December 11, 2013
And here's the full roster.
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
Or you can search by:
THT E-bookThird Base: The Crossroads is THT's e-book, available for $3.99 from the Kindle store. The good news is that anyone can read a Kindle book, even on a PC. So enjoy the best from THT in a new format.
our CafePress store. We've got baseball caps, t-shirts, coffee mugs and even wall clocks with the classy THT logo prominently displayed. Also, check out the THT Bookstore. Please support your favorite baseball site by purchasing something today.
All content on this site (including text, graphs, and any other original works), unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
After almost two years of writing weekly columns here, I’ve both dispensed and consumed a substantial amount of fantasy baseball advice, from salient quips to voluminous diatribes. But, no situation is as simple as a quip, and no piece of strategy is nuanced enough to apply perfectly to a real life setting. Still, that doesn’t stop these thoughts from swirling around my head as I think through an actual dilemma.
Today, I’ll commit one of the cardinal sins of fantasy baseball writing and talk about my own leagues and teams, but only to illustrate that even great advice is often incomplete and that there are often several potential solutions to a problem—and sometimes the problem isn’t even one to begin with.
One of my main leagues is a relatively shallow mixed snake-draft league. Among my keepers from last season was Victor Martinez. I was optimistic that his nearly full-time DH role would clear the way for a 600 AB season and sterling production from the catcher spot. I was bummed when V-Mart injured himself toward the end of April, but his DH standing gave me a replacement gift in the form of Alex Avila. Avila was displaying a bit of pop at the time of Martinez’s injury, so I decided to take a chance on him as my replacement catcher. Avila distinguished himself in V-Mart’s absence and he's continued to flourish—to the point where he is a starting catcher in shallow league material. I needed to move him though, my horse was on the way back and I kept hearing the inner geek repeat that he who plays a catcher at his utility spot doesn’t understand the concept of positional value.
So, a few days before V-Mart’s return, I began floating some offers for useful but non-star-caliber pieces. Nobody bit. I also remember another “rule” of fantasy baseball, which is to avoid dropping value outright. Avila was an immediate upgrade for several teams in the league; those owners were just not yet believers in his abilities. There’d be a market, perhaps it just didn’t exist yet. So, I resigned myself to platoon Avila with Coco Crisp in my utility spot while actively looking to deal Avila.
Next, the injury bug intervened again and I lost another one of my keepers from the prior season, Nelson Cruz. Playing a catcher at my utility spot didn’t seem like such a sin if he was just filling in. Of course, this sounds like one of those absurd sexist “guys’ rules” that dictate exemptions to vows of fidelity. As Cruz neared return, I tried to shop Avila again, and this time I actually even lowered the asking price. I thought for sure Jorge Posada’s owner would take Avila for Mark Melancon, who had been promoted to closer less than a week prior to the offer. To my surprise, my offer was rejected. This caused me to reconsider my strategy.
If nobody but me believes in Avila, then I’ll just have to make Avila my starting catcher. I shouldn’t have any trouble trading V-Mart, after all. So, I started shopping him around. No dice. Buster Posey goes down for the season. I need a closer and a third baseman. I’m making all kinds of offers. Avila for bottom tier closers, V-Mart for stud closers, V-Mart-including packages for mediocre closer and mid-tier 3B packages. I’m looking at other teams and taking their needs in account in these offers. And, I’m still not getting any takers. I’m reformulating offers, trying other teams—and, I’m getting more “no”s. And. I’m. Exhausted.
Why isn’t anybody biting on my offers? Well, this question reminds me of another discussion we’ve had in this very place; Contrary to the implications of the writing in many fantasy writers’ columns, I’m the first to say that making trades in fantasy baseball is quite difficult. The market is highly imprecise and inefficient.
So, where does this leave me? I was looking to move Avila. I was fine with moving V-Mart. But, now I must entertain suboptimal solutions as well. What else can I do?
Can I use positional-eligibility another way? I could start Avila as my full time catcher, move V-Mart to 1B and trade one of my other 1B-eligible players – Justin Morneau or Ryan Howard. Well, if you own Morneau, you’re pretty much stuck with him for better or worse going forward, and I don’t feel like trading Howard is in my interest right now. Besides, this “fix” would just largely be rearranging the cards already in my hand, because I’d getting the short side of V-Mart’s positional eligibility just so I can get the long side Avila’s.
I guess I could also expand what I’m looking to get back for either Avila or Martinez. For example, I’m under the innings pace, and while I was planning to pick up my spot-starting pace, I could try to add another quality starter. That’s an area where I can just add value, as opposed to the fully closed system that is offense (which forces you to improve only by upgrading assets but not actually adding them). If Avila couldn’t get me a bottom tier closer, I didn’t expect he’d get me a starter that would offer much value beyond innings, as replaced by a composite of favorable spot starts.
However, just to add more data my anecdotes for Jeff Gross, maybe I’ll see if I can get Bud Norris for him. V-Mart, on the other hand, probably could fetch a useful starter, and now I’m down two of them after Jorge De la Rosa’s abrupt end of the season and Wandy Rodriguez visit to the DL. All in all, this would improve my team because I’d still have a legit Utility option and an additional quality starter. However, my team’s true holes (closers and a starting 3B) would remain unfilled. This is a course of action worth consideration, but I’m not eager to go for it.
However, I have been neglecting another option – to reassess my initial stance. Alex Avila has ostensibly outproduced Victor Martinez over nearly equal plate appearances. Why can’t he be my primary Utility bat? Sure, playing him this way doesn’t optimize his value, but he is pulling his weight, and that is the most basic indicator of all. Sometimes we can get a little carried away with wanting to exercise our advanced strategies, and in doing so we overlook very simple truths. I’m on the wing with the defender giving me a clear path to the basket with Alex Avila, so I can keep him at my utility spot and execute a fundamental (and boring) lay-up for two points, or I can try to throw down a dunk by trading him for a pitcher—which is likely only worth two points as well. What I "really" want to do is pull up and shoot the three—trade V-Mart and fulfill the true needs I can’t patch together from the waiver pool. Right now, I guess I’m okay with attempting a few more pump fakes. I’m secure in how my game plays, and not as concerned with how it looks.
It’s important to remember that I got Avila for nothing, so the fact that’s he producing as a regular for me—in any position —puts me ahead of the game already. It would be great to turn one found dollar into two, but found money is found money. This isn’t as if I drafted Joe Mauer and then drafted V-Mart to be my starting 1B.
I’m sure the case I presented here is a fairly common dilemma for fantasy owners, and, as you can see, there are many ways to resolve it—including the decision to not regard it as a problem after all. However, think again about how many fantasy sports rules or dynamics this one common and fairly simple situation touches upon.
While there are usually stock answers for these questions, and general lines of advice one can offer in relation to these issues, every situation is unique and each owner needs to find the solution that is best for him or her, given the overall team dynamic, place in the standings, and categorical point spread. It’s always best to think critically about your own needs and decide whether your priority should be getting the deal you want, even if it will take time, or getting what you can get when you can get it—and getting out.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:29am (7) Comments
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Last year, at age 22 in his rookie season, Jhoulys Chacin pitched 137.1 pretty good innings to a line of a 3.28/3.54/3.62 ERA/FIP/xFIP. Those are all pretty solid numbers, though his pitching at Coors Field might give a fantasy player a little worry that he is unlikely to perform to his peripherals in the future—or, as in the case of 2010, to put up a better ERA than should be expected.
Now, this year, Chacin's numbers have changed in some very interesting ways. His ERA is near identical to last year (3.33), but his xFIP has dropped from a fairly solid 3.62 to a really good 3.17 (his FIP has risen thanks to some bad home run luck). More interesting is how this change has occurred: Chacin's strikeout rate has declined, but the decline has been compensated for by a decrease in his walk rate and a large increase in his ground ball rate. Whereas previously Chacin relied on his strikeout ability (along with an average ground ball rate) to get outs, he has increasingly been able to rely upon the ground ball this year to get outs.
And for a pitcher in Colorado, that's a pretty good thing to be able to rely on.
But the question is: Is this sudden groundball ability REAL? Or is it just a mirage, a fluke of a small sample size? Lets look at his pitches in search of an answer.
Chacin appears to have five pitches: a four-seam fastball that has a lot of cut, a sinking fastball (two-seam probably) without much tailing action, a change-up, a curveball, and a slider. The movement and velocity of these two pitches each of the last two years can be seen below*:
*The two fastballs are not super-clearly distinguishable via PITCHf/x and the two breaking balls (the curve and the slider) aren't either. However, I'm pretty sure that my classifications are for the most part correct.
As you can see, there have been barely any change in the movement or velocity of any of Chacin's five pitches. Really, all of the changes in velocity/movement you see in the chart above are within the PITCHf/x system's margin of error.
This suggests, of course, that the change in Chacin's results is probably not caused by a change in the movement of his pitches.
The mysterious increase in ground balls
So the question is: Where has the increase in ground balls been coming from? The ground balls appear to be coming from Chacin's two fastballs, especially against left-handed batters. Check out the GB rates on Chacin's fastballs each of the last two years:
Four-seamer in 2010: 43.6%
Four-seamer in 2011: 71.9%
Sinker in 2010: 44.4%
Sinker in 2011: 67.5%
Four-seamer in 2010: 40.7%
Four-seamer in 2011: 61.8%
Sinker in 2010: 57.14%
Sinker in 2011: 52.38%
As you can see, the groundball rates have gone up pretty dramatically on these pitches to lefties, and they've gone up on the four-seamer to right-handed batters as well. Now the fact that Chacin, a right-handed pitcher, might get a decent GB rate against left-handed batters (and a better rate than against right-handed batter), is not surprising. Chacin uses a fastball with a lot of cut, which tends to result in reverse groundball splits—the pitcher gets good GBs against opposite-handed batters (lefties in this case). In addition, Chacin's pitches to left-handed batters (more than 50 percent of the batters he faces), are near always aimed on the outside part of the plate, the best part of the plate to get ground balls. So a decent GB rate on these pitches against left handers (even on the "sinker," which doesn't have the same cut) shouldn't be totally surprising.
But at the same time there's nothing in the way these pitches have been thrown against left-handed batters to explain why the GB rate should have increased so much this year. The pitches are being located in the same part of the strike zone, have basically the same movement, and the distribution of these pitches has basically remained unchanged. While perhaps last year's GB numbers were lower than we might have expected, the increase we see this year is a bit much for us to simply explain it as regression from bad luck last year.
In fact, it appears that the groundball rate increase this year against left-handed batters is simply caused by good luck. Last year on the four-seamers, Chacin would give up non-ground-balls on pitches in the middle to inside part of the plate. This year, despite mostlyseeing his pitches in the same area, batters have not put these middle-of-the-plate to inside pitches into play at all. I would suspect this trend not to continue.
Now there are several possible explanations for the GB increase. First, Chacin is locating more of his pitches within the strike zone this year. Perhaps this is resulting in an overall increase in GB rates? I'm not sure why it would, and the GB rate change appears to be universal, on pitches both in and out of the strike zone. Second, Chacin has slightly changed his pitch usage from last year by throwing more curves and fewer change-ups. Perhaps this is affecting batters' swinging habits so that they hit the fastballs more into the ground? Once again, I'm not sure why that would have this effect either.
Finally, the four-seamers do seem to have about a half inch more cut on them than they did last year. However, as noted above, this change is basically within the PITCHf/x system's margin for error, and I hesitate to claim it as real and the cause for any change in results.
Against right-handed batters, it appears that there is one additional change: The four-seam fastballs are being aimed a little bit more outside than last year, which would make us expect a few more ground balls (we don't see this change in the sinkers, whose gbroundball rates have remained basically constant this year from last year). So perhaps the GB rate increase is sustainable against these batters.
There is one change to Chacin's pitching that is briefly mentioned above: He is throwing more pitches in the strike zone than last year against both right and left-handed batters. This is an easy explanation for how Chacin has managed to reduce his walk rate this year. So this improvement by Chacin should be sustainable (as long as he can keep up the greater "accuracy.")
Chacin has been very impressive this year. However, at least some of his improvements this year are bound to regress, particularly the improvement of his GB rate against left-handed batters. It wouldn't be surprising for him to end up with a groundball rate higher than last year's against such batters, but it should be closer to last year's rate than this year's really great rate. Against right-handed batters, his GB rate may also regress.
Chacin's improved walk rate should remain the same, but signs also point to his decreased strikeout rate continuing as well (presumably because, with fewer pitches being out of the strike zone, batters are less likely to miss when they swing).
The result is that Chacin's peripherals should get worse as the year goes on, and I doubt he'll continue to put up better peripherals and overall numbers than last year for the rest of the season.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 3:54am (26) Comments
It is important to recognize how to use risk in the quest for first place. This article will focus on rotisserie leagues rather than head-to-head. In the H2H format, owners have an extremely wide range of options to pursue thanks to the short time frame of each "game."
In a standard roto format without keeper considerations, the game is a simple win-at-all-costs endeavor. At this point in the season, rosters can be classified in three types—runaways, the pack, and laggards.
Runaways are those owners who have seen success on both the hitting and pitching sides of the ledger. They have tallied at least 50 percent more points than average (i.e. 90 points in a 12-team 5x5). Such owners need to step back and honestly assess how they got to this point. Typically, this type of roster has two things going for it—a core of reliable top-end talent and a group of over-performers.
Runaway owners have two main options. They can stick by their roster, or they can consolidate their risk through trade. Consolidation means turning risky players into more stable assets. An example might look something like Josh Beckett and Matt Joyce for Tim Lincecum. The goal is to trade one or more players who face likely regression in the future for someone who is more of a known quantity.
All the typical rules of trading still apply—be sure the trade results in a positive expected points gain and never help a close rival more than yourself. Ideally, runaways will trade with owners in the bottom third of your league, so the focus can be solely on your roster.
Owners who are in the pack have it the hardest. There are a lot of ways an owner ends up in the middle of a league. Whether they have a great on-paper roster but terrible luck, a weak roster with fantastic luck, or something in between, pack owners still have to dig their way out of a points deficit. The owners at the top of the league can often afford weeks of fooling themselves into thinking that Aubrey Huff is going to settle down. The owners in the middle of the league cannot afford that luxury.
Some middle-of-the-pack owners can use the risk consolidation technique to improve their roster. These are the teams that have hoarded one or more categories while overlooking another. For example, a pitching-heavy team that needs some steals might want to turn Michael Pineda into Drew Stubbs.
Most owners in this category will need to take on some risk. Take the Pineda/Stubbs example. Let's imagine that instead of just needing some steals, the owner foolishly opted to punt the category. He needs more than a 30-steal player to catch up, so he may want to deal Pineda and a minor piece for a Jose Tabata and Angel Pagan package. In the meantime, he may need to gamble on a guy like Roger Bernadina or Jason Bourgeois.
The challenge, of course, is determining where to consolidate and where to take risks.
In some ways, being a laggard can be the most fun. To get back into the action, they need to take on considerable risk and have it pay off. This means gambling on some fun players like Cameron Maybin or Jim Thome. They might be the guy dealing Lincecum for Joyce and Beckett. Or maybe they trade their Hanley Ramirez for Lance Berkman and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Laggards should be digging for prospects in the hopes of finding Buster Posey's 2010 production. People can get excited about rookies, so let it be known they are available, because sometimes a crazy offer can be found. Even without finding a trade, prospects usually have more upside (and downside) than the best players on the waiver wire.
For laggards, the fun will often come from pitting the top teams against each other in trade negotiations. Laggards should take their time executing trades and should be sure that all the top teams know when a player is close to being traded. Bounties can grow large when an owner is trying to prevent a close rival from acquiring an elite player.
What happens in a keeper league? Much of this is obvious and commonly discussed. Runaways should "spend" some of that future value for current value, while laggards should gobble up as much keeper gold as possible.
Those in the middle of the pack still face a tough decision. They must pretend they are either a runaway or a laggard, because the runaways will want to bolster their team as early as possible, and the laggards will quickly acquire the best keepers.
Making this decision is risky because they could spend their keepers and still miss fantasy glory. Or they could jump on the best keepers only to later learn that they passed on a golden opportunity. Despite the frustration that either choice can produce, failure to decide WILL result in a middle-of-the-pack finish. Being careful is not an option in a keeper league.
Today's takeaway points aren't revolutionary. Teams with an early-season lead should minimize their risk, while teams in a big hole need to embrace all forms and hope to hit the lottery. Those in the middle of the pack will need to take a more nuanced approach. The key is to ask yourself what you can do to improve your chances, develop a plan, and execute it.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 5:11am (9) Comments
Friday, June 03, 2011
Before reading this article, I encourage you to read my earlier xWHIP and eFIP; this is an extension of the data presented from it. All statistics are current through May 27.
Earlier this week, I presented an updated form of my xWHIP Calculator, which, with the power of normalization, calculates a pitcher's expected hits and expected innings based on his batted ball profile. In raw form, I presented various data points for both xWHIP and eFIP. While useful, such absolutes can be hard to interpret. What does a 1.16 xWHIP mean in isolation? Particularly with the low variance in WHIP in baseball (the range tends to be largely between 1.10 and 1.50), small differences in WHIP can make a larger difference than you might think.
To address these problems, I have calculated each player's xWHIP Z-Score to give some sense of relativity. Because we are dealing with pitchers, where lower is better, I calculated the data so that the lowest Z-Scores equate the best impact players, while higher Z-Scores indicate the worst players with the biggest impact. I also tabulated a column of weighted Z-Scores scaled to expected innings pitched through May 27. This will give you some sense of which players should, in theory, have had the biggest impact on WHIP through the first two months of the season.
Because this column is weighted based on expected innings to date, which may vary in the future based on past playing time, it should not necessarily be consulted in evaluating a player's prospects (e.g., Zack Greinke has the highest Z-Score at -1.98, but only a -1.22 weighted score due to his limited number of relative starts to begin the season). For future value, you should consult the player's unweighted Z-Score, which should be scaled based on relative expected future innings. For example, if pitcher A is expected to pitch 20 percent more innings than the average full-time starter for the rest of the season, his Z-Score should be adjusted accordingly.
To make the data easier to interpret, particularly because I am using Z-Scores in lieu of an index (this was done because of pitcher clustering; the Z-Score calculations give a better sense of impact and relativity for xWHIP), I color-coordinated the data below.
Orange cells mean that the pitcher is in the upper echelon of the relevant column. For xWHIP, this means the pitcher has an xWHIP below 1.27. For dWHIP (the difference between actual WHIP and xWHIP), this means that the pitcher's xWHIP is at least 0.05 points lower than his actual WHIP to date. For Z-Scores, it means the pitcher has an xWHIP Z-Score of -0.35 or lower. These are likely pitchers to target for acquisition, particularly if one or more of his xWHIP, dWHIP, or Z-Score is colored orange.
Blue cells mean that the pitcher is in the lower tier of the relevant column. For xWHIP, this means the pitcher has an xWHIP of or above 1.34. For dWHIP, this means that the pitcher's xWHIP is at least 0.05 points higher than his actual WHIP to date. For Z-Scores, it means the pitcher has a Z-Score of +0.35 or above. These are likely pitchers to avoid or trade, particularly if one or more of his xWHIP, dWHIP, or Z-Score is colored blue.
Yellow cells are "neutral." These are players who are unlikely to have any significant impact on your team's future WHIP, for better or worse. The xWHIP threshold for neutrality is 1.27 to 1.33. I chose 1.27 as the lower end of the xWHIP threshold, despite the fact that the league average xWHIP is 1.33, because the sample of fantasy players in use is a subset of the starting pitching population. The worst pitchers in the league are unlikely to be on a fantasy roster, and at the same time are likely to post the highest WHIPs. In my preseason E.Y.E.S. post about how to calculate auction values, I tabulated the league average fantasy player's WHIP at 1.265. Because starters tend to have a higher WHIPs than relievers on average (expected mean starter WHIP was 1.30), I am using 1.27 as the lower bound of neutrality.
That all noted, here is a visually organized presentation of the data. The left set of data is organized by xWHIP, while the right set of data is organized by dWHIP.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 2:30am (7) Comments
All statistics current through at least June 1.
Jordan Lyles | Astros | SP | 4 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.57 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 5.14 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 38.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 5.07 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
I had the pleasure of witnessing Lyles' quality major league debut/Carlos Marmol's historic blown save this week at Wrigley. While Lyles performed well as a 20-year-old rookie who entered the season as the Astros' No. 1 prospect, expectations must be tempered for this season.
First, Lyles' performance (7 IP, 2 ER, 0 HR, 4:0 K/BB) came against the Cubs, who collectively own a team wOBA of .323 (95 wRC+). That's five percent below average when Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd are in the lineup, let alone a healthy Geovany Soto (for information on what his last shoulder injury did to his performance, see 2009).
Second, Wandy Rodriguez is slated to come off the disabled list this weekend, so unless the Astros want to return Rule 5 pick Aneury Rodriguez to the Rays, Lyles is likely the odd man out irrespective of how he performs against San Diego this weekend.
Third, how many players who are under 21 make their major league debut, let alone hack it a full season, in the major leagues. Starlin Castro, Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton did it last season, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like Julio Teheran, Lyles may bounce back-and-forth between the majors and minors this year to make emergency spots starts for the team or replace an injured pitcher, but his sticking power is limited.
Fourth, the Astros are one of the worst teams in baseball. Why would the Astros wind up Lyles' service clock unnecessarily (well, other than possible changes to the collective bargaining agreement this offseason).
Fifth, and finally, Lyles, for all his ceiling, is probably not entirely ready to pitch at the major league level. At Triple-A this year, Lyles posted a fine 2.56 K/BB ratio over 59 innings, but his strikeout rate (17.2 percent) is below average by any measure (6.25 K/9). Lyles has flashed better strikeout stuff before being promoted to Triple-A last season, so the upside is there, but his 2011 MLEs (4.45 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.6 K/9) indicate there is more seasoning to be done before he's anything more than a middle/end-of-the-rotation innings eater with a fastball that barely touches 90.
That said, Lyles is probably a good spot start this weekend against the Padres at Petco. Lyles profiles as a (slight) flyball pitcher, and thus Petco can limit any longball damage. That, and the Padres are hardly an offensive threat (.285 team wOBA, 82 wRC+). Lyles profiles as a low-end No. 2, solid No. 3 starter according to the scouting reports I have read, so keeper leagues should not get too excited over him either, at least not until he does something worth getting excited about.
Recommendation: Lyles is a good spot start stream start this weekend, but is not worth a roster spot except in deeper NL-only leagues or NL-only leagues with deep benches.
Mark Melancon | Astros | RP | 40 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7.24 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 61.0% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.25 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
Unless you play in an AL-only league, or a league where saves are irrelevant, there is no reason that Melancon should not be universally owned. As a closer, he gets saves. Only 30 or so pitchers at any given time can claim that, and saves are a "scarce" commodity in most leagues. In 10-team leagues, that averages three closers per team, and in the numerous 12+ team leagues I play in, almost everyone aims to own at least three, often four, closers and at least one elite set-up man. You feel dirty paying for saves, but, especially if you don't, and especially if you do and invested in a guy like Joakim Soria this year, you need to troll the waiver wire religiously to stay competitive.
No matter who you own, unless you lead the league in saves by a comfortable margin, you absolutely cannot pass a closer floating on the waiver wire. At the very least, he is trade bait. He might also act as insurance. No closer is ever truly safe. That is the truth about junk closers, of which Melancon is not.
Melancon is actually an average reliever. He throws hard (92.2 mph fastball), has two-plus pitches (in addition to his fastball/curveball combo, he periodically throws a cutter and change-up), induces a healthy diet of groundballs (61 percent this season, 56.5 percent career), and gets a good number of batters to strike out (19.8 percent career, 9.3 percent swinging strike rate). His seasonal walks per nine rate (2.63) is also improved over his career mark of 3.60, which is not much worse than league average (3.25) to begin with.
Melacon, 26 years old, is replacing Brandon Lyon, who is old (turning 32 in August), overpaid, on the last year of his contract, and not particularly good at pitching. Lyon's career 4.11 ERA is in line with his career FIP/xFIP, but the league average ERA/FIP for relievers, as it was even before this and last season, is below the 4.00 mark. Lyon is what he is at this point in his career, while Melancon has upside and team control. The last place Astros can afford to give Melancon a leash this season to audition for the team's future closer job, and I see no indication that they won't.
Recommendation: If Melacon is, for some reason, trolling on your league's waiver wire, then please, no matter what format you play as long as saves are counted, go pick him up.
Juan Miranda | Diamondbacks | 1B | 6 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .268/.345/.477
One of my favorite "fantasy legal" team names I created in the preseason was Miranda v. Arizona., named affectionately over the eponymous case and in anticipation of Miranda's competition with Russell Branyan for playing time in the snake-bitten desert. Less than two months into the season, with the loss of Kendrys Morales for the season, the Angels have acquired Branyan, who is now Mark Trumbo owners' problem. For Miranda, however, it means fantasy gold.
Despite a slow start and limited plate appearances in April (47 PA, .231/.348/.385 triple-slash line, one home run), Miranda posted a red-hot May (77 PA, four home runs, .262/.377/.538, .389 wOBA, .915 OPS) that has pushed his seasonal numbers into fantasy relevance. As a first basemen, Miranda is pretty run of the mill (.224 ISO, 12.5 percent walk percentage, 23.4 K/PA), but his performance on the season (.824 OPS, 25+ homer/80 RBI pace) outshines first basemen who have higher ownership rates, such as Carlos Lee, Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche, Freddie Freeman, and Matt LaPorta. Miranda won't win you any games, but if you own any of the aforementioned players, I would strongly advise swapping them out for Miranda, who should have respectable corner infield numbers batting behind Miguel Montero for the rest of the season.
Recommendation: Miranda is a must-own NL-only commodity and should at least be plucked up as a bench player in moderately sized mixed leagues (12+ teams, corner infield requirements) with deep benches (five-plus spots).
Allen Craig | Cardinals | 2B, OF | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .281/.338/.465
A top five Cardinals prospect heading into 2010, Allen Craig did not disappoint in Triple-A last season. Walking 9.7 percent of the time with plenty of pop (.229 ISO), Craig slashed .320/.389/.549 (.405 ISO, 138 wRC+) with the 17th highest batting average of all players with 200-plus plate appearances in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Craig did not do much in his 44-game cup of coffee at The Show last season (.246/.298/.412), but still hit a combined 28 homers between Triple-A and the majors in only 474 plate appearances after hitting 26 at Triple-A in 2009, and a combined 25 over 135 games at Double-A between 2007 and 2008.
In light of this, perhaps Craig's emergence this season (.337/.402/.537) should not come as too much of a surprise. Oliver's MLEs on Craig's performances in the minor leagues in 2009 and 2010 both eclipsed the .800 OPS mark, forecasting him as a 20-25 home run, .270+ hitting, and average-or-better on-base capable bat through his prime years.
He has played all over the diamond (though currently only second base/outfield eligible, Craig has also logged limited time at first and third base and has been touted in past scouting reports for his positional flexibility). While he profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder for the rest of the year, as a second basemen, he is very likely to continue to rate as a top 12 option for a position whose collective members around the league are batting a paltry .250/.313/.370 (.683 OPS). If Craig is around, particularly if you need middle infield help, get rid of Maicer Izturis and ride the Craig wave.
Recommendation: Craig should be owned in all formats, including 10-team mixed leagues.
Raul Ibanez | Phillies | OF | 50 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .274/.344/.484
Thanks to a quietly awesome May (.315/.339/.602, seven home runs, 18 runs, 19 RBI), Ibanez is back on pace for classic Ibanez numbers (25 home runs, 90 runs/RBI) after a dreadful April (.161/.247/.218) that had many convinced that he was done as a starting player. Domonic Brown's presence in the Phillies outfield may carve out some of Ibanez's playing time in favor of John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Francisco, but if the past two weeks are any indication, Ibanez is not the odd man out yet. Available in half of the leagues, Ibanez could be a quiet source of of a .285 batting average, 15-plus home runs, 60 RBI and 50 or so runs for the rest of the year with Brown and Chase Utley in the lineup and Shane Victorino set to return soon.
Recommendation: Ibanez should be owned in mixed leagues employing 36 or more outfielders, and all but the shallowest of NL-only formats.
Michael Morse | Nationals | 1B, OF | 37 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .287/.339/.499
Last week, I strongly urged fantasy owners to pick up Mike Morse, who hit .409 for the week with a pair of home runs and five RBI over six games in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak that has finally raised his batting average north of the .300 mark.
Nothing I wrote about him last week has changed. His whose ownership has increased drastically (from 5 percent to 37 percent), but not enough. Morse is easily a top 60 outfield eligible player, and a strong corner infield option, for the rest of the season. He is a rare, quality source of home runs (i.e., with a batting average that won't hurt you), and should rack up plenty of RBI batting in the middle of the Nats lineup while stealing a handful of bases. If for some reason he's available in your league, chances are he's better than your worst roster player. Fantasy folk absolutely need to give this guy, who homered in four consecutive games, a flier.
Recommendation: Morse is a must-own outfielder in all but the most shallow of leagues (10-team, three outfielders per team) with no bench spaces.
Danny Espinosa | Nationals | 2B | 18 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .235/.303/.413
If Espinosa is not owned by more owners by next week, I'll have to give him another serious and thorough write-up. For now, what I wrote in week two should suffice as sufficient analysis, with this being a hefty reminder that batting average is not everything.
Despite hitting .214/.315/.456 on the year, Espinosa is getting on base more than outfield stud Chris Young (93 percent Yahoo ownership), who plays a less premium position, has an equally atrocious batting average, and is almost universally owned. Espinosa is also hitting for more power (.242 ISO compared to Young's .221 ISO) in a less-offense/homer friendly ballpark, and stealing bases about as often and more successfully (four steals in five tries versus Young's six in 10).
Despite owning a .225 BABIP on the year that is substantially below his .296 expected BABIP and a posting an improved strikeout rate (21.4 K/PA) this year that is superior to most power hitters, Espinosa is still on pace to hit 30 home runs, steal more than 10 bases, and drive in 100 while being driven in 80 times himself. If that's not elite production, you don't know who Dan Uggla is.
Espinosa will not hit for average, but is likely to hit around .250 for the rest of the year with more combined home runs and stolen bases than Adam Dunn...even by season end. There is no reason to not own this kid; even my good friend Dan Bennett, who didn't know who Espinosa was at the time, outbid me on draft day for him and refuses to trade him to me. (His logic: "if you like him this much, he must be good"). Take a cue from Dan.
Recommendation: Espinosa, a top 10 second basemen, is a must-own player in all mixed league and NL-only formats
Trade target of the week
Anibal Sanchez | Marlins | SP | 75 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.04 K/9, 3.22 K/BB, 46.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
Anibal Sanchez is this year's Cliff Lee. That's what I said earlier this week on Fantasy Phenoms' Monday radio program. Like Lee, Sanchez is a prospect who experienced some success early on (114.1 innings of 2.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP baseball, including a no-hitter, in his 2006 rookie year), establishing a brand name and some hype for himself despite not being great (4.93 xFIP, 1.57 K/BB ratio) upon his debut.
Like Lee also, he struggled in subsequent major league campaigns, and was sent down to the minors. Last year, Sanchez established some post-hype buzz with 195 frames of 157-strikeout, 70-walk (2.24 K/BB) baseball with an improved groundball rate (45.1 percent) and 4.04 xFIP. Entering the preseason, a lot of fantasy analysts liked him as a sleeper, but tempered their expectations and ranked him cautiously. I barely ranked him in the top 100 because, for all his promise, I saw lackluster strikeouts (despite an improved swinging strike percentage of 9.3 percent, after posting rates of 8.3, 7.2, and 8.5 in 2006, 2007, and 2009) and an average-at-best WHIP to go with an only average fantasy ERA.
This is my open apology letter to Sanchez, however. As good as Sanchez has been this year (2.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), his performance to date has been legit. Using version 3.0 of my xWHIP Calculator, calibrated to the 2011 pitching environment, Sanchez's eFIP checks in at 3.19 (12th best among all 197 pitchers who have started at least one game this season), and his expected WHIP clocks in at a similarly strong 1.19 (24th best, a solid .15 standard deviations above the mean WHIP for all fantasy-relevant starters).
Other pitchers performing at this elite level (Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw) are likely to cost you an arm and a leg to acquire even if they are available. Sanchez, on the other hand, is someone that owners might be willing to part with to get the right piece. Though he will not come cheap, at least not if he has an intelligent owner, Sanchez likely won't cost you as much as his true talent line. (I call this phenomenon "unestablished sample caution.")
For owners in need of improved pitching stats, Sanchez is a relatively low-risk, high-upside arm that should persist with a mid-to-low threes ERA and top 25-30 starting pitcher WHIP for the rest of the season. Trade accordingly.
Recommendation: Sanchez is a must-own, must-acquire starting pitcher in all eligible formats.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 5:06am (14) Comments
Russell Branyan| Los Angeles (American League)| 1B| 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: No projection
Three-true-outcomes cult hero Russell Branyan makes his return to the American League, though he's yet to make his presence felt. There is one reason, and only one reason to own Branyan, and that's his home run contributions. In somewhat limited plate appearances in both Cleveland and Seattle last year, he managed to club 25 home runs, and just the year before he smacked 31 in a full season with Seattle.
Now Branyan finds himself donning an Angels uniform and hoping to showcase his pop seeing duty as designated hitter and occasionally spelling Mark Trumbo at first base. Expect the Angels to sit Branyan against left-handers; his career batting average is just .199 against them. Monitor his playing time situation, as he's an expendable veteran who may not have much of a leash. Should he retain a job the remainder of the year, Branyan should be a cheap source of power for those who can stomach the average in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats.
Recommendation: Should be owned by power-starved owners in deep mixed-leagues using a corner infielder and AL-only formats.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka| Minnesota| 2B/SS| 16 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .293/.354/.415
Nishioka played a full nine-inning game in extended spring training on Thursday and should begin a rehab assignment in affiliated ball soon. The Twins would like him to play at least 10 rehab games, so a late June return to the parent club is possible.
With just 26 plate appearance in the majors, it's entirely too early to draw any conclusions from his underwhelming slash line. A career .304 hitter in Japan, and a .346 hitter last year, he has a chance to be helpful in average should his game translate well to major league baseball. He also displayed moderate pop and some stolen base ability, though he did get caught stealing more often than one would like to see. The Twins plan on playing him at shortstop when he returns, but for those in Yahoo! leagues, that means little as he already holds positional eligibility there in addition to second base. With the dearth of talent at the middle infield positions, Nishioka could prove a worthwhile DL stash and gamble for those in need of help at the position.
Recommendation: Should be monitored while rehabbing, and added by owners in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats in need of help at middle infielder if all goes well on the assignment.
Sean Rodriguez| Tampa Bay| 2B/3B/SS/OF| 15 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .244/317/.437
While having a four-position eligible player is great for roster flexibility, it does little good if the hitter is contributing little to nothing to your team's bottom line. In Rodriguez' case, his eligibility has been more novelty than useful thus far this year, but that appears to be changing. Rodriguez has posted solid numbers against left handers, but struggled against right handers both this year and last. At the end of May it was reported that he worked with Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton to help correct his flaws against right-handed pitching. Shelton suggested Rodriguez use a leg kick as a timing mechanism against righties, and the early results have been favorable.
The Rays have gotten little offensive contributions from Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson at shortstop, opening the door for Rodriguez to see some extensive playing time there. He's a free swinger, so it is likely Rodriguez will be a detriment to batting average. However, he offers enough power and speed upside to be a useful fantasy commodity to deep leaguers. Deep mixed-leaguers and AL-only gamers may wish to speculate on Rodriguez being able to sustain his new-found success against righties.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium sized mixed-leagues using a middle infielder, all deep mixed-leagues using a MI, and all AL-only formats.
Alex Gordon| Kansas City| 3B/OF| 85 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .252/.344/.434
More than a third of the way through the season, Alex Gordon owners may still be trying to figure out what exactly they have on their hands. One game in March, plus all of April saw Gordon hit .339 thanks in large part to an unsustainable .407 BABIP. May swung the pendulum in the opposite direction as his BABIP dropped to a miserable .263 mark. Some owners may look at his .234 average in May and wonder if Gordon is reverting back to the underachieving former prospect of seasons past, and cursing themselves for missing out on a selling opportunity. Those are the owners to exploit, as Gordon appears to have turned the corner this season.
Prior to this season, it was looking more and more like Gordon may be best suited in a platoon, sitting against southpaws. This season, albeit in just 78 plate appearances, he's shown significant progress against them. His May line may not be pretty, but it is encouraging to see him taking to the air with his batted balls. He has solid power potential, but only if he's lofting the ball. As you'd expect, more fly balls yielded more home runs for Gordon in the month of May. Finding a happy medium between the two months in batted ball distribution would be ideal, and is the next step to furthering Gordon's value. For now, he appears to be a post-hype sleeper figuring it out as he goes, and one worth investing in if he can be had at a reasonable cost.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Aaron Crow| Kansas City| SP/RP| 46 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 1.33 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.61 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 52.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 5.34 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Almost certainly long gone in most competitive leagues, Crow has been inserted into the Royals closer role after Joakim Soria removed himself this week. Because he's still unowned in 54 percent of Yahoo! leagues though, he bears mentioning. Already helpful in the ratios and strikeouts department, Crow will now be able to contribute in saves so long as the Royals turn to him to close games.
Soria's season has been messy, so it remains to be seen how long he'll cede his closer role to Crow. If Corw's unowned in your league, he needs to be added immediately. There is some risk in trading for him in leagues in which he's already owned, but the upside is substantial as he does everything you could ask for from a late-game stopper striking out a healthy number of hitters, limiting walks, and inducing a ton of ground balls.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Felipe Paulino| Kansas City| SP/RP| 0 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.50 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7.88 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 52.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
Traditionally more of a thrower than a pitcher, Paulino gets a fresh start with the Royals, who hope to get more out of him than his previous employers, the Rockies and Astros. So far so good in 9.1 innings spread between one relief appearance and one start for his new ball club: He's allowed zero earned runs and, most importantly, walked no hitters.
Blessed with a blazing heater, and a wipeout slider, he'll need to effectively use either, or both, his curveball and change-up if he hopes to have long-term success replacing Nathan Adcock in the Royals rotation. Fortunate to have most of Wednesday afternoon off, I watched a bit of his turn against the Angels and came away impressed with the way he mixed his pitches to keep hitters off balance. He's still a work in progress, but Paulino's strong career strikeout rate, and stuff to support it, make him worth keeping tabs on in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only leagues.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats.
Justin Masterson| SP/RP| Cleveland| 80 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.07 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 6.26 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 55.7 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
Masterson is a rare player who may be sellable to statistically inclined fantasy owners. Not overly lucky, Masterson's FIP, xFIP and tERA all sit within reasonable range of his ERA. They also don't tell the whole story with him, though. Masterson has traded some strikeouts for a reduced walk rate, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves something to be desired in the strikeout department. His groundball rate remains fantastic, but his biggest problem remains the same: He still struggles against left handers. Hell on right-handed batters, Masterson's pitch repertoire simply doesn't lend itself well to getting southpaws out. Until he adopts a pitch that he can neutralize left-handers with, he'll remain a pitcher who teases with good starts against right-handed heavy lineups but isn't consistent enough to rely heavily on in a start-to-start basis.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium-sized mixed-leagues, all large mixed-leagues, and all AL-only formats, but benched against strong left-handed lineups.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 5:14am (10) Comments
Monday, June 06, 2011
Baseball exists in a sea of anecdotes, some of which ultimately to transform into anecdotal evidence that may or may not point to the truth. That is what makes sabermetric analysis so great, in my mind: It is the scalpel by which we can dissect conventional wisdom and see whether it is based on solid ground. Many aspects of the game, including those that are applicable to the fantasy baseball enthusiast, have been covered, but I found myself thinking about one that I’m not so sure has gotten the full treatment: streaming pitchers.
Streaming reminds me of trying to time the stock market, and, as with that financial correlative, I initially felt uncomfortable with the idea. I am, after all, a “value” guy … in fantasy, I love auctions because you can fill the “scrub” portion of your squad with single-digit gems, while in finance I fawn over companies with low price to sales and free cash flow (that are to price-to- earnings as FIP is to ERA).
The problem with the stock market theory, however, is that I have often found my “brilliance” unappreciated for quite some time, leaving my money to either tread water or even sink down. Why? Because it just so happens that, at least in the near term, what’s going up tends to keep going up, while what is falling tends to continue to fall. In other words, momentum exists, so I finally wised up and accepted that “value” isn’t all that valuable until you pair it with a sort of market timing.
Similarly, seeking fantasy value in starting pitching sensibly begins with looking at the better metrics (FIP, etc.) as a way to see what those looking at the surface don’t. But we can do better, by which I mean that we can play the broader market swings, as it were, in choosing when to employ our bargains on the active roster. This is hardly revolutionary, but I have never seen actual numbers to back up streaming strategies. Since I am currently in a position in one league where I really want to employ it, I figured I ought to poke around and see whether it really provided a value-added product.
Here’s the deal: I am mired mid-pack in a saber-oriented points league despite having a strong pitching staff. The thing is, not only do I have a trio of studs (Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, and CC Sabathia), but I also have a cornucopia of others from which to pick and choose when to start whom. (Eight others, to be exact, which has already brought out Brad Johnson’s scorn in a comment thread on this site, but that’s neither here nor there!)
We only have only nine active offensive spots, so I’m not too concerned with having a deep bench of bats, but I do, of course, have to take care not to waste innings, since we are capped at 1,400 (I am a bit over max-pace). What I wanted to know, then, was whether I could take the guessing and otherwise emotional/subjective bases for choosing who starts when, and instead rely on a simple but rational system for doing so.
In short, I think I have. I came up with a quick and dirty way of choosing exactly what makes for a very favorable match-up and then figured out how well pitchers did in each of their games in either those favorable situations or in those that didn’t qualify as such.
First, the criteria (I said they were quick and dirty, and they are, but it’s something): I used Cairo’s final preseason projections for team runs scored so as to exclude the above average offenses. I then turned to Stat Corner to exclude those parks whose wOBAs were unfavorable to my pitchers (this included taking into account handedness, such that righties wouldn’t start, for example, in Cleveland or Citi Field, but lefties would). I then took each pile and came up with a collective WPA (for saber leagues) and ERA (for 5x5s). The result? The predictably pitcher-friendly match-ups deliver, on average, a positive .115 WPA and a 2.44 ERA, while the other group had a NEGATIVE .024 WPA and a 4.40 ERA.
Now, I know this isn’t rocket science, but I’ve just never seen it tested using actual numbers. There is, of course, one clear problem: Combined with always starting my relievers (since they basically have near-ideal pitching situations every time out), just starting my guys (all 11 of them) when the stars aligned just right would leave me barely halfway toward a maximum innings-pitched pace. So what I did was add back in to the mix the sub-optimal starts from my three aces, putting me right around the innings cap. The result? A still lovely 2.88 ERA across 388 innings (412 would be on pace to pitch the maximum, so it still isn’t perfect, but close enough for me right now).
Now, this takes some patience (I would have started Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Hudson, Matt Latos* and Bud Norris only once each since their home parks don’t favor them, while sitting the nicely performing Matt Garza the whole season to date… though those four combined starts resulted in ERAs of 0.00, 3.38, 3.00, and 4.50 respectively). And it takes discipline (I would have had to start Ted Lilly six times, more than any of my non-aces, despite the fact that he is basically sucking right now… though at least the resultant ERA would be .65 lower than the starts he wouldn’t be active for). But you can’t argue with the results, right? Repeat after me: a nearly full complement of innings at the low, low rate of a 2.88 ERA.
*What’s so weird is that Latos not only pitches in San Diego, but also in the pitching-friendly NL West, yet only one of his seven starts is considered “safe,”; perhaps that partially explains his 4.64 ERA in those six games?
Posted by Will Hatheway at 4:04am (3) Comments
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
We are now through the first third (roughly 9.5 weeks) of the baseball season and by now you should start to have a good feel of what your strengths and weaknesses are on your respective fantasy teams. The team that I have analyzed throughout this column is the one that I care about most, my NFBC main event team. It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride thus far, but a strong week 10 has put us in prime position to make some serious noise, provided that we can correct the weaknesses that I’ll outline later in the article. First, let’s take a look back at week 10 and see how the team has performed thus far.
Though some people don’t believe in doing so, I think that keeping target goals for the season and analyzing how you are doing each week in respect to those targets can be an extremely helpful exercise and can help you realize where your weaknesses are before they are too big to correct.
As you may have read in this column, through the first two to three weeks of the season I could already see a problem developing that we were going to be well short of our necessary target in wins. A lot of people who commented said that it was too early in the season to pay attention to the “pace” that I was on for wins and that it was way too early to do anything drastic like adding lesser double starters to chase wins, yet putting my ratios at risk.
Well, I disregarded most of that advice and proceeded to add double starters as much as possible through the first eight weeks of the season. While this has helped to correct the issue somewhat, we still have a tremendous deficit to overcome.
This past week, we were lined up to have 12 starts from our pitchers and thought we could make some serious headway toward correcting that problem. Through our first six starts of the week we had solid ratios, but only a Jake Peavy victory to show for it. Our six weekend starts were slightly better, giving us wins from Justin Verlander, Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Blackburn. James McDonald and Chris Carpenter pitched well enough in their respective double starts but could not find the win column, neither could Michael Pineda.
For the week we established our highest innings pitched total of the year at 80 innings, with a respectable 3.72 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. This brings our yearly ratio totals to 3.67 and 1.21 respectively, right about where we wanted them to be before the season. Our 62 strikeouts for the week were 14 over the weekly target and puts us 59 over the pace to hit our yearly goal. The four wins that we eked out are on par with the weekly pace, but still leaves us 12 behind where we want to be.
Drew Storen managed to save two games, but also looked shaky at the end of the week. Joel Hanrahan didn’t see a save opportunity the entire week. This leaves us 6.5 saves behind where we would like to be at this point in the season.
On the offensive side of the ledger, things were slightly better in week 10. Again let me reiterate the basic mantra that maximizing at-bats correlates directly with success in this game. We set a new yearly high with 328 at-bats this week and it led to us hitting our goals in every counting category.
Danny Espinosa had a very solid week, hitting three home runs, scoring and driving home five each and also stealing a base. Elvis Andrus also had a monster week hitting .444 with seven runs and RBIs each, while homering and stealing four bases. Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran, Justin Turner and Corey Hart all had major contributions as well. Heck, even Ryan Raburn who has been dragging down our offense from the fifth outfielder spot all year, managed to hit .250 for the week and hit a grand slam on Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest player on our offense this week wasn’t even on our team the week before. Those of you that have followed this column know that the backend of our outfield has been our biggest weakness this young season. Ryan Raburn and Will Venable were drafted with high hopes and have yet to contribute anything of value (save for Venable’s stolen bases before he was demoted). To counteract this weakness, we have searched the waiver wire high and low all season long looking for someone to step in and provide consistent offensive production. Brad Hawpe struggled early on. Rick Ankiel never really got going. Carlos Peguero hit us a couple of home runs, but hurt our batting average. We even spent $150 FAAB on Brandon Belt a few weeks ago in the hopes that he would play the outfield full time after his return from Triple-A.
Finally, before week 10, the golden opportunity presented itself. We bid aggressively, winning Mike Morse for $206 FAAB. He stepped right in and mashed to the tune of .357 with two home runs, six runs and nine RBIs on the week. If he can keep up that kind of production, our biggest weakness may be solved.
For the week, we managed to hit a very respectable .271, bringing our season average up to .255. We scored 45 runs on the week, which was four over the targeted number but still leaves us 45 behind where we wanted to be. We blasted 14 homeruns on the week which easily bested our weekly goal, but again leaves us trailing 17. We destroyed our RBI target by driving in 63 runs on the week! This helped to lower our deficit there all the way down to 16. We also managed to steal eight bases this week, which puts us only two behind where we need to be.
Going forward, our biggest concerns are obviously wins and runs scored. Saves may also become an issue, and we’ll need to find a third closer at some point during the season. The past few weeks the power has started to come around to erase the deficits there, so that’s not as big of a concern.
Nick Hundley will return from the DL this week and rejoin Russell Martin in our catching tandem. The Humberto Quintero/Eli Whiteside tandem didn’t do a whole lot in Hundley’s absence so we anxiously await his return.
Our infield has been more or less solid all year with Ryan Howard, Espinosa, Andrus and Michael Young. Justin Turner has done a solid job occupying our middle infield spot, but Ty Wigginton has been swinging a hot bat the past two weeks. He’ll step in for Turner for at least the first period as he plays four games to Turner’s three. Justin Morneau still starts as our corner infielder, but this is one position that continues to worry me greatly. Not only has he continued to struggle, but the power has just not come back and he’s now battling another slew of ailments. In a league this deep you can’t just easily find someone to replace his possible production, but he has been a huge detriment to the team thus far.
Vlad Guerrero continues to hold down our utility slot and has done pretty much what we expected from him. Our outfield for this week looks like Crawford, Hart, Morse, Raburn and new addition Xavier Paul. Beltran fouling that ball off of his shin on Sunday scared me a bit, and though he’s listed as day-to-day, I only expect him to play a maximum of two games in that series.
This leaves Beltran, Turner, Venable, Belt and Lonnie Chisenhall as our bench players for this week. Having guys with flexibility on the team like Wigginton, Turner, Young and Raburn has been extremely helpful in maximizing our at bats to this point.
Our pitching decisions were pretty easy for this week. Storen and Hanrahan are obviously in as our only closers. Matt Garza, Scott Baker and Pineda each go twice, so they have to be in as well. Verlander, Carpenter and Vogelsong have all pitched well lately and deserve to be out there.
This leaves our only decision coming down to our ninth and final pitcher for the week. Nick Blackburn has pitched well this year and even won a game for us last week. He also left his last start after the fifth inning, and I heard some rumblings that he may even be skipped this turn through the rotation. Likewise, Peavy appears likely headed to the DL so he can’t go for us. By process of elimination this puts our only other healthy arm in James McDonald in there. He’s been hit or miss this year, and hopefully can turn in a decent outing at home against the Mets.
Well, there you have it folks! A look at how our team is shaped and how they’ve performed to his point. With our solid effort last week, we moved up to second place in our league, only four points out of first. If you have any advice or suggestions on how to make our team better, or how I can more effectively manage what we do have, I would love to hear it! Best of luck to all of you in week 11, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.
Posted by Dave Shovein at 1:04am (1) Comments
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, you know that Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants sustained a horrific injury in a collision at home plate with Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins. The incident has spawned a lot of debate within Major League Baseball regarding the rules surrounding home plate collisions. That debate is for another day in another forum (but personally, I feel that the rules are fine how they are). Rather, the focus of this is on how catchers are viewed and prioritized in fantasy baseball.
One of the popular strategies employed by fantasy baseball players is to spend significant auction dollars or a high draft spot on players at relatively weak positions. Position scarcity is definitely something to factor in to your evaluations when preparing for the draft. However, there is also something to be said about drafting the best player available instead. How do you think people who took Hanley Ramirez with one of the top picks are feeling right now about that selection?
While shortstop and second base are primarily the two positions that people look to fill early on, catchers have become crucial parts of people's fantasy teams. One of the recent trends in fantasy baseball leagues is for deep leagues to require at least two catchers in the starting lineup. Given the lack of viable offensive options behind the plate, the choices are few and far between for a respectable hitter at that position. In this regard, it is understandable why people will overspend to acquie players like Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann and Victor Martinez. But with that draft selections comes inherent risk.
In real baseball, it is increasingly being proven that having a star player be a catcher is a recipe for disaster. Posey is now the poster child for the revisitation of the concept of moving catchers to other positions in order preserve their careers and prevent injuries. As Joe Mauer rehabs his current injury, there was some speculation as to whether he would start learning how to play third base. To his credit, Mauer has stated he has no desire to change positions. But the Twins are understandably considering alternatives because they have invested too much money over too many years to see their star player miss several chunks of a season every year due to injuries. That is not say Mauer or anyone else can't be injured playing another position. But being a catcher greatly increases the chances of getting hurt.
This then begs the question why fantasy baseball players place so much emphasis on filling the catcher position so early in the draft or for so many valuable auction dollars. Besides Mike Piazza in his prime, there have not been many other catchers, if any at all, that truly put up dominant offensive numbers to warrant such a draft pick.
True, Joe Mauer has won three batting titles and is one of the best hitters in the league. But he maxed out at 28 home runs a couple years ago and has never sniffed that number any other year. Victor Martinez can still be a 25 home run, 90 RBI player, but he misses time every year due to injury and he now plays first base as much as he catches. Brian McCann is a perennial all star and is a great hitter, but he doesn't hit .300 and likely won't reach 30 home runs or 100 RBIs.
And then you have Buster Posey, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and one of the game's brightest young stars. He was on the verge of emerging as one of the best catchers in the league and could already be relied on for solid offensive production in all categories. These players are the cream of the crop at that position. However, none of them are worth the high draft pick or expensive auction bid.
To commit to one of the top catchers means you are depriving yourself somewhere else. The value of what you get from a catcher pales in comparison to what else you could obtain. Generally, most catchers are lumped together in terms of their overall stats. The exceptions, such as Mauer, Posey, Martinez and McCann, will put up better numbers than that, but those numbers are not commensurate with their perceived value.
Going back to Mike Piazza, the argument would be the same if we were having this discussion in 1999. Speaking of which, that was the first year of the 18-team, head-to-head points, mixed fantasy baseball league that I run. The very first draft pick of that league was Piazza, who was in the prime of his career at that point and easily one of the best fantasy players overall. But in retrospect, I am not sure how smart that was to take Piazza first overall even though he was a dominant hitter at a weak position. The guy who drafted him recently told me he would definitely not do that again if he could hop in the DeLorean and go back to March of 1999. And I agree with him. Piazza needed days off to rest, so he could never be counted on to play a full week. That wasn't his fault, just the nature of the game. And that is my point. Do you really want one of your top players being someone who is always going to need days off with an increased potential for an extended injury?
All of this has reared its ugly head again because of the injury to Posey. MLB teams are currently reconsidering what they do with star players who are catchers. The Washington Nationals are front and center on this point because they proactively moved Bryce Harper, the #1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, from behind the plate to the outfield. The Nationals reasoned that Harper was too good a hitter to keep behind the plate. This rationale will ultimately pay off the the Nationals and Harper in the long run. Stay away from spending high draft picks or auction dollars on star catchers. They may wear the tools of ignorance, but that doesn't mean you have to be ignorant too.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:05am (8) Comments
Two nights ago someone other than Jonathan Papelbon closed out the game for a 6-3 Red Sox victory. That man was closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard. The previous night saw a buildup of frustration by Papelbon explode upon umpire Tony Randazzo.
I’m sure Papelbon’s owners are equally as frustrated. The only difference is that Pap’s owners don’t have umpires to yell obscenities at and bump chests with. Instead they sit and watch their ERAs inflate and save opportunities disappear. In fact, Papelbon has had seven earned runs credited to him in his last six appearances . Should Papelbon owners cut their losses and jump ship? I figured if anybody is worth being the first reliever to hit the Hitch, Ditch or Pitch series it should be Papelbon.
Jonathan Papelbon RP BOS- I don’t think I could be any more adamant about a player than I am going to be in the next several sentences. My evidence supporting Matt Garza was great, and I still believe Garza is making important strides to becoming a future ace, but the evidence supporting Papelbon to regain his elite status is even greater I’m afraid.
First of all, Paps is dealing with the highest BABIP against of any current closer in baseball (.369). To add to his frustration, his FIP is 1.98. Compare that to his 4.32 ERA. In addition to these unlucky stats, Papelbon is pitching well in the dominance, control, and command facets that we all look at when examining future success of a pitcher. His K/9 of 12.24 is the highest of his career and in the top five of closers across the board. Furthermore, he’s only walked four batters to contrast his 36 strikeouts.
The only chink in the armor I could find was his decrease in velocity out of his slider (-3.3 mph from 2009), and he’s throwing it more than he ever as in his career. Honestly, if he can make it through this rough patch, I believe Papelbon could reward an owner/future owner with a tidy profit over the remainder of the season. Well, that is as long as Boston keeps giving him the ball. Theo Epstein is a saber guy, so I’m sure he knows Papelbon is pitching better than his numbers are saying.
Edwin Jackson SP CHW- I opened up my email the other day to see a Edwin Jackson/Joey Votto for Tommy Hanson/Alex Gordon trade offer. I pondered over the deal for about thirty minutes, mostly researching the future success possibilities of Jackson. I concluded that I like Jackson’s value right now, and I hastily accepted the offer.
Edwin started off the year scorching, but like his no-hitter last year, he has shown flaws even in his greatness. Gifted with an arm that throws lightning bolts and breaking pitches that are more than adequate, Jackson puts his teams, and likewise his fantasy owners, through yearly roller coasters of success and failure.
In my studying of Edwin, I didn’t notice anything too glaring good or bad in his statistics, other than a tough .349 BABIP. He’s pretty much running right with his season-long pace of 2010. So I figured I was going to have put down my dork glasses and computer and actually watch him play.
I was able to clear the schedule and watch his last start against the Tigers. I walked away from that game with a hopeful feeling regarding Jackson. Other than one mistake pitch to Brennan Boesch in the first inning where he left his breaking ball flat, high in the zone over the middle of the plate, Jackson’s actual stuff looked solid. He combined his fastball that was touching 97 with breaking balls in the bottom of the strike zone.
I wonder if his high walk rate might be more due to the location of his breaking pitches with which he seemingly tries to hammer the bottom corners of the plate. Many times, I saw Tigers batters sitting on the breaking balls because they knew they were going to be out of the strike zone.
My ruling on Jackson is that he’s worth a look if you’re a manager in need of some good starting pitching but can handle some bad starts intermixed. I feel Jackson may have more value to the roto guys than the H2H fellas because of his volatility. I think he’s worth a trade of a Zach Britton, Danny Duffy, Ervin Santana, or Austin Jackson. I would probably stay in this tier. Anything else and you’ll be losing value.
Zack Greinke SP MIL- Through six starts this year, Greinke’s 15.2 percent HR/FB rate is overshadowing some of his best pitching performances. It’s a small sample size, but Greinke’s dominance and command are performing at career highs. I’m a little concerned about the minor fall-off on the velocity of his pitches, but I think that as he gets healthier we’ll see more gas.
The reason Greinke makes the pitch for list is due in large part to his 5.29 ERA. A weak owner might be willing to sell Greinke at a discount. He’s still rocking awesome stuff, and I’m buying cheaply. He should be a top-15 pitcher from this point on.
Kyle Lohse SP STL- I do not believe in Lohse. According to Fangraphs pitch data, he appears to be abandoning his curveball in favor of his change-up, a move that his given him outward success as hitters are hitting a meager .218 against him.
My problem with Lohse is that I feel like I’ve been here before. I know that he’s probably headed for the All-Star Game, but it still feels like a groundhog moment for me. I’ve had positive feelings about Lohse before, only to have them dashed.
According to CBS, Lohse has been traded in deals for Tommy Hanson, Dustin Pedroia, Lance Berkman, and Nelson Cruz. Now, I understand that you guys aren’t in leagues with owners stupid enough to do deals like this, but it should be sufficient evidence to you to start shopping Lohse. If you don’t, you’ll wish you did. I guarantee it.
Josh Tomlin SP CLE- See Lohse, except subtract previous success. Tomlin has had the second-luckiest BABIP of all starting pitchers at .212 through the first quarter of the MLB season. His pitches are slower than last year, although it appears he’s added an effective slider.
I know he’s not walking a lot of batters, but I think he’ll start showing his true colors as we enter the dog days of summer. He just doesn’t have the stuff or enough experience to convince me he’s ready to be held in high regards. Although I’m afraid that Tomlin owners should have shopped him earlier in his hot streak, I think he could still be the perfect throw-in pitcher in a 2-for-1 deal. I looked it over and I really like a deal of Tomlin/ Brian Wilson for Tim Lincecum or Andre Ethier/ Tomlin for Justin Upton.
Zach Britton SP BAL- This is the first guy on the Pitch Away list that I actually like as a pitcher. He’s got great poise and presence when he’s on the mound, which he needs night-in and night-out as he navigates the horrid AL East. He has the minor league pedigree that you want to see when prospecting for fantasy purposes, and if you asked me my favorite minor league pitcher heading into 2011, I would have said Britton.
That being said, I’ve seen him getting a nauseatingly high amount of love lately across the media platforms. All the while, I have been feeling that he’s more and more not ready to be the ace he will be.
If you need pitching, he might be worth the risk of an ERA dip from his current 3.33, but I think he’s got considerable value in some circles. As an early Rookie of the Year candidate, there might be owners, especially in the Northeast section of the country, who might overpay for a guy with so much hype and early success. I’m not buying. I might hold, but I’m not buying.
Brett Myers SP HOU- Folks, the home runs are back to plague Myers. It’s time to let 2010 sit as an outlier and pink slip Myers. I stood in awe at the success he mustered in 2010, but now I feel validated that 2011 has been a regression back to the Myers we all know and hate.
His ERA is bad. His FIP is bad. His WHIP is bad. His K/9 is marginal, and his velocity is down. What is there to like about Myers? I don’t know. His last start was the best of the season. I guess that’s a positive. I’d rather have a lot of other free agent pitchers. Heck, I’d roster a long reliever like Charlie Furbush over a guy like Myers. All those in non-NL-only leagues should cut him, and NL-only players should give guys like Zach Duke a shot.
J.A. Happ SP HOU- Let us stay in Houston as we clean house of the Astros. Happ's 3.40 ERA in an injury-plagued 2010 gave us all hope that he could flash the brilliance he did for Philadelphia in 2009. Unfortunately, early signs in 2011 are showing that Happ has real control problems. Whether that is lingering effects from missed time and injuries will only tell. I feel that he’s given us enough of a sample size to see that 2011 is over for Happ.
I think I would be HAPPier with fat Josh Collmenter. I apologize. I couldn’t resist.
Bronson Arroyo SP CIN- I would hang out with Bronson Arroyo, but I’ve never been a fan of having him on my fantasy teams. I actually think his high leg kick is entertaining to watch as a baseball fan. I also understand his value has never been so low that he wasn’t worth owning. Normally he gives his owners a profit, but not in 2011.
The most alarming stat about Arroyo thus far this season is his departure from his consistent 88-mph fastball down to the 86-mph range. I mean, Bronson’s fastball has been as consistent as death and taxes over his career. His regression spells death to me. If I’m the Reds, I’m now looking to Sam LeCure or other pitching options. Arroyo is done, and if you still own him in all leagues other than shallow NL-only leagues, you’re ulcerating your roster.
Ted Lilly SP LAD- I’ve never been a huge fan until now, but Lilly is bringing the greatest control numbers of his career into the first part of the season. He was too unproven, and then I felt he wasn’t as good a pitcher as his numbers indicated while he was in Chicago.
Even going into this year I wouldn’t have rostered Lilly initially, but this is more of a battle cry to his owners. Don’t fret about Lilly. I think he’s showing generally the same stuff that made him such a valuable fantasy pitcher. Something should be said for a guy that goes out and consistently pitches six-plus innings every start.
Again, Lilly has more value as a real-life starter, but if you own him, I don’t see too many more promising options out there in shallower leagues. If you see a guy like Brian Matusz out there I might bite because I’m not risk averse at all. Lilly is stable and steady. He’s the kind of pitcher you marry, but he’s not the one-night-stand.
Tim Stauffer SP SD- Stauffer is only owned in 33 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I don’t understand how that’s possible. Obviously, I don’t think anyone expected Stauffer to replicate the success he had in 2010 as a reliever/starter, but his 2011 hasn’t been disastrous. He’s struggling through a high BABIP of .330 and still maintains a sub-4.00 ERA. Stauffer’s pitch fx data is a little hard to accurately analyze. His slider registers as a cut fastball and vice versa over the course of the year.
I don’t think Stauffer has been Lincecum, but I think he’s worth being owned in more leagues than he is currently. Stauffer is still a good control pitcher that calls PETCO his home, and as a throw-in, he has the highest K/9 through his young career as a starter (7.07). I think he gives profit into the second half of 2011.
Pritch Slap for week 10, “Pujols is back and ready to get paid.”