll fall off a bit in June, but is generally a strong starter. You can always look to move him in May to a panicky owner with a slow starter. (What? You want to know which slow starters? I guess I can do that for you…)

Spring Suckers

Chone Figgins (3B/Soon to be 2B) – Seattle Mariners
This bite-size, former utility man was most likely drafted for speed, runs, and average. His speed is fairly consistent throughout the year. The other two, not so much. In April, he hits .279 with 27 runs while hitting .254 with 35 runs in May over the last three years. Not what you wanted. That changes, quickly. In June he’s hit .372 over the last three years, while hitting over .300 in July and August as well. The high BABIP last year doesn’t worry me, considering he’s a speed guy and they tend to have high BABIP’s. It’s also worth noting that Seattle certainly has a lack of offense. Expect him (and Ichiro, incidentally) to have the green light in an attempt to produce these runs.
Fantasy Spin: The most important fantasy aspect of his game? He’ll be eligible at 2B very soon into the season, considering that’s where he’s slated to start. So if you need lead-off man type stats (average, runs, steals) from that position, swing a deal for him in the first two months and bide your time.

Curtis Granderson (OF) – New York Yankees
The Yankees’ center fielder seems to take after new teammate Mark Teixeira in that he is not good early. Over the last three years, his April and May averages were a combined .265. Considering he hit .249 last year, that’s not awful. Compared to his June/July average of .309, it is. His stolen bases and attempts are very low in April (he’s swiped 4 out of 5 attempts in the last three years), and you drafted him partially for that. By all accounts, he’s a great guy, but unless “Doors Held Open for Old Women” (DHOOW, for you statheads) is a category in your league, that’s useless. That June/July average is useful, though. On top of that, everyone is expecting him to hit a ton of homers in Yankee Stadium this year, even more in the hotter, summer months. He’ll score a lot of runs in this lineup too (kind of like everyone else), and his average doesn’t scare me from last year considering his career low BABIP of .275 (46 points below his lifetime number).
Fantasy Spin: If you drafted him, wait it out. If he struggles early, like he has in the past, it’ll be overblown by the media because he’s a Yankee. If the guy who drafted him buys the “he can’t play in New York” hype, grab him faster than you can say “I’ll trade you Dan Haren for Granderson and a pitcher” (or at about that exact speed, that’s a solid offer to make).

Too busy calculating DHOOW.

Adam Wainwright (SP) – St. Louis Cardinals
Everything is relative. Compared to his July and August, Wainwright sucks in the Spring. Over the last three years his April, May and June ERA’s are 3.79, 3.78, and 3.92 in that order. Not too bad at all. Look at those numbers for July and August, though: 1.95 and 1.71. His K’s are relatively consistent all year, but his WHIP dips pretty heavily over the summer, helping you in more than one category. The development of his curveball was huge last year as well, as he used it more and more (24% of the time, compared to 17.9% the year before). That’s a huge reason for his success. The continuation of the development of that pitch is key for this year. He’ll be okay in the early Spring, but godly in the summer.
Fantasy Spin: Throw the house at whoever owns Wainwright in June. Offer your house, your car, your first born son, but get him. You’ll have one of the top 2 or 3 pitchers in baseball for the fantasy playoffs if you do.

Now that you’ve presumably drafted, it’s time to see how the year pans out. Don’t overreact to poor performances, instead check to see if there’s a trend. However, prey on the owners that do overreact. If you want to be sly, perpetuate these worries by asking “hey, what’s going on Curtis Granderson?” Bring up your own, crazy successful early season guys (like “Graduation Money,” for instance) to try to get another owner to pay attention to them. You’ll be glad you did.

Get ready for the season, and keep the bat on your shoulders.
-Backwards K

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