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Saturday, March 30, 2013
In light of the fairly recent merger between The Hardball Times and FanGraphs' RotoGraphs, the leadership at both sites has plans to better define the two sites as their own separate entities, while simultaneously increasing the distribution of content between them. Let me explain in further detail.
Our vision is that The Hardball Times will be a site of big-picture writing, strategically focused and research driven; RotoGraphs will continue its up-to-the-minute player analysis, roster-driven, mostly. Now, let it be said immediately that this is not a hard-and-fast classification: you'll still see some short form pieces on THT, and will see some research projects at FanGraphs. But this new system is designed so projects can run across platforms so writers from both sites can contribute more dynamically.
Stay tuned for more details. And most of all: good luck drafting.
Cheers for now,
Nick Fleder & The Hardball Times Fantasy Staff
Posted by Nick Fleder at 3:22am
Friday, March 29, 2013
Ah, spring. Endless possibility. Every team is in first place. The glass is half full. Yada, yada, yada.
For many fans, this time of year is an unbearable period of nothing more than waiting for the real games to begin. Most roster debates have been settled, many for quite some time, and teams are making their way home for the start of the season next week. For fantasy leaguers, however, this time of year can make or break what happens in September. A keen eye that can identify pop-up players before others may be the difference between winning and losing down the line. Being asleep at the wheel, on the other hand, can set in motion a chain of events too horrible to really discuss.
Too dramatic? Yes? Too bad, it's my column and I had to see if you were paying attention.
This week we feature three players who were (somewhat surprisingly) named to their respective rotations.
Brandon Maurer | Seattle Mariners | SP | ESPN: 0.5 percent ownership, Yahoo: NA, CBS: 13 percent
Oliver projection: 90 IP, 5-4, 3.92 ERA, 3.89 FIP
It's safe to say if Taijuan Walker won a spot in the Mariners' rotation this spring, everyone would have noticed. Ditto that, to a lesser extent, for Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The thing is, they did not. Brandon Maurer did.
Back in November, Jeff Sullivan touched on Maurer in a great piece about stupid labels like "The Big Three." The gist: Maurer is pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as those other guys, but labeling "The Big Three" muddies the waters when other players come into the picture, and doesn't serve any practical function.
There are good takes on Maurer making the team over at Minor League Ball and Lookout Landing. John Sickels sums it up best:
The biggest problem has always been simple health; it has never been about velocity, movement, or pitchability.Baseball America offered similarly high praise earlier this offseason, stating Maurer gives the Mariners "yet another pitching prospect with frontline potential" in its 2013 Prospect Handbook.
As a California high schooler, Maurer pitched in the same rotation as Pirates prospect Gerrit Cole. He was a 23rd round draft pick in 2008, but he more or less fell off the map as elbow and shoulder problems limited him to six games in 2010 and 13 games in 2011. Last year, though, in what was technically his age-21 season (his birthday is two days after the cutoff), he posted strong numbers at Double-A, including a 3.20 ERA, 117 strikeouts and 48 walks in 137.2 innings.
The common expectation entering spring training was that he would begin the year in Triple-A, a level he has not yet reached. But the combination of his effectiveness this spring (22 strikeouts in 20 innings), and the lack thereof from others (Erasmo Ramirez, who was once Jon Garland, who was once Jeremy Bonderman) means he will break camp with the big club, and as the No. 4 starter, to boot.
The bottom line is the guy can pitch. He has talent, including a mid-90s fastball and as many as three other major league caliber pitches of varying quality. He's healthy, and he's coming off a very impressive spring, where he beat out strong competition for a job pitching in what has been a pitcher's park (although with the fences moving in, to what extent that will continue is open for debate).
Recommendation: In dynasty formats, he's a strong buy. In deep AL only leagues, he's certainly worth a flier, especially for his debut next Thursday in Oakland. In mixed leagues, a wait-and-see approach might be more appropriate, but it also might cause owners to miss out on a pop-up player with significant potential.
J.A. Happ | Toronto Blue Jays | SP | ESPN: 0.2 percent ownership, Yahoo: 4 percent, CBS: 10 percent
Oliver pProjection: 152 IP, 9-8, 3.92 ERA, 3.74 FIP
The biggest bombshell this week, without a doubt, was the Blue Jays' decision to bust former ace Ricky Romerodown to Single-A ball. Romero was solidly effective from 2009-2011, making the All-Star team two years ago, but was beyond bad last season (in case you hadn't heard). His 5.77 ERA was the worst in the entire league among qualified starters, and his 6.17 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.22 walks per nine innings helped give him a barely-above-replacement-level WAR of 0.2.
So perhaps it should not come as a great surprise that Toronto feels a Ricky Romero-less roster gives it a better chance of winning in 2013, at least until the team figures out whatever the hell is wrong with him. The demotion to Single-A is more about keeping him in a climate where he won't get rained out, but it's still a steep fall for the guy who toed the rubber each of the past two Opening Days.
Happ is now an intriguing character heading into his age-30 season. His ERA, FIP and xFIPs have oscilated between the high threes and high fours during stints as a starter and reliever with the Phillies, Astros and Blue Jays. He seems to be trending in the right direction, though.
Last season he improved his strikeout percentage for the fourth straight season (from 17.4 percent in 2009, to 18.7 percent in 2010, to 19.2 percent in 2011, to a robust 23 percent last year), and cut three percent off his walk rate (from 11.9 percent in 2011 to 8.9 percent in 2012). His velocity is up across the board, averaging 90.5 miles per hour on his fastball last season and he also managed to generate more swings outside the strike zone, and more swings and misses than at any point in his career (31.1 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively).
Recommendation: There's no telling when Romero will reappear, and the rotation in Toronto is certainly crowded, but Happ was sneaky good last season, and could provide a nice boost to owners searching for early-season starting pitcher depth.
Dylan Axelrod | Chicago White Sox | SP | ESPN: 0.0 percent ownership, Yahoo: 0.0 percent, CBS: 1 percent
Oliver projection: 139 IP, 9-6, 3.62 ERA, 3.48 FIP
Axelrod debuted briefly with the White Sox in 2011 and threw 51 innings for the team last year, split between the rotation and bullpen. He's probably better suited for the latter, but will keep a spot in the White Sox rotation while John Danks gets up to speed.
Although you'd be hard pressed to find a glowing scouting report about his stuff (which features a high 80s fastball), it's interesting to note that Oliver is more optimistic about Axelrod than about either Maurer or Happ. It's also interesting that, lacking premium stuff, he's had healthy swinging strike rates of 9.5 percent and 10.1 percent during his two stints in the majors. The 27-year-old's 5.47 ERA, 5.04 FIP, and 4.72 xFIP from last season leave a lot to be desired, though, and there isn't much to suggest he was unlucky.
Recommendation: With limited upside, and a definitive end date to his status as a starter, it's probably safe to avoid Axelrod unless Danks gets pushed back deeper into the summer. Even then, his game is all about locating pitches where he wants them, and choosing those pitches well. I certainly wouldn't want him putting balls on a tee for Miguel Cabrera in US Cellular Field, but if you're streaming pitchers, or in need of a spot start, there are worse options. Probably.
POPSICLE STICK JOKE OF THE WEEK
I love stupid jokes, and this is the best way to start your Friday (don't fight it, I'm right), so here goes:
Question: What kind of band plays snappy music?
Answer: A rubber band.
Posted by Jack Weiland at 2:40am
Another year, another trip down into the fantasy silver mine, a prospecting tour that endeavors to dig up the National League’s hidden gems, best buys and underpriced jewels. If you’re a returning customer to this column, then you know the procedure: Each week, we look at a handful of players who are sitting on the open market in too many leagues, those would-be fantasy contributors blessed with the talent and playing time to make a significant splash—if only they had a home.
As the 2013 season dawns and fantasy owners take stock of new faces and wait for position battles to conclude, here are a number of interesting players who are likely available in your league.
Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.1 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 4.13 ERA / 1.367 WHIP / 6.58 K/9
Let’s start with a broad statement: The Diamondbacks, blessed with the likes of Corbin, Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs, aren’t hurting for a fifth starter with upside in 2013. Trouble is, with just four days to go before they play the season’s first game, manager Kirk Gibson is mum on whether Corbin or Delgado, who both continue to pitch in spring training, will get the first crack at the job.
Corbin, 23, is probably the leading candidate as of this writing. The left-hander logged 107 innings and made 17 starts last year, posting a 4.54 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a 7.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He’s outpitched Delgado this spring, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and coming off a strong performance last Saturday in which he allowed two runs on three hits in five innings. If you take away a bad inning against the Royals on March 6, his spring ERA is under two.
Assuming Gibson taps Corbin, look for him to build upon his 2012 stats, when an inflated HR/FB rate and BABIP conspired to boost his ERA. I wouldn’t expect lights-out production, but I could see Corbin outdoing his Oliver projections by a tad and becoming a useful fantasy pitcher on a team that should provide him with opportunities at wins. The Diamondbacks, with an off day on Thursday, probably wouldn’t use their fifth starter in the first week, but if Corbin is the man, his ownership numbers will shoot up in plenty of leagues.
Recommendation: Keep an eye out in case Corbin is not the fifth starter, but he’d be an immediate add in all NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
Jordany Valdespin | New York Mets | OF / 2B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.4 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: .264 / .311 / .390
I’ll say this: Valdespin is the kind of player you want to cheer for. He’s got flair, he’s got a bit of a brash streak in him, and in all-too-brief flashes last year, showed off the kind of athleticism that says “upside guy” in a ballplayer.
Unfortunately, reality—in the form of underwhelming plate discipline numbers and an inability to walk—has kept Valdespin from making good on his promise in his rookie year. But he was hitting .323/.371/ .538 in 21 spring games entering Thursday’s action, and can add steals for a fantasy owner.
Ultimately, what might be most intriguing about Valdespin is his position eligibility. He played 16 games at second base last year, not enough for most leagues entering 2013, but with Daniel Murphy recovering from an intercostal strain, it’s possible that manager Terry Collins could use Valdespin in the infield occasionally. Murphy has begun appearing in spring action and says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, so I’d be slightly bearish on Valdespin adding another position in the immediate term.
Meanwhile, in center field, where he’ll play the bulk of his games to start the season, he’ll likely sit against lefties in a platoon with Colin Cowgill.
Oliver is a bit optimistic on Valdespin, as it expects 29 steals to go along with a .264 average, 11 homers and 69 runs batted in. Such production, coupled with the allure of positional eligibility, could make Valdespin a serviceable fantasy option in 2013.
Recommendation: Worth a look for owners who need steals in NL-only leagues.
Hyun-Jin Ryu | Los Angeles Dodgers | SP | 37 percent Yahoo / 19.5 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: n/a
I’m not a scout, and thus, I don’t have much to add to Ryu’s scouting reports, some of which you can read here, here and here. I’ll simply say this: the Dodgers, a team that could very well contend for a World Series title this year, believe Ryu is worth a $36 million, six-year contract, which leads me to think there’s something about this guy that makes him a fantasy target. In a perfect world, assuming I had the space on my roster, sure, I’d pick this guy up and see what happens.
But here’s the thing: How certain is it that Ryu will have a spot in the starting rotation? Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano’s arms haven’t fallen off yet, Aaron Harang is still hanging around, Chad Billingsley seems to be returning soon from a finger injury and Ted Lilly still receives paychecks from the Dodgers organization. Assuming Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke, inflamed elbow and all, are locked in for three slots, that leaves five starting pitchers for three spots.
We’ll start with Lilly, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and has appeared in just four spring games, posting abysmal numbers in the process. Call me defeatist, but I just don’t see the 37-year-old having much of a place in the Dodgers’ rotation, certainly not at the season’s outset.
What about Harang, who gave the team nearly 180 innings last year? Manager Don Mattingly is on record saying he doesn’t see the burly right-hander as a bullpen arm, though a rough-and-tumble spring didn’t do much to help his cause as a starter. Consider him a man in search of a starting gig for the time being. Capuano? At last check, his chances don’t seem to be all that great to crack the rotation.
Ryu is scheduled to take the ball on April 2, a decision influenced in part by Billingsley’s roster logistics. But, barring some kind of disaster, I’d say it’s a safe bet that he’ll hang around in the rotation for the long run while the Dodgers trade away or banish to the bullpen some of their excess arms.
Recommendation: Worth a pickup in mixed leagues.
Mitchell Boggs | St. Louis Cardinals | SP | 54 percent Yahoo ownership / 25.3 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 3.10 ERA / 1.205 WHIP / 6.94 K/9
Obviously, if you’re in a tight league and were betting on Jason Motte to hold down a relief role, you’ve already picked up Boggs as a handcuff. So I guess my question is: How long will you have to roll with this guy?
What we know for sure: Motte, 30, has been diagnosed with a flexor muscle strain—considered a slight tear of the tendon—in his elbow, and a disabled list stint is likely. I’m not a doctor, but this doesn’t sound good.
Just in case, let’s say Boggs is the closer for the foreseeable future. If so, he’d bring four career saves to the job, all of which stem from a brief stint in early 2011 when he took over from Ryan Franklin to be the Cardinals’ closer. Back then, Boggs was burned so badly that that he was demoted to Triple-A three weeks after taking the job. Obviously, that’s an experience from which Boggs can learn, and there’s no reason to think the 29-year-old hasn’t matured a bit since then.
At the back end of the Cardinals’ pen, Boggs will bring mid-90s heat to go along with a slider and occasional change-up, which helped him post solid numbers last year (4-1, 34 holds, 2.21 ERA). But I have to wonder whether a .245 BABIP (more than 50 points below his career average) and lofty 82.4 percent strand rate will conspire to bring those numbers down to earth, closer’s role or not.
Boggs is talented, and in a new season, one might as well be optimistic. But if he was headed for a regression in 2013 as Motte’s caddy, fantasy owners shouldn’t look at him as a bullpen savior now that he’s stepping up to the top spot to start the year.
Recommendation: A worthwhile pickup in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but not a must-own until he gets some saves under his belt.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 2:28am
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Hardball Times has had some tremendous articles on platoons over the last few weeks. Bojan Koprivica wrote a three-part series that you can read here, here, and here, and Brad Johnson outlined some predictable real-baseball platoons that you can replicate in fantasy here. Teams like the Rays and the Athletics make it easy. Half of their lineups consist of platooned players, and so if you are looking for that advantage in leagues with daily lineups and sufficient bench spots, you can just mirror their starting lineups in your own. However, just because many other teams do not employ platoons does not mean that you cannot create fantasy platoons of their players.
Last season, right-handed pitchers started 68 percent of all games. As an example, let’s say that I have two batters from two different teams that I wish to platoon against right-handed pitchers. To make the estimate easy, let’s assume that each hitter plays on the same days as the other but in different games, Game A and Game B. If we assume that the handedness of pitchers in each game on a given day are independent events, then the probability that either or both hitters will face a right-handed starter equals one minus the probability that neither hitter faces a right-handed starter:
P(A(RHP) or B(RHP)) = 1 – P(A(LHP) and B(LHP) = 1 – (0.32 * 0.32) = 0.90
With two batters, I have a 90 percent chance of having at least one of the two enjoying a favorable matchup against a right-handed pitcher. If my bench is really deep, I could even add a third platoon option that plays in Game C:
P(A(RHP) or B(RHP) or C(RHP) = 1 – P(A(LHP) and B(LHP) and C(LHP)) = 1 – (0.32 * 0.32 * 0.32) = 0.98
With three batters, I have a 98 percent chance of having at least one hitter facing a right-handed starter.
The reason such a platoon can be so effective in fantasy is that owners frequently overspend relative to expected production on hitters versus pitchers. There are several reasons that makes some sense. First, pitchers are more likely to suffer an injury. Second, pitchers are easy to stream to take advantage of match-ups against poor offensive opponents and pitcher’s parks. Still, if everyone in your league shares that mentality, elite hitters will have severe inflation, and you will need to play backward, so to speak, to capitalize.
This exact scenario played out for me before the 2012 season in the inaugural draft of my Ottoneu linear weights league. For those who are unfamiliar with the format, linear weights attempt to assign points for events that match their value in terms of run expectancy in real baseball. But, really, the specifics of the scoring don’t matter. All you need to platoon hitters is a league with daily lineups.
In last year’s draft, elite hitters were selling for 10 percent and more above my price sheet. Some owners believe that you should allow each auction to set tier prices and then look for relative bargains in the tiers based on your own preferences. I do not. To me, my price sheet represents the fair value of every player I deem is above the replacement level based on the league format. Every dollar spent over my prices or spent on a player not on my sheet represents a dollar of discount I can capture in another player. For that reason, I am particularly susceptible to a pitcher-heavy team because I always let the preferences of other owners dictate my budget allocation.
In this case, I ended up with a staff of Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and David Price and a bullpen of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Kenley Jansen, Glen Perkins, Chris Perez, and Jim Johnson for basically half of my $400 budget. I kept all of those pitchers except for Johnson, who I traded in-season. However, I lost my one impact outfielder, Adam Jones, to arbitration—Ottoneu allows owners to vote off a player from each team, and he was best value selection in 2012. I was left with a handful of inexpensive outfield keepers in Shane Victorino, Garrett Jones, and Tyler Colvin, a skeleton crew of players with clear splits. With most of my money tied up in keepers at other positions and with plenty of bench slots, an outfield platoon was clearly my best bet.
For a platoon to be worthwhile, it needs to replicate the production of starter-caliber players, trading bench spots for the cost savings. However, those costs savings only exist if a player’s platoon value is hidden. Sure, you can platoon a couple of players with small splits, but those players tend to be more expensive since they can be used every day. The value picks tend to either platoon in real life or to have more dramatic splits that depress their overall numbers.
I wanted to find some outfield candidates to target, and so I calculated the points per plate appearance for batters versus both left and right-handed pitchers from 2010-2012. All of the at-bat events were simple to handle, and I distributed stolen bases and caught stealings based on the ratio of plate appearances against each pitcher hand. I also included a minimum of 200 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers over that time frame.
I cannot simply sort by points per plate appearance versus right-handed pitchers and pick out the best ones because, even though I plan to use these platoon players only in games started by right-handed pitchers, they will still face some number of left-handed relievers in those games. Therefore, I first calculated how often left-handed and switch-hitters faced left and right-handed pitchers in games started by a right-hander in 2012.
Fortunately, the ratios were fairly consistent for all players. On average, a left-handed hitter faces a right-handed pitcher in 88.7 percent of his plate appearances and a switch-hitter does the same in 90.5 percent of his plate appearances in a game started by a right-handed pitcher.
Using those two averages, I calculated the combined points per plate appearances for left-handed and switch-hitters in games started by a right-handed pitcher based on their production facing each handed pitcher from 2010-2012. I also included a column of the discrepancy between points per plate appearances versus right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Here are some interesting names, bookended by the overall points per game of select players.
Tier 1 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:
As you can tell based on the bookends of Mike Trout and Buster Posey, these guys are the elite platoon options. As such, all of them play every day in real baseball and will fetch the price of their non-platoon peers in an auction. That said, both Morneau and Moss are fairly cheap in most leagues—though keep in mind Moss has the smallest sample—and Choo and Ethier may be cheap enough to deploy in a platoon, where they go from solid to elite.
Tier 2 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:
For the most part, the next set of players are fairly inexpensive. I was able to buy Joyce and keep Jones at a combined $7, and I would have done more if more of the names on this list were outfielders. For owners in two-catcher leagues, take note that Jaso, Doumit, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the third tier could be combined into an above-average platoon for very little cost.
Tier 3 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:
Tier 3 is a bit less useful from a practical standpoint, but not because of their lesser point totals. These guys have still outproduced players like Derek Jeter of the past three seasons per plate appearance in games started by a right-hander. However, Smith and Venable are in real-baseball platoons, which make them obvious to other owners that want fantasy platoons. For players in deeper leagues or in AL- or NL-only leagues, DeWayne Wise and Eric Chavez may be worth a buck or two at the end of an auction. If they find the playing time, they can be useful players versus right-handers.
In the end, I netted Garrett Jones, Tyler Colvin, Matt Joyce, and Will Venable for a total of $11 to cover my fourth and fifth outfield spots. As a basis of comparison, Nelson Cruz sold for $11. I had to forfeit some bench slots I could have used on prospects or pitchers with upside, but with an elite staff and a team ready to win now, I believe it will be worthwhile.
Posted by Scott Spratt at 2:45am
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Don’t pay for saves. That’s a refrain we’ve heard over and over. Once a preferred strategy of savvy owners, this mantra has penetrated the mainstream and even many novice participants in fantasy leagues now employ this directive. But, I’m beginning to think that some folks are starting to take this statement a bit too literally… or not literally enough, depending on how you look at it.
In a typical 5X5 league, saves are worth 10 Percent of the overall points available to each team, so the category certainly can’t be ignored. It’s also among the categories easiest to ensure high team performance if an owner prioritizes it. Instead of embracing the extreme philosophy of not paying for saves, perhaps it is better to look at some principles that will help you spend wisely.
Don’t pay for saves—pay for skills
When I think about not paying for saves, I think about the “don’t” in two ways. First, don’t consider saves as the inherent value of the player. Instead, pay for is the cross-category production a player will give you while occupying a closer role. The substantial value of elite closers is not rooted in their save total, but in their extremely valuable production on a per-inning basis.
Elite closers do wonders for a team’s ERA and WHIP while racking up Ks with outstanding efficiency. That is what is worth paying for. Because of the role the player occupies, he will accumulate needed saves in the process. In this respect, the idea of not paying for saves is less an absolute and guidance akin to “don’t chase wins” for starting pitchers.
The inverse way to interpret the idea of not paying for saves is equally valid. Don’t ascribe disproportionate value to a player simply because he can earn saves. I’ve written in the past about how it is a bad sign for a fantasy team if it must rely on too many “specialists”—players who contribute significantly in one category, but are a liability in several others. So, perhaps it is more accurate to say, don’t pay for only saves.
Don’t be fooled by past randomness
Several years ago, Derek Carty did some work to try to determine whether it was possible to predict which players would get the most save opportunities and the most saves. His conclusion backs what many savvy fantasy players have felt intuitively: Saves are not particularly predictable. Therefore, something else NOT to pay for is the perception that any specific player will have a significant advantage over his peers because his team will generate a uniquely high number of save opportunities. This is another nuance of the don’t pay for saves mantra: Base your investments on what is predictable.
What we do know is that saves are generated by pitchers with opportunity to fill the closer role and the skills to convert the opportunities received. This leads us to want to pay for pitchers with a firm hold on a job (either by skills advantage over the team’s other options, or by virtue of a large contract) and the underlying skills to be a highly effective pitcher. Don’t overthink this.
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Using what we know from the two points above, the best way to derive value from our closer spend is to use the tier system and let the value fall into your lap.
When it comes to closers there’s usually a small group of elite options, a handful of corrosive situations and liabilities, and then a large chunk of B and C students that fall in the middle. Often, these players are very similar and it pays to look at them interchangeably for purposes of team building.
Acquire the cheapest players within the tiers of your target and basically just hope that random variation goes your way. If you get health and stability, you should compete in the category without much collateral damage. And, if you get some good luck on the opportunity and performance variation sides, you’ll be set up for a great run.
Of course, all the other general rules on player selection apply as well. If you have what you feel is a valid reason to bump up or demote a specific player, do so. But, generally speaking, while it’s always good to have an opinion, closers represent an area where it can be good to let the market drive your decision more than it should when filling other positions.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 3:27am
Here's the second in a series of articles focusing on low-risk, medium-reward $1 sleepers who could be a boon for stars-and-scrubs minded drafters and diamonds in the rough for active waiver-wire fishers. The goal of each article is to present a short, objective analysis of two or more players comparable in expected value. I hope this provides a chance for readers to debate in the comments below. I look forward to reading everyone's thoughts!
This daily dollar debate began as two separate first baseman questions. The first was to be between prospective full-time players Justin Smoak and either Brandon Belt or Kendrys Morales. The second was to be a question of prospective part-time hitters who are on the strong-side (lefties) of a prospective platoon. But the more I thought about the first question, the less I thought that Belt and Morales were fair comps to Smoak. Both are ranked within the top 200 overall per Yahoo's rankings, and neither is really unknown. At least one of them is likely to go $2 (if not a buck or two more) if you were to throw them out late in a draft. That said, i think Smoak's value is a lot closer to Morales than some think, while I am not fully buying Belt as more than a .260-.270 kind of guy with a 20-25 home runs.
That tidbit aside, let's dive into the analysis.
First up is Justin Smoak. My colleague Nick Fleder did a nice write-up on him about two weeks ago. Long story short, Smoak, the guy the Rangers traded to the Mariners to acquire Cliff Lee, has had a pretty disappointing start to his career.
He's hit for average/slightly above average power in a power-suppressing park while maintaining a strong walk rate (career 10.6 percent). His career strikeout rate is survivable, but still undesirably high at 21.6 percent. Smoak's biggest problems outside of the strikeouts have been that he gets under the ball way to often—12.8 percent of his career flyballs in play have been popups, compared to a 9-10 percent major league average—and the fact that he hits almost as many ground balls and flyballs with one of the major league's lowest speed scores to boot.
Smoak's speed score last year in the majors was lower than Prince Fielder's. Clocking in at 1.6 on a scale that ranges from 1-10, with mot players clumping between 4 and 6, Smoak's "speed" is downright Jim Thome-ian. Heck, even Jim Thome owns a career 2.4 speed score.
Because of his disappointing major league numbers, the Mariners temporarily demoted Smoak to Triple-A. He did not do much after being demoted (.242/.390/.364 in 20 Triple-A games), but that demotion seemed to light a spare in him. After being called back up, Smoak cut his popup rate down to a respectable 7.7 percent and hit five home runs in the process. His overall triple-slash line was Carlos Pena-ian (.217/.290/.364), but he still managed to float 19 home runs in one of the major league's hardest home run parks.
Entering his age 26 season, the Mariners are moving in the fences between fourand 17 feet throughout the outfield. Smoak has some cheap and underrated power upside to offer fantasy owners.
Katron's Gameday BIP Location tool data show that the shorter fences would have resulted in an additional two or three home runs at home for Smoak last year. I strongly believe that 25 home runs is in the cards for Smoak this year. He's wrapping up a hot spring batting .431/.474/.824 with four home runs over 16 games against pitching quality that falls somewhere between Quad-A and the major league level. Worrisome, however, are the 13 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances (22.8 percent). If Smoak can cut down on the strikeouts, he could end up being this season's Chris Davis.
Brandon Moss' situation presents a curious story. He is being platooned with Daric Barton despite posting a .337 wOBA (115 wRC+) against same-handed pitching last season (.419 wOBA, 172 wRC+ versus righties in 2012). Of course, there is an obvious sample size red flag considering that Moss had only nearly a quarter as many plate appearances (62) against same-handed pitching as he did opposite-handed pitching.
Then again, for his career, Moss owns a .331/.318 wOBA (103/94 wRC+) split against righties (843) and lefties (202 career PA). That is not to say that Moss is for sure a split-less hitter, or that he definitely broke out last year. At age 30, having struck out one quarter of his 1,000+ major league plate appearances, there are plenty of reasons to be bearish on Moss.
However, if you believe that last season was not a fluke, there's no reason to think he cannot be a poor man's Adam Dunn this year. Over 120 games, over which he could run away with a more full-time job, Moss should be able to muster 25-30 bombs for the Athletics. He almost certainly will not hit .290 (or anything close to it) this season, but .250 is in the cards with 150 runs plus RBIs. Ranked outside the top 500 in Yahoo, he won't cost you much.
Last, but hardly least, we have Garrett Jones. He'll turn 32 this season, and is what he is—a 20+ home run hitter who can post a liveable, but below-average batting average with marginal speed and the potential for 80-100 RBI. He also has average on-base skills, which, in tandem with the power, offers a respectable OPS for those who play in those kind of leagues. The Pirates intend to platoon Jones with Gaby Sanchez this season, which may curtail Jones' counting stats some, but increase/maximize his rate stats in the process.
Jones is a career .198/.237.353 (.257 wOBA) hitter against lefties and a career .279/.348/.504 (.365 wOBA) hitter against righties. Over 80 percent of his career home runs have come off opposite-handed pitching. Even in a reduced platoon role, Jones should see action in 110 to 120 games. That should still put him in the higher end of the 15-20 home run range based on his past three years of production.
Paired with a make-your-own platoon mate like Matt Joyce and a joyful desire to micromanage all season, a fantasy owners could Frankenstein their way into collective production to the tune of a .275+ batting average, 22-30 home runs, 80+ runs and RBIs and maybe even a few steals. Jones is clearly the least exciting of these three options, but he also offers the most consistency.
Time for you to chime in. Who would you rather have this season? Justin Smoak, Brandon Moss or Garrett Jones (plus a platoon mate)? Post your thoughts and arguments in the comments below!
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 3:01am
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
With a week left until the season starts, I thought it would be fun to engage the readers in lively, constructive fantasy debate. This series of articles will focus on low-risk, medium-reward $1 sleepers who could be a boon for stars-and-scrubs minded drafters and diamonds in the rough for active waiver-wire fishers. The goal of each article is to present a short, objective analysis of two players comparable in expected value. I hope this provides a chance for readers to debate in the comments below. I look forward to reading everyone's thoughts!
Domonic Brown vs. Aaron Hicks
Both players are having big springs, but neither is getting much attention outside of single-league format leagues. Hicks is not even in the top 1,000 players ranked on Yahoo (I suspect that will change in the coming days, with Hicks having locked down a full-time position with the Twins to open the season), and Brown is ranked just outside the top 250 by Yahoo. Despite the low rankings, both are arguably relevant in non-shallow mixed formats (12+ teams, four or more outfielders). The players, however, are vastly different.
Hicks is the younger player, and a top three organizational prospect in a system that boasts two promising top-100 overall prospects ranked ahead of him (third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Byon Buxton).
Now entering his age-23 season, Hicks started his minor league career young and was slow to develop. He played well in Double-A last season at age 22, batting .285/.382/.459 with 13 home runs and 32 steals. However, Double-A is the highest level of professional experience on Hicks' resume, and he's making the leap to the majors to open the season. That jump is pretty substantial for a non-pitcher prospect who is near-universally ranked outside the top 50 entering the 2013 season.
Hicks' biggest strengths are his patience at the plate (career 14.8 percent minor league walk rate), speed and defense. He also has good gap power and should be able to post a double-digits home run season over a full season of at-bats—an increasingly rare attribute of players with 30+ stolen base upside. His minuses are a relatively high strikeout rate for his power level (career 20.1 percent in the minors), and below average, but improving, contact skills. Hicks could be an underrated major league staple with a prime time ceiling akin to Shane Victorino. But is he ready for The Show now, and might a level jump hurt his development?
Brown is no stranger to the prospect tag himself. Once ranked among baseball's brightest up-and-coming hitters, Brown has stumbled his way into post-hype obscurity over the past three years. Once a perceived 20-20 threat I compared, in terms of potential long-term fantasy value, to Shin-Soo Choo, Brown owns a career .236/.315/.388 triple slash line with 12 home runs and three net steals over 492 major league plate appearances. That makes him look more like a Ben Francisco wannabe.
Now he's 25 years old, and the Phillies' expectations of Brown have mellowed. However, a monstrous spring training seemingly has pushed the Phillies to hand Brown an everyday gig in the outfield. What is different this year, and should we buy into numbers that are traditionally to be taken with a grain of salt?
If Brown's post-hype spring numbers are legit, he should be a threat to post a slightly below-average batting average with 15- to 20-home run power and double-digit steal upside. He'll likely bat in the upper part of the bottom of the Phillies lineup, which should make for good RBI opportunities but minimal runs scored. That makes Brown a potential three-category player.
However, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the quality of pitching that Brown has faced overall this spring ranks somewhere below Quadruple-A. Once he is consistently matched up against major league talent, which Brown will we ultimately see at the plate?
Time for you to chime in. Who would you rather have this season in re-draft leagues: Domonic Brown or Aaron Hicks? Check out the stats below and post your comments!
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 4:25am
Now that we are in the peak of fantasy baseball draft season, the Court hears about all sorts of issues and dilemmas that arise during leagues' drafts. The draft is the cornerstone of every fantasy league; league members spend extraordinary amounts of time and resources preparing to select their teams. An issue or conflict surrounding a draft must be handled expeditiously, correctly and consistently.
Recently, the Court resolved a case captioned Storm Troopers vs. One for Altuve which dealt with a fairly common draft-day problem in this era when practically all aspects of fantasy sports rely on technology, including draft room software and Internet connections.
The Keystone Fantasy Baseball League's online draft took place on March 20. During round six, the team known as One for Altuve allowed the 60-second timer to expire without making a draft pick. As a result, he was awarded Johnny Cueto, who was the next highest ranked player at the time. Immediately, One for Altuve wrote a message in the chat box of the draft room indicating that the draft room had frozen on him, preventing him from being able to make a selection. He asked the commissioner to back the draft up, undo the previous selection, and award him Paul Goldschmidt who was his desired selection.
Because no other draft picks had been made, the commissioner granted the request.
At that point, the team known as the Storm Troopers asked the commissioner to pause the draft for a discussion about what had just occurred. The Storm Troopers had the next pick and said they were going to select Goldschmidt. The commissioner indicated that his decision stood because One for Altuve raised the issue before anyone else made a selection.
While I understand the Storm Troopers' complaint, the decision was fairly simple in this case. One for Altuve did his due diligence to alert the commissioner of the problem immediately. Because no subsequent draft picks were made, no one else was prejudiced. The Storm Troopers said they were harmed because they were going to select Goldschmidt with the next pick. While that may be true, it can never be proven nor does it matter, because they hadn't submitted a pick before the commissioner paused the draft.
The commissioner made the correct decision because sometimes technological issues happen and are out of people's control. Commissioners have discretion to handle situations like this. Clearly he could have gone the opposite way as well. That would not have necessarily been the wrong decision, but the choice he did make was the best decision. This decision set a precedent for the way the Keystone Fantasy Baseball League will handle situations such as this. It should also alert fantasy players to be cognizant technological issues and be as proactive as possible in alerting your commissioner.
Typically the Court will uphold a commissioner's decision, assuming it was made impartially and in the best interests of the league overall. There is no discernible advantage or benefit gained by the commissioner in making this decision, so the Court can conclude this was done impartially. It also demonstrated an ability to fix a problem without harming anyone.
Posted by Michael Stein at 3:03am
Monday, March 25, 2013
2012 was the inaugural season of The Daily Grind. The column originally was intended to highlight a few waiver-wire players who could help traditional fantasy owners for a given day, but it quickly became clear that the article applied to daily fantasy games like Fanduel, as well.
The format of the column will remain much the same, with picks for today and tomorrow broken down by four categories: pitcher to start, pitcher to exploit, power hitter, speed hitter.
The availability of a player in a traditional fantasy league is unpredictable. In essence, my leagues are not your leagues. I may be able to acquire and cut Justin Smoak at will, but you may not have that option.
To combat that shortcoming, I have created a report that highlights 110 players and position battles*. This should help owners in leagues that are shallower or deeper than the original target audience. The report will be updated continuously, and I encourage regular reader participation to make it even better. I'm not a beat writer for one team, let alone 30, so information will escape my attention.
There are two major additions I plan to incorporate at some point in the season. Both will require some experimentation in order to implement effectively.
Home run conditions: SI Weather has an iPhone/Android app that displays home run conditions in each ballpark for a given day. It's a simple 1-to-10 scale ranging from bad to great.
Unfortunately, my iPhone 3 cannot use it, so I cannot directly implement it into the column. Some basic research suggests I could successfully emulate Android apps on my PC. If anyone knows more about that, leave your contact info in the comments (or email me if you can solve the puzzle in my signature). I'm not a developer, so I expect it to be difficult.
Please be aware, I have not used the app, and this is not a recommendation to purchase it. However, I am told there will be free versions made available this season.
Weather conditions: Along the same vein, I'm looking to implement some sort of system that will alert me of impending weather events. The column runs half a day before most games, so don't expect perfection.
To recap in brief:
*Please note, the current report is incomplete and not finalized. It makes little sense to update during spring training.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 3:01am
Thursday, March 21, 2013
One of the great things about the internet (besides this) is its ability to preserve statements forever. And by great, I really mean the worst thing about the internet ever. It was about a year ago that I had the following exchange with Cubs Den blogger John Arguello regarding Chicago pitcher Jeff Samardzija:
Arguello went on to make his case (which was reasonable) and I backtracked slightly, but ended with the following statement:
In hindsight, this makes me look quite bad. We know now that Samardzija easily cleared the "competent bullpen arm" bar I set last March, throwing 174.2 quality innings for a mostly hapless Cubs team, with an ERA of 3.81, a FIP of 3.55, and an xFIP of 3.38. His strikeouts per nine innings (9.27) and walks per nine innings (2.89) were similarly strong. The Notre Dame product even ended the year as the Cubs' ace (because every other candidate was injured or traded, but still). Just this week he turned down a Cubs' offer of "well above" $30MM to sign him through his next three years of arbitration and first two years of free agency. In April he will make the first Opening Day start of his career. And so on.
The dude had a solid year, okay?
So, what happened? And how did I miss it? I've been thinking a lot about this lately, because as much as I hate being wrong, I value the ability to learn from such missteps more. Being wrong is not the enemy. Being wrong happens, especially in a venture like this, where so much luck is involved, our information on these players is far from complete, and even Hall of Fame hitters get out as much as they reach base.
So why did I whiff?
Very simply, I took my eye off the ball. I stopped collecting data because I had already decided what Jeff Samardzija was and what Jeff Samardzija wasn't. He was the football guy from Notre Dame, the one the Cubs threw too much money at. The one with the stupid (okay, awesome) hair. He was the pitcher with the good fastball, an inconsistent slider, and poor command. He was the guy who laughably saw himself as a starter heading into camp last spring when most thought he was competing for a bullpen job. He certainly was not a starting pitcher. Not hardly.
A cursory check of Samardzija's statistics told me all that I knew I already knew. The problem being, as is often the case, things were more complicated than that. Too often in sports we forget that each athlete is a human being, with a unique set of circumstances behind their personal evolution. Yes, we're also barraged with stories that mean nothing and have no effect on that player's performance going forward, but sometimes that stuff isn't bogus. Sometimes the 27-year-old prospect really is still developing after having split his interests between two sports on college. Sometimes coaches make a tweak that dramatically alters a player's career arc. Sometimes the numbers are trying to tell us things that we are too busy talking over to hear.
I won't go into too much detail here, because Samardzija has been covered well enough here, here, and here. What concerns me now is the data from 2011 that I missed because I glanced at Samardzija's 5.11 BB/9, saw an unsustainably low BABIP of .253, confirmed my bias, and moved on with my life. What I missed, were the details. Specifically, just how much Samardzija's control improved during his time as a reliever in 2011. Yes, the final tally wasn't pretty, but it belied strong and steady progress throughout the season.
Samardzija dropped his walk rate virtually every month. His ability to do that while maintaining his strong strikeout numbers make it all the more impressive. There were other signs of his progress from 2011, as well, including jumps in his ability to elicit more swings on pitches outside the strike zone, and more swinging strikes in general. It's clear that, by the end of 2011, the Jeff Samardzija coming out of the pen was not the same one who was doing so the previous April. He already was more than a "competent bullpen arm" and was well on his way to last year's breakout. My eyes were just too closed to notice.
That said, he made even more progress last season:
There's one obvious outlier there (June) and it's fair to wonder if that was related to the curveball he was screwing around with. When he dropped it, his walk rates were downright elite.
Where do we go from here? The cat is well out of the bag on this particular player, and I was smart enough last year to realize the folly of my ways before it was too late, acquiring Samardzija for virtually nothing in my dynasty league. And now, having reflected on my past error, maybe (just maybe) I'll think before I scoff next time.
Posted by Jack Weiland at 3:06am
In wine and craft beer, blind tastings are the true measure of the quality of the product. Brand names stripped aside, judging only on merit, a raw analysis of the object can be a liberating experiencing in valuation. So let's take a step back for a moment, dial up the projector with some numbers, and ask why this player is essentially a fourth-round pick right now.
On the surface, Player A holds his own against the sample in home runs (fifth out of six), stolen bases (tied for third out of six) and runs (third out of six), but lacks overall in the RBI (sixth of six) and batting average departments (sixth of six). As you might notice, however, players B, C, D and E got more playing time than Player A. Player A was healthy in 2012, but did not get regular major league playing time until May. In 2013, there is no indication that Player A will not play at least 150-155 games. He's athletic and young. Based on his 2012 numbers, that would prorate him to 665 plate appearances next year.
If we prorate Player A's 2012 campaign to 665 plate appearances, his numbers stack up:
Player A's power/speed combination tops the sample, and his lackluster performance in RBIs last year (which I strongly anticipate to improve in 2013 since he will be batting in the three hole) was more than made up for in prorated runs scored. I find runs an incredibly underrated and undervalued statistic in fantasy baseball—and only Mike Trout scored more runs that our prorated Player A last season.
Before I name the mystery player, I want to give away the mystery by listing the ages of each of the unnamed players:
Player A: 19
Player B: 25
Player C: 26
Player D: 23
Player E: 27
Player F: 27
What does this all tell us? Player A is the youngest of the sample, by a healthy margin in light of hitters' historical aging curve data, and putting up numbers on par with older players at the same position that are being drafted ahead of him.
In case you have not guessed it, Player A is Bryce Harper's 2012 season. Player B is Justin Upton's 2012 season. Player C is Andrew McCutchen's career 162-game average batting line. Player D is Jason Heyward's career 162-game average batting line. Player E is Adam Jones' two-year (2011-12) 162-game average batting line. Player F is Carlos Gonzalez's 2012 season.
Now Bryce Harper, ranked 35th overall in Yahoo (37 in ESPN), is not a guy who is "falling far" and "getting forgotten." He's still a marginal third-round pick in 12-team formats. But does he really deserve to be taken there?
I have Harper valued just north of $30 ($32-33) in standard 12 team 5x5 formats. I think he can hit .280+ with 30 home runs, 15-20 stolen bases and a shot at 100 runs/RBI with upside to spare. Keep in mind that Harper will not be able to legally drink until the end of the 2014 season. ZiPS projects a .274 batting average, 26 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 89 runs and 70 RBI over 150 games played (641 PA).
Harper is the 27th overall rated hitter in fantasy per Yahoo. However, there are really only 10 or 11 hitters I'd take ahead of him at that cost: (in order): Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, and maybe Matt Holliday.
Out of the pool of pitchers, I would consider taking only Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and maybe Felix Hernandez over him. That said, I would not take a single pitcher ahead of Harper because in my experience, a later-round pitcher is more likely to outperform an early-round pitcher than a later-round hitter is to outperform an early-round one. Anecdotally speaking, I presume this is because a single pitcher's starts makes up a larger percentage of total team pitching contributions (assuming innings pitched limits) than does a single day of hitting for a given player.
In other words, you can better cherry-pick pitcher match-ups to maximize outcomes and require less day-to-day (consistent) contribution from pitchers than hitters to be successful in fantasy. That may not be true, but that is my experience/strategy.
Put that together and Harper is a borderline first-round, guaranteed early second-round pick. Considering that he has Trout's pedigree (Harper was ranked ahead of Trout in the 2012 preseason by Baseball America and Fangraphs), that he posted All-Star caliber production at age 19 in the majors last year, and that he's absolutely mashing the ball in spring training (a grain of salt required, but he has a .438/.455/.750 triple slash line), I expect the young batter to break out in a major way in the majors this year.
Of all the upside plays in baseball this year, Harper is the best one. He might not come the cheapest, but he has a high floor, minimal health risk and one of the best chances of finishing in the top 10 after picks 15-20. Spend big, regret nothing.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 3:02am
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
There are a number of strategies regarding how to spend your money in a fantasy auction. Some like to spend heavily on high-end players, some prefer to spread the wealth and focus on acquiring a core of $20-ish players. For some, reserving enough money to be king of the dollar days is integral.
Whatever your strategy, the common goal is to have control of who winds up on your roster. Therefore, one of the drivers of your budget allocation strategy should be to put your money where your opinions are. If you have strong preferences among the high-priced players, spend early and freely to get your choice. But if you prefer to have your pick of sleepers and later-round players, make sure you save enough money to do so.
One of the trappings of the barstool fantasy chatter is that you may feel as if you have to have very strong opinions on every player, and particularly on the marquee players. I reject this notion. Counter-intuitively, one of the hallmarks of a well-studied owner is that some decisions don’t matter as much as others. It’s okay to decide you want a top-tier first baseman, but not have super strong preferences among them.
In an auction league, you have to back your opinion with dollars, and each dollar you put up to acquire your choice of player should represent your relative strength of opinion in favor of that player versus a counterpart. Keeping this in mind helps elucidate the value of ranking players in tiers or grouping similar types of players.
For example, while I see both Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez individually, I also see them similarly as cornerstone outfield assets. In an auction setting, if you were to ask me which one I like better, my answer would probably be "whichever one I can get cheaper.” I’d rather have the $4 (or whatever) between their costs than have my pick of the two.
The reason why I often decide “I’d rather have the money” is that the leverage of each extra dollar you hold increases as the overall pot of money in owners’ hands dwindles (provided you don’t wildly mismanage your funds). So, the dollar you save by making the frugal choice among the elite players can give you substantial control over the player pool in the middle and later rounds. If Cutch and Cargo have seasons as expected, having one as opposed to the other is unlikely to be the reason you win, but correctly identifying a $2 breakout star turns exponential profits.
All things equal, I usually prefer to have the extra dollar to pay $2 for my sleeper than the choice between two similar elite options I both like.
This is not to say that the examples I used in this post represent the only, or the absolute correct, way to allocate your funds. You may have a very strong opinion on some of the highest ranked players, or even a strong opinion between two seemingly similar players. If that’s the case, vote with your dollars. I simply want to reiterate that sometimes the decisions made between high-end players have actually the least impact overall. If you can avoid losing your league on your three most expensive players, you’ll be in a position to contend.
When studying the player pool, make note of your strongest opinions. Consider whether they cluster among high-end, mid-tier, or low-price players. From there, make sure you use your “discretionary” dollars in the areas of the auction where your opinions are strongest, not simply where the prices are highest.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 3:01am
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
estrada (n.) An otherworldly master of finesse. That dude in the Brewers uniform, the one who struck out nine while walking only a deuce: he’s a real estrada.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I once thought I knew what pitching was. Yet, I was toiling around the lower levels of the farm system like a pigeon away from his flock; alone, lost, untrusting in my stuff. I polished, and polished, but soon found myself to enjoy only the ugly Washington days where I once expected glory; with empty seats and empty promises and bloated ratios consuming my day-to-day.
I needed a change—they barely used me, barely wanted me, not trusting that I could control my fastball, concerned that I was addicted to the thrill of the strikeout.
So I went to the only logical place on Earth: Milwaukee. No empty seats, plenty of beer, and a fresh start. I thought I was ready, but once again I faced the harsh realities of suck. Another year shared between Triple-A and the major leagues, another year devoid of control. I thought I was done.
I decided to try anything and everything. I tweaked my release points, letting it go at a higher vertical point for all pitches. I stopped fooling around with a three-pitch repertoire. Welcome, cutter. Welcome, sinker. Hello fame and fortune. Hello, Kate Upton. My strikeout to walk ratio spiked, and those fools from Milwaukee even gave me seven games to start.
I speak with you today on the cusp of the 2013 season. I really killed it last year—one of the five best strikeout-to-walk ratios in the entire league. I really believe I can do it again—I wasn’t just getting lucky last year, wasn’t just “stranding runners” or “having balls fall my way” or “getting an absurd amount of swinging strikes” or any of that pizzazz.
Okay, maybe I won’t strike out more than a guy an inning again, but I certainly deserve to be drafted ahead of that freak Fiers I call my teammate. I promise I won’t let you down. I promise you I’ve become an estrada, like I always knew I could. And if you can get me for a dollar... hell, I'll make it worth your while.
-Marco Estrada, Hilton Milwaukee River Hotel, circa March 2013
Posted by Nick Fleder at 3:09am
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Last year, I gave you five endgame options that might have—depending on your league structure—cost you a buck. Three of them panned out: Jose Altuve was about the only sight to behold on the Astros; Mike Minor cemented himself in the long-term plans of the Braves with a stellar season; and Mike Aviles flaunted his underrated power-speed combination for the cost of a McDouble. Two of them panned: John Mayberry was a tease that wouldn’t stop teasing, and Mat Gamel blew out his knee. I’ll go five for five this year.
We kicked things off yesterday with Cliff Pennington. And the second “future steal of your draft” is none other than Justin Smoak.
Remember when Justin Smoak was traded for Cliff Lee? Yes, this actually happened.
Remember that time Justin Smoak hit .240 in the majors? I sure don’t!
Remember Justin Smoak ‘s final line last year? Ryan Howard could do better with one Achilles.
If Justin Smoak is to you a running joke, I must ask you to reconsider. I understand his track record is far from shiny—three years has gone so fast, and he’s proven himself to be a 20-homer, batting average sucking black hole at one of the deepest positions in the fantasy sphere. But if you slept through last September, I’m finally waking you up. Justin Smoak’s a changed man; a hitting machine; an artist at the plate; and a bell-ringer in the spring.
Perhaps this is a foolhardy analysis, but my theory is that Justin Smoak learned patience in the fall of last year. His swing percentage outside the zone (23.4 percent) was more than three percent below his career average; he also struck out at roughly half (11.5 percent) his career rate in September. What might have caused this? Your guess is as good as mine…if your guess is “demotion.”
I don’t know what changed him in Tacoma—it doesn’t exactly scream “life-altering vacation”—but I know he was walking like a madman on the farm, and upon return, was indeed a more patient fellow at the plate. He smashed five homers in a month, hit like Willie Mays, and even decided to act like a plus fielder for a brief period.
Chalk him up for 20 or 25 home runs this year, and forget the crowd of powerful bats taking Safeco this year: Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Jesus Montero, and Young Justin can all reasonably fit on the field, smashing long balls, smashing away.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 3:05am
These players appear primed for a platoon role or should otherwise feature low ownership rates to start the season.
It's very dangerous to put much weight on one month of performance, but in this case, a strong September plus a very impressive spring training are encouraging. After struggling throughout the entire 2012 season, Smoak turned the corner in September by posting a 1.005 OPS for the month. He had 13 walks and 13 strikeouts. His .239 ISO was consistent with his minor league numbers. His BABIP was elevated at .357, but that's only one or two hits on the lucky side for such a small sample.
His spring numbers are silly, but he's been here before, so be ready to deploy your grains of salt. Through 23 plate appearances, he has nine hits, two home runs, two walks, and four strikeouts—good for a 1.335 OPS. Research suggests that .250 point increases in spring OPS can predict breakouts.
And now for the salt. Last season, his spring OPS was .966 over twice as many plate appearances, and that campaign went quite poorly.
He's also credited with implementing mechanical changes late last season—which makes the breakout narrative more compelling (if not more probable). He'll need to dodge competition from Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay for playing time, but so far he has the inside track on a regular role.
The good news is that projection systems uniformly believe he will hit more home runs in 2013. That jibes with his prospect billing as a patient, mid-quality power bat. Strangely, he cut his strikeout rate in 2012 while actually whiffing more frequently. He needs a strikeout rate around 20 percent to post an acceptable average.
It's easy to be skeptical about a power breakout from Belt. Mechanics play such a large role in generating power and loft. Belt has received criticism for swing mechanics that limit his ability to produce that power and loft. Batted ball data from 2012 supports that hypothesis (small sample alert). He posted an excellent 25.6 percent line drive rate, but his home run per fly ball rate was only 6.2 percent. Parsed to standard English, he hit the ball hard with frequency but not in a way that produces home runs.
Between first base and left field, he should play almost daily. For what it's worth, his spring OPS is currently 1.393.
He's the proverbial tool shed, with speed, power, and hand-eye coordination in spades. Inconsistent mechanics caused by minor injuries to both knees, a broken hamate bone, and other leg related problems have prevented those tools from playing in-game. A strong spring performance (1.280 OPS, six walks, five strikeouts in 36 plate appearances) and good health have him in line for a starting job.
The downside is clear but also isn't devastating. If major league pitchers are able to continue exploiting his mechanics, he'll hover around a league average bat. That would put him in a position where he's most useful against lesser quality right-handed pitchers.
That could be a boon for those who missed out on quality third baseman this season. A sampling of four projection systems on Fangraphs all expect an OPS between .734 and .738 (it's worth noting that ZiPS diverges from popular opinion with a .680 projection). If he manages to start most games, double digit power numbers and a handful of steals are likely.
Conspiring against him are some poor spring numbers—two singles in 27 plate appearances—and the Athletics' very deep roster of infielders. Continued struggles in spring training or any in-season slump will likely result in reduced and difficult-to-predict playing time.
His spring training has been slowed by a hand injury in February, but he seems to be performing well in a small sample —412/.565/.529 in 23 plate appearances with six walks and zero strikeouts. Projection systems expect league-average production with double digit contributions to home runs and stolen bases. For fantasy, he appears to be an excellent fourth outfielder or a valuable low cost center fielder.
Unlike with those above, there's little to worry about with Cain. His combination of athleticism and polished baseball skills should result in predictably acceptable performance.
His role in 2013 is uncertain. It appears he is a logical candidate to platoon with Nate McLouth. However, since Wilson Betemit appears to be the primary designated hitter, Reimold could earn a full time role split between the two positions.
If he can stay away from major injuries, he should be a useful plug-and-play option with upside for more value.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 2:43am
Monday, March 11, 2013
-Cliff Pennington may hit .220.
-Cliff Pennington may lose his job as Arizona's shortstop to young Didi Gregorius within a month.
-Cliff Pennington may injure his left shoulder in a freak accident.
-Cliff Pennington may steal 20 bases.
-Cliff Pennington may field the ball at a superb level again this year.
-Cliff Pennington may even reach double-digit home runs in wet, humid Chase Field.
-Cliff Pennington may be the 29th most valuable shortstop in 2013.
Seven expansions upon seven above hypotheticals
-Cliff Pennington is a lifetime .249 hitter: one who faced some miserable luck last year while hitting under .220, but also one who stopped making the considerable contact he’d been used to.
-Cliff Pennington is not the shortstop of the Diamondbacks’ future, the title of which belongs to a young Didi Gregorius (6-foot-1/185), a minor-league level hitter at current state with a Gold Glove-worthy leather to flash; young Didi, for now, is bothered by an elbow injury, which could linger.
-Cliff Pennington probably won’t injure his left shoulder in a freak accident, and his generally solid health actually might tip the job competition in his favor.
-Cliff Pennington was on a 20-steal pace last year but played only 125 games, after averaging roughly 152 the previous two seasons.
-Cliff Pennington can flirt with league-average production with the stick—and would certainly appear to be a better hitter than Gregorius—but is generally regarded as a slick fielder; if he can have another plus year on the dirt, he may stick around enough to tally some golden counting stats.
-Cliff Pennington’s aforementioned golden potential previously has been limited to his speed, and speed alone. With a move to Chase Field, he has the chance to tap into his modest power (6.67 homers per year over his last three years) and push his longball total to double digits.
-Cliff Pennington is being drafted as the 29th shortstop, per Mock Draft Central, but with any semblance of playing time, he’ll best that slot; so if you have a patchy middle infield, take a flier on Pennington with the last pick of your draft.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 3:12am
Friday, March 08, 2013
Identifying and leveraging easy-to-manage platoons can be a fantasy boon. It typically is not a good idea to plan a draft around such platoons, but knowing they are available can help if you find yourself with a hole in the late rounds of your draft.
Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, Braves third base
Effective third base platoons are somewhat rare, so this tandem will really help savvy owners who run into trouble at the hot corner.
Francisco will see the strong side of the platoon. In 2012, he had the second highest swinging strike rate (16.9 perecent) among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. That led to the fourth highest strikeout rate (34.1 percent). On the positive side, he has excellent raw power and will hit his share of long balls. He's best matched up against contact-oriented pitchers.
Johnson will see the lefties and his performance is a bit more predictable than Francisco's. The offensive skill set is fairly similar, but with less power and fewer whiffs. Like with Francisco, he matches up best against contact-oriented or low-quality pitchers.
Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz, Cubs outfield
Hairston is the prize here, but since his predictable starts will come against left-handed pitchers, his fantasy value suffers. The only true shortcoming in his game (at least against LHP) is a low walk rate. Still, he'll hit for power, post a usable average, and provide some counting stats.
Scheirholtz is less exciting. He's a typical grinder who will put the ball in play and occasionally surprise you with a home run or a stolen base. He's useful as a fantasy spot starter, but probably won't be a frequent target like Hairston.
Brandon Moss and Seth Smith, Athletics first base and designated hitter
Moss and Smith won't be forming a platoon together, but they will likely be platooned. Both are valuable assets against right-handed pitching.
Smith tends to post predictably average production against RHP. He'll bash a few home runs, reach base at an acceptable rate, and post a tolerable average. He's provided some stolen bases in the past but shouldn't be counted on in that regard.
Moss is harder to predict after breaking out in 2012. He posted career bests in isolated power and balls in play average while showing strikeout problems similar to Francisco (above). It's possible the power could hold up in a platoon role, which should mean similar production to Smith but with more home runs and a lower on-base percentage.
Will Venable and Chris Denorfia, Padres outfield
Venable is a consistently above-average hitter against right-handed pitching. While most of the names on this list are here for power numbers, Venable's contribution is to reach base at an average rate, swipe a couple dozen bags, and chip in with the occasional home run. It feels like he's been a deep sleeper forever, but now that he's entering his age 30 season, it may be time to stop imagining upside.
Denorfia is the kind of fourth outfielder most teams wish they had. For fantasy purposes, he has enough power and speed to be interesting at the plate and on the bases. He can also take his share of walks without posting a high strikeout rate. The result is a kind of "anything-can-happen" player. His stat line won't be sexy at the end of the season, but if you're looking for a guy who might hit a home run or steal a base on a given day, he's not a bad pick.
Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, Rangers center field
In leagues that count center field as a separate position (two-thirds of mine do), this tandem could prove helpful.
As the only prospect on this list, Martin has some upside appeal that the others lack. He has good raw power and useful speed, but reports on his game emphasize the rawness of his baseball skills. He's also credited as being a baseball rat, which is a scout's way of saying that he thinks Martin's skills will eventually play up. In 2012, he's more likely to steal you a base than hit a home run. Use him against right-handed pitching.
Gentry isn't anything to get excited about. His best contribution is a solid batting average and he'll also steal the occasional base. He shouldn't be your first pick if you need a spot starter, but there will be plenty of thin Monday and Thursdays where you may have need of his services.
Tune in next time when I cover potential breakouts.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 3:26am
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
As we all know, the Houston Astros are now members of the American League West after spending their first 50 years in the National League. Houston transitions to the AL to create two 15-team leagues with three divisions of five teams each. They are the first franchise to switch leagues since the Milwaukee Brewers moved to the National League over 15 years ago.
Despite the Astros being one of the worst teams in baseball and having a limited number of relevant fantasy baseball options, their move will have an impact on fantasy leagues.
Because there are two 15-team leagues, there now must be interleague games every day of the season. This means that each team will play 20 more interleague games throughout the season, not just during two specific periods, as we have been accustomed to since 1997. This will have a profound impact on fantasy teams that rely on designated hitters who will potentially lose at-bats due to more games being played in National League parks.
In addition, NL Central pitchers will not get the benefit of facing the Astros, a poor team destined for more than 100 losses, several times during the year. On the other hand, AL West pitchers now reap the benefits of having Houston in their division.
There's an even more important issue in fantasy leagues arising from Houston's move to the AL. This has a direct impact on AL or NL-only leagues. NL-only leagues now lose an entire team's worth of players and minor leaguers. Granted, second baseman Jose Altuve is probably the only Astro worth drafting in many formats. But plenty of deeper leagues would necessitate going further into the Astros' organization for fantasy help, including players such as Bud Norris, Carlos Pena, Justin Maxwell, Jose Veras, Lucas Harrell, Brett Wallace, Fernando Martinez, or Jason Castro. Now these players are off-limits to NL-only leagues and all of a sudden available for AL-only leagues.
Taking this a step further, AL or NL-only keeper leagues have a dilemma on their hands. If a team in an NL-only keeper league had Altuve, chances are he would be kept since the pool for second baseman is relatively thin. Now that team will lose its second baseman because the Astros are in the American League. Fantasy commissioners need to come up with a plan to handle the transition. While we have known about this for quite some time, we cannot expect all fantasy league commissioners to have implemented a process for dealing with this situation. Now is the time to act before drafts take place.
One option is to offer a one-year extension or grace period where NL-only teams can better prepare for losing a player such as Altuve, or even minor leaguers in dynasty leagues. This would allow everyone an opportunity to set themselves up for the future without being unduly prejudiced because of the move by maintaining ownership of Astro players knowing they will be lost at the end of the 2013 season. Or you could set up some sort of arrangement that would allow trades with other AL-only teams to even things out.
There is more than one way to handle this unique situation, and they are all equally meritorious. But whichever one is selected, fantasy league commissioners need to have the answers immediately. All league members should know how to proceed if the Houston transition directly affects their league. As long as the commissioner is specific, expeditious and rational in his decision-making, then the league can smoothly handle any questions or issues that may arise.
Posted by Michael Stein at 3:04am
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