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Monday, June 07, 2010
It's been decades since I last played poker regularly and forever since since I won a fantasy experts league—I have yet to compete in one—so I wade in gingerly into the seeming debate between those who form their auction strategy around projections and those who use their gut instinct, so-called quants and quaints.
I say "seeming" debate deliberately. For it seems to me in the universe of fantasy baseball, those who speak for quants and quaints, at least in the CardRunners league, share something fundamental in common that separates them from most fantasy baseball players.
For most, fantasy baseball is all about the focus inwards—how do I place a value on a player? Some do so flying by the seat of their pants while a growing number make use of projections by major sites such as ESPN and Yahoo that have become some rampant, but however they do it—whatever their means—the goal is to come up with a valuing or ranking method that will be their rudder through an auction or draft.
What most don't do is consider the marketplace and gamesmanship in their own league. For them, competing in an auction or draft is more akin to blackjack than to poker: Create some rules about when to hit and when to hold and try to follow them. When these players deviate from their rules, it's not because of what other players are doing but because of a sense of panic or euphoria about their own methods—they've lost hitting on 13 three hands in a row, so on the fourth hand at 13 they hold.
It is in that context that I read (OK, skim, not much time this week) the debate in the CardRunners League between quants like our own Derek Carty and quaints such as Christopher Liss. Consider, then, what each said about what I think is core to their approach to a fantasy baseball auctions:
Derek Carty: "I’ve been playing fantasy baseball at the higher levels for just two years, giving the other fantasy guys in this league exponentially more experience than me. I don’t view this as a disadvantage, though. I view it as an opportunity to distance myself from some of the preconceived notions my fellow fantasy analysts may have, from the groupthink they may unwittingly be involved in, and from the habits they may have slowly and unknowingly developed over the years."
Christopher Liss: "But I’m largely a 'genius' drafter. I make my money on targeting or avoiding players who the market (the consensus expert site projections) has gotten wrong. My method is to pay the vig and beat the house anyway."
What strikes me about their approach is the similarity—they both focus outward on the other players in their league and seek to take advantage of the others' tendencies. It is not enough to come up with a ranking or value in a cave with nothing to guide them but their intuition or mass-produced projections. Both Derek and Christopher understand that to gain the upper hand on opponents, one must also spend much time evaluating the methods used by others.
Think of a poker table. It is useful to know the odds that your flush will take the pot. But your decision is lacking if you don't know the tendencies of the other players.
The best fantasy players know the rivals in their own league and use that information in preparing for their auction or draft (and continue to use it the balance of the season in trades and other roster moves). That is what both Derek and Christopher are pursuing—and it means their approaches share something critical that sets them apart from most.
I have tried, though not yet with great success, to use this approach in an Italian card game called Scopa—I was introduced to the game by my father-in-law. He's played the game since childhood and has a great memory—he's essentially a card counter. I hate rote memorization, so my skills as a card counter are minimal. So to gain an edge, or at least to try to gain an edge, I study his tendencies. That leaves him shaking his head sometimes because it means I play cards that are at odds with conventional strategy.
But in card play or fantasy baseball, it's all about gaining a edge. That's what Derek did when he joined expert leagues filled with rivals who had played many years. That's what Christopher did when he joined a fantasy league half-filled with stat and projection experts. To gain an edge, you must know your rivals. And whether you attack this challenge as a quaint or a quant, chances are you will be taking more than your fair share of the pot at season's end.
Posted by Jonathan Sher at 5:20am (0) Comments
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Here's an excerpt from a recent Tim Dierkes post at RotoAuthority:
I have waffled over the years as to whether it makes sense to bench your starting pitchers occasionally if they're facing tough offenses. I always seem to guess wrong. Tom Gorzelanny against the Pirates, that's a must-start. But Gorzelanny in Citizens Bank against the best offense in the NL, especially against lefties—I'll sit him. The result: I've danced around Gorzelanny's best starts.
In his most recent newsletter, Baseball HQ's Ron Shandler said this:
As much as we hate to admit it, doing match-up analyses has about the same rate of accuracy as tossing spaghetti. No matter what you do, you are going to have to weather occasional meltdowns and sterling performances from the bench.
On the other side of the coin is RotoWire's Chris Liss, who benched Ricky Romero in our CardRunners AL league this week due to match-ups:
Eric [Kesselman (co-commissioner of the league)] thought this was a curious decision and asked me to write about it. The short answer is that it was a gut call.
Despite the fact that Chris and I landed on opposites sides of the Quants vs. Intuition debate, I'm on his side here. Read on.
Tim Dierkes conducted a mini-study shortly after the above-quoted post and concluded that "if you are able to identify the 'marginal' starters correctly, as well as the offenses that will be the best all year, there is a small gain to be had over the long run. Season to season, with probably no more than two marginal guys on your regular roster, you'd probably have a lot of years where you wished you hadn't benched any starters."
I'm going to a run a study that goes a little more in-depth and comes to a different conclusion. The main question I wanted to answer was "Do pitchers perform better against poor offenses and worse against good offenses?"
My study took data from 2004 to 2009 and compared how pitchers performed against good offenses and bad offenses. For the purposes of this study, "good offenses" are defined as the top four teams in year-end runs scored in each league (AL and NL). "Bad offenses" are the four lowest-scoring teams in each league.*
I then looked at all pitchers who faced at least one good offense and one bad offense and compared their starts against these teams in our four standard roto categories (W, ERA, WHIP, and K), weighted by the least of his starts vs. good offenses and starts vs. bad offenses.
*There are certainly problems here, as year-end stats don't perfectly reflect our in-season opinions about teams, but I think it will be close enough to let us examine this match-up dilemma. Last year, for example, saw the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Twins, Phillies, Rockies, Brewers, and Dodgers make this list. Most of these are teams that were expected to be pretty darn good offensively.
The results of the study are below, showing the advantage of facing a bad offense over a good one.
+--------+---------+--------+--------+--------+ | IP | Win/GS | ERA | WHIP | K | +--------+---------+--------+--------+--------+ | + 0.34 | + 9.66% | - 1.10 | - 0.17 | + 1.12 | +--------+---------+--------+--------+--------+
As you can see, there is a significant advantage to facing a poor offense over a good one. All else equal, if your starter gets to face the Astros instead of the Phillies, he'll stay in the game for an extra out, strike out an extra batter, win an extra game every 10 starts, and have an ERA a full run lower. That's a highly significant difference. It means that if you're starting Ross Ohlendorf against the Indians, you might as well be starting Cole Hamels against an average opponent.
Now, of course, we must consider that this study knows who the good and bad offenses will end up being in any given year. In June, we don't know with that kind of certainty who the best and worst offenses are. While we might not gain that full run ERA difference by playing match-ups (or streaming), I do think we'll be close. After all, there's a very high probability that teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are actually good offenses and the Pirates, Astros and Orioles are actually poor offenses. We just need to be selective. And the deeper we go into the season, the more certain we can be about playing match-ups.
Finally, we must realize that this study deals with the extremes. We're not always going to be faced with the decision of Ian Snell against the Rays or Joe Saunders against the Mariners (where we'd obviously take Saunders). Mediocre teams will be in the mix, and decisions will be made a little tougher. The important thing to remember is that everything should be taken within proper context and all situations analyzed individually.
There are, of course, other things to consider when deciding whether to insert a pitcher into your active lineup (ballpark, weather, home/away, opposing pitcher, etc), but there should no longer be any question whether there's an advantage to playing match-ups. There is. And honestly, isn't that the logical answer? Shouldn't we expect that pitchers perform better against poor teams?
Sure, occasionally you'll end up with Dallas Braden perfect-gaming the Rays or Brett Anderson giving up six runs to the Orioles. That's the nature of small sample sizes. It's no different than Albert Pujols going a week or two without a home run. And if that happens, we're not suddenly going to declare chasing power a fool's errand, are we? As with all small samples, extreme random variation is a possibility, but in the long run, things even out. In the long run, you're far better off playing the match-ups. They won't all work out as expected, but when you add them all up at the end of the year, you'll come out ahead.
My main point can be summed up very easily: play the match-ups! While some may be convinced that it's a crap shoot, it's not. In the movie Rounders, Matt Damon's character muses about a similar phenomenon:
In Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King said, "Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career." It seems true to me, cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can't stop thinking of how I lost it.
It's easy to recall the time a spot start blew up in your face, but the marginally good match-ups are easily forgotten. They all count, though, and in the long run, playing the odds is the way to go.
Finally, I ask that you please not comment to tell me that it's obvious that a pitcher does better facing a poor offense. To me (and likely to many others), it is obvious, but when other analysts—particularly ones as well-known as Ron Shandler—are doubting it, I thought it best to put some concrete numbers out there.
Posted by Derek Carty at 5:33am (19) Comments
If you were given the opportunity to go back to your league's draft day and redo the draft given the knowledge of what's happened almost one-third through the season, how different would your draft look? My goal in this inquiry is not to make you question how heavily to weigh early season performances and create projections for players to the end of the season, though that would be the more scholarly thing to do.
Instead I'm simply forcing you to look back at all of the picks you shoulda, coulda and almost made that would have made your team that much better at this point in the season. Using the Yahoo ADP numbers, here are the players that, if drafted realistically around the same place they were in the preseason, would compose the most dominant fantasy team thus far.
Catcher: No One (Round 0) - Honestly no catcher deserves to be on this team since the most valuable catcher currently is Miguel Olivo. Mauer is fourth on that list and I am surprised that so little has been said about his unremarkable season, from both a real and fantasy baseball perspective. It sounds ridiculous to call a .363 wOBA from a catcher "disappointing," but when it succeeds a .438 wOBA from the prior season, well, clearly some expectations are not being met.
First base: Miguel Cabrera (1) - Cabrera has been the most dominant fantasy hitter so far in 2010, hitting for an insane power and average combo of 17 home runs and a .351 average. Throw in a league-high 51 RBIs and you have the numbers of a player even Albert Pujols cannot match at the moment.
Second base: Robinson Cano (4) - As the second-most-valuable fantasy hitter so far this season, Cano barely beat out Justin Morneau—the third-most-valuable—to make the cut for this team. An elite contributor in all the fantasy categories save for steals, Cano figures to compete for this year's AL batting title and is currently sporting a sporty .363 average.
Third base: Kevin Youkilis (3) - Despite excellent production the past two seasons, Youkilis has remained just outside the bubble of elite fantasy players. Available in the third round of most drafts, this lumberjack of a ballplayer has burst that bubble and joined the pack of the elite, batting .320 with 12 home runs already and an incredible 50 runs scored.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus (10) - In the preseason it was my feeling that Andrus, for a variety of reasons, was being overpicked in the 10th round. Unlike the other two players mentioned in that article who have complied by being either injured or ineffective, Andrus has been rather effective this season most notably by batting a robust .304 with 39 runs and 18 steals.
Outfield: Carl Crawford (2) - Crawford is one of those across-the-board fantasy producers and, with the development of a respectable power game last year, is immensely valuable in fantasy. His 41 runs and 18 steals make him elite in those two categories and with a .299 average, 32 RBIs, and five home runs in the others he is certainly not lacking in any facet.
Outfield: Andrew McCutchen (6) - Already aptly compared to the player directly above, McCutchen has been doing a fantastic Crawford impersonation since his impressive rookie campaign last year. The homers, average, and steals are there; the biggest thing holding back McCutchen's fantasy value is the Pirates lineup that makes runs and RBIs infrequent.
Outfield: Carlos Gonzalez (12) - His 36 R, 8 HR , 36 RBI, 7 SB, and .308 AVG line is a fantasy baseballer's treat. Simple as that.
Utility: Alex Rios (14) - I never thought I would say this, but Rios has been the fourth-most-valuable fantasy hitter so far in 2010. With possibly the most impressive three-category line of a .318 average with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases, he has made a truly miraculous turnaround in Chicago. I just wish he did it while on my team last year.
Starting pitcher: Adam Wainwright (5) - Wainwright got a little lucky with his 2.63 ERA and unprecedentedly high strikeout rate of 8.2 batters per nine in 2009 and understandably fantasy owners were somewhat hesitant to draft the towering righty this preseason. Surprisingly Wainwright has built upon his "lucky" 2009 by increasing his strikeout rate even more to 8.7 and cutting back on walks and hits so that he almost deserves his current 2.05 ERA.
Starting pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez (7) - It should come as no surprise to see this Rockies hurler on this team as Jimenez is off to an unprecedented start to the 2010 season. His 11 wins, 78 strikeouts, and uncanny 0.93 ERA and WHIP are good enough to carry an entire pitching staff.
Starting pitcher: David Price (13) - After not meeting the hype with a meh rookie season, Price has responded well in his sophomore campaign, earning eight wins already with a 2.29 ERA and 53 Ks. Although it does not matter for this article, I feel obligated to warn you, the reader, about the upcoming regression to Price's ERA. His strikeouts are down, the BABIP is low, the LOB percentage high, and home run rate slightly lower than it should be. Call me Emeril and this sounds like the recipe for a higher ERA.
Relief pitcher: Heath Bell (9) - Players picked in the ninth round were quite the terrible bunch but at least if you picked Bell you got a guy who is tied for the third most saves with 15, is striking out plenty of batters, and has a pristine 1.08 ERA. Impressively he has done all of this despite pitching slightly sub-par as evidenced by his 1.32 WHIP.
Relief pitcher: Carlos Marmol (11) - What Ubaldo has been doing with ERA Marmol is currently doing the equivalent with K/9. By far the league leader with a 17.4 mark, Marmol is striking out basically two batters for every one inning pitched. Coupled with solid ratios and saves totals, Marmol has been the second-most-valuable closer—behind only Jonathan Broxton—and by far the most exciting to watch. The 51 Ks in 26 innings says it all.
I'm sure there are at least a couple of players on this team that you were oh so close to drafting but then took some other scrub instead. For me I remember running the clock down to the last second while deciding between Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano in the Yahoo F&F league draft. Unfortunately Zobrist's SS eligibility won me over and I chose him instead of Cano, but at least Zobrist has not played horribly so I can live with it.
Feel free to share your own sob stories of drafting regrets in the comments below.
Posted by Paul Singman at 5:48am (13) Comments
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
12-team, mixed-league, roto league
Hitting: AVG, OBP, R, HR, RBI, SB
Pitching: ERA, WHIP, W, K, SV
C: Geovany Soto
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: David Wright
SS: Ryan Theriot
OF: Bobby Abreu
OF: Carlos Gonzalez
OF: Shin-Shoo Choo
Util: Adam Dunn
Util: Franklin Gutierrez
bench: Nyjer Morgan
SP: Justin Verlander, David Price, Tommy Hanson, James Shields
RP: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Chad Qualls, Sean Marshall, Luke Gregerson
Spot Starters: Ted Lilly, Kevin Slowey
"My lead has been up to 26 points, and currently am steady for a couple of weeks at 15-20 points ahead of second place. The question is, should I trade a pitcher for a hitter, hitter for pitcher, any advice? I'm considering trading Price for Justin Upton, thoughts? Or, should I follow my gut and hold tight."
Justin Upton is a special player, but your league double counts plate disciple, in a sense, with batting average and OBP. Upton's been a disappointment this season as far as those categories are concerned and shows no signs of reversion to his higher pre-season forecasts. He's swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and fewer inside the zone and making less contact.
David Price will revert to something closer to his forecasts - that ERA is going to rise above 3.00 eventually. But reverting to forecasts doesn't mean that he's going to sink below his forecasts either. So you're still looking at about a 3.70 ERA going forward with about a 1.25 WHIP and plenty of strikeouts.
Upton could be worth much more. But do you need it? Where are you most vulnerable in your standings? Ted Lilly is an able replacement for Price, should you trade him. If you can also pick up another solid pitcher on the waiver wire for insurance - someone on the Padres for instance - then I'd think harder about the trade. Your league doesn't have huge lineups, particularly batting, so you want to minimize weak spots as much as possible. Gutierrez is a bit of liability for such a shallow league. Upton is a bit risky and Dunn has been good but a bit down on his norm for OBP and more so for Abreu. So you may not want to expose yourself in those stats if you're in danger of losing many points there. But if the replacement for Price/Lilly is tastier than the waiver-wire replacement for Gutierrez, I'd think about the trade.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 4:09am (3) Comments
One of the fundamental elements of the great Cardrunners debate from eariler this year - and one of the few that we have not beaten to the ground - was that of whether the fantasy community has accurately determined the value of a player's production, even when we have the luxury of pricing it retrospectively. I think most of us just assume that when we look at our league provider's player rankings pages that the player who is ranked first overall has outproduced the player ranked second, and so forth. However, in reality there is some sort of back-end formula taking place that is making certain assumptions and choosing what to value and how heavily so. The formula is not gospel, though it remains largely unquestioned by the fantasy-playing universe.
Returning to the quants' point from the Cardrunners debate, perhaps they are right. If I removed the rankings from the following two stat lines, which line would you determine to have more absolute value?
Player A: .314 100 R 31 HR 112 RBI 7 SB over 620 ABs
Player B: .323 109 R 15 HR 79 RBI 32 SB over 640 ABs
Player A enjoys a substantial advantage in the power categories to the tune of 16 homers and 33 RBI. Meanwhile, Player B has a slim nine-run advantage, a slight nine-point advantage in AVG, over 20 more ABs, and a large advantage in SBs to the tune of 25 SBs. I would guess that Player B would come out ahead in the player rater, but I can’t be certain.
These are totally made up lines, so there’s no looking up the real counterparts to these lines and checking their respective rankings, and even if we could, that is not the point.
I assume Yahoo, ESPN or CBS could provide a "correct" answer or at least one justifiable by some objective standard. But just because the league providers do give us an answer, how are we to know that their conclusions are correct. Have they ever divulged their methodology and subjected it to the scrutiny of the Derek Cartys of the world?
To be clear, I'm not speaking from the "who would be more valuable to my team" perspective - we can't expect Yahoo to know that. But, even in terms of value in a vacuum, how are we to know Yahoo's answers are right?
I'm not going to attempt to derive my own formula, I'll leave that to those with more statistical chops than I. But, I do want to ask some largely rhetorical questions about how Yahoo thinks by looking at the stat lines of some of its top-ranked players.
Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano are the two top-ranked batters and they share similar statistical profiles. As of my writing of this article, they boast the following lines:
(1) Cabrera: .351 (73/208) 40 R 17HR 52 RBI 2 SB
(2) Cano: .363 (82/226) 41 R 12 HR 45RBI 2 SB
Right off the bat, we can pretty confidently answer one question some may have. It does not appear that Yahoo considers positional scarcity/eligibility in its rankings and that Yahoo's rankings are based on absolute value. I draw this conclusion because Cano's production from a 2B appears as if it would be more desirable to a team than Cabrera's production from a 1B. This is a nice and clean example because neither player can boast a specific type of production that the other is deficient in.
Here are some actual comparisons that Yahoo is forced to rule on.
(6) Alex Rios: .318 (62/195) 38R 12HR 29 RBI 17 SB
(8) Evan Longoria: .312 (68/218) 37 R 11 HR 44RBI 10 SB
So, here we see seven steals (and a tiny advantage in AVG along with one run and one homer) trump a 15 RBI advantage. That makes sense on the surface, given the relative value of an RBI versus a steal. However, Longoria is tied for fifth in all of baseball in RBIs, while 75 players have driven in more than Rios. Surely, Rios is getting credit for his across-the-board productivity here, but in this respect Longoria is actually the better balanced player.
Here’s another one.
(26) Troy Tulowitzki: .303 (64/211) 42 R 8 HR 29 RBI 6 SB
(27) Magglio Ordonez: .312 (63/200) 37 R 8 HR 41 RBI 1 SB
Here we see five steals and five runs overtake small absolute batting average and a substantial RBI advantage. It seems the player rater is relying on a similar value system as it did above.
So far, I’ve just focused on close calls, but I presume all of these are defensible. But, combing the top-ranked players list, you do find some curious rankings, relative to one another. For example, how do we explain the chasm between Brett Gardner and Elvis Andrus?
(20) Gardner: .311 (59/190) 41 R 3 HR 18 RBI 20 SB
(65) Andrus .304 (63/207) 39 R 0 HR 16HR 18 SB
So, Gardner does have a small advantage in AVG, but Andrus’ is weightier (I assume Yahoo considers this to some degree or else Buster Posey would be considered a better AVG asset than Ichiro). He also boasts two more runs, three more homers, two more RBIs and two more steals. Now, a combined five HR/SB advantage is a legitimate relative advantage, as one homer or steal is a lot more meaningful than a single run or RBI. But is this advantage really large enough that there are 45 players ranked in between them? How many David Wrights is Yahoo fitting on the head of this pin?
One of the most curious comparisons and perhaps the one that gives me the strongest urge to question the system is Alex Rodriguez and Casey McGehee.
(43) Alex Rodríguez .294 (63/214) 33 R 8 HR 43 HR 2 SB
(63) Casey McGehee .291 (62/213) 29 R 9HR 43 HR 1 SB
In this case, the two players have almost identical statistical profiles, including hits and at-bats. A-Rod has one more hit (in one more AB), four more runs and one more steal. McGehee has an extra homer. Yet, somehow Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew McCutchen, Marlon Byrd, Michael Young, Josh Willingham, Kelly Johnson, Troy Glaus, and Adrian Beltre rank between them? Really?
How does Andrew McCutchen’s totally distinct profile of .314/34/7/17/13 compare to a more slugger-oriented stat line? Well, apparently it is more valuable than McGehee’s .291/29/9/43/1, but less valuable than A-Rod’s .294/33/8/43/1.
This isn’t even considering the fact that there a 10 pitchers grouped between them.
While I have no independent mechanism by which to rank McGehee and A-Rod, I feel I’m being reasonable and justified when I say that this triggers some reaction when put to the sniff test.
To be clear, the point of this piece is not to throw unsubstantiated mud at Yahoo's player ranker, but just to raise questions in a way that could benefit our readers. If it's possible that these rankers are wrong, that's a gaping opportunity to be exploited, considering just about the whole fantasy universe uses these systems to attribute relative value to known player performance.
You could either investigate the bias and rework the system which might allow you to capitalize the same one might when a league’s categories are customized while the pre-ranks remain tied to the default categories.
Or, you can scour the boards to find what seem to be bargains. Now, it's not news to find that McGehee can be had cheaper than A-Rod, but it is interesting to know that a system concerned only with the past and not interested in predicting the future can indicate such a sizeable gap in value between two nearly identical products.
This means that if I were equally confident that this performance represents both McGehee and A-Rod’s true talents, I should target McGehee because the mechanism we are using as the price guide seems to be off….unless of course it is right on McGehee, but off on A-Rod, which is why we should probably derive our own formula so we can determine if and where the disparity is occurring.
As the resident conspiracy theorist, I’ve done my job. OK, actually intelligent guys – get on that!
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:17am (16) Comments
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Kyle Gibson / Minnesota
Gibson's stock may be the fastest riser in all of prospect land for two reasons. One, the forearm stress fracture that caused him to drop in the 2009 draft is behind him. And two, he is putting up sick, video-game-esque primary numbers two months into the season. But it's the secondary stat sheet that we should all be looking at. A groundout/flyout ratio of better than three is a true sign of future success.
Aroldis Chapman / Cincinnati
I am impressed with the results that Chapman is churning out, and the heat he brings to the ballpark, but reservations remain. His secondary offerings have been inconsistent, forcing him to be too reliant on his fastball. His flyball rate is troublesome and won't get it done if he is going to be a standout in Cincinnati. Finally, at the core of the matter, he is simply allowing too many base runners. He does do a good job working from the stretch, however.
Alex White / Cleveland
White has had a couple of rough outings, but he has had a very strong debut overall. Control was a question mark when he was drafted, yet locating his fastball has been the key to his success. He hasn't used his varied repertoire much to this point, but he's working on it. Cleveland has to be happy with its investment.
Zack Wheeler / San Francisco
At this extremely early point in Wheeler's development, inconsistencies have been the name of the game—not just from game to game, but from inning to inning. He has had games where his velocity and control are spot-on one instant and then all over the place the next. He has also had games where his curveball has been ineffective with little movement. But he has ratcheted up his fastball to the mid-90s at times and has had some tremendous outings when his command is on. It will be fun to watch this young pitcher grow.
Randall Delgado / Atlanta
Arguably no pitcher in the lower levels of the minor leagues has been better than Delgado. Despite his young age, he sports three strong offerings. He doesn't have jaw-dropping velocity on his fastball, but he has strong movement and command of it, making it too much for A-ball hitters to handle. His secondary offerings will have to be used more often and improve as he climbs the ladder, but Delgado is quickly ascending prospect charts everywhere now that his command and movement have taken the next step.
Kyle Drabek / Toronto
Drabek has always been a second-tier prospect for me. His skills, and even his overall Double-A numbers, point toward that viewpoint. He looks like a fairly safe bet to have a strong major league career, but not the career of a true ace, as some are still projecting.
Simon Castro / San Diego
Castro's slider has hit a new level, making him one of the best pitchers in the Texas League. His change-up needs plenty of work still, and, facing Double-A competition, his command isn't where it needs to be, but it is encouraging to see a young pitcher get better with each passing year.
Dan Hudson / Chicago White Sox
Projecting Hudson's control moving forward has always been his biggest asset, and 2010 has been no different. His strikeout numbers continue to jump off the stat sheet, but I have concerns that his low-90s fastball won't deliver the same level of strikeouts in the majors. His flyball rate has always been high, which is another knock against him. But his slider could be a cure-all type of offering.
Nick Barnese / Tampa Bay
Relying on the movement and consistency of his fastball, Barnese continues to impress against A-level competition. It's great to see his command step up a peg this year, but his repertoire needs work. And whether or not he has what it takes to eventually anchor the top of a rotation remains to be seen. But he is improving and deserves a bump up everyone's board.
Matthew Moore / Tampa Bay
Moore has a lively arm that produces enviable movement on every one of his pitches, especially his fastball and potentially plus curveball, but his command is just not there and never has been. What's especially puzzling is that his delivery, albeit awkward, is pretty consistent from what I've seen. Maybe he will just be another live arm that never figures out pitching. Or maybe things will click and he will turn into one of the best prospects in baseball. Only time will tell.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:30am (1) Comments
Friday, June 11, 2010
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . . ." Moral: Admit when you're wrong, know when to give up, and always be looking to improve. Today, my "Chicago Bias" (and unwitting "Toronto Bias") will shine hard in search of good buy talent . . . just keep in mind that I'm a Cubs fan.
All stats current through at least June 8, 2010.
Jose Bautista watch (6/1-6/7): .235 BA, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is still at 100% in ESPN leagues.
Gavin Floyd | Chicago (AL) | SP | 37.2% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 6.64 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 7.23 K/9, 2.13 K/BB
True Talent: 3.95 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.35 K/9, 2.40 K/BB
Early last offseason, I came to realize how wrong I was about Gavin Floyd heading into the 2009 season. Whereas in the 2009 preseason, I said "A flyball pitcher who plays at the Cell with one of the league's worst outfield defenses? No thank you." (though, granted, I was also way off base with Jon Lester and King Felix ...), Floyd took all of my criticisms from the preseason and improved upon each and every one of them. He went from an Armando Galarraga look-alike (peripheral-wise) to a legitimate upper-middle-of-the-rotation starter (a quality No. 2, top-shelf No. 3 guy). Last season, Floyd started using his fastball less and slider more, and the result was more swinging strikes, more strikeouts, fewer fly balls/more ground balls and slightly improved control. Floyd's 3.69 end-of-season xFIP (3.77 end-of-season FIP) said that this was a man poised to break out big. His No. 120 preseason Yahoo ranking said he was going to be a huge value.
Flash forward to June 2010, and Floyd has burned many fantasy owners to the tune of a 6.64 ERA and 1.81 WHIP over 61 innings. While the swinging strikes (the 9.2% swinging strike rate is the second best of his career), strikeouts (7.23 K/9 is his second-highest rate since 2004) and ground balls (46.8% this season, his highest mark since 2004) are still there this season, Floyd has taken two steps back in his control (from 3.05 BB/9 in 2008 and 2.75 last season to 3.39 this season) and his strikeout rate has nonetheless regressed. The result has been a half-run increase in xFIP this season (currently 4.27).
While the increased ground balls and higher-than-average strikeout rate bode well for Floyd at the Cell, the White Sox defense perennially ranks in the bottom half of the league and this season is no exception. Chicago's (lack of) defense will probably keep Floyd's numbers sufficiently depressed that they will not reach elite levels without some strong luck (and even that is not always enough, as John Danks can surely attest).
Irrespective of the above, Floyd remains one of the AL Central's better (possibly top five) starters, and he will almost certainly end the season as a top-20 or top-25 AL-only starter. Floyd is more of a wild card in mixed leagues, but he has the potential to do something special if he can cut down a bit on the walks and get his K/BB back up to last season's mark (all while retaining the ground balls). In terms of buy-low guys, Floyd is about as good as they come. He's a good medium-risk, low-cost, high-reward pitcher for those teams in need of making a bold play to be competitive in their league this season.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in most mixed leagues (especially those with higher innings limits).
Bobby Jenks | Chicago (AL) | RP | 83.1% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.14 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 11.14 K/9, 2.36 K/BB
True Talent: 3.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.00 K/9, 2.50 K/BB
Last week, Ozzie backed up his boy and proclaimed that the "bullpen is better if Bobby's the closer." Jenks has been rock solid his last four outings (4 IP, 0 ER, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 5 K) and has not had a late-game explosion since May 26 (1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 1 K). This is all fine and dandy, but there is still a lingering concern that Jenks hasn't pitched like vintage Jenks over the past two seasons. Even though Jenks' K/9 and fastball velocity have been on the rebound over the past two seasons, so has his walk rate (4.70 per nine this season), which currently sits almost as high as his ERA (5.14).
There are signs of hope, however, that Jenks can be effective and lock down the closer job long term for the rest of this season (though he is a very likely non-tender candidate this offseason). As I hinted above, Jenks' fastball velocity and K/9 are on the rise. After bottoming out at "only" 93.8 mph and 5.55 K/9 in 2008, those figures are up to 94.7 MPH and 11.14 K/9, respectively—right in line with, or above, his career averages. Further, Jenks' GB% is back above the 50% mark this season after dipping to his lowest mark since 2005. The result is a 3.44 FIP and shiny 3.11 xFIP in a limited 21-inning sample. Now FIP/xFIP is not the best representation of a reliever's true talent because of variable leverage index usage or specific context, but these concerns apply more to LOOGYs and "The Lock Down Guy" and less to closers, whom managers tend to use when there is a save situation at hand (irrespective of who is coming to the plate in the ninth). Maybe it's the increased use of a change-up this season, but Jenks is secretly pitching the best he has since 2005.
A dual point of concern regarding Jenks is that his swinging strike percentage is down to 8.1% this season (8.2% MLB average, 10.0% career average) and his first strike percentage is down to a career-low 54.9% mark (63.1% career average). These two metrics give me concern regarding the sustainability of his 11+ K/9. If Jenks loses K's and maintains the walks, things could get real ugly real fast in the ninth. Just remember, Ozzie is a loyal guy who loves Bobby.
Recommendation: At the right cost, Jenks is a buy-low candidate in all leagues. Just make sure you get some handcuffs for this cheeseburger.
Matt Thornton | Chicago (AL) | RP | 22.4% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 2.10 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12.62 K/9, 6.00 K/BB
True Talent: 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.90 K/9, 4.55 K/BB
Handcuff No. 1 is Matt Thornton. The electric lefty has been nothing short of dominant for the Sox over the past three seasons. Since and including 2008, Thornton's K/9 has been above 10, his BB/9 has been consistently around 2.5, his ERA has not eclipsed 2.75 and he has posted WHIPs of 1.00, 1.08 and 0.82. Meanwhile, Thornton's GB% has been above 45% every season with the White Sox and his fastball value per 100 times thrown is second to none who has tossed 20 or more innings in the AL (third best overall). Thornton, in short, is a special kind of pitcher who can crush same-sided hitting and (since 2007) opposite-handed hitters. He is the rare kind of reliable reliever worth paying money to keep around (his +5.6 WAR since 2008 is second among all relievers only to Jonathan Broxton).
Late last season, the Sox gave Thornton the first shot at closing when Jenks went down, and if things remain turbulent for Jenks this season, Thornton is likely to be first in line again for saves, despite his left-handedness. Even if Thornton is not closing, he should be owned in all leagues for three reasons: (1) his awesome strikeouts, (2) his amazing ratios can balance out guys like Brandon Morrow (or just improve your pitching staff's bottom line overall), and (3) his leverage index is in the top three in the AL, meaning he will get his fair share of wins when he's not pitching in the ninth. A smart manager would not use Thornton as a closer, but rather keep using him as the high-leverage shut-down reliever. However, this is Ozzie Guillen we are talking about here, so consider Thornton the first handcuff for Jenks.
Recommendation: Must own in all formats.
J.J. Putz | Chicago (AL) | RP | 0.2% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIp, 12.36 K/9, 6.75 BB/9
True Talent: 3.00 ERA, 10.50 K/9, 4.00 K/BB
After falling from dominant-closer grace and suffering a malady of injuries from 2008 to 2009 that limited his effectiveness and innings, Putz has found new life as a non-closing late-inning reliever for the White Sox this season. Though Putz's fastball velocity is not in the 95 mph range as it was in his glory days (2006-2007) with the Mariners, it is still reading around 93.5 this season and steadily increasing as the season wears on (see Velocity Chart). Putz's bread and butter is, and always has been, his splitter, but his "secondary" stuff—the fastball and slider—is back to positive value, granting him a more effective pitching arsenal to work with.
No longer wrought with and limited by injuries this season, Putz has regained his control (1.83 BB/9) and strikeout talent (12.36 K/9) of yesteryear (2006-2007). The results have been a gorgeous 2.75 ERA/2.29 FIP/2.08 xFIP through 19.2 innings of work. If Putz keeps his comeback season up at least another month and the Sox keep struggling, Putz—who is only making $3 million this season—will surely be on the move to a team both in contention and in need of a top-shelf reliever (or a reliable closer, cough cough Reds cough cough) by the trading deadline. For now, the Putz is probably second in line for saves, given his closing history, or perhaps first in line if Ozzie (intelligently) decides to keep Thornton where he belongs (high-leverage shut-down guy) and Jenks keeps struggling. The potential for more saves after the deadline makes Putz and interesting, bench-worthy talent, while his good strikeout stuff and quality ratios make him a reliever worth owning to balance out your pitching staff's bottom line. ESPN's 0.2% ownership is criminally low; If Thorton is not available in your league and you could use a better ERA/WHIP or some K's and have the roster space to work with, make a play at J.J. Putz ASAP.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in most mixed leagues.
Sergio Santos | Chicago (AL) | RP | 0.3% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 1.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 10.80 K/9, 2.40 K/BB
True Talent: 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 9.45 K/9, 2.00 K/BB
The White Sox have an incredibly talented and deep bullpen this year, and it is sad to see such a strong late-inning core go to waste behind one of the AL's most ineffective offenses this season (the Sox are in the bottom 10 in wOBA). Another interesting arm the Sox have in their bullpen is former shortstop prospect Sergio Santos. The 27-year-old who couldn't hit (career minor league .699 OPS) was only recently (last year) converted into a pitcher and did not flash anything special (velocity excepted) in 28.2 innings of minor league ball spread between the A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels (26 ER, 30 K, 20 BB, 37 H, 1.98 WHIP and a putrid 32.7% GB%). Santos, however, broke camp with the Sox after a strong spring training and has been lights-out thus far in to his major league career (1.80 ERA/2.35 FIP/3.45 xFIP).
Santos throws a 95.6 mph fastball, but his true talent lies in a strong slider (+3.48 runs prevented per 100 times thrown)/change-up (+2.39 runs prevented per 100 times thrown) combo. Though he is still having problems locating the plate this season (4.50 BB/9), Santos is whiffing 10.80 per nine behind of a strong 13.0% swinging strike rate (8.2% MLB average). Santos has yet to allow a home run this season, but that obviously won't continue—especially with just under 60% of opponents' batted balls not being hit on to the ground.
In terms of talent, Santos seems to have plenty as a power-arm reliever. His ability to sustain success long term will likely hinge upon control. Similar to another former position player converted into a reliever from the North Side (Carlos Marmol), Santos might be best described as "effectively wild." Given his pitching style, Santos has the potential to be either really good (like Marmol) or really bad (like Daniel Cabrera). In terms of position, Santos may be a long-term closing option for the White Sox. Short term, however, the Sox have better options in the pen ahead of Santos, who is third in line for saves at best. Santos may get some closing experience toward the end of the season if the Sox fall out of it and make an early decision that Jenks will not be returning in 2011. Otherwise, Santos' value, at least outside of strikeouts, remains nil in most fantasy formats.
Recommendation: Ownable on teams in need of K's in AL-only formats, not particularly ownable in mixed leagues.
Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP, RP | 5.7% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.48 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 10.41 K/9, 2.11 K/BB
True Talent: 4.10 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 10.20 K/9, 2.05 K/BB
Since I detailed Morrow a few weeks back, his K/9 has come down almost a full strikeout and a half per inning (though his 10.40 K/9 is still second in the majors and first in the AL), but so has his walk rate. What once stood at 5.93 per nine has now come down a full walk per nine to 4.92. Meanwhile, Morrow's GB% has remained steadily within the 39%-40% range. Though his xFIP has "inflated" from 3.89 to 4.00 over the past 3 weeks, Morrow's decreased walks are a sign of improvement and much-sought-after consistency. Talent has never been a question for Morrow, a former first-round pick with mid-90s gas, a strong slider and an improving curveball. Control is the one thing that stands between Morrow and effectiveness.
Over his last 29 innings, Morrow has issued a mere nine walks and has posted a 4.03 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP—signs of what he is capable of when he's not too wild. Morrow also crushed the Yankees' powerhouse offense on June 6 (7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 8 K). In terms of potential, Morrow offers the kind of upside/downside that could make or break a fantasy team. Given his walk-happy ways, Morrow is a turbulent ride and high-risk pitcher, but he's also a possible Hail Mary for teams who have fallen behind in strikeouts and wins in the early going of the season. Morrow's value won't get any lower than it currently is, and his peripherals support the sustainability of his recent performance. Buyers should buy with caution and monitor his walks per start very closely. If you do decide to roster Morrow, I highly recommend pairing him with a quality ratio-stabilizer like Matt Thornton or a comparably good non-closer-candidate reliever.
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only formats, spot starter (for now) in mixed leagues of 12 or more teams with higher innings limits.
Justin Masterson | Cleveland | SP, RP | 0.9% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.46 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 8.34 K/9, 1.67 K/BB
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 2.00 K/BB
Justin Masterson, another power arm with lots of walks and lots of strikeouts, is a pitcher who is jamaican his owners crazy. Beneath the 5.46 ERA is a 4.03 xFIP which demands regression without avail. Since I covered Masterson a few weeks back, his K/9 has fallen from 10.18 to 8.34 and his BB/9 has ballooned from 3.87 to an outrageous 5.01. On a positive note, Masterson has since upped his worm-burning rate from 58.8% to 61.6%. Despite the fact that both Morrow and Masterson have identical 4.03 xFIPs at the moment, I have grown weary of Masterson's ineffective platoon splits against left-handed hitting. Masterson's inability to put away hitters has burned me one too many times this season, and even though he recently had a good outing against the Yankees, Masterson came back and was terrible in all but ERA against the punchless White Sox the other night.
Objectively speaking, Masterson offers comparable real-life upside to Morrow. However, unless GB% is a stat in your league, Morrow will undoubtedly have more fantasy value as an elite strikeout pitcher than Masterson, a good strikeout pitcher on the worst offensive team in baseball (one win this season). If he does not learn how to sit down lefties (5.23 xFIP against lefties this season, 2.88 xFIP against righties), Masterson's long-term role may be in the bullpen. All of these factors collude to push Masterson's risk threshold well above where is was only a month ago, and at some point, prospective value is outweighed by downside. In my mind, that threshold has been crossed—at least for mixed leagues. Still, there is a reason the Victor Martinez deal was centered around him . . .
Recommendation: Spot starter in AL-only formats, unownable in mixed leagues.
Vernon Wells | Toronto | OF | 100.0% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .275/.320/.475
Call me a skeptic, but I do not believe in Vernon Wells. This season excluded, how many .900+ OPS seasons do you think Vernon Wells has played? Based on his behemoth contract, I bet you didn't answer one. That's right, one (2003, though he came awfully close in 2006). Though Wells seems to hit .300 every other season (2001, 2003, 2006, 2008) and his BABIP is only .308, that BABIP is almost 20 points higher than his career average, and his 16.7% K% is at the highest rate since his first season in the majors over a decade ago. Such numbers indicate a batting average regression is in order (somewhere in the .275 range seems about right).
Well is also on pace for 40+ homers. This despite the fact that he is over 30 years old and he has only twice hit 30 or more dingers in a season. Wells has not even eclipsed the 20 mark since 2006. No one in his right mind could claim that Wells' current .306 ISO (Albert Pujols power) is legit—not from a guy with a career-high ISO of .239. Sure, Wells may have a career year this season, but what is the likelihood that a 32-year-old outfield has a career season? The odds are stacked against him.
Wells' early-season (consistent) output makes him a prime sell-high candidate. An owner in need of batting average and power with stolen-base upside may be intrigued by a trade depending on what you ask from him (or her) in return. A decent, struggling pitcher with high upside—like Max Scherzer—would seem to be a fair return on an outfielder you in all honesty probably got off waivers. Maybe you could pry Jake Peavy from a disgruntled owner? Some analysts (Matthew Berry, specifically) have said it's not worth selling Wells because you won't get back what he's actually worth, but I honestly do not think he is legitimately worth too much to begin with. Wells is, at best, a 20/15 outfielder with injury concerns. That's the upside. The downside is how Wells has played from 2007 to 2009. Take your profit and run.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in mixed leagues. However, Wells is a prime sell-now candidate.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 6:40am (3) Comments
Andrew Cashner | Chicago (NL) | RP (SP eligibility in Yahoo leagues) 1 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, 7.20 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 46.2 GB percentage
True Talent: 3.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.50 K/9, 1.40 K/BB
Andrew Cashner, ranked as one of the Cubs' top five prospects by Baseball America, was promoted recently and has only thrown five innings to date. While almost all of Cashner's work in the minors was as a starter, and his future may still lie in the rotation, it appears he will be spending the remainder of the year working out of the bullpen. He features a typical high-leverage-reliever repertoire of a power fastball and slider, but also has a developing change.
In 57 innings of work in Double-A and Triple-A this season, Cashner was able to strike out 59 batters and post a groundball rate of better than 50 percent. I would expect Cashner's stuff to play up a bit in the bullpen, so he may not see a decline in his strikeout rate, even with the promotion to the majors. Owners looking for some ratio help and strikeouts in deeper leagues may want to give Cashner a look. In leagues with innings caps, and pitching spots segregated into starters and relievers, Cashner has the added benefit of being a starting-eligible pitcher in Yahoo leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 14-team or larger mixed leagues, should be owned in most NL-only leagues.
Ian Kennedy | Arizona | SP 35 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: 3.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.76 K/9, 2.37 K/BB, 37.3 GB percentage
True Talent: 3.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.13 K/BB
A year removed from surgery to correct an aneurysm in his pitching arm and a trade from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks, Ian Kennedy left many wondering what to expect from him this year. The early results are good, even if they are a bit inflated by his .244 BABIP and favorable 83.1 percent strand rate, and they are reason to buy into Kennedy going forward if he's available in medium to large leagues. Though I'm usually not a fan of pitchers who give up a high number of fly balls, Kennedy's current strikeout rate of 7.76 K/9 makes it tolerable, especially since the K/9 looks sustainable. Kennedy's current swing percentage on balls outside the strike zone (O-swing) is 26.3 percent, and the contact rate on those pitches outside the zone (O-contact) is only 62.8 percent. If Kennedy is able to continue to induce swings on balls outside the strike zone, and hitters continue to not make much contact with those pitches, his K/9 will remain useful.
My biggest concern with Kennedy is that he pitched so few innings last year (23.2 innings) and will likely have his innings monitored by the Diamondbacks as the season progresses, and he could conceivably be shut down at some point in the second half. Going forward, a high-3's to low-4's ERA with a useful WHIP in the 1.25-1.30 range seems likely with a K/9 hovering around his current rate of 7.76, making him useful in a large number of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues, should be owned in all 14-team or larger mixed leagues, should be owned in all NL-only leagues.
Jeff Francis | Colorado | SP 13 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.31 K/9, 2.50 K/BB, 51.5 groundball percentage
True Talent: 4.71 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.30 K/9, 2.27 K/BB
Jeff Francis missed the entire 2009 season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. Coming into the season I didn't have any expectations of Francis being useful given the tricky nature of recovery from shoulder surgery. That said, it appears Francis is fully recovered from the surgery, as his fastball velocity is back to pre-surgery level and his control is at an all-time best (small-sample alert obviously in order).
A current K/9 of only 4.31 means Francis has been lucky to some degree to post his current 3.45 ERA, but his groundball rate of better than 50 percent, an elite 1.72 BB/9, and an xFIP of 4.16 suggest he hasn't been, to steal a poker term, a luck box entirely. Francis' current 28.1 percent O-swing with a O-contact rate of 68.0 percent leads me to believe that his K/9 will go up as the season progresses. While the contact with pitches outside the strike zone has likely helped Francis maintain a .290 BABIP, a few more misses on those same pitches should help increase his K/9 to a level closer to his career 6.12 K/9 rate. Owners without an innings cap probably aren't terribly concerned with his K/9, but those in leagues with an innings cap may want to implement pairing a high-volume strikeout reliever with Francis to help offset his less-than-ideal strikeout rate. Like Kennedy, Francis will likely have his innings monitored closely by the Rockies as the season progresses.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 14-team mixed leagues and watched closely in the rest, should be owned in medium to large NL-only leagues.
Andres Torres | San Francisco | OF 11 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
True Talent: .249/.314/.400
Let me start by suggesting reading an article written about Andres Torres over at Fangraphs by Pat Andriola. To quickly summarize, the article helps explain why Torres is a late bloomer, and helps support that his finish last year and hot start this year may not be a flash in the pan.
My largest concern, until recently, with Torres was the amount of playing time he'd receive as the season marches along. It appears increasing likely that Mark DeRosa will undergo surgery on his wrist, eliminating one person from a suddenly crowded Giants outfield. Also working in Torres' favor for extended playing is his excellent defense and his current perch atop the Giants' order as their leadoff hitter. On the season Torres is sporting a 11.9 percent walk rate and has a .295 average, thanks in large part to a .357 BABIP. While the BABIP likely won't stay at .357, there is hope it won't completely nosedive, as his BABIP last year was .347, his speed helps support a high BABIP and his current line-drive rate is 27.6 percent. If Torres is able to continue to get on base, and stay atop the Giants lineup, 25 stolen bases appear to be a slam dunk with hope for more. While Torres doesn't offer much help in power, his contributions in stolen bases, runs scored and batting average should make him of use to many in five-outfielder leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, all 14-team mixed leagues or larger, and all NL-only leagues.
Jose Tabata | Pittsburgh | OF 5 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: .500/.600/.500 (5 plate appearances)
True Talent: No projection
While it would have been more helpful to suggest adding Jose Tabata last week before his promotion (something I gave serious consideration to at this time last week, but unfortunately did not follow through with), I'll jump in line behind others suggesting adding Tabata if you are an owner in need of speed. At the time of his promotion Tabata was slashing .308/.373/.424 in 224 at-bats in Triple-A and posting a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 23:35. Like Torres, and probably more so, Tabata will be of little assistance in the power department, but also like Torres, he should be of help to owners in need of speed. Tabata was slotted atop the Pirates' order in his debut, a spot the Pirates likely want him to maintain, allowing them to slot McCutchen third, meaning that if he's able to get on base, steals should be plentiful (25 stolen bases against six caught stealing in Triple-A).
The learning curve and adjustment period for prospects varies widely, but Tabata's biggest asset, his speed, should translate well, thus hopefully limiting his bumps in the road. Tabata should be allowed to work through any struggles he has, as the Pirates are once again not going to compete for a playoff spot and have little competition for playing time in the outfield, especially if Garrett Jones is moved to first base. While Tabata's stolen bases will be tied largely to how often he reaches base, and he's likely to struggle at times, I'm going to say that I believe he'll steal 20 or more bags this season in the majors, making him a valuable asset in a variety of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, most 14-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, and all NL-only leagues.
Michael Stanton | Florida | OF 49 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: .600/.600/.600 (5 plate appearances)
True Talent: No projection
Michael Stanton, the third-ranked prospect according to Baseball America coming into the season, is likely to see his ownership skyrocket as owners claim him off waivers in leagues that require prospects to play in a major league baseball game before being available in the player pool. I am far from the first person to suggest adding or acquiring Stanton if you are an owner looking for a boost in home runs. However, I feature Stanton this week to caution owners that he is likely going to have his share of struggles early on because of his high strikeout rate in Double-A (53 strikeouts in 190 at bats). If Stanton gets off to a slow start, don't be one of the owners who panic and cast him off their roster, not immediately at least.
Stanton's power is unquestioned, as he blasted 21 home runs in just 190 Double-A at bats, as well as 12 doubles and two triples, allowing him to slash .311/.441/.726. His average will almost certainly drop significantly, perhaps into the .250-.260 range as he faces more advanced pitchers who look to exploit his high strikeout rate. He's also currently going to hit near the bottom of the Marlins' order, keeping the pressure to a minimum, but also reducing his at-bats and, with it, his counting stats. Thus far the only positive thing I've said is that his power is legitimate, but it's not the only thing that impresses me about Stanton, as I'm also impressed by his 44 walks in Double-A this season. Those in leagues using OBP in place of, or in addition to, batting average should probably consider him more valuable than those in leagues that don't. What's also encouraging about his walk rate is that it likely means he's seeing a lot of pitches, which should also help him wait for his pitch to drive, so to speak (though that is a bit of an assumption on my part, and may be incorrect). Players who make their major league baseball debut before they are legally of age to consume adult beverages are few and far between, and typically special talents, and Stanton doesn't appear to be an exception to that rule of thumb. Stanton should be a player of interest in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all 12-team or larger mixed leagues starting five outfielders, should be owned in all NL-only leagues.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:30am (1) Comments
About a year ago, I pleaded for baseball analysts (particularly fantasy analysts) to stop using FIP in forward-looking analysis (and then expanded upon my point a month later). In the year that has since passed, FIP has largely (and rightfully) been replaced by xFIP.
Despite the strides that have been made in the use of FIP and xFIP, you will still occasionally see them misunderstood or used incorrectly. I don't pen articles every time this happens because I think that I (and others) have covered it pretty fully in the past, but a couple of readers pointed out an article that was published earlier this week at ESPN Fantasy that I figured I would comment on since it has received some attention (Tom Tango also responded to it here).
In the article, A.J. Mass is critical of FIP and tries to show how it may not be all that it's cracked up to be, but his methods are flawed:
Proponents of FIP would have us believe that if a pitcher's ERA is far lower than his FIP, we should expect a regression the following season. Similarly, if a pitcher has a higher ERA than FIP, then he was probably more unlucky than anything else, and due for a bounce-back campaign. So how does that play so far in 2010? Let's go to the leaderboard and see:
This analysis is riddled with selection bias. By looking only at the league leaders in ERA, you're guaranteeing that the vast majority will have an ERA lower than their FIP. Why? Because they're overperforming! They're statistical outliers in a small sample size. Are we really expecting Jaime Garcia to post a 1.32 ERA or Ubaldo Jimenez to post an ERA under 1.00? I certainly hope not.
Nobody's skills are that good, so how could we possibly expect FIP to say that they are? By no reasonable standard could we have predicted any of these pitchers to have an ERA as low as they currently do. Reject fielding independent pitching stats if you want (you'll still be wrong, although you're welcome to do so), but don't do so on the basis that they can't predict Livan Hernandez to post a 2.22 ERA through June 10 unless you can show me a method that can.
Also, as a minor point, we should note that FIP isn't a projection. It's not necessarily a predictive stat, though it is often treated as such because it is more predictive than ERA.
I suppose one could argue that Livan Hernandez could well finish this year with an ERA of 4.00 and satisfy both the current prediction that he's due for a regression this season, as well as the prediction that he would better his 5.44 ERA from 2009, and use that as "proof" that FIP works. It seems to me, however, that this particular use of FIP is misguided.
Because, like anything else, we're looking at a finite sample. In two months of a season, we can't say with absolute certainty how good (or bad) a particular defense is, and it certainly won't manifest itself in 75 innings for a particular pitcher. Considering how unstable BABIP is (the primary way in which defense manifests itself in a pitcher's line), expecting a pitcher's BABIP through June 10 to match his BABIP at the end of the season is misguided.
This argument becomes even more absurd when you realize that pitchers on the same team rarely post identical BABIPs. By this article's logic, though, they should, since they have the same defense behind them. That, however, is simply not the case. For example, Wandy Rodriguez currently has a .354 BABIP while teammate Roy Oswalt is rocking out to a .278 figure.
Also, this statement fails to realize that FIP does more than just strip out the effects of defense. It also helps to eliminate luck, simple random variation. There is simply too much that happens when a cylindrical bat meets a spherical ball that will land somewhere in a 100,000-square-foot playing area for BABIP to perfectly encapsulate the concept of "defense." Fielding independent stats remove both the portion of BABIP that is defense and the portion that is luck.
Continuing on ...
The following table [2010 FIP Trailers] shows us the pitchers who have the least control of their own fates. As such, they fall victim to bad breaks and balls hit just out of the reach of a diving outfielder far more than the previous list [2010 FIP Leaders]. Some of these guys may indeed simply be bad. Others, like Ian Kennedy and his .229 batting average against, might be in for a rude awakening as the summer drags on.
More important here than having "the least control of their own fates," these pitchers are simply bad. They're prone to "bad breaks" to the same extent that good pitchers are—it's just that they allow more balls in play that they can get lucky or unlucky on. They don't "fall victim to ... balls hit just out of the reach of a diving outfielder" more than the pitchers with good FIPs. Once a ball is put in play, there is minimal difference between one allowed by a good pitcher and one allowed by a bad pitcher (as judged by FIP). It's left up to the fielder and to chance in both cases.
Finally, because Mass uses FIP instead of xFIP, he draws an incorrect conclusion about Ian Kennedy—that he is pitching poorly. Sure, his 3.17 ERA is way too low, but his 4.30 xFIP is a half-run lower than his 4.80 FIP and plenty valuable in deep mixed and NL-only leagues.
That's all for this week. I'm sure this is review for many of you, but I know that THT Fantasy has welcomed a lot of new readers since I last discussed FIP a year ago, so I thought it'd be a good idea to go over some of the misconceptions and misapplications of it. If you have any questions, as always, feel free to let me know.
Posted by Derek Carty at 6:50am (13) Comments
Monday, June 14, 2010
I am a veteran of auction leagues who this year stuck my toe into my first fantasy draft, joining a long-distance league of guys whose common connection is the University of Virginia. Ours is a 14-team mixed league with 23 roster spots: eight position players, two utility players, eight pitchers, including at least two relievers, and five bench players. We had a snake draft the last weekend in March, with the order computer generated. What follows is a review of the players I selected and some thoughts about what has gone right and what wrong. I will post a more detailed analysis of what I think I have learned from the experience, but in the meantime would welcome your thoughts and comments.
1.(3) Alex Rodriguez
2. (26) Adrian Gonzalez
3. (31) Mark Reynolds
4. (54) Jose Reyes
5. (59) Nelson Cruz
6. (82) Clayton Kershaw
7. (87) Javier Vazquez
8. (111) Carlos Gonzalez
9. (115) Julio Borbon
10. (138) Brett Anderson
11. (143) Rafael Soriano
12. (166) Kurt Suzuki
13. (171) David Aardsma
14. (194) Vladimir Guerrero
15. (199) Jonathan Sanchez
16. (222) Mat Latos
17. (227) Brian Matusz
18. (250) Scott Sizemore
19. (255) Magglio Ordonez
20. (278) Travis Snider
21. (283) Everth Cabrera
22. (306) Chris Young
23.(311) Peter Moylan
Draft analysis (not pick-by pick but some observations)
(1) I hated getting the third pick as there was a big perceived drop-off after Albert Pujols and Hansley Ramirez. I debated long and hard about going with ARod or Ryan Braun and the tipping point for me was what I expected would be an un-godly number of RBI opportunities in a Yankee lineup I thought might feature three .400 OBP guys at the top of the order. ARod does have a few more RBI but with his wonky hip I would rather have Braun right now. Braun ended up sliding to sixth behind Chase Utley and Matt Kemp.
(2) Reynolds' batting average has been painful but should improve as his BABIP returns to his and league norms.
(3) Reyes was a gamble and has neither been a flop or a success—so far. If his health continues I like the odds of the latter.
(4) Cruz was having a monster years before his hamstring intervened; that said, he did present an elevated injury risk.
(5) Also down for the count have been Anderson (injuries), Snider (injuries) and Sizemore (demotion). Those losses would kill me in a deep league—injuries have killed me in my 12-team AL roto league. But in a mixed league with 14 owners, the free agent pool is much deeper. The shallower the league, the more one can withstand colossal failures, and I would think that makes it more justifiable to take risks on draft or auction day.
(6) Drafting closers is a bit like playing chicken—I held off as long as I could, waiting while 10 closers were drafted before taking Soriano and 16 before taking Aardsma.
(7) There's little need to take starting pitching earlier when players such as Latos, Sanchez and Matusz are available so late. Certainly Laros and Sanchez in the mid-teens have out-performed two of my three top-10 pitchers in Vasquez and Anderson. And there were plenty of other good arms taken in the mid-teens and still others not drafted at all.
(8) My stars to-date—those who have exceeded expectations—have been Guerrero, Carlos Gonzalez and to a lesser extent Ordonez: Something old, something new and something blue.
(9) Moylan was an accident pick—got to hung up sorting possibilities for that all-important last pick and the clock ran out and my pick was computer-generated.
March 31 Drop Moylan Add Kyle Blanks April 14 Drop Young Add Phil Hughes (dropped five days earlier for Delmon Young) April 27 Drop Cabrera Add Carlos Zambrano (dropped four days earlier for Doug Fister) May 3 Drop Snider Add Eric Young May 15 Drop Young Add Gordon Beckham (dropped three days earlier) May 16 Drop Sizemore Add Ian Kennedy May 16 Drop Blanks Add Snider May 16 Drop Zambrano Add Mike Stanton May 20 Drop Snider Add David Freese (dropped three days earlier) May 23 Drop Stanton Add Kosuke Fukudome (dropped three days earlier) June 8 Drop Anderson Add Snider June 8 Drop Fukudome Add Brett Cecil June 8 Drop Snider Add John Axford June 9 Drop Beckham Add Skip Schumaker (dropped 19 days earlier) June 10 Drop Borbon Add Juan Pierre
(1) Best pick-ups have been Hughes and Kennedy and I'm hopeful Cecil will continue to pitch well. Only Hughes was drafted and he was dropped early, which reinforces my view that you can wait to draft pitchers.
(2) My schedule is too busy to be the first to nab a player just called up or returning from the disabled list, so I try to compensate by anticipating, but not too successfully so far—I took Stanton too soon, then dropped him.
(3) One team's trash is another's treasure: Six of my signings have been of cast-offs.
There has only been single trade in what is a start-up league with another nixed by owners. I have yet to be approached with a trade proposal; I have made several offers but to no avail.
I've made a lot of mistakes but fewer than my rivals—as of Sunday night my team was in first place with 104 points, the second-place team was at 98.5 and one other team was above 90. I lead the league in only one category—RBI—so my success has been predicated on a lack of a major weakness: I'm in the top half of every category. Many categories are tight, especially wins and runs, so I have added starting pitchers and Pierre. Our league has a maximum cap on innings above which cumulative stats don't count, but so far I'm on pace to reach but not exceed the cap.