Commentary

Value of one-trick ponies

Home run, speed specialists can be helpful in points leagues

Updated: July 16, 2012, 3:23 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

If you haven't figured it out by now, allow me to once again remind you that points leagues are not quite the same animal as a category-based fantasy baseball scoring format.

Vantage Point

Players like Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen who have excelled across the board in all categories are going to be highly coveted regardless of the way we decide to determine our standings. But when it comes to the one-trick ponies, players who have a ton of power with little to offer in the way of speed or stolen-base ninjas who rarely knock the cover off the ball, we need to look at them a little bit closer.

In rotisserie formats, the value of the stolen base as compared to that of the home run has been getting narrower and narrower. Since 2008, as the following chart will attest, the average major league team has gradually increased the number of steals vis--vis their home run total each and every season.

What that essentially means is that the need for stolen bases has slowly risen each year relative to the need for home runs. The "benchmark" number for success in the steals category has crept higher and higher.

However, in points leagues, the value of a steal is still the same as ever. You don't have to compare your team's steals totals to anyone else's roster. Points are points. They all count the same regardless of how they occur.

So let's take a closer look at three head-to-head matchups of one-trick ponies to see who has the greater core value for a points-league team. In each pairing, the core value of both players is determined by adding total bases earned for doubles, triples and home runs plus two points for each steal (since a stolen base requires getting a walk or a hit in the first place.)

Michael Bourn is a Player Rater favorite thanks in large part to the huge stolen base totals, yet even though Adam Dunn's batting average severely crushes his value in a rotisserie league, in a points league the story is quite different. Strikeouts aside, this duo is a relative toss-up on a daily basis.

Sure, Prince Fielder has a lot more RBIs to his name, so we're not suggesting that Jose Reyes has been the better fantasy option in 2012. But in points leagues, the gap is not nearly as large as you might think. With just a few more strikeouts from Fielder, it would not be too difficult for Reyes outscore him in many points-league scoring systems going forward.

Our last comparison shows you how quickly a stolen-base specialist can elevate his value to match that of a power hitter. Even though Tony Campana has had around half the at-bats (151 versus 299) as Paul Konerko, he's far closer than that to the Chicago White Sox slugger's Core Value:

Again, we're not saying that the overall value of these pairings is equal by any means. However, the power/speed gap is not nearly as great in points leagues as it is in rotisserie. You shouldn't always choose to go with the strong swing over the strong legs. In fact, if you're looking to catch up to the competition quickly, the choice should be quite obvious.

Pointing Up

Jason Vargas, P, Seattle Mariners: Give Vargas a mulligan on his two worst outings of the season, a 14-10 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks and an 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, both in June, and then look at Vargas' numbers: 8-5 with a 3.27 ERA. Sure, he still gives up too many home runs (18 in his last 11 starts, with at least one in each contest) but that 3.27 would be good enough to put him in the top 10 in the American League.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: You may be scratching your head over this one, as Rasmus has hit just .200 since June 28. However, he did keep his points total from sinking too terribly thanks to three homers and nine RBIs in this 14-game stretch. Keep in mind, 11 of those games were at home, where he's a far less impressive bat (.416 at home slugging versus .534 on the road).

Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians: The recent power surge (three home runs since July 4) is very likely a mirage, given his career rate of one homer for every 93 at-bats. Still, his batting average of .321 on the road is a 43-point improvement over his lifetime numbers, and the Indians do play 13 of their next 20 games away from Progressive Field.

Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox: Since June 25, Rios has been an unstoppable force. He reached base safely in all 16 games and compiled a .439 batting average, five home runs and 14 RBIs. Coming off two straight 30-plus point scoring periods (ESPN standard), there's no mistaking that his value is legit.

Jordan Zimmermann, P, Washington Nationals: He's in the zone, having strung together eight consecutive quality starts to the tune of a 2.08 ERA. The "problem" with Zimmermann in points leagues is that he is just 3-1 in those starts, which has artificially kept his overall ranking down from where it deserves to be. However, as all three victories have come in his past four starts, the pendulum has finally picked up some positive momentum.

Jason Kubel, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Hamstring issues aside, which certainly could limit his availability some in the upcoming week, the truth is that when he plays, Kubel has been as consistent as they come. On May 5, his average was .293. On June 12, his average was .293. On July 13, it was .293. The fact he has hit four home runs in July demonstrates that enough power can come along to make him worth your while.

Pointing Down

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians: Not only has he gone 5-for-39 since July 2, good for only a .128 batting average, but that translated into four of 10 games in which he earned negative points in ESPN standard scoring. There's little in the way of extra-bases being earned here, and he hasn't swiped a bag since May 10. Get out while you still can.

Hiroki Kuroda, P, New York Yankees: In two July starts, Kuroda saw his ERA jump half a point to 3.67 and his BAA to start an inning is a shocking .354 for the season. If not for his lineup bailing him out in his last few stinkers, he'd be a sub-.500 pitcher. Certainly there are flashes of brilliance here, but not enough to rely on week in and week out.

Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays: July has been unkind to Lawrie. Even though he has hit safely in seven of 10 games, his overall numbers during this stretch are unimpressive: .286 slugging, 10 strikeouts and one walk, with but one RBI. Certainly, his .316 first-pitch batting average demonstrates that he can turn it around, but right now the arrow is in the wrong direction.

Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: Part of Victorino's problems stem from the long road trip that Philadelphia just completed. He's hitting just .220 away from Citizens Bank Park in 2012, so a .186 average over his last 11 (nine on the road) should not be too shocking. However, the last three were at Coors Field, where he got his first extra-base hits after a 23-game drought. Something's not quite right here, and it's more than just the scenery.

Jonathon Niese, P, New York Mets: Since a 10-K outing on June 3, Niese has posted a K/9 rate of only 6.38 while allowing six homers in those six starts. He taketh away more than he giveth, and as his fly ball rate continues to climb (five straight starts with double-digit fly ball totals after seven consecutive single-digit counts) so too does his effectiveness diminish.

James Shields, P, Tampa Bay Rays: One time is a fluke. Twice is perhaps unlucky. Now with four straight games in which he's allowed double-digit hit totals resulting in a 6.08 ERA, you have to wonder if something more sinister is going on. After all, while regression down from a .441 BABIP may be in the forecast, you don't get to that lofty number simply as a result of bad fortune.

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