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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jeff Keppinger Won't Hurt You

Okay, folks... The topic today is something we covered last year, but I think it is important, so Ima gonna hit it again.

In my FSIC AL-Only league draft that I wrote about recently I took Jeff Keppinger in the 19th round.  To me, Keppinger is the poster child for a player who "isn't going to hurt you."  At least that's what they say.

But what are people really saying there?

What they are saying is that he'll hit for average but not do anything else.  In other words, when people talk about a player who isn't going to hurt you they are usually talking about a player who does well in qualitative stats (batting average, ERA, WHIP) but doesn't contribute elsewhere.  I'm not sure exactly why this is so, but I do know that nothing hurts quite so much as seeing one of your players go 0 for 6 with zero runs, RBI, or stolen bases.  Keppinger will pretty much never do that to you.


The thing is, though, that if a player isn't giving you average stats in any category he is dragging you down in that category.  Maybe a little, maybe a lot... but let's be clear, if I start Keppinger at 3B all year he'll hurt me.  He'll bump up my batting average and kill me everywhere else.  He's like the anti-Adam Dunn.

My 3B slot should be generating a certain number of HR, R, RBI, and even SB just to keep pace with the middle of the pack and if I'm starting Keppinger and not getting at least those average numbers... Well, he's hurting me.  Keppinger's 3-year averages are:  .296 BA, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 49 R, and 2 SB.  That BA is nice, but the rest of it is pretty bad.

How much would a full year of Keppinger hurt me?  You might be tempted to look at the average MLB third baseman and compare.  If you did do that and took the top 30 third basemen and averaged their projections for 2013 you would have: .279 BA, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 62 R, and 6 SB.  And, incidentally, Keppinger is ranked #20 on that list (which is a mixed-league list).  His projections aren't great in comparison to those averages but they aren't terrible either.  If you could compare Keppinger to the average of the top 30 you would gain 17 points of BA over the average at the expense of about 10 HR, 23 RBI, 13 R, and 4 SB.

The problem is that unless you are in a 30-team fantasy league you aren't competing against 30 teams, so you can't look at the average of the MLB starters.  You've got to look at the average of the starters for your league.  So, for example, if you were in a 12-team mixed league the average numbers go way up:  .290 BA, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 77 R, and 9 SB.

Whew... that .296 BA doesn't look so amazing anymore.  It is true that if you started Keppinger all year at 3B in a 12-team mixed league you would gain about 6 points in BA over the average.  That's okay, but he does hurt you (kills you!) everywhere else.  You'd be this far below average:  16 HR, 42 RBI, 28 R, and 7 SB.  That's crazy folks.  That 's almost like another whole player.  And that is how much you are below the average of the top 12.  Just the average.

I believe that this is one of the hallmark, cornerstone issues for poor fantasy baseball players.  They look at a guy like Keppinger and say, "Well, he's not going to hurt me.  He just signed that 3-year deal so he'll get all of the playing time and he hits .300, so I should be fine."  Nuh-uh.  Keppinger kills you if you start him all year.

He's a good bench guy though, especially in leagues with daily lineup changes, because he's eligible at 1B, 2B, and 3B and he is highly unlikely to ever give you that 0 for 6 line on a day when you start him.  He's a great Monday or Thursday fill-in for a starter that has a day off.  You plug him in and he gives you something like a 2 for 5.  Any counting stats are gravy.

And, listen, this happens all over the place.  I'm using Keppinger as an example to explain that you need to know what averages you are looking for at each position so you can shore up deficiencies as you draft.

For example, when I drafted Matt Wieters I knew that I was getting about 7 more HR than the average and my RBI, R, and SB would all be slightly more than average (something like 10 RBI, 5 R, and maybe 1 SB) but those statistics would likely cost me about 10-15 points in BA.  So, I looked at what I already had and determined how I needed to focus going forward.  With previous picks Jose Reyes, Dustin Pedroia, and Billy Butler giving me buckets of BA I figured I was probably okay and the other benefits of Wieters (plus the possible benefit of a higher ceiling with him) were worth the pick.

Anyway, that's how you should be thinking when you draft.  Strive to be above average everywhere and pay attention to where you are deficient as you pick.  And, this is obvious but it's worth stating, remember that the quality of your early picks should be well above average because you are going to have to make some sacrifices later in your draft as the quality of available players continue to go down.

One last thought for you.  In head-to-head leagues you can really use this strategy to your advantage.  Use your early picks for those solid all-around players and later in your draft you can look at specialists.  The reason why is because specialists are by definition good at one thing and not so good in other areas.  You may have a Rajai Davis type who can get you SB's or a Keppinger who gets you BA or a Mark Reynolds who jacks HR's.  I like to have specialists on my roster in head-to-head leagues because going into the last couple days of your matchup you can be safely ahead in a couple of statistics with maybe one statistic within reach.  Maybe you are up by 4 HR's and down by 2 SB's... you start Rajai Davis the last couple of days of the matchup and hope that you can get those steals back.

More to come, Brainiacs.  Please sign up for updates from the Brain... There is a box in the upper left side of the page to sign up!

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