Some of it will be common sense, some might be somewhat well-documented already, but hopefully each new owner can learn a little something that will help them enjoy this incredible game a little more.
- The first, and most important lesson is that overall (OVR) rating means virtually nothing. It can be a very, very, very general measure of a guy's worth, but all 84s are not created equal. In many cases, a player's OVR will be boosted or pushed down by ratings that will have little or nothing to do with their actual performance. Pitchers can see their overall numbers boosted because they're decent hitters, DHs can have good fielding ratings, etc.
- When evaluating a hitter, most owners look at a combination of contact, power, VL/VR splits (how he rates vs. lefties and vs. righties) and batting eye. Everyone has their own ideas on which ratings really make a hitter successful. It's not hard to figure out which owners value which traits. Just go into the trade offer screen for a team, and select "all players" and "all levels" then sort by each column. If you see half of a certain owner's players are all 50+ in contact or power (or any other category), that's obviously something they value. If you look at the top 5 or 10 offensive teams and they all seem to value the same ratings, that is a good indication that those ratings might have a solid link to performance.
- Evaluating pitchers is a little more complicated, in my experience. In addition to stamina (which determines how many pitches a guy can throw in one outing) and durability (which determines how quickly a guy recovers after an outing), many owners will take a close look at a pitcher's control, VL/VR splits, pitch ratings, groundball/flyball ratio, and velocity. Again, it's worth looking at some of the successful teams in the league to see which traits they seem to emphasize.
- You may find that some of your pitchers' performances may not match up to what you expect based on their ratings. Hitters are often able to succeed even with one (or more) rating category that's low. For example, a batter with a low power rating could still put up a .410 on-base percentage, or a guy with a low contact rating might strike out 120 times, but also hit 50 HR. That's often not true for pitchers. A guy with great VL/VR numbers might still post a WHIP of 1.60 if his control rating is in the 30s, or a pitcher with a low groundball-to-flyball rating might give up a lot of home runs if he's playing half of his games in a hitters' park.
- Evaluating pitchers is even more tricky because of the role that defense plays. A pitcher with great ratings and a high groundball rating might struggle if your infield defense is bad. Similarly, a pitcher with a low groundball rating (who gives up a lot of flyballs) would probably suffer if you put a bunch of catchers and first basemen in the outfield-- balls that should be caught for outs would be falling in for doubles.
- Defense is something that a lot of new owners tend to overlook. It's easy and fun to field a team of guys who can hit the ball 500 feet (and power-hitting 1B and DH are generally pretty easy and cheap to sign) but sticking one of them at a middle-infield position or CF would be a disaster. Fortunately, defense is one of the easiest things to evaluate. In the Manager's Office screen, go to Player settings --> Edit player settings. Choose "position players" and then click on any player's position. It will pop up with a screen that tells you the average ratings for a player at every position. If a guy's ratings are at or above those numbers, he will be a good player at that position, whether he has ever played there or not. That means that if a guy's ratings say he will be a good SS, he can also play pretty much anywhere else on the field as well. It's a little mind-numbing to go through your entire organization, but playing guys in their proper positions will help your pitchers' stats tremendously.