Confessions of a fantasy baseball addict:  Picking up the hyped prospect

Saturday saw one of the most anticipated call-ups of the 2009 season. The Cleveland Indians recalled one of the games top right-handed power prospects, OF Matt LaPorta. And promptly sat him on the bench so lefty hitting Dave Dellucci could DH against right-hander Zach Miner.

A week and a half earlier, the Los Angeles Angels saw their top power threat, OF Vladimir Guerrero, go on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle. With the team’s top power prospect Brandon Wood ripping up Triple-A, many in the baseball and fantasy industry saw his recall inevitably leading to the full-time at-bats we richly believed he deserved. Instead, manager Mike Scioscia batted the likes of Macier Izturis and Robb Quinlan in the three-hole and/or at DH and has used Wood in just three games over that period.

Other than the excitement of rostering the next hyped rookie, playing time enigmas like Wood and LaPorta mean close to nothing to the typical mixed league player. With an abundance of free agent hitters in the player pool, there is nothing to compel the mixed leaguer to add a player whose professional production consists entirely of rosy projections rather than one whose production has been demonstrated at the major league level.

In single league formats, though, rostering the next hyped rookie is imperative. With a player pool consisting of little used back-up catchers, fifth outfielders and obligatory back-ups in the middle infield, there exists only the potential of rosy projections. Even when those projections prove to be more thorn than rose, fantasy players in AL- and NL-only leagues still get more production than otherwise was freely available.

Addtionally, the AL/NL-only player cannot allow a potential full-time player to go to a competitor’s team because the free agent pool already reflects the number of these players at any one time: zero. Very rarely are there more than a team or two in an AL/NL Only league who doesn’t have a dead spot on their active roster. A typical mixed league free agent pool is filled with multiple starting players at each available positions, and every team has everyday players on their active rosters

Because the opportunity cost for hyped rookies is so low in AL- and NL-only leagues (losing nothing relative to the freely available players nor by cutting productive active players), getting excited about the chance to add a Brandon Wood or Matt LaPorta becomes an event in fantasy baseball. The question that remains unanswered at this point is why an industry currently dominated by mixed league formats generates any excitement at all about a prospect.

Others call-ups to watch who can still help AL- and NL-Only leaguers without a marquee role:

3B Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers: The lefty masher is toying with Triple-A the way Matt LaPorta did. The Brewers currently play Craig Counsell at 3B against left-handed starters. Gamels’ bat would seem to be quite an improvement over that. Left sides of platoons make for quality options in single format leagues.

RP Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox: The converted starter does nothing but strike out hitters or keep the ball on the ground (23 strikeouts in 13.2 innings with a 2.20 GO/FO ratio at Triple-A). He has no chance at closing in Boston but has the type of arm that makes LIMA adherents drool. Mixed leaguers need not apply.

OF Will Venable, San Diego Padres: The Padres have outfield at-bats for the taking. First baseman Kyle Blanks would be a no-brainer NL-only grab if the Padres played him in the outfield. That doesn’t seem likely as he only plays there before Triple-A games and not during them. Venable, however, is the starting center fielder and could help NL-only teams if recalled.

OF Justin Maxwell, Washington Nationals: In a week long stint with the Nats, Maxwell stole three bases to remind fantasy leaguers of the 27 home run, 35 steal season he had between Low- and High-A in 2007. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere for Maxwell to play with Lastings Milledge awaiting the end of his Triple-A banishment and Elijah Dukes currently in center field for the Nats. This would prevent any mixed leaguer from adding him, but NL-only ones can benefit from 10 at-bats per week if they come with a steal and a home run every other week.

Last Week Follow-Up: Kansas City Royals middle reliever Jamey Wright pitched in the ninth inning of a 9-1 loss and the eighth inning of a couple games but did not pitch in the ninth of any of the four games the Royals won while closer Joakim Soria was recovering. Juan Cruz received the only save opportunity and converted it successfully.

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  1. Eric Hinz said...

    LaPorta offers potential, but is that potential really more than Randy Winn right now?

    That is the key.  LaPorta’s long-term potential may be higher than what Randy Winn has proven he can do.  Whether that long-term potential will be realized in 2009 is the risk/reward equation that has to be considered.

  2. chattanooga said...

    I’ve also got to disagree with Eric on this one.  Picking up prospects and breakouts is one of the most important parts of managing a roster.  Agreed, you know what Randy Winn is going to reliably produce; but if that production could help your team, then he would be ON your team.  having a reliable assumption about Winn’s production allows you to make an accurate assessment of his contribution…

    …and you pick up a guy like LaPorta because you don’t yet know what type of contribution he can make to your team.  You roster him because he has a chance to outperform the replacement level of production.  I’m not saying that I would START him in my OF, but the potential is worth a bench spot. 

    If you waited weeks or months to add players with little or no Major league track record, then you would miss out on players like Braun, Longoria, Papelbon, Pujols, Ichiro…. and other studs who produced top-tier value in their first ML season.

  3. Eric Hinz said...

    chattanooga -

    I agree with half of your keys to winning.  Picking up breakout prospects is vital to winning fantasy leagues, mixed or single format.  However, it is not as important in mixed leagues given the gigantic player pool.

    In single league formats, picking-up breakout players, veteran and rookie, is vital to finishing at the top thanks to the much more limited player pool.  If you miss on Papelbon, you’re hurting.  Even a .272 hitting Longoria wounds deeply.

    The question for mixed leagues rostering the LaPortas of the world is who they don’t pick-up and/or use because they want to hope for LaPorta to be Ryan Braun while performing like Brandon Wood (pick your unrosterable mixed league rookie).

  4. Mike B said...

    I see your point about the relative depth of mixed league formats, but I disagree that that should preclude picking up “hyped” prospects.  The difference is upside.  Sure, Ken Griffy Jr., Cameron Maybin and Randy Wynn are all available via free agency.  But I know what I’m going to get from them.  I’d rather stick LaPorta on my bench for three weeks in the hope that he plays regularly and hits brilliantly at some point.  Is it guaranteed?  Of course not.  But it’s potentially an advantage of the sort that wins leagues, and for relatively little cost (eg, one less speculative closer on the roster).

  5. largebill said...

    Each league and each team therein is different.  I’m an AL only league that allows rookies to be froze up to three years at the rookie salary.  You have a max number of players that may be frozen each year both active and minor leaguers.  I had both Wood and LaPorta in my minors and had to activate them within a week of their call up or they go on the waiver wire.  I’m in good shape offensively so I can carry a guy who is sitting more than I’d like.  Scioscia’s mismanagement made Wood a tougher call.  Wedge is in danger of being canned so he needs to play LaPorta.

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