April 27, 2010

Nothing is more frustrating than watching some of your top fantasy draft picks stinking it up during the first month of the season.

And if you even start to become the slightest bit concerned, fantasy baseball sources everywhere will usually tell you the same thing: Relax, it's April.

But for us impatient fantasy owners, those who can't stand to watch Mark Teixeira drag on hitting .119, Aramis Ramirez to strikeout yet another time (23 on the season, .139 BA), or Carlos Lee to send one more weak fly ball high into the Houston air, it isn't easy to relax. Especially when the guy in your league who has Josh Willingham, Jose Guillen and Kelly Johnson thinks he's a genius sitting atop the standings.

For those of you who fall into the impatient category, it's time to use your lack of patience to your advantage. Too many people don't have the stomach to send their first-round pick to the bench for a week. So you keep throwing Teixeira out there, getting more and more frustrated as the month goes on.

Here's the secret: It's OK to bench your All-Stars.

Just as there's no shame in laying down a bunt once in a while, there shouldn't be any in sending Jason Kubel to ride the pine for a week. If you're in a weekly league, it carries slightly more downside. Seeing as your cold hitter could find his stroke on a Tuesday and smack a few homers during the week, it would be easy to get frustrated for not trusting your instincts and leaving him in there. But how much more can you take?

Sometimes you have to pull the plug in favor of someone who may be locked in right now. As ugly as it may look to field an outfield with Will Venable, David DeJesus and Cameron Maybin, it's a lot better than sending Nate McLouth, Hunter Pence and Grady Sizemore out there to struggle. It's all about the stats; the name can only take you so far.

If you're in a league where daily lineups are set, sitting the cold stars should be a no-brainer. Once he hits that first home run, place him back in the lineup the next day. If he gets back to his normal self, all you missed was one day's worth of productivity while you could have been collecting much more than that from a mid-level replacement during that span.

That's why it's critical to be upgrading your reserves as often as possible. At this point in the season, you're probably not dropping anyone that you drafted to be a starter on your team -- and you shouldn't. But what you should be doing is upgrading your reserve players every transaction period. Why pass up a chance on a player maintaining his momentum the whole season just because you didn't want to let go of a bench player? It isn't worth it.

Good fantasy players are constantly re-evaluating their teams. You never can have a good enough roster, no matter how good it is.

When thinking long-term though, as my colleague Todd Zola mentioned in a recent storywrite-up, it's important this early in the season to judge your players the correct way.

Simply gauging their performance on home runs or RBI is a mistake, and instead you should be paying attention to things like HR/FB and contact rates.

If you take a look at some of the hot starters from last season, many of those who didn't stick around for the whole year had super-inflated HR/FB rates. Jorge Cantu owns a career 10.8 HR/FB rate, yet was knocking them out at a 28 percent clip in the first month on his way to 7 homers. He finished with a 7.4 percent mark and hit just 9 home runs the rest of the season. Torii Hunter has a career 15.8 percent ratio, yet enjoyed a 25.8 percent mark with 8 home runs in the first month last year. He finished the year close to his career average, 15.8 percent, with 22 bombs.

Right now, Jose Guillen owns a 26.9 percent HR/FB rate (career 15 percent), Ty Wigginton (career 13 percent) owns a 35.3 percent clip and Kelly Johnson (career 10.3 percent) has an outstanding 36.8 percent ratio. These are all likely to fall dramatically, and typically a player's batting average falls with it.

So pay attention to those who are performing well, but not far off of what their skill set indicates. This type of player is likely to keep performing well all season.

But of course, be sure to take advantage of those seeing the ball well right now, and stop taking the bullet on your All-Stars who can't make any contact. It's always crucial to remember that baseball is a streaky game, despite what the stat-gurus love to argue. Like everyone's favorite player, Alex Rodriguez, once said, "Baseball is a tricky game. It's a round ball that comes in a square box." It's a game where players can get lost on the mental track, turning a minor cold streak into a month-long draught, or a five-game hitting streak into a 20-game marathon.

So plug those who are playing well right now into your lineup, reap the benefits, and when someone tells Chris Coghlan or J.D. Drew that they're actually getting paid to play this game, maybe they'll start hitting again, and maybe then they'll earn the right to call themselves starters on your fantasy squad.

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