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Thursday, November 03, 2011
N is for New kids on the block
I've already touched on why you should play the upside and draft rookies. Who are the ones you should dole out the dollars for in 2012?
Surprise, surprise. The The number one pitching prospect in baseball in 2011 (according to Keith Law) did not disappoint in his September showcase, where he pitched 19 combined innings between the regular season and playoffs, striking out a whopping 23 and posting seven shutout frames in the ALDS versus the Rangers.
The question isn’t whether Matt Moore will be good. He has the pedigree, (very) small sample size performance coupled with uniform minor league success, the stuff, and the opportunity to be a massive success, and the Rays breed strong pitching arms.
The question, rather, is whether Matt Moore will be worth his average draft position. Hiroki Kuroda was the 24th ranked starting pitcher, per ESPN, with a 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 13 wins, and 161 punch-outs. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Moore besting the strikeout and WHIP numbers, and putting up similar win and ERA totals—the Rays boast one of the best defenses in the league, which partly explains Jeremy Hellickson’s flukish 2.95 ERA in 2011.
The 24th starting pitcher drafted in ESPN standard leagues was Max Scherzer at 102.6, and Moore should land somewhere in—between Scherzer’s 2010 number and Hellickson’s ADP (163.9, the 39th starting pitcher taken). He possesses the ability to best Kuroda’s numbers and be a solid #2 starter, and won’t be taken among the first twenty pitchers. Eat the value.
Trevor Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, and after setting record after record at UCLA, impressed mostly in his first taste of minor league ball. He struck out a dirty 43 strikeouts in just 23.2 innings in high A ball and AA. Despite a 7.56 ERA in AA, he put up a FIP of 3.44, and suffered from a bit of “hazing” from BABIP gods, posting a .353 mark in A+ and a .429 mark in AA.
There were rumblings—at least in the blogging world—that Bauer should have been called up in late 2011. Jack Moore at FanGraphs called Bauer "the most major-league ready prospect from the 2011 MLB draft." Keith Law agrees, and Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, and Joe Saunders are all legitimate question marks.
Bauer may not have a spot in the rotation come April 1, but with the unpredictable back end of the Snakes’ rotation, he should be up by June 1. Owners in deep leagues, NL-only leagues, and dynasty formats where he isn’t owned (unlikely as that is) should take note.
The Reds’ catcher of the future (and present?) started off his minor league career slowly, with a .261 average in A ball, and a .228 showing in A+ the subsequent year, but his talent was clear even then, with a strong and improved 9.8 BB$ in his 2009 A+ campaign. Thought to possess more power upside, Mesoraco mashed 26 homers across A+, AA, and AAA in 2010, and entered 2011 with 58 AAA plate appearances under his belt.
Mesoraco enjoyed such a successful AAA season that, in Keith Law’s July 14th midseason prospect report, he shot up to number six in the minors from the pre-season 31. “A potential All-Star,” he wrote.
The two-headed monster of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan were the clear obstacles to his manning the Cincinnati catching post, and Hernandez will walk as a free agent this winter. Hanigan has two years left on his friendly contract, and might be part of a clean timeshare with Mesoraco. But that friendly contract might mean he’s traded for more important assets, and Mesoraco is let loose.
Dusty Baker isn’t the friendliest of old men to his young prospects, but Devin Mesoraco has the potential to be special. Say hello to your NL Rookie of the Year?
O is for O-Swing and Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano stuck out in 14.1 percent of his at-bats in 2011. The number isn’t startling, or even above league average, but it was an even 3 percent jump from his previous 11.1 percent mark, and an even bigger departure from his 2009 9.3%. What gives?
Cano swung at 5.1 percent more pitchers outside of the zone in 2011 than in 2010, and his 41.6 percent mark was 7.8 percent higher than his career average. Cano’s O-Contact percentage, however, didn’t jump, meaning he made barely any more contact on swings outside of the zone, despite swinging at 5.1 percent more of those pitches.
The O-Swing Percentage stat merely explains the disturbing trend we’re seeing: Robinson Cano is ditching his plate discipline. To go along with his newly wild swinging ways, Cano left the progress he made in the walks department behind. This graph illustrates his BB, K, and O-Swing percentages over the last three seasons, compared with his career norm.
Cano can clearly be an excellent fantasy player in lieu of his free-swinging ways (trending in the wrong direction, as you can see), but his batting average numbers are surely limited as a result. 30-100-100-.300 is nothing to balk at, but neither is 20 batting average points.
P is for the PETCO Pitchers
I’m down to my last spot. I have one dollar to burn on one spot. Some people have three or four spots left, maybe 20 bucks to spend on whomever they choose. I need to look deep. I need a starting pitcher. Kyle Loshe? Joe Saunders? These people are the definition of shaky. I want more upside to match the risk. I’ll take a PETCO pitcher. Who’s new in San Diego? Aaron Harang? Wait, that might work. The guy was killed by homers in Great American. Hell, why not? Aaron Harang, a buck!
The draft room burst out laughing. Harang had won 18 games in the previous three years combined, and put up a 5.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 2010. His strikeout numbers had dropped from 216 and 218 in 2006 and 2007 to 153, 142, and 82 from 2008-2010. He was the epitome of washed-up, and he was only drafted because of his home park: PETCO.
Sure enough, Harang rebounded well in PETCO, putting up a fairly good ERA (3.64) albeit with a little bit of luck. He posted 14 wins on an anemic offense—again, aided by luck—and posted a 3.05 ERA at home. I was among the many who started him only at home, and reaped the rewards.
Padres pitchers posted a 3.02 ERA at home in 2011, good enough for third in the majors. Since the opening of PETCO in 2004, the Padres pitchers have posted a 3.40 ERA at home, in a robust 6,020 innings. The second best home staff since 2004 has been the Cardinals at 3.63.
Tim Stauffer posted a 2.57 ERA at PETCO in 2011. Clayton Richard, in a 47 innings sample size, put up a 2.30 ERA at home. Mat Latos and Aaron Harang had 3.24 and 3.05 showings, respectively. Dustin Moseley (4.05) and Cory Luebke (4.04) didn’t fare so well, but their downsides as spot-start pitchers weren’t particularly low.
Keep your eye out for any free agent pitchers who end up in PETCO over this winter. They’ll be worth that buck more often than not.
Q is for Quelling your doubts…
Martin Prado is no longer a fantasy asset.
Look no further than his .266 BABIP and freak staph infection injury to explain Prado’s slow year. A career .293 hitter with a .315 BABIP, Prado slipped to .260 and .266 respectively, due to his 14.6 percent LD (compared to his 18.9 percent career number). His batted ball types were pretty much in line with his career totals, otherwise, and he struck out over four percent less than the previous year. Chalk this one up to bad luck and a little regression; Prado still has the potential to hit .300 and may hit 20 homers one year.
Colby Rasmus is barely a #4 outfielder.
Rasmus finished 93rd on the ESPN Player Rater for outfielders, behind the likes of Endy Chavez, Jason Kubel, and Ryan Raburn. He only played in 129 games, yes, but when he played, he was ineffective and a constant headache. Rasmus, like Prado, got eaten alive by the BABIP monsters, and dropped from an admittedly inflated and unsustainable .354 to an equally unsustainable (on the other side of the spectrum) .267. His average dropped 51 points with it, all the way down to .225. Rasmus’s LD percentage only slipped three percent, though, and the only red flag is his 15.5 percent IFFB. A relatively clean slate in Toronto should be plenty to rejuvenate the young Rasmus; if not that, then the friendly bounces surely will.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 5:08am (4) Comments
It’s quite rare for a ball club to make a decision that nearly unanimously pleases its fans, but my beloved New York Mets came pretty darn close this week when they announced they will be reining in the dimensions of Citi Field for next season. From a pure baseball fan perspective, I’m not overly in love with bandboxes, but Citi’s dynamics were fairly extreme and I’m happy to see a bit more offensive-friendly environment.
A left-field power alley boasting a 16-foot wall 385 feet from home plate and a right center valley of 415 is a bit extreme; in fact, in Citi’s entire existence there have been only nine opposite-field home runs hit by visiting players. But, does this really impact the fantasy value of Mets players?
We might as well begin with the name on the tongues of many when this news broke—David Wright. I saw a mock-up of Wright’s spray chart overlaid against the new dimensions and the results didn’t look dramatic, but I’d like to step outside that type of analysis for a moment and offer some subjective observations.
For the last three or four seasons, I’ve been a witness to Wright’s descent from a truly elite offensive weapon. The 2008 season marked the last vintage David Wright campaign. I’m willing to view 2009 as something of an anomaly and 2011 as being influenced by mitigating injury. So, I’d actually like to focus on 2010.
On paper, at least fantasy-wise, the David Wright of 2010 was a step down from his ’06-’08 heyday but still an elite commodity. Fundamentally, Wright saw his average and contact rate dip while maintaining his longball power. But as he began to acclimate himself to Citi Field, I noticed a change in his approach.
The most drastic change occurred, as I observed, from the 2009 to 2010 season. In 2010, Wright’s line drive rate dipped to what was at the time a career low, while his flyball rate increased to a near-peak level. Watching Wright hit, he appeared to add a more deliberate torque to his swing, further opening his body throughout his swing.
In his best seasons, Wright’s power (much of which went to the opposite field) came effortlessly, or so it appeared. In 2010, Wright looked as if he was deliberately trying to hit more home runs. It appeared plausible that he was shifting his approach, sacrificing contact and base hits to maintain his homer prowess in his cavernous new confines.
As a stats-driven guy, I actually think many players are excessively reluctant to make this tradeoff (If Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs and Ty Cobb were willing to sacrifice 100 points of slugging percentage for 30 points of batting average, they don’t need hitting coaches, they need math tutors.)
Regardless of my opinion on Wright’s apparent adjustments, I submit that it is possible that the new configuration at Citi Field will help him more than a spray chart overlay might predict, assuming he is able to harness his approach from his glory seasons and his underlying skill has not been eroded from injury or attrition. In a nutshell, ’10 Wright very well may have been ’06-’08 Wright had ’10 Wright played in Shea Stadium instead of Citi Field.
The next logical question to ask is how this impacts Wright’s fantasy value heading into next season. I’m not sure this is an open-and-shut case. I think it could go one of two ways, and it’s all up to the way the wind of public perception blows.
While I think Wright clearly has the potential to have a better season than a mere translation of his spray chart might suggest, it’s very possible the public may overestimate the effect of the park factor in the first place, therefore not leaving a ton of value to be cashed in. The fantasy baseball universe is like the sports betting universe; it’s filled with participants who know just enough to be formidable dangers to themselves.
I see it possible that this situation plays out as one of those instances in which the public winds up on the right side of the proposition for largely the wrong reasons. Of course, this isn’t the only possibility. There’s also a chance that the negative feelings surrounding Wright’s recent history weigh heavier than the optimism relating to his newly renovated home. In that case, there’s room for profit.
At the end of the day, Wright is still as good a bet as any third baseman not named Evan Longoria to return top 20 value. I’d rather bet on his upside than Mark Teixeira’s, and I probably wouldn’t consider more than a half dozen middle infielders ahead of Wright.
Acquiring fantasy baseball players is again like sports betting, and getting value in your bets isn’t really as much about the talent of the teams as it is about public perception. A player or team’s talent is inherent but also imprecisely known. It’s static compared to the public perception, which sways based on outcome or performance, and is much less fundamental and more fluid, always too heavily influenced by yesterday and not enough by the few days before.
It’s possible that this is the year that public perception really creates a large enough gap between it and Wright’s underlying skill that an opportunity for value emerges. It’s hard to find too many players with legitimate profit potential that early in the draft. It’s all in the hands of the mavens of perception.
To briefly address the rest of the Mets team, I believe the park alterations have the potential to help Jason Bay, but a Bay rebound, at this stage, is more likely to look like 2007 than 2006.
Perhaps the player for whom this is the best news is Lucas Duda. Duda really got himself rolling toward the end of last season, quietly posting an .852 OPS in 100 games. He handled Citi Field fairly well, posting home SLG and OPS marks of .451 and .846, fairly similar to his road numbers of .509/.857. Duda is a breakout candidate for 2012 and the shortened fences at his home stadium remove one of the most formidable excuses not to roll the dice on him.
Similarly, Ike Davis has traditionally maintained his power stroke in Citi Field, indicating that he may feast even further with the new dimensions. Davis was off to a brilliant start before sustaining a season-ending injury in an incident that looked no more serious than any of the 30 or so times a year I fall down exiting a bar on a Friday evening. Perhaps most frustrating about Davis’ abridged season is that he had insufficient chances to clearly establish the fluke-to-breakout ratio of his stellar output.
On the pitching side of the equation, I don’t think much changes. Johan Santana continues to be somebody about whom we should monitor the news. He’ll be an interesting gamble in 2012. R.A. Dickey is borderline rosterable in certain mixed formats as a strikeout-challenged innings-eater who should post solid rate stats.
Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfrey remain virtually untouchable in any format, while Jonathon Niese is an NL-only option due to a bit of upside related to his strikeout potential.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 6:04am (1) Comments
Monday, November 07, 2011
Michael Choice| OF| Phoenix Desert Dogs (Oakland Athletics)
AFL Stats: .311/.425/.672, 61 AB
Last 10 Games: .243/.378/.459, 37 AB
I received an e-mail from a reader asking why I omitted Choice from last week's Arizona Fall League (AFL) update, and I politely responded that I'd covered him in the first update. When looking up the link to send back to him, I noticed I hadn't, in fact, covered Choice at all. While he has cooled off in his last ten games, he's long overdue to have the limelight shone in his direction.
Choice has a ton of power, and the biggest question surrounding him is if he has too much swing-and-miss in his bat to allow that power to play in games. He made strides from his debut in his draft year last season to this year cutting back on striking out, and has been at his best in the AFL with just 11 strikeouts in 61 at-bats.
It's important to keep in mind that the environment is hitter-friendly, and the pitching prospects, for the most part, are not in the same class as their hitting counterparts. Regardless, the way Choice has punished the ball is incredibly encouraging for next year's outlook.
Joe Panik| SS| Scottsdale Scorpions (San Francisco Giants)
AFL Stats: .295/.377/.426, 61 AB
Last 10 Games: .385/.467/.590
Panik was the Giants' first-round selection this year, and many observers viewed his selection as being largely attributed to his signability and modest price tag. He isn't lauded for any single star-level tool, but he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, either. Panik projects to be an offensive-minded shortstop capable of playing average-ish defense.
Because he signed quickly, Panik was able to play 69 games for short-season Salem-Keizer. He slashed .341/.401/.467, doing exactly what a polished college draftee should do. He started the AFL season off slowly but has been on a tear in his last 10 games.
He makes a ton of contact and has struck out just five times in his 61 at-bats in the AFL. He doesn't possess fantasy superstar potential, but average power with potential for a plus average from the shortstop position is notable these days, and Panik will be capable of just that if he develops as projected by most. Expect him to move quickly through the Giants system.
Christian Bethancourt| C| Surprise Saguaros (Atlanta Braves)
AFL Stats: .358/.370/.642, 53 AB
Last 10 Games: .297/.316/.676, 37 AB
Bethancourt is a prospect with a high ceiling, but he still requires a lot of projection and is quite raw. These things are to be expected of a 20 year old. The thing that's important for fantasy gamers to remember is that most of his high prospect ranking is to be credited to his 80 grade arm and superstar defensive potential. Reviews on his offensive upside are mixed, with the best projections suggesting he can hit for above-average power and little else at his peak.
Bethancourt's approach leaves a lot to be desired. Splitting the season between Low-A and High-A, his walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB:K) was just 11:62 in 387 at-bats. That poor rate has been exacerbated in the AFL as his BB:K stands at 1:14.
Bethancourt epitomizes the pitfall of looking exclusively at batting average in a small sample absent of additional context such as playing environment. All things considered, his play has been stellar in the AFL, but 53 at-bats shouldn't dramatically alter his future outlook.
Wil Myers| OF| Surprise Saguaros (Kansas City Royals)
AFL Stats: .384/.505/.685, 73 AB
Last 10 Games: .452/.521/.714, 42 AB
Hitter-friendly environment or not, Myers is absolutely clobbering the ball and performing like the blue-chip prospect he is. He leads AFL batters in OPS at 1.190 and OBP at .505, and is second in walks with 18. He has 28 hits, with 12 of them going for extra bases. Anyone who jumped off this 20 year old's bandwagon after an underwhelming season in Double-A should be falling all over themselves to get back on.
Junior Lake| SS| Mesa Solar Sox (Chicago Cubs)
AFL Stats: .315/.365/.618, 89 AB
Last 10 Games: .311/.326/.578, 45 AB
Cubs fans, and fantasy gamers, that see Lake's five home runs and 16 stolen bases with no caught stealings and have delusions of a future superstar at the shortstop position need to pump the brakes. Lake was allergic to walking last summer (19 free passes) and was no stranger to striking out (109 whiffs) while splitting time between repeating High-A and getting some experience in Double-A.
His power was pedestrian as well, as he hit just 12 home runs in 445 at-bats. He did steal 38 bases, but as the old saying goes, you can't steal first base. Lake's poor approach resulted in a .248 average, and with such a low walk rate, an unacceptable .300 OBP. It's tough to view his results as anything but positive, but it looks more like a timely hot streak than a sign of things to come.
Danny Hultzen| SP| Peoria Javelinas (Seattle Mariners)
AFL Stats: 5 starts, 16.2 IP, 4 BB, 12 K, 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
After I openly questioned where the strikeouts were from Hultzen on October 21, in two games spanning seven innings, he has turned it on. In his last two starts, he has tamed hitters, allowing just five baserunners, walking one, and striking out 10 in seven and two-thirds innings.
In addition to strong stats, his PITCHf/x data are encouraging as well, something Michael Schatz looked at over at Beyond the Box Score. The most encouraging info, at least in my opinion, is that his fastballs, two-seam and four-seam, are averaging 92.5 mph in starts where PITCHf/x data was captured for him. That type of velocity will help him greatly against big league hitters in the future.
As a college draftee who is succeeding in the AFL, I'd guess he'll begin the year in Double-A and could see a September call-up if all goes well.
Gerrit Cole| SP| Mesa Solar Sox (Pittsburgh Pirates)
AFL Stats: 4 starts, 12 IP, 3 BB, 12 K, 3.00 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
Like Hultzen, Cole has pitched very well in the AFL. He has struck out exactly a batter an inning, all while walking no more than one batter in any start. His power arsenal is the stuff prospect hounds dream of. Unfortunately, Cole doesn't have any PITCHf/x data available, having not pitched in either ballpark equipped to record it, but Keith Law reported he operated in in upper-90's in his debut, touching 100 mph twice.
Plus-plus velocity with control isn't a common profile for a young pitcher, so when one comes along, it causes a stir. Get excited about Cole, very excited.
Bradley Boxberger| RP| Phoenix Desert Dogs (Cincinnati Reds)
AFL Stats: 9 relief appearances, 11.1 IP, 4 BB, 19 K, 3.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
If Aroldis Chapman's transition to starting goes well, and the Reds do not re-sign Francisco Cordero, Boxberger could eventually find himself in the saves mix there. He was a supplemental first-round pick in 2009 and made his pro debut in 2010. Boxberger spent time starting and relieving that year, but he was transitioned to a full-time relief role this year.
He began the season in Double-A and finished in Triple-A. His 14.94 K/9 in Double-A was staggering, and while it dropped slightly moving to Triple-A, his mark remained very good at 11.71 K/9. He is able to pile up the strikeouts with a three pitch mix that includes and upper-90s fastball, a slider and change-up.
The strikeouts come at a cost, which is spotty control. Thus far, though, his formula for success has carried over to the AFL, where Boxberger has nailed games down with saves three times.
With a good showing in spring training, he should break camp with the parent club. Even in a non-closer capacity, he has the potential to be a contributor in deep mixed-leagues and NL-only formats if he's able to miss bats regularly at the major league level.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:05am (5) Comments
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
As you all know by now, I run a fantasy sports dispute resolution service called Fantasy Judgment. Recently I wrote three separate decisions resolving issues of potential collusion within fantasy football leagues. With this topic fresh on my mind, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss collusion within the context of fantasy baseball leagues and provide some advice and guidance on how to prevent it, spot it, and penalize it.
First off, I would like to give some background on my own personal experience with collusion within a fantasy league. I have been the commissioner of an 18-team, non-keeper, head to head, mixed AL/NL, points fantasy baseball league since 1999. The league has been comprised of friends and family every year. In 2002, a guy I went to high school with attempted to collude with three other league members. However, he was soliciting this collusion over AOL Instant Messenger. These three other league members all brought it to my attention and printed out their entire AIM conversations. The solicitations included agreements to trade certain players as well as sharing monetary prizes at the end of the season. Needless to say, this was as nefarious as it gets.
I thanked all of my honest league members for bringing it to my attention and had to figure out how to deal with this issue. At the time, my league constitution didn’t address collusion because it had never been an issue, and back then I was not as experienced as I am now in addressing all “potential” issues that may arise. I negated all trades that were offered and mandated that the offending team would not be allowed to make any further trades for the rest of the season. He was already out of playoff contention, so I didn’t have to worry about any money issues.
The sad part about the whole thing was that I did consider him a friend. After this incident, I informed him that he was not allowed back in the league the next year and I haven’t spoken to him since then.
This issue in 2002 prompted me to re-write the league’s constitution and address collusion as best I could. I sharpened the criteria that I used as commissioner to evaluate all trades, and I prohibited teams that were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention from making trades the rest of the season. Remember, this is a non-keeper league so there is no building for the future. This rule has been quite effective since 2003 as eliminated teams have no ability to dump players in tainted trades.
Outside of written proof (like I had in 2002) or some other verbal confirmation by the alleged offending parties, collusion can be difficult to prove. I define collusion as a secret agreement or conspiracy especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes. Collusion is a legal term of art, and conspiring to make a trade in a fantasy sports league pales in comparison to some of the “real world” scenarios where collusive conduct takes place. But there are reasons why I hold fantasy sports teams to the same standard.
Playing fantasy sports is supposed to be a fun and competitive activity to unite friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and perfect strangers (not Balky) with something in common. And yes, financial gain. But there is an unwritten code of conduct that all fantasy sports players should adhere to which includes fairness and good faith. Besides financial theft or embezzlement, nothing will undermine the integrity of a fantasy sports league more than collusive conduct. This is because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and skepticism amongst all league members. Once collusive conduct is alleged or even present, then everything else within the league could be subjected to even higher scrutiny for potential impropriety. If this happens, then the fate of that league has already been decided.
To help avoid collusion, you should always be very circumspect about which leagues you choose to join. You may not necessarily know everyone (or even anyone) if you join a public league, so be very mindful of the environment you are getting into. However, you must also be careful not to interpret every little thing as collusion if you disagree with what other people are doing. When two teams agree to a trade that does not look fair or even, it doesn’t automatically mean there is collusion.
Getting back to why collusion is such a big deal, it is because there is intent to deceive that must be present. Two or more people have taken the time to concoct a plan designated to circumventing the established rules of a league for their own benefit. This is the ultimate disrespect and proverbial slap in the face to everyone else in the league. That is why swift and definitive punishments should be administered when collusion is determined or proven.
In my case in 2002, I didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or wherewithal to handle the collusion the way I would today. If that had happened in the present time, I immediately would have kicked that offending team owner out of the league. Recently I reviewed a client’s league constitution, and it included language dealing with collusive conduct. One of the subsections contained guidelines on how to deal with teams involved in collusion, and it included a complete and immediate ban from the league without reimbursement. This was very smart of the league to have such language because then there is no question or doubt about what to do.
The fact is that there is no full-proof way to prevent collusion. If two or more people want to conspire for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else, they are going to do it. Whether they get away with it is another story. There are signs to look for if you suspect people in your league are colluding. But remember, the nature of the relationship between two people in a league is not indicative in and of itself that collusion is present. Merely because two league owners are family members or close friends does not mean that any trades they make rise to the level of collusion.
If you suspect people in your fantasy baseball league are colluding, contact your league commissioner and give him/her specific reasons and examples in support of your position. You do not want to initiate witch hunts without having good knowledge or reason to believe that such activity is taking place. Because if you cry wolf and accuse others of colluding when they are in fact not doing so, then you yourself become a target and get labeled as someone with devious intentions. If your reasons for suspicion have merit, then it makes no difference as to what type of collusion is present. Even if it is something relatively mundane, all forms of collusion should be handled the same way. There are no excuses or justifications for teams to circumvent the rules under any circumstances.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:03am (0) Comments
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Over the past few months, National Public Radio has come under fire several times for instances of what some perceived to be imprudent exhibitions of political activity and idealism on the part of associated executives and journalists. Aspects of the behavior in question and the reaction thereto by NPR prompted backlash from both the right and the left.
While the right saw many of the initial instances as smoking guns of their longstanding accusations of NPR being nothing but a mouthpiece for liberal propaganda, those on the hard-line left saw NPR’s very willing capitulation to demands to remove such figures from the boardrooms and airwaves as indicative of the organization’s spinelessness and lack of conviction.
In any case, these events have help to raise the age old question of whether objectivity is possible, or even worthy of striving for, in journalism.
So, what does this have to do with fantasy baseball?
The questions of objectivity in the media and the most worthy journalistic ideals are issues I’ve spent a fair amount of time considering. But reading about this issue earlier in the week when I was originally planning to brainstorm ideas for this column led me to a strange realization about fantasy sports writing, as well as a few hyoptheticals.
To start, I was struck with the realization that writing about fantasy sports, or pretty much being a talking head of any kind within the fantasy sports community, features a distinction uncommon in the world of journalism. (Note that I’m not really elevating what I do to “journalism,” but I will roll with this term because what I’m talking about is very close in spirit and, frankly, I lack a superior alternative.)
As purveyors of advice about fantasy sports, it’s my inclination that people who do what I do are expected by their audiences to have a stake in the performance of the commodities we speak about. This is a rather uncommon dynamic. In fact, in most spheres of advisory-based reporting or commentary, the source is expected to be an expert in the field but not to be active within the market about which he or she is advising.
Within the field of fantasy sports, we take for granted that many of the talking heads participate in drafts and leagues that are totally transparent to the public. If I come out touting a player as deserving of a top-20 pick when the consensus is that he’s a top-40 or -50 pick, I feel my readers should reasonably expect that this player be on several of my fantasy teams.
Even more fundamentally, I assume my readers expect that I should actually be participating in several fantasy leagues in the first place. This is an uncommon dynamic that goes virtually unquestioned within the community.
Conversely, if I were to flip on a random financial/investment advisory show, I certainly wouldn’t expect the pundit on the screen to share with the audience the breakdown of assets within his or her investment portfolio. Certainly, I don’t expect that pundit to own or plan to purchase every commodity he/she suggests I invest in. In fact, there are some pretty strict legal statutes protecting the public against pundits with conflicts of interest.
If you think this is a bit of a grandiose analogy, consider something simpler, of lower stakes, and sports-related. It’s pretty standard for hosts of the weekly NFL preview and pregame shows to pick the week’s winners against the line, but we don’t actually assume any of these folks are laying down bets on the games. Most fundamental of all, actual sports journalists aren’t even supposed to reveal their fan allegiances.
Jumping back to the larger issues at play here for a second, I don’t necessarily think objectivity should be among the utmost ideals of journalism, and I feel there are many unfortunate, unintended consequences of the pursuit of such an ideal that can never be perfectly achieved and may not be all that important in the first place.
Although fantasy sports writing is almost unequivocally never actual journalism, it is defined by two qualities that I’d be tempted to argue as more worthy journalistic pursuits than objectivity: transparency and passion.
By the way, I realize that the word “objective” has two somewhat related meanings as I jump from fantasy sports to the larger journalism world. Fantasy sports writing is often very objective in the sense that it is based on evidence, and I support that pursuit wholeheartedly. I also support evidence-based reporting and argumentation in the wider landscape of journalism.
The manner in which I object to the notion of objectivity is in its meaning as free of bias, or in the way the ideal implies that those writing about things should act as if they are free of opinions of their own. Just wanted to get that out of the way before I went any further.
To the extent that fantasy writers’ biases or intuitions lead them to express opinions outside the objective evidence base, these convictions are often testable in the public space due to the expected transparency of published drafts and public-facing leagues. The simple rule stating that it is okay to have a perspective, as long as transparency and commitment accompany it, seems like a pretty noble would-be journalistic axiom to me.
The second characteristic of fantasy sports writers I find commendable is that they wear their interest in the subject on their sleeves and acknowledge that they, too, have skin in the game. Even if journalists are able to cast aside personal opinion for the sake of their professional obligations, they are expected to act as if the decisions in the balance don’t have an impact on their lives as individual citizens.
Similarly, we are asked to believe that many mainstream sports reporters have no rooting interest in the outcomes of the games they cover or the fortunes of the team whose beat to which they are assigned. I wouldn’t want to experience nationally televised games broadcast by a partisan coverage team, for example, but we are not even really allowed to acknowledge that an announcer who is unbiased throughout a game may have rooting interests of his or her own.
This whole dynamic is one elaborately choreographed display of—frankly—patronizing, cognitive dissonance. Fantasy sports writing is also largely free of that dynamic, much to my pleasure.
So, after sharing these observations, the logical series of questions to follow begins with why fantasy sports writing has been able to dodge this dynamic. Again, the fact that the content is defined by the dispensing of advice does not account for this, since other areas like financial advisory services aren’t defined by the same expectations.
The first reason that occurs to me is simply that the stakes of fantasy sports aren’t high enough to require such standards that, although restrictive, increasingly arcane, and arguably illogical, function as protection against corruption. If I choose to misuse my influence and platform to attempt to disingenuously convince the fantasy baseball playing public that an undeserving player should be hotly pursued next season, there are really almost no ramifications to that.
So, perhaps the ideal of allowing individuals the broadest possible boundaries of free, unadulterated speech within this field is seen as a greater virtue than the abuse thereof is seen as a threat. Certainly, the idea that you can say what you want because nobody cares what you say isn’t exactly new.
The second factor behind this dynamic that popped to mind was the fact that the rise of the internet and internet-based journalism has done a lot in changing the conversation around objectivity in journalism. While old-guard sports journalists are still expected not to divulge rooting interests in teams, the most popular sportswriter in the history of the biggest sports journalism institution ever established prides himself on being a fan first.
Acknowledging that the rise of the internet is largely responsible for the footprint and popularity of fantasy sports, the fantasy sports writing community was largely established within an environment where the standards of objectivity aren’t perceived as one-size-fits all.
This discussion leaves me with two unresolved questions. First, imagine a situation where the fantasy sports marketplace was elevated in the public’s mind to an actual investment-grade endeavor. (This is not so far-fetched given the hi-tech, real-time, in-game and futures wagering options at some of the most highly evolved sportsbooks in Las Vegas and the emergence of a UK-based investment fund tied to a computer program that makes sports bets.)
Would the standards of objectivity in this field change? It’s not that somebody like Matthew Berry is incapable of moving markets, but rather that those markets are seen as unimportant and inconsequential.
My second question is, what if I told you that I don’t even play fantasy sports? (I do; this is only a thought experiment.) Would that matter to you? In traditional “journalism,” that should theoretically make my opinion more credible. Do any of you have opinions whether a learned outside opinion would be more or less valuable than that of an insider?
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 6:03am (2) Comments
Posted by Nick Fleder at 11:30pm (0) Comments
Thursday, November 10, 2011
R is for relief pitchers, overrated
Buy low, sell high. It’s the cardinal rule in fantasy baseball and the stock market alike. Never buy last year’s performance is another key mantra that pertains to fake and real baseball alike. Relief pitchers are no exceptions to these rules.
Here’s an interesting chart. It is the highest ranked single season WAR put up by relievers in the five-year span of 2006-2010. The numbers are taken from FanGraphs, and though WAR may fluctuate more than saves, it illustrates a lack of consistency from the back-inning boys that may surprise.
Save the at-times immortal Jonathan Papelbon, no name occurs twice on this list. Not even the prince of princes, the man among boys, Sir Mariano Rivera, finds his name on the list twice.
Here are the 2011 average draft positions for relief pitchers drafted in the first 10 rounds of a standard 10-team league.
Brian Wilson 68.8 (finished 23rd (Player Rater) with 36 saves)
Heath Bell 73.1 (finished ninth, 43 saves)
Mariano Rivera 74.0 (finished fourth, 44 save)
Joakim Soria 82.0 (finished 35t, 28 saves)
Neftali Feliz 83.2 (finished 22nd, 32 saves)
Carlos Marmol 90.0 (finished 29th, 34 saves)
Jonathan Papelbon 95.2 (finished 10th, 31 saves 31)
The Player Rater does factor in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, while most relievers are drafted for their saves. Ignore this momentarily and observe the steals found three or four rounds later.
J.J. Putz 136.5 (finished fifth with 45 saves)
John Axford 140.0 (finished third with 46)
Francisco Cordero 141.2 (finished eighth, 37 saves)
Jose Valverde 145.0 (finished sixth, 49 saves)
Drew Storen 170.2 (finished second, 43 saves)
Craig Kimbrel 174.8 (finished first, 50 saves)
This is a small sample size, but it’s clear that waiting three or four rounds to take your relief pitchers can pay dividends. If you roll the dice on three closers in the later rounds—ones who may not have the hours logged on the mound or “consistency” of the Brian Wilsons of the world (false promise, of course)—you’ll be doing yourself a favor by leaving yourself more valuable picks to use for less volatile members of your squad. I believe the mantra for that is double-whammy.
S is for shortstop rankings
1. Troy Tulowitzki
No brainer. Averaged .304/30/90/97/13 over the last three years.
2. Starlin Castro
Call me crazy, but I’d rather have the kid than Reyes. Former Cubs manager Mike Quade was an opponent of the steal, yet Castro managed 22 of 'em and improved his success rate from the previous year (when hestole only stole 10 and was caught eight times). He flashed power that many thought wasn’t yet developed with seven dingers from August to September, and a 15/30 season could be in the cards next season, with a high batting average and run numbers to boot.
3. Jose Reyes
Reyes has been limited to an average of an average of 98 games over the last three seasons, something a new contract can't help. His BABIP was superbly high compared to his career norm (.353 compared to .314), and his batting average should dip to the normal .290 range. It’d be a tall task for Reyes to stay healthy and steal 50 bases, and he could be a 10-15 home run guy still, but I question why you would take the risk and floor with Reyes over the upside and stability with Castro.
4. Asdrubal Cabrera
Probably not a .300 hitter and a 25-homer guy at the same time, but he hit the bombs with amazing consistency (three during only one month, four and five in each of the others) and had a BABIP a tad low compared to his career number. He didn’t swing too much more than the previous year (47.7 swing percentage was roughly three percent higher in 2011 than in 2010). A slow finish could mean Cabrera is undervalued on draft day. Considering his speed, I’d consider him in the fourth round a better deal than Reyes in the second round, but those numbers are admittedly arbitrary.
5. Hanley Ramirez
He certainly isn’t a .330 hitter or anything like it anymore, but he still possesses .300/30/30/100 upside with some RBIs. His motivation is clearly a big question mark, but he may be so universally counted on for a rebound that his draft stock may not be a steal.
6. Elvis Andrus
He’s pretty much a .270 hitter who will give you 35 steals and a handful of homers, and there’s something to be said about knowing what you’re getting. Andrus cut his Ks and raised his batting average, and such changes in his third major league season are encouraging signs.
7. J.J. Hardy
His home run pace was torrid (30 homers in only 129 games means he would’ve hit 37 homers in 162), and he’s hit over 24 in two separate seasons, but he comes with health risks. He was worth $16 in a standard 12-team league per Lastplayerpicked.com, and his upside apparently is higher.
8. Jimmy Rollins
Rollins was the sixth most valuable shortstop last year, behind Tulowitzki, Reyes, Cabrera, Castro and Andrus, but he’s nearly 33, and has considerably injury risks. An average of 115 games over the last two years is a red flag; Rollins has also ditched some plate discipline, swinging at 26.8 percent of pitches outside the zone compared to an average of 20.9 percent over his career. Rollins has also made more contact outside of the zone (81.8 percent compared to a career rate of 69.2 pewrcent than ever before, but he’s no longer a batting average asset, and his speed and power are sure to follow soon.
9. Jhonny Peralta
Just witnessed his career year, though he has improved his whiff rate since 2010 (twice under 17 percent percent even though his career mark hovers around 21 percent). He wasn’t superbly lucky and hit just a tick under .300, though .270 is more in his range. Considering his 10/50/70/.250 floor, and lack of considerable upside, Peralta carries some risk.
10. Alexi Ramirez
Solid but unsexy. Doesn’t seem to have much upside over his career averages (four seasons) of around 17 homers, 75 runs, 70 runs batted in, 12 steals, and a .279 average, though those numbers are nothing to whiff at. If he steals only seven bags, like he did in 2011, though, he’s only worth $11 bucks as the 11th ranked shortstop. Ramirez is a good consolation prize for the risk-averse who whiff on Andrus in the earlier rounds.
Honorable mention: Dee Gordon
I’d take him over Erick Aybar, my two candidates for No. 11. Aybar might steal 30 bases again, but probably won’t hit double digits in the home runs category, as his previous three-year HR/FB average doubled to 7.0 percent. Gordon could double his steal total easily, will trump Aybar in runs, and will likely hit closer to, or over, .300, while Aybar has achieved that only once in three full seasons.
T is for tip of the iceberg
Are these September “small-sample-size” breakouts just at the tip of the iceberg, or was the final-month mashing just a mirage?
Perez, a Royals catching prospect without much minor league success, impressed with a .331/.361/.473 triple slash and three home runs in his 158 plate appearances. Pro-rate his three bombs, 21 runs batted in, and 20 runs scored, and you have solid totals: 11 homers, 80 RBIs and 76 runs, with the brunt of the value coming from his batting average. Don’t be fooled, though.
Perez has hit 10 homers in a season only once in the minors (2011), and hit .290 in High-A ball and .283 in Double-A ball. His minor league triple slash of .285/.328/.397 leaves a lot to be desired, and he doesn’t take a walk (drew zero walks in 49 Triple-A plate appearances, and never more than 5.2 percent above High-A ball).
Verdict: Mirage... He’s not worth a pick in anything other than a two-catcher AL-Only league, where he is a worthy second catcher for a batting average gamble.
Moustakas, the top preseason prospect in the Royals’ top-ranked system according to Keith Law, didn’t turn a ton of heads with his minor league numbers. He hit only .293 in his first go-round at Triple-A (the 3.4 percent walk rate disappointed as well), and hit only .287 in his next 250 Triple-A plate appearances at the beginning of 2011. It was more of the same with the big boys, and in 365 plate appearances, he hit .263 with a measly .676 OPS and a .300 wOBA. He hit only five homers the whole year, but Moustakas hit stride in August and carried his first major league success into the final month of the year, in which he hit .352 with four homers, and 11 of his 24 extra base hits.
To get a taste of how hyped he was coming into 2011, observe Moustakas’ projections from Bill James and ZiPS. Both were bullish on his fantasy prospects for the 2011 season, and James’ projections in particular projected him as a polished major league hitter in his first 240 PAs (128 wRC+ and a .361 wOBA).
Verdict: Tip of theiIceberg… Moustakas’ power upside coupled with his torrid finish in 2011 make him a perfect sleeper target in drafts next spring. He’s hit as many as 36 in one year in the minors (he split 2010 between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting 21 in the former and 15 in the latter), and considering his powerful September (four bombs in 88 ABs; extrapolates to 27), a breakout isn’t farfetched in the slightest.
Sands is a powerful man who knows how to take a walk, a combination that’ll likely ensure a mildly successful major league career, at worst. Never heralded as a top prospect, Sands hit 35 moonshots in 2010 and compiled walk rates of 13.9 percent in Single-A and 10.9 percent in Double-A, enough to send him to Triple-A Albuquerque for 2011 and put him on the radar for a mid-year call up.
He didn’t take long, hitting five homers in the first two weeks of the season while batting .400, and GM Ned Colleti, not exactly thrilled with Tony Gwynn Jr. manning left, sent him up on April 18. He was back down by early June, and despite some struggles in Triple-A, returned back up for a September to remember.
Who knows if the return to the glamor of the big leagues in comparison to the mundane Triple-A life—with motels and team buses rather than the luxury hotels and team planes—motivated Sands, or if there were tangible changes made in the second Triple-A go-round, but Sands impressed to the tune of a .342 average, two homers, and eight walks in his return to glory.
This may be all smoke and mirrors, though. Sands struck out 18 times in his 73 September at-bats, and hit only four homers in his 227 sporadic plate appearances in 2011. He was also aided in the batting average department by a .319 BABIP, which is high with a 16.4 percent line drive rate, and is considerably higher than his .286 and .282 showings at Double-A and Triple-A.
Verdict: Mirage… While Sands may prove to be a solid major league left fielder, and a core member of the Dodgers for a number of years to come, he has a number of factors working against him. These include, but aren’t limited to, his home stadium, his major league power outage, the luck dragon (which may correct him in 2012), and his relatively high strikeout rate. Until he shows that he can hit with more authority at the major league level (particularly hit more line drives and home runs), I’d view Sands as NL-only worthy, nothing more.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 10:53am (2) Comments
Monday, November 14, 2011
Grant Green| OF| Phoenix Desert Dogs (Oakland A's)
AFL Stats: .308/.366/.571, 91 AB
Last 10 Games: .350/.422/.750, 40 AB
Coming into the season, Baseball America ranked Green the top prospect in the Oakland A's organization. He picked up some hardware this year, bagging the Futures Game MVP award, but much has changed since that point.
With such accolades, it may have been a bit surprising to some not to see him on the THT Top-100 Fantasy Prospect List. The reason he missed the cut was a position change.
Green was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft as a bat-first shortstop out of USC who likely would have to change positions. Prior to the Futures Game, he had been developed as a shortstop, but most industry scouting experts stood by their stances that he'd be moved off the position.
Conventional wisdom suggested a typical move to second base would be in his cards, but the presence of Jemile Weeks presented a road block. Instead of a move to second base, the A's opted to shift Green to center field.
A move to the outfield absolutely crippled his fantasy value. After slugging 20 home runs in the hitter-friendly High-A California League in 2010, his power disappeared moving up to the Double-A Texas League in 2011, where he hit just nine home runs. Looking at some Minor League Park Factors, it shouldn't be a complete surprise that his home run total suffered from a move up in level and change of league and home ballpark.
Green offers next to nothing in the stolen base department, and his walk-to-strikeout (BB:K) ratio of 39:119 doesn't portend well as he continues to move up the ladder.
He has played quite well in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), ripping 14 extra base hits, including four home runs. His BB:K ratio is 8:24, which is essentially the same as his 2011 minor league ratio. The problem is, that ratio doesn't illustrate that his strikeout rate jumped from 20.3 percent to 26.4 percent in the AFL. Yes, 91 at-bats is a small sample, but it doesn't provide any encouragement that he's making any strides this offseason.
Statistically, he looks like much the same player with more pop. That could be a product of a hot streak, playing environment, or any number of factors. I'm not sure what the reasoning for his power boost is, but what I do know is that it may have opened up a trade window in dynasty and deep keeper leagues. If I owned Green in either of those league formats, I'd be contacting any and every owner imaginable trying to move him.
Ryan Gennett| 2B| Peoria Javelinas (Milwaukee Brewers)
AFL Stats: .406/.474/.536, 69 AB
Last 10 Games: .421/.488/.447, 38 AB
Ryan Gennett is better known as Scooter, and he has scorched the baseball in the AFL. A reader asked about Gennett last week, and as a second baseman with a reputation for hitting the ball, he's a great player to profile here. He doesn't offer much home run power or speed, but his hit tool is what scouting reports laud.
Gennett played in High-A all year, and the AFL is his first exposure against some upper-minor pitchers. He's a personal favorite of Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein and is a dark horse to sneak onto the THT Top-100 Fantasy Prospect List when it is updated.
He has been mostly a slap singles hitter in the AFL (just five extra-base hits), but his average speed has helped him steal two bases, and he makes a ton of contact. As long as he continues to hit for a high average as he moves closer to the major leagues, he won't need to offer more than near-average home run power and stolen base output to be fantasy relevant at second base, or at worst, middle infield.
Xavier Avery| OF| Mesa Solar Sox (Baltimore Orioles)
AFL Stats: .329/.424/.494, 85 AB
Last 10 Games: .514/.595/.714, 35 AB
I'll forgive you if you need to take a second to pick your jaw up off the floor after reading his last 10-game slash. Avery had a rough year in Double-A, hitting .259/.324/.343 with a 24.9 percent strikeout rate and just four home runs. Neither the strikeout rate n or the home run rate alone are a concern, but are disappointing when taken together. Of the two, it's more likely that he'll reduce his strikeouts as his game is predicated on athleticism and speed.
The Orioles drafted him as an athlete, and he's still more athlete than baseball player with his defense and stolen base skills being his best attributes. His success rate in base stealing needs to improve. In the AFL he has been perfect, stealing nine bases with zero caught stealing. He's just 21 years old, and will be 22 for the upcoming season, so repeating Double-A to work on his hitting is completely acceptable.
Toolsy players have a ton of boom-or-bust volatility, and Avery is no exception. If he makes strides with his contact rate, his stolen base upside is top-flight and plays well in fantasy games. He has a 14:16 BB:K in the AFL and an 18.8 percent strikeout rate, which is promising for next year if he can sustain it to any degree. His 14 walks translate into a 14.1 percent walk rate, a gigantic jump from his 7.8 percent mark in Double-A this year, and would help his OBP and stolen base opportunities with it greatly.
Tuck Avery's name away as a player to monitor this coming season.
Wilin Rosario| C| Aguilas Cibaenas (Colorado Rockies)
Leiga de Beisbol Dominicano Stats: .265/.306/.574, 68 AB
Last 10 Games: .256/.310/.487, 39 AB
Rosario is playing winter ball in his home country's Dominican Republic league. As a catching prospect with the ability to hit for power who saw action in 16 games for the Rockies this season, he should be, and likely is, on fantasy gamer's radars. He has a cannon for an arm, and while he's refining his technique as a catcher, Rosario will stay at the position and offers the potential to be a plus defender.
From a fantasy perspective, the only importance in his defense is that he will stick at the catcher position for the long haul. Rosario tore his ACL in 2010 and did a tremendous job in a recovery year.
His strikeout rate of 21.4 percent in Double-A is completely acceptable from a power hitter, but his 4.5 percent walk rate is Miguel Olivo-esque. Rosario is striking out in a quarter of his winter league at-bats, and his walk rate remains low, but his power output is awesome. He has nine extra-base hits, including five home runs, and is performing at a level that is an extension of his minor league season. He is 22 years old, and will play all of next season at the age of 23.
Catcher development can be a bit of a roller coaster ride and varies wildly compared to most other positions. Rosario should make his way back to Colorado next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A, but anything could happen. Exercising patience is the right move. While the catching position is better in fantasy games than it has historically been, offensively talented catchers remain a rarity.
Chris Carpenter| RP| Mesa Solar Sox (Chicago Cubs)
AFL Stats: 10 relief appearances, 12.2 IP, 2 BB, 17 K, 2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
He'll never be the best Chris Carpenter to pitch in the majors (that would be this guy), but he has a chance to carve out his own niche as a late-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs. His season was disappointing, even with reaching the majors, but he has a number of positives that make him interesting.
For starters, this was the first season in which the Cubs used him exclusively as a reliever in the minors, where Carpenter's inconsistent control isn't as big a hindrance (see: Marmol, Carlos). He throws exceptionally hard, capable of touching triple digits out of the bullpen, and has a groundball slant in his batted-ball profile. He also throws a slurvy slider and a change-up.
Things have clicked in the AFL, and Carpenter's strikeout rate has soared to 12.1 K/9. In addition to the bump in strikeouts, his walk rate is a pristine 1.42 BB/9, a far cry from his 5.85 BB/9 across three levels (Double-A, Triple-A, majors). He's an older prospect, 26 and turning 27 in December, but that's not a big deal as a reliever.
A solid performance in spring training should lead to him breaking camp with the Cubs. If everything breaks right, he could be a right-handed late-inning, non-closing compliment to their southpaw option Sean Marshall. The highwire act Marmol puts on year-to-year with his filthy slider that results in mammoth strikeout totals, but also huge walk totals, could open up the door to a closer gig at some point.
This season, Marshall filled in on occasion when Marmol was at his wildest. It would probably be in the Cubs' best interest to avoid tying their hands and sticking their left-handed bullpen weapon in the ninth-inning role in the event Marmol coughs up his closer role. Projecting Carpenter to close for the Cubs would be foolish, but it would be equally foolish to ignore the fact that it could happen. Monitor his play in spring training, and bump him up NL-only cheat sheets.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:05am (0) Comments
Yu had me at konnichiwa. Yu had me when I saw him hit triple digits back in the 2008 World Baseball Classic at the tender age of 22. Yu had me when I realized that his 6-foot-4 frame and repeatable delivery was much more akin to the Western style of pitching than the unorthodox Japanese release points and windups.
Yu had me when I watched him dominate Japanese hitters with a deadly shuto (backwards slider) and other above-average off-speed stuff. Most of all, Yu had me when I heard that he didn’t need to come to America to prove his worth.
But when will the majors have Yu Darvish? Speculation has begun that 2012 finally will be the year we get to see this great talent make the jump across the Pacific. We, as fantasy baseball enthusiasts, are a buzz with when and where this talent will land. I liken his talent level to Stephen Strasburg. That me be blasphemy to some, but I’m all in on Darvish.
I know there is warranted hesitancy when assessing Japanese pitchers now that we’ve seen several expensive mistakes over the past few years. Darvish is different. He’s young enough (25) and doesn’t put himself through all the stressful pitching regimen that his countrymen submit their arms to. Now nothing has been set in stone, but if Darvish makes the jump to the show, we will see him claim a front-end-of-the-rotation role and a $100 million price tag.
For fantasy purposes, Darvish gives great talent at what should be a discounted price. He’ll most likely find a draft position in the Daniel Hudson realm when the season draws closer. My head-over-heels feelings about him will not make me overreach like I might for Strasburg, but I will have my draft trigger firmly pressed if Darvish has the value I anticipate he will in 2012.
Clayton Kershaw SP LAD - I like Kershaw for a multitude of reasons. He’s a top-five guy in every sabermetric category. He was a 21-game winner in 2012, but I have a feeling most still will rank him outside their top three starting pitchers. For me, he’s the No. 1 pitcher to own. I like Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander, but if I decide that my fake team needs the best pitcher in the game, I will bypass those two for Kershaw.
He strikes out batters (9.57 K/9). He keeps the ball in the park (6.7 HR/FB). He’s a left-handed 24 year old. What would you not like when projecting him for 2012? He’s healthy and doesn’t have the mileage on his arm that some of the other top starting pitchers do. He’s great defensively (Gold Glove winner). I’m done talking about him. That should be enough to convince all of you that he’s worthy.
Now it’s time for some bounce-back studs.
Tommy Hanson SP ATL - Once thought of as the next great Atlanta Braves pitcher, Hanson has seen those expectations wane amidst injuries. My belief is the talent that had us all infatuated remains in the arm of Hanson. He has had to deal with several issues, but these injuries don’t necessarily lend to inconsistencies, or rather, consistently bad play. Of his 22 starts in 2011, he gave up more than three earned runs in only four starts. That’s awesome.
To give you an example, Verlander had seven starts out of 34 in which he gave up more than three earned runs. So Hanson had fewer bad games using this math than Verlander. (Of course, Verlander pitched more innings in his starts on average than Hanson.) The point is that Hanson is still a front-end-of-the-rotation guy you shouldn’t eliminate from your cheat sheet.
Zack Greinke SP MIL - I know we’ve all heard the phrase “outkicked coverage.” Well, Greinke “underkicked” his coverage. In what one could call the best pitched season with the worst results, Greinke showed why most thought he would find success in Milwaukee. He led baseball in K/9 with a 10.54 mark. His xFIP was also tops with a staggering 2.56. Greinke’s ERA of 3.83 will scare off the ignorant drafters, but his advanced statistics point to a stellar 2011 season.
One thing he will need to control to help offset that ERA and xFIP discrepancy is the flyball in order to keep the ball in the park. Similar to the next guy on this list, Greinke should have tons and tons of value at the draft table. I am assuming, of course, that your leaguemates don’t read my columns. I think Greinke will be very good in 2012, and I’ll have him ranked in my top seven or so, no lower than 10.
Josh Johnson SP MIA - What better way to give a guy confidence than to surround him with tons of offensive talent. If the offseason has shown us anything so far, it is that the Miami Marlins are going to spend what it takes to do just that. It will be scary to see what a healthy Johnson and a formidable lineup might be capable of.
I don’t think anyone can debate the talent level of Johnson when he pitches. He wasn’t quite as flawless in his shortened 2011 season as he was in 2010, but he was not nearly human enough to question his deity. Seriously, Johnson is as talented a starting pitcher as there is in baseball unless you consider health a skill.
Normally, I will not factor injuries into my evaluation of a player, but there are some guys like Grady Sizemore who force you to pay attention. Johnson is that kind of player. For every bit of skill that he has, he has an equal amount of risk. I won’t reach for Johnson in 2012, but if given the choice between him and a safer play with less talent, I will take Jonson all day, every day.
Tim Lincecum SP SFO - What happened to Lincecum in 2011? Maybe even worse, why could the Giants not give him support? It’s pretty incredible when a starting pitcher has a 2.74 ERA and a losing record in the same season. Granted, this was Lincecum’s worst season since his sophomore year. He posted his lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate in that span.
That’s where my criticism will end. Lincecum is a competitor in every sense of the word. He is the definition of ace and doesn’t miss time to injury.
The walks don’t scare me, and the innings don’t either. I will have Lincecum back in my top five pitchers to begin the year, and I think that most drafters will let him slide. I think he had trouble locating his curveball and, therefore, was forced to lean more heavily on his slider. I expect him to take the offseason to bring that curveball back up to snuff, which should help his fastball by keeping the batters honest.
I’ve always loved Lincecum, and he may be the most likely of all these guys to find his way on all my teams in 2012.
Jon Lester SP BOS - Lester had a slight velocity drop (about 0.5 mph) on his fastball, which may or may not be to blame for his regression in strikeouts. In fact, Lester’s 2011 season was much more similar to his 2008 season than the dominant two-year stretch 2009-2010. He gave up a tad more home runs, but he had his best line drive rate of his career (15.9 percent). That at least tells me they weren’t hitting the ball hard against him.
It’s going to be a tough sell if you think Lester will be drafted as a top-10 pitcher like he was last year, but if you believe as I do that he’ll find a much more favorable value in 2012, then he should garner attention moving forward. I love his mentality and style of play. His cutter wasn’t as effective as it has been in the past, but Lester still has the makings of a top pitcher on your fantasy staff.
David Price SP TB - Price is from my home town, so I must say I’m slightly partial, but what some may see as a regression year for Price, I saw as growth. He had a better WAR, xFIP and K/9 and a lower BB/9, and he maintained his stellar .227 batting average against in the tough AL East. At just 26, Price should really start coming into his own. I think the progression of James Shields should only further Price’s growth in 2012.
I don’t think he’s necessarily a head case, but it seems that in high-stress situations, Price can struggle. Now, I know he had success in that role during the 2009 playoff run, but when he played for Vanderbilt and even last year down the stretch, he seemed to pitch better when the game wasn’t as crucial. That’s just my casual observation and doesn’t have much of anything to do with his 2012 fantasy value.
I really struggle to find holes in Price's game. My rose-colored glasses will always want him on my fantasy teams, and his continued growth will keep him there.
If you can walk out of a draft with Lincecum or Kershaw, Johnson, Lester, Hanson or Price, and Strasburg or Darvish, I promise you will have the best staff in your league. Now, to be a dominant all-around team, there must also be some balance, and I would never advise wasting all your money on front-line starters. It’s not ridiculous to think that you could grab three to four of these guys without compromising the integrity of your hitting.
Please let me know if you input any of these guys into your own draft strategy. It will be interesting to see if my draft process hunches will play out. Stay tuned for the "Ben’s 2012 Wish List: infielders" edition.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 6:07am (1) Comments
Thursday, November 17, 2011
U is for Underrated in fantasy
Sabermetrics are fine and dandy to use in fantasy, and when used correctly, are highly recommended. But it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that fantasy baseball, in most leagues, is still based on counting stats that are dismissed by many as flawed and dying. RBIs, wins, ERA are just a few of the conventional stats that are more widely questioned in both the fantasy and baseball communities, but it’s important to bite the bullet and draft the un-sexy at times.
Ryan Howard was a 1.6 WAR player last year, a number that makes most cringe. He was essentially a below average major league ballplayer, and made a whopping $20 million. The fact that he made back only 40 percent of the price tag is another notch on the belt of RBI haters, who will no doubt (and probably rightfully) connect Howard’s out-of-this-world contract and his RBI totals the years before. People rarely see him as an elite talent these days. It’s easy to forget, at least for me, that he still consistently drives in 100 plus runs.
I’m not implying that you should draft Ryan Howard in most leagues next year (it’s tough to say how long he’ll be out, but he’s clearly not a reliable fantasy option in 2012), but rather extending Howard as an example of someone dismissed generally in the sabermetric community, and widely viewed as overrated in the baseball realm.
It’s important to remember when you digest more sabermetric writing and analysis in the fantasy world that the good ol' stats still count here, though, and that Ryan Howard, however flawed he is, serves his purpose on a fantasy roster. Don’t let the overriding opinion of a player turn you off to him—there may be valid reasons why he is grilled so universally, but if he helps your team, that should be all that matters.
V is for Victory
I won my most competitive league last year on the back of a Matt Kemp, whom I drafted for a hefty $38 and rode to victory. I tempted myself in the last month of the season, while keepers were on my mind (though I admit our keepers don't lock until April), to view Kemp as a keeper. I have cheap speed and batting average, I convinced myself. He was worth around 50 bucks this year and even with some expected regression, he could be worth his price tag in 2012. I've decided, firmly, that I was dazed by my victory, overconfident in the man that brought me to it, and was living in the past, not the future.
I won that league, after all, because I targeted a player ravaged by luck regression in the previous season. People clearly still believed in his natural ability and counting statistics that were continually there—and Kemp's ability and inflation meant I didn't get such a bargain. I gambled on the regression to the mean (or more), and after a solid group of keepers, took a risk.
This is how you outsmart your intelligent league-mates: take calculated risks, of course. If you believe, don't step in with one foot. Target a player, and bid what it takes to get him. This is not for the risk-averse, who would feel more comfortable building around an Albert Pujols, whose $50 price tag is the most likely to be reproduced. But if you're feeling lucky, go for the boom. Just don't get drunk off victory, and fall in love with your Matt Kemp. I'm letting someone dole out the most money to him next year (only three players in my league were worth more than $50 last year, so the odds of a repeat performance are slim), while I grab Evan Longoria (hypothetically... I do play in mostly NL only leagues) and break the ribbon at the finish line.
W is for Which day to play: splits and platoons
In daily lineup leagues, it can be particularly useful to platoon players based on match-ups and home/away splits, with the obvious logic that the best of one player and the best of another can be added together to make a super-player of sorts. Here are some splits that may be useful on draft day:
Jeff Francoeur is a noted lefty-masher, and has lived up to the reputation over the last three years, hitting .317 with a solid 17 homers and 70 RBIs in only 422 at bats. Francoeur puts up good enough counting stats to already be drafted in most leagues, but he’s worth a late round pick to pad your batting average stats with 100-150 at-bats.
Alberto Callaspo has hit .309 against lefties since 2009, totaling 443 at bats in that time span. He’s hit only five homers and still has 45 RBIs to show against southpaws, making him sneaky valuable.
Nyjer Morgan is probably drafted in most leagues next year for his natural speed ability, his celebrity, and his flukish batting average, but the fact that Morgan has been particularly impressive against right-handed pitchers since 2009 makes him worth grabbing should he stay on the board until the tail end. He’s put together a .311/6/81 line in 1,075 at-bats in that span.
Chase Headley is a better player away from PETCO Park. Who would’ve thought it? He’s a .306 hitter since 2009 away from the land of warning track power, and has mashed 16 homers in 813 at-bats, while putting together a .229/11/71 stat line at home. After hitting only four homers all of last year, he’s probably slipped into obscurity to the point where he can be drafted as a backup third baseman and provide you with top 10 talent in his 82 away games.