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Tuesday, May 07, 2013
The Daily Grind provides daily match-up advice for tinkerers and daily fantasy players. I welcome advice to help make this column more effective, including notice of impending weather events, new injuries, and changes to platoon situations. Ownership rates are from Yahoo!
The daily picks are a mixture of Daily League specific advice and information for the more typical fantasy owner.
Pitcher (to start): There are a few good arms for today, but none of them have a particularly friendly match-up.
Justin Grimm is making his way onto my teams but he has a tough assignment in the Brewers.
Zach McAllister is a frequent denizen of the Grind, but a game against the A's is no easy task.
J.A. Happ sees the worst lineup of the bunch when he faces the Rays, but he's also the least talented of this trio.
Pitcher (bum): If the Pirates game isn't interrupted, I'll predict continuing struggles for Aaron Harang. I do think he'll settle down eventually, but he may need a few more starts.
I'll take the Red Sox over lefty Scott Diamond.
Hitter (power): Brandon Belt has warmed up recently. Kyle Kendrick is still expected to be lefty prone, although AT&T Park is not the best place to bet on home runs.
Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava will face the above-mentioned Diamond.
C.J. Wilson isn't looking like much more than a decent arm these days. Chris Carter could benefit.
Hitter (speed): Gerardo Parra is set to face Josh Beckett.
Pitcher (to start): Jonathan Pettibone has gotten good results thus far, but I wouldn't necessarily trust that. In particular, a strikeout rate around seven K/9 seems fluky when combined with a 4.4 percent whiff rate. Something has to give there. He's also walking only about one batter per nine innings, which doesn't jibe with his minor league performances. In short, expect fewer strikeouts, more walks, and an overall mediocre line.
Barry Zito opposes Pettibone. I was a bit surprised to find him 47 percent owned. The Phillies aren't a very offensive-minded club, which is the only reason I mention Zito.
A.J. Griffin is 36 percent owned and too good to be available on waivers. Do note that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher, so you might want to stay away from bandboxes.
Felix Doubront has a pleasant match-up against the Twins. His 5.67 ERA belies a 2.87 FIP.
Pitcher (bum): Last week I recommended in favor of David Phelps. This week, I recommend against. He pitches in Coors tomorrow and is opposed by another exploitable pitcher, Juan Nicasio.
I think the Astros will like facing Joe Blanton.
Ricky Romero is back, but it's too soon to say if he's any better.
I'll draw the line at Luis Mendoza against the Orioles, but I could name more exploitable pitchers.
Hitter (power): Justin Masterson still has slight lefty problems, so this is a good day to go with Seth Smith and Brandon Moss route.
Another lefty and another start for Gomes and Nava.
Is Carlos Pena still around? Because Blanton is a juicy match-up for him.
Travis Hafner is 40 percent owned, but where he is available, a start against Nicasio in Coors seems quite enjoyable.
Hitter (speed): Will Venable will see Ricky Nolasco.
Lefty Matt Moore means Rajai Davis will probably start. Unfortunately, the match-up is difficult.
Storms are expected to interrupt several east coast games, affecting the Tigers, Nationals, Mariners, Pirates, Royals, and Orioles. The Braves and Reds may see a touch of the same storm system.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 5:38am
Last week, Dave Cameron wrote an excellent piece on Josh Hamilton and the degradation of his batting eye. Hamilton has been swinging at some terrible pitches this season, and pitchers are beginning to figure out that they can throw just about anything to get Hamilton out.
We’ve seen only a month of baseball, and we all know how meaningful many results thus far are. The good thing about plate discipline statistics, however, is that they don’t take much time to stabilize. Things will obviously change over the course of a season, but April plate discipline data give us something more meaningful to talk about than any April counting statistic does.
With this in mind, I began to look through the FanGraphs plate discipline leaders of 2013. If you sort the leader board one way, you’ll find the league’s free swingers. We know these guys pretty well. Hamilton is ruining his career, while Pablo Sandoval (somehow) continues to make a living off hitting terrible pitches. We hear a lot about this group, and it makes sense that we do. We enjoy watching hitters flail at all sorts of pitches—sometimes connecting, and sometimes looking like Vladimir Guerrero after a night out.
If you sort the leader board the other way, though, you’ll find a group that gets a lot less notoriety (well, at least outside of the sabermetric community). These plate discipline leaders swing at pitches outside the strike zone about a third of the time a Sandoval or Hamilton does. At the top of this list (and by a large margin), you’ll find A.J. Ellis.
Ellis has always had above-average plate discipline, but his eye really improved in 2012. Last year, Ellis saw more pitches per plate appearance (4.43) than any other major league hitter. This year, he remains on top in that regard. The catcher has swung at 13.4 percent of all pitches he has seen outside of the strike zone. He has whiffed at only 23 pitches (out of 473) thus far.
When a career backup catcher suddenly grabs hold of a major league starting job after almost 10 years in the minor leagues, you would think that we would take notice. Ellis has managed to stay under the radar, since he doesn’t hit for power (or average, for that matter). Manager Don Mattingly has typically slotted Ellis in the five or six spot for Los Angeles, and it is possible that he benefits from hitting in the heart of the lineup, behind Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. These hitters have average plate discipline, but they sure appear more threatening than Ellis does. Is it possible that, after dancing around these three hitters, pitchers give Ellis great pitches to hit?
This argument is a convincing one, and the data provide some support for it. This season, 48.3 percent of all pitches Ellis has seen have been in the strike zone. In 2012, the overall league zone percentage was 44.9. Ellis has seen a significantly greater number of pitches in the zone this year than the average hitter typically does, and his high walk totals become even more impressive in this context. However, Ellis posted similar (though not quite as spectacular) plate discipline rates in 2012, a year in which he hit primarily out of the eight hole.
Ellis is also seeing a relatively high number of fastballs (66 percent of all pitches seen) this season, which is obviously working to his advantage in terms of plate discipline and overall offensive production. I do buy the argument that pitchers will throw relatively more fastballs to Ellis after facing Kemp, Gonzalez and Ethier, but we can’t evaluate that argument until we see Ellis hit in other lineup spots.
Is it sustainable?
It’s extremely likely that we will see Ellis’ discipline regress, since he is outperforming his 2012 plate discipline rates. Ellis can continue to be valuable asset for the Dodgers, but it is quite possible that he will have to start swinging the bat a little more often if he is going to do that. Only Brett Gardner and Bobby Abreu have posted lower swing percentages over the last three years, and these hitters give pitchers added motivation to throw strikes. Gardner is dangerous when gets on base, and Abreu could still hit for power when he posted a swing rate of 32.9 percent.
Some might hope that Ellis will start to hit the ball harder when does swing thebat. He will continue to see a good number of fastballs, but he won’t if he starts to hit for power. If Ellis becomes a hitting threat, as opposed to a walking threat, pitchers will also start to offer him fewer pitches in the strike zone.
Kevin Youkilis exemplifies this evolution well. In his early years, Youkilis posted high on-base percentages and little power. Many criticized his patient ways, and some argued that he didn’t hit enough home runs to be a major league corner infielder. In 2008, Youkilis responded with more than a few of those home runs. His zone percentage fell after that breakout year, and he began to see a lot more breaking balls. Youkilis responded well as his plate discipline skills were really put to the test, and he became much more valuable offensively.
This is obviously all speculation, as Ellis has more than a few hills to climb before becoming the next Kevin Youkilis. In many ways, Scott Hatteberg is a much more realistic comparison. Hatteberg’s inability to hit for power was really a blessing in disguise, as his ability to get on base was continually overlooked by pitchers and opposing pitching coaches.
A.J. Ellis has found a way to be successful at the major league level, and I’m sure he isn’t going to try to fix what isn’t broken. The Dodgers should be delighted with what they are getting out of their 32-year-old catcher. While I did bring some attention to his name with this article, my real hope is that we all continue to overlook A.J. Ellis. That’s how the Scott Hattebergs of the world operate best.
Posted by Noah Woodward at 3:09am
It's tough to recall the exact moment I first discovered Baseball Press, but I do know it's been a daily stop the past two seasons, and with good reason. In standard leagues, you might be able to get away with a set it and forget it approach. But for those of us in deeper leagues, ones where platoon and part-time players have value, the aggregation provided by Baseball Press is invaluable.
Some of the features Baseball Press offers include lineup information almost as it happens, probable starting pitchers, recent bullpen pitch counts, a log of the recent lineups for all 30 teams, and weather reports for that day's games. I recently sat down (across the interwebs) with one of the founders and operators of Baseball Press, Reggie Yinger, to get the story behind the site, and to find out where it's headed next.
Q: How did Baseball Press begin? Was there a void you saw for the information you present, or was this information you saw elsewhere that you thought could be presented better?
Yinger: Baseball Press began in the summer of 2009. I approached a friend who is also a computer programmer and wanted to create my own fantasy baseball site. Previously, I had written baseball articles for other websites, but really wanted the freedom to do my own thing. I think we saw a void in baseball sites as most have a "cookie-cutter" feel and we wanted to get away from that, providing a unique and different approach.
How many users do you guys currently have? How much has it grown since 2009? And was it slow and steady, or was there a period in which you saw a large uptick in traffic?
Yinger: According to our analytics, just under 100,000 people have come to Baseball Press in April. However, since we don't sell anything, we focus more on page views and feedback to determine user interest rather than isolating users, so the growth we view is based on traffic not users. And based on traffic, we saw a substantial jump in traffic in 2009 when we decided to do lineups, and it's been doubling every year since then.
What were your original intentions for the site when it began? How has it evolved since?
Yinger: Good question. I think the original intent in 2009 was to have a website where myself and other potential writers could write about fantasy baseball and have an "anything goes" mentality. We tried to focus on "fantasy baseball" but really wanted to write about anything baseball related. I thought we might write a few articles here and there, and to be honest, I thought the "coolness" of a website might die out. However, we first added lineup information to the website in 2011 and have really focused on helping fantasy baseball players since 2011. We added all MLB lineups in 2011, the My Lineup feature in 2012, and then the Bullpen Usage report in 2013. So yeah, I would say we have evolved to helping fantasy baseball players (like myself).
How the sausage is made: how does Baseball Press work? Is it updated manually when you find lineups posted online? Do you have go-to sources? Or is it automated in some way? How long does it take for lineups to be posted before they appear on Baseball Press?
Yinger: The sausage is made quite easily. I first designed the lineup concept during spring training in 2011 and it was originally updated manually. However, as you can imagine, this resulted in constantly having someone watch lineup information in case of scratches. However, after myself and the other co-founder noticed that the MLB Lineups feature was catching on, we decided to do some computer programming and automate the process. We use multiple sources that consist of beat writers and team affiliated accounts, with a majority of the information coming from Twitter. We typically hope to have lineups for all games within our system and on the website 3-4 hours before the game and we feel like we accomplished this. However, in some cases, we may post a lineup an hour before the game, depending on the source.
Can you quantify the value of the information on your site, particularly for owners in daily leagues? How much of an advantage do you see in having lineup information as it becomes available, and also weather reports, recent bullpen usage, etc?
Yinger: I'm a huge fantasy baseball nerd and I know that this tool is invaluable. Fantasy baseball websites that host the leagues (ESPN, Yahoo!, etc) try to inform users if a player isn't starting, but this information is typically delayed or incorrect. I think having this information hours before a game is great for daily league players because it allows owners to prepare their team for that night's games, whether it be reviewing ballpark factors, weather, or matchups for pitchers vs. batters.
Speaking of the bullpen usage: is that a new feature, or one I just never noticed last year? What practical use do you see for owners using this feature?
Yinger: The bullpen usage is a new feature for 2013. The story behind this feature is simple. I currently play in a fantasy league that counts "holds" as a category. I really dislike fantasy pitching categories and decided I would "stream relievers" simply for the ability to pick up "holds". For example, if David Hernandez has thrown two or three days in a row, he's likely to have off the next day. With the Bullpen Usage page, I can see this information and pick up another late inning reliever for the day in order to try and accumulate a "hold". If you're not into holds, I think owners can use this information to try and pick up "saves" on the cheap. If they see Jason Grilli has pitched three days in a row, they might try and pick up Mark Melancon from the waiver wire. It's also just a nifty tool to see how managers are using their bullpen.
Is there a reason lineups only go back one week, and there is not a deeper historical archive of team's lineups?
Yinger: Lineups currently go back one week (or the last 7 games) on the team page only. However, if you want to see older data, you can go to the main lineups page and select the date and view all lineups from that date. I think you have just booked our next project with that question.
You mentioned on the site that you will not be creating an application that works with Apple products, but that you are working to make the mobile site sufficient for all smartphone users to use. How is that progressing? Do you have an ETA for that mobile site to be running?
Yinger: After great success with our Android application in the Google Play store, we decided to try and make an Apple application. Unfortunately, Apple rejected our application and deemed it to be "too simple". We decided to not continue down the path with Apple after a first rejection (for cost and time reasons). To try and make every mobile device happy (tablets and phones), we've decided to make the entire Baseball Press website mobile friendly. This means that iPhone users can view all the information on their phones and not have to worry about formatting. The progress is coming along nicely. We pushed back the mobile functionality in order to have the Bullpen Usage page ready and in production before the season started. We should have the mobile design finished by mid to late May.
What's cooking for the future of Baseball Press? Any big developments we should get excited about?
Yinger: Considering 30 percent of our viewers are looking at the site on a mobile device, and an iPhone version of our lineup app is the most requested item, the responsive design for the site is the most exciting thing for us. After that, we'll be looking at adjusting the My Lineup page to allow owners to add multiple teams, but our readers keep us on our toes, so a lot of it depends on you.
Posted by Jack Weiland at 3:02am
There are dozens of ways to customize a fantasy baseball league. Whether it is roto or points, head-to-head or cumulative, daily or weekly, keeper or non-keeper, mixed league or AL/NL only, you get the point. After making those decisions, you must decide how many teams to include in the league and then set roster limits including positions and the number of bench players allowed. After all of that, a decision that is often taken for granted is whether to allow for DL slots, and if so, how many.
Just like death and taxes are the only things guaranteed in life, injuries are all but assured in a fantasy baseball league. We see it almost every day where players go down with injuries, which wreaks havoc on major league teams as well as millions of fantasy baseball players. In actual baseball, teams can place their players on the disabled list where they remain safe and sound until they can come back. On fantasy teams, it isn't always so easy.
Depending on the number of teams and size of rosters in your league, the free agent pool tends to be lacking sufficient replacements when a player gets injured. That is why some leagues opt to not allow for DL slots at all. Sure, not having a DL slot creates drama, intrigue and true strategic planning when deciding whether to hold on to a player. But if a fantasy manager elects to build his bench with players at certain positions, he may not be able to replace that injured player without deviating from his strategy.
That is not to say that fantasy players are entitled to stay committed to the plans they made in the offseason or during the draft. But if we want to truly replicate some semblance of reality in our fantasy games, players need the flexibility to be able to stash certain injured players without being at the expense of someone else. This is why I advocate having DL slots available. But how many?
Deciding how many DL slots are available would logically be based on the number of teams in the league and the size of the rosters. One would think that the more teams and the bigger the rosters, the fewer DL spots a league should have. That does make some sense. But it also makes sense even if it is a smaller league with more limited rosters. Regardless of how many teams are in the league, it is advisable not to let fantasy players hoard injured players. I understand that teams are permitted to allocate their FAAB dollars or waiver positions however they want. But looking at the bigger picture and what is best for the league, the free agent pool should remain as viable as possible for as long as possible.
Most leagues I have participated in have a limit of three DL slots. I think this is a fair number to allow teams the flexibility to stash players who get injured, or even acquire players already injured. If a team sustained more than three injuries at a time, then it becomes a strategic decision who to hold on to and who to let go. This likely won't be an easy decision, but it is something that must be made to keep the size of rosters in check while also maximizing the free agent pool as much as possible.
The decision to have DL slots and the number permissible is something each league must decide. Some leagues prefer to play with the teams they drafted and not have any transactions at all. But if this is a point of contention in your league, it is advisable to settle on three DL slots because it is enough to compensate for a rash of injuries and few enough to prevent excessive hoarding of injured players.
Posted by Michael Stein at 3:01am
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