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Friday, October 01, 2010
With the season rounding out this weekend, I felt it appropriate to take a quick retrospective look at the bold (and oft foolhardy) predictions I made in 2010. This week we will look at my 10 best/most accurate fantasy suggestions. Next week, we will look at my 10 worst.
1. Alex Rios' true talent line
Despite a first and second half that were as different as day (.305/.361/.518, 22.7 PA/HR, 14.8 PA/SB, 6.2 PA/R, 7.0 PA/RBI) and night (.258/.301/.383, 46.0 PA/HR, 25.1 PA/SB, 8.1 PA/R, 7.1 PA/RBI), Alex Rios' overall season line of .284/.334/.457 with 21 HR, 34 SB, 89 R and 88 RBI over 617 PA almost exactly mirrors my preseason projection of .286/.331/.443 with 20 HR, 30 SB and 85 R/RBI. Though Rios is overpaid for his real life services, his 141 ADP on Yahoo entering the season made him an undervalued asset who provided the precise kind of fantasy gold I expected overall in 2010. I hope you were able to sell high on Rios in July. I wasn't.
2. Max Scherzerwill be a top shelf pitcher
The Dirty Scherz was one of my top sleeper picks for 2010. Yahoo ranked him as the No. 261 player overall, which should have been illegal. (I had him ranked as a top 15-20 starter.) Despite expecting a decline in strikeouts from the NL to AL move, I expected Scherzer to end the season with a 3.78 ERA with a still strong 8.62 K/9.
Though he struggled through the first five weeks of the season (and needed to spend sometime in Triple-A), I begged owners to hold on and buy low to shares of his stock. Since his return to the majors, the Dirty Scherz has been nothing short of electric. His season ERA of 3.40 is solid, but it does not do justice to his second half dominance: 97 innings of 2.23 ERA, 93:32 K/BB (2.91), 1.09 WHIP baseball.
Some have lauded Justin Verlander's September performance (39 IP, 13 RA/9 ER, 41:4 K/BB (10.25), 2.39 xFIP on the heels of an atypical 52 percent GB rate), but Max Scherzer (38 IP, 11 RA/ER, 39:8 K/BB, 3.2 xFIP with a 40.8 percent ground balls has been just as filthy and posted batted ball peripherals in line with his career norms. Next year may be the last year you can get the him at some discount and I'd recommend exploiting that opportunity. Scherzer has some of the best stuff in baseball and he still has upside... call him a must-keep keeper. I'll just tell you I told ya so.
3. Jake Peavy's poor ERA for the White Sox
One of my bigger and bolder (and surely the most criticized) preseason projections was my utterly bearish line for Jake Peavy: a 4.22 ERA with a sub-8.5 K/9. Though Peavy was perhaps starting to find his AL groove when he went down with injury, his season ended with a 4.63 ERA with a K/9 of 7.82, winning me a pair of bets. Heading into 2011, even if Peavy proves healthy, I stand behind my plus-4.00 ERA prediction for Peavy.
4. Jayson Werth's true talent line
Early in the season, I argued with a friend over what Jayson Werth was worth in fantasy. That is, what was he capable of? I initially projected a .284 BA with 27 HR, 74 RBI and eight steals. I later updated that projection slightly to reflect a 25 HR/10 SB plateau. Jayson Werth has more or less assented to my prediction, posting a .292 AVG with 25 HR, 12 SB and 79 RBI thus far.
Though he remains, as I noted, an elite outfield option and a top free agent this offseason, I felt I had my thumb pretty well on his pulse this year. Heck, I was dead on with his first half numbers. (His first half was .282 AVG, 13 HR, 5 SB over 81 games). Granted, I was simultaneous way off with Ichiro (who was the other part of the Jayson Werth discussion). Can't win them all, I suppose.
5. My ridiculously high expectations for Ryan Madson
In one of the first weeks of the baseball season, I traded Ryan Madson (then closing for the then-and-always injured and oft ineffective Brad Lidge) for Kendry Morales. Despite the fact that I had Prince Fielder and Joey Votto occupying my 1B and UTIL positions (no CI in this league) and needed Morales only as a reserve player for off days, my league was in uproar. A non-closer for "that 2009 stud" Morales? People were ready to burn me at the stake for allowing the trade (I am the commissioner of this league). Things calmed down after a few weeks: Morales went down with a freak injury that cut his season short, and Madson went on to do great things.
Madson has a 2.28 ERA, a 63:13 K/BB ratio (4.85) over 51.1 IP and a 1.05 WHIP to go along with six wins and five saves. His ERA (1.66) and WHIP (0.92) on my opponent's team are even better (six wins, two saves, 43 IP). Considering the amount of punch Madson provided fantasy owners this season over a mere 51.1 innings with a legitimate chance at stealing the closer role (via injury or ineffectiveness or both) from Lidge, I would say that I was, more or less, right about Madson. Say what you will, he's a damn good reliever (much more valuable and more reliable than, say, Tyler Clippard).
If that prediction does not count, then I substitute herein my unwavering love for Ricky Nolasco/Wandy Rodriguez/Cole Hamels. I told you so on all three of those guys, despite poor first halves.
6. Colby Lewis is very good at pitching
Heading into the 2010 season, I was big on Colby Lewis. Thanks in part to Patrick Newman of Fangraphs bringing my attention to him sometime in January, I took a close look at Lewis' numbers in Japan and concluded there was strong value to be found. I boldly forecast 13 W, 170 IP, 3.72 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and a 1.32 WHIP. Though Lewis has arguably succumbed to fatigue in the past few weeks (though his most recent outing was brilliant), his current season line stands at a 3.72 ERA, an 8.82 K/9 and 12 wins. I really only underestimated Lewis WHIP and innings potential. Otherwise, he came as advertised.
7. Geovany Soto is (still) very good at hitting
I have long been a big fan of Geo Soto. I bought his jersey (No. 18!) in 2007 and have not looked back since. I found plenty of reason for explanation for his 2009 sophomore struggles (power zapping injury" and poor batted ball luck) and reasons to be optimistic in 2010. Heck, I even ranted about him in an AL Waiver Wire column.
In the offseason, I boldly predicted a .270 AVG, a .370+ OBP and 20-plus homers (with upside to spare) for Soto. In fact, I went so far as to bet that he would out-homer both Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer to likely end up as the home run leader among catchers. My strong prediction of rebound proved correct and if not for Lou Piniella's unfounded love for Koyie Hill, Soto would probably have been the major league leader in catcher home runs.
Soto's season ended early with a September injury, but he posted the highest walk rate (16 percent) of any major league player with 300-plus PA this year. This, combined with a ridiculous .280/.393/.497 (.385 wOBA) line resulted in +3.5 WAR over less than 400 PA. Only three catchers (Brian McCann +5.9, Joe Mauer +5.2, Victor Martinez +3.9) posted higher WARs than Soto and each received between 140 and 200 more plate appearances. The Cubs need to lock my boy up long term now, before it's too late (and "costly").
8. Brennan Boesch is NOT good at hitting
From day one on my job with THT, I did not believe in Brennan Boesch. Not even two months later, while he was still raking, did Boesch have me fooled. I did not peg him as anything more than a .272/.305/.425 hitter (see week 7). As apparent by his full season .261/.327/.426 line, Boesch did not disagree. Dontcha just love that feeling when everything is right in the world?
9 Gio Gonzalez is a post-hype sleeper talent with fantasy value
A lot of people scoffed at me when I tried to sell Gio Gonzalez as a legitimate pitcher and fantasy asset. A post-hype sleeper, with tons of strikeout upside, poor control and plenty of groundball induction, I saw Gio as a sub-4 ERA strikeout-capable pitcher with WHIP in the 1.30 range and wins upside. In my inaugural THT post, I predicted a 3.90 season ERA with a 8.65 K/9 and 4.40 BB/9 (1.96 K/BB).
His numbers have been better than expected (3.35 ERA, 14 wins) and though his strikeout rate (and swinging strike percentage) is lower than expected, his control has been unexpectedly better as well. His actual K/BB on the season (1.86) is quite close to what I predicted it would be (1.96). Gonzalez, along with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden, is living proof that Billy Beane's still got that team-building talent. 2011 looks bright for Oakland fans.
10. Carl Pavano will rebound and have a useful fantasy season
Maybe it is the Luigi (from Mario Brothers) mustache, but Carl Pavano has been quite solid for the Twins this season. His ERA on the season (3.83) is good, though that number is slightly inflated by a poor September (6.18 ERA). In Week 9 of my AL Waiver Wire companion, I predicted Pavano's talents worth a 3.80 ERA, a 6.00 K/9 and a 1.23 WHIP. His line so far is remarkably similar (3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), but I seem to have oversold his whiff ability (4.79 K/9). In the offseason, I lauded Pavano as a solid SP4/5 option for fantasy. Those 17 wins are just gravy.
-Jim Thome and the White Sox 2010 DHing situation (as further established, controversially, in a THT Live post).
-Jim Edmonds probably still has some gas left in the tank.
-Kris Medlen has great stuff and needs a starting spot in the Braves' 2010 rotation.
-Kelly Johnson is better than the Braves gave him credit for (and the Cubs should have signed him).
-Jose Bautista can keep up his power surge (see Bautista watch).
-Predicting Luke Scott's hot streaks (Booyah).
-My often skeptical, but endearing love of Brandon Morrow (see it fluctuate by week: week 7, week 10, week 15, week 19). He and I, like Jonathan Sanchez and I, have a love-hate relationship that goes way back.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:17am (17) Comments
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
So, it’s the end of the season. I hope I have a lot of happy readers who have spent the last few days gloating to their downtrodden leaguemates over their virtual hardware. With this column, I’m not going to deviate far from the norm for columnists at this time of year. I want to review some players with whom I put my money where my mouth was. Early this season, I listed players who I drafted in multiple leagues. I’d like to spend a bit of time looking back at players who I drafted in either three or all of my four leagues, and seeing who worked out and who didn’t.
4 for 4
Roy Oswalt. Well, it’s always nice to knock the first one out of the park… and clear over the parking lot as well. Oswalt finished the season as Yahoo’s 15th ranked player and fourth ranked pitcher. I’m extremely proud to have gone 4 for 4 with Roy. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be very good again next year, though he’ll probably be too expensive for me to rekindle my affair with him.
Max Scherzer. This too turned out to be a great pick. In my four leagues, I stuck with him when he was sent down in two and dropped him in the other two, more shallow, formats. I got him back in one of those two. So, I actually had most of his season three times this year. Scherzer proved to be a truly solid value if you stuck with him – even better if you missed the rocky roads at the beginning. Here’s my prognostication about Scherzer for next year: He did what he did fairly under the radar so he should represent a great value risk next year as a semi-sleeper, but the experts will blow his cover and hype him up a ton (especially if he has a good spring or something) so he’ll actually creep up to where he should be valued in the first place.
3 for 4
Nelson Cruz. Cruz is tough for me to figure, but I keep telling myself I was proven right here, even if my high selections of Cruz look more like a neutral outcome. I worried about his batting average, but it looks like I didn’t have to. When he was on the field, he actually outperformed my expectations, which were already higher than most. He never repeated his peak performance at the beginning of the season, but having dealt with three separate DL stints, performing well enough to avoid sinking a wonderful start is quite impressive in its own right. The question with Cruz is whether he has an injury-free season in him. I’m going to keep taking the bait of his talent, because if he gives you one, it’s going to be monstrous. I had nice fill-ins for him as well, so in shallower leagues where replacements abound, I consider Cruz a good call. Overall, I was happier with my investment than I was disappointed.
Aramis Ramirez. This was the three-timer who I was least excited about. He just kept falling to me and I wound up selecting him when I just could not ignore his history and upside any longer. He started the season banged up, so I was prepared for that, and retained a replacement, who turned out to also offer quality production from this slot while Ramirez was stinking up the joint. A nice first half from Troy Glaus worked wonders here.
Ramirez put together a fairly strong second half of the season, so we’re likely to go through the same dilemma with him in next year’s draft. I think the prices will be even lower than they were this past year though, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if I wind up getting in on him again.
Ted Lilly. In my original column about these guys, I said this about Lilly, “He’s the definition of underrated and he gets snubbed every year. This season he’s coming off an injury to boot but is only slated to miss the first two weeks of the season. Anything resembling his past three seasons will be a tremendous value.”
This was another one of my better calls. Lilly would have been nothing short of a windfall, basically of Oswalt proportions, given that he was drafted substantially later than even Oswalt, had the Cubs gotten him the victories he deserved prior to his trade to Los Angeles.
Brad Lidge. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back too often here, but geez, these were pretty good, huh? Another great pick! Lidge put up 27 saves, a sub-3.00 ERA, a neutral WHIP, and about 10.5 K/9, not bad for a guy who was one of the last closers off the board in most drafts. In the second half, Lidge was 21 for 23 in save opportunities, and pitched to the tune of a 2.10 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Mariano Rivera’s second half? Thirteen for 16, 2.81 and 1.09, with less than 4.5 K/9. Am I cherry picking here? Maybe. But, as long as you don’t interpret this as me endorsing Lidge over Mo, I think the point stands.
*Aaron Hill. Hill was an unofficial three-timer. I drafted him twice and then traded for him once. He was largely a bust, though I’d be lying if I said his 26 homers from the second base slot didn’t help at all. To make matters worse, I traded a two-timer to get him – Hunter Pence, who had an off-the-charts, top 40 season. In my defense there, I had gotten a great return from a late flier I took on Magglio Ordonez and was dripping with outfield depth while floundering with a middle infield that was embarrassingly thin after Tulo. I thought I was trading from depth to fill a need – sound logic, poor execution. In retrospect, I bet I could have sold high on Andre Ethier to land Dan Uggla.
Some other players who I was really high, and right on, but only able to land in two leagues were: Joakim Soria, Cole Hamels, Rafael Soriano (fully intended to draft him in all leagues, waited too long in one and got beaten to the punch in another), Pence (actually he was more like the two-time version of Ramirez), and. Jonathan Sanchez.
The rest of the guys from the original column proved to be generally neutral picks.
Also, for any of you curious about the outcomes relating to last week’s strategy, allow me to provide a brief update and wrap-up. I did not choose to go for the spot starter orgy a day in advance and this decision was made because I had good quality, already rostered pitchers set to go on the final day of the season (Lilly, Colby Lewis and Sanchez) and I didn’t want to lose their starts. I got beaten to the first choice by the team right behind me in the standings, who swooped in minutes after 3 a.m. Saturday morning. An hour later when I logged on most of the better options were gone. Still, I went in deep and grabbed a bunch of streamers. I would up striking collective gold. My band of nobodies, supplemented by my legit core, netted me four wins, and more than 40 innings of 1 K per IP, sub 2.00-ERA ball. I nabbed second place in this league after pretty much making the decision, six weeks ago, to rebuild. Further, I came within one win or .02 ERA points of pulling out the whole league. I have one of the best keeper cores going into next year and my payout was big enough to continue my streak of financially profiting from fantasy baseball to five years.
This was, however, the first time in that period that I did not win a single title. Maybe getting the THT gig is like the Madden or Sports Illustrated curse. Still, I am no less proud of my second place finish in my main league this year than I am of any number of other past championships. I blew a couple of my top picks in that league, dealt with some injuries to my star players, and managed to sell off pitcher assets to right my innings pace and strategically fill out of struggling offense. This performance was more Tom Glavine, less Randy Johnson.
Congrats to each and every one of you who won a league this year. And, thanks to all who read my column even once. I hope that I’ve entertained and stimulated some of you, even if I wasn’t able to help you. I’ll still be here throughout the off-season, and I hope you will too!
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:14am (0) Comments
Thursday, October 07, 2010
It takes a special talent to be so bad that you're somewhat good. I'm proud that for the second year running I've found enough stinkers to win my blogger's division of Razzball.com's razzball competition (sadly finishing a bit short of winning the overall title among 15 divisions; the winner gets a jacuzzi). If you're not familiar with the razzball competition, it is a points league where teams get points for a player's poor performance but loses points when a player performs well.
My roster at the start of season was:
Jeff Clement - C
Ramon Hernandez - 1B
Luis Castillo - 2B
Chase Headley - 3B
Adam Everett -SS
Garrett Atkins - CI
Alcides Escobar - MI
Michael Bourn - OF
Tony Gwynn Jr - OF
Will Venable - OF
Coco Crisp - OF
Michael Brantley - OF
Yorvit Torrealba - Util
John Lannan - P
Ross Ohlendorf - P
John Maine - P
Jeremy Sowers - P
Jeremy Bonderman - P
Scott Feldman - P
Brandon McCarthy - P
Dallas Braden - P
Matt Harrison - P
It is easy to see three of my strategies:
- Play as many catchers as possible by using multi-position eligibility; that Ramon Hernandez was eligible at the most dangerous position, first base, only sweetened his value to me.
- Play as many Padres as possible. I had high hopes for some offensive futility on the California border.
- Play as many Texas pitchers as possible. Here I was clearly off. Though the Rangers pitchers that I drafted did poorly, Texas had enough good pitchers to quickly deprive Harrison and McCarthy of any starting role.
This season, the commissioners rejiggered the point structure so that most players were projected to post positive points, so letting roster spots remain fallow was no longer a good strategy. Still, home runs were penalized heavily so speedsters were at a premium. The commishs also imposed a 1250 innings pitched limit, so streaming two-start pitchers was also out.
As it turned out, the most important characteristic for batters was playing time. High strikeout, low power players like Josh Wilson were among the most valuable. But finding players that stayed regularly in the lineup was key. Players that could flash the leather, being more likely to keep their jobs even if they struggled at the plate, were great - think Franklin Guttierrez and Brandon Inge.
The most valuable pitchers were starters that put in few quality starts. Flyball pitchers (since giving up home runs was valuable) with few strikeouts and few innings pitched were prized. Fifth starters were fine - if their start was skipped it wasn't a big deal given the low innings limit. Brian Bannister and David Hernandez were prime examples. But, given that these types of pitchers are in short supply, "aces" like Kevin Millwood, who every five days would go out, give up a few home runs and lose, were also valuable.
Why do I bother retelling this tale of purposeful woe? Partly to give the folks over at Razzball their props for hosting a really fun format. There are lots of readers' leagues there too, so you should play in one next year if you're looking for a different challenge.
But I also learned a lesson this year that is broadly applicable: Format changes can radically alter strategies for winning. Last season's winning strategy of finding a few cash cow batters and then playing it safe at other positions was still a decent strategy for this year but it was not a winning strategy. Same goes for drafting lots of dependably mediocre pitchers: Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders and Mark Buerle simply pitched too much to be supremely valuable.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 5:18am (4) Comments
1. Jason Heyward / OF / Atlanta / High: #1 / Low: #1
Heyward put together a strong rookie campaign. Most impressive of all was his walk rate. Look for his numbers to take a step up across the board next year, making him a No. 1 fantasy outfielder.
2. Mike Stanton / OF / Florida / High: #2 / Low: #15
If his power develops further, even at the rate of a normal hitter, Stanton will be considered, without a doubt, one of the best home run threats in baseball.
3. Carlos Santana / C / Cleveland / High: #2 / Low: #7
Before his injury, Santana displayed a seamless transition into the majors, maintaining his superb plate approach and plus power. It will be interesting to see if the knee injury affects his defense.
4. Madison Bumgarner / SP / San Francisco / High: #4 / Low: #13
Bumgarner posted an impressive half season in the big leagues, especially from a control standpoint. He's way ahead of the curve for a 21-year-old.
5. Buster Posey / C / San Francisco / High: #5 / Low: #11
Posey burst onto the scene in late May and immediately became a top tier fantasy catcher. There's no looking back.
11. Brian Matusz / SP / Baltimore / High: #6 / Low: #12
After a rough start to the year, Matusz showed what he is capable of in August and September. It's tough to judge where he will be ranked universally in 2011, but he is a premium sleeper candidate in 2011, capable of picking up where he left off.
13. Pedro Alvarez / 3B / Pittsburgh / High: #10 / Low: #22
It was good to see Alvarez display home run power and at least a so-so batting average in his first major league season.
15. Starlin Castro / SS / Chicago Cubs / High: #12 / Low: #44
A .300 batting average over 463 at-bats is exciting, and 31 doubles is encouraging. Castro's stolen base success rate, home run power and walk rate are not so encouraging. Nevertheless, a good major league career appears to be in order.
19. Stephen Strasburg / SP / Washington / High: #2 / Low: #19
Strasburg's major league debut was as good as it gets. Now his potentially electrifying career hinges on his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
20. Neftali Feliz / SP/RP / Texas / High: #12 / Low: #20
Feliz's rookie season proved that he can be a long-time all-star closer. It also proved that he might not ever get the chance to start.
21. Jaime Garcia / SP / St. Louis / High: #39 / Low: UR
It's tough to fathom from a young man recently removed from Tommy John surgery, but in some ways Garcia may have put together a career year. A 2.70 ERA will be tough to maintain and his strikeout rate is topped out, but he proved that he is a fantasy mid-rotation mainstay.
22. Justin Smoak / 1B / Seattle / High: #8 / Low: #23
Smoak has all-star tools, but adjusting to the majors has been challenging. Although, looking beyond the surface, some of his secondary numbers are encouraging.
23. Jhoulys Chacin / SP/RP / Colorado / High: #17 / Low: #24
His walk rate was high, but Chacin had a fantastic rookie season. I'm not sure I believe in it, but he has the capability to be the Ubaldo Jimenez of 2011.
26. Logan Morrison / OF/1B / Florida / High: #18 / Low: #35
We all want more home run power out of Morrison, but he proved that he belonged with the big boys this year.
32. Wade Davis / SP / Tampa Bay / High: #19 / Low: #36
While his command is a work in progress, Davis had a successful rookie campaign. His strikeout rate should improve too if his command comes around.
37. Jenrry Mejia / SP/RP / NY Mets / High: #26 / Low: #37
Mejia needs to be brought up as a starter and was misused by the Mets in 2010. Nevertheless, his season was head-scratching, but I'm not worried.
43. Mike Leake / SP / Cincinnati / High: #24 / Low: #60
Leake's late-season shoulder injury is concerning going forward, but he put together a solid yet unspectacular debut.
46. Dan Hudson / SP / Arizona / High: #46 / Low: #71
Hudson made the White Sox look absolutely foolish for trading him. He will never be an ace, but he has a bright fantasy future.
54. Michael Saunders / OF / Seattle / High: #16 / Low: #55
His power/speed combo will make Saunders a deep, deep sleeper in 2011, but we are all looking for more proof across the board that he is a major league regular, let alone a relevant fantasy option.
55. Brett Wallace / 1B / Houston / High: #27 / Low: #56
Wallace just missed maintaining his rookie eligibility, which is a shame, because his debut was pretty ugly. Make no mistake, however, he is a key cog in Houston's rebuilding plans.
59. Alcides Escobar / SS / Milwaukee / High: #31 / Low: #59
For the most part Escobar had a rough year, but, despite his limited upside, better things are ahead. His offensive game is about batting average and steals, and he can't do worse from that perspective.
61. Ike Davis / 1B / NY Mets / High: #58 / Low: #94
Davis had a nice season and has received quite a bit of New York publicity, but in many respects what you see is what you get.
76. Ian Desmond / SS/2B / Washington / High: #76 / Low: UR
I really didn't think Desmond had that much offense in him. He doesn't have any upside left, but he is a useful middle infielder.
82. Austin Jackson / OF / Detroit / High: #82 / Low: UR
Jackson is another rookie who had a better year than I ever imagined. He does have some power potential left, but he's at his limits otherwise.
83. Reid Brignac / SS/2B / Tampa Bay / High: #52 / Low: #92
We witnessed some power, but more steals were expected. If nothing else, Brignac showed that he deserves a full-time gig in 2011.
88. Jason Castro / C / Houston / High: #49 / Low: #88
Castro looks the part of an average big league catcher. There is some upside, but he will never be anything more than a mildly useful fantasy catcher.
93. Fernando Martinez / OF / NY Mets / High: #57 / Low: #99
Martinez has accumulated more than 45 days on the active 25-man roster, meaning he barely squeaks by as a graduate. Every year that passes, more doubt grows. His potential is still apparent, however.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 5:00am (6) Comments
Friday, October 08, 2010
Last week, I looked at my 10 best predictions of the 2010 season. This week, I will look at the flip side of that coin: my 10 biggest "fails" of 2010, the predictions that utterly flopped. Feel free to toss any poor prediction I made and you relied upon into the comments.
1. My unflinching love for Chris Davis
Will I ever give up on Chris Davis? I wrote about how much I love him on no less than four separate occasions this season and he only kept on disappointing, as evident by his .192/.279/.292 line over 136 plate appearances. The prodigious power man hit his first and only home run on Sept. 20. Hey, at least he drew walks at a career best 11 percent clip, right?
As I pointed out in the offseason, when I pegged Davis as one of the major leagues' best sleepers, Davis' prospects for success are directly proportional to his strikeout propensity. When Davis is making contact, he's a machine—high line drive output with home run power to spare. The problem is that Davis likes to swing a lot (53 percent career swing rate, compared to a 45-46 percent major league average) despite an inferior ability to make contact. Davis is probably what Vladimir Guerrero would have looked like in his prime if Big Daddy Vladdy was not the king of bad pitches. (Note, however, that Davis does not swing at pitches outside of the zone more than the average player.)
Davis has two golden half-seasons to his name: 2008 and the second-half of 2009. When Davis keeps his strikeout rate in check (around 25 percent), he rakes. In 765 Triple-A plate apperances, with a strikeout rate of 22.6 percent, Davis has hit .311/.370/.569 with 30 home runs. Same story in Double-A (326 PA, 21.8 percent K rate, .319/.374/.644 line with 25 homers). However, when Davis contracts strikeout-itis, he really struggles. Just look at his first half (277 PA) of 2009 (41.2 percent K rate) and his 2010 season (33.3 percent strikeouts). I stuck behind Davis in week 12 and a few weeks later when Jason Smoak was traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal.
Though I still believe in the still-young Davis, I am more skeptical of him for 2011. That strikeout rate is still the big factor and until I see Davis' minor league strikeout control translate into the major league level, I'm labeling him as a toxic high risk, high upside asset. One thing is certain: I will not gamble on him as my starting third basemen in 2011! (True story: My starting third baseman was Gordon Beckham, with my backup being Martin Prado. Guess which of the three I dropped in the first week of the season to make room for a waiver wire pick? Hint, his name rhymes with "Grotto").
2. Standing behind Justin Masterson
This wasn't my article, but it summed up my preseason Masterson thoughts quite well. As I noted in my first AL Waiver Wire article, Masterson's combination of groundballs, whiff-ability (which disappeared somewhere in June) and awful control made for a high-risk, high-upside asset.
All season, Masterson washed away righties (8.78 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 3.30 xFIP), but lefties were like magnesium to him (5.44 K/9, 4.31 BB/9, 4.62 xFIP). His final numbers on the season (4.73 ERA, 6.99 K/9, 1.50 WHIP) were far worse than anything I predicted (3.90 ERA...oops), but there are signs of hope for 2011. There are reasons that I will undeniably make this mistake again next year: improved control (career low 3.67 BB/9), too many ground balls to ignore (major-league second-best/AL best/career best 59.6 percdent groundball rate) and a strong finish to the season (as noted in my final Waiver Wire column for the season, Masterson threw 53 innings of 2.55 ERA, 39:20 K/BB, low WHIP baseball). I'll admit I was wrong this year, but as we Cubs fans are prone to saying, there is always next year...
3. The Cubs will make the playoffs
Speaking of the misery that it is being a die-hard Cubs fan, I foolishly predicted the Cubs would make it to the playoffs this year. Heck, I even bet on it. My reasoning was solid: the 2009 Cubs pitching staff was strong, but quite injured, and many of the key position players were either injured for most of the season (Aramis Ramirez) or suffered horrible BABIP luck (Milton Bradley, though 2010 makes 2009 look less like a fluke) or both (Geovany Soto). Heck, Alfonso Soriano could not be nearly as bad in 2010 as he was in 2009, right?
I figured a "regression toward the mean" and replacing Bradley's poor showing with an average-or-better Marlon Byrd would add several wins to the Cubs' already solid 84 expected wins (per the Pythagorean expected win-loss formula). I predicted 93 wins. I was off by only 18 wins. There's one part of my prediction which was dead on, sadly: The Cubs are likely going to be in for an extended drought until they develop their farm system further and get out from the contracts of Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome. But hey, at least they lost their last game of the season. Otherwise they would have gotten the No. 11 pick instead of the No. 9 overall in the 2011 amateur draft. That's a starting point, right?
4. The Cleveland Indians are a dark horse to win the AL Central
Boy, I could not have been more wrong with this prediction. Heck, I do not think the Indians were a .500 or better team all season. Call me foolish, but I was tantalized by the team's promising offensive talent (Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Russ Branyan, Matt LaPorta, maybe a productive Jhonny Peralta/Travis Hafner combo?) and promising, though volatile strikeout pitchers (Masterson, Chris Perez, Kerry Wood). I realized early that pitching would be this team's key weakness, but whodathunk the hitting would be so awful too?
After struggling hard and early, Sizemore went down for the season with an injury. Choo missed some time too, while Cabrera played only two-thirds of a season (some of it hurt). LaPorta earned the nickname "LaPorta Potty" for how poorly he performed at the plate. Branyan was good for the Indians, but shipped back to Seattle on a 30-day return policy (where he continued to be good). And Peralta? Well, he had to go to Detroit to start hitting again. But hey, that Jayson Nix guy's been hitting lots of homers, albeit without getting on base.
Sigh. To say the least, the Indians were a disaster this season and I must eat my words on this one. Literally. Look for video of that to be posted on Game Of Inches sometime this winter.
5. Clayton Kershaw
For all the good things I said about Max Scherzer, I was the contrarian on Clayton Kershaw. "A 4.1 percent HR/FB rate and .37 HR/9, despite a sub-40 percent groundball rate? To heck with that 9.74 K/9, that 4.79 walk rate is sure going to come back to bite him in the ass!" I said (in so many words).
I predicted a good, but less than spectacular 3.92 ERA and plus 1.30 WHIP, pegging Kershaw as uneconomical given the sub-100 ADP. Kershaw responded by doing to his walk rate what Jayson Werth needs to do to his beard (from 4.79 to 3.57) and continuing to appease the baseball gods of home run luck (5.8 percent HR/FB, despite a stable ground ball and fly ball rate). Still, in fantasy, you can't argue with results and his 2.91 ERA, 13 wins, and 1.18 WHIP were even better than his 2009 numbers.
If Kershaw posts league averagish control in 2011 and keeps that plus-strikeout/whiff rate (10 percent SwStr%), he could post another valuable year. But by "valuable," I mean mid/high threes ERA, high 1.2s WHIP with a bellyful of strikeouts a la what I predict for Jonathan Sanchez every season. There's just no way he keeps up that sub-three ERA with a 40 percent ground ball rate and mediocre control...right?
6. Curtis Granderson's monstrous 2010
I predicted a .277/.364/.522 (.886 OPS) and 35-plus homer year for Granderson the Yankee. I was only 11 homers and about 100 OPS points off. Whodathunk that Yankee Stadium wouldn't help the inverse of Jose Bautista more. But hey, that contract the Yankees have on Granderson's soul is still a steal (he produced a profit in Fangraphs dollar value) and he was nonetheless twice as good as Johnny Damon (+3.9 WAR versus +1.9 WAR), so at least I was right about something. I'll take my four-win center fielders any day, no matter how wrong they prove my bold predictions.
7. Perpetual love for post-hype sleepers Matt LaPorta and Alex Gordon
Remember that .275/.360/.510 line I predicted for LaPorta? Yeah, sorry about that. He had a strong showing in late June (.442 wOBA, 23 PA) and July (.340 wOBA, 96 PA), but went right back to hitting like a "LaPorta Potty" in August (.298 wOBA) and September (.278 wOBA). He's only two years older than me, so I hope he's still young enough to turn it all around, but as the sample size grows expectations may have to temper...
Speaking of tempered expectations, how about that Alex Gordon guy? When Gordon was promoted to the majors a few years ago, it was done solely on the basis of a strong Double-A showing (.325/.427/.588 over 577 PA). Gordon didn't flounder too heavily in the majors, hitting for a below-average .317 wOBA in 2007 and an above-average .344 wOBA in 2008. Injury and ineffectiveness in 2009 and 2010 lead to a demotion for Gordon, where he smashed the minors to an MLE of .261/.377/.431 (.808 OPS) with power upside to spare.
Still, Gordon's strong minor league showing has still yet to translate into major league success. His .294 wOBA in 2010 featured only one month of a wOBA of .300 or higher: a .317 mark in August. Gordon is a year older than LaPorta, but they're still both quite young (Gordon will be 27 in 2011). Gordon did not materialize into the .270/.365/.450 capable hitter I expected for 2010, but his minor league numbers, for what they're worth, say he's still capable. Next season may be Gordon's last chance with KC, but he would likely catch on with another club. Keep an eye on him as a good buy-low sleeper for 2011.
Still, I was completely off base with these two guys this year.
8. Jake Fox
In the past offseason, I professed my love for Jake Fox. The Cubs subsequently responded by trading him to the Athletics for a reliever who did not fit the high strikeouts, high walks mold of the Chicago Cubs pitching corps. Like all modern Cubs prospects, Fox was no spring chicken when he went through hitter's puberty and broke out in acne and home runs. I was angry at the move at the time, seeing Fox as the cheap in-house/economic replacement to the throne of Derek Lee, but it seems that 2010 did to this former Cubs prospect what it does to most Cubs prospects—failure.
Maybe GM Jim Hendry sold high on Fox (though I think he could have gotten more), maybe not, only time will tell. What can be said is that I was way too high on this C/1B/3B/OF eligible Wiggy-Man. My .275/.330/.495 (with power) prediction seems quite silly in hindsight and in light of his .217/.261/.384 season line. Still, in my bones, I can't help but feel like there's something special there a la Disney's Beauty and the Beast. This failed prediction stands out as one of the more unsatisfying ones of 2010.
9. Julio Borbon is a stolen bases machine
In the offseason, I made a specific point of advising fantasy players to avoid paying premiums for stolen base guys. Stolen bases are deep, I proclaimed, urging fantasy owners to avoid Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of Borbon. In retrospect, you should have avoided both of them.
Borbon ended up stealing (15) less than half the number of bases CHONE projected (35). The Rangers gave him the red light for being such an inefficient base stealer in the first half, after he was caught in six of 14 attempts. Though I gave words of caution in week 11, I was not as down on his wheels as I probably should have been and I had touted him highly as a buy-low in week 8. This just goes to show why I hate two-dimensional hitters —they so easily let you down.
Something else I was collaterally wrong about: I pointed out in the preseason that CHONE projected 15 players to steal 29-plus bases next year and another six to steal 29. Actual results? Only 21 hitters stole 29 or more bases. Sigh. I hate being wrong.
10. My Brennan Boesch-like bearishness on Austin Jackson
There were two AL players that "the numbers" demanded regress in the second half and both were on the same team (maybe it's something in the Detroit water or smoky Motor City Casino air): Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson. Jackson surely had an elite line drive rate (24.7 percent) and the wheels (7.9 speed score) to back up an elite BABIP, but a .396 BABIP? That's just insane! All season long, I proclaimed that the rookie's flirting with a .300 average despite a 27.5 percent whiff rate and below average walk rate (7 percent) was going to burn someone overly trusting. Rather than regress toward his .340ish expected BABIP, however, Jackson just kept on raking. Look at his BABIP by month:
THREE months with a BABIP of .395 or higher! It's almost as if Jackson was laughing at me and my prayer to the BABIP gods (who, interestingly enough, look the exact opposite of what Joe Morgan looks like). Expect Jackson's 2011 to likely mirror his June/September performance (.265 average, .670 OPS) if the poor whiff-to-walk rate persists, but I have to admit, to the glorious "I told you so" of Daniel William Bennett the third, that Jackson performed mightily well for fantasy owners in 2010. His 103 runs, .293 average and 27 steals (on the heels of a better-than-average-thanks-to-BABIP-inflation .345 OBP) made him a top 100 fantasy player per the Yahoo player rater. I can't suggest him for 2011, but I can say he and his +3.6 WAR probably deserve the AL Rookie of the Year award.
-Where there's Smoak, there's fire. 2008 Derrek Lee, he is not.
-Tim Hudson's second half WHIP
-Jack Cust's power
- Gordon Beckham's season (though his second half mirrored my predicted talent level).
-Daniel Hudson as a useful high ERA starter (whodathunk a move from U.S. Cellular Field to Chase Field would help a ground ball neutral pitcher with control problems? Reverse Javiar Vazquez!).
-Michael Brantley as the cheap(er) alternative to Borbon. His last six weeks were solid (.285/100 R/35 SB pace), but hooboy did he struggle before that!
-Dan Haren vs. Zack Greinke, 5 Ill 2d 614 (1965): I made a bet with a fan that Haren's second-half would be better than that of Greinke. Yes, I won this bet, but I was way off base with my prediction about what Haren would actually do after his trade to the Angels. On the heels of an early version of the xWHIP calculator (which has since been improved), I predicted a 3.82 ERA, 75 K, a 4.5 KBB ratio and a 1.09 WHIP over 80 innings pitched. What he actually did: 2.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.0 K/BB, 75 K over 94 innings.
-Trusting "the process."
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 5:02am (2) Comments
Monday, October 11, 2010
Determining the true talent level of hitters is no simple task. While some metrics tend to gain "statistical significance" over the course of a full season, many do not, and even for the ones that do, many hitters do not reach the requisite "statical significance threshold" from which we can start drawing conclusions. One such metric, BABIP, requires more than 650 plate appearances to reach a predictive or indicative level. Given the volatility of BABIP luck, AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS determination, a function of BABIP, becomes a fickle task.
Thanks to a few good men, however, talent spotting is a less exacting task than it once was.
A couple of years ago, Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix did some research on batted-ball data and created a metric called xBABIP ("expected BABIP"). xBABIP dispelled the myth that BABIP was primarily a function of "LD%+ .120." Rather, as Dutton and Bendix found, BABIP was better explained as a function all batted-ball types and ratios with speed/power/strikeout considerations.
Last year, Derek Carty and Chris Dutton debuted the simple xBABIP calculator on THT. This tool has empowered users to determine a player's xBABIP and compare it to their actual BABIP. Therefrom, one could forecast a hitter's expected batting line, assuming all the input ratios were to remain constant. Over the course of 500+ PA, these ratios tend to be significant, though conclusions can still be drawn at the 300 PA threshold (we'd really only be waiting on IFFB% stabilization).
For all 270 hitters who accrued 300 or more plate appearances this season, I applied the xBABIP formula (by park) to determine each hitter's expected batting lines. In short, what I have created is a spreadsheet of "what you can expect as a baseline for production in 2011, assuming all else remains constant." In other words, this is how these hitters should have hit in 2010.
My methodology was tedious but simple: once you calculate xBABIP, you reverse engineer expected hits (xHits). Here, a judgment call is necessary—do you keep a hitter's power ratios and assume they represent his true talent line or do you assume all hits are of a single type? I use the latter strategy, as I do not have a means by which to accurately calculate the proportion of singles/doubles/triples/home runs saved/gained by bad/good luck. Conceding that no matter how I apportion the hit types that it would be by guessing, I simply assume that all hits gained/subtracted would have been exclusively of the singles variety. It should be noted that as a result of this, the expected ISO forecast is not to be relied upon. This methodology is most effective at finding a hitter's expected batting average and on-base percentage. Nonetheless, BABIP considerations have an impact on hitter's slugging percentage, so I have accordingly included an xSLG forecast in my chart.
At this point, before I reveal the file and discuss my xBABIP adjustments further, it is essential that I note that the park factor constants utilized in calculating expected BABIP are from 2009. Since there was less than three months worth of park data available at the time the xBABIP tool was released (assuming the new parks were used at all in determining xBABIP park factors), the numbers on Yankees and Mets hitters may not be completely accurate. Take their numbers with a grain of salt. (I've italicized Yankees/Mets hitters in the spreadsheet for reference.)
It should also be noted that hitters with high HR/AB rates should be treated with caution. Relatively low Ball-In-Play (BIP) hitters are subject to more underlying numbers volatility.
Now that you understand how I calculated the numbers, let's take a look at them. You can access the full xBABIP spreadsheet by clicking here. The password to manipulate the spreadsheet is "soto18." Again, please note that these numbers assume persistence. Adjust mentally as you expected a hitter's batted ball distro to change (more line drives and groundballs, more AVG, more flyballs (especially infield flies), less AVG). If a player's numbers and xBABIP do not settle well with you, look at his three-year or career BABIP numbers. If there's a large disparity, his 2010 xBABIP may be the byproduct of fluke rather than true talent.
Here are the 35 hitters who experienced the most BABIP luck in 2010 (click to embiggen):
Here you find my eternal nemesis of irrational hatred, Justin Morneau, topping the BABIP-luck chart. He's really a mid-high .270's AVG hitter in my mind, but xBABIP confirms that there is no reason to reasonably expect even a .300 AVG in 2011. Obviously Josh Hamilton will likely come down to earth some next season (though still hit for a plus-AVG, as he did in 2007 and 2008), along with Austin Jackson (unless he decides to taunt my calls for regression with more virginal sacrifices to the BABIP gods), Colby Rasmus, Nick Swisher and Jayson Werth (buyer beware?).
Here are the 35 hitters who the BABIP gods disfavored most in 2010 (click to embiggen):
Amongst guys who should see their AVGs grow in 2011, we find Carlos Peña, who hit below .200 this season, topping the chart of "guys you can expect more from next year." Also on this list are Aaron Hill (.273 AVG), my boy Matt LaPorta (.262 AVG), Jose Bautista (though that's likely a byproduct of his super home run binge...I'd expect a .270 average tops), Zorilla (.278 AVG) and Mike Napoli (.272 AVG, though lots of squatting may depress this figure). Juan Rivera's on this list too, but that, to me and my gut, feels like a flukey outlier at his age.
For your viewing pleasure, here are also the top 35 expected average (xAVG) hitters (click to embiggen):
And the bottom 35 (click to embiggen):
And here are the top 35 expected on-base (xOBP) guys for you guys in OBP leagues (click to embiggen):
And the bottom 35 (click to embiggen):
Post your love/hate in the comments.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:05am (13) Comments
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
One of my favorite fantasy offseason pastimes is to think about various potential league structures. An economist will argue that people’s behaviors are largely determined by incentives. So it stands to reason that the way you build incentives into a system will influence both a party’s willingness to enter such a system and the behavior he/she will display once engaged. I like to tinker with these systems and think about ways to promote healthy, competitive fantasy behavior. This week, I present for your consideration a high stakes H2H-roto hybrid with both weekly and end-of-season payouts. I’ll explain how I conceive it working shortly, but first let me briefly mention what the design is meant to achieve.
This design intends to accomplish two things. First, the weekly payout system is an attempt to proactively discourage deadbeating. A team that is statistically “out of it” can still recoup “units” on a weekly basis. Deadbeating is a problem in every league. Some might think that simply making a league high stakes takes care of deadbeating, either because of the size of the prize or the selection bias of entry, but such is not the case. Some may think that high-caliber owners never deadbeat, but my take is that deadbeating is not just an issue of absolutes, but one of degree. I’ve never deadbeated in my life, but I’ve occasionally been non-competitive in leagues, and quite frankly when in this situation, I’m just not as aggressive and attentive as I normally am. Maybe an owner will rotate players regularly, but not really monitor the wire with usual vigilance, for example. Weekly payouts are an attempt to incentivize being as engaged as possible at all times.
The second thing this design attempts to accomplish is to up the willingness of participants to play for higher stakes. In my oldest league, the league is about two-thirds deep with really high-quality owners. The remaining guys are certainly not pushovers, but they rarely win. By most standards, our entry fee (which is tuned in four-year cycles, escalating each year and resetting in the fifth, in correlation with the end-of-keeper cycles and a full redraft) is pretty high. Some of us want to bump it up even further, but we are often unable to push those increases through at draft time given that we need near unanimous agreement on entry fee set-up or amendments. The potential of having additional ways to win money often appeals to those who don’t want to put a big enchilada on the line on a 25-week tournament of merit. Consolation prizes make for good carrots.
So, here’s how I would see this league working. The league is scored in a H2H format with weekly scoring periods. Owners compete against each other directly in the standings, but compete against the whole field for the weekly scoring prizes. The best individual team total in each category each week earns a small payout. In other words, the weekly categorical prizes are awarded on a roto model, but the season standings are calculated on a H2H model. There are no ties; the would-be prize for all pushes gets rolled into the regular-season champion payout. There are no weekly payouts in the playoffs.
Of course, to fund weekly payouts you’d need considerable entry fees from each participant. Here’s how the league might work at a 250 signaro entry fee:
Total Pot: 3,000
Per category weekly payout: 5
Total weeks (non-playoff): 22
Total category payouts: 1320 (minus roll-overs for ties)
Regular season champ and runner up payouts: 450, 230 (plus roll-over ties, split evenly)
Postseason champ and runner up payouts: 650, 350
Basically, I just chose to pay each category out at 5 units per week, and then divided the remaining pot into five shares, dumping two or them into the regular-season payout (since they’ll also get the roll-overs) and the other three into the playoff pool. I then simply split those shares two to one.
Obviously, there are myriad ways to amend this. You could raise the weekly payout to 6 per category. You can play with few categories for higher value or more categories for lesser value. You can award the regular- and post-season finishers with different weights. You can pay out third place in either or both the regular and postseason.
I will issue a word of caution about tweaking though. I did not pull the numbers I used above out of thin air. When you create a new model, you have to think through how people might try to beat that model, where that model is susceptible to exploitation. For example, it is fairly easy to build a team that will win certain categories outright almost, if not every, week. The easiest way to do this would be to build a team that dominates saves and steals. Note that in the above model, even an owner who succeeds absolutely at such an attempt will not even recoup his/her entry fee.
Remember, setting up systems is all about incentives. You want to create a system that incentivizes the league to generally play the same way, for the same thing. Sure, in a given week a team may choose to just chase a weekly payout or two, but that is rational and isn’t corrosive to the system as a whole. Under the proposed system and payout structure, each owner is encouraged to compete the same way they would without the weekly payouts because the real profitability is in winning long term.
One minor problem with this design is that it requires some manual bookkeeping. Really, we’re talking about 5 minutes a week here. Set up a spreadsheet with each of the teams, look through the match-ups at week’s end and record the best overall totals in each category. If you like this idea but don’t want to be the bookkeeper, you could either offer a small credit to the bookkeeper by taking, say, 50 units out of the pot to compensate him/her or you could stipulate that whoever volunteers to do the bookkeeping gets to choose his draft slot (if you are doing a draft league). Another interesting idea would be to declare that the payouts from the in-season ties go to the bookkeeper. I’m not sure how many ties you’d get, so I don’t know what this ties future would actually be worth.
I’m interested in your takes on this model (it should work as an auction or a draft). I’m considering trying turn one of my leagues into this type of design (I doubt I’ll get up to 250 entry fee in its first year, but I am looking for a way to raise the stakes in that league). Also, since I get ideas for unconventional league designs fairly frequently, let me know if you find it worthwhile for me to write them up for discussion.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:15am (3) Comments
Thursday, October 14, 2010
New York Yankees: Top 10 Prospects
1. Jesus Montero / C/OF/1B / If anyone places the Yankees system a full notch above Boston's, it's Montero. He can make it defensively as an outfielder, which is where I'm guessing he will end up, considering the amount of young catching talent in the organization and Mark Teixeira's firm grasp on first base.
2. Manuel Banuelos / SP / Banuelos had a tremendous second half of the season, successfully taking his slick three-pitch mix all the way to Double-A Trenton.
3. Dellin Betances / SP/RP / I question whether Betances' arm will hold up as a starter, but he did produce a great bounce back year, as he didn't make my top-10 last year. He still has so much to prove.
4. Gary Sanchez / C / It's hard to debut any better than Sanchez did in 2010 at age 17. He even got a taste of the New York-Penn League. A big time bat might be in the works.
5. Andrew Brackman / SP/RP / Unranked on this list last year, Brackman appears to be fully back from Tommy John surgery, with his mechanics cleaned up, his fastball back to form, and his curveball not far behind.
6. Austin Romine / C / Romine had another solid season, this time proving himself at Double-A Trenton. His upside is certainly limited, but Romine could be an average big league regular at catcher in the next couple of years.
7. Cito Culver / SS / Culver has the ability to play a respectable shortstop. His offensive game doesn't have the kind of upside I like in a first round high schooler, but he has above average bat speed and contact skills for his age.
8. Brandon Laird / OF/3B / While there isn't much upside, Laird has some intriguing natural pop in his bat that could become his big league calling card. Improved plate discipline would do him wonders.
9. Adam Warren / SP / Warren is proof that a well-commanded fastball can take a pitcher far. Whether the Yankees trust him enough to join their rotation one day will be dependent on the development of his change-up and slider.
10. Slade Heathcott / OF / I have a soft spot for Jairo Heredia, and almost put him here, but his injury history kept him away. Ivan Nova had a breakout campaign and deserves some love. But I decided on Heathcott. He certainly did not deliver in 2010, but I like his tools and time is on his side.
New York Yankees: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Jesus Montero / C/OF/1B
2. Phil Hughes / SP
3. Joba Chamberlain / RP/SP
4. Manuel Banuelos / SP
5. Dellin Betances / SP/RP
6. Gary Sanchez / C
7. Andrew Brackman / SP/RP
8. Austin Romine / C
9. Cito Culver / SS
10. Brandon Laird / OF/3B
Boston Red Sox: Top 10 Prospects
1. Casey Kelly / SP / Kelly had a down year in attempting to adjust to Double-A. His change-up is effective at times, but his curveball was unreliable and needs work. Yet I still like him as he has good movement and command on his fastball, is young, and there is room for improvement.
2. Kolbrin Vitek / 3B/2B/OF / I am a big believer in Vitek's bat speed being able to carry him a long way. I think he will stay at third base, but his power may not be adequate at that position for fantasy purposes.
3. Lars Anderson / 1B / Anderson is still coming up short on home run power. Even more disheartening is the direction that his walk rate is going. He is pressing at the plate, putting too much pressure on himself. The potential for greatness is still there but looking increasingly unlikely.
4. Jose Iglesias / SS / Iglesias has a strong future defensively, which will carry him to the majors, but doesn't have much going for himself offensively. He could hit for a good average, but doesn't have home run power or enough raw speed to become a big time base stealer.
5. Bryce Brentz / OF / Brentz is another member of Boston's stout 2010 draft class. He has a solid set of skills across the board, making him a classic corner outfield prospect. His power is the most exciting, and with further development could rocket him up prospect boards everywhere.
6. Anthony Ranaudo / SP/RP / Ranaudo's health is a concern and the reason he slipped in the draft. When healthy he is known for his lively fastball and occasionally dominant curveball. Boston gave him a huge signing bonus, a risk they feel is worth taking.
7. Reymond Fuentes / OF / Fuentes sported a nice Sally League batting average in 2010, and perhaps predictably, but importantly, Fuentes put his elite speed on display too. He did all that could be expected of him at this point.
8. Oscar Tejeda / 2B / Tejeda's power and batting average took a giant leap forward this year, although his plate approach is a long way off. He is a young man to watch at a position of scarcity.
9. Anthony Rizzo / 1B / Rizzo put up impressive power numbers in 2010, but his batting average and strikeout total is concerning. His power could carry him, but I'm still skeptical that it will continue at the current rate. To put this New York vs. Boston match-up into perspective, Rizzo would rank No. 6 on New York's list. Boston has better depth in their farm system.
10. Stolmy Pimentel / SP / Ryan Westmoreland is a wildcard who deserves recognition, but his playing status is up in the air. Many still like Josh Reddick, but I'm comfortable keeping him off this list. Pimentel is my guy at No. 10. He came in at No. 5 on last year's list, but drops due to a sideways season. While he didn't show any development, he did have a solid season while moving up a rung, and has room for improvement.
Boston Red Sox: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Casey Kelly / SP
2. Kolbrin Vitek / 3B/2B/OF
3. Lars Anderson / 1B
4. Jose Iglesias / SS
5. Ryan Kalish / OF
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia / C/1B
7. Bryce Brentz / OF
8. Anthony Ranaudo / SP/RP
9. Daniel Bard / RP
10. Reymond Fuentes / OF
Posted by Matt Hagen at 4:20am (19) Comments
Friday, October 15, 2010
When looking at a player whose numbers have seemingly improved a great deal, it's easy to convince yourself that the improvement is clearly real. And after you do, for every warning sign that the improvement is simply mirage, you come up with an excuse for why those warning signs don't apply. But at some point you have to realize that the player you've become fascinated with is probably not going to continue being the player he was in the past.
That paragraph can apply to any statistical way that you look at a fantasy player. In this article, I look at Gio Gonzalez, a pitcher who seems to have made humongous strides this year. Moreover, he's a pitcher who has a single dominant pitch, making him extremely easy to want to like as a (fantasy) player. Unfortunately, as I'll explain below, It doesn't look like, if things remain the same, he can be a pitcher who can sustain an ERA under 3.50.
Gonzalez' numbers this year are drastically up from last year, as seen in the following table:
As you can see, in several relevant fantasy statistics (walks, ERA, WHIP), Gonzalez clearly improved this year, while decreasing in only one fantasy metric (strikeouts). However, his context-neutral statistics (FIP, xFIP) and his BABIP would indicate that at least part of this improvement has been a mirage (xFIP would suggest he's actually gotten worse). What should we believe? Well, let's look at his pitches and see what's changed from year to year:
Figure 1: Graph of the movement of Gonzalez' pitches in 2009 and 2010.
Vertical movement: the number of inches the ball drops/"rises" as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop. So a fastball with Positive 10 Vertical Movement "rises" 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 vertical movement drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.
Horizontal movement: The graph is from the view of a catcher or umpire behind home plate. So a pitch that's on the left side of the graph (and has "negative horizontal movement") moves in on righties and away from lefties. A pitch that's on the right side of the graph moves in on lefites and away from righties.
Gonzalez uses four pitches: A four-seam fastball (colored red on the graph), a two-seam fastball (dark yellow on the graph), a change-up (blue), and a curveball (green). As we can see on the graph, in 2009, if he used the two-seam fastball at all, it wasn't very different from his four-seam fastball. This year, Gonzalez managed to make his two-seam fastball clearly distinguishable from his four-seam pitch. The two-seam fastball now drops three more inches than the four-seam fastball. Gonzalez also has started to use this two-seam fastball far more frequently than last year.
Aside from the new, improved two-seam fastball, the rest of Gonzalez' repertoire remains unchanged. Even the velocity of these pitches has more or less remained constant. So is this change enough to explain his improvement? Let's look at the results of these pitches the last two years:
Table 2: The results of Gio Gonzalez' pitches each of the last two years.
Whiff rate = Swinging strikes/swings
Swing rate = Swings/total pitches
Swinging strike rate = Swinging strikes/total pitches
Strike zone percentage = Percentage of pitches located within a wide (two foot) strike zone
SLGBIP = Slugging percentage on balls put in play (Also called SLGCON)
RV100 = Run value per 100 pitches (A measure of pitch effectiveness)
RVe100 = Expected run vllue per 100 pitches (A measure of pitch effectiveness, controlling for luck on certain batted ball types.)
I apologize for this table being a little messy, but I'll highlight the interesting points. Gonzalez faces a lot more right-handed batters (635 batters) than left-handed batters (186 batters) because he's left-handed. Lets go through these results against each type of batter to see what's changed result-wise in this latest year.
Against left-handed hitters, he uses mainly two pitches, the four-seam fastball (51.3 percent of the percent). Regardless of what pitch he uses, Gonzalez has always thrown almost xclusively away from left-handed hitters. (He pitches up with the four-seam fastball and down with the curveball). This is true both this year and last year.
Result-wise, there are a few changes in 2010 from 2009. On a positive note: His four-seam fastball was amazingly effective against LHBs, with a swinging strike rate of 9.66 percent (compared to a rate of 5.32 percent in 2009), which is much higher than that of a typical fastball (usually around 6 percent). The two-seam fastball has also been fairly effective because of its high GB Rate (60 percent). On a negative note: Gonzalez' curve ball had its swinging strike rate decrease from 19.15 percent in 2009 to a minuscule (for a curveball) 7.44 percent rate in 2010. The pitch has been a better groundball pitch this year against LHBs, but it's not been enough to make up for the large loss of swing-and-misses.
But remember, the question is: are any of these changes likely to continue in 2011? The answer for these changes would seem to be mostly no; there's basically no change in the movement of any of these pitches (except for the two-seam fastball, which is not used frequently against LHBs). Moreover, there's basically no change in the location of these pitches, either: Gonzales' fastball, for example, hit the strike zone against LHBs at the same rate as last year and in the same basic location. The only result that might be explainable is that of the curveball: While Gonzalez' aim with the pitch was basically at the same place as last year, he hit the middle of the strike zone more frequently this year. (You can see that in his increased strike zone percentage), which might be the reason batters didn't miss as often against the pitch. Thus, his results against left-handed batters next year would seem likely to decline somewhat. This is because we should expect his fastball to come down to earth a little, while his curve ball shouldn't regress as much to match the 2009 numbers.
Against right-handed hitters, Gonzalez uses all four of his pitches. He throws the curve ball (29.84 percent of the time), four-seam fastball (29.04 percent) and two-seam fastball (31.32 percent) equally often, while going to the change-up 9.78 percent of the time. In practice, the curveball is used as his out pitch on 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. Meanwhile, the two-seam fastball is used often with no balls or one in the count, but gives way to the four-seam fastball in two- and three-ball counts. Gonzalez aimed the curveball middle-low in 2010. He used both of his two fastballs differently in 2010: the four-seam fastball aimed clearly inside on right-handed batters, while the two-seam fastball aimed away.
It's clear that Gonzalez possesses one of the nastiest pitches a right-handed batter will ever face in his curve ball. The pitch gets a swinging strike 17.4 percent of the time, and when it's put into play, results in a ground ball 82.47 percent of the time. That's just amazingly effective, with a total run value of -21.06. To put that into perspective, it's basically equivalent to Adam Wainwright's level of dominance with the pitch.
Gonzalez also uses his new and improved two-seam fastball extremely effectively against right-handed batters. The pitch has a barely mediocre swinging strike rate of 4.72 percent, but gets ground balls 46.92 percent of the time, which is far better than his fastball ever had gotten previously. It's this pitch that has resulted in his increased ground ball rate. Moreover, the pitch has a HR/FB rate of 3.44 percent, which is tiny.
Gonzalez's other pitches also showed changes in their results this year. Gonzalez' four-seam fastball decreased its swinging strike rate from an average 6.4 percent to an abysmal 2.76 percent, while getting fewer ground balls than ever (25.7 percent). His change-up has also lost some swinging strikes but has increased in ground balls.
But remember once again, the question is: Are any of these improvements likely to continue in 2011? The answer, once again, is not positive. Gonzalez' curve ball, this year had a .247 BABIP compared to last year's .333 BABIP. You'd expect the BABIP on the pitch, especially as it's an extreme groundball pitch, would increase at the very least to .300. The curveball is likely to stay a terrific pitch next year, but regress a little. Similarly, the two-seam fastball's HR/FB rate is unlikely to remain so incredibly low. As a result that pitch should get worse as well.
Meanwhile, while the four-seam fastball has gotten worse, it's the only pitch whose location Gonzalez significantly changed from last year. Last year, he'd throw the pitch middle-away, but this year he threw it almost entirely inside. This could explain the decrease in the swinging strike rate on the pitch. The pitch's performance should regress a little because of its .364 BABIP, but not as much as the other two pitches.
One last thing: Remember how Gonzalez's walk rate had declined this year? Well he hit the strike zone at the same rate as last year... so even that rate might decrease back to his abysmal 2009 walk rate.
The result of this look at Gonzalez' pitches is to conclude the same thing we might have if we looked at nothing but his xFIP and his ERA: The kid is clearly due for a decline. If I had to project, I'd think that he's likely to regress to the 4.20 ERA we might expect from his xFIP this year. That said, it is important to remember that Gonzalez is young and is still a developing pitcher. His pitches could emerge from the offseason different from how they've been the last two years. If they do, then the above analysis should be redone. So keep an eye on that. But for now... don't expect him to put up another 3.35 ERA next year.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 3:55am (7) Comments
Monday, October 18, 2010
With the 2010 fantasy season in the rear view mirror, it's time to focus in on the keeper market. The scale and scope of publicly available keeper information can be difficult to swallow at times. Often, experts will make "keep" or "cut" recommendations for some kind of generic one-size-fits-all league. If several different writers are consulted, it quickly becomes clear that these generic leagues can vary in subtle but important ways. The advice often amounts to "I like this player" or "I don't like this player."
The problem with this is immediately clear: only a certain subset of the readership is targeted with the recommendation. What's more, there are many players who fall into some kind of gray area—under certain formats they're prime keepers and in others they are either mediocre assets or clear cuts. The goal of the On The Margins series will be to highlight key players in this gray area in order to determine what type of leagues they should be kept in.
The execution, as planned, is straight forward. Players who are highlighted in the series will be analyzed. A key portion of this will fall to Brian Cartwright's Oliver projection system, which is available to THT Forecasts subscribers. Since this is fantasy baseball and few leagues are based on linear weights, other factors like strength of lineup or team defense will be considered.
After the analysis, conclusions will be made as to what types of leagues the player should be kept in. This is where the reader's input would be helpful. As it's currently envisioned, the advice will be presented in a table with keeper cost type as the columns and league size as the rows. Basically, there will be six rows with options for 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 teams. A similar matrix can be provided upon request for those in NL/AL only leagues. The columns are the tricky part. They should cover a wide swathe of keeper systems without being tediously detailed. Below are some tentative categories.
-3 keeps, no cost
-5 keeps, no cost
-10 keeps, no cost
-cost: draft round - 2
-cost: Y! rank 2010
-cost: Y! rank 2011
-cost: auction cost +$5
Including a category for contracts seems difficult under this simple framework, but suggestions are encouraged. Like AL/NL only, the simplest way to treat for this is to make this available upon reader request.
That leaves one final detail: the quality of the recommendation. Because every team has its own unique set of circumstances, a simple keep or cut designation is probably not the best way to go. Instead five options will be used: Definitely Keep, Probably Keep, Neutral, Probably Cut, Definitely Cut.
Now that the basic project is detailed, here's how you can help. First, has any 'common' format been ignored entirely? Additionally, is there a way to improve the proposed presentation? Do you think a different recommendation system is more appropriate, perhaps a 1-10 rating with 10 equaling Definitely Keep? This series is for you so don't be shy about commenting.