Commentary

McCutchen does plenty with little help

Updated: May 14, 2012, 1:21 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

We all know the old adage that baseball is a team sport, and players can't win games all by themselves.

Vantage Point

Certainly, over the past week, Josh Hamilton did his best to try and prove that theory wrong, but even with an insane 64-point week (ESPN standard scoring), the Texas Rangers still didn't go undefeated. However, there's no disputing that Hamilton has a lot of weapons surrounding him, both in the lineup and on the mound.

For a fantasy owner, however, all that matters is whether or not a player is able to provide you with fantasy points. Whether or not his real-life team wins is irrelevant, so long as the stats keep coming. A perfect example is Andrew McCutchen, who hit .524 last week which translated into 33 fantasy points.

He gets little, if any, help from his teammates in terms of run production. Case in point, in the four Pittsburgh wins last week, McCutchen went 10-for-14. In their two losses, he went 1-for-7. For McCutchen, it does seem he is winning games all by himself and he remains one of the few Pirates worth owning in points leagues as a result.

All of which leads me to a statistical indicator to use when deciding whether or not a player is a product of his supporting cast, or if he has value to you independent of the rest of the players on his team. I like to look at the OBP of players when nobody is on base in order to glean exactly how well a player is doing in terms of generating fantasy points "on his own."

Let's take a quick look at the best players in the majors so far in 2012 at this stat with a minimum of 40 qualifying at-bats:

If a fantasy owner is looking to figure out whether or not a player from a weak offense is worthy of a spot in their starting lineup, this stat can be a solid guide. McCutchen's OBP in these situations is a solid .388, for example. Anything below .350 on a team that simply isn't generating any runs and you might want to consider benching a player until he can start to produce some offense on his own.

A list of some of the names at the bottom end of the spectrum showcases a whole heap of players you wouldn't ever dream of drafting alongside some of the more frustrating players to fantasy owners in 2012:

All players are going to go through slumps, and hitters can't be expected to drive in too many runs if they never have anyone on base when they get to the batter's box. But forget about their teammates, whose stats don't count for you. Players need to be able to get on base for themselves, or else there will be very little chance of them winning any games for you.

That's a simple truth that cannot be denied.

Pointing Up

Josh Reddick, OF, Oakland Athletics: Any player with a one-game, 21-point effort, as Reddick had on Friday, is likely to have a weekly points-league total that appears to be headed in the right direction. That said, with hits in seven of his past eight games, and two runs scored in his lone hitless affair, Reddick has now seen points growth in each of the past two scoring sessions.

Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Baltimore Orioles: Opponents are hitting just .224 against him over the past two weeks, and that includes a matchup with Josh Hamilton when the Texas Rangers did not seem to have an answer for Chen. With a K/BB rate of 2.33, you're looking at a pitcher who is going to minimize any potential damage done by the occasional home run mistake.

Alejandro De Aza, OF, Chicago White Sox: He's hitting .394 since May 5, and while most of those hits are singles, he has three steals over that time. More importantly, he has only one more strikeout than he has walks. That's a kind of consistency that has far more impact in points leagues than it does in a category-based league where the lack of power surely depresses de Aza's value greatly.

R.A. Dickey, SP, New York Mets: With Dickey, it's all about fooling the hitters, and he's been doing that a lot lately. He is 4-0 this season in games in which he's gotten more than 20 called strikes. After watching him beat the Atlanta Braves despite recording nary a strikeout and allowing nine hits, yet somehow still managing to earn positive fantasy points, we're ready to declare Dickey's 2012 success legitimate.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox: No, this isn't a huge limb we're going out on here, selecting a guy who is in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak. However, we do want to point out that not all streaks are created equal. In Pedroia's case, a .339 batting average has led to a solid rise in fantasy points. But don't get enamored by the mere fact of "consecutiveness." Case in point: Angel Pagan has hit safely in all but one game since April 14, yet his batting average on May 11 was the same as it was on April 18: .278.

Bud Norris, SP, Houston Astros: Whenever a pitcher throws 12 straight shutout innings, the attention is going to be headed in his direction, but in Norris' case, what intrigues us more than the lack of runs allowed is the 3.8 K/BB rate over his past three starts. There's a reason 61 of his 88 season-to-date points have come over the past two scoring periods.

Pointing Down

Ross Detwiler, SP, Washington Nationals: It's not that he's pitching poorly. After all, with an ERA of 2.10 and a WHIP of 1.02, it's hard to find fault in his efforts so far this season. But that's kind of the point. He's got a terrific BABIP (.240) but with so few strikeouts, it seems every ball goes into play and it's just a matter of time before that fact catches up with him and a few more of those ground balls start to find holes.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: It's not like we're panicking simply because of one bad week. However, when a guy goes 3-for-19, we take a closer look. Only one extra-base hit in May after 11 in April, 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts this month after going 4-for-4 last month, and now we're looking at a .244 hitter since the calendar page turned. In what world can those trends be seen as a good thing?

James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: We still like Shields overall, but there's no mistaking the fact he's struggling a bit of late. In his first five starts he had a K/BB rate of 3.5. That has fallen to 2.2 over his past three starts, and that's with a double-digit whiff performance against the Seattle Mariners. Adding fuel to the fire of discontent, see the seven home runs he's allowed in his past four appearances.

Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: Three out of his past six games have earned negative fantasy points, and a couple of solo homers does little to ameliorate the damage done by his recent run of strikeouts: 14 in his past 10 games with only one clean sheet in that department. With a walk in Sunday's game being the first he's managed to secure since May 3, points league owners have reason to be cautious with Curtis.

Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs: Let's use another example of our stat of the week with Castro, who with no runners on base this season has an OBP of only .314 with 11 strikeouts in 67 at-bats. That's a red flag for us, combined with the fact despite getting hits in nine of his past 10 games, his batting average has actually gone down. Castro hit just .269 last week and scored only once. He's simply not doing enough himself.

Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox: So let's see what happened here. Sale had a sore elbow, so the White Sox moved him to the bullpen to save stress on his arm. After one poor outing, a blown save, they immediately throw him back into the rotation four days later and he needs 103 pitches to get through five innings, a loss that earns him negative fantasy points. Anybody else worrying about this ending badly, or is it just me?

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