Rebuilding Your Baseball Team

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate September 2001

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In baseball circles, September's excitement is second only to that which follows in October. The division and wild card races are hotter than Texas asphalt in July. Indeed, it may be September that is "˜the cruelest month,' for it is September that will decide which MLB teams go to the playoffs, and who goes home. More importantly, before the month is done, fantasy leagues will be won and lost "¦ and that holds true even for teams mired in last place.

There's nothing glamorous about being a "˜cellar dweller' and fantasy owners do not care for being in that position any more than the Pirates care to have the worst record in baseball. However, fantasy owners have an advantage over the Buccos "¦ they can be sure they do not repeat their dismal finish next season. They can learn from their misfortune to ensure history does not repeat itself.

The first couple of steps toward this involve ascertaining what landed a fantasy team in last place to begin with.

Injuries alone are seldom enough to banish a team to the bottom of the standings. Generally, there are other, more pressing, deficiencies "" poor player performances or errors in player evaluation are more likely the heart of the problem.

First, look at "˜poor player performance'. There have been several key players this year who have not produced up to expectations "¦ poor performances are a part of the game. Despite posting Batting Eyes of 0.80 and 0.82, respectively, Shawn Green and Ken Griffey, Jr. have been among the biggest disappointments (especially of higher round picks). However, despite their less than stellar production in some areas, their Batting Eyes and other indicators (especially since the All-Star Break for Griffey) point to continued promise. In instances such as these, it is often difficult to predict such a production fall-off. Is it the change to the National League that confounded these hitters? Is it the change to less-hitter friendly ballparks? Or is it merely a blip on the radar screen? If nothing else, the leading indicators favor the latter.

If that is not the case, then, second, owners need to find where they have gone wrong in player evaluation. Overvalued players can decimate a team's chances. Homer Bush, for example, had never hit for lower than a .320 average prior to this season (though 1999 was his first full season in the big leagues). That, plus his 32 steals, plus the likelihood that he would be hitting near the top of a very potent Toronto lineup made him pretty a trendy pick among second basemen. However, coming into the 2000 season, he possessed a dismal career Batting Eye of 0.26 "¦ and going into September 2000, he can be found hitting a robust .215 with 6 steals, sharing time with Craig Grebeck when healthy, and hitting near the bottom of the order when he does play. That is the kind of disastrous over-valuation that can end a season early.

It can be impossible to predict unfortunate blips on the radar screen "¦ but, like injuries, those seldom result in a total disaster. However, with a little homework, owners can avoid overvaluing players.

The last step toward success is building for next year. While it is true that the 2000 fantasy leagues can be lost and won this month, the 2001 fantasy leagues can be as well. For keeper leagues with late trading deadlines, there might still be time to swing a deal "¦ for non-keeper leagues or for those who have already passed their deadline, it is time to start making a short list for next season. It is not difficult to know what veterans to place at the top of the list, but then it is seldom that a league's first few picks will vary too much from other leagues. Instead, it is the middle rounds where the difference will be made "¦ and those are usually the rounds when the promising younger talents start to go.

Looking at four younger players that have begun to make their marks this season (Troy Glaus, Lance Berkman, Gabe Kapler, and Richard Hidalgo), the growth along the same indicators referred to earlier begins to hash itself out.

Glaus, despite a sluggish July, is hitting .279 with 38 HRs. He has also seen a +0.16 swing in his Batting Eye (meaning it is 0.16 points higher than 1999) "¦ which indicates that he is still growing as a hitter. At age 24, it is relatively safe to assume that he will continue to improve in the years to come. The same can be said for Berkman (+0.27 Eye) and Kapler (+0.04 Eye). Each of these players are seeing improvements over their 1999 BA and HR outputs (with the exception on Kapler's HR total, though his slugging average remains strong).

Hidalgo, likewise, has shown an increase over his 1999 BA and HR totals "¦ in fact, even in an obvious down year for the Astros, he has achieved career highs in almost every category. The bad news is that his Eye has tumbled from a 0.77 in 1999 to 0.45. While some of that can be attributed to swinging for the fences at Coors Light (Enron Field), declining plate discipline is typically followed by a decrease in production. Perhaps it will be the owners that sucker on Hidalgo in 2001 who will find themselves in the cellar "¦ he is certainly a candidate for an "off" year.

Owners who still have trades available as an option, should run, not walk, to contending teams and begin shopping for some of these younger talents "¦ though it may already be too late for some of these examples there are still some players out there who could be trade bait for a contending team. Also, in keeper leagues, keep in mind that PLAYERS are much more important than KEEPER SLOTS to contending teams right now "¦ after the season it will be much the opposite. Thus, it might be very possible to swing a deal now with an aging veteran or an average pitcher for an extra keeper slot - which can be dealt away after the season for the kind of player that would make more of a difference in 2001.

The bottom line is simple "" in every league there is someone who will finish in last place. However, those owners have not "lost" unless they have failed to learn from the experience.