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Monday, July 18, 2011
San Diego Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer came up in 2005 at the age of 23 and threw 81 pretty poor innings, basically at replacement level. Sent back to the minors, Stauffer wouldn't get another chance to contribute until four years later, when he threw 70 or so replacement-level innings.
Stauffer didn't strike many batters out, walked too many batters, and didn't get many ground balls. There was nothing about him in 2009 that made anyone think he'd be anything more than a reliever or a fifth starter, at best.
Two years later, Stauffer's numbers have totally changed. The strikeouts remain the same, but his walks have fallen in half and suddenly he's a strong GB pitcher. Where did this come from, and is it for real? He's kept it up for two half-seasons now, but can he be trusted? Short answer: Yes.
Tim Stauffer's thrown five pitches since 2008: A four-seam fastball, a two-seam/sinking fastball, a change-up, a slider/cutter (it's a pitch that's in between, and I don't know what he calls it) and a curveball. The two major pitches he's thrown are his fastballs (a combined 47-53 percent of the time against lefties and righties, respectively) and his slider, which is used 25-30 percent of the time against both types of batters.
Now, Stauffer's fastballs are not easy to tell apart in Pitch-f/x data. However, they are clearly different pitches, with the two-seamer having more sink and tail than the four-seam pitch. And it's very clear: In 2009, his main fastball was his four-seam fastball. But in 2010-2011, Stauffer switched fastballs and now almost exclusively uses a two-seam fastball.
This fastball change has had a large impact on Stauffer's results and is almost certainly the cause for his improvement over the last two years. His fastballs in 2009, comprising mainly of four-seamers, were only average at getting whiffs, while being a clear flyball pitch (with a GB rate under 40 percent against both lefties and righties).
In 2010-2011 however, Stauffer's fastball has been a groundball machine, getting ground balls around 60 percent of the time against right-handed batters and just under 50 percent against left-handed batters (this type of GB split is normal for two-seam fastballs.)
Stauffer also has managed to hit the strike zone more often with his fastball since the switch, which explains his reduced walk rate. It's not a huge increase in zone accuracy, but it's enough to force batters to have to deal with his pitches with their bats as batters are no longer quite able to let the pitches go past for ball four.
Indeed, Stauffer looks like the real deal. One caveat is that I'm not sure his improvement in walk rate this year from last year is real. There doesn't seem to be an increase in accuracy (if anything, there's a tiny decrease) that would explain the walk rate decrease, and the difference is certainly small enough simply to be explained by randomness.
So if I had to make a prediction for him going forward, it would be for him to produce results equal to his average performance over the last two years.
But the walk decrease from 2009 is real. As is his emergence as a serious groundball machine. Stauffer may not be bringing you a ton of Ks—his swinging strike rate has actually dropped from his old 2009 days due to the two-seamer being a worse pitch for getting swings and misses.
But he'll give you a pretty good ERA and as many wins as you'll probably be able to get from a weak-hitting team like the Padres, and unlike some other pitchers San Diego has had, since his success is not dependent upon the home run-suppressing features of PETCO park, as his ground balls will play well in any park.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 5:12am (0) Comments
As the temperatures have risen, so has the intensity of the 2011 fantasy season. The end of the All-Star break marks the beginning of the crucial decisions that will separate us all from victory or defeat. As you examine your position in the league standings, you must account for your position in future stats.
What I mean by that is, if you find yourself 10 points out of first and are last in steals, then you obviously need to be scouring for cheap speed or trading for the elites.
There are, however, more subtle problems that tend to rear their heads at this time of year. For most of us, a trade deadline is looming, and any drastic moves must be made now. The amount of risk you are willing to take should directly correlate with your position in the league. If you are in the top four of a 12-plus team league, you must be calculating with every single move and lineup decision.
A bad week for a top-four team can really be devastating to championship aspirations. If you find yourself floundering in the mediocrity of 5-9, you are still in it but need to be very risk tolerant. You’re team should be completely flexible. In a roto format, you should take a look at categories where you have extreme depth and dangle some of your bigger names for holes that could drastically close the gaps in your league standings.
I am currently in five expert leagues. Of those five, I’m number one in three of them: Fantasy Pros 911 bloggers’ league, THT Fantasy Writers league, and a very high stakes league where I’m taking all their money. Shhh! They don’t know I’m an “expert” at this, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. I have by no means locked up the three leauges I am leading, but it’s still nice to be in the driver seat.
The fact that I’m number four in the Tradebashers.com Expert AL-only league is a miracle. I have had struggles with that team all season long. It might actually be the league that I’ve shown the most skill in that I took a bad draft and turned it into a contender. As I’m sure everyone would agree, sometimes our greatest displays of skill don’t necessarily translate into success stories.
So let’s talk about my fifth and final team. Alongside Derek Carty, we represent The Hardball Times in an expert league called the Fantasy Sports Invitational Challenge, or FSIC for short. It is a very distinguished league hosted by the guys at Fantasy Sports 'R' Us. Some of the past top-two finishers include the biggest names in the industry (Matthew Berry, Brendan Roberts, Tim Dierkes, and even our own Derek Carty).
I was a little hesitant to join a league as a sidekick, but after some urging from Derek, I felt that this was a great opportunity to see how the “big boys” play and get my feet wet playing against guys that have more experience than I.
It’s been tough at times. Derek and I have very differing styles of play. Derek is brilliant with numbers and calculations, so it’s no wonder he has seen the success that he has at such a young age, but I’m more of a gunslinger. I’ll shoot from the hip.
In the draft, we butted heads constantly as our styles of play constantly contradicted each other. Derek had researched the league with uncanny diligence and effort, far more than I would ever be willing to exert. Through his calculations, we arrived at the importance of locking down speed in an NL-only league of this nature and competitiveness. In my opinion, he was right.
Securing speed has allowed our team to lead the hitting categories in this rotisserie-formatted league, but we have reached the turning point of 2011 as the sixth-place team in this 12-team league. Obviously, you're thinking our pitching must be weak, and you’d be right.
Take a look at our roster. This was actually the largest disagreement point for Derek and I during the draft, and it has been our Achilles' heel all season long. With all due respect to Derek, we both figured our hitting would have performed better than it has to this point. Shane Victorino, Juan Uribe, Brandon Belt, and Marlon Byrd have all vastly underperformed both our expectations.
We had planned to have our hitting be so dominant that our pitching could be serviceable, and we’d still find success. Personally, I like a more balanced hitting/pitching team, but I will wait on pitching since I tend to have a better eye for cheap pitching than value hitting.
Now going back to what I said earlier, a team in the 5-9 positions of a league needs to be willing to move anybody on the roster. Risk is key here. Taking a big risk is not only the right move, it’s the only move. We need pitching, but we can also make up for some points by getting a power hitter.
Here are the standings. Now you see our predicament. Broxton was such a miss that we’ve had to punt saves all together. Several failed trade attempts later, we still haven’t been able to put together a consistent group of starters. Injuries have been somewhat to blame, but the underperformance of Ted Lilly and Clayton Richard has been the most detrimental to this point. Lilly should get better, and Zack Greinke has been the unluckiest pitcher in baseball. We traded Richard for Edinson Volquez three days before Edinson was sent down to Louisville.
Right now we’ve been packaging trade offers consisting of Brandon Beachy, Chase D’Arnaud, Mike Cameron, Tim Stauffer, Broxton, and Kyle McClellan. Right now we’re looking to chase down some wins and a bigger bat.
For obvious reasons, we don’t have the trade chips that you would likely want at this point in the season. Beachy has little love in this league even though Derek and I both have very high opinions of him. I know I thought he would really help us get that bat we needed, but we have had no breakthroughs to this point.
Persistence is key. There is really nothing you can do at this stage except believe in the guys you believe in. Do your research of your roster and the rosters around you. Sometimes finding out what other owners like/want will reveal better options than you may have even thought possible.
As an example from another league I’m in, I found out that a guy really loved Tommy Hanson and had Joey Votto listed on his trade block. So I couldn’t pass up the chance to make an offer. As a result, I walked out with Votto and Edwin Jackson for Hanson and Alex Gordon. Needless to say that was a good call on my part.
Back to the FSIC, I’m curious to see what you guys would do with our team.
C- Wilson Ramos
1B- Joey Votto
2B- Juan Uribe
3B- Sean Burroughs
SS- Stephen Drew
MI- Chase D’Arnaud
CI- Michael Morse
OF- Michael Bourn
OF- Jay Bruce
OF- Marlon Byrd
OF- Jon Jay
OF- Shane Victorino
U- Mike Cameron
B- Yonder Alonso
B- Brandon Belt
B- Juan Rivera
B- Wily Mo Pena
P- Zack Greinke
P- Brandon Beachy
P- Tim Stauffer
P- Kyle McClellan
P- Ted Lilly
P- Clay Hensley
P- Edinson Volquez
P- Mike Leake
P- Sergio Romo
B- Jonathan Broxton
Lastly, I would like to thank Al O’Harra and the guys at Fantasy Sports 'R' Us for being such great hosts and letting The Hardball Times compete against the best of the best in the FSIC. If you get a chance, check out their site. Whether you are new to the fantasy game or a long-time veteran, FSRU is a league-hosting site with the highest payouts without the rake of some of the other pay money sites.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:13am (3) Comments
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
While playing fantasy sports is meant to be fun, the reality is that most people play for money. Besides combining the enjoyment and passion for sports with a general sense of competitiveness, there is an underlying motivation to achieve financial rewards for the hard work and diligence you put into a fantasy sports season. There is nothing wrong with that, as evidenced by the fact the fantasy sports industry generates billions of dollars in business. So in order to make money, you must pay money to be in most leagues. Depending on your financial situation or the seriousness of your league, an entry fee can range from $10.00 to $10,000. Regardless of how much it costs to participate, there is a general expectation of sportsmanship that every person will pay their league dues. It is usually the league commissioner who is responsible for collecting the money, securing it, and then distributing it to the winners at the end of the season.
But what happens if a league member does not pay? What happens when someone takes advantage of a commissioner's leniency and is afforded the same rights and privileges as every other team who has paid already? Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment recently received a case with this very fact pattern. Please read the case decision below advising on how to appropriately handle such circumstances. As always, your comments and feedback are appreciated.
SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT
Cleveland Steamers v. League Commissioner
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE LOVEABLE LOSERS FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE
Decided July 6, 2011
Cite as 3 F.J. 63 (July 2011)
A fantasy baseball league named the Loveable Losers Fantasy Baseball League (hereinafter referred to as “LLFBL”) is a 14-team, non-keeper rotisserie league using both AL and NL players. Each league member participated in a snake draft on March 27, 2011 selecting 25 players to build their respective teams. Like many rotisserie leagues, the LLFBL is a 5×5 league using the standard hitting and pitching categories (AVG, HR, RBI, Runs, SB, W, ERA, K’s, SV, WHIP). Statistics are cumulative throughout the season and each team will accrue points based on their standings for each individual scoring category. Each team has a budget of $250 to purchase free agents through a blind auction bidding process after the draft concluded.
The LLFBL has existed since 2006 with each team responsible for providing a $150 entry fee. The $2,100 collected in league fees is then distributed to the top four teams at the end of the season with first place winning 50 percent, second place winning 30 percent, third place winning 15 percent, and fourth place winning 5 percent of the pot. Since the inception of the league, the Commissioner has requested payment of the entry fee by the time the draft takes place.
The rules and guidelines of the league are delineated in a written document called the “LLFBL Constitution.” However, the LLFBL Constitution is devoid of sections or language regarding league finances. The $150 entry fee was an agreed-upon amount established verbally by all league members when the league was formed prior to the 2006 fantasy baseball season. The money prizes were also agreed to verbally at the initial draft in March 2006, and they have remained the same ever since.
Starting in 2007, the LLFBL Commissioner issued an email to all league members requesting payment of the $150 entry fee prior to or at the upcoming 2007 draft. No penalties were threatened if a team failed to make their payment by that time. In 2007, two teams failed to provide their payment to the Commissioner by the time the draft took place. One of the teams made their payment in April 2007, and another never did make his payment during the season. That team did in fact finish in 2nd place and was entitled to $630 in winnings. Since he did not make his payment, the LLFBL deducted $150 from his winnings and issued a check for $480.
In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the LLFBL again requested, via email, that all teams make their payments no later than the date of the draft. Each year, at least one team failed to make their payment by that time. In each instance, the delinquent team eventually did make their payment well into the course of the season.
On February 10, 2011, the LLFBL Commissioner wrote an email to the league again requesting payment by the time the draft took place on March 27, 2011. On the day of the draft, all teams except the Cleveland Steamers made their payment to the Commissioner. As of Monday, July 4, 2011, the Cleveland Steamers still had not provided their payment of $150. In an email dated July 4, 2011, the LLFBL Commissioner requested payment from the Cleveland Steamers immediately or else the Cleveland Steamers’ roster would be frozen, his free agent auction budget would be depleted, and he would be precluded from making trades for the remainder of the season. The Cleveland Steamers did not respond to this email. On July 5, 2011, the LLFBL Commissioner did in fact implement the penalties he threatened and wrote to the Cleveland Steamers proclaiming these penalties would be lifted upon receipt of his payment.
Upon the Cleveland Steamers’ failure to respond to the Commissioner’s July 4, 2011 by the end of July 5, 2011, the LLFBL Commissioner removed his free agent auction budget and decreed to the league that he was not permitted to make trades until payment was provided.
On July 6, 2011, the Cleveland Steamers responded to the Commissioner’s email challenging his ability to take such action. Nowhere in his correspondence did the Cleveland Steamers make any reference to his own delinquency for failing to pay, nor did he make any assurance that payment would be made.
The 2011 version of the LLFBL Constitution does not contain any provisions or language pertaining to league finances or penalties imposed as a result of failing to pay.
(1) Does the LLFBL Commissioner have the authority to impose such penalties against the Cleveland Steamers for failure to pay the league entry fee?
The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is a strong advocate for having written Constitutions that govern fantasy sports leagues. See John Doe v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010). There are a myriad of reasons why the Court believes having a Constitution in place is the best way to run and maintain a fantasy league. One of the primary reasons behind this rationale is that all league members are aware of the rules and guidelines in place that govern the administration and function of the fantasy league. When a league Commissioner writes out the rules and distributes them to the league, it shifts the burden onto the league members to read, understand, and adhere to the rules that are delineated. See Shawn Kemp is My Daddy v. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010). If a league member has an issue, question or challenge to one of the rules in the Constitution, they are welcome to raise this with the Commissioner before signing it or agreeing to its codification. See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 2 (September 2010).
While a Constitution was in place to govern the LLFBL, it was devoid of language that directly applies to the issue at hand. When a league Constitution is silent on a particular issue, the Court will defer to the default premise that a league Commissioner has the authority and discretion to handle an issue of first impression within the best interests of the league. See George v. LOEG Commissioner, 2 F.J. 42, 44 (October 2010). Commissioners should be entitled to have a certain amount of authority and autonomy to run and administer fantasy sports leagues. See Flemish USA v. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 36 (October 2010) (holding the league Commissioners are entitled to arbitrarily make decisions that do benefit the league as a whole).
One of the most important aspects of running a fantasy baseball league is collecting money from the league members, securely storing that money during the season, and distributing it in full to the teams that are entitled to financial prizes at the end of the season. This is the cornerstone of establishing trust in the commissioner and maintaining the integrity of a fantasy league. Being entrusted with league members’ money is a tremendously important burden placed on the commissioner. Additionally, a commissioner is left with the unpleasant, unrewarding, and at times daunting task of collecting such money from people. But this is a necessary task that must be done to fulfill the purposes of participating in a fantasy league that involves money. If for whatever reason the commissioner has to distribute more money than is collected, it creates a scenario where the commissioner either pays the difference out of his own pocket or decreases the payouts proportionately. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.
To his credit, the LLFBL Commissioner extended tremendous leniency to the league members who did not adhere to his requests from 2006-2010 to provide payment by the time of the draft. He had discretion to permit late payments because there were no written rules requiring such payment by a certain date, nor were there any penalties in place to castigate league members who were delinquent. League commissioners should enforce all rules and guidelines consistently. If the commissioner makes an exception for someone, it should be explained thoroughly why such an exception to the rules exist. See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 3 (September 2010). The LLFBL Commissioner finally lost his patience in waiting for payment to be made by the Steamers. In the past, other teams have failed to pay by the verbal deadline of draft day. But in those instances, payment was made shortly thereafter and certainly well before July 4 each year. Because this was an extended failure to provide payment, the LLFBL Commissioner was within his authority to treat the Steamers differently than others in the past.
The Court is consistently presented with questions about a league commissioner’s powers to enact, enforce, and modify rules within the league without any challenge to his/her decision. In most instances, the Court will side with the commissioner assuming the commissioner’s motives are benevolent and it is in the best interests of the league overall. See Afraid of Change v. Fantasy Football League, 1 F.J. 11, 12 (September 2009). Here, it is indisputable that the LLFBL Commissioner did not prejudice the Cleveland Steamers in any way. In fact, he was extremely lenient in allowing so much time to go by without receiving his payment. By the time the season was halfway over, the LLFBL Commissioner rightfully requested payment with penalties to be imposed if the Cleveland Steamers failed to comply. Granted, the Commissioner did not allow much time for the Steamers to reply before the penalties were imposed. But no excuse was provided by the Steamers explaining their lack of response over a 36-hour time frame. Additionally, the Commissioner stated that the penalties would be lifted upon receipt of the payment. This was reasonable given the circumstances and demonstrated the Commissioner’s seriousness about the issue.
Based on the aforementioned reasons, the LLFBL Commissioner was well within his authority to demand payment from the Cleveland Steamers and impose penalties for failing to comply. It is recommended that the LLFBL Constitution be amended for 2012 to include language regarding payment of entry fees and penalties to be imposed if such requirements are not met. Despite such language not existing for the 2011 season, the Commissioner’s actions were appropriate and should be upheld.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:05am (8) Comments
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
(the league is a 12 team, 6x6 mixed roto league (standard 5x5 + .OBP, and QS) where teams can keep up to 10 guys)
I need some serious help! I joined an established keeper league this year as one of two expansion teams. Somewhat regrettably, this year started off with a questionable move in early March; trading Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton (3 'expansion draft' players) for Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Drew Stubbs, Alex Rios and a 1st round pick (Shaun Marcum was drafted with that pick) ... Can you say backfire? How busty are Alex Rios and Brian Matusz? Ouch, it would have been better off if no one was in those slots. Oh well.
Here is the current roster after some FA moves and trades:
C- Brian McCann
1B- Freddie Freeman
2B- Michael Cuddyer
3B- Chase Headley (waiting on Lawrie)
SS- Yunel Escobar
IF- Eric Hosmer
OF- Jason Heyward
OF- Brennan Boesch
OF- Eric Thames
OF- Cameron Maybin
Util- Jemile Weeks
B- Bobby Abreu
B- Bryce Harper (First spot given up for a high quality idle keeper)
B- Brett Lawrie (Hand injury killed 3rd base, was planning on replacing Chipper with this guy)
B- Desmond Jennings (Rays not calling him up is hurting)
DL- Chipper Jones
SP- Mat Latos
SP- Madison Bumgarner
SP- Anibal Sanchez
RP- Kevin Gregg
RP- Tyler Clippard
P- Ian Kennedy
P- Homer Bailey
B- Andrew Miller
B- Scott Baker
DL- Stephen Strasburg (Second spot on the roster given up for an idle keeper)
I was also "lucky" enough to have drafted Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Chone Figgins, Manny Ramirez, Maglio Ordonez, Derek Jeter, Brandon Lyon, and David Aardsma (to go with Brian Matusz, and Alex Rios)... Needless to say by the middle of May I was selling off pieces for prospects and draft picks. It went ok, as I flipped a lot of Free Agents and weak performers into a prospect hot-list and, collected six first round picks (that's right six out of 12) for next years draft. (The #1 waiver priority also locks up Goldschmidt, or the-next-big-prospect when they break into the FA market).
I've been willing to give up winning this year to set up a dynasty, and I've been attempting to stack up young talent since May, but who else should I be targeting? More importantly, what do I have that has trade value for contenders? I've almost lost touch with this concept this season (example: Hosmer has more value to me than a Konerko, and I would even have a hard time selling him for Teixiera cause of the youth and upside). Most offers other managers send seem borderline disrespectful. For instance, I personally love this pitching staff. They're all in their primes and doing very well this year, but they don't seem to be bring back much of a return in trade talks. What's going on?
Please Doc, help me out.
Being an expansion team is always tough. If the older teams in your league get to protect their best players (and then keep them for as long as they wish), then it can take a while to build a competitive team. In your league’s case though, it looks like you were able to get your hands on some top tier talent in the expansion draft. Unfortunately, your March trade eviscerated your squad.
Let’s let bygones be bygones and work with what you’ve got now. Now you must be in rebuilding mode. Rebuilding is an art. The key is synchronizing your players. A rebuilding team looks to the future, obviously. But how far into the future should it look?
In part the answer depends on you, the owner: how many seasons of non-competition are you willing to endure (and pay for)? What is your tolerance for risk? Part of the answer depends on the league. In your league’s case, with some but not many keepers, there should be some good talent still available on draft day. But the top tiers will obviously be gone.
As it stands now, you’re not likely to have enough top talent to compete next season. McCann is probably your best keeper. Guys like Heyward, Hosmer, Freeman and Bumgarner might go in the fringe of the top 10 rounds in a redraft league and if they are ever top tier talent it probably won’t be next year.
So I would shoot for the following year. Keep Harper if you like, but I would generally try and focus on slightly more mature hitters like Heyward, Hosmer and Freeman. They are more likely near their primes by then.
Players like Matt Wieters, Cameron Maybin even Adam Jones aren’t likely to be kept and are all worth taking a risk on next year to see if they truly blossom into the top tier.
Teams probably keep three to four pitchers out of their 10 keepers. A player like Gio Gonzalez isn’t likely to be kept but may be keeper worthy the following year. As may be Jonathan Sanchez. It is ok to go a bit younger and rawer with pitchers too, so maybe you want to target a Matt Moore too.
So I’d use your keeper spots to target some of the more unproven guys with raw talent. Since these players aren’t likely to contribute much this season, you should have an easier time prying them away from your opponents.
I’d use your many draft spots to go for the fringe players that owners aren’t going to keep, like Wieters. And then I’d hope for some serious breakouts.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 5:10am (1) Comments
Friday, July 22, 2011
Kyle Blanks | San Diego | OF | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AA): .282/.353/.485
YTD (AAA): .351/.421/.716
Oliver ROS: .238/.321/.425
Blanks has responded from a disappointing last season in the majors, cut short by an elbow needing Tommy John surgery, with a nice bounce-back year in the minors thus far. He performed decently in Double-A—in a difficult hitters' park mind you—and has really turned it on since being promoted to Triple-A. He will likely have the same contact issues he struggled with in his past major league stints, but with his power ability a .240-.250 batting average can be tolerated.
He was just promoted to the majors, but his path to playing time is not perfectly clear. Ryan Ludwick currently sits in left and Jesus Guzman is doing all he can to keep getting time at first—the two positions Blanks is deemed capable of playing. A Ludwick trade would be the easiest solution to this logjam but for now the Padres will have to shuffle lineups nightly to get Blanks off the bench. Best case scenario is he puts his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame to use and offers eight to 10 homers the rest of the way.
Recommendation: Should be owned in NL-onlys and deep mixed leagues, plus any league where you are thin on power.
Jose Altuve | Houston | 2B | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (A+/AA): .389/.429/.590
Oliver ROS: .281/.310/.404
Away goes Jeff Keppinger and in comes Altuve all the way from Double-A. Sorry, dude in Triple-A, but I guess you're just organizational filler. To be fair, Altuve was raking leaves in the minors, which is one way of saying he was hitting really well. In more ways than one, however, he remindsme of Starlin Castro—both are '90s boys with strong contact skills, a knack for having balls in play become hits, and curiously high caught-stealing rates.
Unlike Castro, Altuve has shown some ability to hit the ball out of the park, with 10 homers already this year. All in all, Altuve seems like a he will be a nice five-category contributor in the future but the question is whether he is ready to handle the majors at 21 years old. The Astros are willing to give him the chance to prove himself and on most fantasy teams I would give him the chance too, even over Jason Kipnis.
Recommendation: Should be owned in NL-only leagues and mid-to deep mixed leagues.
Willie Bloomquist | Arizona | SS/3B/OF | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .270/.317/.341
With Stephen Drew out for the year, his at-bats are falling into the hands of Mr. Replacement, Willie Bloomquist. Bloomquist can hit for a decent .270s average and swipe a surprising amount of bases but not much else. Add where shortstop landscapes are bleak.
Recommendation: Probably should be owned in most NL-onlys and deep mixed leagues but in anything shallower you should have better shortstop options. I can only hope.
Edward Mujica | Florida | RP | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.85 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 6.75 K/9, 6.81 K/BB
Oliver ROS: 3.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.5 K/9
A big thanks to this Miami Herald article (h/t Behrens) that shared this gem from Marlins manager Jack McKeon: "When you ride a good horse for a while, you ride him.” Well said. That good horse, by the way, is Mujica, who McKeon also said would be his leading choice for closer if Leo Nunez gets traded. Saves vultures, take note.
Recommendation: Can be owned in any league with ample relief pitcher spots and by the saves-deprived.
Gerardo Parra | Arizona | OF | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .285/.328/.411
Parra is a boring fantasy player, kind of like a Ryan Sweeney except with more playing time now that Stephen Drew is out for the year. So pretty much once Josh Willingham gets traded Sweeney and Parra will be the same player: both with playing time in which they'll get some singles and even some doubles but not much else. If you are in a league that values guys simply getting playing time, Parra will be become more of an everyday starter unless Xavier Nady finagles his way into more at-bats than he should.
Recommendation: Can be added in most NL-onlys and the deepest of mixed leagues.
Posted by Paul Singman at 4:13am (0) Comments
Jeff Niemann| Tampa Bay| SP| 11 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.94 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.28 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, 43.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Essentially the epitome of luck neutral, Niemann's ERA nearly mirrors his xFIP, tERA and SIERRA with the biggest gap being a 0.07 difference between his ERA and tERA. His strikeout rate on the season is lower than league average, but he has made up for that by having a better than league average walk rate. While his season totals aren't overly impressive, he's white hot in the month of July with a 0.84 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 2.53 BB/9 and 57.4 percent ground ball rate. He's not compiling those numbers against feeble offenses either, as his two most impressive starts, his last two, came against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. While he's never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that came with being selected fourth overall out of Rice University, he is a solid pitcher who's capable of stringing together useful fantasy starts and may be tapping into a bit of previously unseen upside. Even if this is nothing more than an aberration and he goes back to pitching like an innings eater, he's worth riding out.
Recommendation: Should be owned while he's hot in most leagues.
Erik Bedard| Seattle| SP| 50 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 40.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.50 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Unsurprisingly to anyone who has followed Erik Bedard's career, he's currently on the disabled list. The good news is that the injury is to his knee, not his shoulder which has caused him to miss so much time throughout his career. Initially expected to return this weekend and face the Red Sox, it looks increasingly like he'll be activated and face the Yankees next week. After such a strong start to the season, it's a bit surprising to see only 50 percent of Yahoo! gamers stashing him on their disabled lists or benches.
He's pitching as well as he ever has in his career. A high-strikeout starting pitcher capable of keeping his walks in check who's aided by a favorable home ballpark should not be available in this many leagues. He should be added in leagues of all sizes that he's available in. Those in need of pitching help where he's unavailable should explore the possibility of acquiring his services at a discount, one that will expire the minute he's activated from the disabled list. The risk is obviously that he'll be re-injured, but it's one that likely won't be too expensive to take.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Danny Duffy| Kansas City| SP| 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.58 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 7.47 K/9, 4.12 BB/9, 41.1 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.84 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
I'll keep this short and sweet as Jeff Gross covers Duffy's most recent starts in depth today. He's beginning to look much more like the dominant pitcher he was in the minors, and given his stuff and glowing scouting reports, that's no surprise. The cost right now in most leagues is nothing more than a roster spot, making him an absolute steal.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed-leagues and all AL-only formats.
Carlos Guillen| Detroit| 2B| 3 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .267/.339/.421
When glancing over the middle infield options in deep leagues, the expression "leave no stone unturned" comes to mind. Those in the midst of stone turning may come across Guillen, who was recently activated from the disabled list after recovering from microfracture knee surgery. His days of stealing any bags are long gone, but his scorching return to the lineup hints that he may have a little left in the tank to help contribute in home runs, runs, RBI and average in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats.
Of course, owning Guillen will leave one with a feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, but at the cost of nothing more than a roster spot, that's a feeling worth dealing with. Oliver's projection seems fair, but Guillen's start is reason enough to dream on a slightly better line than that. If you're one of the owners who lost Stephen Drew as a middle infield option, or one of the many others who have been running out other ugly options, Guillen is worth taking a gamble on. Keep your eyes and ears open though, and feel free to jump ship if there is talk of his knee acting up, or if his performance takes a nosedive.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most deep mixed-leagues that use a middle infield position, and most AL-only formats.
Edwin Encarnacion| Toronto| 1B/3B| 12 percent Yahoo!
Oliver ROS: .253/.315/.464
A yearly tease, and perennial sleeper for 25-plus home runs seemingly every offseason, Encarnacion is back at what he does best. After a miserable start to the season, he has been productive in June and July. He has six home runs in his last 134 plate appearances with a .301 average, 22 runs and 14 RBI since the start of June.
One of the biggest changes is that his fly balls are beginning to clear the fence at a rate closer to his career mark. His HR/FB rate on the season still stands a full five percent lower than what he has done for his career, so the best may still come. Owner of third base eligibility, Encarnacion should be helpful to owners in need of pop at the position as long as he gets playing time. There in is where the problem lies. A butcher with the glove, and playing on a team that's rebuilding, he may cede starts to some of the youngsters down the stretch.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed-leagues while he's playing, and all AL-only leagues.
Dustin Ackley| Seattle| 2B/OF| 36 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .266/.341/.413
Ackley has made his adjustment to major league pitching look easy. He's walking at a better than league average rate while striking out less frequently than league average thanks to not swinging through strikes often or offering at pitches outside the strike zone regularly. A patient hitter, Ackley is a boon for owners in OBP leagues, but also one who will help owners in standard leagues. His average is sustainable, but his home run rate should regress: Baseball America rated his power tool a tick below league average and he is more of a line drive and doubles type hitter.
What could improve is his stolen base contributions, as his speed tool is above average and best displayed in his triple totals. Not all players with speed are able to learn the nuances of base stealing (just take a gander at Dexter Fowler's career, for example), but the Mariners may allow him to work on it the rest of the year as they aren't going to contend for the playoffs. If that's the case, Ackley will hold value in re-draft leagues beyond chipping in to run and RBI totals with a solid average from a thin position.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:41am (8) Comments
All stats current through July 21.
Danny Duffy | Royals | SP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.58 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.8 K/BB, 41.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.89 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.1 K/BB
Entering the season, the Royals' farm system was touted by many as potentially the best of the decade. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were knocking on the big-league door. There were the warm bodies of Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles (who I still believe he can be a useful fantasy player, though his real life value is pretty nil) and last-chance Kila Ka'aihue.
With Zack Greinke shipped off for what some called a king's ransom (though what the Royals got for him was arguably paltry in comparison to the Matt Garza haul), and with a slew of close-to-ready impact arms (Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Jake Odorizzi, Danny Duffy) to anchor a cheap, effective long-term staff, many baseball analysts wondered whether they should in fact "Trust The Process" that Dayton Moore had been patiently preaching since taking over as the team's general manager.
But minor league talent is fickle, and what looked great in the preseason has not exactly materialized into much excitement halfway through 2011. Wil Myers, like the Yankees' Jesus Montero, is young for his level but has taken a few steps in the wrong direction this year in his transition from catcher to outfielder. Montgomery's control continues to elude him in the upper minors this year. Lefty "ace" prospect Lamb has seen his strikeout rate tumble, and his walk rate rise, as he has moved through the Royals' system. At 21 years old, there is plenty of room for him to grow, but Tommy John surgery will sideline him for the next 12 to 18 months.
Elsewhere, Kila continues to establish himself as a Quad-A player with power potential that seems to alternate by year. In the majors Billy Butler, king of the GiDP, seems increasingly less likely to see those doubles turn into homers given his near-50 percent groundball rate and home park.
Neither Moustakas nor Hosmer has been anything special yet. The hype on these two clearly set the bar too high too soon, something I cautioned about in the preseason. Both are plenty young with too little time in the majors to draw any substantial conclusions, but who would have thought that Moustakas, mired in a 2-for-47 slump, would be batting a paltry .190/.252/.241 with a .052 ISO that is dead on par with Juan Pierre? Hosmer (269/.323/.432 line and .327 wOBA, which is four percent better than the average player when park is considered) has fared much better, but he has been chopping balls into the ground a la Butler.
And that Danny Duffy guy? While a 4.58 ERA and 4.08 xFIP might have been average/slightly above average a few years ago, in the second "year of the pitcher," those figures are 16 and four percent worse than the major league average, respectively.
All in all, the Royals have barely managed to win 40 games thus far this year, and their 58 losses are the most in the AL. They've been just as bad as the Cubs, despite being in a weaker division. While no one really expected the Royals to compete this year (no matter what they did through most of April), this cannot exactly be the state of the team fans expected headed into the season, right? I would show a little pity for a team that has not been to the playoffs since they won the World Series in the '80s, before I was born, but the Cubs have not been to a World Series even in my father's lifetime (he's a Cardinals fan, so he's not complaining), and thus my empathy here can only go so far.
But Royals fans, for all the misery of 2011, there a bright spot has emerged: Danny Duffy. Yes, that same Danny Duffy with an ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERRA, and ERA that are all worse than the major league average.
Lost in Duffy's 11 starts and 59 major league innings this year is how drastically different a pitcher he has been over his past five games compared to his first six. Take a gander:
What you might notice from this table is that although the results (ERA, WHIP) have not been pretty, Duffy's efficiency and peripherals have substantially improved. While Duffy was having issues getting batters to swing (and miss) early in the season, he's been throwing more strikes (59.8 percent in first six, 64.4 percent over past five), which has helped him not only cut his walk rate, but also convince batters that they need to swing at his offerings to get on base, leading to more strikeouts. Best of all, Duffy has been able to do this without sacrificing ground balls. Check out the difference in the location of his pitches between his first six and past five starts, courtesy of Texas Leaguer's amazing PITCHf/x tool:
What the image above shows is that not only has Duffy of late has been throwing more pitches in the zone, but those pitches outside the zone have generally been less spread out, less clearly non-strikes. The result has been that Duffy has pitched in form, though not in result, like the top talent he was in the minor leagues, where he owned a 2.65 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, a 10.5 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 3.70 K/BB ratio. And those numbers are not the pure byproduct of early, lower minor dominance. At Triple-A this year, Duffy pitched 42.0 innings of 3.43 ERA, 1.12 WHIP baseball with 48 punch-outs to only 10 walks.
Plugging Duffy's past five major league outings into the latest version of the xWHIP Calculator, we get a further sense of just how well Duffy has been pitching, even if his ERA and WHIP claim otherwise:
A 3.30 eFIP and 1.13 xWHIP performance would put Duffy in class with such starting pitchers as Tim Lincecum and Anibal Sanchez. Those strong numbers look even better in light of a league mean eFIP and xWHIP of 4.00 and 1.33.
If we adjust Duffy's eFIP to reflect the current state of pitching, then it would be somewhere between 3.15 and 3.20. Duffy has exhibited pretty good control in the minors, and walk rates tend to translate into the major leagues, especially when the relevant numbers come from the upper minors. Hence it is possible, even though walk rates take substantially longer than 35 innings to "stabilize" and become statistically significant, that Duffy could end up with a strikeout-per-nine rate above eight, a walk rate below three, and a slightly above-average groundball rate. Particularly as a hard-throwing (93.6 mph fastball) southpaw in one of baseball's weakest divisions and at one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly parks, Duffy's second half has the potential to be dominant if he continues to pitch as he has of late.
In my humble opinion, it's time to visit Duff Gardens. While I wouldn't drink the water from the river, I'll certainly drink the Kool-Aid.
Recommendation: Danny Duffy is a must-own AL-only commodity and should be owned in deeper mixed leagues (those with 12 or more teams and innings caps of or above 1,300). Duffy should rank as a top 50, potentially top 35-40, starting pitcher in mixed leagues for the rest of the season.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 7:00am (11) Comments
Monday, July 25, 2011
My favorite nuance about baseball is the subtle way in which every event in its singularity is essential to the overall picture of that year’s events. No other event during the season is more talked about than the trade deadline. Pennant races have heated up, and most teams have a general idea where they want to go. Getting there is where most general managers will differ. There will be sellers and, of course, buyers. There will be teams dumping payroll and teams not that fortunate.
In the fantasy landscape, a trade can be one of the more exhilarating aspects of the game itself. We play the game of fantasy for the competition and the camaraderie that it affords, but we also play it because it makes us feel that much closer to the game itself.
I know I love the investment I have in every player. My focus and attention will be thoroughly integrated into every pitch of every game. With nothing at stake, I must rely on my passion. Honestly, for me, my passions don’t run deep enough to effect my emotions unless my pride is on the line.
The trade deadline is an event in fantasy circles that marks an end to the best way to better your team with established talent. For most leagues, this is the time that will dictate if your seventh-place team will finish in the money or flail around like a beached seal until relieved of its torture in October.
Established talent is usually not freely available on waiver wires and is oftentimes rather difficult to obtain without a trade. Earlier in the season, when other managers' visions are still filled with grandeur and hope, veteran talent could be had much easier. In one league I was able to pry Mark Reynolds off the free agent list when David Wright went down with his broken back. That just happened to coincide with Reynolds' emergence as a powerful force.
That time has come and gone, and now we stare at a league where some managers may have abandoned their teams, while some may have dug their heels in and are trying to ride out the remainder of the season.
That’s why I feel like the fantasy trade deadline is such an important and fun time. The challenge of reawakening a slumbering squad is just as entertaining for me as finding those last few pieces of the puzzle to finish off a championship season.
First and foremost, you must nail down the categories or points of contention for your team.
Of all the emails I get, I’d say 75 percent of them pertain to whether one should trade player A for player B or whether they should change player A in that deal to player C. I always reply with generally the same answer: What are your weak links? If you make a deal for player B, will that create a weakness somewhere else? What are your league settings?
The point is, that there are many details you must always concern yourself with when evaluating a trade. If I’m absent a quality catcher and someone offers me Joe Mauer for Nelson Cruz, that doesn’t mean I should just hit the accept button without properly researching the effects that said trade would have on my team and its future.
Mauer might be the perfect fit going forward. He seems to be regaining his form. He’s finally hitting over .300 on the year. His health will always be a concern, but so far, there haven’t been any obvious indicators that he’s still dealing with side effects from the injury. Maybe you think that his power explosion post-disabled list stint in 2009 could still be on the horizon in 2011.
Taking all that positivity into account, you must conversely examine what losing Cruz will do. He has an ISO number strikingly similar to his 37-homer campaign of 2008. His BABIP is at its lowest of his career at .277, spurring his career-low batting average. Take a look at July and notice his average creeping up to .302 for the month. His streakiness could be very valuable to a team in need of a shot in the arm down the stretch.
Another question that must be asked is the ever-present opportunity cost quandary. Trading Cruz opens up an OF spot that is far easier to fill than finding a replacement for a great catcher, but you must also take into account the overall lack of talent across the board at catcher. If you are currently filling your catcher position with Wilson Ramos or Jonathan Lucroy, then you’ll have to examine what kind of impact Mauer will give and how much greater that will be than Ramos or Lucroy.
I say all that to say this; filling a positional void must also take into account a categorical void. Don’t give up categorical depth that doesn’t provide balance both positionally and statistically.
For fun, let’s answer this dilemma: I was actually faced with the same proposition and chose to keep Nellie and Lucroy and pass on Mauer. Even though I still have great feelings for Mauer, it just wasn’t the right time. We’ve all given that excuse to our former loves of the past.
Moving on to the next step, always test the waters. Find out what others around you are thinking. I’ve found that there a lot of managers out there who don’t make trades because they don’t want to put the effort in to find out what their fellow league-mates are looking for in return. A little manning up and brow sweat can go a long way in getting deals done.
If you are in a league with friends use your cell phone, or email them if you’re not friends. (If you are dating their ex-wife, then you should find another team to trade with in the league.) I want to make sure that communication lines are always open in every league I’m in. My advice to you is to do the same. Not only will that provide a more open league, it usually provides a more entertaining one, as well.
If you are not in an active league, then I would advise you to find another league next year. Much like the game of baseball itself, the human element is every bit as important as the bat and ball.
That leads me to my next point. Don’t send blatantly insulting low-ball offers in bulk to your fellow managers. Nothing gets under my skin more than irrational trade partners. The saying, “you have to give something to get something,” is right. An offer that doesn’t meet some sort of competitive litmus test should really be scrapped before being sent.
If you can’t help yourself, then these low-ball offers should stay in the casual conversations, phone calls, and emails. I like to think of the trade offer as a legally binding offer to buy something you really want. At first you’ll need to offer something a little lower than the value, but at the same time, not offending to the intelligence of the seller. Just try not to burn the bridges that may take your team to the next level.
Here is a quick list of pitchers that I like as potential trade targets over the next couple of weeks:
Madison Bumgarner SP SF - I’ve always been a fan, even during the down velocity years in the minors. He’s always felt like a gamer to me. Like a Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux, some pitchers just carry that presence, and Bumgarner is one of those guys.
Now, that may be the last time he’s ever mentioned in the same sentence as those other two pillars of the game, but he has the make-up and pedigree for that to be a serious comparison as well. In his last five starts, he’s 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA.
Digging deeper, his 9.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings goes quite nicely with a 0.79 BB/9. He’s also sporting a league-best 1.17 FIP during the last thirty days. Something about that eight-earned-run first inning on June 21 has really caused his skill set to blossom. For fantasy trading purposes, I think he’s a No. 3 starting pitcher whot could be had for a No. 4 SP or two fives.
Mike Minor SP ATL - Minor makes this list for my fellow NL-only gamers out there. He may still be on the waiver wire in most standard formats, and he rightfully should be.
Rumors out of Braves’ camp is that in order to get that big right-handed power bat, the Bravos must deal one of their elite starting pitcher prospects. Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran are not available according to most websites. That leaves Minor as the only logical candidate to be shipped out. In fact, MLB Trade Rumors has stated that Mets scouts have been looking at Minor in the event the Braves make a play for Carlos Beltran.
Minor is ready to have success at the big-league level. In the right environment, he should be a more than rosterable fantasy commodity. In an NL-only league, I’d offer a guy like Clayton Richard or Edinson Volquez and hope that Minor will finally get his day.
Javier Vazquez SP FLA - He seems to be putting his game back together. After a forgettable start to 2011, I—like most of you—wrote him off. He was pegged as a buy-low prospect going into the draft. I even rostered him on several of my teams. My patience wore out quickly, and I let him go.
I have no regrets, but July has proven to be a turn-around month, as Vazquez has seen dramatic improvement in all the sabermetric categories. He’s seen the most success in his OPS against. If they can’t good wood on the ball—and Vazquez continues to find the strike zone with regularity—he could be a great source for three of the major fantasy pitching categories going forward. I don’t see him getting a lot of wins, but if you have a need for a risky play with Herculean upside, look no further than Vazquez.
Of course, I still like the guys from my past writings: Matt Garza , Edwin Jackson , and Dan Hudson. Some other guys that can be had a lot cheaper than the above list are Cory Luebke and Clay Hensley. They have value as RP slot fillers with starters’ innings, and they both have the talent to be very successful going forward. As some of the younger stars see innings-pitched caps being placed upon them, Luebke and Hensley could really be difference makers and just the right void fillers.
Enjoy the last few days you have before the deadline. Work hard on finding those deals that are perfect for your team. Don’t feel sorry for yourself about injuries. Everyone deals with injuries.
One of my favorite quotes in life is, “I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man that had no feet.” Man up and figure out other ways to get to your original goal. Successful people don’t make excuses. I have faith that you will find success with the right tools and a purposeful mindset. That’s my pep talk. Now go out, and make me proud!
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:08am (0) Comments
Jon Niese is a pitcher who was never expected to amount to much. Scouts and scouting sites basically thought of him as a nice guy who would likely end up being a No. 5 starter. Now, though, he has an xFIP that ranks No. 19 in the majors along with the No. 31 FIP and a SIERA ranked 23rd in the league. Sure, his ERA isn't quite cozy, but the estimators would say that he's a guy who's numbers should get better as he regresses, making him an interesting buy-low option.
But is this improvement sustainable, or is it just a fluke? Well, first lets identify where Niese's improvement has come from: Entirely against left-handed batters. Last year Niese had reverse splits—he was worse against same-handed batters than opposite-handed batters.
Niese survived this because the vast majority of batters faced by lefty pitchers are right-handed batters: 76.9 percent of batters last year faced by lefty starters were right-handed batters. Niese's numbers were even more extreme—81 percent of batters faced last year were right-handed batters—though his numbers have become more normal (75 percent righties) this year. As a result, this weakness didn't harm him much, but it certainly didn't help him.
This year, this has changed: Niese has a 2.03 FIP and 2.60 xFIP against left-handed batters, down from 5.48 and 4.27, respectively, last year. His numbers against right-handed batters remain the same, but this drastic improvement has resulted in his overall numbers improving. But is this improvement real?
What Niese throws
Jon Niese throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a cutter, a change-up, and a curveball.
Niese has really been known for the curveball, which has a lot of movement (nine inches more sink than what one would expect due to gravity) and comes in at 74 MPH as he came up through the majors. His four-seam fastball is not particularly special in terms of movement or velocity (averaging roughly 89-90 MPH), but has always served as his primary pitch.
Niese's two-seamer has decent sink and tail, while his cutter has good cutting action and the more sink than his two-seamers. Niese's final pitch is a change-up he only throws on occasion against right-handed batters, which averages 81-84 MPH and has more or less the same movement as his two-seam fastball.
Niese's pitches have remained mostly the same in 2011 in terms of movement and velocity. The only changes are that the cutter and change-up both seem to have an additional two MPH of velocity, and that the cutter has lost a bit of its sink. However, Niese's usage of his pitches >b>has changed, especially against left-handed batters.
In 2010, Niese really relied upon his four-seam fastball for setup, with the cutter being his out pitch. The curveball was used early in counts, but really wasn't used as heavily as many would expect of a guy who was known for it in the minors. This was especially the case against left-handed batters: 55.2 percent of his pitches against such batters were four-seam fastballs, while 27.5 percent were cutters, with only 8.7 percent being curveballs and 8.5 percent being two-seam fastballs.
But in 2011, this has changed dramatically. First his four-seam usage against left-handed batters has dropped to only 37.5 percent of the time (down from 55.2 percent). His cutter usage has also dropped a tiny bit (from 27.5 percent to 23.2 percent), but the real change has been that Niese is now throwing his curveball 23 percent of the time against these batters, a drastic increase from last year (8.7 percent).
Niese's two-seamer usage has also increased to 15.3 percent, but the real change has been in his curveball usage replacing his large four-seamer usage.
Given that his four-seamer has never had any impressive features in terms of movement or velocity, one would suspect these would be positive changes.
Niese's pitch results
And you'd be right. Niese's four-seam results have never been poor—not-awful groundball rates with decently average swinging strike rates, but they've never been particularly impressive either, and the pitch does miss a bunch of the time.
But the curveball's numbers as a substitute for the fastball are far more impressive, at least this year. Last year, the curve wasn't very impressive against left-handed batters, with weak swinging strike rates and ground balls.
However, this year Niese has been able to improve his locations with the curveball. Whereas last year he located the pitch low but in the middle of the zone, this year he's hitting the outside corner. And as mentioned, the results are impressive: The pitch is getting a swinging strike rate 17 percent of the time (compared to the fastball's 6.6 percent), ground balls 64 percent of the time (16/25 balls put into play have been GBs), and actually has been taken for a ball only 34.8 percent of the time (down from 41 percent last year).
For comparison's sake, his four-seam fastball gets called for a ball more often—34.9 percent of the time.
And really, that's been the story for Niese this year against left-handed batters. The two-seam fastball, now also used more against left-handed batters, has been in the zone more often than before, which has also gotten Niese good results. And the cutter, while not getting as many whiffs, is now getting a greater amount of GBs than it did last year.
But all in all, the key for Niese has been ditching the use of the four-seamer so frequently in favor of his curveball. And it's allowed him to dominate left-handed batters.
Niese's improvement against left-handed batters sure seems to be sustainable, as it's clearly traceable to a change in his pitch distribution. However, there are several points of warning that need to be made before anyone picks up Niese.
First, Niese's pitch usage all season has been really really inconsistent—moreso than the usual pitcher. So it's possible he could go back to not using the curve as often. And, in fact, that's occurred in his last two starts. Why he'd do this, I don't know.
Second, as stated before, the impact of this improvement has been magnified by the fact Niese has faced more lefties this year than last. Now, last year was probably a great outlier, as Niese's total number of lefties that year was abnormally low. Still, his total of lefties faced this year is slightly high (slightly), and this is a situation that is uncontrollable by Niese; it's just a matter of happenstance.
If you have Niese and see the opposing lineup he's facing in a start has lots of lefties (or vice versa), adjust accordingly. Niese isn't bad against righties by any means, but you'll be most effective starting him if you keep track of who he's facing.
Overall, the improvement seems real, and Niese's numbers should improve—well, all but wins thanks to him playing on the Mets, but there's nothing you can do there.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 5:09am (1) Comments
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
There comes a point during every fantasy season where you have to heed the words of the great Andy Dufresne. You either get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.
My NFBC main event team has been merely treading water for the past couple of weeks. Yes, we are still in first place in our league, but we’ve been bouncing back and forth between 25th and 45th in the overall competition. And while for some people, winning the 15-team league prize would be a tremendous accomplishment, I set my sights on the big prize.
If our goal is to climb to the standings over the remaining nine-and-a-half weeks of the season, we need to make our move now. One of the ways that we felt we could best accomplish this is to examine how we were using our bench spots and try to get rid of any dead weight.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the roster as it stood heading into this previous weekend’s free agent bidding (FAAB) period:
C: Russell Martin and Josh Thole
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Danny Espinosa
SS: Elvis Andrus
3B: Michael Young
OF: Carl Crawford, Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Carlos Beltran and Will Venable
CI: Casey Kotchman
MI: Zack Cozart
UTIL: Carlos Guillen
SP: Justin Verlander, Chris Carpenter, Matt Garza, Michael Pineda, Ryan Vogelsong, Scott Baker and Joe Saunders
RP: Joel Hanrahan and Drew Storen
Bench: Ty Wigginton, Justin Turner, Brandon Belt, Vladimir Guerrero, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jake Peavy and Nick Blackburn
Here’s our thought process as we tried to decipher what to do for the free agent period, and how to best structure our roster going forward. Keep in mind that our biggest weaknesses are batting average, runs and stolen bases on offense, and wins on the pitching side.
The catcher position is obviously a concern, but in leagues this deep where 30 catchers are started, there just aren’t any quality options available. Rod Barajas was the best option out there, and at least represents someone who’s getting near full time at bats and has some power potential. Thole has been conceding a lot of time to Ronny Paulino, but at least won’t kill you in average. In the end, we decided it was mildly worth the risk and threw $2 at him. He ended up going for $2 to a team lower in the standings and we were the runner up.
Another area that we wanted to try to upgrade was corner infielder. Casey Kotchman is nice and all, and he’s hitting .330, but provides little to nothing in the counting stats. The recent deal of Wilson Betemit to the Tigers to play third base intrigued us. He’s someone who’s shown the ability to hit for average and power, and given the chance for full-time at-bats could be an asset going forward. We bid $28 on him and now welcome him to the squad in place of Kotchman.
Lonnie Chisenhall is another guy who’s been disappointing for us. He just hasn’t quite provided the spark that we were hoping for. What our team really lacks, is a quality outfield option with potential to make up ground in runs and stolen bases. Will Venable has been better of late, but doesn’t play at all vs. left-handed pitching. Ty Wigginton is our super sub as he qualifies everywhere (OF, 1B, 2B, 3B), and he’s currently our only other outfielder on the team. The one guy available that I really liked was Lorenzo Cain. Provided Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur get moved at the deadline, he could be an incredibly valuable player the remainder of the season. Getting him for $11 felt like a steal.
Justin Turner is another guy who was providing sporadic production, but just wasn’t doing enough to warrant being in our lineup full time. While he doesn’t have any experience above Double-A, we felt that Jose Altuve could be a high impact guy, and should at least score some runs hitting second for the Astros. We put a $27 bid on him which we also won.
Finally, Jake Peavy continues to struggle to the point where he isn’t even playable for us lately. The back end of our rotation is already somewhat weak with Joe Saunders (who we shouldn’t pitch at home) and Nick Blackburn (who we shouldn’t pitch on the road). What we needed was another decent spot play who we could throw in there on occasion and not worry about him blowing up our ratios. Enter, John Lannan.
So as of now, Venable/Wigginton will continue to occupy the fifth outfielder spot until Cain gets called up, or Belt gains his eligibility there.
With Cozart on the DL, Altuve steps into the middle infielder role.
Betemit/Belt/Wiggy will all see time at corner infielder depending on matchups and playing time in an effort to maximize at-bats.
And the resurgent Carlos Guillen will man our Utility spot until Guerrero is healthy, and then will still see at-bats at middle infielder.
Hopefully now, our team is poised to make a run at glory. We will continue to look for an upgrade to our second catcher position. Always keep looking for another quality arm to add to the back end of our rotation, and keep plugging away trying to maximize at bats and climb that overall leaderboard.
On a more important note, I’d just like to publicly give my thoughts and prayers out to Dave Cameron. If you’re unfamiliar with his work over at FanGraphs, you’re definitely missing out as he is one of the finest writers in the industry. He has recently been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a particularly nasty member of the cancer family. As he battles the disease with the zeal of a challenger, please keep him in our thoughts and prayers as well. (To read more about his story or drop him some kind words of encouragement, http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/when-probability-is-not-helpful/ ).
Thanks again, and as always your input is always appreciated, leave some comments!