June 18, 2013
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Thursday, December 01, 2011
X is for X-factors
Retrace a previous year’s draft, and your “hindsight is 20-20” goggles will light up. Can’t believe I passed on this guy here. Can’t believe I drafted this guy in the first round. Look who was taken right before my third-round bust… Swearing might be a side effect, but it’s a valuable exercise, affirming the obvious: A draft isn’t won or lost in one round, with one superstar, or with one sleeper. It’s a grab bag, and a highly varying grab bag if you run snake drafts (which I highly discourage: Think of a grab bag with keys to a Porsche and keys to a Toyota Camry, a crapshoot).
If you are subjected to snake drafts, the first round is not only the universally accepted starting place, but also where a team can, predictably, fall apart. Draft risky, and you’re riding a roller coaster without a seat belt. In auctions, much of the same philosophy is true, though without the constraints of drafting in a set position, you can target your main man and spend what you need on him. That’s old news. What you may forget is that you should always settle on the safe, sometimes unsexy pick when anchoring your team with a big name or big money star.
The chart above compares the Average Draft Positions of the 12 first-round picks on an ESPN.com auction draft with their corresponding dollar values, assigned by lastplayerpicked.com to a standard league team with a 70/30 split in terms of money allotted to hitting/pitching.
A lot of the red bars challenge, in height, the blue bars on the graph above, which is of course what you’re striving for. It doesn’t take a keen eye to see that Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria (to a lesser extent) busted.
It’s easy to cry, “How were we to know?” Indeed, it’s impossible to dip into the future and see Hanley’s nagging injuries, Crawford’s new contract jitters, and Longoria’s poor ball-in-play luck.
Despite the red flags in Ramirez’s case and my own bias against position scarcity in the first few rounds (why I wouldn’t have been the one to grab Longoria in my first round), I would like to examine Carl Crawford. Because he was a steady producer in Tampa Bay, many figured the move to Fenway would be a smooth transition; he played in the same division, after all, played half of his games in a hitter’s haven, and shared the pressures of a new contract with fellow big money signee, Adrian Gonzalez. It was shaping up to be Crawford’s best year, and a minor reach in a draft could be easily justified.
The problem is the inherent one of all moving players; there is a certain level of adjustment, a certain comfort that is lost, and a certain pressure to succeed. It’s simply common sense to draft a player in a familiar situation, preparing for the year in the same manner he did in the previous offseason, surrounded by the same counterparts and teammates, with talent that is proven.
Many of the top performers on the chart above fit the bill, and the only glaring exception to the rule was Longoria. The simple explanation is that luck prevailed, and that his failing was an anomaly. Safe, smart owners will target a proven player with a familiar situation on draft day, and save their risks for later in the draft. There’s always a Curtis Granderson waiting in the mid-to-late rounds, but sometimes one Hanley Ramirez (circa 2011) will ruin your team with one click or one word: “Sold.”
Y is for Yonder Alonso, and some sleepers for 2012
Yonder Alsonso: Alonso is reportedly being shopped this offseason by Walt Jocketty and Co., as he is blocked at his natural first base position by Joey Votto. Alonso is a bad left fielder by all metrics, including UZR, and as such, might be shipped for pitching in the offseason or at some point next year. The possibility of a trade is precisely why a late-round pick in Alonso would be a wise adjustment. The knock in his game from scouts has never been his hitting—his major league numbers in 98 plate appearances (five homers with a .943 OPS and a .409 wOBA (none sustainable, but impressive nonetheless)) backed up his solid Triple-A numbers (an .870 OPS and .296 average with double-digit homers in 409 plate appearances). Bill James projects bearish totals of 11 home runs, 37 runs, 44 RBIs, and a .277 batting average, but the small numbers stem from the fact that Alonso is projected for only 371 plate appearances in Cincinnati. Should he be shipped to the White Sox or another team, it would be fair in my eyes to double those projections.
Tyler Pastornicky: The Braves did not offer Alex Gonzalez arbitration after a .281 wOBA, which leaves a glaring hole at the shortstop position. Enter Tyler Pastornicky? Acquired from the Blue Jays as part of the Yunel Escobar deal, Pastornicky possesses excellent speed and solid contact skills, and despite only having 117 Triple-A plate appearances (in which he hit .365 with seven steals), he may be thrust into the role as early as Opening Day. He’d be a wise pick as a backup middle infielder in NL-only leagues in particular, and could pay off to the tune of a .280 average with 20+ steals.
Adam Wainwright: Is it possible that Adam Wainwright, the stud pitcher who built up a beastly 2.42 ERA/1.05 WHIP/20 win/213 K season in 2010 could be considered a sleeper? Sure, Tommy John surgery can do that to you, and certainly, he may find himself struggling to find his command at first and will likely be under an innings limit. Wainwright deemed himself ready for the 2011 World Series (likely out of desperation to try to make the roster), which is a testament to how healthy he views himself, and is backed by a solid enough record to warrant a mid-to-late round flier for his immense upside. He may be comparable in 2012 to Jordan Zimmerman in 2011; ace-like innings up to September, for a small price (the deflated value from Zimmerman stemmed from injury concerns too), but such risks in the late rounds can win leagues.
Z is for Zack Greinke’s NL journey and the power of observation
Zack Greinke’s transition to the NL was a shaky one, no doubt. He suffered an injury in a pickup basketball game that caused him to miss nearly a month of the season, and when he returned, his numbers were awful (a 5.29 May ERA, followed by a 6.04 showing in June). When all was said and done, Greinke had turned his year around, putting up a 3.02 ERA or better in each of the last three months of the season, and his 2.56 xFIP speaks wonders about his true talent last year, as does his superb 10.54 K/9, a career high.
Greinke, because of his less than impressive 3.83 ERA and stellar but not gleaming 1.20 WHIP, may still be underrated next year, but more can be learned about the simple power of observation in his case. Greinke was 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and 102 strikeouts in 97.1 innings after the All-Star break, but from first look at his numbers last year, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
Certain people may have followed Zack Greinke over the 2011 season and understood that he struggled a bit with luck and was downright filthy for a good stretch of the season. A fair number, though, will look at his 2011 stats while his name is tossed out in the draft room, and will write him off for his unimpressive numbers. The totals don’t exactly jump off the page, but the simple lesson is that writing down your simple evaluations and observations of players will do wonders in the heat of the moment.
If you follow fantasy with a pair of keen eyes, and keep one of those eyes on your team and the other on the rest of the action around the league, you’ll pick up, no doubt, on countless trends and splits that will serve as valuable information on draft day. Zack Greinke isn’t an ace, he nearly had a 4.00 ERA last year! Plus, he sucked in the playoffs! True, you’ll say with a smirk, and pencil him into your lineup confidently, knowing you know more—a wonderful feeling indeed.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 6:54am (0) Comments
Friday, December 02, 2011
International free agent signings have run the gamut from bust to superstar. The hot stove is cooking, and a handful of players, mainly from Japan and Cuba, have found their names in the rumor mill. Gauging their fantasy value is a difficult task, but this article aims to do so using the information available on the wonderful World Wide Web.
Wei-Yin Chen| SP| Left-handed| Born July 21, 1985
Chen is a starting pitcher who pounds the strike-zone. Unfortunately, his approach doesn't yield many strikeouts (7.3 K/9 in 2010, 5.1 K/9 in 2011). He isn't a soft tossing lefty—he actually sits in the low 90s (occasionally dipping into the high-80s) with the ability to reach back and touch 95-96 mph when he needs a little something extra. When he's not pouring in fastballs, he often turns to his slider, making him primarily a two-pitch pitcher. According to PITCHf/x data at NPB Tracker he also throws a forkball (which is more commonly referred to as a splitter here), shuuto and curveball. Chen's batted ball data slant toward a flyball approach. The total package doesn't profile well to fantasy games.
Hisashi Iwakuma| SP| Right-handed| Born April 12, 1981
Last year the A's agreed to a $19.1 million posting fee, but had it returned after they were unable to iron out a deal. Iwakuma's stock has dropped due to a shoulder injury that limited him to 119 innings this past season. Durability is a question that dogs Iwakuma, and rightfully so. He had surgery on his elbow in October 2007, and shoulder tenderness prior to the injury sidelined him this year. He is a finesse pitcher who throws his four-seam fastball in the upper 80s to low 90s. He also throws a splitter, slider, shuuto, and curveball. His splitter is his bread and butter pitch, generating plenty of empty swings and ground balls. If he hopes to succeed in the majors, he'll need that pitch to continue to be a plus offering. Changing baseballs from the smaller one used in the NPB to the larger ball used here prevents that transition from being a sure thing. His strikeout rate is less than desirable for fantasy purposes (6.86 K/9 in his career, 6.81 K/9 in 2011), but not embarrassingly low. He could be an only league or deep mixed league option depending on where he lands.
Tsuyoshi Wada| SP| Left-handed| Born Feb. 21, 1981
Wada is a three-pitch pitcher. He throws a mid-to-high-80s fastball that can scrape the low 90s, a slider and a change-up. He has used a deceptive delivery and his repertoire effectively to strike out batters at an 8.28 K/9 rate for his career, and 8.19 K/9 in 2011. Wada will need major league hitters to struggle with the deception in his delivery like their NPB counterparts, or he'll have a hard time piling up strikeouts in the U.S. His excellent strikeout totals are paired with pristine control— 1.95 BB/9 in 2011—and he has a lengthy record of success. Taking everything into account, he makes for an interesting gamble in deep mixed leagues or only leagues.
Hiroyuki Nakajima| SS| Born July 31, 1982
Listed as a shortstop, Nakajima is better suited for second base according to most scouting reports I've read. He offers above-average pop from the middle infield, and has hit 20 or more home runs in three of the last four years. Power, at least in the form of home runs, has rarely translated from Japan to the U.S. Projecting him to crack the low teens in home runs isn't out of the question. Nakajima is an efficient base stealer with a 77.5 percent career success rate, and that rate has come on a healthy volume with him averaging approximately 20 stolen bases a year over the last four. In addition to his power and speed, he offers batting average with a .302 career mark, and is adept at taking walks. Even projecting across the board regression with the step up in competition would leave a potentially productive fantasy baseball middle infielder.
Munenori Kawasaki| SS| June 3, 1981
A non-power threat, Kawasaki is a slap singles hitter. His fantasy value is tied to his legs and his ability to stick at shortstop. His defense grades out as above average, so sticking at shortstop is likely. His stolen base ceiling is much more questionable. Kawasaki's success rate in his career is 71.6 percent, but he has been more efficient the last two years at 74.4 percent. The volume has been there in stolen bases (105 in the last three years), but he'll need to be successful with regularity or he'll get the red light on the base paths. A utility role might suit him best in the majors, and as it stands, his value is pretty low in fantasy games anyway.
Yu Darvish| SP| Right-handed| Born August 16, 1986
Darvish has yet to be posted, but Jon Heyman says it's still more likely than not he will be. If he is posted and signs this offseason, he'll be a must-grab in keeper and dynasty leagues in which he's not already owned. He also has a chance to be useful in re-draft leagues. Darvish has dominated Japanese hitters in 167 games. His career ERA is a drool-inducing 1.99 and is fully supported by an 8.87 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9. The scary thing is, he has been even more dominant in recent years with 2011 being especially impressive. He pitched to a 1.44 ERA this year with a 10.71 K/9 and 1.40 BB/9.
Beyond the numbers, Darvish is impressive from a scouting point of view. He stands tall at 6-foot-5, and throws an impressive mix of pitches. According to Lincoln Hamilton of Project Prospect, that pitch mix includes a four-seam, two-seam, and cut fastball, three breaking balls, a change-up, and a shuuto. Rather than re-hashing what Hamilton has written, I'll suggest reading it here.
Darvish will command a hefty price tag when factoring in his posting fee. A number of teams will certainly be interested in his services upon posting, but it won't matter where he signs, he'll be a hot commodity in fantasy leagues as soon as the ink dries on contract. Expecting a seamless transition to the majors is too optimistic, but drafting him as a fourth or fifth starter with upside in standard leagues would be reasonable. It's possible he could fail to live up to even that draft cost if his organization chooses to let him get his feet wet in the minors, but the upside becomes too tantalizing to pass up at a certain point even in re-draft leagues.
Armando Rivera| RP| Right-handed| 23 years old
Rivero is a Cuban defector who is expected to gain free agency along with countrymen Yoennis Cespedes, and Jorge Soler soon. Little is available in the way of scouting reports, but Jesse Sanchez of mlb.com says he throws a fastball that reached 98 mph in a showcase, a slider, splitter, sinker and change-up. The effectiveness of his secondary offerings is unknown, and unless he's closing, it will take a lot for him to have value in fantasy games as a reliever.
Jorge Soler| OF| 19 years old
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 225 pounds, Soler isn't your average-build 19-year-old. Soler is described as a potential five-tool player, the dream of fantasy baseball gamers and real life general managers alike. He has plus speed and power potential, and plenty of time to develop those tools. The Cubs, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Rangers and Yankees have all reportedly expressed interest. He'll need minor league seasoning, but the wait could be worth it for dynasty league owners who invest.
Yoennis Cespedes| OF| 26 years old
Cespedes is more than a viral video star. Like Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin, who signed with the Rangers last offseason, Cespedes is near major league ready, but will probably require some time in the minors. He is strong as an ox and has plus speed to boot. The biggest question is if he'll hit for enough average to take advantage of either tool. In a perfect world, he is a slightly below average to average hitter with elite power (think 70 grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). A .250-.265 average is palatable when it comes with 30 home runs, above-average stolen base contributions, and strong walk skills that will help his on-base percentage. It's possible he could be an asset come the summer of 2012, but more likely his impact isn't truly felt until the following season.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 2:50am (5) Comments
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Often, I use this column simply to think through the implications of a certain strategy or decision. Simply trying to impart pieces of advice is of limited value to me and to you, but stimulating interest in one’s thought process is very valuable, even if you wind up in a different place than I do.
It is important to remember that every decision you make when building your team exists within so many unique contexts that much of what you’ve read in terms of “advice” becomes virtually irrelevant. That’s the paradox of fantasy sports advice.
On the one hand, I could simply publish one column every offseason: an exhaustive ranked list of players, which would essentially answer all questions about my opinions and encompass 95 percent of the material covered by the thousands of words I spill into the (near-)weekly columns I compose. This sounds like a panacea for both your appetite for information and my desire for more naps. Yet, such an exercise is the least helpful thing I could possibly do for our readers.
I was looking at early-season ADP rankings with the intent of putting together a pretty vanilla column about players who are beginning to appear overvalued and those who might be slipping under the radar.
It was in the context of this activity that I stumbled upon an early ADP of 149 for Adam Wainwright. I was all set to jot his name down for inclusion in the column. I planned to say that while there is certainly risk with the former bona fide ace, I would be comfortable taking that risk earlier than pick 149, given the potential reward.
But then I thought about that proclamation in the context of my standard mixed-league snake draft strategy and realized that decision is a lot more complicated in practice. So, I then decided it would be more valuable to write about the internal conversation this proposition and seeming contradiction spawned.
In a nutshell, my default strategy for drafting mixed-league starters is as follows. Ignore the absolute best of the best and try to nab one of the last remaining players from the top tier of pitchers (maybe top 10-12).
Sometimes I think there’s a player (or two) who is actually almost top tier but isn’t grouped there. If this player sticks around, say, two rounds after the last consensus ace is drafted, I’ll double down on a store-brand ace. If not, I’m unlikely to draft my second starter within the top 100 picks.
Depending on whether I got the second pitcher, I’ll start drafting my next pair of pitchers a bit earlier or later, but in general, I’ll look to get two or three solid guys with upside between picks 100 and 175. Remember, these are very general benchmarks. At least the first two of these pitchers should be reliable enough that I’m confident they’ll stick in my rotation all year. All should have some upside.
After I have the core four, it’s all about upside. I’ll draft a lot of starters late because there’s a greater chance for breakout among starting pitchers than hitters. Some of these guys may not last a month on my team, but that’s okay, because if I hit big on one and find another who sticks on my roster most of the year, I’m way ahead.
In a vacuum, my opinion on Wainwright at 149 is that, with Matt Garza going at 139, in Wainwright you have the better team and the handicap. In that vacuum, I ask why not Wainwright at 135, or 120? I wouldn’t exactly shy away from those odds, either.
Back outside the vacuum though, I’m realizing that it’s not uncommon for me to be selecting my second starter at pick 120, and that while I can afford some variance in expected performance from my second starter in exchange for upside, I’m not sure it’s prudent to extend the amount of variance I’m willing to accept in this proposition to include the full gamut of possibilities attached to a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery.
If I want to gamble on Wainwright and commit enough to doing so to ensure I snare him, I’m going to have to deviate a bit from my standard strategy to support this initiative. It is at this point when you test the mettle of your opinion.
If I’m only moderately excited about taking this gamble, then Wainwright is simply a potential opportunity, and he goes on the list of other players I view similarly. If I'm gung ho about Wainwright, then acquiring him becomes a strategic imperative. It is okay to make this kind of decision, but you must evaluate how committing to that decision will impact what you will have to do throughout the rest of your draft to ensure your needs are met and risk level isn’t disproportionate.
The allure of a player coming off injury is that the fear of re-injury or persistent damage skews his price so low that the chance and benefit of a successful comeback is woefully under-priced. But, it is important to remember—and is often ignored—that the heights of potential profit don’t do anything to decrease the chance of a disastrous outcome.
That is, just because Wainwright has a better chance to be great than lesser pitchers returning from injury, that does mean that he has any lesser chance of being a total flop because he wasn’t ready to return, or because he re-injures himself. So, you still have to insure yourself against the floor, no matter how high the ceiling.
How would I do that?
There are many possibilities to alter your draft strategy, but let’s concentrate on one idea for this exercise. One thing I might do is force myself to take a second pitcher in the top 100, basically to shoehorn the strategy I use sometimes into action even if it is not perfectly opportune. Then I would probably take another pitcher within the two rounds following my pick of Wainwright around the 125 slot.
Each draft pick has an associated opportunity cost, so I also have to start thinking about what I’ve sacrificed to take that other starter in the second half of the top hundred.
Knowing my own strategy, one asset I might be sacrificing with such a pick could be the one rock-solid, upper-crust closer, around which I usually try to build my saves crew. So, perhaps this means when chasing saves, I have to go from a plan of one elite closer, one mid-tier closer, and then guys with short resumes—but jobs and strikeout prowess—to two mid-tier closers and slightly adjusted back-end bullpen strategy, as well.
Of course, I could go on to hypothesize further and more subtle ways implementing one strategic imperative could impact my draft, but I think the point is clear.
You needn’t fully diagram the impact a decision that carries a unique risk profile or nontraditional roster construction dynamic (like filling your utility spot within the first few rounds) makes on every round, especially because your draft will not play out exactly as you hypothesize anyway. But, it is important to think through the ripple effects of your potential strategic decisions, especially when they deviate from the norm.
If I could be sure readers take away one nugget from this article, it is this: It’s a bad idea to simply swap out the selection of one player with a clearly defined and necessary role for another player who is assigned that same role, but who has an entirely different risk profile, while maintaining your pre-existing strategy for every other round.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:43am (4) Comments
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Posted by Nick Fleder at 2:30pm (0) Comments
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Last time, we looked at the first round of what we think is the first draft of the 2012 drafting season. Since then, we may or may not have seen a big shakeup atop the board with Ryan Braun, but we’ll know more for sure in the coming days. Today, let’s explore round two.
2.01: Dustin Pedroia—An extremely nice pick here for the risk- averse drafter. Pedroia plays a scarce position and is a virtual lock for .300/100/20/80/20. Since he's just 28, we may not have seen his best work yet. This is exactly the type of player I like to lock up in the early rounds.
2.02: Roy Halladay—A strong argument can be made that he’s still the best pitcher in baseball and should be the first one off the board. It doesn’t fit my style to take pitchers in the first two rounds, but you can surely bank on his production.
2.03: Hanley Ramirez—Consensus top five pick the past few seasons has fallen mightily after a troublesome 2011. With his extreme upside still intact as a shortstop, I fully expect Ramirez to move into the back end of round one as drafts progress.
2.04: Carlos Gonzalez—This was my second-round pick in the draft. He played in only 127 games last year, and still put up some pretty gaudy numbers, proving that his 2010 was no fluke. If he can stay healthy for a full season, he has top five upside. Generally, I would look to avoid the outfield here and take a more scarce position, but Cargo was too good a value to leave on the board.
2.05: Andrew McCutchen—This is one player whose value I’m having a hard time gauging this year. While his power improved this past season, he also saw a huge dip in his batting average and a large increase in strikeouts and ran less. He’s going to be only 25 in 2012, and has the potential to reach 30/30, but I don’t believe it will be this year. If you’re the gambling type you could look at McCutch, but I’d prefer a more proven commodity in round two.
2.06:David Wright—Before 2010, Wright was considered an annual first-round pick, a delightful combination of power and speed in the shallow third base pool. He has struggled the last two seasons, though, and has become an early-mid second-round pick. Perhaps he was putting too much pressure on himself to carry the team or the dimensions at Citi Field truly did destroy his power. With the re-configured stadium, count me as a believe that Wright will rebound and return to his normal levels of production in 2012. Very nice pick here.
2.07: Justin Verlander—While I’m a huge fan of his, (being a Tigers fan and his leading my main event team to a league title last season), he would need to come awfully close to last season to return second round value. If he wins only 19 games, and produces ratios in line with his career norms (3.54/1.19), you’re falling behind in round 2, even with his 200+ strikeouts.
2.08: Jose Reyes—I don’t expect huge things from Reyes in Miami this season. He has struggled to stay on the field the last three seasons, and now that he has found his big payday, will he still be motivated to play through those nagging injuries? It always worries me to invest in speedsters who have battled hamstring injuries. Sure, he still has plenty of upside, but he’s a gamble that I’ll gladly let someone else take.
2.09: Mark Teixeira—While the average has been down the past couple of years, he still provides plenty of power and counting stats. If you miss out on the top tier of first basemen, there is nothing wrong with locking up Teixeira in round two. After the top seven or eight first basemen, the position gets very thin very quickly.
2.10: Ian Kinsler—Kinsler managed to stay healthy in 2011 and went 30/30 for the second time in his career. He’ll provide plenty of counting stats when he’s on the field, but be wary of his injury history. His average also scares me away.
2.11: Josh Hamilton—Another player who has as much talent as anyone, but seems to struggle to stay on the field the entire season. Pencil him in for big numbers while he’s in the lineup, but be prepared for him to miss 25 percent of the season.
2.12: Tim Lincecum—Still among the top five pitchers in the game, and one who has a consistent record. Still a little early to be taking pitchers by my preferences, but at least you know what you’ll be getting from him.
2.13: Ryan Howard—This draft was run before the injury news came out on Howard. Tough break, but I hope he makes it back early in the season.
2.14: Mike Stanton—One of my favorite young hitters. He might be the best pure power prospect to come up in a long, long time. Still just 22 this coming year, he’s going to have a 50-homer season sooner rather than later. If he can continue to develop as a hitter and improve his average, or start to run a little bit more, he’s going to be a monster. My prediction, is this is the last year that Stanton gets drafted outside the first round.
2.15: Hunter Pence—For the last several seasons, it seemed like Pence was always overlooked in fantasy circles. As consistent of a performer as there is, he's the perfect building block for your team around in the third or fourth round.
That’s how we stand through two rounds. I’m extremely happy my the Joey Votto/Cargo start and it only gets better for me from here! See any extreme value or anyone who was overdrafted? Leave them in the comments.
Posted by Dave Shovein at 1:58am (6) Comments
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
In 1988, Christian Slater and Winona Ryder starred in Heathers, a film about… well, actually I don’t know what the hell it was about. I’ve never seen it. However, since it is a movie, and it is named Heathers, I can safely make two assumptions. One, there are multiple characters in this movie who are named Heather. Two, at some point at least, shenanigans—and quite possibly even hijinx—ensue.
And that, my friends, is all I need to know to make this an apropos introduction to a man directing his own production in the form of a fantasy team with a cast of characters scripted to include multiple Ryans.
Yes, in my oldest and most expensive keeper league, I am the proud owner of both Ryan Howard and Ryan Braun. The setup for this league is quite simple. It’s a 10-team, mixed league, snake draft league with deep rosters, and you are allowed to keep your five best players as your first five draft picks.
As of the end of the 2011 regular season, I thought I was sitting in pretty good position for 2012. I had a keeper core of Troy Tulowitzki, Braun, Howard, and Nelson Cruz. Battling for the last spot were Victor Martinez, Drew Stubbs and Jered Weaver. My early thoughts centered on packaging Howard and somebody besides Tulo or Braun for another top 10–15 player. Since then, I’ve seen my team crumble from within, several months before the draft.
Last week, I talked through a hypothetical thought process during a draft. This week, we go from the theoretical to actual. Once again, we’re going to take a trip inside my head as I think through how to deal with this mini-crisis. This will be a two-part piece. Today’s column will deal with thoughts about proceeding on the keeper front. Next week, I’ll discuss how these losses might impact my overall draft strategy.
The first relevant point that further defines the context of my keeper dilemma is that this is the final year of a keeper cycle. Entry fees are at their peak, and next year the league will totally re-draft from scratch. So this dynamic answers the questions of whether I should consider keeping either player in spite of their predicted absences.
If this was year one, two, or maybe even three of the four-year keeper cycle, I’d at least keep Braun, anyway. But, I do have at least five players who can be expected to outproduce 110 games from Braun, so that determines decision number one. Howard’s case for being kept is even weaker, so let’s move on.
Now I’m left with a keeper core of Tulo, Cruz, V-Mart, Stubbs, and Weaver. The first thing I must do, or rather not do, is overreact. It is important to take a step back and realize that this is a collection of players that is perfectly capable, though perhaps not likely, of accruing proper value for the top five players on a contending team in a league the size of mine.
Tulo is an upper first-rounder. I’ve said it here before that at some point in Cruz’s career, he’s going to randomly play a full season and put up second-round value. If this is that year, I’m still on decent pace.
Stubbs is always going to strike out too much, and I’m still not sure where the Reds will bat him in the order, but he’s 27 and coming off two consecutive seasons with more than 50 combined steals and homers on top of 90-plus runs. He’s one lucky BABIP or homer rate season away from top-35 production.
V-Mart is among the few catchers with a perennial chance to be the top producer at the position. And Weaver is good enough to be the best pitcher on a fantasy champion. So, the outlook isn’t entirely bleak.
However, there are a few strategic decisions and several possible courses of action to shuffle up this core that are worth discussing. The first option that comes is to mind, which I’d also be able to do without much hassle, is to trade Tulo. The path here would be to improve the overall depth of my core by downgrading my top keeper but upgrading at least two other keepers.
I’m not sure I will wind up doing this, but it is worth trying to test the market. My price will be high. I am not willing to trade an otherworldly player like Tulo, who provides so much value beyond nearly all his peers, simply for two players likely to be a bit better than my fourth- and fifth-best players, respectively. I’d listen to offers that included two top-30 players, and preferably ones that include a player who I’m higher on than the market.
For example, Ian Kinsler is a player who may turn off some because his resume includes multiple seasons hitting in the .250s or .260s. However, I think he has borderline first-round production, so I’d try to find how poorly his owner took Kinsler’s .255 batting average in 2011. If I can get Kinsler and another top 35 or 40 player, I’d consider that kind of deal. But, generally speaking, I’m not in favor of trading a game-changer for two incremental improvements.
Remember, the range of possible production for players in the top 30–50 can be pretty wide. In Tulo, I’d be giving up one of the few players whose expected production is outside the upper percentile projections of the types of players I’d be receiving.
Say I’m offered a package of something like Hunter Pence and Cole Hamels. While those two players may be better, or more highly ranked, than Martinez/Stubbs and Weaver, too large a portion of their universes of predicted seasonal production overlaps with the universes of predicted production for my original pair. Pence and Stubbs are not in different classes, though Pence may be closer to the head of the class than Stubbs.
Tulo, on the other hand, is in an entirely different class of player than anybody else discussed. I’m not selling my Armani suit to finance the upgrade of my cufflinks and tie clip.
Another question I need to ask myself is whether I want to increase the variance of my team’s potential performance and, therefore, try to make some trades in the keeper stage that will invite more risk. On the flip side, knowing that I may be a bit in the hole already, I may want to play this stage of the game even more conservatively.
If I were going to employ the former philosophy, I may try to trade for players returning from injury, who have bounce back or sustainability questions, uncertainty around their future, or elevated health risks. Some players who fall in some of these buckets include Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Joe Mauer, Shin-Soo Choo, and Lance Berkman, to name a few.
I don’t think I’m going to go this route, either, as most of these players likely can be redrafted, and I’m not gung ho enough about any one of them to target this aggressively, though I do think some of them may make interesting targets on draft day.
Further, this league has a pretty substantial second-place payout, and even third place gets more than his money back, so I don’t want to move prematurely from the “give myself a chance to win” to the “it’s either first place or last place” model of roster management.
If I wanted to go in the safer direction when balancing risk, perhaps I could make a trade along the lines of Cruz for Paul Konerko, where I sacrifice ceiling but likely gain predictability.
Above all, what I want to do at this stage in assembling my team is build around players I believe in. I believe in Cruz’s ability to put up a monster fantasy season. I don’t fully trust it, but I believe in it. I trust Konerko, but I don’t love his value. I believe in outfielders having plus positional value. I don’t believe in overpaying for quite good, but not elite, first basemen who are closer to 40 than to 30.
This question of risk balance will reveal itself constantly as I consider my overall draft strategy, as well. I’ll discuss it more next week.
For now, my tentative plan is to test the market for Tulo and see if I can get an offer I consider a winner. In a marketplace of only the top 50 or so players, the only other player on my roster I could see drawing interest is Cruz, and I totally consider him tradeable, too. I don’t foresee myself making any moves for the primary purpose of altering the risk profile of my top five.
Only a few months ago, I had inked Tulo and Braun in as untouchable and was willing to treat Cruz as a throw-in as part of a deal in which Howard was the centerpiece, and my return would be a player a mere ten spots or so ahead of Howard in total value. Let's just say it’s been an eventful offseason.
Draft strategy talk coming next week.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:33am (1) Comments
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Bold predictions are a dangerous animal, as anyone who has played the games for long enough can attest to. Follow some arbitrary numbers too firmly on draft day, and you’ll probably find yourself screwed. That said, the following are presents in a “They say, I say” format, which is to say my own bold predictions that may not be backed up firmly with popular opinion but that I feel are somewhat realistic. Take it all with a grain of salt. Without further ado:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
They say: Paul Goldschmidt shouldn’t be drafted in mixed leagues and Ian Kennedy is the only ace on the Backs.
I say: Paul Goldschmidt is a 12-team starting first baseman by year’s end, finishing with 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and a solid .260 average. Daniel Hudson emerges as the best fantasy pitcher on the Diamondbacks, and provides much better value as a No. 3 or No. 4 starting pitcher than Kennedy does as a low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2.
My rationale: Goldschmidt’s pro-rated home run total over 600 plate appearances last year would be 27, and more plate appearances than that might be in play. He strikes out too much—no doubt—but Mike Stanton puts up a .260 average with similar strikeout and walk rates, and Goldschmidt hits more liners and fewer fly balls. Hudson has a FIP within six points of Kennedy’s, had an fWAR within point one, and wasn’t aided by as much win luck as Kennedy. If they both win 18 games, I’m counting on Hudson’s untapped K-upside and Kennedy’s inflated draft position to push the fire baller ahead of Mr. Finesse Kennedy in terms of value.
2. Atlanta Braves
They say: Mike Minor can already be written off as a bust.
I say: Minor picks 2012 to break out to the tune of a sub-3.50 ERA, a sub-1.25 WHIP, and a robust 9 K/9 rate.
My rationale: Minor was superb in limited time last year, putting together a 3.39 FIP despite terrible luck (.350 BABIP), and his 8.38 K/9 rate impressed while still leaving considerable room for improvement. With Derek Lowe out of the plans in Atlanta, Minor should get the first shot at the fifth starter role. If Jair Jurrjens is indeed swapped for offensive help, then Minor can also pitch without immediate pressure from the trio of Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, and Julio Teheran.
3. Baltimore Orioles
They say: Zach Britton is not a worthy fantasy starter with his team situation, limited K potential, and ugly ERA.
I say: He’ll be owned in most leagues by the end of the season after pitching to the tune of a 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 140 K’s.
My rationale: Britton was wildly inconsistent last year, giving up 16 earned runs in six innings pitched in his two July starts, and putting up a 5.85 ERA in September. He was also anemic away from Camden, putting up an ugly 6.58 ERA in road starts. The fact is that Britton struggled mightily with stranding runners (a 63.4 percent rate isn’t so hot), and was burned a bit in the ERA department as a result (a 4.00 ERA with 11 wins would look a lot better than a 4.61 one does). Draft Britton for his potential home/road splits, and watch him pitch more comfortably away from Camden in his sophomore campaign.
4. Boston Red Sox
They say: Clay Buchholz is too much of a headache to draft.
I say: False, Buchholz, dropping all the way to the 18th round in 10-team leagues, finishes with a 3.50 ERA, 150 Ks, and 15 wins on the Sox.
My rationale: Bucholtz took a step back in FIP and xFIP this year, mostly due to his regression-struck HR rate, but at the hands of some excellent fielding and a higher strand rate, he should improve. Health is the key here, but 170 innings should be more than attainable.
5. Chicago Cubs
They say: Starlin Castro is barely a top five shortstop in 2012.
I say: Thanks to the injury bug biting Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes both (the two that stood ahead of Castro on the ESPN Player Rater in 2011), Castro gloriously stands as the best shortstop in fantasy.
My rationale: Castro finished third with a 8.43 mark on the Player Rater (http://games.espn.go.com/flb/playerrater?slotCategoryId=4) last year, trailing only Tulo’s 9.38 mark and Reyes’ 10.69 mark. Less Mike Quade means more bags swiped by Starlin, and his 15 home run, 100 run, 30 stolen base season with another .300 showing in the batting average department gives Starlin the victory of #1 fantasy shortstop in 2012.
6. Chicago White Sox
They say: Alex Rios is done as a legitimate fantasy option after his 2011 disappearance.
I say: Rios proves to be one of the steals of the draft, going 20/20 again with a respectable .275 average and 75 runs and runs batted in apiece.
My rationale: Rios may have been hiding an injury, may have suffered atrocious luck, or a combination of both, but his .237 BABIP is bound to go skyrocketing up. He hit more line drives than in previous years and had vastly similar batted ball types in 2011 as he did in 2010, meaning his low batting average is certainly not permanent. His counting stats took a step back in 2011, but 13 homers and 11 steals revert closer to 21 and 34, respectively, his 2010 totals, when he starts off the season on a roll.
7. Cincinnati Reds
They say: Juan Francisco has been hanging around the minors for too many years. Let’s call him a bust already.
I say: Out of minor league options, Dusty Baker follows through on his promise to play Francisco “a lot,” and he breaks out in 2012 to the tune of 20 homers in just 450 plate appearances.
My rationale: Francisco can mash, and the only thing blocking him in Cincy has been Scott Rolen, whose age is quickly catching up with him. Rolen will probably yield to Francisco most days, and could be shipped at the deadline to a contender with his expiring contract. Frankie has mashed continually in the minors: 15 Triple-A homers in just 314 plate appearances last year, and another 18 Triple-A homers in 329 plate appearances the year before. Only 24, Francisco is projected to hit nine homers in a measly 185 plate appearances by Bill James. That number extrapolated to 450 plate appearances: a robust 22 dingers.
8. Cleveland Indians
They say: Asdrubal Cabrera’s emergence as a top five shortstop is fluke, fluke, fluky. He slips back into obscurity after his power stroke goes away.
I say: Cabrera maintains his top-five shortstop value as he improves his .273 batting average and goes 20/20 in Cleveland.
My rationale: Cabrera’s second half in 2011, in which he hit .244 with a .729 OPS, served as his regression to the mean, and his batting average, which was the weakest part of his game in 2011, ended up below his career average. Also below his career average: his BABIP, which was .302 compared to a .323 clip over his career. Cabrera nearly did double his previous HR/FB rate, but even in his troublesome second half, he managed to hit 11 round-trippers in only 246 at bats, a clear sign that he can hit with authority even during cold spells. He’s clearly no MVP candidate—and his name was mentioned in very early chatter after his booming first half in 2011—but it’s easy to forget that Cabrera’s 2011 featured some bad luck, in the end.
9. Colorado Rockies
They say: Rafael Betancourt is 36 and is finally getting his first shot to save for a reason. He’s not closer material, and yields to Rex Brothers by mid-summer.
I say: Betancourt is the best value of all incumbent closers drafted in 2012, saving 40 games with a sparkling 3.00 ERA and a sub 1.00 WHIP.
My rationale: I can’t explain why Rafael Betancourt has never closed before, but he’s functioned as one of the very best setup men in baseball for years and has adjusted to pitching in Coors nicely for a home-run prone pitcher. He has a career 3.02 FIP and back-to-back years of -2.50 FIPs. Despite yielding about a home run per nine innings over his career, Betancourt strikes out enough guys to survive his fly-ball tendencies. His numbers over his two-year stint in Colorado should speak for themselves: 3.24 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 162/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 124-plus innings. Can you say underrated?
10. Detroit Tigers
They say: Max Scherzer is one of those “better in real life than fantasy,” kind of guys. He’ll have another 4.00+ ERA season and won’t be relevant in mixed leagues with his ugly ratio stats.
I say: Owning a 3.50 ERA and tallying another 15 wins, Scherzer provides fantasy relevance while putting up a robust 4 WAR for the repeat AL Central champion Detroit Tigers.
My rationale: Worth zero dollars in a standard mixed league last year, Scherzer won 15 games but had his worst year in terms of ratio stats, putting up a 4.43 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, the former due mostly to a whopping 29 homers over 195 innings, and the latter due mostly to balls in play luck (his walk rate dropped a considerable amount in 2011). Scherzer had an excellent xFIP for the second year in a row, and his 3.70 mark is close to Bill James’ projection of a 3.66 ERA. With a little more luck in terms of balls in play, Scherzer should see his WHIP drop, and he has as good of a chance as any non-ace to win 15 games. The Ks have been a constant in his career, and with a little more luck and another year under his belt, Scherzer should find himself mixed-league relevant again in no time.
11. Houston Astros
They say: J.D. Martinez isn’t for real: he’s never shown up on any “Top Prospect” lists and only succeeded based on small sample size luck.
I say: Martinez, he of minor league glory, mashes his way to a Michael Morse-like breakout, hitting 20 homers with a .300 average for the bottom-feeding ‘Stros.
My rationale: Martinez’s minor league numbers are astounding: a .338 batting average with 13 homers in only 370 Double-A plate appearances in 2011; a .362 batting average with 15 homers in only 393 A-ball plate appearances the previous season. He didn’t disappoint when he jumped from Double-A to the majors last year, hitting a fine .274 while slugging six homers in 226 plate appearances. Simple math will tell you that he would’ve hit 16 homers had he been given 600 major league plate appearances, and playing for the lowly Astros, Martinez could be in line for 650 or more in 2012. He hits line drives, many of which could fall over the short porch in left in the small Houston stadium, and he has the minor league track record to back up his SSS numbers.
12. Kansas City Royals
They say: Joakim Soria will be the man to own in the Royals’ pen as he bounces back from some tough luck in 2011.
I say: Soria bounces back with another team, as the Royals view him as expendable with the emergence of Greg Holland.
My rationale: Soria costs a fair $6 million dollars this year, but the cost-controlled Holland seems like the safer bet to end up as the Royals closer. To compare their 2011s:
Holland, despite a bit of luck in the balls-on-play and stranding base runner departments, emerged as a superior pitcher, and the Royals could still barter Soria for a nice prospect or two. If Holland claims the role before opening day (there are reports that Soria is currently being shopped), he could turn be a 40-save stud with excellent ratios. Regardless, I’d avoid Soria based on his tradability, and grab Holland as a low-risk lottery ticket.
13. Los Angeles Angels
They say: C.J. Wilson will carry his poor playoff performance into the 2012 season, where his contract hangover will lead to an off year.
I say: Be excited about Wilson’s leaving Arlington; be very, very excited. Wilson improves on his 2011 ratio stats, a 2.94 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, all the while winning 19 games.
My rationale: The former ace in Texas may be the third best pitcher on the Angels’ roster at the moment, but some opinions might change when he improves on his 5.9 WAR season. The owner of a sparkling 2.31 ERA away from Arlington, Wilson also rocked a 1.15 WHIP away from home. He passes the anti-regression test: he didn’t strand a fluky amount of runners (73.6% left on base) on his way to a 2.94 ERA, nor did he get lucky on balls in play (his .287 BABIP matches his career number exactly). His home run rate was stable, and his FIP and xFIP agree: C.J. Wilson was no fluke, and should find ample room to improve in Angels Stadium.
14. Los Angeles Dodgers
They say: Kenley Jansen is the one and only emerging bullpen star in the Dodgers’ system.
I say: Jansen’s a future bullpen stud, and seems destined to take over for Javy Guerra. Book it. The other future beast at the back end of the Dodgers pen is a man by the name of Shawn Tolleson, who should be a threat for saves if Jansen falters any time before September. Dynasty owners take note.
My rationale: My rationale is that you should always take a risk, in keeper leagues, on guys who have negative FIPs at a minor league level for more than ten innings. Tolleson had a -0.40 FIP in his 15 A-ball innings, and tallied 11.17 K/9 in his 44 innings introduction to the high minors, pitching for the Double-A affiliate. He’s given up 11 earned runs in his nearly 90 minor league innings, and has assumed closer duties at every level he’s pitched at thus far in his career. He could vulture saves as early as this fall, as crazy as that sounds.
15. Miami Marlins
They say: Hanley Ramirez is no longer a top 30 player.
I say: Ramirez will finish with first round value while manning the hot corner for the Miami fish.
My rationale: Ramirez has a number of things working against him, the most pressing issue being his attitude and perceived laziness. You’re not drafting a team of stand-up leaders or community organizers, though, and the only concerns are numbers and value. Ramirez will likely be eligible for shortstop and third base in all leagues next year, assuming he does start Opening Day at the latter. That’ll only be an added boost to his returning counting stats (he was on pace for a pro-rated 16 homers and 31 steals in 2011, lest you forget) and batting average (his .275 BABIP bogged down his batting average to an ugly .243, but his career mark on balls in play is .339). Maybe a more competitive atmosphere, a more structured and uptight clubhouse led by Ozzie, and (hypothetically) invested home crowd will give Hanley some boost in terms of drive and effort. At the very least, ride his regression to the mean.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 5:57am (6) Comments
Monday, December 19, 2011
I think if I were a relief pitcher, I would want to be a starter. They make more money. They have to pitch only once every four to five days. You get fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse between innings—major props Boston Red Sox. Most of all, I want to win. Saves are great and everything, but I’m not that honorable and way too competitive. Seeing as I’ve never been a starting pitcher—or relief pitcher for that matter—I will have to accept my role as an observer.
It has become the “en vogue” thing to turn talented relievers into starting pitchers. Whether that was the intention from the beginning for their careers or not, more and more prospects are taking this path to the big leagues. For fantasy purposes, it can be a source of gold mining for cheap production.
During the 2011 season, we saw two pitchers in particular make the transition from reliever to starter without missing a beat. Alexi Ogando posted a very respectable 3.51 ERA and showed flashes of brilliance during stretches. As with all reliever-to-starter prospects, there’s always the fatigue due to the increase in innings pitched.
Philip Humber was another youthful pitcher who pitched very well for the White Sox when tasked with the change over to starter. He managed to decrease his walks and maintain a solid strikeout rate above six per nine innings.
Two other notable relievers turned starters in 2011 are Kyle McClellan and Josh Collmenter, both of whom had both some success and some failure.
First and foremost, please do not build your draft strategy around a transitioning pitcher. There is much risk involved, and as Steve Treder wrote in "Examining the relief of relieving," relief pitching is significantly easier than starting. Not only should you anticipate regression from a reliever turning starter, you should plan around it. That being said, a find like Ogando or Humber could have been a real jewel of a draft, especially in a AL- or NL-only league.
I play in a very high-stakes weekly league where a reliever who accumulates starter innings loads is extremely valuable. I was able to manipulate this to my advantage, as none of my other 14 leaguemates has realized this strategy, and it’s become a staple in my draft plans.
If any of you find yourselves in a similar situation, please enjoy my research below. If you do not, then you should still note this as an interesting way to find cheap starting pitcher help. Additionally, I don't think there's been a season with a more intriguing list of relievers making the jump to starter. Let's get this party started.
Neftali Feliz, Texas;- Last year, we all held our collective breaths as ol' Nolan Ryan and company lured us into the tantalizing possibility of the young Feliz as a future ace of the Ranger staff. We were led to believe that Feliz would find himself in this role as soon as 2011. Well, here we are a year later, and it feels as though we will finally get our wish.
The departure of C.J. Wilson has left a huge hole for the Rangers rotation. Ryan and the other front office personnel have been linked to several big-name free agents, including the Japanese sensation, Yu Darvish. Most interesting, however, was the signing of Joe Nathan, which not only opened the door for Feliz in the rotation, but flung it wide open.
Feliz brings a youth and skill set that the Rangers haven’t had in several years. if ever. He has an upper 90s fastball that should sit around the mid 90s as a starter. He complements that with a very solid curveball. It’ll be interesting to see if he starts to refine his change-up and slider as he figures out how to effectively manage a baseball game as a starter.
Feliz will only be 24 as the 2012 season begins, and his talent level has long been admired. Once a centerpiece of the Mark Teixeira deal with Atlanta, he will now slide into a role that we should all be excited about. Feliz offers all the things fantasy managers want out of a high-upside play. He has youth, talent, opportunity and, even more impressively, experience.
Feliz will be a solid middle-round draft pick as a starter. He should at least deliver that much to his owners as a return on investment. I will be watching in spring training to see how his arm reacts to the innings increase, though I’m not worried. I will be drafting him in all leagues where he has that No. 4 starter value.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox— I don’t think there’s anybody on this list that I’m more excited about seeing as a starter than Sale. He has everything you would want from a starter and was used solely out of the bullpen in Chi-town because of the sub-par relief corps there. Sale could be drafted as a mid-to-late-round pick. If you are lucky enough to nab him in these later rounds, you will find a sneaky talent who will deliver.
I don’t know if he’ll be as cheap in super-competitive fantasy leagues, but I will spend to secure Sale's talent in my lineup. He's a skilled lefty with an unknown ceiling on his talent, and I don’t think there will be a more fascinating starter as we enter draft season for 2012.
Sale can strike out batters above that nine-per-nine-innings benchmark. He could struggle with control, but I believe that we might end the 2012 season talking about a reliever turned starter who could also be in the Cy Young discussion. I am that confident in his skills. This is coming from the guy who told you to believe in Jose Bautista and that Curtis Granderson could hit 50 home runs as a Yankee. I’m just saying.
Aaron Crow, Kansas City—Crow could be boom or bust for Kansas City in 2012. He was an All-Star as a reliever in 2011. One should wonder why he’s been moved to the rotation when he had such success as a reliever. Part of the reason he was moved to the bullpen in the first place was his mediocre performance in the minors as a starting pitcher. The Royals threw him into the pen as a see-what-sticks maneuver with a young pitcher they planned to move back to starter eventually.
Crow walks a lot of batters, and I don’t think that will change as a starter. Furthermore, I think he’s as risky a guy as there is on this list. Sure, he could strike out a ton of batters and have a sub-3.50 ERA, but the smart money has him slated to have serious growing pains.
Take the strikeouts out of the equation, and you see a pitcher who will kill your WHIP, and that lack of control could lead to a high ERA amid a load of bad pitching performances. I don’t see a lot of wins, either. While I do like Crow as a pitcher, and I also think he could make a great starter one day, I just don’t think he’ll come anywhere close to that in 2012. If you’re an AL-only leaguer looking to speculate, Crow is the perfect guy for you. All others should stay away.
Jim Johnson, Baltimore— You might wonder, “Who is Jim Johnson?” I don’t blame you. This guy could be the find of the year for a fantasy team. He could be one of those guys that goes undrafted or is had for a dollar. Don’t let the cheap price tag fool you. Johnson is a very respected pitcher in his relatively short career. The 2011 season saw him mature as a pitcher and has essentially pushed management to moving him into the Orioles rotation.
Johnson brings a three-pitch repertoire to the table. His fastball is a good pitch that sits in the mid 90s, but watch to see how much velocity he loses as the innings begin to increase. His best pitch is a curveball he uses effectively to both righties and lefties.
Johnson's transition to starter could be very smooth. I don’t know if anybody can get excited about most AL East pitchers, but I definitely would target Johnson in AL-only leagues, and he should be owned in 12-team leagues as a late-round flier. If there’s anybody who fits a “C.J. Wilson” mold, it would be Johnson. You heard it here first.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati— This guy is the most interesting player on this list. He may be over-hyped leading into draft day, and thus should be left for others to bid up his price. He should, however, be discussed.
Chapman's shoulder discomfort, brought on while stretching out in the Arizona Fall League, has led to some speculation that he’ll remain in the bullpen during the 2012 season. The Reds also have traded for Mat Latos to solidify their rotation as a front-line starter, so the necessity of Chapman starting has waned.
That being said, Chapman has a world-renowned fastball that we all love to talk about and salivate over, but past that there isn't much else I would want out of a starter. He gets lost on the mound sometimes, and he’s not as overpowering as some of the other young flame throwers (see Kenley Jansen).
Chapman will strike out batters, but he could walk a ton of them as well. I don’t think I’ve ever been a “buyer” on this guy, and you won’t find me doing that now. I like him as a setup man or closer who will get loads of strikeouts. If he’s that, draft him late in deeper leagues. If he’s a starter, definitely pass and let someone else buy the hype.
Rumored relievers to starters:
Joakim Soria, Kansas City— Soria struggled for the first time in his career in 2011. He was a little unlucky and gave up a lot more long balls than he ever had. Nobody would argue that Soria doesn’t have the skills to bounce back to his stellar reliever self, though the A's addition of Jonathan Broxton has caused many to question if Soria could jump into the rotation.
Reports are that Broxton will simply be the setup man in Kansas City, but some—myself included—wonder if the Broxton insurance policy is indicative of Soria having some mental adjustment problems that are all too common to dominant closers who fail. We’ll see, but it’s at least something to monitor going forward.
Daniel Bard, Boston— Bard is rumored to be entering 2012 as a starter for the Red Sox. Some believe he will end up as the closer. I’m not sure which way to go and how to accurately rank him. I like him better as a closer, obviously, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how glued I’m going to be to Bard’s “situation.” Boston's acquisition of Mark Melancon seems to preclude Bard as the closer, but Melancon is far from an experienced stopper, so the job still could be up for grabs.`
Bard's stats were really solid last year. He didn’t walk too many people, and nobody—I mean nobody—hit him. He has such a nasty fast fastball and knee-buckling slider.
I wonder if we’ll see Bard develop that change-up further. He’ll have to if he expects to get major league hitters out the second time through the order. Basically, I love Bard as a closer, and I could love him as a starter. I need to see more, but I think we should all be willing to pay the price to find out.
To recap, I love Sale and Feliz. I’m fascinated by Johnson and Bard. I’m staying away from Crow, Chapman and Soria.
Thanks, everybody, for your continued support of The Hardball Times, and especially the fantasy guys as we continue to try to provide you with the best fantasy information and advice available on the web. Merry Christmas to all.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:32am (1) Comments
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
After a short hiatus, The Verdict is back and will take a look at whether fantasy baseball players should be required to have both starting pitchers and relief pitchers in their lineups. When I started my 18-team league back in 1999, teams were required to start six pitchers with at least one starter and one reliever in their lineups. People had the flexibility to have whatever combination of pitchers they wanted so long as they had one of each. Back then, I thought it was fairly easy to distinguish between a starter and reliever as opposed to determining what positions offensive players were eligible at. I also set up the point values to fairly equate starters and relievers so that there was no inherent advantage or disadvantage to stacking up on either.
This method worked for several years until an unanticipated ambiguity came up in 2007. I had always classified a pitcher based on what he was doing at the time on his major league team. This was consistent with what TQ Stats (our league's host site since 1999) had done as well. However, in 2007, TQ Stats began showing both SP and RP designations for pitchers who made appearances as both a starter and a reliever. In June 2007, one of the teams in the OBFBL notified me that his opponent had six starting pitchers in his lineup—including Jeremy Guthrie. Technically this was in violation of the league rules, but TQ Stats recognized Guthrie as a relief pitcher because he had made an appearance out of the bullpen earlier in the season.
Much to his credit, the complaining team did not make the issue a big deal, but simply wanted to bring it to my attention. The ruling I made at the time was that the team that had Guthrie would get to keep his lineup that week with Guthrie technically as his relief pitcher. However, going forward, Guthrie would only be able to be used as a starter and that team would have to include another relief pitcher in his lineup to satisfy the requirements. The owner of Guthrie was not overly pleased with the decision because Guthrie did have a designation as both a starter and reliever. But I had to maintain consistency in my decisions despite having the league hosting site make changes unbeknownst to anyone in terms of player designations.
This issue proved to be a potential slippery slope because any pitcher who made at least one appearance out of the bullpen or at least one official start was given both designations. This would allow teams to utilize a pitcher at a particular position that he was not intended to be allowed. The intent of the rule was to keep relievers separate, and by that I mean the pitchers that are specifically out of the bullpen.
Realizing that this was an issue that needed precise and concise correction, I amended the league rules for 2008 to allow all teams in the league to start six pitchers of any designation whatsoever. This meant teams could strategize and just draft starting pitchers or just draft closers if they wanted. It completely removed the ambiguity of how pitchers were designated and it also promoted additional autonomy for teams to utilize their own strategic methods instead of being forced to start a player that they may not necessarily have wanted to.
Since changing the rule before the 2008 season, most teams in the league have taken advantage of the ability to start six starting pitchers. On the contrary, no team has ever started six relief pitchers or closers in one week. But the general consensus amongst the league members has been that they are all pleased with having the flexibility to start whichever pitchers they want and not be pigeon-holed into playing a reliever. Remember, this is a head-to-head points league so there is no need to accumulate saves to win a category. However, the point scoring system is now set up where a save is worth as much as a win (10 points). The reasoning behind this is to make the elite closers a valuable commodity and give people something to think about when strategizing how they want to build their pitching staffs.
At the end of the day, people should have the flexibility and autonomy to build their fantasy baseball team as they want. As commissioner, I have learned over the years that there will always be issues of first impression that the league constitution will not address. The commissioner must handle these situations logically and fairly, and have the patience to wait until the end of the season before changing the rules. It is always helpful when the league members who are involved in the issue are rational and intelligent people that can understand the thought process of the decision. Fortunately that was the case in this situation. The real lesson learned here was that this should have been my warning signal that TQ Stats was heading for an implosion because they changed everything internally and left me no choice but to abandon TQ at the beginning of the 2008 season.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:05am (6) Comments
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Last time, we looked at teams one through 15, alphabetically. Here are the rest.
16. Minnesota Twins
They say: There are essentially no Twins worth drafting, assuming the fact that Joe Mauer isn’t even worth consideration at whatever draft position he’s at.
I say: I certainly don’t want to pay much for Mauer (whatever "much" may be), but Denard Span, drafted for a couple of dollars at the back end of AL-only drafts and for only a buck in most mixed leagues, returns from his battle with concussions to steal 25 bags with a .290 average and a couple of homers.
My rationale: Span, a career .285 hitter, battled injuries throughout 2011, playing in only 70 games and putting up very pedestrian numbers. That said, the speedy leadoff man managed to swipe at least 23 bags in his previous two seasons, and hit .311 in his impressive 2009 season. He can certainly steal 30 in the right situation (which might still be a trade to Washington, where he would probably have a more constant green light), as his speed score of 6.9 is in the 90th percentile of all major leaguers. He’ll return to a starting gig in center, a spot at the top of the lineup, and hope for a better situation within the year. That opportunity, plus his talent and past performance, make him worth at least a dollar, no?
17. Milwaukee Brewers
They say: Mat Gamel is the only Brewers corner infielder worth a flier with Prince Fielder out of town.
I say: Taylor Green has something to say about that. Green puts together 400+ at-bats when Gamel stumbles and new addition Aramis Ramirez gets hurt. In the process, he hits 15 homers and hits .280.
My rationale: Gamel has been less than impressive in his three limited auditions in Milwaukee, putting together a .222/.309/.374 stat line over 85 games and 194 plate appearances. His strikeout rate remains a big question mark as well, as his 34.5 percent major league mark and 19.1 percent career minor league mark aren’t exactly the staple of “consistent contact” and “booming batting average.” Green comes with question marks, too, but can man both corner positions and shortstop, and has similar (if not slightly less) power than Gamel, hitting 22 homers in Triple-A despite only 487 plate appearances.
The injury concerns on the left side of the Brewers’ infield are real (Ramirez has averaged 118 games per year over the last three years; Alex Gonzalez has averaged roughly 128 games per year over the last five years), and Gamel’s inexperience and shaky record add one more potential place for Green to vulture at-bats. He’s worth a pick as a current utility man and future everyday player in 2012.
18. New York Mets
They say: Frank Francisco will not thrive in the friendly confines of Citi Field, because he is Frank Francisco.
I say: The man finally breaks out and saves 30-plus games, despite the shortened Citi Field fences. He flirts with a sub-3.00 ERA, as well, and leads the Mets to the Promised Land.
My rationale: Just kidding about the last part, but Frankie should fit in all right in Flushing. Home runs kept his ERA a bit high last year (he surrendered 1.24 per nine innings), but his xFIP has remained below 3.50 for the last four years and his fly-ball tendencies won’t cause too many problems in his new home park. Francisco also has four straight robust K/9 postings and should find his WHIP on the right side of 1.30 as his BABIP straightens out a bit. Look for him late and reap the rewards.
19. New York Yankees
They say: Ivan Nova will win 16 games again; after all, he pitches for the offensive juggernaut that is the New York Yankees.
I say: He might, and still won’t be worth a standard league draft pick. His ERA jumps to 4.25 and his WHIP hovers around 1.40 and his K/BB ratio remains the culprit.
My rationale: The aforementioned ratio was an ugly 1.72 in 2011, and his minor league numbers don’t support any kind of jump to expect in the strikeout department. So what you have is a man with pedestrian ratio stats that are due for regression (a 4.08 career FIP and 4.20 career xFIP mean a 3.70 ERA will be hard to duplicate; his 1.33 WHIP might even jump, as Bill James predicts a 1.43 number) who provides only wins. Wins are fickle, and it’d be best to take a flier on a starter in a friendlier home park than Nova's; he received so much publicity only for his 16-4 record.
20. Oakland Athletics
They say: Brandon McCarthy only did it for 25 starts, and didn’t win enough games or strike out enough folks to be worthy of more than a mixed league late-round flier.
I say: McCarthy provides top 25 starting pitcher value with a 3.00 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and 14 wins in 200 innings. He performs substantially better than rotation-mate Gio Gonzalez and is drafted four rounds later.
My rationale: The numbers speak for themselves, as they often do: McCarthy put together a 2.86 FIP, a 3.30 xFIP, and a ridiculous 4.91 K/BB ratio (ridiculous, in italics, because he struck out only 6.49 per nine innings… meaning yes, he did walk fewer than 1.50 per nine innings). He simply won’t get the love he so clearly deserves. Yes, his strikeouts leave a lot to be desired, but he makes for a better end-game option than Tim Stauffer, Mike Leake, Trevor Cahill or Ricky Nolasco, all guys with similar K/9s in 2011.
21. Philadelphia Phillies
They say: Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are the only Phillies outfielder worth owning in mixed leagues.
I say: John Mayberry Jr. is swiped off the waiver wire after just two weeks—in which he hits four home runs. And he hits a total of 25 in just about 500 plate appearances.
My rationale: Those 25 don’t seem like such a stretch when you consider that Mayberry hit 15 in 296 plate appearances in 2011. Sure, his HR/FB rate was 17.4 percent, and three or four of his homers, according to Hit Tracker Online, were aided by a bit of luck or just barely cleared the fence. The bottom line, however, is that Mayberry turned some heads with his performance, and the Phillies front office is considering handing him a starting gig. At the very least, Mayberry will play against lefties, against whom he hit .306 in 111 at-bats last year. Draft him as a late-round flier before someone can pick him off the waiver wire next year; he might be poised for a Michael Morse-like power display.
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
They say: Never draft a Pirates starter. Ever. Not even James McDonald.
I say: Erik Bedard starts only 20 games for the Bucs, but puts together a nice 3.50/1.25/10 win line after going largely ignored on draft day.
My rationale: Bedard was a superb signing by Huntington & Co. (well, it would’ve been worth more if the Pirates had much of a shot to contend next year) at one year, $4.5 million, as he’s put together between 1.0 and 5.4 WAR over the last four years, all of which were bogged down by injuries. Injuries are a staple at this point for Bedard, and even counting on 20 games started is no sure thing, but he’s been supremely effective over the last three seasons in particular (in which he pitched at most 129.1 innings) when he’s taken the hill. Bedard has put together a 3.67/2.82/3.62 ERA split, with fair WHIPs to boot (1.32/1.19/1.28), and will benefit from pitching in the friendly PNC Park. Don’t count on even 25 starts, but enjoy him while he’s there… for cheap.
23. San Diego Padres
They say: Huston Street has too many health concerns to be drafted even as a second relief pitcher.
I say: Street puts together a glorious season in Petco, dropping his ERA around 2.50 and saving 30 games, though he does hit the DL at least once.
My rationale: Street has a career 3.11/3.09/3.38 triple slash, and last year’s xFIP was a gleaming 3.14. Street’s been as good as a 1.72 ERA in his rookie year in Oakland (albeit aided by a huge amount of luck), and has twice (rookie year included) bested a 3.00 ERA. He has the ability to keep his WHIP below 1.00, and has as good a chance as any to save 25+ games. Yes, health is a glaring red flag in Street’s case, but he’s saved 29+ three times previously in seven seasons. If you’re feeling lucky….
24. San Francisco Giants
They say: Madison Bumgarner is the third best pitcher on his own team. No way he should be drafted ahead of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. No way.
I say: Drafted as a No. 3 in mixed leagues, Bumgarner provides top 10 starting pitcher value in San Fran as his ERA slips below 3.00 and his WHIP below 1.10.
My rationale: He rediscovered his velocity, harnessed his control, and avoided the injury bug. In 2011, Bumgarner was superb with a 5.5 WAR. He was pretty much equally superb in fantasy terms: a 3.21 ERA with 13 wins, nearly 200 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP is nothing to sniff at. So why is he now going to perform like a No. 1 fantasy starter? My gut tells me he might mix in the change-up more in 2012, after throwing it only 4 percent of the time in 2011 and resorting to his slider a big 32 percent of the time. If his strikeout rate jumps, his ERA will probably inversely drop. Bumgarner’s FIP speaks for itself, though: a sparkling 2.67 mark means he preformed even better than his 3.21 ERA.
25. Seattle Mariners
They say: Dustin Ackley, the rookie sensation, he of the No. 2 pick behind the immortal Stephen Strasburg in the 2009 amateur draft, is a top 10 fantasy second baseman in the 2012 season.
I say: Ackley puts together a 4+ WAR season, but doesn’t return top 10 value for second basemen, struggling to hit above .250 in his sophomore campaign.
My rationale: Ackley was aided in his .273 batting average by a .339 BABIP, which should go down a bit (his Triple-A BABIPs were .308 in 2010 and .324 in 2011). Additionally, Ack Attack was on pace for only about 10 dingers and 10 stolen bases with about 60 runs and 60 runs batted in last season. That's fine in its own right, but not top 10 material when matched with a sub-.260 average. Should he find himself lucky again with batted balls, and should he get the green light to the point where he steals 20 bases, Ackley may squeak out top 10 value, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
26. St. Louis Cardinals
They say: Jaime Garcia took a step backward in 2011.
I say: Sneaky as it was, Garcia improved as a pitcher in 2011 from his rookie campaign, and could be an undervalued guy on draft day.
My rationale: Garcia had vastly similar stats in his rookie and sophomore years. Behold:
Indeed, the major differences existed only in BABIP, stranding runners, and as a result of those two peripheral stats, ERA. Garcia saw a number of balls fall in play in 2011 that didn’t the previous year, and stranded nearly 10 percdent less men on base. As a result, his ERA jumped nearly a point. All told, Garcia did not become a worse pitcher in 2011 but rather a better one. As the graph above illustrates, he kept almost all his major stats (including purely aesthetic ones like wins) in line, while decreasing his walk rate per nine innings from 3.53 in 2010 to 2.31 in 2010.
He got more love on his way to finishing third in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting, but Garcia was a better pitcher in 2011, and should be drafted accordingly.
27. Tampa Bay Rays
They say: Matt Moore won’t strike out 200 guys.
I say: Matt Moore will strike out 200 guys.
My rationale: This.
28. Texas Rangers
They say: Ian Kinsler is too injury-prone to be worth a high-second-round draft pick.
I say: Kinsler is a top 10 player as his batting average rebounds to support another 30-30 campaign.
My rationale: While Kinsler may not post another 7.7 WAR season, he certainly can match his shallower counting stats (32-117-77-30 in 2011), and he had twice previously gone 20-20 and once went 30-30. Kinsler’s been over 100 runs three times in his career (and had 96 one other year), and is a career .275 hitter who hit .255 in his career year. The injury concerns are real, and as such, Kinsler doesn’t make for the most comforting first-round pick (he played in an average of 129 games in his first six seasons), but if you’re feeling a tad bit risky, take Kinsler in the early second round and don’t look back.
29. Toronto Blue Jays
They say: Ricky Romero is an ace in AL-Only formats. Hell, he’s a solid No. 2 in mixed leagues after a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 15 wins in 2011.
I say: A couple (er, a ton) more balls drop in play for Romero in 2012, and as his BABIP jumps to .285, his ERA balloons to 4.00 and his WHIP to 1.30.
My rationale: People ignore his incredibly pedestrian 2.04 K/BB rate over his career because he wins games and puts up anywhere from passable to excellent ratio stats. His 4.04 career FIP speaks more to his true value, though, and it’s important to remember that he’s facing some inevitable regression to his own mean this year after winning the battle against luck in 2011. His ERA might not jump all the way to 4.00 in 2012, but it certainly won’t stay below 3.00, and his 3.80 xFIP might predict best of all.
30. Washington Nationals
They say: Bryce Harper was more hyped than hype itself. He’s got to be snagged in the last few rounds because of his imminent call-up… he’ll lead my team to the promised land.
I say: Have you seen his underwhelming minor league numbers? Harper makes it to the majors on June 2 only to find himself straddling the Mendoza Line. He finishes with only eight homers and breaks a ton of hearts along the way.
My rationale: I’m not sure why Harper is worthy of competing for an Opening Day roster spot on the Nationals given his so-so minor league showing. Upon making it to Double-A, Harper hit .256 with three dingers in 37 games, good for three percent above league average (a 103 wRC+). The numbers simply don’t support a promotion, especially not one of two levels. Harper will surely have an incubation period in Harrisburg, but even when he comes up, there are concerns about his strikeout rate, maturity, and how much of his power is still untapped. Stay away and let someone else deal with the headache.