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Thursday, August 07, 2008
Before we start, I'd like to apologize for the lack of articles of late. We should be getting back to a more regular routine here. That being said, let's get started!
Supply and demand in keeper leagues
Last month, I discussed the fantasy baseball trade market and the merits of buying early and selling late from an economic standpoint.
While I discussed why this is a good idea, I did warn that it isn't always the correct course of action.
No league's trading market is exactly the same, but I hope the concepts we discussed today can help you to evaluate your specific league's trading market. Factor everything in, and if it seems like now is a more favorable time to buy than a few months from now will be, then do it!
One example of where this might not be the best idea is in keeper leagues, where the trade market can be much different than in redraft leagues.
In keeper leagues, by this time of year, teams are either playing to win this year or playing for next year. Those who are playing to win this year will be seeking players that can help them right now and should be willing to give up younger players who are keepable (depending on the league's setup, of course). Conversely, those playing for next year will be looking to trade off their non-keepable players for younger, keepable ones.
While everyone in a keeper league is still active at this time, those who are out of contention in redraft leagues basically pack it in and stop paying attention. Even those who still are paying attention, though, probably aren't seeking trades as actively as their keeper league counterparts. And those who are won't be trading their Alex Rodriguez for Jay Bruce, a trade that would make a lot of sense in certain keeper leagues.
In redraft leagues, teams can't usually be classified as "buyers" or "sellers." In keeper leagues, however, we can do just this. Because we see these two very distinct classifications of teams, there are a number of ideal trade partners, changing the dynamic of the trade market drastically.
When the trade market really starts to get skewed is when there are more of one than the other. Usually there are more sellers (we'll talk about sellers in terms of those selling elite players for the purpose of this article, though the logic works the other way around) than buyers. We rarely see more than half the league (sometimes less than a quarter) still in contention at this point.
See the problem yet? With so many sellers, there will be a ton of top talent available on the trade market. In economic terms, the supply of elite players increases. Here is our supply and demand model from last time altered to show you what happens to price when supply increases.
Remember to look at the point where supply and demand meet. Initially, the price is '5' units. Once supply increases, though (yes, it might look as though the supply is decreasing, but this is how economists show increased supply in these models), we see that price drops (in this instance to '4' units). How far it drops depends on by how much supply actually increases.
In the context of the fantasy baseball trade market, this means that you need to do your selling now and your buying later (the exact opposite of what I recommended in the average redraft leagues).
As teams start to fall out of contention, we've said that they go from "buyer mode" to "seller mode," increasing the supply of elite players. We've overlooked something, though: Not only does supply increase when a team switches from "buyer mode" to "seller mode," but demand decreases by an equal amount. Check out what happens to price.
In our first graph, price drops to '4' units when only the supply changes. When we account for the change in demand, the price falls even further, to '3.' That's an effect you want to avoid as a seller.
Further pushing us to our decision is that the supply of young, keepable players likely decreases as we approach the trade deadline. Think about it. Early in the year, most teams think they can win and are willing to make trades to help them do so. Once only a few teams are in contention, though, only a few teams will be willing to give up their long-term pieces. The rest will all be holding them, looking to contend next year. The longer we wait, the more teams will pack it in and start preparing for next year, and the fewer players will be available to us in trades.
If you look at the first graph above and imagine what happens when the supply decreases (now we're talking about supply of keepable players), you'll see that price increases. So when more teams start packing it in and those keepable guys come off the market, not only will there be fewer to choose from, but the price for the remaining ones will rise. And that supply will only continue to decrease as your fellow sellers start to make trades for the limited number of keepable players who are still available.
Maybe right now you can get Conor Jackson for Manny Ramirez, but at the deadline it might cost you Manny and C.C. Sabathia.
Therefore, you need to make sure that you are the first to make your trades, even if you aren't getting a deal that you absolutely love. If possible, you should also try to finalize all of your deals in one fell swoop. This is because as soon as you make your first deal, others will feel pressured to start making deals themselves. When they do, the supply of available, keepable players decreases.
If you wait too long, it becomes entirely possible you won't even be able to sell Jose Reyes for much more than a Glen Perkins-type player, as ridiculous as that might sound. This is first because most of the top notch long-term guys will have already been traded, and second because once the teams in contention start acquiring players, there may come a point where they will no longer be willing to give up a top notch long-term piece no matter how good the short-term piece to be acquired is.
A team may trade for Brandon Phillips, Matt Holliday and Jake Peavy and say, "That's enough for me to win. I don't have to give away my entire future." Then, even if you come along offering Reyes, if they're content with their team to the point that they don't want to trade you Evan Longoria and instead will only offer Perkins, you're screwed.
Of course, this is less likely to happen when dealing with an intelligent owner in a competitive league. An intelligent owner will see his opponents acquiring top notch players as well and realize that, even if he has just gotten Phillips, Holliday and Peavy, he really hasn't gained much of an advantage over the guy who got Carlos Lee, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. The problem will still remain, however, that he might not be able to offer the type of player you're looking for simply because he doesn't have any left.
My recent situation
In my favorite keeper league, I decided this past week that I likely couldn't win the league. I had a number of high-priced veterans I knew I wouldn't be able to keep next year, so I made some quick moves to trade a few of them. My first of these moves was trading Mark Teixeira, James Shields and Joakim Soria for Joey Votto, Mat Gamel and a minor league draft pick.
There were some owners who really gave me a hard time about this trade. Some thought I gave up way too much, while others thought I threw in the towel too early. The thing is, though, I had already traded for big name guys like Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday, Edinson Volquez and Soria over the past six weeks. My team had been hit hard with injuries this year, and I was still only in fifth place, 20 points out of first. I managed to get those players by giving away only one long-term piece, but to acquire any more I knew I would have to give up something significant.
I saw that owners who were definitely out of it were beginning to shop their players around. I knew that even if I were to trade for another two or three top-notch guys, it might amount to nothing since my opponents (who were all already ahead of me) would likely be acquiring these types of guys as well. The only way I could have had a shot at winning was by trading away basically my entire future for several more high quality guys, and even then, I was nowhere near assured of a championship.
I noted that I already had several excellent long-term pieces and adding a few more would give me a huge advantage going into 2009. The combination of all of these things amounted to me deciding that it was best to pack it in this year and stack my team for next year. I could have waited longer to make the decision, as one owner said I should have done, but my options were limited, and waiting likely would have cost me greatly.
Of the five other owners in contention, one seemed close to throwing in the towel (creating a new seller) and didn't want to trade his most valuable long-term pieces. Another never seems open to trading, and another was the one I acquired Votto and Gamel from (the best deal I could work out of him). Also, I knew that this owner was in talks to acquire Alex Rodriguez and that Votto could be included. This left just two other potential trading partners, neither of whom had a major league player the caliber of Votto or a prospect the caliber of Gamel (or many long-term players I liked at all, for that matter).
This made my decision to make the trade easy, even if it looked shaky on the surface, especially since I still had Reyes, Crawford, Holliday, Brian McCann, Carlos Lee, Carlos Guillen and Albert Pujols with whom to try to make additional trades. (I will likely end up keeping at least two or three of them).
I relayed this example to you to show you that you need to put away your preconceptions about value. Value is a relative term, and if this type of deal is the best you can get, and you know that by waiting the quality of the deal will only worsen, you have to do it.
Don't sell yourself too short
While seemingly overpaying a little can be the right move, make sure not to sell yourself too short. Going back to our hypothetical situation where the best we could get for Jose Reyes is Glen Perkins, depending on the exact conditions, I probably would not make this trade, even if that meant getting nothing for Reyes.
If other owners see that you are willing to sell a top-notch player very, very short and don't realize that these kinds of concepts drove you to the decision, in the future they will be much less likely to offer you a real deal, thinking (knowing?) that they can get away with it. Seeing you get nothing for Reyes rather than trade him for scratch will show them that you can't be pushed around.
Tailor these concepts to your league
Now, of course, there are all kinds of keeper leagues with an infinite number of unique setups. This article was tailored more toward leagues where each team is able to keep only a very select number of players or where keepers are determined in some way by their previous season's auction value.
As I've said before, make sure you examine your specific league's trading market and decide from there whether you should make your trades now or wait until closer to the trade deadline. Examine all aspects of your league and make sure to account for supply and demand and for elasticity and you should be fine.
Posted by Derek Carty at 3:03pm (0) Comments
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Last week, I talked about the fantasy baseball trade market and economics of keeper leagues. I talked about how, as the trade deadline approaches in a keeper league, only a few teams will be in contention. The other teams will be looking to trade off their non-keepable commodities, creating a larger supply of these players than there is demand for them, dragging down the price.
The trade deadline is fast approaching for most leagues, either this weekend or next. If you're out of contention and haven't traded off those players you don't plan to keep, you might be experiencing some difficulty doing so. Is it too late? Fortunately for you, the answer is "no," as long as you play your cards right.
In my favorite keeper league, I've been looking to trade Brian McCann, Jose Reyes, and Matt Holliday (though they are all borderline keepable in this format). Earlier today, I received an offer of Eddie Guardado for McCann. Laughable, right? Well, this owner had read my piece last week, knew that the deadline was noon tomorrow, and knew that there were only two or three other teams I could possibly trade McCann to, so he thought that this was at least a respectable starting offer.
Regardless, within a half hour I'd talked him up to McCann and Holliday for Corey Hart. Here's how things transpired up until that point:
He tried to say that with the deadline almost upon us, he didn't have to give up anyone good because if I didn't make a trade within a few hours, I'd have to take whatever I could get. To this, I told him that I was prepared to sit on my players unless I got an offer I was happy about. I said that I would rather take a small hit now in order to make a statement that in the future, people would know that they can't low-ball me and get away with it. And I was absolutely prepared to do it if necessary.
I also told him that I had decent deals on the table with a couple of other owners that I was considering taking. I then explained to him that even if he overpays a little, giving a little bit more than what he wanted would still be the right move. He would be getting quality players and keeping them away from his competition. I said that if I were to trade Reyes, Holliday and McCann to a competitor, it would be nearly impossible for him to win. I told him that even if it was a strict defensive trade, it was worth it. That he'd be the one getting several top-notch players only sweetened it for him.
So he bumped his offer up to Hart for McCann and Holliday. This offer was not what I was hoping for, but it was good enough for my next move. I went to another owner in my league who I knew had interest in these players and told him that I had a couple of deals on the table that would send two of these players to one of his rivals (leaving out the specifics of how many potential deals I had in place, with who, and which players were involved). I explained everything I told the first owner to him as well, and after some persuading landed a deal I was very happy about. The final deal:
Matt Holliday and Jose Reyes
Jason Bay and Ryan Ludwick (both at great prices), a first and second round pick in next year's minor league draft, and a collection of prospects (Mike Moustakas, Austin Jackson, Eric Patterson and Wes Hodges)
I'd say that's a substantial step up from McCann for Guardado. The only downside is that with this trade, it seems unlikely I'll be able to trade McCann to anyone but one owner, and he has been reluctant to trade. I asked if he had interest in Holliday, McCann or Reyes and he gave a simple "no" and ended it, typical of how he handles all of our short-lived negotiations.
I'm desperately hoping he loses because of this trade and comes to his senses next year. He might be my only option, though, as the first owner is in a distant third and will likely deem himself out of contention now. I told him, though, that he needed to step up his offer or risk standing pat and losing the league.
While I still believe that selling earlier is a good idea, waiting until the very last minute can also work as long as teams don't deplete themselves of keepable players before then. This becomes a matter of inspecting your league early on and projecting how the market will shake out. As long as you handle things right, though, the pendulum can swing back even at this late point in time and give you the leverage back. This is due to elasticity, a concept we've talked about before as well. Owners will be more willing to overpay if they have no time to find a substitute, which happens in the hours before the trade deadline.
So as your own deadline is approaching, if you haven't done your selling yet, I'd highly recommend taking this approach. Really drill into your opponents' heads that if they don't trade for your guys, their opponents will do so and leave them in the dust. I must have repeated some variation of this at least five times to each owner so that they understood.
If anyone ends up pursuing this strategy, I'd love to hear your story. Just shoot me an e-mail.
EDIT: This morning, right before the deadline, I managed to swing a trade with the owner who previously had said he had no interest in Reyes, Holliday, or McCann. With Reyes and Holliday going to his biggest competitor, he wanted McCann. Another owner did as well, so I played them off of each other just a bit and managed to get Jonathan Sanchez, Max Scherzer (under a very valuable minor league contract), and a minor league draft pick. Not bad for a guy who I thought I might be stuck with.
Another lesson: once you trade off one of your guys, his competitors will feel the pressure and might up their offer for your other guys.
Posted by Derek Carty at 10:01pm (0) Comments
Monday, August 18, 2008
Just a quick post to draw your attention to the main site for my latest article, titled "On Curveballs". It tackles curveballs using PITCHf/x data: the different types of curves, where it is best to locate curves, and some other stuff I found interesting. Read it over if you're interested, although there is nothing directly related to fantasy baseball in there. I will probably be referring to it in player analysis going forward, but you needn't try to remember all the minutia of it. I'll point out what's important from it in each player analysis.
Posted by Derek Carty at 10:26am (0) Comments
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
What's wrong with Johan Santana? This question seems to be on the minds of many Mets fan and likely quite a few fantasy owners.
Note: There is a fair amount of things we'll examine, especially when we get to Santana's PITCHf/x data. If you're interested in cutting to the chase and just seeing the conclusions, I'm going to begin including a new section at the end that summarizes what we find.
+------+---------+-------+----+------+----------+-----------+-----+------+------+-------+ | YEAR | LAST | FIRST | W | ERA | LIPS ERA | DIPS WHIP | K/9 | BB/9 | xGB% | BABIP | +------+---------+-------+----+------+----------+-----------+-----+------+------+-------+ | 2004 | Santana | Johan | 20 | 2.61 | 3.06 | 1.00 | 10.5| 2.1 | 39 | 0.252 | | 2005 | Santana | Johan | 16 | 2.87 | 3.02 | 1.04 | 9.3 | 1.8 | 38 | 0.265 | | 2006 | Santana | Johan | 19 | 2.77 | 3.25 | 1.04 | 9.4 | 1.8 | 41 | 0.273 | | 2007 | Santana | Johan | 15 | 3.33 | 3.30 | 1.09 | 9.7 | 2.1 | 37 | 0.275 | | 2008 | Santana | Johan | 10 | 2.89 | 3.66 | 1.21 | 7.6 | 2.5 | 43 | 0.276 | +------+---------+-------+----+------+----------+-----------+-----+------+------+-------+
On the surface, things look alright for Santana. The 2.89 ERA is great, although just 10 wins is causing some grief for Mets fans. Some of the slightly more rational ones realize that the low win total isn't Santana's fault, rationalizing that he's doing his job by posting the 2.89 ERA.
These fans would be partially right in that the bullpen has blown a number of leads. Metsblog notes that "[The bullpen has] also blown leads in six, including four of the last five, of Santana’s 24 starts this season, which is one more than the Twins bullpen accumulated in his last 100 starts with them."
The team's offense has, however, provided 5.14 runs of support to Santana but just 4.82 to the team as a whole. Metsblog also makes note, though, that the team "has scored less than three runs or less in 33 percent of his starts this season." So while the average run support number is good, there is huge variation in it. In the starts where the variation is on the low end, Santana is nearly assured of not getting a win.
Overall, the win total seems like a little bit of bad luck combined with overblown expectations from Mets fans. For a pitcher to reach 20 wins—likely what fans were expecting—a pitcher not only needs to pitch well and play for a good team but get quite lucky on top.
The real problem, though, for those who are really playing attention, is that Santana's 2.89 ERA is very lucky. His LIPS ERA shows that Santana should actually have a 3.66 ERA. Imagine what people would be saying if that's where his actual ERA was right now! The thing is, though, it would be a huge mistake to expect an ERA under 3.00 going forward.
So why is the LIPS ERA so high? The culprit is the 7.6 K/9. Santana is striking out two fewer batters per game than he was last year, and that is a major problem. He's also walking a few more batters, but his BB/9 is still at a decent level.
The reason his actual ERA is so low is because, despite the lower K/9, Santana has managed to keep his BABIP at his usual, exceptional level. Very few pitchers can keep a BABIP below .290, but Santana is one of them. It's possible it should be closer to league average and he's just getting lucky since his skills have fallen off, but I wouldn't say it is a certainty it will regress that far. As long as Santana can keep the BABIP better than league average, his ERA should always be projected to be better than his LIPS ERA.
Still, his career high 80 percent Left On Base Percentage (LOB%) means that his ERA is too low despite the BABIP and will rise going forward. Not as high as his 3.66 LIPS ERA, but it will rise (holding all else constant). Further cause for concern is his 6.1 K/9—ewww—since the beginning of July, though we are looking at a sample size of just 47.3 innings.
It's clear that Santana isn't himself this year, however you want to look at it. His K/9 is down, but what is causing it? Back at the end of May, the following quote appeared on ESPN (hat tip Hot Foot)
Said an AL scout who has seen Santana this month: “His stuff isn’t even close to what it was [with the Twins].”
Let's use PITCHf/x to check the validity of this statement and to see if we can figure out what's going on with Johan. First, his movement.
+-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+ | PITCH | % | % vs LHB | % vs RHB | SPEED | MOVEMENT_X | MOVEMENT_Z | runs100 | +-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+ | FB | 51 | 59 | 48 | 92.7 | 7.11 | 11.70 | -0.8 | | SK | 10 | 6 | 11 | 92.4 | 8.47 | 8.84 | 1.0 | | SL | 14 | 29 | 9 | 84.7 | 2.74 | 5.01 | -2.3 | | CH | 25 | 6 | 32 | 82.5 | 8.54 | 7.71 | -1.1 | +-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+
+-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+ | PITCH | % | % vs LHB | % vs RHB | SPEED | MOVEMENT_X | MOVEMENT_Z | runs100 | +-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+ | FB | 38 | 44 | 36 | 92.9 | 5.07 | 10.76 | 0.1 | | SK | 23 | 19 | 25 | 92.7 | 7.31 | 7.75 | -1.3 | | SL | 14 | 28 | 8 | 84.6 | -0.54 | 4.50 | 0.8 | | CH | 24 | 9 | 31 | 81.2 | 6.33 | 7.96 | -2.6 | +-------+-----+----------+----------+-------+------------+------------+---------+
Very distinct, noticeable differences between his 2007 movement and his 2008 movement—some good, some bad.
He's getting less rise and less horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball, several of which aren't moving at all horizontally. The same could be said about the change-up except that it's getting a bit less sink. On a positive note, he has managed to add an additional 1.5 MPH difference between the two.
Furthermore, the slider is clearly improved. Last year it actually broke towards a left-handed batter (read Josh Kalk's recent piece on Gavin Floyd for some talk about sliders like this). This year it's breaking away from them, as most good sliders do. The sinker looks to be improved as well, getting more sink (albeit at the expense of less horizontal movement).
Santana's 2008 chart almost looks as if the 2007 chart was duplicated and an extra clump of each pitch amended to the left side of each cluster. Seems like the AL scout quoted above was onto something as far as the four-seamer and change-up go. As far as the two-seamer and slider go, not so much, although most scouting reports I've read don't seem to acknowledge the two-seamer (instead just saying he throws a fastball).
This is understandable because last year the two weren't easy to distinguish between. I only realized Santana threw two fastballs after reading a Mike Fast piece over the off-season and an interview with Santana he linked to. They were difficult to pick apart, though, even going start by start, so the classifications of the two aren't perfect.
It's interesting to note that, despite the improved slider, he's getting worse results with it in terms of runs100—0.8 in 2008 and -2.3 in 2007 (lower is better). I thought this might be because runs100 doesn't account for BABIP and he simply got unlucky, but when I looked at runs100 on balls not put in play, it was still worse. This could mean—ignoring some of the other possible issues, like runs100 being somewhat context driven or it simply being random fluctuation or bad luck—that the increased movement is unintentional and that Santana hasn't figured out how to use this different slider.
Not only is Santana's slider getting better movement, it looks as though he's locating it better too. I haven't conducted any studies on slider location yet, but I did do one on curveballs recently. Against same-handed batters, curveballs are best thrown away and kept away from the middle-third of the zone. Down and in is the worst place to throw a curveball.
While sliders aren't curveballs, they are similar, and I suspect we'll find at least somewhat similar results when we look at sliders. For now, let's tentatively say that Santana is locating his slider better than last year, potentially because of that extra movement. He's throwing to the middle 38 percent of the time now (down from 58 percent) and to the outside 57 percent (up from 33 percent).
Judging by this, I'd say it's very possible that Santana has just received bad luck with the slider, and this is not a case of not having a good feel for it.
If we look at John Walsh's article on fastball location, we find that for a pitcher with Santana's fastball speed (roughly 92 MPH), there isn't much of a difference in effectiveness for most parts of the strike zone against same-handed batters. In the graph above, the zones with a deeper orange color are the places where there is a difference and where it is worst to throw a fastball. As we see, though, the percentage of pitches Johan threw there last year to this year hasn't changed much at all (a 2 percent increase).
Unfortunately, I haven't seen or conducted any studies on fastball location versus opposite handed batters, but this is something I should be doing soon. For now, you can click here to see the charts, but I won't try to draw any information from them. The same, unfortunately, goes for change-ups, but this is something I'll be looking into in the coming weeks.
Overall, the usage of his pitches is relatively unchanged from 2007 to 2008. He's shifted usage from the four-seam fastball to the two-seamer a bit (understandable given the improvements made to it, which shows up in runs100), but the fastball/slider/change-up usage remains pretty much unchanged overall and to either batter hand. Santana is the prototypical pitcher relying on a fastball to both batters, the slider to lefties and the change-up to righties.
If we look deeper into his usage, though, we can see that he isn't using his pitches exactly the same. Here are links to Santana's relative usage charts by situation (i.e. hitter's count, pitcher's counts, etc.). I know some readers are intimidated by these, so only click if you're interested:
2007 Relative Usage vs. LHB
2008 Relative Usage vs. LHB
2007 Relative Usage vs. RHB
2008 Relative Usage vs. RHB
Note: All percentages I mention in this section, unless otherwise noted, are relative to how the pitcher uses the pitch overall versus the particular batter type. A 50 percent increase does not mean that a 20 percent used pitch is now being used 70 percent of the time; it means it's now being used 30 percent of the time (50 percent of 20 is 10; 20 plus 10 is 30). Also, counts were classified using the numbers from Tangotiger at The Book Blog. Please remember that we are ignoring some context here, so none of the conclusions we draw are absolutely definitive.
Ask almost any scout what Santana's best pitch is, and they'll say it's his change-up. True, it has gotten a little worse this year, but it's still a very good pitch (runs100 has actually improved this year). While his overall usage has remained the same against right-handers, he isn't leveraging it's use very well.
He is using it relatively less frequently than he was last year in two-strike counts (60 percent to 31 percent). In these counts, it would make the most sense to use the change-up more often to get the strikeout. He's also using it relatively less than last year in pitcher's counts (40 percent to 15 percent). It would make sense to use the change-up more here as the batter is closer to getting out and is protecting. I think this could have a lot to do with his struggles.
Furthermore, if we look at his improved sinker (which Santana actually believes is his best pitch), we see the same trends we do with the change-up against righties: less in two-strike and pitcher's counts.
Against lefties, he's using the change an astounding 132 percent more in two-strike counts (putting the actual usage at 21 percent) and 71 percent more in pitcher's counts. He doesn't use it much against lefties overall, but it is a good pitch and runs more than six inches in on them, so if he's set on using it, using it at the most critical juncture is probably as good a time as any. He's also using his sinker more frequently in these counts.
This (in addition to using the four-seamer more in pitchers counts), however, has come at the expense of his slider usage. Last year, in two-strike and pitcher's counts versus lefties, it was the pitch that saw the highest relative increase of any pitch in any count, and this year he's barely using it more at all despite the increased movement and better location.
Against both lefties and righties, he seems to be using his four-seam fastballs a little bit less in hitter's count. Since hitter's are generally expecting a fastball here, this probably has a positive effect, keeping them off balance.
One more potential reason for the decreased strikeout rate is ballpark. David Gassko found in this article that ballparks do have a noticeable affect on strikeouts, likely due to humidity or related factors. Minnesota has one of the highest park factors, inflating strikeouts by 7 percent. Shea deflates strikeouts by 1 percent.
Applying these factors directly to Santana's 2007 K/9, we'd expect it to fall from 9.7 to 9.0. This could explain some of the drop this year, although the move to the National League would have a positive effect and might cancel a good portion of this out.
As you can see, Santana's release point is definitely different in 2008. He is releasing a lot of balls from a lower vertical release point and a few higher. That inconsistent release point could be a driving factor behind the increased walk rate. His 2.5 BB/9 is the highest it's been since 2003, back when the Twins only used to him start 18 out of his 45 appearances and he was just beginning to blossom.
Santana, at age 29, isn't an old man yet, but he's passing his prime and has thrown nearly 1,500 major league innings, and it's very possible that this kind of workload is taking a toll on Santana's arm. Hopefully Chris Neault will be able to shed some more light on Santana from a physical standpoint in the coming days, but for now I think, at the very least, this inconsistency is causing him to be just a little wilder than he was last year.
Summarizing, here are the changes that Santana has made this year (voluntarily or otherwise):
(-) His strikeout rate is down this year and his ERA is somewhat lucky
(+) He's managed to keep his BABIP at his usual low despite the decreased K/9
(+) His slider has improved movement, and he is (most likely) locating it better
(-) He is using the slider less frequently in two-strike and pitcher's counts against LHB
(+) His sinker has improved and he is using it more frequently (in place of four-seamers)
(+) He's using the sinker more against lefties in two-strike and pitcher's counts
(-) He's using the sinker less against righties in two-strike and pitcher's counts
(-) Some of his four-seam fastballs aren't getting much horizontal movement
(-) Some of his change-ups aren't getting much horizontal movement (but it has a better runs100 value)
(+) He's added 1.5 MPH in speed difference between the fastball and change-up
(-) He is using the change-up less frequently in two-strike and pitcher's counts against RHB
(-) Shea should deflate his Ks some, but the move to the NL should prop it back up some
(-) Inconsistent release point could be causing increased BB/9
Overall, things aren't looking as bad for Santana as one might think by looking at his K/9, which is down two points from last year. Two of his pitches are improved, and the other two aren't that much worse.
Some of his trouble seems to stem from usage by situation and location (this might not actually be a problem, but it's possible he isn't locating the fastball or change-up as well as he could be; we just don't know what to look for yet). These types of things are easier to correct than pitch speed or movement. We need to be a little wary of Santana going forward, but the outlook isn't as bad as I'd feared.
Posted by Derek Carty at 8:50pm (0) Comments
Monday, August 25, 2008
Last year around this time, I discussed a few keeper league strategies. One dealt with closers. I'll first restate the theory behind it here, changing a few examples to make them more current. After that, we'll look at how we can put it into practice this year.
Closers in keeper leagues
All keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your league-mates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you.
In these leagues, when auction day or draft day rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven't kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the left-overs... the second tier closers. By default, their price will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Joe Borowski (to take an example from this year) is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $11.
So how do you avoid this? Do you simply punt saves? Do you overpay for a closer? I hope you won't have to do either, that this draft day inflation won't happen. The intelligent owner, though, will prepare—just in case—read the market come draft day, and decide on a course of action.
If you're out of the running this year, the stats you accrue over the remainder of 2008 make no difference to you. You shouldn't have your keepers set in stone yet, although you definitely should have a good idea who they will be. You could, theoretically, drop every player you don't intend to keep, tank, and it wouldn't make an ounce of difference. Of course, I don't advocate this; this type of behavior skews league results. It certainly would anger the rest of your league if you drop a $49 Alex Rodriguez because you decide he's too expensive to keep. Might even get you kicked out before you can smoke them all in 2009!
Knowing this, feel free to drop any overpriced, old, or otherwise unkeepable players (within reason) and pick up some that fall into the next category: middle relievers with the inside track for a closing job. The owners in your league who are in it for this year might be ignoring these guys. Since you are concerned with next year, take the inside track while you can. Any advantage you can get is one worth pursuing, and there are several to be gained this time of year while many of your opponents don't have the flexibility to make moves you can if you're out of the race.
When Salomon Torres gets auctioned for $13 next year, you might be sitting on the Padres' newly anointed closer Heath Bell for $1. The great news is that it won't cost you anything in the short term because you're already out of it! How's that for value?
Of course, there's no way to predict who will be closing next year for certain, but you don't have to. If you're out of it, you just need to play the odds a little bit. Pick up five guys from the next list and, come March, if any of them have been promoted, decide to make that guy a keeper. That'll show the guy who's keeping Joe Nathan for $15.
Last year, the list had a few hits and some definite misses. This is going to happen. Surely you know by now that closer situations can change from week to week. From season to season, things can change even more drastically.
When a team has an entire offseason to make changes and acquire new players, its in-house options often get pushed aside. Teams make choices that don't look to be optimal (think the D-Backs choosing Brandon Lyon over Chad Qualls and Tony Pena this season. Both were on last year's list). This is a no-risk strategy, though, so if you don't hit on anyone, you haven't lost anything. If you do hit, you can reap some great rewards.
I prefer to take the players who have a good shot at the role and who have good skills. Lyon wasn't on the list last offseason, but even if he had been, I wouldn't have chosen him. His skills didn't indicate he would make a good closer. They got better out of nowhere this year, but without knowing the future, Lyon was a poor bet. Even if you correctly choose who will begin the year in the closer's role, if the skills aren't there, he won't last long anyway. I'd rather take a worse percentage play (in terms of strictly getting the role) but know that if the player does get the opportunity to close, he's going to succeed.
All this being said, here is the list:
+------------------+------+---------------------+ | Name | Team | Current Closer | +------------------+------+---------------------+ | Scot Shields | LAA | Francisco Rodriguez | | Jose Arredondo | LAA | Francisco Rodriguez | | Jon Rauch | ARZ | Brandon Lyon | | Chris Ray | BAL | George Sherrill | | Fernando Cabrera | BAL | George Sherrill | | Carlos Marmol | CHC | Kerry Wood | | Rafael Perez | CLE | Jensen Lewis | | Manny Corpas | COL | Brian Fuentes | | Joel Zumaya | DET | Fernando Rodney | | Kyle Farnsworth | DET | Fernando Rodney | | Matt Lindstrom | FLA | Kevin Gregg | | Eric Gagne | MIL | Salomon Torres | | Huston Street | OAK | Brad Zeigler | | Joey Devine | OAK | Brad Zeigler | | Santiago Casilla | OAK | Brad Zeigler | | Heath Bell | SD | Trevor Hoffman | | Chris Perez | STL | Chris Perez | | Dan Wheeler | TB | Troy Percival | | Grant Balfour | TB | Troy Percival | | C.J. Wilson | TEX | Eddie Guardado | | Frank Francisco | TEX | Eddie Guardado | +------------------+------+---------------------+
Looking back on last year's article, I realized that there was little explanation of why certain guys were on the list and which were the better percentage plays. So I thought I'd dissect this better this year, allowing you to understand each specific situation and make better choices. This list will likely change by the end of the year, so maybe I'll revisit this at the very end of the season.
Francisco Rodriguez will be a free agent this offseason and has expressed a willingness to leave the team. With all his saves this year and his history as a dominant reliever, his price tag will be high. If the team doesn't pony up and doesn't sign a replacement closer, Scot Shields has been setting up for years now and has the skills to be a closer. Jose Arredondo has emerged this year and could surpass him, though his skills aren't as good and he doesn't have the seniority.
Brandon Lyon was projected to fall flat on his face to start 2008, and while he had early success, he is struggling now and Jon Rauch could be the closer before 2008 is over. Lyon is a free agent at year's end, so it's possible he will leave Arizona even if he keeps the job the rest of the year.
George Sherrill, the current closer, is on the DL. Jim Johnson is replacing him. Johnson has been incredibly lucky and should struggle. Sherrill's job security had been waning a bit, and his skills aren't really closer-worthy. Former closer Chris Ray should be back next year (could even be back later this year), and it's possible he'll have the opportunity to take his old job back.
If the Orioles don't think he's ready and decide Sherrill isn't the answer, a dark horse candidate is Fernando Cabrera. He's long been said to have electric stuff, but his control has been a problem. His 10.0 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 this year are pretty good, though he's an extreme flyball pitcher (23 percent ground ball rate this year), has a 4.24 ERA, and has just an 0.70 Leverage Index.
Kerry Wood is closing now and pitching exceptionally. He has injury concerns and is under a one-year contract, so it's possible Carlos Marmol will get a chance to close next year. The likelihood of Marmol closing in 2009 is much smaller than it was earlier this year, though. His best chance would be if another team offers Wood money.
This is an all-around messy situation. Jensen Lewis was a very good reliever last year, but has struggled this year. He's closing now, and it's entirely possible he'll enter 2009 as the closer if he doesn't slip up over the next five weeks. It's possible he will, though, making the situation very murky. The most likely scenario might be that the team goes externally to fill the hole; the Indians see this as its highest priority (hat tip Melnick & Greco).
If they don't go externally and Lewis pitches himself out of contention, Rafael Perez might be the choice, though the team has opted to keep him in a setup role numerous times this year. Rafael Betancourt would be a good choice, but his awful luck this year means he probably won't be considered. Edward Mujica is a darkhorse candidate but is a very low probability play.
Brian Fuentes wasn't traded at the deadline, but he'll be a free agent this offseason. It's very unlikely the Rockies will fork over the cash for him. And if they won't for him, they won't be able to bring someone in who's better than Manny Corpas, making Corpas an excellent speculative pickup right now. Taylor Buchholz is hanging around, but Corpas is clearly ahead of him unless he implodes over the next few weeks.
Fernando Rodney simply isn't a closer, and it's likely he'll pitch himself out of a job before year's end. Kyle Farnsworth would likely take over in that case and could keep the job into 2009 (assuming he re-signs with Detroit, which he probably would if he knew he would be the closer). His skills are actually pretty good this year. Joel Zumaya has long been viewed as the closer of the future in Detroit, but he's had lots of injury troubles and his control was awful in his brief time this year. If he looks good in spring training, though, the team could install him as closer right away. Keep in mind that an external option is a definite possibility.
Kevin Gregg is closing in Florida, but his strikeout rate is down this year despite a good ERA. If he doesn't collapse over the next few weeks and isn't traded over the offseason, he'll likely enter 2009 as the closer. Matt Lindstrom had a great 2007, though, and has been excellent since being recalled from the minors a few weeks ago and would make a very good closer if given the opportunity. There's a pretty decent chance he'll be closing sometime in 2009, even if not right away.
Salomon Torres is closing in Milwaukee, but his skills are very borderline for a closer. He has good job security at this point, though, and the team has a club option for 2009, so there's a pretty good chance he'll begin the year closing. Eric Gagne will be a free agent. He has been decent since the middle of July, and if the Brewers don't give him a job, he could be given a chance similar to the one he received this year by another team. Not a great speculative pick, but worth mentioning.
Brad Ziegler is closing in Oakland now, and the team has made it clear that Joey Devine is currently next in line. Ziegler is a great story and a pretty good pitcher, but I don't see him as the long-term closer in Oakland. Many consider Devine as that player, and that future could come at the start of 2009. Huston Street is still around though, and has a history of dominance despite his recent struggles. The team could trade him this offseason if he pitches well the rest of the way, but they'd probably be able to get more for him if he starts 2009 as the closer and turns in a good first half. He might be the best pick of this group.
Trevor Hoffman will be 41 this winter, and his contract runs out at the end of the year. If he wants to come back, the team would likely take him up on it, but if he decides to retire, Heath Bell would be the choice to close (assuming the team doesn't look externally). Bell would make a very good closer.
Chris Perez is already closing in St. Louis, so he's probably not available in your league, but if he somehow is, go get him. He's the favorite to continue closing into 2009, although his control is below average.
Troy Percival is the closer in Tampa Bay and has been excellent this year, but he has just been placed on the DL for the third time. He's under contract for 2009 and almost certainly will be the closer, but with all of his injury concerns, there's a good chance someone else will be able to grab a bunch of saves. If any of his injuries ends up being serious, his 2009 could be over like that, and his replacement would have a chance at a season's worth of saves.
Dan Wheeler is currently closing in place of Percival, but Grant Balfour got the most opportunities the last time he went on the DL. Balfour also is showing the better skills this year. I might give the edge to Wheeler, though, given the current situation. You could pick him up once Percival returns and he is dropped.
Eddie Guardado, not a quality closer by any means, was closing for the Rangers until his trade to Minnesota this week. He was likely to lose the job by the end of the year anyway, and Frank Francisco should take over. Francisco has good skills and is a great speculative pickup for this year.
Next year, Francisco could be the favorite if he gets some chances over the next few weeks, though C.J. Wilson says he's determined to retake his role. He should be healthy by spring training and might be the best pickup here. His skills were pretty bad this year, but the decline could have been injury-related. The team could opt to look externally, but with guys like Wilson, Francisco, and Joaquin Benoit around, I doubt the Rangers would bring in a top tier guy. Maybe just someone to compete.
There is also a set of guys who aren't currently closing but are either former closers or have the skills to close and will be free agents at the end of the year. These guys probably aren't as good bets as many of the above pitchers (some are extreme longshots), but I thought I'd note them anyway. Here are a few: Juan Cruz, Scott Downs, Jason Isringhausen, Chad Cordero (the Nats have said they'll non-tender him), Joe Borowski (haha), Bob Howry, Damaso Marte (option year), Rafael Soriano, Derrick Turnbow, David Weathers.
Teams in the market for closers
In several of the above situations, I noted that the current closer is a solid pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the year. Whether the next guy on the depth chart enters 2009 in a position for saves may depend on whether the current closer gets a better offer elsewhere.
I thought that it would be a good idea to see which teams could be looking externally for a closer. The more teams that will be (and the more money they have), the better the chances for all of those "next in line" types (as well as those listed in the "free agents" section) to be closing next April.
Here is a list of teams that might be looking for a closer.
A decent number, but some of the teams (i.e., Angels, Seattle, Florida) would be looking for a closer only if they lose their current one (K-Rod leaving, Gregg or Putz getting traded). Others, like Milwaukee with Torres or the Dodgers with Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton, might be content. Others, like Washington, probably would want to spend their limited money elsewhere.
Overall, not the most favorable situation for guys like Marmol and Shields, but for guys with talent like this, it still might be the right decision to take them.
This year, if I'm going to pick five potential closers, these would be my choices:
Chris Perez would be on there in place of Shields, but I doubt he's still available in a lot of leagues. I'd also pick C.J. Wilson over Shields if I were more certain his struggles this year were injury-related, and it still might be a mistake not to, given the lack of teams with an obvious need for a closer (meaning K-Rod is more likely to re-sign with LA). Just missing the cut were Wheeler, Marmol and Ray.
I hope this will help some of you in keeper leagues. If you think I forgot anyone or have anything to add, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.
Posted by Derek Carty at 7:38pm (0) Comments
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The stretch run has begun for fantasy leaguers, and at this time of year, every advantage you can gain over your competitor can be crucial. In the FOX Sports Experts League I'm playing in, I failed to capitalize on one such advantage on Monday that hopefully you can learn from.
It's currently a two-horse race for first: me and Nicholas Minnix from KFFL. I believe I've set myself up very well to win the league, but there are still some precautions I need to take to ensure this victory. Monday, I wasn't able to take one of these precautions.
The Texas Rangers announced Monday that they would call up Nelson Cruz. For those who haven't noticed, Cruz has posted a .343 batting average, 37 home runs and 24 steals in 370 Triple-A at-bats this year. With a chance to earn regular playing time for the Rangers, Cruz could have significant value over the next five weeks.
I had my eye on Cruz for a while and had been debating picking him up, but I didn't have room for dead weight (only three bench spots and I needed them for pitching) and was waiting for him to be recalled. Once I heard he had been recalled, I wasn't near a computer and didn't have the opportunity to get to one until it was too late. In not picking up Cruz myself, I allowed Nicholas to pick him up.
Here's how I would have liked things to play out, even if I decided that Cruz couldn't help me.
The optimal course of action
I was already planning on dropping someone Monday night to pick up Jorge de la Rosa for his start on Tuesday. I should have dropped that player (whomever I decided it would be) and picked up Cruz when the news on his promotion was released on Monday afternoon. Even if I had no intention of keeping Cruz, I could have immediately dropped him for de la Rosa, and the net effect on my team would have been exactly the same.
Cruz, however, would have been placed on waivers. Since Nicholas had recently used his waiver claim on Grant Balfour following Troy Percival's third trip to the DL, Nicholas was now 12th in line, at the very end. Cruz would have had to make it through the entire league before Nicholas had the opportunity to grab him. Also, I would have had the option to put in a claim myself if I deemed it necessary, though I'm not sure it would have been (and really, I could have just kept Cruz to begin with if that was my intention. Still, it would have been an option).
Unfortunately, things didn't play out this way, which leaves me trying to figure out how this could affect the standings.
Assessing the damage
Overall, I don't think this move should do much damage.
Even if Cruz posts a 10.0 AB/HR as he did in Triple-A (unlikely) and gets 100 at-bats the rest of the way (four at-bats per game, five games per week, for the next five weeks—somewhat likely), that would still leave him with just 10 home runs. Cruz replaced Jed Lowrie on Nicholas's roster, so optimistically, that might be a net eight- or nine-homer gain.
For a more realistic estimate, let's check out Jeff Sackman's MLE (Minor League Equivalency) calculator at Minor League Splits. This gives Cruz an expected 7.5 homers given 100 at-bats (and maybe a net 6 HR over Lowrie). And that's ignoring the fact that Cruz is 28 years old and has played in the Pacific Coast League each year since 2004, amassing 754 at-bats before counting those in 2008 (as a side note, this age adjustment seems like the next logical step for MLEs, and I know others have talked about it in the recent past).
Nicholas is 10 homers away from gaining one point and 17 away from two points. Holding all else constant, grabbing Cruz should give him only one point in homers, at most—and that's if Cruz gets a little lucky.
Nicholas is 62 RBI away from another point, so no worries there. He's already leading in steals and runs, so he won't gain any points there either (though having Cruz will help him hold off the trailing teams). There is a little concern with batting average, especially since I'm directly ahead of him so if he passes me it's a two-point swing, but I should be fine unless Cruz absolutely tears it up (and a 77 percent contact rate means that his average should drop off a bit in the majors).
For what it's worth, I actually ran through this exact evaluation (I've spared some of the details) a couple of weeks ago when I was deciding if I should jump the gun on Cruz. I decided that most likely the potential damage wasn't great enough to call for it. However, we all know that fluctuation is a big part of baseball, so Cruz could end up besting his expected numbers.
Hopefully this all won't amount to anything, but it wasn't a good situation, regardless. This seems like it might be sort of a rare scenario, but if you find yourself in a similar situation, definitely consider my plan. Even if you don't find yourself in a similar situation, hopefully this will show you the kind of thinking that needs to go into your stretch-run strategy.
In the majority of leagues, the time for trades and elaborate planning is mostly over, but little moves like this can make a lot of difference. Imagine what could have happened to me if Nicholas was closer to gaining points in those offensive categories and Cruz does end up on the kind side of fluctuation? Finding 10 homers, 10 steals, 20 RBI, 20 runs and .002 points of batting average, even at this late date, would go a long way in many leagues.
Posted by Derek Carty at 10:00pm (0) Comments
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Now is the time of the fantasy baseball season where seasons can easily be won and lost on critical roster add/drops. In head-to-head leagues, this is paramount, as weekly playoff rounds can easily be decided by a talented player who is just returning from a lengthy absence. Looking at the talent pool that is likely widely available in 12-plus team leagues, here are some guys to target as well as a breakdown of their respective injuries and the potential impact going forward through the end of the regular season:
Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore: When Jones hit the DL due to a fractured foot in early August, he was cast to the waiver wire in a ton of leagues. His foot is now fully healed, he has no pain, and he should not be affected negatively as it pertains to his ability to produce fantasy-wise. If anything, he may experience some normal soreness associated with getting the joints in the foot to move in synchrony once again. The Orioles plan to activate him on Monday (9/1), so the time to add him is now. Those in mixed leagues should take a chance on him—especially owners who have recently been dealt a blow to their outfield depth by the injuries to Carl Crawford or Carlos Lee. It is also important to note that he is keeper league material. Expect a fair share of strikeouts, but he will be also chip in with a few more homers and a handful of steals before the season is done.
Ryan Church, OF, New York Mets: Church is doing well in his return from an extended DL stay and has had no flare-up of post-concussion symptoms. The Mets need to hold off the Phillies in the NL East race, and a healthy Ryan Church is a definite stabilizer to their lineup. While posting a batting average of at least .299 in every month this season except June (and the 1 game in March), Church has been a steady producer while healthy. August has seen him go 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles and a steal, to go along with a respectable .364 OBP. The power will be the next thing to return.
Alexi Casilla, 2B, Minnesota: He has hit safely in 6 of 8 games since returning from the DL, though that has only resulted in a .176 average in August. It was initially feared that Casilla would require season-ending surgery on his right thumb, but rest and immobilization allowed him to return. It is possible that he is still sore, or perhaps guarding a bit and not letting loose at the plate. He had been a .300 hitter all season long, so once he gets comfortable at the plate, watch the average rise. Don’t expect much else other than some multi-single games and some runs scored. He is more of a replacement player than a true starter in fantasy circles, though he is definitely a starter in AL-only leagues.
Hideki Matsui, OF, New York Yankees: Godzilla is usually a great source of BA, OBP, and hits, but temper your expectations as he is dealing with chronic pain in his left knee. He has managed two home runs in 32 August at-bats, and he will have an opportunity to drive in some runs in a potent lineup as the team’s DH. Just remember that he needs surgery on his knee, so a flare-up of symptoms could easily occur at any time. If New York is eliminated from postseason contention, he will probably shut it down.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pittsburgh: After a torrid July where he hit .390/.472/.805 with 30 hits, seven HR, and 18 RBI, LaRoche was sent to the DL with a lower back/intercostal (rib) strain. He went on a minor league rehab assignment and promptly cracked a home run in his first rehab assignment game, and has not stopped hitting upon his return in August. Though his average has taken a nose dive to .265 in 49 August at-bats, he has managed three HR and seven RBI. The epitome of a second-half performer (career .298 BA and .901 OPS after the break), he is a must-add in even the shallowest of mixed leagues.
Elijiah Dukes, OF, Washington: Dukes suffered a partial tear to his right meniscus and patellar tendon. He had surgery on July 7, and has made a successful return to the starting lineup. Since his Aug. 27 return, he has gone 3-for-7 with two HR and six RBI. He has the ability to run hot and cold for extended periods, but you might as well ride this out, because he has outstanding talent and power to boot.
Matt Capps, CL, Pittsburgh: The Pirates aren’t winning much lately, so the save opportunities may be limited, but if you are starving for a closer, Capps at least is capable of providing stellar ERA and WHIP. The right shoulder issues are under control and should not hinder him again this season.
None of these guys are going to be worth adding in most leagues, but in AL/NL only leagues they may be of some value, depending on your situation:
Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Texas: Not much power left, he’s always a risk to hit the DL with his plethora of interrelated injuries, but he can get on hot streaks that last for weeks. Hopefully, the position change helps. For fantasy owners, it at least gives them a reason to add him for roster flexibility.
Joe Crede, 3B, Chicago White Sox: For owners in need of power only. He has been dealing with low back pain this season after having offseason back surgery, and there is no guarantee that he will be able to play out the remainder of the season. If you’re trying to catch up in the batting average category, you should ignore him entirely, but if you have a 3B/CI spot open, and need to catch up quickly in the HR/RBI categories, he could be of some help.
Carl Pavano, SP, New York Yankees: Wins—and that’s about it. For AL-only owners, you could probably do worse. The Yankees have to be furious at this ridiculous contract. Is this the year he gets his career W-L record over .500 for his career (currently at 63-64)?
Luis Castillo, 2B, New York Mets: He’s not guaranteed regular playing time against lefties, but when in the lineup, he should emerge as a good source of runs, hits, and some cheap steals. He is normally money in the bank for a .295-.300 average, so you just have to figure he’ll find his groove down the home stretch.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Toronto: If you’re an AL-only owner looking for a player to fill a corner infield position who can nab you some cheap RBI, Rolen is serviceable but not spectacular. My oh my, how the years have flown by. It seems like only yesterday when Rolen was one of the league’s most-feared hitters (i.e. 2004: 34 HR, 124 RBI, .314/.409/.598).