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Solving MLB Fantasy's consistency puzzle

When forming teams, focus on players with high volume stats

Solving MLB Fantasy's consistency puzzle

Imagine that you're participating in a season-long fantasy football league and the fantasy football gods contact you and your league-mates before the draft to let you know that one special kicker is going to score a massive number of points -- hundreds more than any other kicker. You're allowed to draft one kicker in this fantasy league. When should you take him?

Since landing this big-time kicker would be extremely valuable to your team and basically guarantee a championship, some might focus much of their attention on figuring out who it will be, then nab him early. The best course of action, however, would actually be to wait until the last round, as you would in any other draft.

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Why? Because there's no season-to-season consistency among kicker points. That is, you can't use past kicker fantasy points to predict future points, so there's no reason to reach on a kicker; it's simply too random.

This hypothetical scenario extends to the daily-fantasy-baseball realm, too; when competing in the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com, we obviously want to hit on the players who are going to give us big points, but the degree to which we can emphasize certain players or stats depends on how confident we can be in their production.

Position consistency

Say you are playing the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com and deciding whether to spend big on your pitcher or on some bats -- Clayton Kershaw vs. an Angels stack, for instance. What's the right choice?

There are all kinds of factors that go into that decision but, if you want a source of consistent points, Kershaw is your man. Not only has he been an obviously consistent player in his career, but pitchers in general are much more consistent than hitters from game to game.

That makes sense when you consider the sample of relevant plays in a given game; pitchers regularly throw triple-digit pitches, while hitters see maybe a dozen and get only a few swings per game. We consistently see top-notch bats go hitless and lesser hitters turn in a 3-for-4 night. Meanwhile, the top pitchers are continually among the top scorers in the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com.

Player consistency

The consistency of individual players is a hot topic in the daily-fantasy-baseball world. Certainly some players appear to be more consistent than others at their position -- even after adjusting for their talent levels -- but it's really difficult to separate those numbers from randomness. It's not that some players aren't actually very consistent, but just that it's challenging to determine which players are reliable options on a nightly basis based on their past stats alone.

Instead of looking at a player's past production in an attempt to decipher his consistency, it makes more sense to study player types. For example: We know that basestealers have notoriously volatile production because stolen bases are difficult to project from night to night -- certainly harder than predicting hits. 

Stat consistency

The final piece of the consistency puzzle, related to the above idea, is stat consistency. Certain stats are more reliable than others from night to night.

For pitchers, strikeout production is extremely reliable. They obviously fluctuate a bit from game to game like any other stat but, for the most part, the same pitchers continually fan the most batters. It's rare to see a low-strikeout pitcher whiff double-digit batters in a game.

Because of that consistency, it makes sense to target high-K arms when you pay for pitching. If you're allocating a high percentage of your salary cap to a single player, you want to make sure you're getting what you pay for.

Jonathan Bales is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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