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Fantasy Baseball Is 80% Mental and 40% Physical

After a brilliant college career at the University of Washington, Steve Emtman played six years in the NFL as a defensive lineman. While his professional career was disappointing at best, many will remember him as the first overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft.

Not me. I’ll remember him for his role in the inspiring peewee football flick, Little Giants.

In case you were living under a rock in 1994, Little Giants centered around Danny O’Shea (Rick Moranis, aka Wayne Szalinski), the loser younger brother of hometown peewee football hero Kevin O’Shea (Ed O’Neill). Danny was bullied his whole life and when his daughter is cut from the football team his own brother coaches, he decides to start his own team of misfits – the Little Giants. As the Little Giants prepare for their epic showdown with Kevin O’Shea’s team, they get some much needed help from John Madden and a couple of pros whose bus is lost in this tiny town.

Side note: this movie never could have happened if Madden wasn’t afraid to fly. His role in Little Giants is undoubtedly his greatest contribution to football.

Long story short, Emtman tells the Little Giants not to worry about their lack of talent because “football is 80 percent mental and 40 percent physical.”

So, what does a peewee football team have to do with fantasy baseball?

Actually, nothing at all. But when I was brainstorming ideas for this article, Emtman’s line was the first thing that popped into my head. If I had to rewrite it to suit our purposes here at Baseball Professor, it would go something like this: “fantasy baseball is 80 percent statistical and 40 percent instinctual.”

By that, I mean that a huge part of winning at fantasy baseball is understanding the stats, recognizing the trends, and making the right moves before anyone else knows they’re the right moves. However, sometimes the best moves you make are the ones that the stats don’t fully back.

Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones made a splash in 2009, batting .293 with 21 HR, 44 RBI and 10 SB in just 82 games. Even with just a half-season’s worth of stats, Jones was 2009′s 65th ranked outfielder. This means that his per-game production was ranked somewhere in the mid-30s, making him a solid third outfielder or utility guy in 10- and 12-team leagues.

Did anything in his minor league career suggest Jones, a 28-year old with just 77 previous MLB at-bats, would be so valuable as a rookie on a pathetic Pirates squad? Well, his numbers – particularly his batting average – did pick up a little in his last few seasons with Triple-A teams Rochester and Indianapolis, but Jones still averaged just .258-25-99 with eight stolen bases per 600 AB over his minor league career. Those numbers are good, but you can find a lot of guys who could hit 25 homers with a terrible average. I’m looking at you, Mike Cameron.

In case you need me to hold your hand through this, here’s how Jones’ abbreviated 2009 compared to his minor league career:

Anyone who took the gamble on Jones got near-40/20 production for the great low price of free! Maybe the stats suggested he’d be nothing special, but I liked his potential power/speed combo and used a waiver claim on him. My gut said he could be useful and it was worth the risk.

Like with Nelson Cruz, sometimes even the smallest change can trigger a dramatic turnaround. If you want to add someone, read up on them and look past their stats. To get you started, here are a few guys my gut likes for 2010.

  • David Ortiz, 1B, BOS – The start of 2010 is bringing back painful memories of 2009, but we all know how Ortiz turned things around come June. He’s 34 years old (we think), striking out nearly 38 percent of the time, and is continuously forced to hit at the infamous “Papi Shift.” It’s tough – nay, painful – keeping Ortiz on your roster through his worst stretches, but if he can return to his 2009 post-All-Star Break form you could be getting a bargain. Before 2010 is all said and done, I think we’ll see that Big Papi. Update: Two homers for Ortiz to start May!
  • Drew Storen, RP, WAS – George Fitopoulos and I have had many arguments about Storen’s 2010 potential. He’s rising quickly through the minors, but Matt Capps is performing well in Washington and is blocking Storen from the closer’s role, and unless Storen can get that job he has little fantasy value. My gut says he’ll end up closing for the Nationals before the season ends, but it’s nothing more than a feeling at this point. I’m not adding Storen yet, but I have him on my watch list.
  • Chris Young, OF, ARI – Young has never hit for average, has trended down for three straight seasons, and is walking just 6.3 percent of the time this year. While another 30/30 season is hard to imagine, my gut says Young will continue to drive in runs at a career-best pace and have his most well-rounded season yet.
  • Mike Pelfrey, SP, NYM – George wrote a post about Barry Zito a few days ago, talking about why you should sell high on him. In that post he mentioned Mets’ starter Mike Pelfrey in passing, saying Pelfrey added a new pitch this season which could explain some of his early success. I’m with George on this one. It’s definitely not a slam dunk that Pelfrey will be valuable, but we’ve seen guys add to their repertoire and see crazy improvement. Remember when Jon Lester added to his repertoire pre-2009 and proceeded to strike out 10 batters per nine innings?
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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

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