One of the most interesting things about playing across multiple fantasy sites is just how different ownership rates can be. As a postscript to yesterday’s piece, I noted that Chad Billingsley — who pitched well again last night, not walking a single Pirate over six innings — was available in 22 percent more Yahoo! leagues than he was ESPN leagues. In 2010, Jeff Zimmerman took a look at ownership rates across the two sites and concluded that ownership rates are slightly higher for Yahoo! leagues on average. Slightly larger leagues combined with difference in how the staff preranks players can lead to gulfs in ownership rates in the neighborhood of 50 percent.
I wish that the spread for some players wasn’t so wide, since it would be easier to convey good advice to a wider net of people, but it is what it is. Inverting the natural order and in the spirit of fairness, here are a pair of hitters that Yahoo! players have a shot at, but most ESPN users may not.
Josh Willingham (ESPN: 100 percent owned; Yahoo!: 66 percent owned)
Things are not going so very well for the Twins right now, but they can take some solace in the fact that the man they gave the largest free agent contract in team history is earning his keep. Willingham had six hits in the team’s first five games, with four of them going for extra bases and three of them leaving the yard. Target Field has a reputation as a pitcher’s park, and it is, but it’s particularly more difficult for lefties than it is for righties, which gives Willingham a fighting chance at a solid home run total.
I’m not buying the death of Joe Mauer either, which means Willingham should — with at least some modicum of consistency — have a runner or runners on ahead of him. His RBI chances will depend heavily on Mauer’s ability not only to get on base himself, but also to avoid the double plays that have plagued him in the past. As many problems as the Twins have, I really don’t see the middle of their order being an issue, and that means Willingham need only stay on the field to be productive and there’s not much in his profile that makes me think he won’t do that.
Ian Desmond (ESPN: 71 percent owned; Yahoo!: 63 percent owned)
Desmond was one of the best sources of cheap speed early last season, stealing 9.7, and 4 bases in the season’s first three months and then he just…stopped. He attempted just 12 steals in the season’s final three months, going 5-for-12 on the attempts. Some of this was due to a drop in the batting order — he attempted just eight stolen bases when he batted in the bottom third in the order — but whatever the reason was, he had virtually no value to fantasy owners when he wasn’t running.
This season, Desmond still isn’t running as much as he did last April — he had already stolen three bases by April 12th of last year — but he’s hitting much better, which is better in the long term. If Desmond can remain atop the Nationals’ order, he’ll get his chances to run, and he stays in the lineup and leading off by hitting. He still walks too little and strikes out too much to actually be a great leadoff hitter, but that’s not much of a fantasy concern considering there isn’t an obvious replacement for him. I’m not buying Desmond as a .370 hitter, but I do think last year’s .253 batting average was a poor example of his potential. If Desmond hits in the .270-.280 range, as I expect him to, 20-25 SB shouldn’t be hard for him to reach.
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