Seeking points league consistency

The word of the day is volatility.

When it comes to any fantasy baseball scoring format, it's very hard to know exactly what to expect from your team in any given seven-day stretch. Previously solid players can mysteriously slip into a slump, while heretofore worthless commodities may suddenly have the week of their career without warning.

In a rotisserie format, owners don't need to concern themselves so much with odd one-week dips or surges in expected performance, because at the end of the season, it all tends to come out in the wash. However, in a weekly head-to-head points league, such volatility makes it exceedingly difficult to decide between players of relatively equal expected value for such a small slice of the statistical pie.

What we'd love to have is a consistent performer we can count on for 20-25 points every week. However, those players are few and far between. What we typically end up with are players like the following trio, each of whom has recorded 55 fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring) thus far in 2012:

As you can see, each of the three arrived at his current total in different ways. Uggla has slowly been trending up, while Victorino has been on a steady decline. (Keeping in mind the "jumbo" nature of Week 1, that decline is even more marked.) Meanwhile Bautista has been the most volatile of the bunch over the last three weeks. So which one would you choose to start if you had the choice?

For now, the answer seems to be Bautista. Although he has been the most volatile of the three, he's had the highest high as well as the highest low. Additionally, he's still the one we expected to have the best overall season at the start of the year. Those expectations haven't changed yet, so we'd continue to trot him out there.


Note: AJ Mass' top 100 overall players are ranked based on statistics that have already been accrued in ESPN standard points formats and should be used as a supplement to the ESPN Player Rater.

But at what point do we change expectations? Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole both have more points than Albert Pujols. You'd be crazy to suggest cutting The Machine outright for one of those two surprising New York Mets. However, for one week -- this coming week -- could you truly fault someone for making that call?

Well, you'd still probably consider them nuts if they did. Pujols is clearly going through a horrific slump, but generally speaking we expect him to be less volatile over the long run, and that's usually the deciding factor in terms of lineup picks in a weekly head-to-head.

Yet we're getting pretty close to the point of the season where the to-date stats, though they no longer "count" in terms of whether or not our fantasy teams win or lose, will force us to alter our "rest of season" expectations. If a player is consistently struggling over a long enough stretch of time, or consistently performing at a quality pace, then that becomes the new normal for that player. Without volatility comes reality. And with every passing week, a player's to-date performance becomes all the more real.

Pointing Up

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers: After an early-in-the-week hamstring injury cut into his production, Beltre was able to hit two home runs in three days in order to improve on his Week 3 fantasy output over Week 2's disappointment, despite the missed time. With only seven strikeouts in 82 plate appearances, he's also not likely to get hurt by those extra negative points for swinging and missing going forward.

Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox: Getting an RBI in four out of six games certainly improved Konerko's stock, and an extra day off on Monday to rest his stiff neck should help prevent any sitting out going forward this week. He's hitting .409 with runners in scoring position, and should his teammates start to improve on their .278 OBP over the past seven days, the sky's the limit for his run production.

Joe Saunders, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Throw a three-hit shutout and you can't help but elevate people's opinions of you in terms of fantasy value. However, what is incredibly impressive with Saunders is that he recognized that his slider wasn't working, so he simply stopped throwing it. He's now seen 32 ground balls over the past two games versus only 16 in his first two outings. The more he keeps the ball on the ground, the better his stats will surely be.

Tommy Milone, SP, Athletics: In 16 innings at home, he's yet to allow an earned run, but perhaps more important is that he has been throwing an increased percentage of strikes of late and has walked just a single hitter over the past two weeks. Volatility may keep him from being a must-start each time he takes the mound, but he's making huge strides in that direction.

Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals: Any player who finishes the week going 7-for-13 in a series, as Molina did against the Milwaukee Brewers, is going to look a lot shinier as a result. But what was more impressive to me was that he struck out just once all week and actually posted positive fantasy points through the 2-for-11 series against the Chicago Cubs earlier in the week. When you only help and don't hurt, you're headed in the right direction.

Robbie Ross, RP, Texas Rangers: You can't rely on vulture wins to continue all season, but Ross does have four in his last six appearances. Beyond that, though, he's gone five innings in a row without allowing either a walk or a hit. Take away those wins and he still has earned you more points than closers like Matt Capps, Alfredo Aceves and Hector Santiago, which should begin to clue you in to the hidden value of the middleman in fantasy points leagues.

Pointing Down

Matt Harrison, SP, Texas Rangers: It's not just the fact that he got hammered by the Tampa Bay Rays in an 8-4 loss this past week that concerns us, though any time a pitcher gets tagged for negative-14 points in one fell swoop, it's not a good thing. It's more the fact he's now given up an average of 10 baserunners over his past three starts while striking out more than four batters only once all season. These are red flags that make us worry that last season's 14-9 record might not be attainable even with a ton of run support.

Rafael Furcal, SS, St. Louis Cardinals: It's all about volume in points leagues, and it isn't uncommon to see Furcal go two weeks or longer without an extra-base hit. His current slide in that regard stands at six games, and while the occasional double might pop up, the .427 slugging percentage he currently holds is far less sustainable than the .315 batting average. It's simply a trend in the wrong direction, and you might want to sell high here while you still can.

Mike Minor, P, Atlanta Braves: Don't get me wrong: I like Minor. However, you can't help but notice that in what proved to be his third straight quality start, he didn't quite have his best stuff, striking out only two hitters and getting pulled after only 79 pitches. Again, it comes down to volatility, and with Minor having 59 points in his two wins and zero in his two other starts, we think it may be time to shy away from a feast-or-famine guy right now.

Ian Kennedy, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: In his last two starts, he's allowed more than twice as many baserunners as he's struck out. When most pitchers are getting you 25 points out of a game where they pitch well enough to win, Kennedy is barely getting you 11. Of pitchers with three or more victories, only Ivan Nova has a worse ERA. Until that BAA goes far lower than .299, the wins simply aren't enough.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres: One bad week does not doom a player to the waiver wire, but clearly a .143 batting average for Week 3 is not going to make any of Headley's owners feel good about things. What is far more disturbing is his striking out in nine of his past 10 games, including nine times in the last six games. You can't combine a lack of hits with a ton of whiffs in points leagues and continue to get placed in fantasy lineups. This does not bode well.

Duane Below, P, Detroit Tigers: In his five relief appearances so far this season, he has not walked a single batter, nor has he allowed a single earned run. However, he is moving to the starting rotation with Adam Wilk demoted and Doug Fister on the disabled list. We fear that what has worked in small doses to enormous success might blow up once Below is asked to handle a different kind of mound duty.