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Saturday, November 01, 2008
I, like many people, went to see The Dark Knight in theaters over the summer. My personal opinion on the movie was that is was good, but not as good as it was hyped to be. Although I doubt any movie could live up to the amount of hype Batman received.
It was a long movie and it felt long. Christian Bale's voice in costume was annoyingly deep and the sequence of events in the movie seemed somewhat irrational to me. Things just sort of happened without any explanation as to how, but I just went along with it to enjoy the movie.
I must admit that Heath Ledger was amazing and single-handedly made the movie with his demeanor and clever lines. Even though I have included Batman in another article of mine, I would not consider myself a Batman, fan by the way. I didn't even see the prequel.
Anyway, one scene did resonate in me even after the movie ended. It was when the Joker was talking to the injured Harvey Dent in the hospital room, right after the explosion that killed Rachel and injured Harvey. One line of the Joker's in particular stood out and it went like this:
The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars... I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things. I'm just the wrench in the gears. I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone's. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I'm not a schemer, I show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.
"What does this have to do with fantasy baseball?" you might be asking. I could relate this quote to a lot of aspects of fantasy baseball, but it fits best with drafting strategy, something you would know I focus on if you've been reading my season reviews.
Relating to baseball
Re-read the last two sentences of the quote—the ones on schemers trying to control everything. Now think of your strategy during drafts. Generally speaking, you probably go into a draft with either no idea of who you want to take (winging it) or specific targets mapped out for each round. You create a scheme and try to control everything. The problem with this strategy, which I will call over-preparing, is that if one piece of the plan falls apart, a domino effect can occur that ruins your entire draft.
Let's say you are targeting a third baseman in round number seven, right before a large drop-off in talent in your opinion. Some players you are targeting (it's last year) are Garrett Atkins, Chipper Jones, and your safety net of Ryan Zimmerman. Well, the seventh round rolls along and two picks before you, Zimmerman is taken. Ouch. This was your predetermined slot to take a third baseman and now its ruined!
Either you reach for the next ranked third baseman, which in this case would be Adrian Beltre, or you quickly change tactics and take a starting pitcher because Aaron Harang has somehow dropped this far. Now you have an extra pitcher and a hole at third base. Looking at your strategy sheet, for the next round—round eight, a starting pitcher is suggested. Great. The last thing you need is another pitcher so you improvise on the spot again and select Adrian Beltre or Mike Lowell or Alex Gordon even though you don't really want to.
The meticulously planned draft becomes strikingly similar to the "winged" one.
I'm not one to denounce something without providing a solution, so here's my take on drafting: find some middle ground. Over-plan before the draft but become so comfortable with drafting—from every position—that you don't even need to look at a cheat sheet or have the Hardball Times stats page open during it. Feel the draft, if you know what I mean. Have some sort of general strategy or plan, but make it flexible.
Flexible does not mean having a backup plan that is just another strict plan. For example, do not have in mind, "I like Roy Halladay here, but if he gets taken Carlos Zambrano or Roy Oswalt would be fine too". Flexible is adjusting to the draft as it is happening.
If shortstops are going fast, decide either to jump aboard the train and take a shortstop early, or to wait on the position, hoping a steal falls because most teams already own one shortstop and hopefully will not select a second.
Develop strong and mild likes and dislikes for players. If you think that Ryan Braun is garbage and has just been getting lucky the past two years, then actively avoid him. However, if you are stuck between two players, one whom you mildly dislike and the other you mildly like (let's say Adam Dunn and Felix Hernandez, respectively), and you're shallow in the outfield, take Dunn regardless, knowing that your dislike is based on an unsubstantiated hunch that will be right as many times as it is wrong.
Adjusting to the draft as it's happening is a tight rope to walk, and it is easy to fall over either edge into over-adjusting or meticulous following. The hardest part is knowing when your doing it right. If you feel like a draft went perfect, by the way, that is a clear sign you did it wrong. No draft is ever perfect, or at least the odds of you getting every player you targeted are extremely slim. Maybe you should try joining more competitive leagues if that is the case.
One indicator that you are doing it right, and by "it" I mean finding the right balance between following a plan and adjusting, is that after several drafts you should have somewhat varying rosters. Perhaps a certain core group of players tends to find itself on a majority of your teams, but the rest of the players—the ones you did not have as strong an opinion on—vary from team to team, depending on which core players you were able to get.
The big thing is realizing that no draft is perfect and all drafts require in-game adjustments. When you become a schemer and try to control everything, as the Joker shows us, you often end up controlling nothing.
Posted by Paul Singman at 12:01am (0) Comments
Monday, November 03, 2008
After a disappointing 2007 season, Manny Ramirez was a big question mark coming into 2008. However, Manny hit more or less like the Manny of past for the Red Sox before having an interesting run of events with them. After being traded to the Dodgers, he had one of the hottest stretches in recent memory, helping lead the Dodgers to the playoffs. Manny will be a tough player to evaluate for teams and fantasy owners alike. Fantasy owners will have a little easier time since they don't have to worry about defense, but he still remains a difficult player to value.
YEAR AGE TEAM PA CT% UBB% ISO GB% FB% LD% HR/FB% 2006 34 BOS 558 81.8 15.1 0.298 35.2 35.2 23.1 23.9 2007 35 BOS 569 83.8 10.2 0.197 30.6 30.6 24.8 12.9 2008 36 BOS 425 79.8 10.4 0.230 31.9 31.9 20.8 18.8 2008 36 LAD 229 83.4 8.3 0.347 35.3 36.6 24.8 30.6
Most of Manny's skill indicators remained the same during his ridiculous run with the Dodgers. However, he was doing incredible damage when he made contact with the ball, including a .373 BABIP and 30.6% HR/FB with the Dodgers. Manny hasn't really shown an ability to sustain a BABIP this high and that should obviously regress. While Manny's skills haven't really shown any growth, they haven't shown any serious decline either, which is a good thing when you're talking about a 36 year-old player.
If Manny stays healthy, you should be able to expect 25-30 HR and 100+ RBI from him. However, given his age, there is the chance of a sudden and sharp decline, which we'll talk about a little later. The problem with Manny is that other owners are going to be expecting something similar to his 2008 season. Manny is a great hitter but that might be expecting a little too much. Manny's 2008 season would probably be a better estimate of his upside rather than his mean expectation.
Manny's risk lies mainly in two areas: age and burnout.
Experience: Very low risk. We don't really need to worry about this with Manny.
Playing time: Very low risk. If Manny stays healthy, he will get almost all of the at-bats at his position with the occasional day off to rest.
Skill risk: Low risk. As mentioned before, there haven't really been any indicators in his skill set that suggest Manny might drop off.
Age: Very high risk. While Manny hasn't really shown any signs of aging, he will still be 37 next year. As he continues to age into his late thirties, the chances of a performance or health collapse will continue to grow higher and higher.
Burnout: High risk. Manny's age contributes to his burnout risk. While Manny seems like a guy who coasts at times (okay a lot of the time), this is a guy who has been bothered by nagging injuries in the past. Manny did manage to come to the plate 654 times last year but let's not forget 2006 and 2007, when he averaged only 564 plate appearances.
Overall risk: Medium. I wouldn't be too worried about Manny's skill set. However, I would worry about Manny's age and the chances of a burnout, which might be too much risk for someone to take Manny early, depending on their risk aversion. There is also the "Manny being Manny" risk. We really don't know what attitude Manny will bring next year when he's no longer playing for a new contract.
Manny still, obviously, has very good skills. He does, though, have some risk to him. Ramirez is a guy who will probably garner some first round consideration next year, depending on how many teams you have in your league. I would be wary of going too high for him, however. Manny is the kind of guy I don't like to take too early. If everything goes right, you get what you paid for; however, there is a lot of downside risk and not that great an upside.
Posted by Victor Wang at 12:01am (0) Comments
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I want to start off by running a quick experiment where I present you with two scenarios.
In the first scenario, imagine I gave you $1,000, and then gave you two options to choose from. In option A, you will have a 50 percent chance of gaining $1,000 and a 50 percent chance of gaining nothing. In option B, you will have a sure gain of $500. Which option would you choose?
Now let’s imagine another scenario where this time I gave you $2,000 and presented you with the following two options. In option A, you will have a 50 percent chance of losing $1,000 and a 50 percent chance of losing nothing. In option B, you will have a sure loss of $500. Which option would you choose here?
In the first scenario, did you choose option B? And how about the second scenario? Did you select option A?
These are the exact scenarios psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky posed to a group of test subjects while developing their Prospect Theory. They found that a large majority (84%) chose option B, the sure gain of $500, in the first scenario while in the second scenario, the majority (69%) chose option A, the equal chance of losing $1000 and losing nothing.
The mathematical expectation is exactly the same between all options, and in the long run, you will end up with $1500 no matter what choice you make in either scenario. And in theory, if most people choose a sure gain of $500, they should also choose a sure loss of $500 since, in both scenarios, there is a guaranteed payout of $1500. Even though the outcome may be the same, people appear to feel and react differently to the ideas of losing and gaining.
Though it may not be obvious, I think this concept from the Prospect Theory has some application to fantasy baseball, especially with regards to trading, the waiver wire and team standings. You may have noticed this also, but in my experience, it is awfully difficult to make a trade in the middle or second half of the season with the first-place team. And the flip side of this is that I have always been reluctant (or overly demanding) in potential trades when I am the team in first place.
But this makes sense, doesn’t it? If someone is in first place, why would he want to make a change? After all, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, right? The flip side of this is if a team is losing, of course he wants to make a change! And the aforementioned portion of the Prospect Theory helps explain this; people are fairly loss-averse, and they are less likely to gamble when they are poised to lose something but more likely to gamble if the risky choice might allow them to avoid a loss.
So how is this information helpful? In general, I think a manager should always try to improve his team, no matter how the standings look. Obviously, some transactions carry more risk than others, but assessing the risks and benefits of a transaction comes down to proper analysis, which is a different story. What I’m talking about here is that if your analysis of a potential transaction shows a net gain in points in the overall standings, versus zero points if you decide not to pursue the transaction, then you should make the change whether you are in first or last place.
I was a victim of this type of irrational thinking a couple years ago in a H2H league during the semifinals of the playoffs. Heading into the week, my hitters were raking and my pitchers were dealing—I thought this was in the bag. Well, about two weeks earlier, Salomon Torres had taken over the closer role for Pittsburgh and he was available on the waiver wire. I had J.J. Putz, Chris Ray and Takashi Saito so I didn’t have an immediate need at closer. The addition of Torres would have provided depth and made my team better though, if only because it would have prevented my opponent from loading up on closers and gaining an edge in the saves category.
But my team had been winning, and I thought it was good enough that I didn’t particularly need to make any roster changes. I could have parted with one or two guys who spent most of the time on the bench, but I was reluctant because they had helped my team reach the semifinals. So I stood pat, and allowed my opponent to add the newly appointed Pittsburgh closer. Torres consequently racked up four saves during the week, and I lost the saves category by three and the overall match-up by two. Bye-bye championship and hello consolation match...
This is an example of risk aversion and the Prospect Theory, and though the consequence may lie on the extreme end, I think the moral of the story is very clear: I had the opportunity to improve my team, but because my team had already been doing well, I was reluctant to make any changes, and it ultimately cost me an opportunity to win the league. A lot of times, the result of avoiding a decision that carries a positive expectation may not be as blatant as my H2H blunder, especially since most decisions don’t carry such a large expectation. Even if you only gain a small edge, you shouldn’t be hesitant to make that change because these small edges, especially over the course of a long 162-game season, will add up and, anything, like Torres picking up four saves in one week, can happen.
Posted by Marco Fujimoto at 12:01am (0) Comments
So far in this series we have covered the catchers, the third basemen, the shortstops, and the second basemen. Technically we covered the first basemen too, but that was before the season ended so we will revisit them in the structure of the previous articles. Onto the chart!
+------+---------------+-------+--------+ | Year | First Basemen | OPS | WPA/LI | +------+---------------+-------+--------+ | 2004 | 28 | .855 | 1.81 | | 2005 | 24 | .856 | 2.00 | | 2006 | 30 | .870 | 1.89 | | 2007 | 27 | .846 | 1.56 | | 2008 | 28 | .838 | 1.72 | +------+---------------+-------+--------+
Several things you can interpret from this chart: First and foremost, that first basemen are an offensive-minded bunch. You knew that. You also probably knew that first basemen as a whole have been declining slightly over the past couple of years.
Back in 2006, Albert Pujols was in his prime and surrounding him was a host of other first basemen who were terrorizing pitchers. Ryan Howard had a tremendous sophomore season, the veterans Lance Berkman and Jason Giambi were continuing what they had done in the past, and a fellow by the name of Nick Johnson would post an OPS of .948. In 2006 even Nick Swisher would blast 35 home runs!
Even though it appears from the chart that in 2007 and 2008 first basemen performed significantly worse, for fantasy purposes, the first base position has remained surprisingly stable. In Yahoo's player ranker, in 2006, 15 first basemen were in the top 100 ranked players. That number rose to 16 in 2007 and rose to 17 in 2008. So in terms of positional depth, which is what we're looking at to determine the optimal spot to take a first baseman, things have not gotten thinner but actually slightly deeper.
I am not a fan of taking a first baseman early. My strategy is to find the tier—that sort of dropoff spot when you go from the true 35-plus home run sluggers to the more average 20-25 home run-hitting first basemen—and take the last available first baseman from the top tier. That spot changes every year and in some years, like 2008, there is no real dropoff. (Although if you look at 2007 numbers, there is a clear dropoff after Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez.) Home runs are not the only thing I look at when judging first basemen, but I do prefer sluggers to contact guys, particularly at this position.
Some years, I either wait too long on a guy or my spot in the draft order is not at the right time to have the Adrian Gonzo fall to me, so I miss out. This is usually not an issue, because I tend to have plenty of sleepers every year for first base and I simply select one of them. I would call that flexibility.
I try not to form too strong an opinion on too many players, but one player I did this year was Carlos Delgado. I live in the New York area and even though I'm not a Mets fan I catch many Mets games and saw him at the plate a lot in 2007. I'm no "scouting" expert, but I felt Delgado was guessing on a lot of pitches and had lost bat speed on an already somewhat loopy swing. His stats reflected the decline and most telling was the seven-point spike in swing percentage on balls outside of the strike zone.
In 2008 that same high O-Strike percentage remained, but somehow Delgado also increased his home run per flyball rate (HR/FB%) by 10 percent, leading to his 38-home run renaissance of a season. Derek Carty wrote extensively about Delgado recently in this article and concluded that Delgado's season is not likely to be repeated in 2009.
Lance Berkman had a tremendous 2008 season—that's nothing new—but he surprisingly also stole 18 bases this year, his career high. Most players do not set their career high stolen base total at age 32 in their ninth MLB season. Can we expect this many stolen bases from Berkman in 2009? Is he all of a sudden a speedster?
+------+-----+--------+-----+----+-----+-------+-------+-------+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | SB | SBA | SBO% | SBA% | SB% | +------+-----+--------+-----+----+-----+-------+-------+-------+ | 2004 | 28 | Astros | 544 | 9 | 16 | 0.323 | 7.21 | 56.25 | | 2005 | 29 | Astros | 468 | 4 | 5 | 0.285 | 3.11 | 80.00 | | 2006 | 30 | Astros | 536 | 3 | 5 | 0.271 | 2.86 | 60.00 | | 2007 | 31 | Astros | 561 | 7 | 10 | 0.280 | 5.35 | 70.00 | | 2008 | 32 | Astros | 554 | 18 | 22 | 0.274 | 12.09 | 81.82 | +------+-----+--------+-----+----+-----+-------+-------+-------+
Taking a look at his speed stats over the last few years, we can decide if Berkman is likely to repeat his success on the base paths. Berkman did not put himself in a position to steal any more than he did last year (SBO%), and although he stole successfully at a higher rate than his norm, it was not a dramatic jump in percentage (SB%).
The major difference was the Stolen Base Attempt percentage (SBA%), or the percent of the time Berkman attempted to steal after reaching first. The SBA% is more managerial preference than actual skill, so as long as Cecil Cooper keeps giving Berkman the green light, he should continue to steal at the decent pace that he does. As soon as you see his SBA% drop, though, that signals a loss of skill and I would expect Cooper to show the green light less and less.
If players have been eligible at two positions I've been listing them under the more desirable one, but I'd figure I would still give Kevin Youkilis and Aubrey Huff a shout out for their tremendous seasons. You can read what I said about them in the third basemen article linked to above.
Prince Fielder was the third highest first basemen drafted and finished with the 11th-best stats. Fielder suffered from what I named Prince Fielder's Disease in this article back in July (for another site) called Powerful Tendencies Building. In that article I mention how Fielder's HR/FB percentage and flyball percentage are both down compared to his 2007 figures. That means that Fielder is hitting fewer fly balls—or balls that have the potential to be home runs—and when he does get baseballs in the air, they are going for home runs at a lesser rate. That is a deadly combination for a guy who makes a living off hitting home runs.
From when I wrote the article to the end of the season, Fielder's homer/flyball percentage and flyball percentage returned to their 2007 rate and that explains why Fielder was able to hit 12 home runs over the final two months, compared to 22 over the first four months. The difference in average per month is less than I expected, but overall what's important to figure out is if Fielder can ever get off that diet of his and blast 50 home runs in a single season again. A more in-depth look is required to find out.
Travis Hafner and David Ortiz are both designated hitters who, at least in Yahoo leagues, achieved first base eligibility this year and who also struggled at the plate and with injuries. According to an article by Chris conveniently published a few days ago, Big Papi's struggles at the plate had more to do with his wrist injury than skill deterioration and he believes Ortiz will bounce back in 2009.
Chris also throws in Hafner's name, implying that Hafner's struggles are not so much the result of injuries. It is rare for a hitter who had seasons as good as Hafner did from 2004 to 2006 to completely fall off the table, especially at the age of 31. But it has been two full years since Hafner has had a good season and heading into 2009, it is tough to predict he will ever get near his former production level.
Although not drafted terribly high in 2008, Todd Helton and Paul Konerko still managed to fall short of expectations. These aging sluggers finally showed signs of their age and despite the large amount of money their teams are on the hook for, both figure to struggle to find playing time as younger players begin to see time at their spots. Recognize the greatness of their careers and move along.
Posted by Paul Singman at 1:01am (0) Comments
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The "smoke and mirrors" series continues this week with Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick was one of the breakout stars of 2008, providing monster value to whatever lucky owner scooped him up off the waiver wire in April or May. His final fantasy line looked like this:
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | BA | HR | RBI | R | SB | +------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+ | 2008 | 29 | Cardinals | 538 | 0.299 | 37 | 113 | 104 | 4 | +------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
What's not to like? A .300 average, almost 40 home runs, triple digit RBIs and runs. That's a line similar to what we might see from secound-round talents like Carlos Lee or Manny Ramirez. As fantasy owners, though, we can't look at one year's worth of data and call it a day, especially if it is surface data. Let's look at Ludwick's expected numbers and his history and see if his 2008 season was for real, or just smoke and mirrors.
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% | +------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+ | 2007 | 28 | Cardinals | 303 | 14 | 14 | 16 | 16 | 18 | 4.4 | 39 | | 2008 | 29 | Cardinals | 538 | 37 | 25 | 22 | 15 | 14 | 1.2 | 42 | +------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+If you're new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I'm using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player's talent, so it's well worth a couple of minutes to learn them.
People look at Ludwick's 37 home runs this year and consider it this huge breakout. The thing is, though, Ludwick has always had great power. In 253 at-bats from 2003 to 2005, he posted a 16 percent HR/FB. In 508 at-bats at Triple-A in 2006, he posted a 17 percent HR/FB (this figure includes infield flies, so excluding them would put it a point or two higher).
The reason he hasn't been highly regarded up until this year is because he's never received much playing time. Before 2008, he had accrued just 637 career at-bats over six years—fewer than some players rack up in a single year.
So while Ludwick has always had good power and is just now getting recognized for it, his 2008 power numbers do actually look a bit inflated. Up until 2008, he had displayed a pretty stable HR/FB in the 16 percent range. This year, though, he saw a jump to 22 percent in 2008. This isn't a completely unreasonable jump for a 29 year-old who's always had good power and finally has fallen into regular playing time, but True Home Runs doesn't buy it.
His tHR/FB was 16 percent last year and 15 percent this year, meaning that his actual HR/FB is mostly a mirage. While Ludwick has good power, his home run total was too high this past season.
I'd expect him to regress back to the 15-16 percent range in 2009, especially entering his age 30 season when the time for further power growth has all but passed. I'd probably expect between 25 and 30 homers next year if given 550 or 600 at-bats. Expecting over 30 would probably be a mistake.
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | BA | tBA | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR | +------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+ | 2007 | 28 | Cardinals | 303 | 0.267 | 0.265 | 76 | 0.309 | 0.306 | 16 | 16 | 16 | | 2008 | 29 | Cardinals | 538 | 0.299 | 0.250 | 73 | 0.349 | 0.308 | 26 | 11 | 16 | +------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
Another reason for Ludwick's perceived "breakout" is his near-.300 batting average. However, unlike his power, this has never been the norm for Ludwick—at least not at the major league level. His .267 mark in 2007 was a career best entering the year. The reason for his apparent 2008 "breakout" was a very high .349 BABIP and the aforementioned HR/FB. This leads to a huge disparity between his actual .299 batting average and his .250 True Batting Average.
Before we go writing the BABIP off as a complete fluke, though, we should note that it was .342 at Triple-A in 2006 and .359 in 2007 (albeit in just 106 at-bats that year). So while his Marcels BABIP (mBABIP) is just .308, one could definitely make a case that his expected BABIP should be higher (or at least is volatile and could remain pretty high) since Marcels doesn't take minor league numbers into account and since the relatively low at-bat total means there's some pretty heavy regression to the mean in there.
Bare in mind, however, that even if Ludwick experiences no drop-off in BABIP next year, his batting average would still fall to .277 because of the expected power decline. If the BABIP falls to even .325, his batting average would fall to .261 in response.
Overall, Ludwick doesn't figure to even come close to his 2008 batting average, and he could wind up significantly lower. He should offer break-even value at best in most traditional leagues, and he will have to walk a tight rope to be even that good.
The usual disclaimer still applies here: we're looking at a small-ish sample and some year-end data that may not actually be measuring exactly what we're looking for. Once more rankings start coming out we'll have more to look at. For now, here's what Ludwick's value is shaping up as:
ProTrade Value: 9th OF (18th Overall)
Yahoo! Big Board: 12th OF (35th Overall)
CBS Sportsline: 18th OF (70th Overall)
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft #1: 19th OF (72nd Overall/R6)
Mock Draft #1: 21st OF (51st Overall/R5)
CBS Sportsline Expert Draft #1: 23rd OF (72nd Overall/R6)
Some people, like the ProTrade players and Brandon Funston at Yahoo!, are really high on Ludwick. Others, like the guys who participated in the CBS expert mock, are less enthused but still quite high on him. Even as the 23rd outfielder off the board, that still costs someone a fifth or sixth round investment.
I noted in the beginning of the article that Ludwick's 2008 line looked like what we might see out of a second or third round pick. While you likely won't have to pay that for him in 2009, a fifth or sixth round pick is still a hefty price.
Overall, Ludwick looks overvalued going into 2009, even with some natural expected regression factored in. His 2008 season looks like the perfect mix between finally getting playing time, some good luck with BABIP, and some good luck with HR/FB. Ludwick is a solid hitter, no doubt, and probably deserved more at-bats before his age 29 season, but he did get lucky.
He has very little batting average upside but lots of downside. He has a little more upside with his power (this upside being maintaining his 2008 surface numbers, not exceeding them), but regression is still the most likely route.
Quite simply, an outfielder with a .260 average, 25 home runs, and not much speed really isn't anything special. He should get a good number of RBIs and runs batting in the heart of the Cardinals order, but you should be able to find comparable—if not better—guys after round 12 or maybe even round 15.
There is, however, one small caveat to all of this. There has been some talk recently of the Cards trading Ludwick. If he is traded to a true hitter's ballpark, his value could receive a little bump up. Definitely not into sixth-round territory, but it would be worth doing a quick reevaluation.
Smoke and mirrors?: Partially.
Posted by Derek Carty at 1:13am (0) Comments
Thursday, November 06, 2008
If you’re the commissioner of your league, or you and the rest of your friends/competitors are in process of setting up a league, I urge you to pause a moment, look in the mirror, and put yourself in the shoes of a benevolent god. As this god, you will have the power to structure the rules of the world you preside over as you wish. The people in your world, your subjects, will obey your rules, but perhaps not your intentions. Instead, within the constraints of your rules, they will act to pursue their own self-interests. And remember, you’re benevolent—you’re interested in making your all of subjects happy, but each of them is only interested in himself.
Throughout the offseason, I’ll be writing about how to structure league rules so that they don’t have unintended consequences. Fantasy leagues often have a very rich set of rules on draft order, waiver-wire pick-ups, prizes for winners and so on. I believe that there are ways to improve on these rules so that many leagues would be better off.
First, though, we must talk about what makes those in your fantasy league happy. In order to make a league “better off,” we have to know what makes a league happy to begin with. Let’s just assume, for simplicity, that everyone in your league has the same tastes and preferences. Broadly speaking, then, I’d divide happiness into three not-so-sharply differentiated categories: fun, competitiveness, and verisimilitude.
Fun is made up of a bunch of things. For instance, how much time does a player have to devote to the league to be good (this could be a plus or a minus)? How social is the league? Fun is fun. ‘Nuff said for now.
Verisimilitude, or "baseballiness" as certain presidents might put it, is how much the fantasy league resembles the game we know and love. After all, there is a reason we’re playing fantasy baseball and not fantasy football, fantasy blackjack or fantasy lotto. Verisimilitude can mean different things to different people. For instance, some leagues may use stats like batting average and ERA while others may prefer “truer" measures of players’ abilities like true batting average (tBA) and true quality starts (TQA).
Competitiveness is, more or less, obvious. It measures how your league rewards skill distributed throughout the season. Two examples of uncompetitive league: Consider a league where first-place was decided by a lottery that was completely arbitrary and independent of performance throughout the season. That doesn’t sound like fun and it certainly doesn’t promote competitiveness. Next, consider a league without any free agents or trades, so that the roster you drafted is the roster you have for the whole season. Drafting may require lots of skill, but after that life would be boring.
As I said before, these components of fantasy happiness are overlapping. I’ve made a particular point of discussing verisimilitude and competitiveness, though, because I believe that league rules often sacrifice (excessively for most tastes) competitiveness for verisimilitude. Leagues often choose rules that resemble rules or stats in Major League Baseball without thinking through the consequences.
The commissioner of the MLB chooses rules to maximize the happiness of his constituents—the owners of the teams (subject to not violating anti-trust laws, etc.). Happiness of the owners is measured, despite protestations to the contrary, almost entirely in cash. A fantasy league is a zero-sum game at best; cash may exchange hands, but the league as a whole breaks even. More probably, your league pays some fees to a fantasy website to use its interface.
As an extreme example, imagine playing in a 1950s era league and suppose someone in your league suggests adding a reserve clause to the rules. Reserve clauses in baseball meant that most good free agents were signed by their former team, without any other team tendering a real offer. It meant that teams could sign players much cheaper than a free market for player salaries would have allowed. This was good for the owners, but is nonsensical for fantasy.
Using the Holds stat in scoring is a more familiar example of the potential pitfalls of excess verisimilitude in a league. Holds have been a stat in a league of mine for several seasons and, at first, it seemed to be a fun addition to the league. Identifying good setup men seemed like a skill worth adding to fantasy—it is certainly an important part of the actual game of baseball—and holds was the only way to explicitly reward that skill (middle relievers don’t pitch enough innings to help with stats like ERA or strikeouts).
As it turns out, reliable setup men are extremely thinly distributed (particularly since many of them end up closing for part of the season and cease earning holds). Rewarding holds is sort of like explicitly rewarding grand slams—you mostly end up rewarding luck, which doesn’t promote competition. In my next article, I’ll discuss a much more serious case of excessive baseballiness.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 11:20am (0) Comments
Friday, November 07, 2008
Week 10 of the fantasy football season is upon us, and the trade deadline is fast approaching in most leagues. While most fantasy players consider baseball and football to be two separate games that have very little to do with each other, this is far from the case. There are absolutely ways to gain (or lose) fantasy baseball advantages during your fantasy football season.
Perhaps the most prominent deals with trading. While the players involved in trades are different, the trade negotiations themselves are similar. A fish is a fish, just as an owner who is always looking to rip someone off will do so regardless of the game format.
Therefore, if you are playing in your football league with some or all of the same owners who play in your baseball league, be sure to take notes on your trade discussions with them. This information can be directly applied to your baseball league.
Conversely, you also must be aware of the negotiation tactics you employ yourself, as a respectable opponent will understand this and be paying attention to them as well.
Because so many owners (at least at the conscious level) don't realize this and treat the two as separate games, they will be less likely to conceal certain tendencies and won't take their baseball behavior into account when playing football (and vice versa).
Here's an example. I found myself in a scenario this past week that I felt was worth relaying.
Fantasy baseball situation
In one fantasy baseball league this year, I made a trade with an owner in which I initially offered Oliver Perez for Jacoby Ellsbury. I knew he really wanted Francisco Liriano, and I was willing to give him up if it really came down to it, but I thought I could get Ellsbury for less.
This might not seem like the best idea in retrospect, but keep in mind that (1) I needed steals, (2) Ellsbury was playing very well (though some regression was to be expected), (3) that it was a keeper league in which Ellsbury has a very favorable contract and (4) that this happened in May, when it was highly questionable whether Liriano would be keepable.
After negotiations dragged on for a few days, the best I could come up with was Liriano for Ellsbury and a second-round minor league draft pick. While I was satisfied with the trade at the time, I wrote down in my book on this owner that I appeared to have caved in to his demands. This meant that I needed to make a conscious effort not to use this tactic again for a while or risk this owner thinking he's in control.
This can be a very effective negotiating tool (particularly in leagues where you aren't always against the same set of opponents), but one that needs to be used with some caution.
To touch on the appeal of it, when you're spending days talking down the value of the player you want (in a logical, reasoned, non-extreme manner), the other owner will often (at least at the subconscious level) downgrade his own expectations. This is human nature. Even if you can't get the player for your original offer, this tactic may still allow you to get him for less than what you're willing to offer—something that may not have been possible if you started with a higher offer and didn't drag things out as much.
This type of move is akin to the "squeeze play" in poker. In Dan Harrington's Harrington on Hold 'Em: Volume II, he warns about that play: "Don't try this move if you've already made it once at the session (even if you actually had a hand that time). It's a big move and people will remember, so don't overdo the play." Luckily for fantasy owners, only one owner will be aware of this move as opposed to the whole table of players, so you can use it on different opponents over a short period of time if necessary.
Parallel fantasy football situation
Right now, I find myself in a fantasy football trade negotiation with the same owner from my baseball example. We've been talking about Larry Fitzgerald for a few weeks, but I've been unwilling to give up one of my top running backs (LT, Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs) that he demands. Now that I've all but clinched a playoff spot, though, I'm willing to trade Turner (who has a rough playoff schedule) for Fitz and a lesser running back.
The problem, as you may have surmised, is that this again will look as though I'm caving in. If I offer Turner, during baseball season next year he may believe that he can get what he wants simply by waiting me out. This is a terrible position to find myself in.
I probably will forgo offering Turner because I care much more about fantasy baseball and because Fitz wouldn't be a huge upgrade over my current wideouts. If this were a baseball league, though, I would have a tough decision to make.
I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn from all of this. The first is that the negotiation tactic I used has some drawbacks. After you use it on an owner once, you may have to forgo an otherwise favorable trade—possibly more favorable than the original trade—down the road to avoid having to overpay in every negotiation going forward.
Depending on how risk-averse you are, you should consider reserving the move for your more important negotiations. Of course, owners are far less likely to alter their judgments of elite players simply because they get a low-ball (or slightly better than low-ball) offer, so judge the situations according.
If you consider yourself a very good negotiator or have the image of a shrewd negotiator, you might be more willing to make this move since it will be easier to rebound even if you have to use it twice in a row.
For example, I could simply explain the Michael Turner situation to the other owner, saying that I wanted to hang onto him for a couple weeks to make sure I got a playoff spot or something like that. I could say that I've soured on Turner, though saying that would make it difficult to trade him for Fitz. I could make the move and then lay down the law at the beginning of the baseball season. These kinds of considerations boil down to how well you know yourself and your own capabilities.
You'll have to weigh these considerations on your own, but I hope it gives you something to think about.
Even if you don't like fantasy football, it could be worth playing with the owners in your baseball league simply as a means of gaining information. Use it as a lab, as a way to test out negotiation ideas and to discover tendencies of your opponents. It might seem like a lot of work, but even if you do zero draft prep, pay minimal attention to your actual team, and don't care one ounce about the final results, you have four months where there is no baseball and you can talk trades whenever you have some free time.
This might sound a little extreme and might not be for everyone; it's just something to think about if you're looking for additional ways to gain an advantage over your opponents.
Posted by Derek Carty at 1:01am (0) Comments
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Yup, we've done the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen and shortstops already. Let's move on to those outfielders.
When I started playing fantasy baseball in a league with a group of nine close friends, our leagues would split the outfield positions into left field, center and right. Now, most leagues simply have three outfield positions, into which you can plug in any outfielder regardless of which side of the field he plays. So in this review I conventionally group all outfielders together even though I support a left field, center field, right field separation.
Now for that chart:
+------+-------------+-------+--------+ | Year | Outfielders | OPS | WPA/LI | +------+-------------+-------+--------+ | 2004 | 77 | 0.830 | 1.45 | | 2005 | 72 | 0.805 | 1.18 | | 2006 | 77 | 0.819 | 1.09 | | 2007 | 69 | 0.817 | 1.11 | | 2008 | 74 | 0.809 | 1.21 | +------+-------------+-------+--------+
After first basemen, the outfielders are generally the second best offensive group, although in some years the third basemen have surpassed them in production. Outfielders clearly had a superb year in 2004 and since then have remained consistently 10-20 points of OPS worse.
Another thing to notice is how OPS and WPA/LI do not agree on the outfielders. In the charts for the other positions, I was surprised at how well the two stats correlated. From 2004 to 2005 both WPA/LI and OPS agree outfielders got worse, but then they disagree on every subsequent pair of years. Focus on from 2006 to 2008: OPS thinks outfielders got worse by .10 points, and WPA/LI thinks they got better by .12 of a win, or about one run.
After looking at outfielders individually in both 2006 and 2008, I still cannot decide whether I think they have improved or declined as a group over the two-year period. In 2006, the outfield position was much more top-heavy, meaning there was incredible talent at the top, but then the drop-off in talent was steep as you went down the ranks. In 2008, it is the opposite in that the top players are not as good while the production remains fairly high deep into the ranks. Here is a chart that displays this talent distribution:
+------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | Rank | Year | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 1 | 2006 | 119 | 46 | 95 | 41 | 0.277 | | | 2008 | 102 | 37 | 121 | 3 | 0.332 | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 5 | 2006 | 137 | 41 | 116 | 18 | 0.275 | | | 2008 | 116 | 27 | 112 | 25 | 0.284 | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 15 | 2006 | 103 | 33 | 123 | 2 | 0.289 | | | 2008 | 93 | 18 | 76 | 35 | 0.290 | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 30 | 2006 | 99 | 40 | 92 | 7 | 0.234 | | | 2008 | 78 | 22 | 77 | 5 | 0.321 | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 50 | 2006 | 87 | 14 | 83 | 9 | 0.263 | | | 2008 | 71 | 21 | 81 | 3 | 0.274 | +------+------+-----+----+-----+----+-------+
As you can see, the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 15 ranked outfielder in 2006 put up a better line than his 2008 counterpart. By the 30th-ranked outfielder it gets unclear who is better, but by the 50th rank the 2008 outfielder is clearly superior. One group puts up incredible numbers at the top while the other posts solid numbers for more players.
Determining which year of outfielders was in fact better is not as important in realizing how this knowledge should affect our drafting strategy. With the outfield position as deep as it is, targeting outfielders in the early rounds might not be the best investment, since an outfielder of comparable skill can be available five rounds later, while the shortstops obtainable five rounds later will be significantly worse than the shortstops available to you now. Makes sense to draft the shortstop now and outfielder later than vice versa, right?
The outfield position is the one I worry least about in drafts. With all three outfield positions clumped together, there are so many outfielders out there that flexibility is easily achieved. Basically, whenever I do not have a pressing need to draft another position and there is an outfielder available who I think is a steal at this time, I'll take him. When I take my first outfielder in drafts varies, but I can say I rarely select one in the first three rounds. Depending on how things are going, my first outfielder taken is usually somewhere in rounds four-five-six.
"When there is no one else to draft, take an outfielder" is a good summation of my strategy.
I'm sure everyone knows the story of Josh Hamilton by now, but in the preseason people did not. He was the 30th drafted outfielder in ESPN leagues and the 45th in Yahoo leagues. After finishing as the fifth best outfielder in 2008, he is going to be drafted much higher in 2009.
Ryan Ludwick was drafted 41st among outfielders and finished with the seventh best stats. Derek Carty recently published an article about Ludwick here, which you should check out if you want an in-depth analysis of his future. For those link-lazy: Ludwick is solid but do not expect 37 home runs or a .299 batting average next year. Think more like 25 home runs and a .260-.270 batting average.
Nate McLouth was the 48th outfielder taken and finished with the 11th best stats. McLouth did nothing spectacular, but his 26 home runs and 23 stolen bases are exceptional, and coupled with a solid batting average and run production made for a nice breakout season. There were no outrageous spikes in McLouth's luck or indicating stats, so a similar 2009 season would not surprise me.
Carlos Quentin was among the top 50 outfielders taken in 2008 and finished with the 15th best stats, despite missing the final month of the season due to a fractured wrist. Quentin came out of nowhere to blast 36 home runs for the White Sox, drive in 100 runs, and bat .288. Before 2008, Quentin was a touted minor league prospect who was bothered by injuries and could never seem to translate his minor league game to the majors. In 2008, Quentin was obviously able to translate his game, but I still view him as an overrated player heading into 2009. As with Ludwick, expect the home runs and batting average to regress to the 25 and .260-.270 range.
People were scared about drafting Jason Bay following his abysmal 2007 season in which he batted .247 with 21 home runs. Bay rebounded nicely in 2008, posting a .286 average with 31 home runs, and he even threw in 10 steals. Bay has produced four good years out his five in the majors—if you are worried about the 2007 version of Bay creeping back in 2009, consider it unlikely.
Milton Bradley went undrafted in most leagues and ended up having a surprisingly good season, batting .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBI—good for 31st among outfielders. That number would be higher were it not for the nagging injuries Bradley always seems to have. His .396 BABIP stands out horribly and considering his injury history and mental fragility, Bradley is someone I'd be very cautious about in 2009.
Andre Ethier was another undrafted outfielder who performed well in 2008. Interestingly, he was traded for Bradley in 2005. Unlike Bradley and similar to McLouth, nothing strikes out at you with Ethier, but everything is just solid overall. With a .305 average and 20 home runs, he finished as the 32nd best outfielder. At 26, Ethier will be entering his prime in 2009, and I'd look for his power to develop slightly, which will complement his already impressive patience at the plate, making Ethier a tough out for any pitcher.
Carl Crawford is the epitome of all fallers. For about three years, Crawford has been drafted in the second to third rounds of drafts by people who think that this year will finally be the one when Crawford hits 25 home runs. It hasn't happened yet. I'm not saying that Crawford is a bad player, but, simply put, Crawford will never be worth a second-round pick as long as he hits under 20 home runs.
Now, when in 2006 Crawford hit 18 homers and stole 58 bases, I will say that Crawford was a top 20 player. But since then Crawford has only stolen fewer bases and has had wrist and hand troubles that have hampered his power ability. With a healthy wrist and people shying away from Crawford in 2009, it will be interesting to see if he actually becomes undervalued.
Jeff Francoeur was selected 24th in ESPN and 34th in Yahoo leagues among outfielders. He finished 2008 with the 106th best stats. Francoeur always has been one of those free-swingers who has survived on his power ability. Well in 2008 his home run rate fell sharply to 9.7 percent and he was no longer buoyed by his .342 BABIP of 2007. I'm not expecting much from Francoeur in 2009, but neither is anyone else so I can see him as a player to take a late-round flier on in drafts.
Not many other outfielders experienced similar drop-offs in production, but I will mention Hideki Matsui and Eric Byrnes, two outfielders whose seasons were ruined by injuries and look to rebound in 2009.
Posted by Paul Singman at 1:03am (0) Comments
Monday, November 10, 2008
While Johnny Cueto may have received more hype coming into the 2008 season, Edinson Volquez performed the best out of the two young Reds' starting pitchers. Volquez had a stellar first half, going 12-3 with a 2.29 ERA. His fade in the second half could be expected for someone pitching in his first full major league season, but Volquez still put up a very impressive performance, most notably his 206 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched. However, Volquez does have a few question marks going into the year. Let's take a look at the skills and risk he brings.
YEAR AGE TEAM IP ERA FIP TRA* lgTRA K/G BB/G GB% BABIP HR/FB% 2006 22 TEX 33.3 7.29 6.71 5.29 5.11 3.5 4.0 43 .363 15.8 2007 23 TEX 34 4.50 4.76 5.05 4.99 7.5 3.9 38 .303 10.7 2008 24 CIN 196 3.21 3.77 4.14 4.77 9.5 4.3 46 .302 8.1
You can see that Volquez struggled in Texas. However, he had put up pretty good numbers in the minor leagues while with the Rangers. His major league success last year was similar to his minor league numbers in the past. Volquez strikes out a ton of people but also gives up his fair share of walks. He's a groundball pitcher, which is especially helpful for a pitcher in Cincinnati. This profile is reminiscent of a guy like A.J. Burnett or Carlos Zambrano.
Volquez does show some signs of regressing next year. Both his xFIP and TRA* suggest Volquez's ERA will increase next year. Of course all players naturally tend to regress to the mean anyway. Also, despite getting 17 wins last year, the wins could be a concern for 2009 given the state of the Reds. Volquez does possess upside in his skill set. If he can make improvements with his walk rate, Volquez could take off even if his strikeout rate dips slightly.
Overall, it should be safe to expect the strikeouts from Volquez. He'll probably see a rise in ERA even if his skills don't change much. But keep in mind there's a small chance that Volquez could really take off and establish himself in the upper tier of pitchers. Let's see what sort of risk Volquez brings with this upside.
Experience: Medium risk. We have about 1.5 seasons worth of major league data on Volquez. However, we do have a pretty good idea of his type of profile, which is a high strikeout, high walk, high groundball pitcher. Still, there is some decent room for error because of the sample size.
Playing Time: Very low risk. Volquez should not have any concerns about playing time as long as he stays healthy.
Skill Risk: Medium risk. Again, Volquez walks a lot of batters. If he sees a slight increase in his walks or decrease in strikeouts this could cause a lot of harm to his stat line. Worst case he could have an Oliver Perez moment where his numbers completely fall off.
Age: Low risk. Volquez is at the age where he should continue to improve as a pitcher provided he stays healthy. Phil Birnbaum has suggested that pitchers keep improving into their late 20s as long as they don't get hurt.
Burnout: High risk. Volquez is still a relatively young pitcher pitching for Dusty Baker. This may be more than enough to scare a few people away from him. While he didn't have a huge innings jump, Volquez is still facing his first test of coming back from almost 200 major league innings.
Overall Risk: Medium risk. Volquez's two biggest risks are his walk rate and his burnout chances. He is a definitely a worth taking a shot at in a keeper league. Volquez is the kind of guy where if things go right, he could anchor your pitching staff for a long time.
By this time next year, Edinson Volquez could be one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball or recovering from an injury. This following year will also tell us a lot about how durable we can expect Volquez to be as a starter. Normally I'm pretty risk averse when it comes to investing a lot in pitchers, but Volquez is a guy who already has a strong skill set with room for growth, which may be enough to balance out the risks he brings as well.
Posted by Victor Wang at 12:01am (0) Comments
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
In fantasy baseball, there are players considered risky and those who are considered safe. A safe player usually has no threat to his playing time, not much of an injury history, and put up fairly consistent production over at least the past three years.
These are players you draft with a specific amount of production in mind. Maybe they always steal 40 bases, or reach the 100 plateau in runs and RBI, or bat .300 with 30 home runs—whatever the case, they have done it consistently in the past and you expect no different from them in the future.
Now, as we all know, every great empire must fall eventually. While most experts write articles about more risky players, I'm going to pick out the safest, most consistent players and make sure that this year will not be the the one they collapse. I'm going to make sure you're not the guy who drafted Richie Sexson, Carlos Delgado or Andruw Jones in 2007 with the expectations that they would perform the same as they did in the past.
By taking an objective look at the right stats, I hope to be as accurate as one could expect, but I'm not guaranteeing anything, especially when it comes to injuries.
Let's begin looking at our first consistent producer: Aramis Ramirez.
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | BA | HR | RBI | R | SB | +------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+ | 2004 | 25 | Cubs | 547 | 0.318 | 36 | 103 | 99 | 0 | | 2005 | 26 | Cubs | 463 | 0.302 | 31 | 92 | 72 | 0 | | 2006 | 27 | Cubs | 594 | 0.291 | 38 | 119 | 93 | 2 | | 2007 | 28 | Cubs | 506 | 0.310 | 26 | 101 | 72 | 0 | | 2008 | 29 | Cubs | 554 | 0.289 | 27 | 111 | 97 | 2 | +------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
The past five years for Aramis Ramirez have been amazingly consistent. His average line in that span has been:
87 runs, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, one steal, and a .302 batting average.
He has not been hitting 15 home runs one year and then 50 the next to average out at 30. The max total was 38 and the minimum was 26, so he is always hanging out around that 30 mark. With the exception of runs, all of his stats have worked the same way: low standard deviations.
Ramirez will be 30 at the beginning of the 2009 season so there is no major age regression to take into account. Someone just looking at the surface numbers would see absolutely no reason to think Aramis Ramirez will see a drop-off in production. He may have another similar season in 2009, but let's take a closer look to make sure.
There are two ways for a player to hit a lot of home runs. He can either hit a lot of fly balls, and even though not a high percentage go for home runs, the sheer number of fly balls hit will give him a high home run total (think Nick Swisher). Or, he does not have to hit a lot of fly balls, but instead have a higher percentage of his fly balls go for home runs (think Jack Cust). Of course, you can always put the best of both together and you get Barry Bonds, which is kind of a scary thought.
But if a player is going to lean toward one side or the other, the obvious better choice is the second of the two. If a player has to use only 30 percent of his balls in play on fly balls to reach 30 home runs, the other 70 percent can be a combination of ground balls, line drives and fliners, which help boost the batting average. Also, that player's fly balls will not be as damaging to his batting average because a higher percentage leave the yard, and home runs are good for batting average since they are a type of hit, as you know.
You can think of this as cutting steak with a dull or sharp knife. Using either knife, eventually you will cut the steak. However, with the sharp knife less effort is required, allowing you to spend more time cutting other things, like the broccoli (line drives) or potatoes (ground balls).
Putting my weird food metaphor aside, keep that idea in your mind as you peruse Aramis' power numbers.
+------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+ | YEAR | AGE | AB | Team | 2B | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | OF FB% | +------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+ | 2004 | 25 | 547 | Cubs | 32 | 36 | -- | 19 | -- | -- | 38 | | 2005 | 26 | 463 | Cubs | 30 | 31 | -- | 21 | -- | -- | 37 | | 2006 | 27 | 594 | Cubs | 38 | 38 | 32 | 17 | 15 | 14 | 41 | | 2007 | 28 | 506 | Cubs | 35 | 26 | 25 | 15 | 14 | 14 | 40 | | 2008 | 29 | 554 | Cubs | 44 | 27 | 18 | 13 | 9 | 8 | 44 | +------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
Focus on 2007 and 2008 and how he hit his home runs. In 2007, Ramirez was more of the first type of home run hitter—fewer fly balls with a higher percentage going out. In 2008 he became the second type of hitter, having to use more outfield fly balls (OF FB%) to achieve the same total. While his home run total is not negatively affected, his batting average won't respond well.
What is concerning from the above table is how much lower Ramirez' Home Run per Fly Ball percentage (HR/FB%) should have been. Based on fly ball distance under neutral weather conditions (tHR/FB%), he should have hit nine fewer home runs (tHR) than he did in 2008! So while it may appear that Ramirez has not lost power ability on the surface, know that he, in fact, has.
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB | BA | tBA | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR | +------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+ | 2006 | 27 | Cubs | 594 | 0.291 | 0.296 | 89 | 0.274 | 0.292 | 18 | 14 | 17 | | 2007 | 28 | Cubs | 506 | 0.310 | 0.294 | 87 | 0.316 | 0.299 | 18 | 17 | 18 | | 2008 | 29 | Cubs | 554 | 0.289 | 0.259 | 83 | 0.307 | 0.290 | 20 | 17 | 26 | +------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
While there was a definite drop in Ramirez's batting average from 2007 to 2008, in the context of the past three years it does not seem that out of the ordinary. Taking a look at his True Batting Average (tBA), however, we see that something major changed in 2008. As I mentioned in the power section, this has a lot to do with declining HR/FB percentage points. But even If Aramis' actual power numbers regress toward what his tHR predicts, his average will fall only into the .272 range. Okay, that accounts for .20 of the .30 point difference in actual batting average and tBA, so something else is at work here.
Contact Percentage (CT%) is the other thing to account for, and it is on a steady decline downward. Derek Carty has written about this concept often: If a player does not put the ball in play, he has no chance of getting a hit, negatively affecting his batting average. Well, Aramis Ramirez is doing just that so keep an eye on that negative trend to see if it continues.
I predict two possible scenarios for Ramirez in 2009, and both are certainly a step below his former level of production.
The first is that he continues hitting a lot of fly balls. His home run total would not drop very much, but his batting average would be affected. I'd expect around a .260-.265 average and 25 home runs.
The other scenario is that he accepts the loss of home run power and tries to become a doubles guy. His batting average would fall to the .280-.285 range, while his home run production spirals down to about 15 home runs.
Those scenarios are assuming that players have control over those sorts of things, but the main point to realize is that Aramis Ramirez most likely will not maintain the level of production he has sustained over the past five years. It is a good thing we checked up on him so that in 2009 you are not surprised when his production level falls noticeably. Most people will be.