So it’s about mid-July, you’re half-way through the season and your fantasy team is struggling.  Those players you spent highly on in your auction draft are underperforming.  Other teams in your league seem to be enjoying way too much success considering how bad they looked on paper at the beginning of the season.  What the [Getting Blanked] happened?

Perhaps when drafting your team, you were leaning too much on the traditional stats of the previous year.  That player who had a breakout in 2010 suddenly found himself in an irreparable season-long slump and suddenly the guy you were leaning on to get you huge numbers, looks like Randy Winn at the plate.

Using advanced statistics can help you avoid this malady.

This week, I’m going to use my super-awesome, completely flawless crystal ball to look into the future and help you avoid these problems in 2011.  I’ll start with pitchers this week and I’ll move on to position players over the next two.

For the purposes of these “draft strategy posts” I want to stress that I’m mainly focusing on auction draft formats with leagues in the 10-16 team range.  Modern stats can be used just as effectively in traditional-style drafting, but I’ll be referring to player costs as they might happen in an auction.

I’ll start with three starting pitchers that I think will be undervalued, then three that will be overvalued in your draft.  Then I’ll do the same with some relievers.

Ricky Nolasco

Among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched, Nolasco finished third in 2010 behind only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in K/BB ratio at a ridiculous 4.45.  In fact, his K/BB ratio has been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons at 4.43, 4.43, and 4.45.  In the last two seasons, he’s posted a .317 BABIP which is significantly above league-average signifying that he’s also been very unlucky over the last two years.  His 10.6 WAR since 2008 is ahead of such pitchers as Andy Pettitte, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana, only barely behind Johan Santana.

Wait around for Nolasco to come up and then bid aggressively as he will be extremely undervalued.  In one league, I actually got him for $1.

James Shields

Shields went from being one of the best up-and-coming starters in the AL to posting a disastrous 5.18 ERA in 2010.  This means most fantasy players will stay far away from him.  However, considering he had the worst BABIP in baseball among qualified starters at .341 and also saw his HR/FB rate balloon to a mark well above league average, Shields is primed for a big rebound year in 2010.  Another encouraging stat for Shields was his career-best 8.28 K/9 rate last season.

Brandon Morrow

Morrow’s BABIP was higher than Shields’ at .342 and he also posted a FIP of 3.16 which was markedly lower than his 4.49 ERA.  Throw in that he got much better as the season went on and Morrow is primed for a breakout and will come cheap.  This is especially true in leagues with a lot of American fantasy players who may not be as aware or Morrow’s exploits as those of us north of the border.

As for the starting pitchers you want to stay away from:

Trevor Cahill

Cahill may have posted 18-wins and a 2.97 ERA in his second full season, but his league-low .236 BABIP indicates that he was very lucky in 2010.  He also had a 4.11 FIP due to a rather pedestrian 1.87 K/BB ratio.  He’s just 23-years-old and has a very high ceiling so it’s certainly the case that he could have a true breakout this year, but don’t overspend on him just in case 2010 was a fluke.

C.J. Wilson

Wilson was converted from the back-end of the bullpen, to the front-end of the rotation in 2010 and helped lead the Rangers to their first AL pennant.  The problem is that he pitched 228.1 innings including the playoffs in his first full season as a starter after having never thrown more than 74 innings at the Major League level.  That kind of dramatic innings increase can hamper a pitcher the following year.  Wilson’s park-adjusted FIP was a very high 4.20 last season due mostly to a HR/FB rate that was well below the league average.  Expect a regression.

Mike Pelfrey

The Mets will be leaning very heavily on Pelfrey with Santana starting the year on the DL, which could be a problem.  His 15 wins and 3.66 ERA are negated by the fact that his park adjusted FIP was 4.46 and like Wilson, had an extremely low HR/FB rate.  He’s also not a pitcher you can rely on for a lot of strike outs which hurts his overall value.

Relievers are volatile creatures that are very difficult to project one year to the next so generally speaking, overspending on them is never a good idea.  My personal strategy is to never spend on top-flight relievers and instead pickup cheaper options at the end of the draft.

Two relievers that you might be able to get for cheap:

Jonathan Broxton

After breaking out in 2009 and establishing himself as one of the most feared relievers in the game, Broxton took a step back in 2010 posting a 4.04 ERA and ended up losing his job as the team’s closer.  Mr. Fairservice thinks he knows why Broxton took that step back and speculates that he’ll be back to form in 2011.  I agree.  Despite his problems, he still managed a 3.01 FIP and had a stupidly high .366 BABIP signifying that he was also very unlucky.

Ryan Madson

Because he’s getting paid a bunch of money, Brad Lidge will open the year as the Phillies’ closer, but if the team was brave/smart, they would let Madson close out games.  He was easily the best reliever in an otherwise mediocre bullpen posting a 4.92 K/BB ratio and a 2.61 FIP.  No one else will be sniffing around Madson, so wait until the end of the draft and grab him for $1.  Sit him on your bench and wait until Lidge melts down.

And finally, two relievers to stay away from:

Mariano Rivera

We all know that even at his age, Rivera will be one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.  The problem is, everyone else knows that too and his auction value is very high because of it.  But let’s look at the facts.  Rivera posted a 1.80 ERA in 2010, the seventh time in eight years that he’s posted a sub-2.00 ERA, but his park adjusted FIP was 3.65, the highest it’s been since FanGraphs started measuring the stat in 2002.  His 1.7 WAR was also his lowest mark since 2002 and his K/9 rate fell over three whole strike outs.  If this was any other pitcher, we’d be saying he was in decline.  Rivera will be far too expensive to bother bidding on.

Leo Nunez

Nunez had a breakout year as the Marlins closer in 2010 posting 30 saves and a 2.86 FIP after posting a negative WAR rating over the previous two seasons.  All of Nunez’s peripherals were much, much higher than his career averages (even in the minor-leagues) and he’ll most likely return to his previous form meaning spending any money on him is a disappointment-in-waiting.

Next week, I’ll go over a few under/overvalued infielders.