The NL King loves to give fantasy baseball advice and my favorite topic to discuss is the percentage categories in fantasy baseball and how often they get over looked during draft preparation. Most owners look towards power, speed, wins, saves or strikeouts, but, the majority of the time they don't ask themselves - how does my batting average look? What about my ERA and Ratio? Why is this?
The percentage categories are just not as sexy as HR or SB or K’s. In a standard 5 X 5 league the percentage categories are three of the ten categories. So they’re crucial for any fantasy owners success. What makes these categories so difficult to navigate is they’re very volatile, one day your numbers can be up and the next down. You can really see this especially on the pitching side what two or three disastrous outings can do to your ERA and Ratio (WHIP).
First rule of thumb for the percentage categories is you do not want to fall too far behind over the first couple months of the season. Frankly, these categories are too hard to come back from. In most instances, when I see a team who is far behind in the percentage categories on Memorial Day, they never recover. For instance, if your team hit .250 for the first half of the season and you need your team to hit above .265 to stay competitive, that means your hitters would need to hit around .285 for the second half. That's very difficult. You need all your players to chip in and help you in these categories or at least not hurt it and give you a push average, ERA or Ratio. A push means that this would be your league's medium. So if your leagues’ push batting average is .263 and if you have a good hitter helping you in various categories and hits .263 you can rely on your higher batting average players to help you rise in that category. Basically if you can have positive numbers on 2/3 of your roster from both hitting and pitching for the percentage categories and a push from the remaining 1/3 of your roster you will do very well in these categories.
The second rule of thumb is you need to look at your leagues standings the last three years and look at the final numbers in your league for batting average, ERA and Ratio to see what percentages fall in the top third and what falls at least in the middle of the categories. This will give you an idea what your goals have to be for the upcoming season for these categories.
Batting Average: In batting average you have more of an error factor than ERA and Ratio. Quite simply you have 14 hitters and 9 pitchers in just about every league. Also most rosters a very large percentage of their hitters play every day, while in terms of the pitchers, the starters pitch once every 5 days and relievers pitch between 3 to 4 innings a week. There are a lot of hitters who can really help you in the other categories but produce poor batting averages. I am not saying these players cannot be on your team BUT you must pick your spots. You cannot have too many of these players and I would say I wouldn’t have more than 2 of these players. Furthermore if you do have a player like this, that player MUST make a significant impact in the other categories, such as players as Dan Uggla of the Atlanta Braves or Chris Young of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Players like Rod Barajas who give you decent power numbers especially for a catcher, in my estimation, should not be on your team. They are an overall negative to how much they help you in the other hitting categories which will be wiped away by their .220 batting average over 400+ AB's. Do not draft these players. Like I said, above guys like Dan Uggla who hit .233 last season and most of his years he has hit in the .240's still produced strong numbers with 36HR's, 82RBI's and 88R's. Chris Young is a lifetime .240 hitter and has only hit above .250 once in his six year career (hit .257 in 2010). But despite his .236 average last year, Chris Young still had 20HR, 71RBI, 89R & 22SB. You can have these kind of players on your team but you must limit them and for every one of these guys you have, you need to offset them with an everyday hitter who is going to hit at least .300.
Trend Analysis Batting Average: I constructed a chart for the last four years in my own league for each percentage category and came to some stark realizations of where the NL numbers are heading (again I am in a 12 team NL only 5 X 5 Keeper League). I’m sure just by following baseball everyone knows the hitting numbers are down and the pitching numbers are up. But how much up and down? In my league last season a team batting average of .2656 finished in 3rd place. That same batting average in 2008 would have resulted in an 11th place finish. In fact here is a little chart for .2656 batting average for my 12 team league:
2011 - 3rd Place Finish
2010 - 6th Place Finish
2009 - 8th Place Finish
2008 - 11th Place Finish
In fact in 2008, half my league finished with a team batting average of .270 or better but in the last two seasons only two teams per season finished with a batting average of .270 better. Now using my numbers is just one league but I am in a very competitive league and it illustrates how batting averages are decreasing. Your goal for a team batting average should be between .267 and .268 heading into 2012. This should allow you to finish in the upper third of that category. If you can construct a team with a .270 batting average I think you will thrive.
ERA and Ratio: We want to make sure we have solid numbers in these categories to stay competitive. How do we do that? We avoid all pitchers who are most likely to have negative numbers in these categories. The one exception I would make would be for a closer who can give us at least 30 saves. In 2008 I had Brian Wilson who had terrible percentage numbers (4.62 ERA and 1.44 Ratio) but had 41 saves and 67K's in 62 innings. I also had Wilson at a cheap price. A situation like this is not ideal but can work as it did for Wilson who only had 62 innings that season. Never draft a starter who is going to produce those kind of numbers in ERA and Ratio. Again, you need to look at your league standings the last three years and see what team ERA's and Ratios are falling in the upper third of the category. That must be your goal. Everyone needs to respect these categories as they are very volatile and it's so hard to make up ground when you fall way behind the pack. Much more difficult than batting average because you have a lot less numbers to work with in terms of IP than you do AB's even if your league allows daily moves.
One of my upcoming articles will be about "Putting Together a Pitching Staff" and we will go into further detail on how we attack the percentage categories. But just to give you a taste, our ERA and Ratio will come from our dominant starter(s), very good starters, our closer and our secret weapon... middle relievers. The last third of our roster will be with push pitchers.
Trend Analysis ERA & Ratio: Again using the chart I constructed from my league the last four years the ERA and Ratio final team numbers are staggering in terms of how much they changed. In terms of ERA the team that finished in last place last season in my league had a 4.14 ERA. That same ERA in 2008 would have finished in 6th place middle of the pack. In fact in 2011 3/4 of my league finished with an ERA below 4.00. In 2008 only 1/3 of my league finished with a team ERA below 4.00. In terms of ratio last season 2/3 of my league had a team ratio under 1.30. In 2008 only 2 teams, that's 1/6 finished with a team ratio under 1.30. Each year since 2008, the pitching numbers have been getting better and better, many reasons but that's an article in itself.
I hope this gives everyone a road map on how to attack these categories for the upcoming season. I will do an article on building a pitching staff over the next month and that will hit home the points on ERA and Ratio among the other three categories as well.
NL King - C.Lizza