Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing the Name Game: Who's Who

This edition of "Playing the Name Game" is the third time this season I'll be comparing nameless player's statistics  and hopefully opening your eyes a little bit to how name recognition (and sometimes the lack thereof) can skew the realm of fantasy baseball ownership. This time I'm going to hold back all of the player's names until the end. NOTE: All stats quoted are from games played through June 29th, 2011.

Let's jump right into the game by comparing the statistics (5x5 style) of a pair of outfielders in Scenario A:
  • Player A: .258 BA, 35 R, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 1 SB
  • Player B: .282 BA, 42 R, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 3 SB
Player A is owned in 67.5% of ESPN leagues and just 39% of Yahoo! leagues while Player B is owned in 100% of ESPN leagues and 84% of Yahoo! leagues. Are the 24 points in batting average, seven runs, two RBI and two stolen bases really worth such a discrepancy in ownership numbers? Here's a hint to guessing their names: neither player's home park would be consider hitter-friendly.

Let's take a look at another pair of outfielders producing similar stats in Scenario B:
  • Player A: .262 BA, 51 R, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 5 SB
  • Player B: .264 BA, 25 R, 8 HR, 29 RBI, 3 SB
Again, pretty similar except for the large discrepancy in runs scored. How could that be explained? What if I told you Player A has had 279 at-bats while Player B has only had 148 at-bats? So, very similar numbers in half the at-bats, except for runs. Player A cost you an ADP of 104.1 while it's safe to say Player B was virtually undrafted. Now let's take a look at ownership numbers. Player A (99.6% E; 86% Y!); Player B (8% E; 5% Y!). Here's a hint to narrow down who they are: both players are on different contending teams in the NL Central.

Enough with outfielder comparisons for the moment. Check out these pair of first basemen in Scenario C:
  • Player A: .173 BA, 20 R, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 0 SB
  • Player B: .217 BA, 17 R, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 0 SB
Ugh, why would anyone want to own either of these players with nearly half a season in the books? Fantasy owners got the memo about Player B and have avoided ownership to the tune of 0.4% in ESPN leagues and 1% of Yahoo! leagues. Quite the head-scratcher, though, that Player A is still owned in 83.3% of ESPN leagues and 79% of Yahoo! leagues. Oh right, Player A cost you an ADP of 37.3.

How about a trio of first basemen with similar numbers up for comparison in Scenario D?:
  • Player A: .297 BA, 33 R, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB
  • Player B: .272 BA, 33 R, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 2 SB
  • Player C: .306 BA, 34 R, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 0 SB
Okay, now we're talking. These three are virtually the same player, right? Wrong. Ownership levels are all over the place. Player A is owned in 100% of ESPN leagues and 90% of Yahoo! leagues while Player B is owned in just 43.3% of ESPN leagues and 30% of Yahoo! leagues and lastly, Player C is 91.9% owned in ESPN leagues and 53% of Yahoo! leagues. Over the last 15 days, Player B has three home runs while the other two combined have none.

Lastly, let's compare a pair of young catchers with a ton of potential but I wonder if that potential is another year away from being realized after looking at Scenario E:
  • Player A: .226 BA, 36 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 3 SB
  • Player B: .226 BA, 24 R, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB
Again, other than runs scored and a few bonus steals, these catchers are providing nearly the same level of offense to a fantasy team. Both players are 25 years old but the perception of each is quite different. Player A has only played 2/3rds of his games at catcher and the other 1/3rd at first base and owned in 100% of ESPN leagues and 95% of Yahoo! leagues while Player B has caught nearly the same amount of games but stuck in a perceived 60/40 split of time with a veteran catcher and owned in 50.9% of ESPN leagues and 52% of Yahoo! leagues.

Enough with the player comparisons already, right? Let's get to revealing the player's names after the break.

Scenario A reveals Player A as Ryan Ludwick and Player B as Carlos Beltran. If a Ludwick owner sent you a straight up trade proposal for Beltran, you'd probably call him every name in the book and mock him for even trying. With the trade deadline approaching, one wonders if Ludwick could find his way out of PETCO and into a full-time job in a hitter's park, would more owners be willing to own him.

Scenario B reveals Player A to be Colby Rasmus and Player B as Chris Heisey. Heisey is probably only owned as much as he is due to his recent three-homer game and will be an interesting player to watch over the second half of the season and into next year's drafts while Rasmus seems to be regressing in his third full season in the majors.

Scenario C reveals Player A as the bewildering Adam Dunn and Player B as the underwhelming Juan Miranda. Dunn was expected to light up the Chicago nights with his power while Miranda was being groomed as the first baseman of the near future. Neither has done much to live up to the hype but owners of Dunn as sort of stuck due to the high level of investment.

Scenario D reveals Player A as Billy Butler, Player B as Freddie Freeman and Player C as Todd Helton. This is another case of perception. Everyone keeps wanting Butler to be the player he should be but what has he done to warrant such? He's currently the 23rd-ranked player with first base eligibility, behind Helton at 19 and one ahead of Freeman at 24th.

Scenario E reveals Player A to be Carlos Santana and Player B as J. P. Arencibia. Santana burst on the scene last season and Arencibia was a sleeper pick this Spring. I understand why Santana is owned in virtually all leagues but left wondering why more owners aren't willing to invest in Arencibia.

These scenarios are helpful, in my mind, because fantasy baseball is about accumulating the most numbers and trying to win your league. If you are in this game to own your favorite players (I'm talking to you, "Chicago Cubs" owner), you're probably not going to win very often and no amount of logic is going to convince you that name recognition has its pro and cons.

We're nearly at the All-Star game, the unofficial halfway point of the season, and now is the time to start evaluating what it's going to take to get you into a position to win your league for money or bragging rights. Keeper and dynasty leagues complicate things because it's much harder to cut and run on someone simply having an off year. Make wise decision but do so based in the reality of the numbers, not just the player's name.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was written with the support and encouragement of the guys over at Infield Chatter Sports Blog. Be sure to check them out on Twitter and Facebook, too.


  1. I love these comparisons. The only thing I don't agree with is the regression of Colby Rasmus. His OBP is the best of his career and he's starting to hit more homers. By the end of the year, he's numbers will be previous seasons. Watch.

  2. Sometimes AVG, HR, RBI, and even SBs aren't even end-all be-all stats...Santana may look like Arencibia, but his OBP is superior

  3. Agreed.
    But I believe the majority of fantasy leagues still use AVG as a scoring category rather than OBP.