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Wednesday, December 01, 2010
As savvy and studious contestants in our fantasy baseball leagues we take the strategic element of the game seriously. We look for edges and gravitate toward decision-making paradigms based firmly in rationality. We seek empiricism as backing for our decisions more than we value emotional gratification.
If you’re like me, fantasy baseball is a hobby, but it’s foremost a competition, in the form of a puzzle. The challenge I present to myself is one of dissecting a complex system more completely and accurately than my competitors. But it is also a hobby and as such it’s supposed to be fun. In this mini-series of posts, I’d like to explore some of the more human, less analytical, decisions we make in fantasy baseball and actually defend them a bit. If something narrowly lowers your odds of winning, but increases your enjoyment or level of engagement in the game, and maybe in baseball itself, can it actually be said to be a bad decision?
In fantasy baseball, as in many issues, there’s a potential slippery slope in terms of being able to justify rationally unwise choices on the basis of promoting pleasure or protecting pain. So, let’s draw some lines right off the bat. If you’re a Mets fan who is unwilling to root for Phillies under any circumstances and therefore abjectly refuse to draft Roy Halladay or Chase Utley on your team then you should not be playing fantasy baseball, period. Engaging in this behavior is not simply irrational; it serves to undermine the game for everybody involved. Such behavior is not different than deciding never to stand on 17 at the blackjack table because that’s the date you found out your ex was sleeping with your roommate. Fantasy baseball is only for the emotionally mature; rebuking Roy Halladay on principle is equivalent to poisoning the shoe for the whole blackjack table and can in no way be justified. But what about some other much more subtle decisions?
Sometimes you hear about the those who are diagnosed as terminally ill having to deciding to forego high-risk, intensive therapy that may prolong their life, but could diminish its quality in favor of living the rest of their life in peace with the faint hope of a miracle, resigning to die peacefully in less pain. I’d like to relay an anecdote from this past season where a friend was faced with a difficult decision and chose a death he could live with over the possibility of one he could not.
After I was eliminated in a H2H league in the Casper Wells-Juan Pierre affair that I’ve anointed as one of my most memorable fantasy sports experiences, the show went on. The following week began the finals. The two finalists and I were all good friends and both of the finalists have been known to seek my counsel on issues relating to fantasy sports.
About two-thirds of the way through the final scoring period, the owner who was losing sent me an email asking for my advice. After looking at the match-up, I made an odd diagnosis and fairly unconventional recommendation. Pitching was pretty much up for grabs, with this owner having slight edge in most categories – but he basically needed two offensive category wins to pull out a victory and was leading in SB, but being beaten pretty handily in R, HR, RBI and OPS. (This league is 6x6 – traditional 5x5 plus OPS and K/BB.). He faced a batting average deficit, but it seemed the most realistically surmountable. I told him that overall the prognosis looked bad, but suggested on high-risk surgical procedure. I advised him to bench his Adam Dunn types or outright drop them in favor of empty batting average guys. I figured that it was unlikely that he could make up eight homers or 23 RBI (or something like that) in three days, but that because the volume of daily ABs is high, BA can swing drastically from day to day. If his team hit .380 over three days and his opponent’s team hit .210, that could really swing the pendulum.
The other choice I offered, quite boringly, was to do nothing. It was an interesting proposition, and I would have loved to see a complete probabilistic model of the situation. (I also wish I remember the exact categorical totals at the time.) But, no matter what, this owner was going to need his team to play above their true talents, and most likely need his opponent’s players to play below their true talents. He could lay back and wait for, ostensibly, a miracle or he could undergo a radical surgery. Maybe Adam Dunn hits five homers over the last three days and enables this owner to pulls out the category. These possibilities, faint as they were, exist so long as the owner elects against the surgery.
To adopt my recommendation, would require putting all his eggs in the quant basket with no additional certainty to speak of. Surely, the sample sizes here are tiny and there’s no guarantee that swapping an Adam Dunn for a Ryan Theriot would positively impact his team’s batting average. In fact, it was more of a certainty that by doing so he was going to give up HR and RBI, the separation in the respective categories being much greater. So, the proposition was to concede four faint glimmers of possibly ill-conceived hope to create a significantly more rational basis for increased hope in one area. When phrased like this, it seems that my recommendation is a logical and easy choice. But this is where the human element comes into play; I even sensed a hesitance as I was formulating my recommendation, realizing I’d recommend it but that I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it if I was in my friend’s shoes.
What if the miracle happens? What if you play Ryan Theriot and he goes 1-for-13 over those last three games and Adam Dunn goes 6-for-9 with four homers and nine RBI? I told my friend that before adopting my approach, he’d have to ask himself if he would be willing to lose this way. Again, Adam Dunn could outhit Ryan Theriot for batting average over three games – there would be nothing strange or anomalous about that, it’s an entirely insignificant sample size.
My friend chose to hope for a miracle and most likely die in his sleep. Knowing that most likely neither decision would actually win it for him, he decided that he would be comfortable losing by staying put and dealing with the slight possibility that he could have done something to at least improve his chances. On the flipside, he decided that he could not stomach the less likely but far more excruciating potential outcome of making a drastic shift in his strategy only to see that the miracle comeback knock on his door, with Adam Dunn was napping unable to let it in. He chose to prioritize protecting against the most trying failure possible as opposed to doing everything he could to improve his chance to triumph.
Though it goes against my general approach to competing in fantasy baseball, I can understand and sympathize with this owner’s decision. Factoring in how one may feel about certain outcomes is a human element that often becomes a part of our decision-making calculus and it isn’t always sensible on the most strictly rational of levels.
Take, for example, any circumstance that involves deciding whether to activate a non-elite pitcher in a precarious match-up. The level of satisfaction or happiness you get from a wise decision (or the dissatisfaction or anger from a decision that proves unwise) is not calibrated to be a direct reflection of how helpful or hurtful the decision proved for your team. The spectrum of your emotions as they relate to such decisions exists on a fundamentally different scale than the probability of your ultimate victory and how it is affected by an individual decision (especially in a roto league where every one of these decisions is likely inconsequential, taken individually). So, it is practically impossible to accurately account for this, or fully ignore it, when making decisions.
While many of us try to emulate a computer in our tactical approach to this endeavor, it is the human joys and disappointments, the real thrills and anxieties that make this simulation-based game fun and engaging. Ultimately, the experience we derive from this, as any hobby, comes down to how we feel about it. So, I can understand and defend some smaller decisions being made on a more visceral level. I think the balance in being a fantasy baseball junkie lies in doing what makes you happy when the stakes of a decision are small, but doing what is most sensible when the stakes of a decision are large
Next week, I’ll continue this theme and explore some of the circumstances that surround “sit or start” decisions.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:20am (5) Comments
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Seattle Mariners: Top 10 prospects
1. Michael Pineda / SP / Pineda had a true breakout, all-star caliber season. He seems to have put his durability concerns to bed, upped his velocity, and improved his slider. An ace-level talent is in the works.
2. Nick Franklin / SS / Who saw Franklin's power coming? Honestly? He looked good coming out of high school, but power was a concern back then. The only issue in his stat line now is the high strikeout rate. Franklin is a good prospect, but he needs to repeat his success at higher levels before he joins the elite.
3. Dustin Ackley / 2B / Ackley posted a ho-hum debut season. The hype surrounding his home run power and speed were always questionable, and his stats back up those concerns. On the other hand, he is one of the more polished bats in the minors, and the move to second base has sent his stock skyward.
4. Carlos Triunfel / 3B/2B/SS / Triunfel has always had his fair share of fans, and there's certainly no reason to sour on him yet. Expect him to repeat the Southern League with major success in 2011. Maybe he will find his permanent position, too.
5. Johermyn Chavez / OF / It may have been only the California League, but Chavez was one of the more dangerous bats in A-level ball in 2010. He has gotten attention for a few years now and continues to impress. Double-A awaits, where we'll see if his strikeout rate becomes his Achilles' heal.
6. Mauricio Robles / SP / Robles quietly posted a quality season between Double-A and Triple-A at 21 years old. Maybe it's his short stature that causes him to be overlooked, but his good-but-inconsistent three pitches should not be. He has the mentality of a workhorse.
7. Rich Poythress / 1B / Poythress' power is as good as advertised, with an impressive plate approach and bat speed this past year, too. He should have been proving his worth at Double-A Jackson, however. He may get lost in the shuffle against that level of competition.
8. James Jones / OF / Jones is a toolsy outfielder who quietly found his groove over the second half of his Midwest League season. He was raw when he was drafted, but his walk rate is encouraging. He will be expected to do big things in the California League next year.
9. Blake Beavan / SP / Despite possessing merely a low-90s fastball, Beavan pumps the strike zone and has an intimidating presence on the mound. Further upside is still waiting to blossom.
10. Alex Liddi / 3B/OF/1B / A couple of teenage outfielders, Julio Morban and Guillermo Pimentel, were considered, but Liddi was chosen because he showed his power is legitimate enough to make it. His defense and strikeout rate might not be, however.
Seattle Mariners: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Felix Hernandez / SP
2. Justin Smoak / 1B
3. Michael Pineda / SP
4. Michael Sauders / OF
5. Nick Franklin / SS
6. Dustin Ackley / 2B
7. Carlos Triunfel / 3B/2B/SS
8. Johermyn Chavez / OF
9. Mauricio Robles / SP
10. Rich Poythress / 1B
Texas Rangers: Top 10 Prospects
1. Martin Perez / SP / Perez's stuff and movement are still there, but the command of his secondary stuff isn't, and the Texas League took advantage in 2010. He's still one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but not as invincible as he looked at this time last year.
2. Tanner Scheppers / RP/SP / Scheppers has one of the better fastball/curveball combos in the minors, but his command comes and goes. While his value would be maximized as a starter, it's likely he will settle in as a reliever, possibly becoming one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball.
3. Jurickson Profar / SS / Profar is getting ridiculous amounts of hype in some circles, and when the dust settles those pundits might be proven right. But it's best to take a more conservative approach, although the kid clearly has the intangibles to be a star. He combines good defense, an advanced approach at the plate, and a good line drive stroke, but has only so-so power potential and has much to prove.
4. Robert Erlin / SP / Erlin burst onto the scene in 2010, sporting excellent command of his low-90s fastball and above average curveball. His fly ball rate and small frame are the only negatives on his resume.
5. Robbie Ross / SP / The stat sheet didn't do Ross a whole lot of favors in 2010, but it's tough not to like his plus three-pitch mix and ability to keep the ball low, despite his small stature.
6. Neil Ramirez / SP / Command issues had been Ramirez's downfall—until 2010. He quietly blossomed in the Sally League, and will be looking for bigger and better things in 2011. His fastball/curveball combo could send him rocketing up prospect boards everywhere very soon.
7. Kellin Deglan / C / Deglan is a well-rounded high school catching prospect whose defense stands out more than his offense right now, but he has a solid set of tools offensively and could blossom with patience.
8. Jake Skole / OF / Skole is a good athlete with a short, line-drive swing and above average power potential. But he is rather raw at the plate, which should be expected of a high schooler. Skole is a project with some decent upside.
9. Michael Olt / 3B / Olt is another member of Texas' stout 2010 draft class. He has solid tools pretty much across the board, and may even be able to replicate his college power numbers. One thing to watch for is his propensity to strike out way more than he should.
10. Luis Sardinas / SS / A few players that would be considered more veteran in Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Engel Beltre, and Michael Kirkman were bandied about, but too many faults were found with all of them. Sardinas has his faults too, but his age, solid glovework, speed, and line drive swing won out.
Texas Rangers: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Martin Perez / SP
2. Neftali Feliz / SP/RP
3. Derek Holland / SP/RP
4. Elvis Andrus / SS
5. Chris Davis / 1B
6. Julio Borbon / OF
7. Tanner Scheppers / RP/SP
8. Jurickson Profar / SS
9. Tommy Hunter / SP
10. Mitch Moreland / 1B/OF
Posted by Matt Hagen at 4:02am (8) Comments
Friday, December 03, 2010
This article examines the 2011 prospects of one pitcher, but, more importantly, it is more about the methodology than the results.
For some time, I have been calculating expected ERA in this fashion and though it is hardly the most accurate or scientific method on the market, I find it does me well in fantasy from season-to-season. "xERA" is merely a logical way to see how a pitcher’s ERA should trend in subsequent years. It is less a number to rely on as accurate than a baseline number with which to work and from which to determine direction of numbers from one year to the next.
After a more-or-less middling young career in Canada and New York (with a sprinkle of Oakland), Ted Lilly, like Mark DeRosa, seemingly "came into himself" when the Cubs signed him to a four-year, $40-million contract that seemed quite ludicrous at the time. Lilly proved the skeptics wrong, however, and was worth his cost and more.
Over the past four seasons, few pitchers have been as consistent and reliable as Lilly. Over 2007-2010, he posted the following ERAs: 3.83 (4.31 xFIP), 4.09 (4.14), 3.10 (3.98), 3.62 (4.16). Those are hardly elite, but Lilly has proved himself as a solid, useful, quasi-durable lefty No. 3 starter in both real life and fantasy over the past several seasons. More evidence is by his four-year 3.2 WAR/200 innings production (valued at $12-$15 million per season, depending on whose free agency numbers you use), 1.13 WHIP and 3.68 ERA (tangible results effectuated, not talent).
Over the past three seasons, Lilly has posted an above-average strikeout rate (7.84 K/9, 21.3 percent K rate) coupled with a strong walk rate (2.25 BB/9, 6.1 percent BB rate) that has allowed him to limit the damage from his heavy and ever-increasing flyball tendencies (groundball percentages by season, 2007-2010: 33.7, 33.6, 31.9, 29.5).
Lilly's biggest talent is impeccable control. He is no Cliff Lee, but his three-year K/BB ratio of 3.48 is top 10 in the major leagues (behind James Shields and Josh Beckett, but ahead of Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum). Earlier this year, Tom Tango established that the best measure of control is the differential between a pitcher's strikeout and walk percentages. Lilly's three-year differential is 15.2, which ranks 14th overall among qualified pitchers. That places him marginally behind Javier Vazquez, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, but ahead of such studs as Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez.
Lilly's three year FIP of 4.22 is right in line with his xFIP over that period (4.10). Despite a slightly higher tRA (a metric which is traditionally "inflated" in comparison to the average and pervasive ERA/FIP baselines), these numbers accord a good feel around what Lilly's true talent level is. Splitting the FIP-xFIP difference, we get a 4.15 baseline ERA expectation to begin working with for 2011. From there, we will massage the numbers to reflect park/luck factors and garner a more accurate fantasy expectation.
After that, we will look at Lilly's three-year strike and strikeout rates and then calculate his expected WHIP using version 1.4.3 of the xWHIP Calculator.
Ultimately, this should leave us with a good feel for Lilly's expected ERA, WHIP and strikeout totals. Wins are essentially arbitrary, so let's avoid that analysis entirely—plug and play your own numbers as you see fit. Just note that the Dodgers will be without Manny Ramirez next season (a .400+ OBP with quality power to boot is always hard to replace), though Matt Kemp should rebound some to cut the difference if he cuts back on the strikeouts and gets a better bead on balls hit into the outfield.
And now, let's do some number crunching.
Given our expected ERA baseline of 4.15, first we need to do is determine how many innings we expect Lilly to pitch. Last season, he threw 193.2 innings over 30 starts—a little more than 6.1 innings per outing. That's in line with the past four seasons. Using this as the expectation for 2011 seems reasonable, considering the durability he showed down the stretch for Los Angeles despite offseason surgery which kept him out until late April last season. Now, we must further ask how often Lilly will pitch.
Assuming that he is to be the Dodgers' third starter, behind Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, and routinely given the four days of rest recommended in the unofficial "how to manage a starting pitcher" handbook which is inevitably given to all rookie managers, presumably including Don Mattingly, this would give Lilly a ceiling of 32 possible starts. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged more than 31 starts per season. Injuries in 2009 and 2010 limited him to 27 and 30 starts, respectively, however, though those injuries seemed to overlap the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010.
Assuming, perhaps foolhardily, that Lilly's knees are truly healed, let's set our expectations at 31 starts, with reason to believe he may get a couple more. That would give him about 196 innings. With an expected innings total in place and an ERA baseline, we need a runs allowed total that we can modify and adjust. An ERA of 4.15 over 196 innings would yield a context-neutral runs total of 90.4. Adjusting that to determine his expected ERA for 2011, we need to accord for two factors: park effects and defense.
According to Baseball-Reference.com's multi-year park factor data, Dodger Stadium depresses offense by about 10 percent. Multiplying Lilly's context-neutral runs allowed by 0.95 (as the Dodgers only play half of their games at home), we get a new total of 85.9.
Figuring out the defensive adjustment for the Dodgers in 2011 is a less exact process than the park factor adjustment. Mathematically speaking, you take the team's cumulative UZR and divide it by the team's total innings played in the field and then multiply by the individual pitcher's expected innings total. You then subtract this number (which will either be negative or positive, depending on the quality of the team defense) to the pitcher's adjusted runs allowed. Simple, right?
Not exactly. This formulation of defensive adjustment makes several assumptions which are not true. Dave Cameron recently explained in detail the problems of measuring defense as it applies to a pitcher's value in a two-part post on Fangraphs. There are two primary problems:
First, not all pitchers will get equal defense. Defense measures a total of groundball, line drive and flyball fielding ability. Not all players have an equal distribution of fielding talent between all types of fielding scenarios. A groundball pitcher will probably not get the same level of defense as a flyball pitcher.
Second, this defensive adjustment approach assumes that a team's cumulative UZR in a season reflects that team's true defensive ability. This is incorrect for three reasons: roster turnover, the unpredictable distribution of fielder playing time (especially in the NL, where player substitutions define the predominant late-game strategy), and the unreliability of single-season fielding data.
All three of these problems are notably present with the Dodgers. Ramirez (-5.7 outfield UZR in 2010, -20.9 UZR/150 in 2010, -20.0 UZR/150 career) is out of LA, while Kemp (-24.0 UZR in 2010, -25.16 UZR/150 in 2010, -10.2 UZR/150 career) seemingly had a "down" defensive year after two average defensive seasons in center (-2.9 UZR/150 in 2008 and +3.7 UZR/150 in 2009). With Scott Podsednik also departing the Dodgers' outfield, who will fill the hole in left field (Carl Crawford or Reed Johnson or someone else?) and how that body will affect the team's overall defense are glaring question marks. Furthermore, which bench players the Dodgers will re-sign and how they will use them is always an uncertainty which provides little insight to a team's prospective defense.
As you can see, defensive adjustments are a fickle thing. Unfortunately, some adjustment is necessary if we are to go beyond the mere peripherals. If you use the process that I have just cautioned you about, it is important to view it as an over/under baseline. That is, do we expect the Dodgers' defense to be better or worse in 2011, compared to 2010, and by how much? Applying the answer to this question, quantifiable with 2011 defensive projections, which will come closer to spring training, will be essential.
For now, suffice it to say, we are going to make the "ignorant" assumption of stability.
In 2010, the Dodgers posted a less-than-inspiring cumulative team UZR of -32.0 over 1,441.2 defensive innings. This gives the team a UZR/per inning of -0.0222, or a UZR of -4.4 over of 196 innings. Note that the Dodgers' outfield was particularly atrocious, posting a cumulative UZR of -48.5, last season. It's bad even if you take Ramirez and Kemp's poor gloves out of that defensive picture: -18.8. That number would still rank as the fifth worst outfield defense in baseball. That's never a positive sign for a flyball pitcher. Nonetheless, adjust this number for how much you expect the team's overall defense to improve or deteriorate in 2011.
Applying this defensive adjustment to Lilly's park factor-adjusted runs allowed, we expect 90.2 runs, almost completely obliterating any pitching advantage of Dodger Stadium. Over 196 innings, this would translate into an expected ERA of 4.14. If the Dodgers add a Carl Crawford type, I am willing to bank on a sub-4 ERA for Ted Lilly, however. Until the dust that is the Dodgers' outfield situation settles closer to spring training, the defensive adjustment will remain largely a matter of speculation (more so than usual). Perhaps, therefore, it is worth noting that Lilly's park factor adjusted, peripheral-based ERA (based on 85.9 runs allowed) is 3.94. My feeling pegs his ERA over/under around the 4.00 mark. Feel free to pick a different number.
Ted Lilly's three-year whiff numbers shows some healthy consistency. His swinging strike percentage in 2008 was 9.7. In 2009, it was 9.5. Last year, depressed by early season "extended spring training" starts in the majors following surgery, it was a still solid 8.9. His K/9 fluctuated a bit over this period (8.09 in 2008, 7.68 in 2009, 7.71 in 2010), but his strikeout rate as a function of total batters faced remained quite constant: 21.4 percent in 2008, 21.4 in 2009, and 21.1 in 2010.
For the sake of healthy pessimism, let's peg the whiff rate of the soon-to-be 35-year old Lilly's at a flat 21 percent for 2011. To figure out Lilly's expected strikeout total, we would need to know his expected total batters faced. Over the past three major league seasons, an average of 4.31 batters have come to the plate per inning. Last season, that figure was 4.28. Using a 4.3 figure makes it 843. Applying the 21 percent strikeout rate, we find that Lilly would whiff an expected 177 batters, which would translate into a K/9 of 8.13. That seems a little high for Lilly, who has historically faced 4.23 batters per inning. So, using Lilly's historic rate, we get an expected strikeout total of 174, for a K/9 of 7.99. My expectations are slightly tempered: 170 K (7.8 K/9).
Rounding out this analysis, let's a look at Lilly's xWHIP per xWHIP v.1.4.3 (version 2.0 is on its way. Since Lilly split time between the Cubs and Dodgers last season, I will need to plug in each set of numbers separately. I am going to ignore defense here; substitute your own expectations of how many hits the Dodgers defense is going to add to (or subtract from) Lilly's defense-independent expectation in 2011.
Plugging in the relevant numbers, xWHIP pegs Lilly's defense-independent performance on the Dodgers as being worth a 1.087 xWHIP, while his Cubs performance translates into a slightly worse, but still solid 1.195 xWHIP. The composite result is an xWHIP of 1.15.
Overall, Lilly's 2011 expected over/under numbers (pre-defense) are 196 innings of 3.94 ERA, 174 strikeouts, 1.15 WHIP baseball. Obviously, the Dodgers' defense (one of the worst in baseball) is going to have a huge impact on Lilly's actual numbers, but at least we have a starting point from which to start the draft-day bidding.
As always, post your love/hate in the comments.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 3:55am (3) Comments
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
This week, I continue with the theme of recognizing and defending the human element’s contribution to the slightly irrational fantasy sports decisions we make. While last week’s subject was an act that is quite subtle, this week I’ll tackle what is probably the most overtly influential factor in a fantasy sports decision that does not pertain to the players or situation at hand.
Here’s a scenario that we’ve all experienced. You’re setting your line-up and deciding whether to activate one of the more marginal pitchers on your roster for a potentially precarious match-up. You hate these decisions; we all do. You try to think about the decision rationally and perform your due intellectual diligence in attempt to make the right statistical play, but you’re still conflicted. In this case, we often look for a reason to tilt us in either direction, and here’s a powerful one – you can watch this game on television. For those of us who have the Extra Innings package, or MLBTV, or are even serial users of game streaming sites, every game is on TV. But many of us still operate largely on the standard cable package system, meaning we get our team’s home games, along with games on MLB Network, ESPN and the weekly Fox game.
For me, I know being able to watch my pitcher (this doesn’t apply as much with hitters because they appear in the game less frequently) is a big driver of temptation to activate him in a questionable match-up. I have the Extra Innings package and often choose to watch the games in which I own pitchers in action. I think this is a perfectly expected and largely defensible impulse. Perhaps this behavior is somewhat connected to the endowment effect in that it is more difficult to “give up” a potentially great performance (many of these borderline start pitchers are streaky, high K/high BB types) when it’s in the fore of your mind and right on your TV than when you are disconnected from it. There’s something of a cash payment versus credit card charge dynamic here, where one transaction is emotional and stark while the other just involves numbers on a screen changing.
I don’t mind letting the proposition of watching the game affect one’s decision and I take this stance for two main reasons. First, quite simply, you can learn a lot by watching. It only helps you understand your players to observe them in action. Watching more baseball is always a good way to refine your instincts about players. Second, this is a healthy way to bond fantasy and real sports.
There seems to be a steady stream of derision of fantasy baseball participants that comes from the crotchety old guard of baseball. The guys who make decisions based on statistics and then fling criticisms at those who make decisions based on much more robust and predictive statistics just love to pile on the fantasy leaguer. But let’s be rational here for a second – most of us love actual baseball. The fantasy junkie and the baseball junkie are is a classic false dichotomy!
For the casual baseball fan eager to learn more, fantasy baseball is a great tool for learning. For the junkie, the desire to play fantasy baseball is a natural (though not inescapable) manifestation of a pursuit of a wider-ranging, more personal, and complete fan experience. At its most pure, fantasy baseball is an additional way to interact with the sport of baseball, and simultaneously a beautiful system unto itself to which the actual players are largely tangential. I think that for purposes of enjoyment and strategy, it’s important to embrace both sides of that coin. So, go ahead and pitch A.J. Burnett against the Phillies, but only if it’s the Sunday night game on ESPN.
While I’m here, let me just briefly expound on a non-reason to pitch A.J. Burnett against the Phillies, whether a televised game or not. Being a fan of the Phillies and an owner of A.J. Burnett and seeing the act of starting Burnett as a means of hedging your personal investment in the game is neither strategically sound nor philosophically sensible.
This is not uncommon behavior though. I know several people who have offered the win-win rationale for starting marginal pitchers against the team they root for. The ill-conceived rationale goes thusly – if the Phills demolish Burnett, I’m happy because my team wins, and if Burnett pitches a gem I get the satisfaction of fantasy success to mitigate my disappointment in my real team. Please indulge me while I debunk this utter mess of a philosophy.
First, let’s just state the obvious. While the good performance of your pitcher and the good (offensive) performance of your team of choice tilt the odds of particular outcomes in the game, a Burnett dud and a Philly loss are not mutually exclusive. The opposing starter can fail to make a quality start only to see his team win anyway. Such a confluence of occurrences isn’t really all that rare at all. In fact, those are the most painful performances your pitcher can deliver. Watching your pitcher fail to complete five innings of even mediocre hurling after having been handed a big lead is unbearable as an owner. You realize your guy doesn’t have it, and you know you’re going to take a hit in some of the categories for it, but you look toward to the salvation of a win and he can’t even do the bare minimum to achieve that. It’s infuriating.
The other, more fundamental, problem with this behavior is that you are trying to hedge bets that exist on two different planes. Now, I’m aware I just made reference to merging fantasy sports and real sports, but the difference is that behavior I just extolled was a healthy merger, this behavior is not.
Activating the player you are going to watch is simply a move that helps you get the most out of your experience of watching the game. An analogy would be somebody who isn’t fond of betting on horses in general and doesn’t bet regularly, but goes to the track once or twice a year just to get out and do something novel and lays down some bets while there to enhance the experience. When you start your pitcher against your team of choice you are doing something entirely different; you are essentially betting against your team to hedge your emotional investment in the game.
We’ve now entered into apples to oranges territory. The fulfillment of winning your fantasy league is a distinct form of emotional and mental gratification from seeing the team you root for capture a championship. You may think that these feelings are related because both are derived from the events and outcome of the same game, but while that may be true, one successful outcome is not a substitute for the other. Trust me; I inadvertently caught six minutes of Dr. Phil in a waiting room on Monday.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:54am (5) Comments
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Philadelphia Phillies: Top 10 Prospects
1. Domonic Brown / OF / Brown has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, but everything to prove in the majors. His undisciplined approach at the plate got him into trouble in his late-season 2010 stint in Philadelphia, so take a wait-and-see approach regarding the translation of his power and speed. He is still a tough prospect to fully buy into, but his talent is immense.
2. Jonathan Singleton / OF/1B / Singleton put together a great full season debut, although his second half lapse is worrisome. Some question how his stick will hold up against better breaking stuff, but his apparent shift to the outfield helps his value and balances out some of his negatives.
3. Jarred Cosart / SP / Philadelphia's farm system depth received a boost in 2010 from a few breakout pitchers. Cosart is perhaps the most talented of the group. He has sharp command of an outstanding fastball, but his secondary offerings are raw and the health concerns are legit.
4. Trevor May / SP / May has a lively arm, an advanced repertoire, and has been able to handle the Sally League with little resistance. He struggles when it comes to harnessing his movement, which has resulted in a high walk and fly ball rate. Time and athleticism are on his side.
5. Brody Colvin / SP / A case could be made that Colvin should be rated as high as No. 2, as Philly's No. 2 thru No. 5 are very close. Colvin is the more conventional pitcher when comparing him to Cosart and May, as no part of his game necessary stands out from the crowd, but he has the skills to be very successful.
6. Vance Worley / SP / There isn't much upside to work with, but Worley likes to attack the strike zone with his average arsenal and knows how to keep the ball low and hitters off balance.
7. Sebastian Valle / C / Valle showed glimpses of his power potential, but little else in 2010. His defense didn't improve much either, but he has the tools to improve across the board.
8. J.C. Ramirez / SP / Ramirez is a solid pitching prospect overall, with an average three-pitch mix, decent command, and good endurance; however, he hasn't really excelled anywhere he has been and looks the part of a back-end-of-the-rotation type.
9. Jesse Biddle / SP / Biddle was a reach in the first round of the 2010 draft, but he signed immediately and stepped into the Gulf Coast League and had success. He's a lefty with some upside who wouldn't make most top-10 lists, but there is a serious drop-off in talent past Philly's top five.
10. Domingo Santana / OF / Santana caught my eye in 2009 as a young, toolsy up and comer, but his showing in 2010 didn't do him any favors. He has displayed some power, keeping him on radar screens, but his strikeout rate is horrendous. He needs to show improvement next year or he will be easily forgotten.
Philadelphia Phillies: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Domonic Brown / OF
2. Jonathan Singleton / OF/1B
3. Jarred Cosart / SP
4. Trevor May / SP
5. Brody Colvin / SP
6. Vance Worley / SP
7. Antonio Bastardo / RP/SP
8. Sebastian Valle / C
9. J.C. Ramirez / SP
10. Jesse Biddle / SP
Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects
1. Julio Teheran / SP / In 2010 Teheran arrived as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He had monstrous success over three stops up the minor league ladder, and perhaps most important of all, he stayed healthy and displayed promising endurance.
2. Mike Minor / SP / Minor's strikeout rate has been unreal, but will ultimately slow down. His extensive repertoire, craftiness, and confidence will carry him far.
3. Freddie Freeman / 1B / There is little doubt that Freeman will be a successful major league hitter, but to this point he hasn't displayed the skills necessary to be an exceptional one. Some are labeling him a star, but that's far from a universal assessment.
4. Randall Delgado / SP / Delgado posted a breakthrough season in many respects, but met resistance upon his Southern League promotion. His fastball alone couldn't get it done at Double-A. His secondary stuff needs to hit a new level.
5. Arodys Vizcaino / SP/RP / Injuries are a concern, but Vizcaino is a 20 year old with a mid-90s fastball fastball and sometimes-dominating curveball. His upside is immense and firmly plants him at the top of the second tier of Brave prospects.
6. Craig Kimbrel / RP / Kimbrel has a live arm and cutthroat mentality. He had an often-dominating year between Triple-A and the majors. He is perhaps the most sure-thing closer minor league baseball has to offer.
7. J.J. Hoover / SP / There isn't a lot of upside in Hoover, but he continues to put up numbers that make you take notice - even in the strikeout column. The numbers should taper off as he moves up, but his extensive arsenal could take him places.
8. Matt Lipka / SS / Lipka carried the label "ultra raw" into the 2010 draft. Yet Atlanta selected him, plugged him into the Gulf Coast League, and, considering he is 18 years old, he excelled. His upside appears better than first thought.
9. Christian Bethancourt / C / Bethancourt showed some skills defensively in his first full season, but he fell flat at the plate. Yet all the tools are there for his offense to improve. His stock could boom or bust over the next season or two.
10. Andrelton Simmons / SS / Atlanta's system runs deep, and there were plenty of contenders for No. 10. The knock on Simmons heading into the draft was that he couldn't make it as a pitcher yet didn't have the bat to make it as a position player. Still, he is another Atlanta draftee who stepped in and showed immediate offensive success. He also gets rave reviews for his defense.
Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Jason Heyward / OF
2. Tommy Hanson / SP
3. Julio Teheran / SP
4. Mike Minor / SP
5. Freddie Freeman / 1B
6. Jair Jurrjens / SP
7. Randall Delgado / SP
8. Arodys Vizcaino / SP/RP
9. Craig Kimbrel / RP
10. J.J. Hoover / SP
Posted by Matt Hagen at 4:01am (14) Comments
Friday, December 10, 2010
Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position: Catcher || First Base
To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)** 1 Chase Utley* Phillies .271/.369/.468 2 Ian Kinsler* Rangers .266/.343/.439 3 Robinson Cano Yankees .296/.340/.466 4 Dustin Pedroia* Red Sox .284/.355/.441 5 Brandon Phillips Reds .257/.311/.398 6 Dan Uggla Braves .261/.349/.483 7 Gordon Beckham White Sox .280/.351/.455 8 Rickie Weeks* Brewers .263/.353/.456 9 Martin Prado* Braves .290/.341/.437 10 Ben Zobrist Rays .256/.361/.418 11 Aaron Hill Blue Jays .241/.296/.409 12 Kelly Johnson Diamondbacks .257/.336/.430 13 Brian Roberts Orioles .274/.349/.408 14 Dustin Ackley Mariners .287/.378/.435 15 Neil Walker Pirates .251/.301/.422 16 Chone Figgins Mariners .263/.353/.320 17 Mike Aviles Royals .276/.307/.398 18 Ryan Raburn Tigers .270/.333/.465 19 Ian Desmond Nationals .261/.312/.399 20 Howie Kendrick Angels .280/.318/.414*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them).
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective slash lines for my hitter rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for hitters, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
Omitted from the above list are a pair of second base-eligible, health-risk names of interest: Mark DeRosa (Oliver: .242/.320/.390) and Carlos Guillen (.253 /.330 /.387). Each might make a solid back-end middle infield option in leagues with corner/middle-infield requirements, but the health risks they pose make them undraftable as a primary second baseman in almost any format short of NL/AL-only.
Some may think I am undervaluing Martin Prado and Rickie Weeks, while overvaluing Gordon Beckham, Aaron Hill and Ian Kinsler. Some might also question my placement of Dustin Ackley. I will try to address those names here. If you have questions or comments, as always, leave them in the comments section below and I will respond.
I do not doubt that Prado is a legitimate .290+ hitter with double-digit home run power. Unfortunately, that is where hs upside ends. He is not an elite hitter for average like Ichiro Suzuki, nor a stolen base devil like Jose Reyes.
Accordingly, his limited above-average fantasy value in one category and average fantasy value in another make him a less than useful option for owners. As a CI/MI in 2010, Prado was one of the most valuable in the game. He cost peanuts and produced candy (food metaphor!). As a starting second baseman, however, Prado's value is substantially limited. He will not steal more than a handful of bases (five in 2010, Oliver sees three in 2011) nor rack up a ton of RBIs. He'll garner some runs and a quality average, but that's not worth shelling out what he's likely to cost on draft day when you are likely to get less than 20 homers plus steals in return.
Beckham has a similar profile to Prado's, but with a higher ceiling. Put Beckham's 2010 out of your mind in evaluating his 2011 prospects. Beckham's first half struggles were well documented and while his second half surge is not particularly indicative of his true talent line, it shows that he is not the dud that many people labeled him by July.
My expectations for Beckham in 2010 were a .285 average, 18 homers, 10 steals, 80 runs and RBIs. He fell short of that mark, but my expectations remain similar for 2011. Oliver expects a .280 average, 15 homers, six steals and just about 70 runs/RBIs. My expectations are more bullish, with a prediction that Beckham will be moved back into the top portion of the batting order, where he belongs.
I've always had high fantasy expectations for Weeks, but, through some perpetual combination of injury and ineffectiveness, he has always managed to disappoint. The past season was Weeks' first big year, as he paired 2009's productiveness with 2008's durability. Weeks is 28 years old and in the middle of "his prime," but a few lingering concerns prevent me from ranking him in the top 10, ahead of Aaron Hill, or Ben Zobrist.
First, Weeks is a perpetual injury risk. This was the first year in which he played even 130 games. Players do not suddenly develop bones and tendons of steel at age 28. Second, Weeks has seen his speed score decline each of the past four seasons and it was a super mediocre 5.1 in 2010. I am not saying that Weeks will not attempt 20+ stolen bases in 2011 or that his speed will not "rebound" next year. Rather, he may run less and less as his speed/efficiency dwindles, and that less running means less injury risk and hence the Brewers may put a flashing red light on Weeks' feet. Third, Weeks still strikes out a lot. His career strikeout rate is a hair under 27 percent, and in 2010, it was 28.3 percent.
Lots of whiffs, even with Weeks' above average ability to walk, will limit his average potential, which will in turn limit his fantasy value. Still, Weeks does hit for good power (career .176 ISO, .195 ISO in 2010) and will likely eclipse the 20 home run mark in 2011 assuming good health. But you know what they say about assumptions. Accordingly, I place him No. 11 cautiously, with full recognition that he is a high risk/high reward player who could prove to be top five by season's end. Just know that I do not like to make high risk/reward gambles at a position that is so scarce that your backup plan is going to make you cry.
Now, noting my risk-averse approach to second base, you might ask "hey, what gives with Ian Kinsler?" The answer is simply that Kinsler, when healthy, has the second-best ceiling of any player who is second-base eligible and he's still a top of the pile second basemen when injured. Even though, like Weeks, Kinsler has only once (2009) eclipsed 130 games played, he has nonetheless hit at least 18 home runs, stolen at least 23 bases, and scored at least 96 runs in three of the past four seasons.
Granted, that one year in the past four that Kinsler did not achieve those thresholds was last season. Still, a year removed from a high ankle sprain—which has been routinely noted to not only limit stolen base prowess, but also limit power by hindering a hitter's stance and swing at the plate—Kinsler should hit more home runs (nine) and steal more bases (15) than he did in his 460 plate appearances in 2010.
A look at Kinsler's 2010 splits by month reveals that he developed more power each month removed from injury as the season progressed. Here are his relevant monthly ISOs in 2010: .102 (May), .129 (June), .136 (July), .141 (September). Kinsler missed August due to injury, but the point remain. When Kinsler is playing, he is an elite second baseman, and even in limited play, his numbers will be at least as good as his second base colleagues with upside to spare if he stays healthy (see 2009).
Last, but not least, there is Aaron Hill who had a major down season in 2010. Hill gave owners reason to hope for better in 2011. Though his average and on-base percentage were Mario Mendoza-like last season (.205/271), Hill still hit 26 homers in less than 140 games for a .189 ISO.
Hill's shown some nice flashes of power in his last three healthy seasons and there is no reason that he cannot hit 20+ home runs again in 2011. Like his teammate Jose Bautista, Hill is an extreme pull-power right-handed (left field) hitter and the Rogers Centre (as they spell it in Canada) is well suited for such players.
Furthermore, xBABIP pegs Hill for one of the more extreme average regressions in 2011, to the tune of somewhere in the .270-.280 range. I expected a .275, 27 homer, 100 RBI season for Hill in 2010. He matched the power and the peripherals say that he is capable of matching that expectation in 2011 if given the playing time. I expect Hill to be the most undervalued second baseman in fantasy baseball next year.
That is all for this week. For now, I am going to start reading the copy of Yankees Classics that was mailed to me so that I can write a review here real soon. Wish me luck on my third semester of law finals and stay tuned for next week's shortstop rankings.
Quick Post Script:
I've gotten many comments and emails about my ranking of Kinsler above Cano, so let me just address the issue again here. My ranking of players is based on expected production, which is a function of talent, upside, expected playing time, and likelihood to reach production level (guys with poor K/BB ratios tend to rank low here). Here are the numbers for Cano and Kinsler over the past four seasons:
Cano (2007-10): 2673 PA, .305 AVG, 87 HR, 369 R, 363 RBI, 14 SB
Kinsler (2007-10): 2249 PA, .280, 78 HR, 372 R, 263 RBI, 95 SB
As you can see, while the power and runs numbers are comparable, and while Cano has an edge in batting average and RBI, Kinsler blows Cano out of the water in stolen bases. Their numbers in terms of total fantasy value are quite comparable over the past year, with Kinsler achieving this value with over 400 less PA than Cano. Accordingly, with the two comparably ranked assuming Cano is healthy and Kinsler is not, Kinsler gets the bump due to clear ceiling/upside if healthy. Check out both player's four-year pro-rated numbers (PA/statistic, the lower the number, the better):
Cano: 30.7 PA/HR, 7.2 PA/R, 10.1, PA/RBI, 190.9 PA/SB
Kinsler: 28.8 PA/HR, 6.0PA/R, 8.6 PA/RBI, 23.7 PA/SB
Keeping these ratios constant, Kinsler only has to play 80% of the games that Cano does to be more valuable. That is clearly not the simplest of tasks, given that Cano has average 160 games played over the past four seasons, but I have faith. The downside here is minimal, while the upside is clear. My rank not as controversial as it might seem in my eyes, though I do understand why people think Cano and his one season posting an ISO north of .200 might be more valuable.
Personally, I prefer the well-rounded Kinsler here, largely for the reasons listed above. I have also ranked Cano below Kinsler because I think Cano regresses some in power in 2011. I am predicting less than 25 home runs.
Additionally, I have removed Chris Coghlan (previously ranked at #9) from this ranking. According to reports, Coghlan, a second basemen by trade, will be moved to centerfield next season (rather than second or third) to make room for Infante at second base and presumably Helms at third. If Coghlan does end up playing second base next season, he instantly becomes a top ten name at the position, while his presence at third base would make him a top fifteen name or strong starting CI player. Oliver projects him to hit .282/.353/.402. In Coghlan's stead, I have re-added Mike Aviles' name to this list. Aviles is not a good OBP guy and hardly a producer in any single category, but he'll give you a little bit of something all around (.290ish batting average, double digit HR/SB totals, 80 or so runs and 60 or more RBI).
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:26am (39) Comments
Monday, December 13, 2010
Jered Weaver is an odd pitcher. He's a guy who has always been thought of as a potential ace. Despite this, while his ERA was solid in 2007 and 2009, before 2010 he hadn't managed to replicate his amazing strikeout-to-walk numbers in the minors. However, this year that changed, with Weaver's K/9 rising for the first time above 8 to 9.35 and his BB/9 falling to a career-low 2.17. Even Weaver's groundball rate improved this year to 36 percent, a good rate for a guy who is basically an extreme flyball pitcher. What changed this year? Is Weaver likely to repeat it? Well to answer that, let's look at his pitches:
Weaver throws five different pitches: a four-seam fastball with strong cutting action, a two-seam fastball, a change-up, a slider, and a "curveball." I say "curveball" because the pitch really doesn't have a typical curveball movement, but rather seems to have the same movement as Weaver's slider, but is around 7-8 mph slower than the slider. The two-seam fastball, it should be noted, is the newest pitch; it only really began to be used significantly in 2009. The various pitches and their movements and velocities this year are listed below:
Of these pitches, the four-seam fastball has some nice cutting action, but really that's the only impressive thing about the movement or velocity of any of these five pitches. And that basically has stayed the same all of the last three years. The only difference in his pitch movement this year from last year is that the four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball seem to have become slightly more distinct, with the difference in the horizontal movement of each pitch growing by around an inch or two. Clearly, what success Weaver has had in the past, and this year, has not come as a result of extraordinary movement on his pitches. It has come from an understanding about how each of his pitches work, when to use them, and some pretty good control.
Okay, so the pitches' movements haven't changed in any way that would cause Weaver's improvement. So how about Weaver's pitch usage? Well, Weaver has increased his usage of the two-seam fastball and the curveball against left-handed batters. (On 0-0 counts to such batters, the curveball oddly enough is the most used pitch.) Against right-handed batters, there doesn't seem to be much change in his pitch usage.
Moreover, Weaver's been able to seemingly increase his ability to concentrate certain pitches, including the aforementioned curveball in locations just at the edge of the strike zone, or at barely outside of the strike zone. The end result is that batters are swinging more at pitches of Weaver's that are located outside of the strike zone. The end result is that Weaver has been better able to get into two-strike counts than he did last year, resulting in more opportunities for strikeouts.
And when he gets to two-strike counts, Weaver's style is such that really aims to get the strikeout. He basically avoids the strike zone entirely on 0-2 (and less so, but still similarly so on 1-2), resulting in pitches that generally can at worst result in a ball, and at best result in a strikeout or weak contact. There really isn't much change here, but it should be noted as to how Weaver pitches in these counts if we're talking about understanding Weaver's pitches.
Jered Weaver emerged as a bona-fide ace this last year. His peripherals show that the results weren't just the result of BABIP luck. His pitches themselves would seem to indicate to me that this is likely not just a random fluke for other reasons (batter failures) either. Weaver should be able to maintain a similar performance next year. As such, I would perhaps even go so far as to say that he would be a worthy first starter on your fantasy team next year (even more so if it's an AL-only league).
Posted by Josh Smolow at 1:04am (3) Comments
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The fantasy leagues I play in are overwhelmingly of the mixed-league variety, so it’s relatively infrequent that I write specifically with an AL- or NL-only perspective in mind, but Cliff Lee’s surprise departure from the American League led to such a musing. I can’t remember when there was as stark an imbalance of elite starting pitching between the leagues. This dynamic has significant fantasy implications for non-mixed leagues.
In the National League, it seems elite starting pitching options abound. From Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, and Tim Lincecum to near top-tier options like Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, Yovani Gallardo, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, and (when healthy) Johan Santana, starting pitching studs are seemingly a dime a dozen. We haven’t even touched on guys who are just missing one element or are a bit too green to anoint as fantasy gold, like Mat Latos, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Sanchez, or Wandy Rodriguez. Heck, even Ted Lilly might warrant a mention here.
On the other hand, the AL is nearly bereft of elite talent. The way I see it, there are three clear studs that seem rock solid top-tier options – Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester and C.C. Sabathia. Beyond that, David Price, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, and Jeff Weaver have the potential to join that group; some might include Zack Greinke and Francisco Liriano here as well. Venturing outside top 10 territory, we’re left to concede honors to pitchers like John Danks, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Colby Lewis and Ricky Romero (and Matt Garza if the off chance he doesn't move the the National League as well). To be sure, the players I just named are quite fine pitchers and I’d be happy to roster them, but by comparison this is Nat’s Peach Pit misfits in the face of the sleek Beverly Hills Little League All Stars. (Geez, you leave Bill Simmons in your house to go on one beer run and when you come back there are 90210 references in your column…)
A pitcher like Lilly might not be in some people’s NL top 20, but would have a legit argument for the AL’s top 12. That’s a pretty stark imbalance. So, what would I do about it?
Normally, I’m a strong proponent not spending on the tip top arms. I like to try to nab the last remaining pitcher with top-tier potential (Hamels was my target last year), and generally not be too picky about who that guy is. I try to land one top 12 pitcher, then go on a run and clean up on a series of undervalued pitchers in the 120 – 180 pre-rank range (it seems there is always tons of value here, especially because the less savvy start to make poor decisions regarding pitching in this range, often because they start chasing wins). Then, I finish up by taking a few late-round fliers on high ceiling guys coming off of injury or fireballing first or second year players. This is how I would continue to play things if I were in an NL-only 2011 league, as well as how I plan to approach my mixed leagues again.
However, I think a strategic departure would be in order in an AL league. This year, in an AL-only league I’d give very strong consideration to paying the price for Sabathia, King Felix, or Lester; they really seem like the only sure things. (In AL- or NL-only leagues it’s also important to eat innings – you really want your best rate stat players to have the most weight to those rates.) Then, I think I’d deploy a strategy similar to my general strategy and try to nab the cheapest possible reliable, borderline top 20 option without much regard to which one it turns out to be. Then I’d move on to guys who “don’t really hurt you” and high upside gambles. I’d also look to bolster my Ks and rates by going after some elite middle relievers, as well as stay away from bottom of the barrel closers.
It’s almost a certainty that Verlander, Haren, Liriano or somebody from that group will provide similar numbers to the Big 3 and prove to be a better buy, but none of us know which one it will be. Further, my read is that the A- and especially the B+ options will be worse buys, as a group. In my experience, when operating within a fixed budget league system (draft leagues would fall into this dynamic as well) there’s something of a glass ceiling on the prices of the highest end options. The lack of star pitching depth will have greater inflationary influence on the price of the consolation prizes than the grand prizes.
I’d like to make three quick points about why I believe the above statement is true. First, there’s the panic factor. Owners often look at a draft or auction board, realize they don’t have an ace and that there are few elite options left and determine they have to reach to ensure they don’t go without. This will happen earlier this year than in year’s past.
The second and third phenomena go hand in hand. For starters, there is just greater disparity in the perceived value of players who aren’t absolutely premium goods. In this case, I think the top 3 is clear, but when it comes to, say, Verlander, some might think he’s just a shade behind that group while others may still be stained by the possibility of a repeat of 2008. All it takes is one owner to think an A- option is nearly equivalent to an A option to push the price. A corollary to that dynamic is the slippery slope factor. Lester, Sabathia and Felix fetch luxury goods prices because they are truly the best of the best. Then, the biggest fan of the next player in the consolation price group to go sets that player’s price, often a bit high. What happens next is that the first A- option’s price becomes the anchor for the price of the next player from that group. This is how “runs” start. Runs are the manifestation of the notion that X-1 is essentially the same thing as X and because somebody established the value of X it’s a good idea to pay a similar price for asset X-1 without really exploring the value of other assets classes. Meanwhile, owners have a collective discomfort about breaking certain price barriers for a single player, so the prices of the top options remain more stable.
Surely, the dynamics above exist in all NL-only or mixed leagues as well, but the luxury of depth is that many of these pricing skews correct themselves within a tier of players. This means that if you are patient and are willing to settle for one of a group of guys you target, you rarely have to overpay simply to acquire a representative of an asset class.
As a quick side note before signing off, this is one of the main reasons I’m not a proponent of going after an elite catcher in mixed leagues. There are few enough members of the asset class to make it likely that there will be enough owners to overvalue them, therefore leading to them getting gobbled up before the market corrects itself. If you set your sights instead simply on a productive catcher with a bit of upside who is unlikely to hurt you, you are almost guaranteed to be able to nab one of those players for below market price. In AL- or NL-only leagues, the dynamic surrounding the elite catchers can swing back though where the value above replacement is high enough to justify the truly exorbitant price a Joe Mauer type may provide.
One more quick note about “runs.” Runs often end either when all the players in a tier are consumed or when each team gets a player to fulfill the desired role. In AL starting pitcher example above, there may not be enough A and A- options to fill the role of “ace” on each team in the league. So, while the normal stopping point of a run of overdrafting or overpaying pitchers may be at the transition from the A- to B+ tier, the fact that the lines often blur and that some teams may not even have their ace may encourage these kinds of runs to continue longer than usual.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 10:33pm (5) Comments
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Florida Marlins: Top 10 Prospects
1. Chad James / SP / With some important graduations in 2010, Florida's system is existing on fumes. James is the best shot they have at a Top-100 prospect, and he is obviously no sure thing. He has upside in his three-pitch mix, albeit far from that of an ace.
2. Brad Hand / SP / Hand was one of the few Marlin farmhands to take a step forward in 2010. His fastball / curveball combo played to success at High-A and his command sharpened up, although he made it a habit of hitting too much of the strike zone at times, as evidenced by his hit rate.
3. Matt Dominguez / 3B / Dominguez continues to come up short with the stick. His 34 doubles were a nice addition to his stat line, and his walk rate has improved, but it's looking like, at best, he will be nothing more than average offensively as a third baseman.
4. Kyle Skipworth / C / Skipworth received the opportunity to repeat the Sally League and he took advantage, albeit to modest results. His game took a step up across the board, but he is still not making enough contact to survive higher levels.
5. Osvaldo Martinez / 2B/SS / Martinez is off many radar screens right now, but he embodies the prototypical scrappy, tough out middle infielder. Those types always make their way to the majors, and some even turn into positive regulars.
6. Marcell Ozuna / OF / Ozuna carries some serious power in his bat, and is a great one to watch from an upside perspective. Most of his game is raw, but the 20 year old has garnered a following.
7. Rob Rasmussen / SP/RP / There isn't much upside to speak of, but Rasmussen has polish and four usable pitches, although none of them stand out.
8. Christian Yelich / OF/1B / Yelich's swing doesn't impress, and his power upside is a big question mark. Florida sees something in him, however. They saw enough to reach for him in the first round and will give him a chance to impress his doubters.
9. Jhan Marinez / RP / With an impressive slider in his back pocket, Marinez has a late-inning future in Florida's bullpen. Whether or not he can be a successful closer will depend on how his body and fastball mature.
10. Tom Koehler / SP / Koehler quietly put together a stellar year at Double-A Jacksonville, and even posted an astounding strikeout rate considering his average at best stuff. He is a competitor who knows how to get guys out.
Florida Marlins: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Mike Stanton / OF
2. Logan Morrison / OF/1B
3. Chris Volstad / SP
4. Chris Coghlan / OF
5. Chad James / SP
6. Brad Hand / SP
7. Matt Dominguez / 3B
8. Emilio Bonifacio / 3B/OF/2B
9. Kyle Skipworth / C
10. Osvaldo Martinez / 2B/SS
New York Mets: Top 10 Prospects
1. Wilmer Flores / 3B/SS / His 36 doubles and relatively low strikeout rate are great signs for Flores, a talented teenager holding his own wherever he goes. He is the Mets' unquestioned No. 1 prospect.
2. Reese Havens / 2B/3B/SS / Havens has a well-rounded bat that could prove to be adequate enough to excel at third base, let alone a middle infield position. Health is the concern with Havens, but let's bite and take an aggressive approach.
3. Aderlin Rodriguez / 3B / Rodriguez put up some gaudy numbers in the Appalachian League and even has the makings of a solid approach at the plate. He is athletic, projectable, and, despite his current deficiencies, finds himself high up on this list.
4. Matt Harvey / RP/SP / Harvey was a wild overdraft in 2010, as his stuff and delivery seem better suited for the bullpen, where he could be a standout, rather than starting. The Mets must see something more than most do, so he finds his way into the Top 10.
5. Brad Emaus / 2B/3B/OF / Emaus came in at No. 9 on Toronto's 2011 Top-10 list before being selected by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft. Many gave up on Emaus after a lousy 2009 campaign. Still largely unheralded, Emaus stepped his all-around offensive game up a notch, displaying the skills necessary to be an asset in the majors. The rumor is that New York will give him a shot at second base, but his defense there will have to be seen to be believed.
6. Cesar Puello / OF / Puello's walk rate needs to improve dramatically, and there isn't much power to speak of, which is concerning for a projected corner outfielder, but Puello, just 19, has a steady bat and the look of a playmaker on the basepaths.
7. Cory Vaughn / OF / Vaughn opened eyes with some big power numbers in short-season ball. He showed a solid approach at the plate as well, but, given his age, will undoubtedly need to prove his worth at higher levels.
8. Jeurys Familia / SP/RP / Besides his 137 strikeouts and relatively strong groundball rate, Familia did little to help his stock. His curveball was maddeningly inconsistent and his fastball didn't take the next step. Still, youth is on his side.
9. Dillon Gee / SP / Some call Gee a junkballer, others call him crafty. He has solid command of everything he throws and knows how to compete. In the majors he could make a good back-end-of-the-rotation option.
10. Kirk Nieuwenhuis / OF / Nieuwenhuis has his place in this weak system, but gets a lot of undeserved love. He still has some upside to work with, but looks the part of a borderline platoon corner outfielder who you're always looking to replace.
New York Mets: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Jenrry Mejia / SP/RP
2. Wilmer Flores / 3B/SS
3. Ike Davis / 1B
4. Fernando Martinez / OF
5. Jonathon Niese / SP
6. Josh Thole / C
7. Ruben Tejada / 2B
8. Reese Havens / 2B/3B/SS
9. Aderlin Rodriguez / 3B
10. Matt Harvey / RP/SP
Posted by Matt Hagen at 5:00am (10) Comments
Friday, December 17, 2010
Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position: Catcher || First Base || Second Base
Welcome back. I want to remind everyone that these rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the sames of certain players. These indicate health risks in my eyes. Health concerns have been taken into consideration in the rankings, which colmbine expected talent with expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for the purposes of these rankings are explained here.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)** 1 Hanley Ramirez Marlins .307/.383/.518 2 Troy Tulowitzki Rockies .275/.354/.488 3 Jose Reyes* Mets .278/.330/.426 4 Derek Jeter Yankees .278/.344/.376 5 Alexei Ramirez White Sox .272/.311/.399 6 Jimmy Rollins* Phillies .239/.301/.377 7 Stephen Drew Diamondbacks .261/.324/.427 8 Asdrubal Cabrera Indians .281/.339/.390 9 Starlin Castro Cubs .303/.342/.420 10 Rafael Furcal* Dodgers .275/.344/.399 11 Elvis Andrus Rangers .277/.344/.352 12 Mike Aviles* Royals .276/.307/.398 13 Danny Espinosa Nationals .241/.312/.403 14 Ian Desmond Nationals .261/.312/.399 15 Erick Aybar* Angels .267/.314/.358 16 Cliff Pennington Athletics .237/.322/.328 17 Miguel Tejada Giants .268/.302/.378 18 Alcides Escobar Royals .267/.310/.357 19 J.J. Hardy* Orioles .251/.313/.395 20 Jhonny Peralta Tigers .256/.315/.408*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them).
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective slash lines for my hitter rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for hitters, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
As you can tell from the above list of players and Oliver projections, shortstop is, as always, more shallow than a kiddie pool. Note the extreme drop-offs in talent as you progress down the list. While most other positions have tiers of players, the shortstop rankings for 2011 largely represent tiers-by-player. Once Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitski are off the board, the pickings start getting really thin really fast.
Jimmy Rollins is the last player on this list that I expect to reach both the 15-homer and the 15-steals plateau, though Asdrubal Cabrera may flirt with it. Once you get past him on this list, the remainder are largely two-dimensional (or in the case of Everth Cabrera and Jed Lowrie, borderline one-dimensional). The farther down the list you go, the more players start hurting you in categories (AVG, RBI, HR) that they do not help in.
Some may question why I am ranking Derek Jeter so high. After a sub-mediocre 2010 (.270/.340/.370) that represented his worst career season at age 36 with signs of decline bookending 2009, why would he be the fourth best fantasy shortstop? Answer: shortstop is just that thin a position. Jeter's .320 wOBA last season was still the seventh best among all shortstops and second only to Alexei Ramirez in the AL.
While modern day Jeter is no longer vintage Jeter, he is still a productive fantasy player whose poor defense at short is a non-factor. Considering that Jeter's second worst batting average in any season is .291, I am not concerned about Jeter's average in 2010. Oliver projects a .278/.344/.376 line, but Jeter's expected batting average (xAVG) based on his 2010 xBABIP (.342) is a robust .299. Accordingly, I expect Jeter to bounce back some in 2011 and probably be underrated. My less scientific than Oliver projection is a .295 average with 14 homers, 20 steals and more than 100 runs. Those are numbers worth owning, particularly at shortstop.
The rest of this list is a parade of horrible. I like Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro, but I feel Castro will be overvalued by some, that Andrus needs to steal bases more efficiently, and that Asdrubal Cabrera, while solid, is underwhelming and offers limited upside. Cabrera could be a solid play if he produces a .290 average with double digit homer-steal totals, but the fact that I am "salivating" at such production shows you why it is better to sink your money in a Hanley/Tulo bidding war (or pay a premium for Reyes/Jeter) than aggressively acquire Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera (or even Roy Halladay). A top five shortstop plus the 15th best first-baseman is infinitely more productive than a top five first baseman plus Miguel Tejada.
It is important to note that it is no longer 2006/2007. The economy sucks, Khalil Greene is out of baseball and reliable shortstops are scarce. This, along with second base, is where you spend your money. Unlike catcher, your shortstop, unless you draft Rafael Furcal, will likely play 130+ games. He will likely play 150+ games, as shortstops are heading back toward the athletic/defense mold of baseball (more durable and rangy, less productive with the bat).
I spent $45 on Hanley Ramirez in my league last year, while Pujols went for $41. Sure, Pujols did and always will outproduce Hanley, but as I note above, fantasy baseball is about what you create en toto. It is not about who has the best player, but who has the best overall team. You should finance your team accordingly. Perhaps economizing is not the best strategy when you are playing stars-and-scrubs (as I was last season), but I can guarantee you I will gamble on a first basemen a thousand times more often than I will gamble on my shortstop or second baseman.
I ranked Stephen Drew No. 7 overall but offer a word of caution: While Drew has double digit home run-stolen base production and a strong likelihood of racking up plentiful runs, he tends to alternate good batting average/wOBA seasons with bad ones. Here are his career averages, 2006-2010: .316, .238, .291, .261, .278.
He'll get you 10-15 homers with eight to 10 or more steals and 70-plus runs, but the batting average will be the linchpin of his fantasy value. He's a medium risk/moderate reward shortstop, which is not the kind of risk I like to take in fantasy. Hence, do not take my ranking as a stamp of approval. It is just a realization of what I think he will more likely than not do, not a reflection of his downside, which is quite plausible.
The final five or six names on my rankings are largely "leftovers" who could have valuable seasons if the BABIP gods smile upon them in 2011.
Everth Cabrera has good speed and walks a good clip, but strikes out way too much to float a good average. If he streaks an Austin Jackson-like BABIP in 2011, however, he could do big things*. Similar story with Cliff Pennington, who I expect to post a higher average, despite bring less prone to run. Those two might be the highest reward names among the dregs of this list and if you just absolutely forget to buy a shortstop on draft day, you might as well target them.
*With Bartlett being traded to San Diego, Cabrera becomes a non-factor (as does Bartlett).
Hardy's best days and power surges seem a faint memory, but he's still only 28 and there's no particular reason that, if healthy, he can't rekindle his 15-20 home run power stroke. He's unlikely useful as a starting shortstop, but he could make a solid late-round bench/MI option.
Alcides Escobar is touted as a good-speed, average-capable hitter who showed no signs of being able to do either in 2011. Until he shows some ability to survive major league pitching, I will view him skeptically.
Last but not least, I have added a name to my shortstop rankings and I put him pretty high: Danny Espinosa. The more and more I ponder over Espinosa, the more and more I like him. While Espinsoa likes to swing-and-miss a lot (21.7 K% in the minors, using PA, not AB, 14.3% Swinging Strike rate in limited major league play in 2010), he also walks a bit (11.0% MiLB BB%) and has flashed a tantalizing combination of speed (56) and power (40) over his three-year (1205 PA) minor league career). Oliver likes Espinosa for 15+ home runs and stolen bases with a Adam Dunn-like batting average. Espinosa's strikeout total will keep him on the bad side of the BABIP gods' favor, but there is always the change he pulls a Dan Uggla. Given the paucity of talent at short, Espinosa, who was left of my original ranking sheet and is going undrafted in the mocks I have done on MDC thus far, might make a strong value play in 2011.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.
Note: My shortstop rankings were updated at 6 P.M. on December 22, 2010. My apologies if the reorganization of players has made any of the above analysis (largely left unchanged, though I have added my two cents on Espinosa) confusing. If you notice a logic error in the updated post, please point it out below via comment or via email. Thanks.