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Friday, May 08, 2009
All this talk of the swine flu got me thinking: Every successful strategy is a mutant. The strategy invades a pool of creatures who are blind to its advantages, and it exploits some central feature of the creatures’ day-to-day operation. This continues until the creatures recognize that the strategy is a winner and unleash defenses (usually in the form of mimicry), at which point the strategy has no edge to exploit and becomes harmless.
Suppose that we wanted to introduced a mutant to fantasy baseball. To be most effective, we want to attack the bias that has the widest spread—something that every league, and nearly every player, is vulnerable to. Does such an opportunity exist?
Yes. The most dominant strategy in fantasy today is the LIMA Plan. Devised by The Master, Ron Shandler, the LIMA Plan provides guidance on how to build one’s roster. To be precise, “LIMA” is both a plan (on how to allocate dollars) and a filter (on how to identify pitchers who are worth a bid—i.e., who are “LIMA-caliber”). In this piece, we’ll be focusing on the filter, which is generally expressed as 6.0 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, and 1.0 HR/9.
To a good approximation, the LIMA Plan has universal exposure. Every fantasy player worth his or her salt has antibodies against LIMA—you can’t name a pitcher with good base rates and expect him to slide past your leaguemates. This reflex among fantasy GM’s is nearly instinctive—
—Which is good; laziness is what we wish to attack. Rule LIMA, and you’ll rule the world.
But is there a mutant that can beat LIMA? That’s unclear. If there is, though, the secret may be staring us in the face:
Technically, “LIMA” stands for “Low-Investment Mound Aces.” However, the name was chosen in a contest because it evoked Jose Lima, the multiple Cy Young winner and first-ballot Hall-of-Famer whose finesse in the diplomatic arena brought lasting peace to—
Oh, you mean the Jose Lima from this reality. The one with a career 5.26 ERA in 1,567 innings. In his 11 seasons of consequential work, Lima had an ERA under 4.00 only twice. Yes, he posted a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts for Houston in 1998, and then a 3.58 ERA in 35 starts the following year; excellent seasons, no doubt. Remove those years, though, and Lima has an ERA of 5.98 and a record of 52-84. It’s true that Lima’s skills went downhill after 1999, but even in his three seasons before 1998, he had ERAs of 5.28, 5.70, and 6.11.
In other words, Jose Lima is not a pitcher whom you wanted to own more than twice in 13 years. And yet, our premier pitching plan is named after him. What a country!
This mismatch elicits a suspicion: How did Jose Lima come to be enshrined? Perhaps there is a flaw here.
For his career, Jose Lima had base rates of 5.6 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, and 1.5 HR/9. From 1994-1999 (when he acquired his allure), his rates were 6.6 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, and 1.2 HR/9.
Now, technically, Lima’s HR rate keeps him from passing his own filter. In fact, in his pre-collapse period, he achieved a homer rate below 1.1 HR/9 only twice—he had a 1.08 HR/9 in 1997, and a 1.096 HR/9 in 1999. So that we may include the man himself, we’ll expand the definition of LIMA here to parameters of 6.0 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, and 1.1 HR/9.
We looked at all pitchers since the year 2000 who have had at least one LIMA-caliber season of at least 100 IP. There were 131 such pitchers. We then asked, How many LIMA-caliber seasons did these pitchers have for their careers (possibly extending before the year 2000)?
Here are the results, grouped by the number of LIMA-caliber seasons:
Fifty of our 131 pitchers (38%) exhibited LIMA-caliber skills for one season only. (Scanning just the As, the list comprises Terry Adams, Jeremy Affeldt, Wilson Alvarez, Rick Ankiel, and Bronson Arroyo. Dare we tally the draft dollars spent chasing this fivesome?)
Only 40% of our pitchers have passed the LIMA filter for three or more seasons. That’s a mere 52 pitchers, spread across nine seasons! Granted, some of the pitchers are still pitching today, and some of those can be expected to lift their LIMA counts. Still, it’s fair to say that fantasy fortunes rose and fell on whether you got in early on these 52 names. (Only one pitcher has a 100% rate of LIMA seasons in a career of four or more seasons. Hint: He pitches for Houston. And he has some work to do to run the streak to nine seasons.)
How about this: After these 131 pitchers put up their first LIMA-caliber season, what fraction of subsequent seasons were LIMA-caliber (and in at least 100 IP)?
A: So far, these pitchers have produced 481 subsequent seasons (of any length). Of those seasons, only 35% were LIMA-caliber in 100 IP. Nineteen pitchers were responsible for half of those seasons; collectively, they had a repeat rate of 73%. If you banked on one of the other 112 pitchers, though, your hit rate was just 23%.
If this be skill, I want nothing of it. A replay of LIMA skills is 1-in-3 overall, and 1-in-4 for the unestablished? Why bother? Admittedly, we’re using LIMA eligibility as a proxy for good results. But a homer rate over 1.1 HR/9, or a strikeout-to-walk rate below 2.0 K/BB, virtually ensures a troubled season.
These findings suggest that the LIMA Plan is vulnerable to a mutant. Far from possessing repeatable skills, most of these pitchers were merely in the right place at the right time—much like Jose Lima, when the LIMA Plan was looking for a name. That may be the real lesson of the LIMA Plan.
Still, the longevity of the LIMA Plan should count for something. And we haven’t done the hard work of showing that a superior strain exists. We have a notion that an answer may lie with the low-K, high-command pitchers whom we identified last week. But we welcome your suggestions.
Posted by John Burnson at 2:12am (9) Comments
American League by Rob McQuown
David Aardsma | Seattle | RP
YTD: 8.0 K/9, 1.4 K/BB, 4.40 ERA
True Talent: 8.2 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.20 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 0.3 saves, 4.45 ERA
In the grand tradition of Don “Full Pack” Stanhouse and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, David Aardsma will need a nickname if he keeps closing. “BB-rdsma” doesn't quite cut it, but at least it's truth-in-advertising, as Aardsma has walked 98 men in 157 career innings. With Morrow returning this weekend, the window for Aardsma closing appears to be closing, in spite of Shawn Kelley's injury. However, Morrow's diabetes and injury concerns could easily net Aardsma another 5-10 saves this season. OK if you can stand the hit to your WHIP.
Rod Barajas | Toronto | C
True Talent: .255/.309/.416
Next Week Forecast: 0.6 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, .254, 0.0 SB
Barajas' season is a BABIP fluke—it's more than 100 points over his career mark, and that's despite his turning 34 in September. Barajas is a great example of the value of knowing the True Talent of a player. Sure, getting anything out of a catcher is useful, but if you have this guy in a league, it's time to trade him to someone who believes in “hot streaks” and “momentum.”
Dallas Braden | Oakland | SP
YTD: 6.0 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 2.50 ERA
True Talent: 6.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 4.06 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 6.1 IP, 0.4 wins, 4 K, 4.06 ERA
Braden's ERA is artificially low due to his 3.6% HR/FB. However, he has the supporting stuff that may help him to out-pitch his xERA. For one thing, his flyball ways (36.9% career GB%) won't hurt him so much since the A's have a big ballpark and good defenders, especially in the outfield. For another thing, he puts the clamps on the running game (just three SB allowed in 180 career innings), which helps to keep the double plays in order.
Melky Cabrera | New York | OF
True Talent: .279/.341/.403
Next Week Forecast: 0.5 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, .279, 0.6 SB
Grab some bench, Brett! This past week's switch-hitting hero in New York is ... Melky! Melky's HR/FB is 36.4%, which is astonishing especially since he has put 56.1% of his hit balls on the ground. Not only are his balls “out of play” doing better than expected, but his BABIP is also high, at .340 (versus a career mark of .297). Don't expect him to surpass his True Talent by much.
Alberto Callaspo | Kansas City | 2B
True Talent: .295/.354/.405
Next Week Forecast: 0.2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, .296, 0.2 SB
Callaspo has struck out just 5 times in 92 AB this year, and he has a .365 BABIP. Being a ground-ball hitter with a phenomenal 92% Ct% for his career, his hits come inside the park, not out of it, so his BA is heavily dependent on his BABIP... and that BABIP will come down. In fact, he could hit .300 the rest of the way and still not help a Roto team, as he doesn't homer or steal, and he could lose PT down the road due to his shaky defense.
Brett Cecil | Toronto | SP
YTD: 9.00 K/9, 0 BB, 1.50 ERA
True Talent: 7.8 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.01 ERA
Next Week Forecast: n/a
Young pitchers are inherently risky for present-season performance. But Toronto has been fantastic about developing and nurturing pitching talent of all ages in recent years, and an investment in Cecil is, in many ways, an investment in his teammates: Cito Gaston has turned around the Jays' offense (up from 4.00 R/G in 2007 to 4.75 R/G last year, and 6.30 R/G so far this year), and the defense remains splendid. Combine those with a bullpen that's very likely to leave runners stranded, and Cecil is a great long-term pick and a good 2009 pick-up.
Brendan Harris | Minnesota | SS/2B/3B
True Talent: .273/.332/.406
Next Week Forecast: 0.3 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, .270, 0.1 SB
The word from Ron Gardenhire is that Tolbert and Harris will platoon, now that Alexi Casilla is gone. But, see, Tolbert can't hit (though he might steal a base for you in an AL-only league). And Crede's back acts up frequently. And Punto is Punto. You get the idea... So Brendan Harris should get a lot of playing time. Full-time in 2007, he hit .286 with 12 HR. Nothing special here, but useful.
Kendry Morales | Los Angeles | 1B/OF
True Talent: .272/.317/.437
Next Week Forecast: 0.9 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, .274, 0.1 SB
We've seen over the years that it's hard for hitters to translate success in the Angels' minor-league parks into major-league success. Exhibit K: Kendry Morales, who has hit over .330 the past three years combined in Triple-A and slugged over .500. Still, we look for a little more slugging this season than his True Talent indicates, as nothing seems fluky about his current stats. Expect his decent run production to continue, as Vlad's return should improve the team's scoring overall.
National League by Michael Street
Doug Davis | Arizona | SP
YTD: 6.8 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 3.52 ERA
True Talent: 6.7 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.49 ERA
Next Week’s Forecast: 6.0 IP, 0.4 wins, 4 K, 4.54 ERA
Davis has tossed two shut-outs layered between two starts in which he gave up nine ER in 10.1 IP. That’s typical of Davis, an unspectacular inning-muncher. His walk rate may be improving; then again, he has allowed three or more walks in half his starts. As his True Talent shows, Davis is fairly marginal, except for slightly above-average strikeout numbers. If you need those K's, be prepared to occasionally get shelled.
Barry Zito | San Francisco | SP
YTD: 5.8 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 3.99 ERA
True Talent: 6.2 K/9, 1.4 K/BB, 4.74 ERA
Next Week’s Forecast: 5.2 IP, 0.3 wins, 4 K, 4.78 ERA
San Francisco’s big contract bust has been good lately, surrendering just three ER over his last three starts (two of them shutouts) and putting up an 11:4 K/BB ratio. Since Zito is no longer striking out guys, those walks are key. His K/BB ratio so far is his best in four years, but that's only 1.9 K/BB, and True Talent can't help but see a correction coming. Zito looks better than he has in a while, but even granting him all the benefit of the doubt, that still makes him only a bit above average.
LaTroy Hawkins | Houston | RP
YTD: 8.5 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 2.84 ERA
True Talent: 6.4 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 3.78 ERA
Next Week’s Forecast: 1.0 Saves, 4.02 ERA
Hawkins has filled in for Jose Valverde with some of his best numbers in years. Typically, Hawk has been good everywhere in relief EXCEPT at the end of the game, wilting when pressed into the closer position—in 249 career save situations, he has closed the door only 79 times. We think that Hawk will hold his own until Valverde returns in mid-May, but the risk of regression is very real, so listen to offers if you own him.
Carlos Marmol | Chicago | RP
YTD: 9.7 K/9, 1.2 K/BB, 4.85 ERA
True Talent: 10.5 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 3.69 ERA
Next Week’s Forecast: 0.4 Saves, 3.40 ERA
Everyone expected Marmol to take over for Kevin Gregg, but Marmol has faltered this year when called upon to close, whereas Gregg has nailed down four straight saves. Marmol’s control this season has clearly slipped, with uncharacteristic 19.7 BB% and 23.0 K%. But True Talent looks for Marmol to take the lead (Gregg has a True ERA of only 4.26), and as long as Lou Piniella is willing to swap roles when Marmol passes Gregg, you’ll want Marmol stashed away while he's cheap.
Pedro Feliz | Philadelphia | 3B
True Talent: .265/.314/.428
Next Week’s Forecast: 0.9 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, .268, 0.0 SB
After coming to Philly last season, Feliz’s BB% shot up from 4.9% to 7.1%, and his K% continued dropping to 11.7% from its 21.3% 2003 peak. This year, those trends are continuing, as he has a 9.3 BB% and 10.3 K%. But his 2009 success stems even moreso from a .329 BABIP, well above his career .267 average. True Talent also tells you that he’s coming down to earth; note that he’s hitting .261/.292/.304 over his past six games.
Khalil Greene | St. Louis | SS
True Talent: .243/.305/.411
Next Week’s Forecast: 0.7 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, .244, 0.2 SB
Greene’s Spring Training line of .406/.434/.536 got a lot of fantasy owners excited. And then he started the season batting .246/.358/.386, a performance more in line with his True Talent. A strained forearm on April 27 took him off the diamond (and many fantasy rosters). But an improved batting eye (0.9 BB/K) means that he could improve on that BA and OBP prediction, and possibly also boost his power numbers. Keep your expectations low, but there is upside here.
Emilio Bonifacio | Florida | 3B
True Talent: .259/.310/.342
Next Week’s Forecast: 0.1 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI, .254, 0.9 SB
Bonifacio started 2009 on Opening Day with an inside-the-park homer and three SB, and he had multi-hit games in six of his first seven games. Fantasy owners snatched him up—and when he hit .161/.223/.172 with two SB since then, owners dropped him just as quickly. The steals are tempting, but he doesn’t have the power for a corner spot, and until he develops patience (0.3 BB/K), he’s liable to kill your BA. Don’t look for a rebound anytime soon.
Jeremy Hermida | Florida | OF
True Talent: .264/.357/.437
Next Week’s Forecast: 0.8 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, .259, 0.3 SB
The perennial prospect has suffered from injuries (40-plus games in ’06 and ’07) and impatience (0.35 BB/K in 2008). This year, he has been healthy, and an impressive 0.8 BB/K ratio has led to that gaudy OBP. However, since a 2-HR, 5-RBI performance on April 18, he has hit only .204/.368/.241, and so he’s back on the waiver wire. Pick him up if you have room—he’s going to get better, and he could even beat that True Talent projection if that batting eye holds.
True Talent and Next Week Forecast are taken from Heater Magazine.
Posted by THT Staff at 12:55am (0) Comments
Welcome to THT Fantasy's Roster Doctor. If you'd like your team to be analyzed by one of our fantasy baseball experts, please send your full roster to this address. Also be sure to include your league's player pool (mixed, AL-only, NL-only), number of teams, scoring format (roto, head-to-head, points, etc.), categories, whether or not it's a keeper league, and any other pertinent information. If your roster is selected it will be analyzed in a future Roster Doctor column.
A standard roster for today...
Player Pool: Mixed
No. of Teams: 12
Categories: Traditional 5x5
Scoring Type: Rotisserie
C - John Buck
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Kelly Johnson
3B - Mike Lowell
SS - Hanley Ramirez
OF - Carlos Quentin
OF - Jay Bruce
OF - Andre Ethier
Util - Garrett Atkins
BN - Kosuke Fukudome
BN - Milton Bradley
DL - Brian McCann
SP - Matt Garza
SP - Clayton Kershaw
SP - Derek Lowe
SP - Jon Lester
SP - Ricky Nolasco
RP - Matt Capps
RP - Mike González
RP - Kevin Gregg
RP - Todd Coffey
RP - LaTroy Hawkins
Right off the bat (literally) I noticed your strong hitting. You've got some boppers in Gonzalez, Quentin, and Bruce and some nice average guys in Hanley, Ethier, and Lowell to complement them. When McCann comes off the DL in the very near future, your lineup will only look more intimidating and hopefully his numbers follow the reputation.
Hanley is your only real source of steals, so you could use some help there in a trade. I would look to trade either Lowell or Atkins—Lowell especially because he might look enticing to some owners because of his hot start—and in return receive a speedy character. Your options are pretty much wide open as to who you get in return since he will be filling your utility position.
In the meantime I would drop Bradley for a speed guy like Emmanuel Burriss; he should pick up his production going forward and should offer some stolen bases. Burriss also makes for a nice backup to Hanley and Kelly with his second base and shortstop eligibility. (Another player I would consider adding is Juan Pierre in light of the Manny news.)
Speaking of Kelly Johnson, he and Atkins are the two hitters struggling for your team right now. Johnson is simply the victim of bad luck as I mentioned in my last article, due mostly to a .222 BABIP. He should pick up the slack and put up similar numbers to the solid ones of past seasons. Atkins is someone I am less fond of, although I do believe he will start playing better than he has so far this season. My expectations are about a .275-.280 average with about 15 home runs and a high-80s to low-90s RBI total. For now, I think you are stuck with that production unfortunately, but if he gets hot in the future, I would to include him as a piece in a trade, especially because there is a good chance he spends the second half of the season away from Coors.
Moving over to your pitching, it lacks an ace but does appear to have good depth. Garza, Kershaw, and Lowe are all solid pitchers who have performed well for you so far and should continue to do so. Lester and Nolasco have not done as well, Nolasco especially, but nevertheless I like both of them going forward. A simple check of their peripherals shows they are still striking out plenty of batters (Lester is currently striking out over a batter an innning!) and walking relatively few. They are both the victims of poor BABIP luck with inflated .363 and .381 BABIPs. I'll take a rotation of five solid starters over a staff consisting of an ace or two and three inconsistent starters, particularly in rotisserie a league.
You probably did not make a large investment in closers during your draft—Capps is your sole brand-name closer—but regardless you have managed to assemble a mass of relievers in position to get saves. Capps, Gonzalez, Gregg (barely), and Hawkins (for the next two to three weeks) will be doing closing duties for their teams. Coffey—the lone man out—is now droppable with the return of Travor Hoffman and I would take a stab at a potential closer like Jim Johnson, Tony Sipp, or Andrew Bailey to take his place.
Overall I feel your hitting is solid but needs to be improved by a smart addition or one of the trades I mentioned to become championship caliber. Your mix of starters is great—no need to alter that—and as long as you stay active on the waiver wire for closers as you already have, your pitchers will continue to impress. Good luck!
Posted by Paul Singman at 12:33am
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