December 13, 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.
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Below is my best guess as to who will be pitching the ninth inning for National league teams next season. I decided 16 teams was too much for one week, so I broke it up into two pieces. The first eight NL teams are contained here, with the final eight to come next week. As always, if you feel you know something I don't or just want to highlight something, share it in the comments.
Astros — Mark Melancon — The Astros don't have much going for them in the present, so it would be a move of the shocking variety if they spent money on bullpen help this offseason. With that said, Melancon has not done great, but well enough to make me think he'll remain the closer come next spring. Wilton Lopez may be the better pitcher of the two, but he should stay a setup man unless Melancon falters.
Braves — Craig Kimbrel — Emerging as perhaps the No. 1 closer in the majors this season, Kimbrel leaves little up to chance with a 14.6 K/9. That's 40 percent of the time it wouldn't matter if Rosie O'Donnell or Mark Reynolds were in the field.
Kimbrel does not possess the best control (3.53 BB/9) but limits hits so well, in particular home runs—in fact in his entire 235-inning major and minor league combined career he has allowed a mere five home runs—that ninth-inning rallies are a minor miracle off of him. His contemporaneous setup man, Jonny Venters, is also one of the best, but he will have to be satisfied atop the holds, rather than saves, leaderboard.
Brewers — John Axford — The unlikely savior in the wake of the 2010 Trevor Hoffman meltdown, Axford has impressed everyone and maybe even himself with his strong repeat performance this year. He currently is tied with Kimbrel for the most saves with 40 and has a mere two blown saves to his name.
Although 28 years old, he was a late bloomer and will continue to make near league-minimum, meaning Axford is under contract for at least the next few years. If Francisco Rodriguez leaves town, the Brewers likely will sign a solid reliever this offseason, but that player will come to Milwaukee to set up for Axford and not the other way around.
Cardinals — Jason Motte — The Cardinals have had a circus of a bullpen this year, putting on an act that started with Ryan Franklin falling from a tightrope through a ring of fire and onto his family-room couch.
Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, and now Motte each have had time in the spotlight, with Salas proving himself a worthy closer and Motte—complete with the requisite 96 MPH heater and beard—showing great improvement over the past month.
The Cards' offseason strategy will revolve around the massive question that is what will Albert Pujols do, and with enough in-house options to fill a small house, I don't think they will look for much outside help. I listed Motte as the closer for next year, though the palindromatic Salas is just as likely a candidate.
Cubs — Carlos Marmol — Marmol has had a much less electrifying year than his 138 strikeout campaign in 2010. He also has been fairly ineffective, with a 3.82 ERA and eight blown saves. Still, the Cubs extended Marmol through 2013 in the offseason for one reason—to make the ninth inning exciting for an otherwise unexciting ballclub. If Marmol implodes or get injured, the untouchable Sean Marshall is certainly capable of filling the role.
D-backs — J.J. Putz — The D-backs turned one of ugliest bullpens of 2010 into one of the most trustworthy, largely through the signing of Putz this offseason. The former Seattle star appears to have found a new permanent home in Arizona, having converted 33 of 37 save chances with a shiny 2.70 ERA. As we saw in early July, if Putz gets injured, David Hernandez is the man to own.
Dodgers — Kenley Jansen — Javy Guerra is currently the Dodgers closer and pitching well after making the jump from Double-A to the majors in May. Unlike his predecessors, he's closed out games with relative ease, converting 11 of 12 opportunities.
I am skeptical, however, that he will be the closer long-term. In the minors he periodically struggled with control, so I wouldn't be surprised to see his current 2.5 BB/9 rate rise into the threes or maybe even the low fours at some point next season. Couple that with his less-than-stellar 7.4 K/9 rate, and I see a pitcher prone to stringing together blown saves with a little bit o' bad luck.
Now enter Jansen, a pitcher capable of streaks of spectacular dominance who also suffers from wildness at times. He's thrown 18 innings since June and hasn't given up a run in any of them. He also came off the DL recently for one of the more concerning injuries for a stressful job like closer, an irregular heartbeat. That's an injury you can never be sure a player is completely past, but if Jansen's heart issues are behind him, I believe it will be sooner rather than later he regains his closer's role.
Giants — Brian Wilson — Wilson is under contract for another season, and the Giants will certainly keep him the closer out of fear of what he would do if he were removed. After an impressive two seasons, Wilson has definitely taken a step back this year, walking 5.2 batters per nine.
I'm sure his elbow soreness has a good deal to do with that, and if healthy next year, I'd expect him to pitch more like his 2009 and 2010 seasons. If not, Sergio Romo is a machine in the eighth inning, and with a similar beard, I'm sure many people wouldn't even know the difference if they switched roles.
Posted by Paul Singman at 6:10am (7) Comments
Friday, September 02, 2011
Derek Ambrosino (the first four entries) and Paul Singman fill in this week for for Josh Shepardson, who is updating THT's "Top 100" prospect list.
Mike Moustakas | Kansas City | 3B | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
OLIVER ROS: .254/.296/.427
Wow! What is there to say about the disappointing hot corner prospect extraordinaire? In 250 at-bats, Moustakas hasn’t managed to slug Prince Fielder’s weight, collecting all of 13 extra base hits, and failing to homer in his last 245 ABS. Duane Kuiper, look out!
But things are actually looking up for Moustakas. He’s in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak, over which he’s popped six doubles, raising his batting average approximately 40 points and his OPS by about 80. Other good news is that his contact rate is not a major problem, as it often is for rookies who are touted as having power. Additionally, Moustakas is sitting a 38 percent flyball rate, and a HR/FB mark of under 2 percent. That simply is not going to last.
Even if Moustakas is not set to be the second coming of George Brett at third base in Kansas City, these numbers correcting themselves in the fashion of an average professional third-sacker would be a windfall for an owner looking for deep value if he had Moustakas when the pendulum swings the other way.
Totally anecdotally, and as a Mets fan, the type of struggles Moustakas is having reminded me of Lucas Duda. A big and powerful young hitter, Duda saw nothing go his way in his first taste of the Show, but his failure was so astounding that it was simply unsustainable. Duda finally got some breaks and got hot at the very end of last season, and now actually strikes me as an intriguing young hitter with a potentially bright future.
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only leagues. Should be considered in larger, mixed formats as a replacement for an injured player, or bench depth.
Eric Thames | Toronto | OF | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
OLIVER ROS: .267/.327/.455
Eric Thames gets regular at bats in a perfectly adequate lineup and is sporting an OPS of .811 over about a half season’s worth of at-bats. If you double his numbers to get him to 140 games, he’d be offering 86 runs, 20 homers, and 60 RBI. Does this sound like a player who should be owned in a mere 5 percent of Yahoo! leagues?
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet; there are probably several players on the current rosters in your fantasy league, many of whom are getting regular fantasy reps, over whom Thames’ production would be a clear and immediate improvement. It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense for the player who is penciled into his team’s lineup card right ahead of Jose Bautista to be unowned in 95 percent of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be considered in standard mixed league formats and owned in all AL-only leagues.
David Robertson | New York | RP | 19 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.35 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 13.7 K/9, 4.9 BB/9
OLIVER ROS: 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
Reliever wins are unpredictable. Owners don’t have enough room on their rosters to load up on players who skew your likelihood of getting at least one big source of middle relief wins. I issue this preamble because the only reason David Robertson’s ownership is current number is because he has only three wins. If he had six or seven, it would be due to nothing but randomness and minimally predictive of his ability to continue to accrue wins at a similar rate, but it would boost his ranking and cause plenty more owners to own him.
But those no-earned run, two strikeout innings add up over time. Owning elite middle relievers is like saving your quarters over the course of a year: You don’t think much of it at the time, but at the end of the year you’re staring at a couple hundred bucks. Robertson is a great asset for teams whose starting staff is a bit light on the K-power.
Recommendation: Should be owned in standard mixed leagues and beyond
Brandon McCarthy | Oakland | SP | 21 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 1.5 BB/9
OLIVER ROS: 3.78 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 5.8 K/9
McCarthy is a competent major league pitcher with an impressive minor league record and a bit of upside. The 2011 season represents the first time he’s been in a relaxed and pitcher-friendly situation and he is showing us some of what made many scouts perk up and notice. Fantasy-wise, McCarthy pitches for a team that plays in a very weak offensive division and in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. In the minors, McCarthy flashed both excellent control and plus punch-out ability. Thus far in the bigs, he has demonstrated his exceptional control, but pedestrian K numbers. However, he has shown glimpses of an ability to elevate his strikeouts a bit, and a little improvement in that area is all is needed to move McCarthy to a shallow league rotation guy.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all mixed leagues with more than 12 teams.
Phil Coke | Detroit | SP/RP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.61 K/9, 1.75 K/BB
OLIVER ROS: 4.03 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5.5 K/9
The Tigers' experiment with Coke in the rotation earlier in the season was a clear failure, producing an ugly 4.82 ERA. In July, a transition to the bullpen didn't work either, but Coke persevered and finally all his hard work paid off in August. In 12 August innings he struck out 20 batters, allowed 10 baserunners, and nary a runner crossed the plate. Yesterday, in his first September appearance, Coke coughed up three runs. Assuming last night's events are not a precursor for the rest of September, Coke is a potentially valuable reliever to own down the stretch with starting pitcher eligibilty, important for leagues that distinguish between starters and relievers.
Recommendation: Can be owned in any league with a limited number of relief spots or in deep AL-only leagues.
Dayan Viciedo | Chicago | 3B | 12 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .296/.364/.489
YTD (Majors): .538 (7-for-13), 1 HR, 1 SB
OLIVER ROS: .268/.310/.432
Earlier in the summer there was much anticipation surrounding a Viciedo call-up because of the blech the White Sox were using at third base and his solid Triple-A numbers, but for whatever reason he remained in the minors. Finally after a lot of people forgot about him, Viciedo was called up five days ago. In the four games since he's been on a tea,r batting over .500 with a homer and steal. Viciedo should continue to find his way into the lineup all over the field (meaning outfield and maybe first base eligibility soon) and keep producing.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues.
Cliff Pennington | Oakland | SS | 13 percent Yahoo ownership
OLIVER ROS: .261/.315/.371
Coming into this year Pennington was a popular shortstop flier because he stole 30 bases the year prior without laying waste to your average. By June, though, hopes of him as a fantasy-relevant player were lost when he wasn't doing much hitting or stealing many bases. Since the All-Star break however, Pennington has been a different player. He's batted .331 since the break and over the past week has swiped four bags. Particularly at shortstop, I think he can be a valuable player down the stretch.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues 14 teams and deeper. Can and probably should simply be universally owned.
Alfredo Aceves | Boston | SP/RP | 11 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.07 K/9, 1.88 K/BB
OLIVER ROS: 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 5.5 K/9
At first glance it may appear like Aceves is in line for a major regression to his high-twos ERA given his mediocre strikeout rate and .229 BABIP. Looking at his monthly splits, though, reveals that lately his pitching has been worthy of such a mark. Over the month of August Aceves achieved a 1.79 FIP while striking out more than a batter an inning. Interestingly, Aceves credits his success to the Red Sox nutrionist, which either means this nutrionist is world-class or that Aceves just wasn't too great to being with.
While I'm not necessarily endorsing Aceves for anything long-term, he could be a sneakily valuable reliever in Septembe,r picking up the occasional win, as he has nine times already, and also by working more an inning at a time, unlike typical setup men owned in fantasy. As with Coke, Aceves also has that desirable SP eligibility (and he also allowed two runs to score last night).
Recommendation: Can be owned in any league where his skill set could be useful.
David Murphy | Texas | OF | 17 percent Yahoo Ownership
OLIVER ROS: .271/.330/.416
Nelson Cruz is out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain, so David Murphy should get fairly regular playing time for a few weeks. Murphy is an all-around guy who contributes everywhere but doesn't excel in any one dimension. In deeper leagues he should make for a good fourth or fifth outfielder. If you are desperately looking for speed, Leonys Martin might be the better add of the two Rangers outfielder
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only and 16-team mixed leagues or deeper. Can be owned in most 14-team and some 12-team leagues.
Mike Trout | Angels | OF | 16 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AA): .326/.414/.544
YTD (Majors): .250/.307/.515
OLIVER ROS: .277/.335/.429
The 20 year old phenom is back in the bigs and making more of an impact this time with four homers in just eight games. This kid is gonna be a superstar; it is only a matter of when. He obviously won't realize his full potential this September, but I think he will be a productive fantasy player with regular playing time.
Trout has not stolen many bases in the majors, but people seem to overlook his 45 steals in 2010 and 33 in Double-A this year. If he wasn't the No. 1 prospect, people wouldn't worry about his hitting stats so much and advise adding him just for speed. Well, Trout offers a lot more than just a pair of legs and I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to own him, even if just for a month.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues.
Posted by Paul Singman at 2:32am (4) Comments
Eric Surkamp | Giants | SP | 0 percent Yahoo ownership percentage
YTD (Double-A): 2.02 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.75 K/BB
Oliver MLE: 3.51 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.3 K/BB
With Jordan Zimmerman's innings cap reached, he is safe to drop in all non-keeper formats. With Zimmerman's season over, however, a new young star's season is just beginning at the major league level: Giants stud pitching prospect Eric Surkamp.
Check out his minor league numbers: a combined 465:110 K/BB ratio (10.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9) over 392 innings. In Double-A this year, Surkamp's highest minor league level, he threw 142.1 innings of 2.02 ERA, 1.08 WHIP baseball, striking out 165 (10.4 K/9) while walking only 44 (2.8 BB/9). Those numbers are eerily reminiscent of Tommy Hanson (in terms of their results, not their pitching styles), though Surkamp has shown better control in his young career.
Minor league difficulty curves tend to be exponential, not linear, so the jump from success in Double-A to the major leagues is nothing like a jump from success in Triple-A, but Oliver's forecasting engine really likes Surkamp's minor league numbers. It pegs his 2011 minor league campaign as equivalent to a 3.51 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 season at the major league level. Oliver was also similarly positive regarding Surkamp's 2009 campaign (3.37 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.4 K/9).
Surkamp's major league debut against the Astros last week (6.0 innings, one run allowed, four strikeouts, three walks) was promising. All three walks came in the first three innings (including a leadoff walk in the first inning). Surkamp seemed to settle in as the game went on, walking none and giving up only three hits (one earned run) over his final three innings. Also encouraging was the fact that half of Surkamp's strikeouts came on swings.
Only 24 years old, Surkamp has a bright future as part of an already deep starting rotation. Heading into the season, he was ranked among the Giants' top 10 prospects as the No. 2 pitching prospect behind the recently departed Zack Wheeler. Though Surkamp does not have overwhelming velocity, he is touted as having a great curveball/changeup combo with plus-control. With rosters expanded, Surkamp figures to start Sept. 6, and could get a handful more (spot) starts down the stretch with both Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito out for the foreseeable future. On any other staff, he would be a strong candidate as a No. 2 type.
Recommendation: Surkamp is a very ownable pitching prospect, though with most fantasy teams likely pushing an innings cap, he is likely best used as a spot starter in mixed formats.
Javier Vazquez | Marlins | SP | 44 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.42 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.33 K9, 2.68 K/BB, 32.2% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.09 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.0 K/BB
How is Vazquez still available in 56 percent of leagues? His last outing was absolutely brilliant: 7.0 innings pitched, six strikeouts, one walk, three hits, and zero runs allowed. Over his past five starts, Vazquez has a 2.72 ERA over 33 innings, with a disgusting 36:6 K/BB ratio. I do not know how much more fervently I can advocate for him. Vazquez is at least as good as Madison Bumgardner (77 percent owned), Hiroki Kuroda (82 percent owned), and Jhoulys Chacin (79 percent ownership) in my book, and he's certain been better than Chad Billingsley (85 percent owned) and Colby Lewis (73 percent owned) over the past three-plus months.
If Vazquez does not retire this offseason, and provided his velocity maintains itself next season, I could see Vazquez as a top 40 (very ownable) mixed league starter, or borderline No. 3 in 12-team formats. A strong September could convince me to bump him up into the top 35. Given Vazquez's severe struggles over the first two months of the season, his surface stats are still pretty
Due to these stark splits, Vazquez will likely be undervalued next season, and given his risk, he is unlikely a keeper in most formats. Still, for the rest of the year, this is a guy you spot sit, not merely spot start.
Recommendation: Vazquez, a top 40 rest of season pitcher, should be owned in most eligible formats, though his velocity and fatigue should be monitored down the stretch.
Tommy Milone & Brad Peacock | Nationals | SP | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (minors): 3.22 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 9.7 K/BB || 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, 3.8 K/BB
Oliver MLE: 3.41 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 8.0 K/BB || 3.24 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.47 K/BB
As earlier anticipated, Milone and Peacock are headed to the majors.
Milone's major league potential was covered at the beginning of August, and none of the hype has abated since. Over his past five Triple-A starts (31.1 innings pitched), Milone struck out 35 of the 120 batters he faced (29.17 percent, 10.1 K/9) while walking only six (5 percent, 1.7 BB/9). He's also surrendered only seven runs (six earned), while accruing a spectacular 1.64 FIP. Milone's MLE performance this year, per Oliver, is an exciting 3.41 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 7.9 K/9. A high 3's ERA, mid-1.2's WHIP, and Scott Baker-sh strikeout rate are entirely in the cards for Milone, who is a highly ranked 2012 pitching sleeper for me if he locks in a rotation spot (in place of Livan Hernandez?).
Peacock is another talented Nationals pitching arm. Though he has shown less strikeout stuff than Milone in Triple-A (9.0 K/9) and his minor league career (8.3 K/9), while walking more batters (4.5 BB/9 in Triple-A and 3.1 BB/9 for his career), his career minor league FIP is still a strong 3.40 for his minor league career (3.93 FIP in Triple-A this season).
Peacock is a year younger than Milone, and at 23, there is still room for his control to improve. Oliver likes Peacock's combined Double-A and Triple-A 2011 stats—a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 177:47 K/BB (3.77) over 146.2 innings pitchedVas worth a major league equivalent 3.24 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 9.2 K/9, though Oliver's forecast engine is more pessimistic regarding Peacock's ceiling than Milone's.
Between the two pitchers, I think Milone's control will help him pitch better in the major leagues, especially out of the gate. Neither figures to get the ball regularly this year, but each should get roughly three starts down the stretch. For those who missed out on nabbing Stephen Strasburg in time and own Jordan Zimmerman, Michael Pineda or Jeremy Hellickson, make room for some pretty strong spot starters.
Recommendation: Milone and Peacock are worth streaming down the stretch in mixed formats, though shallower leagues and near-capped owners should play only the "favorable" matchups.
Devin Mesoraco | Reds | C | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .289/.371/.484
Oliver MLE: .269/.346/.450
In 2007, the Cubs selected Josh Vitters, marking the second time that decade that they missed out on an immensely talented backstop bat in the first round: Devin Mesoraco. Whereas Vitters has floundered like most high-round Cubs prospects since...well, forever, Mesoraco has flourished.
In five minor league seasons, Mesoraco has accumulated a less-than-exciting .800 OPS, but over the past two seasons he has really come into himself as a prospect. Over his past 950 plate appearances, Mesoraco has launched 41 home runs, walked 10 percent of the time, and hit .295. In Triple-A this year, Mesoraco has continued to develop as a hitter, slashing .289/.371/.484 and striking out a mere 16.6 percent of the time.
Oliver's OPS MLEs for his past two season performances are .824 and .796, respectively, and Oliver sees Mesoraco capable of a .270 batting average and 15-20 home runs per 500 plate appearances. Those numbers are about what Cubs fans have come to expect from Geovany Soto, who seems to alternate really good years with disappointing ones.
Unfortunately, Mesoraco, like Jesus Montero, does not figure to get full-time play down the stretch. Both Ramon Hernandez (free agent after this season) and Ryan Hannigan (a solid backup) sit ahead of him on the depth chart, but Mesoraco could run away with the job as soon as next year. Hence, as a keeper, Mesoraco should be on fantasy owners' radars this month. Mesoraco could develop into a top 10 fantasy catcher in the near future. As a guy to help you win this year, however, his prospects are likely limited unless you have a deep bench and the time to micromanage your team and check whether he is playing each day.
Recommendation: Mesoraco is worth owning in NL-only and keeper formats, but (deeper) mixed leagues can likely ignore him as anything more than a bench player.
Jason Motte | Cardinals | RP | 15 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.65 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 4.1 K/BB, 47.6% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.68 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.7 K/BB
I would not let Tony LaRussa babysit my kids, let alone manage a baseball team for me. Still, he's the skipper in charge, and despite Fernando Salas' emergence as a strong late game reliever this year, TLR has and said that he intends to periodically give Motte the ball in the ninth inning of close games. That means that Motte needs to be owned in more leagues by owners scrounging for saves (as does Bobby Parnell, who is available in 82 percent of leagues).
This is no knock on Motte—he is certainly a talented reliever, and one worth owning irrespective of saves. He is talented enough that his 1.65 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 54.2 innings this year make him a top 160 overall fantasy player per Yahoo's rankings. Just make sure you keep Motte, who has not allowed a hit since Aug. 6, on your radar as the Cardinals make one last Hail Mary push to pull ahead of the Brewers in September.
Recommendation: Motte is a very ownable elite reliever who needs to be owned if getting save chances.
Anthony Rizzo | Padres | 1B | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver MLE: .256/.337/.494
With rosters expanding, Rizzo figures to get a second chance to shine in San Diego this year. Though he struggled to make contact through his first 35 major league games, hitting a mere .143/.282/.265 and striking out 30.8 percent of the time, there were good signs mixed in with the bad results. For one thing, Rizzo showed patience at the plate with a 12.8 percent walk rate. Equally encouraging, he showed that he could hit for power at the major league level. Do not let the .122 ISO fool you; nine of Rizzo's 14 hits were for extra bases, and according to Katron.org's batted ball map, Petco, as one might expect, took a particularly harsh toll on Rizzo's production. Here's what his batted balls at Petco would have looked like at his old park, Fenway:
Rizzo still has to work on his struggles against same-handed pitching, and as a lefty in Petco, the park's effects will always take a particularly harsh toll on his home run totals, but as a whole, Rizzo's star status still shines brightly. Since his demotion, he's done nothing but pick up where he left off when called up earlier this year: crushing the ball. Since getting sent down late July, Rizzo is hitting .310 with 10 home runs and 14 doubles in 36 games. More keeper leagues needs to own this guy before it's too late.
Recommendation: As a first baseman with elite power, Rizzo is a top 10 mixed-league prospect to keep for 2012.
Jerry Sands | Dodgers | OF | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver MLE: .256/.337/.494
There is no way the Dodgers can justify keeping James Loney over first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands as a first-baseman/outfielder next year. Though Sands hit only .200/.294/.328 in 41 games, the Dodgers patiently let him play this season, "good" for a .279 wOBA. Loney has not been much better. Save for a red hot August in which he batted .367/.433/.633 (.452 wOBA) with five home runs, Loney has been just as bad. Even with that hot August, he's still produced only a .309 wOBA, 5 percent below the major league hitting average—atrocious production for a first baseman.
Meanwhile, Sands, like Rizzo, is still hitting in the minors. Though Sands is hitting just .270 since getting sent back to Triple-A, he has 23 home runs, 19 doubles and a pair of triples over his past 307 plate appearances. Sands may not hit for average in the majors, but he does take a good number of walks. He walked 11.8 percent of the time in during his cup of coffee in the majors this year, and his minor league career walk rate is 11.7 percent as well.
Oliver's forecasting engine still projects Sands as capable of a .250 batting average with plenty of pop and decent on-base results despite a poor batting average, good for .800 OPS-type production. He has fallen a lot from his 2010 and early 2011 performance level, but Sands is still an exciting young hitter who needs to be monitored as rosters expand and Andre Ethier takes some time off to recover.
Recommendation: Sands should be monitored in NL-only and deep mixed leagues.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 3:25am (16) Comments
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
In fantasy, counting stats are gold.
For hitters, home runs and stolen bases are king. They are quantifiable and skill-based. Runs and RBI follow next, being more derivative and situational, but somewhat predictable via context.
But batting average? It is often an overlooked stat, like wins for pitchers, on draft boards.
That is not to say that elite batting average guys are per se undervalued. Joe Mauer, despite catcher status, is a perennially top 50 draftee despite one career top-100 player finish. Ditto on players like Pablo Sandoval before 2010 and Martin Prado this season.
The converse can also be said. Hitters like Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena tend to dip very low relative to their true fantasy value due to their vacuous hitting styles.
But outside the elite and sub-elite batting average guys, batting average is often overlooked. We tend to focus solely on the counting stats for the "guys in the middle," even though floating a respectable batting average is just as important for them. It is almost as if many fantasy owners presume most of their players are capable of hitting .280, or at least .270.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The major league "average" batting average among the 426 players with at least 100 trips to the plate this season is .261. Surprisingly enough, 10 percent of that population is hitting .300 or higher, but 242 players (57 percent) are batting at or below the major league "average" batting line. In fact, two-thirds of the league is hitting under .270, while a full standard deviation of batting average from the mean, courtesy of clustering, is .0365 points, or the difference between Jacoby Ellsbury and Kosuke Fukudome (or Ichiro Suzuki, if you want to be ironic).
Needless to day, a respectable, let alone elite, batting average is much harder to come by than one might otherwise think.
This brings us to Mark Teixeira, a career .282 hitter.
That .282 is a tad misleading. Before his Yankee career began, Tex's career average was .290. He's thus far hit .266 in nearly three years as a Bronx Bomber (and he's not getting any younger). Despite being a patented second half hitter, he is hitting only .253 in the second half this season, and a mere .247 on the year.
Teixeira's other fantasy contributions have aged well. He hit 39 home runs in 2009, 33 last season, and already has 36 this year. He has at least 100 runs batted in each season, including 2011, as a Yankee, and is a mere 17 runs away from crossing home at least 100 times each of those seasons as well. Teixeira is not a base stealer—he has 18 in his career, and has never had five in a single season—though it is worth noting that nearly 20 percent of his career stolen bases have come this year.
That pegs Teixeira as a three-category stud. Particularly over the past two seasons, when power has become increasingly rare, his 35+/100+/100+ production has been elite. And at least historically, he has been near a standard deviation ahead of the curve in a fourth category—batting average.
On the heels of this four-category production, Teixeira has been a top 20 drafted player each of the past six seasons. And not without reason. He has annually repaid the faith of those bold enough to draft a first baseman with their first or second pick.
But is Teixeira really worth a top 20 pick if he's hitting only .250? Let's look.
According to Yahoo's player rankings, Teixeira currently ranks as the No. 37 overall player. Among hitters, Tex ranks 25th overall. My Z-Score sum chart that ignores position and uses only the 426 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances on the season is a little more bearish. Per my chart, Tex ranks No. 21 among hitters with a 7.01 sum, but essentially ius ted for No. 41 overall. Teixeira's non-positional score narrowly ranks ahead of a few premium positional players—specifically Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins—who would have higher rankings if position were incorporated. I do not have positional values for the season calculated, but I would guess that Teixeira's true fantasy value per my Z-Score sums chart is borderline top 50.
Is that really worth $40? Top 25 hitter production is great, do not get me wrong, but is it worth paying a $15+ premium over Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino?
To put Teixeira's sinking batting average and non-stolen base production in context, note his value if he were producing at "career" rates. If he were batting .282 this season, he would be a top 15 hitter. His production value would be just below what Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano have done this season (position ignored). If batting .290, his pre-Yankees career rate, Teixeira would be a borderline first-round pick in 12 team mixed leagues.
Mark Teixeira is still an elite player. Despite playing first base, he is incredibly productive and reliable in three fantasy categories. He is no spring chicken, but also not too old at 31. Tex is an increasingly rare, elite power producer who is athletic enough and has good enough command over the strike zone to age "gracefully." In the heart of the New York Yankees lineup, this means his home run, RBI and runs production over the next two seasons should remain strong. He is certainly unlikely to bust if drafted for that production, which itself is a valuable asset on draft day.
Still, without the batting average, drafters are probably paying an unnecessary premium. They are paying for a top 30-50 player as a first rounder. That's just silly.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 4:20am (18) Comments
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Over the past two seasons, I’ve experienced some pretty bad burns in early draft rounds of my main home league. This league is very simple, mixed league, snake draft; teams keep their five top players. Despite maintaining one of the best keeper cores, and seeing those players remain generally healthy (my top three played full seasons in both years, and the other two played 110 games or more), I haven’t been able to win. Last season, I finished in second, 1.5 points off the pace, and this year I seem to be looking at a third place finish. My main problem has been whiffing on my early picks after the keeper rounds. In both seasons, I’ve pulled some great late round picks, but lack of production and/or injury from important pieces has left me in a situation where I’ve been plugging one leak, only to see another pop up throughout these seasons.
To be a little more specific, last season, I kept no corner infielders, and went on to draft Pablo Sandoval and Aramis Ramirez with two of my first three picks after the keeper round. I stuck with Ramirez, who cobbled together a season with some value, but not enough to save him from the “bust” tag. Panda was absolutely horrid.
This season, I was happy to see Justin Morneau unkept and available at my first pick. I also selected the third closer off the board overall —Joakim Soria—and filled my utility spot in the 11th round because I couldn’t pass up the value of taking a third 1B in the form of Kendry(s) Morales. I would have rated my keeper core as the second or third strongest in the league, but after six picks, I had given that entire edge away.
I know, I know, cool story, bro! But, I didn’t pen the above paragraphs to write just about my fantasy teams. If you notice, two of the players I busted on last year are in the midst of big time comebacks. Aramis Ramirez is on pace for something like 90/30/105 and a .300 batting average. Sandoval has been beset by injury, but has been producing at the level of an elite 3B otherwise and definitely returning value on his deflated preseason asking price. (I’d always rather have elite production and injury than full season mediocrity.)
The question I’ve been asking myself is how past experience plays into one’s perception of a player going forward. Is once bitten, twice shy a legitimate reaction? I’m not the only one who faces the prospect of reuniting with a player who has burned me in the past. So, I want to offer some perspective on that matter, starting with my decision making coming off last year’s busts.
I’ll admit I was a little sour on Sandoval and Ramirez coming into this season. I definitely wanted to stay away from Sandoval—this was buoyed by the fact that I wasn’t even ecstatic about drafting him the year before. See, I didn’t love Panda and I thought his performance in 2009 had red flags, but I had a strategy, of which his pick was a part. That season saw me liking a number of lower valued players with high power potential and batting average deficiencies, so I made a concerted effort to try to build up a batting average cushion through my first few picks in order to enable my team to endure the Ian Stewarts of the world—another pick that went swimmingly, I might add! I felt like I had invested in Panda despite my better judgment and therefore saw last year not only as a down year, but as something to confirm the doubts I held previously. I felt like I had no idea who Sandoval really was as a hitter, and therefore decided against betting on him at his prospective price. Regarding Ramirez, I was willing—though not eager—to take on him on again this year, but I thought he’d fall even further than he did and I didn’t wind up snagging him in any of my leagues.
I guess the good news about my preseason pessimism is that I wasn’t the victim of the gambler’s fallacy. I didn’t assume that just because these players had bad years last year, they would have good years this year—although the subjects of this article are, in fact, having good years. However, it’s worth noting that it is just as dangerous is to assume that because a player had a bad year last year, he was going to have another bad year this year.
One of the things I pride myself on a successful fantasy player, and somebody fit to give advice on fantasy sports playing, is my agnosticism on players. I really try to keep my emotions out of any decision I make fantasy-wise. I like to think that I followed the information on Panda and made a conclusion based on risk assessment, and that when it came to Ramirez, I simply miscalculated the amount my which his price would slip. Now, perhaps that was related to my intimate experience of Ramirez ownership the previous season. His final numbers, even the .241 batting average, didn’t tell the story of how excruciating he was to own for all but the very end of last season, and its possible the experience caused me to discount his price more than I should have, remembering him as worse than he actually was.
Although it’s also not a directly relatable concept, this issue does prompt me to consider the idea of dollar cost averaging, which refers to investing equal increments in a commodity over regular time intervals, therefore ensuring you purchase more shares of the commodity when its value (price) is less than when it is high. Now, obviously, I can’t acquire a second version of the same player at a different price post-draft. But, where this concept does whisper to me, is when I think that if I was bullish on Justin Morneau at pick 59 this season, I should love him even more at pick 90 (or something) next season.
If Morneau was a stock, for example, you could recoup some of your lost investment in Justin Morneau in 2011 by getting even more output relative to cost from him in 2012. In fantasy baseball though, multi-year composite returns are irrelevant. So, what you have to do is ask yourself to what extent you feel the player in question remains the same player you liked at the original price point. If you’re 80 percent as confident in Morneau in 2012 as you were in 2011, and will be getting him at a price point that’s 70 percent of 2011 pricing, then that’s where the extrapolation of dollar cost averaging would indicate that reinvesting is a good idea. The output’s value is not changed by recouping some of your lost investment from last year because stats don’t run over multiple years. But, emotions do. So, in a sense, getting a great year out of Morneau next year would dollar-cost-average my emotional investment in Morneau as a player. (He already has some collateral in that respect, as he was a key part of multiple teams that won for me during his MVP season).
As in every other case, when dealing with a bust, you must ask yourself questions about why a player didn’t perform and analyze the data at hand. Experiencing an injury, a performance slip at an advanced age, or statistical outputs inconsistent with peripheral indicators of performance are all dynamics that differently affect your opinion of a player going forward. But, the fact that the previous string of unfortunate events happened to you does not affect the odds of what will happen going forward.
I remember reading a study a few years ago that studied penalty kicks and goalie reactions in soccer. In one respect, goalies dive to left or right too often, neglecting the middle; they’d be likely to stop more kicks by jumping as a first reaction than picking a side to dive to and hoping they guess right. One the other hand, penalty kickers, in light of this info, should kick the ball straight toward the center of the goal more often than they do, because it is the one area of the goal that is exceedingly likely to be left unguarded. Neither the goalies nor the kickers embrace the behaviors that would increase their success rates because of the perceptions that accompany failure in its different forms. If you the ball right down the middle and the goalie doesn’t move, you look like an idiot. If the kicker kicks the ball toward the left corner of the goal, you actually look like less of an idiot diving to the right than you do by just standing there. To draft Kendry(s) Morales again after he DNP-ed the season for you risks looking like an idiot.
But moves to save face, or to look more valiant in loss, are inherently moves that accept, and expect loss. Due to emotional factors, people may be willing to trade increased odds of losing for increased dignity in the context of that loss. That’s kind of absurd, but it underlies the notion of is once bitten, twice shy in fantasy baseball.
I don’t want to feel like a moron (and look like one to the rest of my league) if I double down on Justin Morneau next season and he suckers me again. When that happens, you get ribbed. Your league-mates accuse you having a man-crush on an abusive idol. You’re asked, rhetorically, why you didn’t learn your lesson. But, ironically, he who does not fear the second bite is he who has learned the most important lesson of all—IT”S NOT ABOUT YOU!
I don’t like or dislike players; I like or dislike players at certain prices. I’ll forget about Derek and Justin 2011 when it’s time for 2012, and if I think the price is right, we’ll have another go around. I will do my best to unearth the reasons for my players’ busts, and sometimes that research will involve making educated guesses and deriving plans of action based on incomplete info, but the one thing I know for certain is that being on my team this year affected their performance in no way, and that dynamic will certainly hold for next year.
Being afraid to lose is not at all a recipe to win.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:29am (3) Comments
Friday, September 09, 2011
Dear (loyal) fantasy followers of The Hardball Times:
After a five and half months of baseball, we enter the final stretch of the season. With so few games remaining, close races will be decided by the smallest of remaining sample sizes.
Unfortunately, our advice can only go so far at this point. With rosters expanded, many out-of-contention teams are giving rookies their cupS of coffee, while many of the in-the-playoffs teams are resting their regulars. This makes playing time hard to predict, and it makes recommending who to pick up and which players can help you that much harder. So this will be the last National League Waiver Wire article for the 2011 season. Next week, I will try to identify some unowned pitchers who may be able to help your fantasy team down the stretch with a spot start, along with some fantasy player analysis; e.g., did you know that Edwin Encarnacion’s career strikeout rate is only 17.3 percent?
We at The Hardball Times greatly appreciate your continued readership. We hope you continue to tell your friends, family and colleagues about our services, and spread the word about the analysis we provide. This year, our fantasy following on Twitter expanded six-fold (for those not yet following us, please do so by adding @THTFantasy to your Twitter following), and we hope to eclipse 1,000 followers before the start of the 2012 baseball season.
I encourage everyone continue to check The Hardball Times website regularly during the baseball offseason for continued insightful analysis.
All statistics current through at least Sept. 5.
Taylor Green | Brewers | 3B | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (minors): .336/.412/.580
Oliver ROS: .272/.330/.436
In trading away Brett Lawrie and the rest of their farm system for two-years of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers signaled to fans that they were ready to win now. As a result of the trades, the Brewers' farm system was near-universally crowned as one of baseball's worst, along with the Chicago White Sox. They had no post-trade prospects ranked in either Keith Law's or Baseball America's preseason top 100 prospect lists. Accordingly, Taylor Green's re-emergence as a relevant prospect is exactly what the Brew Crew's decimated farm system needed.
After an encouraging showing in A ball in 2007 (.328/.407/.514 triple-slash line over 110 games) and A+ ball 2008 (.289/.382/.443 over 114 games played), a wrist issue limited Green over the past two seasons. In only 93 games, almost entirely at the Double-A level, in 2009, Green slumped to .258/.330/.356 production that entirely lacked power (.098 ISO). He was not much better repeating Double-A in 2010, batting .260/.336/.438, though his power potential encouragingly returned (.178 ISO).
In 2011, however, Green returned to his earlier form. Over 120 games in Triple-A this season, Green hit .336/.413/.583 with 22 home runs and a .248 ISO. Green has great command of the strike zone, evidenced by a strong career minor league walk rate of 11 percent and an elite minor league strikeout rate of 13.5 percent.
As a power hitter with a slap hitter strikeout rate, Green, 25, has the tools to succeed at the major league level. Oliver's MLE for Green's 2011 is a robust .309/.366/.508, and Oliver's ROS projection is encouragingly strong for a rookie with minimum major league experience: .272/.330/.436. Green's batting profile says that he's capable of launching 20 home runs with a batting average above .280.
Playing time is the only thing standing between him and fantasy relevance. Casey McGehee is Green's primary hurdle to a full time job. Though McGehee has batted better of late (.260/.324/.480 in August, .530 wOBA through three September games), he may be a non-tender or trade candidate this offseason for reasons highlighted a couple of weeks ago.
Green is also capable of playing second base, having played 15 percent of his minor league career at the position. The Brewers could play Green at second until Rickie Weeks returns, especially given the paucity of production out of Weeks' stand-ins this season. Second base, however, will not be a long term solution for Green to get playing time given Weeks' four year extension (with a fifth option year) this past offseason. Prince Fielder will be a free agent this offseason, and a move from left field to first base may actually improve Ryan Braun's real-life value, so a move to left could be possible for either McGehee or Green, though neither has played anything but infield positions in their major and minor league careers.
How the Brewers plan to use Green will be an interesting story to follow, and it is one fantasy owners need to monitor closely. If Green gets any semblance of regular or predictable playing time with the playoff-bound Brewers this September, you are going to want to pick him up. Green could be a really under-the-radar 2012 sleeper.
Recommendation: Given the dearth of production and that position's proclivity for injury this season, Green is a must-monitor third baseman in mixed leagues with 12 or more teams and corner infield requirements.
Homer Bailey | Reds | SP | 14 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.57 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 38.9% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.17 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.5 K/BB
Given his 4.57 ERA on the season, routine trips to the disabled list under Dusty Baker, and a strikeout-per-nine rate below 7.0, a 14 percent ownership rate may seem high. Homer Bailey may seem like a bust at this point in his career, having formerly been a top-notch pitching prospect, but as a fourth starter type in mixed leagues, Bailey still has value.
Despite Bailey's struggles, there are strong positives to his 2011 campaign. For one, he has both sustained and improved his walk rate this season (career best 2.20 BB/9). With a career-high F-Strike rate (61.5 percent, 59.3 percent major league average), Bailey has continued the trend of cutting his career walk rate (currently 3.58 BB/9). Bailey has done this while steadily improving his whiff rate against batters over the past four seasons—his 9.0 swinging strike percentage is a career high.
Despite a decline in groundball percentage this year, even accounting for the improvement in pitching across the league, Bailey has taken a step forward with his game. A seemingly low left-on-base percentage and seemingly high HR/FB and HR/OFFB rates may have masked Bailey's improvements.
So what should we make of Bailey's 6.7 K/9, a three year low? Should we expect it to go up, or discount Bailey's fantasy potential (and improved pitching game) going forward?
On one hand, we could attribute it to a change in pitching style. Bailey used to lean heavily on his mid-90s fastball,but he is increasingly using a slider and curveball. Given the expected strikeout rates for plus-speed fastballs and sliders, however, this seems unlikely. Perhaps qualifying Bailey's increased reliance on a curveball and slider by calling them "developing" pitches could explain the decreased strikeouts.
Another plausible explanation, however is bad luck. Strikeout rates tend to be more stable over smaller samples than other statistics, such as walk rates and ERA, but in half season samples, they still tend to have much variance. Bailey has pitched only 106 innings this season, so it's plausible that his improved whiffs just have not translated into strikeouts yet.
Over the past 30 days, Bailey is supporting a robust 8.5 K/9 (22.5 percent strikelout percentage) and stellar 6.2 K/BB ratio. Despite a 5.18 ERA over that span, Bailey's xWHIP of 3.15 and SIERRA of 3.00 rank among baseball's elite. Despite his ERA, Bailey's WHIP is still strong at 1.27. If Bailey's seemingly bad luck this season were to neutralize, or even swing in favor of the good luck dragons, Bailey could post a mid-3s ERA and low 1.2s WHIP down the stretch despite his home ballpark.
With the Reds' season collapsing, Bailey's further development as a pitcher may be a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the franchise.
Recommendation: Bailey is worth spot starting in 12-team mixed league formats, and worth a pickup in deeper/NL-only formats.
Yonder Alonso | Reds | 1B/OF | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): 296/.374/.486
Oliver ROS: 271/.334/.445
If you can fathom it, Yonder Alonso was once talked up as having enough potential as a first baseman to relegate Joey Votto's career to left field. Of course, since those days back in 2008, Votto has developed his power stroke while maintaining his elite walk rate and batting average and line drive rates, all the while keeping the strikeouts in check. Alonso, on the other hand, has developed nicely, but not nearly as exponentially as projected as he's advanced through the minors.
Alonso is a DH masquerading as an outfielder. Scouts near universally agree his left field defense is Dunnian. But Alonso is not known for his glove; he's known for his bat. At least he was for a while, and after a lackluster 2010, is again.
After batting a relatively lackluster .282/.380/.432 without (much) power in Double-A after a promising showing in A-Ball (.304/.389/.485), Alonso has rekindled most of his "Matt Kemp power*" (.174 ISO) in Triple-A this season. Alonso's best asset is his ability to drive the ball well with good gap power and low strikeout totals to go with a fair number of walks, like teammate Votto. In fact, Votto's 2008 season comes to mind as the fairest comparison to what Alonso is likely capable of producing. Oliver's MLE for Alonso's 2011 season in the minors is a .285/.355/.476 triple slash line.
He has also held his own thus far into 29 games (sample size!) of 2011, walking seven times and hitting .389/.459/.685 with four home runs in 54 a- bats. Alonso could easily develop into what Billy Butler's been billed as, promised as, for the past several season.
*Matt Kemp power is an old coinage of mine from 2008 that refers to guys with ISOs ranging between .170 and .185; hitters with enough power to be capable of consistently posting 20 HR/60 extra-base-hit seasons.
Dusty Baker has used Alonso pretty regularly over the past week. If his playing time becomes regular or predictable, he could be worth owning. Alonso currently has eligibility at first base and outfield, but Baker has already used him once at third this year. Juan Francisco (see below) figures to get the bulk of the Reds' playing time at third if any rookie is to get it, but on the off chance that Alonso gets third base eligibility this (or next) season, that would greatly boost the fantasy value of a player many see as breaking camp as a starting outfielder for the Reds next season.
Recommendation: Yonder Alonso is worth a bench spot to stream as a corner infielder or fifth outfielder in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
Juan Francisco | Reds | 3B | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (minors): .318/.345/.557
Oliver ROS: .275/.308/.492
If you have a hole at third base—e.g., you've held on to Casey McGehee—or are in need of cheap power, Francisco may be your man. OBP leagues should be strongly cautioned: Juan Fran walks rarely. On a plus note for batting average leagues, however, Francisco tends to drive the ball well, despite a poor strikeout rate and walk rate, kind of like how Alfonso Soriano did in his prime. Hence, while he may not hit .300, he can likely hit in the .270s. Francisco, in this regard, is a bizarro Jack Cust: cheap power guy, semi-useful in batting average leagues, but a strong category liability in OBP leagues.
With Scott Rolen done for the season, Francisco may be getting an extended chance to audition for the 2013 starting third base position (Rolen is signed through 2012), though that role is likely Todd Frazier's long term.
Since his recall on Sept. 1, he has been used in all but one of the Reds' games as their primary third baseman (pinch hitting in the other). Four and a half games is an incredibly small, inconclusive sample, but it is nice to see him hit the ground running after struggling for a handful of games in April, batting 6-for-18 with a home run and five RBI since his return. Granted, that has come with only one walk to six strikeouts, so perhaps those numbers need to be looked at with a grain of salt.
Francisco clearly has his flaws, but in September the waiver wire tends to be slim pickings. Take your value and strategic usefulness where you can find it.
Recommendation: As a starting third baseman, Juan Francisco is worth streaming in 12-plus-team mixed leagues, and NL-only formats.
Collin Cowgill | Diamondbacks | OF | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .354/.430/.554
Oliver ROS: .271/.329/.424
Cowgill is a "polished" (code for older, college-drafted) prospect who steadily ascended through the minors, only to truly break out in Triple-A this year. After posting a relatively bland .819 OPS in A+ ball in 2009 (.168 ISO, six home runs in 61 games), and an .825 OPS in 2010 (.179 ISO, 16 home runs in 131 games), Cowgill posted a .984 OPS this season, blasting 13 bombs with a .200 ISO in less than 100 games for the Diamondbacks' Triple-A affiliate.
That .200 ISO power may not be particularly special coming out of the Pacific Coast League, ranking outside the top 35 for players with 300 or more plate appearances in the league this season. But when combined with 20-30 stolen base ability, a solid strikeout rate of 16.2 percent and an above-average walk rate of 10.7 percent, it means that Cowgill may have major league potential as a 15-home run capable, gap-powered hitter with respectable batting average totals and a good number of stolen bases.
Oliver says that Cowgill's 2011 campaign in the PCL is the equivalent of a major league line of .290/.343/.434, and it forecasts him capable of doing the same down the stretch for the Diamondbacks if they keep giving him semi-regular playing time. The ceiling is limited with Cowgill, but he should provide solid production all around. Three home runs and five stolen bases with a .275-.280 batting average in September is entirely in the cards.
Recommendation: Cowgill should be a solid contributor as a semi-regular fifth outfielder for deeper (12+ team) mixed leagues and NL-only formats, though owners should inquire into the availability of John Mayberry first.
Bryan LaHair | Cubs | 1B | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .331/.405/.664
Oliver ROS: .272/.332/.499
Beyond the fact that they are way out of the division/pennant race, Bryan LaHair is the reason the Cubs should-and-could have traded Carlos Pena in July to the Pirates before their epic collapse*.
*This is not to say that the Pirates were a particularly good team that should have invested prospects to attempt a "win-now" strategy a la Andy McPhail's 1998 Chicago Cubs team. But with Pittsburgh facing the pressure of being a "dying" franchise losing its fan base and respectability, the Cubs probably could have leveraged some kind of deal to save cash and bring in (fringe?) prospects with the Buccos.
LaHair, like many Cubs prospects of the past decade, is 28 years old and on his fifth tour of duty in Triple-A. The Cubs, however, did not draft LaHair. This should be evident by the fact that he draws walks. A long-ignored prospect of the Seattle Mariners for nearly half a decade following a useless 150 plate appearances in the majors in 2008, LaHair signed with the Cubs in 2010, and he has done pretty well in Iowa since.
In 254 games for the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate, LaHair swatted 63 home runs and drew 111 walks (11.1 percentage). His batting line was a robust .320/.396/613, albeit with a BABIP near .350 and a strikeout rate just north of 20 percent (20.5 percent, not bad at all for a power hitter).
Oliver thought LaHair's 2010 performance (.289/.385/.557) was worth a respectable .267/.331/.453 (.340 wOBA) triple-slash line in the majors, but Oliver has fallen even more in love with LaHair this year, considering his minor league line worth a .286/.348/.546 (.378 wOBA) major league line over more than 500 plate appearances. Among all major league hitters with 500 or more plate appearances this season, LaHair's .378 MLE wOBA would just barely rank in the top 20, and it would dethrone the Cubs' current wOBA king Aramis Ramirez* (.372 wOBA).
*Technically, the Cubs' true wOBA king this season has been Reed Johnson (.378 wOBA), but Johnson does not have even 250 plate appearances.
Since getting recalled earlier in the week, LaHair has hit the ground running for the Cubs, batting .385/.385/.692 with a home run and double over 13 plate appearances. LaHair is a first baseman, but the Cubs have not been afraid to use him as a corner outfielder. Presuming the Cubs are "in" on the Albert Pujols derby (which has Prince Fielder as the runner-up, consolation prize), one has to presume that means that the Cubs likely intend to play him in the outfield corners along with Soriano (under contract forever) and Marlon Byrd (under contract one more season). This would presumably push Brett Jackson's debut back until mid/late 2012, with an eye on Jackson taking over center field, if ready, in 2013.
LaHair is not getting any younger, so one would have to imagine he has to be in the Cubs' short term plans for 2012. He is not a marketable prospect, so it is unlikely they could use him as a trade chip to return anything of interest. LaHair is also insurance in case the Cubs cannot or do not want to sign Pujols or Fielder this offseason. Some Cubs fans may have flashback nightmares of Micah Hoffpauir when they think of LaHair, but LaHair is much more than a mere flash-in-the-pan late bloomer; he's someone to be moderately enthused about—a potentially useful major leaguer.
Recommendation: LaHair is unlikely to get regular playing time down the stretch, but is worth owning as a corner infielder if he does get predictable playing time. More realistically, LaHair's September should be monitored as a fantasy audition for 2012.
Johan Santana | Mets | SP | 23 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (A+ rehab): 2 GS, 5.0 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 ER
Oliver ROS: 3.78 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
Santana has had more than his fair share of injuries over the past few seasons, and his 2011 has been entirely lost to injury thus far, but in terms of potentially elite gambles on the waiver wire two and a half weeks before the end of the season, Santana may be an ace in the hole. Though an experienced pitcher rehabbing in A ball, Santana's first two rehab starts have been pretty encouraging. He's thrown five innings with five strikeouts and zero walks. I have not read any reports of velocity concern or setbacks since his last one. If Santana stays healthy, he could get a start or two in the majors for the floundering Mets. They could be worth streaming him for.
Recommendation: Santana is only a deep mixed league and NL-only play.
Trayvon Robinson | Mariners | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .251/.316/.411
What is Trayvon Robinson doing in a National League-oriented Waiver Wire column? It is a good, fair question. The answer is that I was writing about him in a lengthy email response to a reader's question, and I figured I might as well share my thoughts with others.
Trayvon Robinson is something of a fantasy value enigma. From his debut in 2006 through 2008, he was not much of anything. He struck out a lot (almost a quarter of the time), walked very little, and though he stole about 20 bases, he was caught stealing in roughly one-third of his attempts.
Then, in 2009, Robinson upped his game. He added a little more pop (.193 ISO), started walking, and really started stealing bases. In fact, in 2009, he doubled his previous stolen base total record of 22 with 47 (though he was still caught 20 times). Robinson's 2010 in Double-A built upon his advanced speed game and newly found walking ability, swiping 37 bases, but his power evaporated (.138 ISO) and the strikeouts and caught-stealing propensity (15 caught stealing in 52 attempts) remained a problem. Robinson seemed doomed to a career ceiling of Julio Borbon.
But in Triple-A in 2011, Robinson's "game" took a whole new direction. Presumably ordered to quit wasting precious outs while on the bases, Robinson saw a huge boost in his power, launching 26 home runs with a .269 ISO over 100 games for the Dodgers. His previous single-season high in home runs was 17, over 136 games played. Strikeouts continue to be a problem, but Robinson has kept up an improved walk rate for three seasons now, which, paired with power, greatly offsets the harm of his strikeout propensity. Robinson's 2011 for the Dodgers was so good, in fact, that he was included as the Mariners' prized return in the three-way deal among Seattle, Boston and Los Angeles that sent Erik Bedard to the Red Sox.
Caution says, however, that high strikeout totals in the minors tend to mean atrocious strikeout rates in the majors. Oliver gives Robinson credit for only a .246/.314/.442 MLE (with 21 home runs). Despite this caution, Robinson has held his own in the majors through his first month. Over 25 games, Robinson has batted .274/.319/.464 despite a humongous strikeout rate (35.9 percent) thanks to a combination of good power (.190 ISO) and what would be the major leagues' highest BABIP (.420) if Robinson qualified for the batting title.
Oliver's ROS projection for Robinson is a substantially more reasonable expectation for him the rest of the way. Robinson may be cheap power (though most of it has been gap power at Safeco), but he'll likely carry a big batting average liability. He's not nearly the "rookie keeper" his major league numbers this season may indicate.
Recommendation: Travon Robinson should not be trusted as a reliable source of production down the stretch except in AL-only and very deep (14-plus team, five-outfielder) formats.
Dee Gordon | Dodgers | SS | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .269/.298/.342
With Hanley Ramirez out for the season, many owners have been scrambling to find some ghost of a replacement out of a group of players shallower than the kiddie pool. The Dodgers activated Dee Gordon from the disabled list on Sept. 1 and in the six games he's played since, he has swiped four stolen bases. Gordon will not offer any power or on-base ability for owners, but he should be able to hit .275 or higher with Eric Young Jr.-like stolen base attempts per opportunity. He needs to instantly be owned in more leagues.
Recommendation: Gordon should be owned either to use, or block another owner from using him, if you have the space. His speed could be a game changer down the stretch.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:16am (0) Comments
Going against the norm, and not just proceeding to the players, I'd like to thank Paul Singman and Derek Ambrosino for pinch hitting for me last week. I'd also like to mention that the Top-100 Fantasy Prospect list is soon to be updated, so be on the lookout!
Trevor Plouffe|Minnesota|2B/SS/OF|3 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .246/.294/.426
Plouffe is the type of versatile bench player that comes in handy this time of year. He's can be slotted at middle infield, second base, shortstop and outfield, so if a regular gets a day off and you're not on pace to surpass games played limits in a roto league (or you're in a H-2-H league) he offers the potential to tack on just a few more counting stats when every single one counts.
He's seeing regular playing time for the Twins of late and being slotted second in the lineup. He offers a tad bit of pop, but doesn't excel in any one fantasy category. His walk rate and OBP are a little below league average, but are good enough that he should set the table and provide some run scoring opportunities. Not a ton to get excited about here, but you have to take stats where you can get them at this point.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some mixed-leagues and most AL-only formats.
Trayvon Robinson|Seattle|OF|1 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .251/.316/.411
He strikes out a lot (35.9 percent of his at-bats), doesn't walk a lot (6.5 percent of his plate appearances) and is still developing. Robinson has succeeded in spite of his empty swings, and has the tools that play well in the fantasy game. His power and speed are above average, and he's playing every day. He offers batting average risk, but at this point, the average needle isn't likely to move much.
Those in need of home runs or stolen bases should turn Robinson's way. He has stolen only stolen 10 bases this year, but he stole 37 in 2009, so don't be fooled. With the Mariners out of contention, they may let him run a bit to hone his craft and establish a stolen base success rate. He's attempted only one stolen base with the Mariners (and succeeded), so I may be talking out of my hind side suggesting they'll let him run, but it would make some sense from a development standpoint. He's available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so if you're currently rostering an empty average outfielder unlikely to gain you valuable points in roto leagues, pull the switcharoo and pluck Robinson off the wire.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed leagues and all AL-only formats.
Jesus Montero|New York (AL)|C|7 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .274/.323/.470
Football season has kicked off, and many owners are out of it, so I shouldn't be shocked by Montero's low ownership rate. Nonetheless, it is inexcusably low. He plays a position that's not noted for offensive production, and is seeing steady playing time in the vaunted Yankees lineup. He's a potential four-category contributor, all but with stolen bases. He's gotten a hit in all but his debut, and has a two home run game already. He didn't have the banner year in Triple-A many would have liked to have seen, but he was still solid. Trust the scouting reports that laud his hit tool and developing power, and buy into his fantasy friendly lineup.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Luke Hochevar|Kansas City|SP|15 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.76 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.63 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 49.2 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.31 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
The former first overall selection has teased with stretches of strong play, but his post All-Star break performance has been excellent. In 66.2 innings he has struck out 56 batters (7.56 K/9) while walking 19 (2.57 BB/9) making his strikeout-to-walk rate a hair under three-to-one. His ERA and WHIP in that same time frame are 3.51 and 1.11 respectively.
Looking at his PITCHf/x data paints an interesting picture. Hochevar is using his slider more often (post-break 16.0 percent versus pre-break 11.4 percent), and with better results, getting whiffs 22.8 percent of the time compared to 11.6 percent pre-All-Star break. He's also getting more whiffs on his four-seam fastball, sinker, and cutter. His cutter's whiff rate is solid at 16.9 percent, offering Hochevar a second wipeout pitch.
For anyone wondering, his slider and cutter are two distinctly different pitches and not just misclassifications; their breaks are different and their velocities differ about three mph. He may never be elite, but it looks as though something has clicked for Hochevar, and even a league average strikeout rate paired with his awesome groundball rate would make him a solid starter.
The most important thing for the rest of the year is his favorable schedule. If he makes each of his scheduled starts, he'll face the Twins on Sept. 14, and Sept. 26, with the Tigers sandwiched in between on Sept. 20. The Twins offense is terrible, and none of his starts come at offensive friendly ballparks, with two starts at home and one at Minnesota.
Recommendation: Should be owned by pitching-starved teams in all league sizes and types.
Doug Fister| Detroit| SP| 49 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 5.91 K/9, 1.65 BB/9, 47.8 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.89 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 1.5 BB/9
He doesn't light up the radar gun, and the formula is pretty simple for Fiste: Make hitters put the ball in play and don't put them on base for free. He doesn't generate a lot of swings and misses, but he has seen his strikeout rate go up in Detroit (part of that is a 13-strikeout performance sprinkled into just 44.1 innings with his new club), while his walk rate has been cut back to just 0.61 BB/9.
He is owned in almost half of Yahoo leagues, so he's not available in most large leagues, but he should get strong consideration in shallower formats to close out the season too. He's scheduled to face the Twins on Sept. 11, the A's on Sept. 16, and Baltimore on Sept. 22. The Twins are a great match-up, while the other two are pretty neutral. The A's offense has oscillated between really good (July and September) and mediocre/bad (August), but the start is at pitcher-friendly Oakland making it fairly "safe." The Orioles offense isn't a slouch, but the team doesn't win many games so win-hungry owners should keep that in mind when deciding whether to trust him.
Recommendation: Should be owned in his favorable match-ups in all league sizes and types.
Chris Sale|Chicago (AL)|RP|28 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.73 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 50.6 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Sale has been awesome in the White Sox bullpen this year, and since the All-Star break he's been flat out dominant. In 25.2 innings post-break he has a 1.40 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP with just five walks and 29 strikeouts. He has three saves in the last 30 days and four in his last 10 appearances. Manager Ozzie Guillen has no problem using him in high leverage situations, and his being left-handed offers the animated manager the opportunity to use him in place of his regular closer, right-hander Sergio Santos, when the situation dictates. He should already be owned for his sparkling ratios and high strikeout rate in more leagues than he is, but the saves are further incentive to find room for him on more rosters.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most leagues.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 5:44am (2) Comments
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
It is inevitable that there will be some sort of controversy or dispute that arises in your fantasy baseball league. It doesn't matter if the league is comprised of 12 best friends, family members, colleagues, or complete strangers. There will always be differing opinions on various issues with each individual's own personal vested interest motivating such conflicting viewpoints. But, as a league commissioner, there are things you can proactively do to help eliminate or mitigate certain issues that may arise. This edition of The Verdict will delve into a few aspects of my own experience as commissioner of leagues to illustrate ways to simplify the game without compromising the entertainment and strategic parts of it.
I have been the commissioner of an 18-team, head-to-head, mixed NL/AL weekly points league since 1999. Over the years, I have added and deleted various features and rules that were intended to "spice" things up and add additional elements to the game of fantasy baseball. But what I have learned is that while my intent was always good, the results netted more headaches and controversy than I possibly could have imagined. It is important to change with the times and upgrade your leagues according to what is standard or customary, to a degree. For example, I had handled transactions manually from 1999 to 2008. This process included each league member emailing me lists of the players they wanted to add, in order of preference, with the corresponding moves. I would then go through the standings and order of priority and award each team the players they rightfully won. This was a tedious method that dominated my Sunday nights each week during the baseball season. Then, in 2009, I finally embraced the current trends and instituted the free agent auction bidding process which put the responsibility of making transactions into the hands of each league member and allowed CBS to handle the process for me. This was a win-win situation because I was relieved of this laborious task and it gave each league member more sense of autonomy and control in handling their team. This decision has been a very successful and popular one in my league.
However, not every decision I have made has worked out so well. In our league, if a player got injured in the middle of the week, he could not be removed from the lineup. After a few years of consideration, I finally instituted a DL Substitution Rule in 2008 which permitted teams to switch out a player placed on the disabled list in exchange for a player on his bench. In theory, this was a good decision by allowing teams the flexibility to make changes during the week so they are not stuck with an inactive player. I granted each team two substitutions, as well as the ability to trade a player for additional substitutions. The initial rule was that the reserve player being added to the lineup must qualify at the same position as the injured player. In 2010, I amended this to allow teams to switch players' positions throughout his lineup so long as their new lineup filled all necessary roster spots. However, little did I know that I opened myself up to constant questions and challenges about the substitution rule. Some examples of gray areas were whether the initial player's points would count along with the new player's points from the time the change was made, when during the week could the substitution be made, using substitutions as a means of erasing already-accumulated negative points, properly valuing a substitution in exchange for a player in a trade, etc. There was a new dispute or challenge every week regarding this rule. As a result, I decided to eliminate the rule for the 2011 season and go back to the way it was since the beginning. This has proved to be a very good decision.
Another example of a rule I implemented that has not worked out is enforcing an automatic disqualification for a team that has an improper lineup or roster set by the beginning of the week. The intent behind this rule was to deter people from stashing extra players and also encourage everyone to be diligent in setting their lineups on time. Granted, there are instances where people's lives take precedence and they physically cannot set their lineups. I have always been lenient and willing to help when someone needed assistance. So when I put this rule into effect in 2011, there were a multitude of instances where people innocently had disabled players activated during the week which caused an error for having too many players on the roster. There were also times when people added free agents who were automatically acquired as starters which gave them illegal lineups. I found myself making exceptions on too many occasions because the penalty being enforced did not correlate to the intent of the rule. After going through this approximately five or six times by June, I laid out specific instructions and recommendations to my league members on what to do in order to avoid having illegal lineups. There hasn't been another instance of this since, but the mere fact it was an issue exemplifies how I over thought this and created disputes where they weren't necessary. Needless to say, this rule and penalty will be abolished in 2012.
There are always innocuous things you can do to make your league more fun and competitive. If you are in a points league, you can add different categories and tinker with the scoring value for different statistics. You can add incentives and awards for winning certain categories of statistics each week, which is something that I did this year. In a roto league, you can also have awards for winning certain categories at different time intervals. You can also modify the structure of your roto league by adding other categories beyond the normal five and five. When it comes to changing rules, you must do a form of a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether the new feature is going to improve your league or hamper it in controversy. It is very likely that you will not be able to foresee all potential scenarios and circumstances, but you should have a good idea what kind of consequences you can generally expect by adding new rules. If you are unsure, then it likely means everyone else will be unsure of the rule too.
You cannot avoid conflict. It will inevitably rear its ugly head, and that is OK. But there are things you can do to minimize possible disputes. You can achieve this by keeping things simple while still being creative. Remember, this is fantasy baseball. As much as we all want to simulate acting like real managers and general managers, the fact is that fantasy baseball is a rumination of real baseball. We can try and simulate as many concepts and ideas as possible to correlate the two, but the truth is that they are distinctly different. So before you go and complicate your league with new rules and different features, remember to think about what the possible ramifications are and what types of issues can arise from such changes.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:06am (0) Comments
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Leagues with long-term keeper rules often present their owners with dilemmas: “Should I keep Player X (who’s a better value for next year) or Player Y (who could be much more valuable in two to three years)?” Some examples might include: Paul Konerko vs. Eric Hosmer, Kevin Youkilis (or Alex Rodriguez maybe?) vs. Brett Lawrie, and James Shields vs. Jeremy Hellickson.
Clearly important factors include any price increases your league imposes on keepers, and how competitive you expect to be next year. But one key factor is often overlooked: the field. Don’t forget the field.
Fantasy talking heads love comparing keepers, particularly a long-term keeper versus a short-term one. Here’s a good-natured example from Fangraphs.
There seems to be hardly a wrong answer. One can talk about how good the older player is but also how many years are on his body and that his skills show some signs perhaps of declining. One can also talk about how promising the young player is but that he hasn’t yet proven himself over several seasons.
It is a lot of fun to compare one player to another. But when it comes to long-term keeper comparison, it is essential to remember that there are many, many other players that are implicitly figuring into the equation.
Here’s a simple example: An owner can keep up to four keepers for each year at the cost of $23 each. There’s no inflation. He’s already decided to keep Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano and is trying to decide whether to keep Rodriguez or Lawrie as his fourth.
Rodriguez may be the better bet for next year and, in standard leagues, would probably go for more than Lawrie—and also more than the $23 price tag. So Rodriguez is undoubtedly worth keeping.
What about Lawrie? Let’s say that you expect him to be less valuable than Rodriguez next year but more valuable thereafter. You still must answer these questions before you can know whom to keep:
Is Lawrie going to be getting much better in the future or is Rodriguez going to be getting much worse? Probably the answer is some of both, but of course how much of each is the key.
Even if Lawrie will be better than Rodriguez, will he be good enough to warrant keeping? Answering this question is subtle—and key. This question asks: what are the chances that, however good Lawrie becomes, you still have four better keepers on your roster at the end of next year?
Next season, you’ll have a roster full of potential keepers. It is very possible that by next September, Lawrie will be a keeper candidate (i.e. he’s worth at least $23), a better keeper candidate than Rodriguez (i.e. Lawrie’ll go for more in an auction than Rodriguez), but that you will have four players that are more valuable as keepers.
This means that you should discount distant future performances, perhaps greatly depending on league format. For the example above, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t keep Lawrie over Rodriguez unless I believed that Lawrie would be worth at least $35 two years from now.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 5:23am (9) Comments
Friday, September 16, 2011
Statistics current through Sept. 13.
People all around the world of fantasy "hate" Ian Kinsler. It's time for that to end.
In the preseason, I received a lot of criticism for ranking Ian Kinsler as my number two fantasy second baseman for 2011 behind Chase Utley, who was still healthy at the time. Some critics legitimately focused on the level of risk imposed by Kinsler's health; I thought he was a top five or 10 second baseman even if inundated with injuries. For what it's worth, Kinsler has appeared in 142 of the Rangers' 148 games this season.
Other critics focused on his raw stats, claiming that Kinsler had never proven himself on par with the likes of Robinson Cano. In reality, as I pointed out, the two players rated very similarly over the past four seasons:
Despite a clear differential in games played, they have comparable absolute home run and runs scored production, with Cano having a noticeable edge in batting average and RBI. Kinsler owned a huge advantage in stolen base totals. Cano had a substantial lead in games played over Kinsler.
Health is obviously a factor of value, but when you consider how close the two are in value even when one is constantly making trips to the disabled list, comparing their rate stats is not irrational. If we prorate Kinsler's numbers to the same number of games played as Cano, Kinsler produced the better rate stats overall. Hence, my claim that Kinsler's ceiling and floor were high enough, despite an ankle-injury-derailed 2010, to warrant top three consideration.
Eight months later, my widely panned ranking has turned out to be more or less correct. Kinsler has been the third best second baseman this year per Yahoo (second best, per my Z-Score sum calculations), behind Cano and Dustin Pedroia. Over the past 30 days, Kinsler has been the No. 1 fantasy second baseman. He has also been an elite player overall. So far through 2011, Kinsler's season qualifies him as a top 30 overall fantasy player (No. 28, by Yahoo's calculations) and top 10 fantasy hitter (via my Z-Score sums). Over the past 30 days he's been even better, and Yahoo values him as a top 10 overall player (No. 7) over that period.
Cano (Yahoo's No. 14 ranked overall, my No. 9 overall hitter in baseball via Z-Score sums), who I ranked as my No. 3 second baseman, has been the better fantasy baseball player. Thus, my argument of Kinsler over Cano was incorrect...right?
In terms of their results, yes. Objectively speaking, no matter how you slice their numbers on the season (which is honestly all that really matters), Cano has been the better fantasy player. Yahoo has their values pegged much farther apart than my Z-Score sums (below), but Cano's produced more in the relevant fantasy categories:
Z-Score sums are determined by taking the difference between a player's value in a given stat from the league's mean production in that stat, and then dividing by the standard deviation. This gives you a strong measure of relatively in evaluating how good players are in a given statistical category. Z-Scores, for example, are a useful tool for answering the question of which is more "valuable" in a vacuum—20 RBI or five stolen bases. By taking the Z-Score for each Roto category and summing them, we get a Z-Score sum which tells you what each player's overall relative value is.
To get an accurate Z-Score sum, you need an accurate pool of players. The pool of useful players from which to calculate Z-Score sums will vary wildly from league to league, depending on the number of teams, the number of players per position per team, the format of play, etc. To simplify an election bias, I simply included all players with 100 or more plate appearances to determine the relative value of hitters for this exercise.
On one hand, this inflates the value of players who have more counting stats, as the players near the bottom of the plate appearance threshold —who probably have little fantasy value—drag down the "mean" and increase the standard deviation. At the same time, this effect occurs equally on all players in the pool. Hence, while the means and standard deviations may not be accurate representations of the true fantasy means and standard deviations of any given league, they have a relatively similar effect for rankings purposes. Alternatively explained, though the absolute Z-Scores numbers may be skewed, their relativity should be reliable for our purposes.
Mathematics aside, the point remains salient. Cano has been better, but their value has been pretty close and both have been pretty excellent.
But Kinsler should be doing a lot better—at least if you buy into BABIP-luck theories. So let's look at BABIP luck-neutralized production of Cano and Kinsler and see who should be faring better.
To account for BABIP luck, I calculated the xBABIP of Kinsler and Cano using THT's own xBABIP tool. Using each player's xBABIP, I then calculated the number of hits each player should have expected to produce irrespective of luck. Using this expected hits total, I recalculated the player's expected batting average.
Then, using the differential between each player's expected hits (xH) total and his actual hits (aH) and holding each player's production rates constant, I calculated an expected stolen base, runs scored and RBI differential to be added to/subtractedfrom each player's actual 2011 numbers. I ignored the BABIP effect on home runs, as those are not balls in play and because I did not want to have to go through each player's detailed game log to find "robbed home runs" and then also account for "lucky" home runs.
I also performed the same analysis and "number crunching" using each player's career BABIP for comparison.
Here is each player's relevant BABIP data:
Using some mathematical "reverse engineering," here are how Cano and Kinsler's BABIP-luck neutralized 2011 stats stack up using their career BABIPs:
And using their 2011 xBABIPs:
As you might notice, when you strip out Kinsler's poor BABIP luck, whether you use his career BABIP or 2011 xBABIP, he should have been a superior fantasy producer. In fact, Kinsler's xBABIP adjusted stats would place him as the fifth overall player, behind Matt Kemp (13.5 Z-Score sum), Curtis Granderson (12.9), Jacoby Ellsbury (12.6) and Ryan Braun (11.6). That's a hair ahead of Jose Bautista (10.2). Even if we hold Kinsler's counting stats constant and adjust only his batting average to reflect his career BABIP, Kinsler's aggregate production this season outweighs Cano's. As it should be evident, Kinsler is an elite player of the highest order when healthy, even if he did not put it all together in 2012.
Of course, results are all that matter in fantasy, and in that regard, Cano has had the better 2011 season. However, for the future, it is clear that my initial hypothesis—that a healthy Ian Kinsler has top-tier player upside—rings true. For 2012, neither Kinsler or Cano will come cheap. However, Cano and Pedroia will likely cost more, meaning Kinsler, if healthy, could be a top 10 player at a relative discount