Fantasy: On The Move

It’s a pleasure for this rookie to be called up by The Hardball Times, a daily must-read since its inception. Each week, my short attention span will wander to aspects of baseball that you may find interesting. This isn’t intended to be a tip sheet, but I’m usually willing to answer e-mail
; comments and suggestions are also welcome. Just let me know if it’s OK to quote you in upcoming Mailbag columns.

There won’t be much number-crunching here. I’m a Yogi Berra disciple who observes a lot by watching. Old enough to have seen Bill Mazeroski’s incredible homer live on TV, my heroes include Casey Stengel, Willie Mays, Pete Rose (on the field) and Bill James. Gurus are everywhere, if you seek them out. Joaquin Andujar is no philosopher, but his one-word summary of baseball — “youneverknow” — reflects everything I’ve learned in five decades as a player, coach and fan.

Mentioning that Dave Bush of my Toronto Walrus in the Batter’s Box Fantasy League defeated Jake Peavy this week — on the same night that my Eric Milton outpitched Chris Carpenter — isn’t intended to make me look smart. (Admitting they own Milton does little to enhance anyone’s credibility as a so-called expert.) It’s merely to illustrate another long-held personal belief: I’d rather be lucky than good.

Transactional Analysis

In the real world, TA is the “I’m OK, you’re OK” branch of psychotherapy. Nothing to do with baseball, unless it’s useful to fantasy owners trying to cope with an addiction to Moves. That is, until we start our own 12-step group.

As you have probably surmised, my style is to tweak. Constantly. If transactions were a counting stat, my teams, usually contenders, would be awesome.

Standing pat with your Opening Day roster is admirable, and can turn out fine. In some extremely deep leagues, it’s almost necessary — nothing slips through the waiver wire. However, in many others, it makes perfect sense to shuffle anyone with a possible upside through the last couple of roster spots.

Fantasy tactics vary depending on each set of rules. Roto or points pools tend to demand more patience; Head-to-Head can actually reward speculation. If transactions are limited, pick your spots. If there’s a ceiling on innings pitched, manage accordingly. If not, there are ways to use an “unlimited bench” and “infinite rotation” to your advantage.

You’re Fired!

Personality traits may turn some of us into waiver-wire junkies. If you’re forgiving, patient and confident, presumably you’ll stay with an underperforming player much longer than someone as vindictive, impulsive and self-critical as me.

My worst gaffe this season — so far — was giving up on Johnny Estrada. Prior to the draft, I had pegged him as a late-round value pick. That nasty 2005 collision with Darin Erstad caused lasting injuries that had insufficient time to heal until the offseason. The chances that Estrada would return to 2004 form, healthy and playing in a hitter’s park, seemed reasonable enough.

After 33 AB, Johnny was “hitting” .182 with a .432 OPS, making his abysmal .540 OPS from the second half last year that much harder to forget or rationalize away. Many of my cockamamie theories don’t pan out; was the anticipated bounceback a pipe dream? Was his back still sore? Second-guessing myself, I cut him — on April 15! — and have since employed Gregg Zaun, Miguel Olivo and Ronny Paulino. That’s hardly a season-ending catastrophe, just an example of twitchy micromanaging.

However, moves not made can be just as costly. You miss out on potential upgrades, and hanging on too long to someone like Oliver Perez v. 2006 can ruin a team's final standing. I’ve often wondered how patient owners finally decide when to admit mistakes and cut their losses.

Position Scarcity

In the 20-team BBFL, with up to 540 players owned, middle infielders are always at a premium. This year, so are corner bats. Catching, as usual, is ridiculously thin, no matter what the format.

My good friend, Robert Dudek, is cruising along in first place in QQRL, a 12-owner AL-only league that requires two catchers, so you can imagine how scarce they are. Ever analytical, Robert deduced that “overpaying” for Joe Mauer and Pudge Rodriguez would be a bargain. It appears that his foresight will be rewarded with a nice cash prize, and he has both backstops under contract for two more seasons.

Obviously, that kind of player rarely falls into your lap. If they’re unavailable, you might do better to load up at other positions. No matter how realistic your league strives to be, mediocrity up the middle simply isn’t as harmful to a fantasy team as an actual ballclub.

After the few truly valuable 2B, SS and C are gone, there isn’t a significant difference between the tenth-best and say, the twentieth best, who can be acquired for a minimal salary or in a very late round. If you’re strong enough in the OF and at the corners, you can afford to have a one-tool wonder at MI to provide a few steals and a backup C who pops the occasional homer without killing your rate stats. For those of us who play the game that way, a revolving-door policy naturally evolves.

Replacement Level

Replacement level, like your league's rules, is important to consider before any transaction. A 12-team mixed league where every roster is full of all-stars must be fun. Why not drop a regular for a hot hitter or a young flamethrower? If and when they stop producing, you can choose from several available options just as talented.

In deeper leagues, nearly every team is stuck with a borderline pitcher or two. Because IP is a category in BBFL, a mediocre starter can be worth more in a given week than a decent middle reliever. Rarely is your tenth arm, or even your ninth, considerably better than a speculative FA. If you’re not likely to win WHIP and ERA anyway, a different warm body can be plugged into the rotation each day. Sometimes, by turning pitchers over that way, you accidentally get one worth keeping for another start. Or two. Gil Meche, on the thinnest of ice for the last month, simply won’t let me cut him.

Hindsight

Let’s take a brief look back in the mirror before gazing ahead through the crystal ball.

In the realm of “minor, potentially good moves that paid off” we find Melky Cabrera, who has seized his unexpected opportunity. Hitting in the 2-hole and vastly improved in the outfield from his deer-in-the-headlights debut last season, he’s a genuine Yankee until both Sheffield and Matsui return. It will also be no surprise if his power numbers improve in the near future.

Fishing in the same Bronx pond, I added Andy Phillips, who had been swinging a hot bat for all of 72 hours, at 7:00 PM last Friday. The timing of the unpremeditated move was partly to find out if I could drop Jose Valentin after his game was postponed (still getting used to the new BBFL waiver deadline) and because I needed counting stats in a close match.

The fantasy baseball gods enjoy mocking me. Yahoo’s server decided it was seconds too late to switch him to an active position for a 7:05 start, so a HR and a SB languished on my bench. (Fortunately, I won those categories anyway.) At least until the Yankees trade for an outfielder and return Giambi to 1B, Phillips has been handed his best, if not his last, chance to be a productive semi-regular.

This week’s Blind Squirrel Award goes to Damion Easley owners. Congratulations on your good fortune (4 HR and 10 RBI in two games) but really, what were you thinking?

Hunches

If Jered Weaver is still available, your league is shallower than Paris Hilton, but grab him immediately. For the rest of us, looking for under-the-radar FA pitchers making two starts next week is the equivalent of panning for gold.

Casey Janssen was an emergency callup who stuck around in Toronto because Josh Towers imploded and A.J. Burnett was hurt. That kind of pedigree and a modest heater would make me leery of most rookies, especially in their second consecutive start against a good hitting team like the Orioles. (In fact, on Monday he’ll be facing Kris Benson & Co. for the fourth time in just 10 career appearances!) But the former UCLA stalwart commands six pitches in all four corners of the zone and is adept at adding or subtracting a few MPH, so he keeps hitters off balance even if they’re familiar with his repertoire. His second outing next week will be in Florida, where another gem, like the one he tossed against the Angels on May 17, is entirely possible.

In his last five starts, by taking a couple of feet off a previously erratic fastball, Ramon Ortiz has quietly turned around what began as a horrible season. Slated to pitch twice at home next week, he’s become a worthwhile addition in most NL pools or deep mixed leagues.

Lastings Milledge, the cream of the hitting crop, should already have been scooped up in keeper leagues. Even if he returns to the minors in a few weeks, he'll soon be back, and he’s a speed-power guy who will help the Mets (and his fantasy owners) while he’s in the Show. As Cliff Floyd limped off the field Tuesday night, Milledge’s window of opportunity opened a little bit wider.

His teammate Jose Valentin could continue all season as the larger half of a 2B platoon, despite assurances to the contrary from Willie Randolph, and still has enough power to provide value, especially in deep, daily-changes leagues where you can bench him vs. southpaws.

Job changes among position players are always difficult to predict, because there's little rhyme or reason to some managerial decisions. Keep an eye on Ryan Spilborghs, who might soon replace the slumping Cory Sullivan in CF for Colorado, no matter what Clint Hurdle is saying today. Eric Bruntlett may be on the verge of taking over for Adam Everett as the SS in Houston. Both are currently auditioning with the Walrus; I’m willing to be short one pitcher until we see how these situations develop.

Very deep (comatose?) sleeper Mike Morse is getting spot starts of late in Seattle as a LF-1B-DH, but retains SS eligibility in most leagues and could keep hitting at a reasonable clip if he gets additional AB. A double, a walk and a steal off the very tough Francisco Liriano might help change mind, but Grover’s man-crush on Willie Bloomquist prevents even me from reaching for Morse. Yet.

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