THT fantasy mailbag

Welcome to the THT fantasy mailbag. This is our first shot at this, so we hope you enjoy this feature and find it useful. If you’d like your question to be answered in the next mailbag, please send it to
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A couple of notes: (1) It is helpful for our authors to know your league setup (number of teams, roster spots, any other important specifics), so if you'd like to raise the chances of getting your question answered and receiving a good answer at that, please include that information in your e-mail. (2) Though we'll consider any question, we prefer general questions that might be useful to our other readers. Those questions are also more likely to get answered, though again, we encourage any question you would like to ask.

And now, on to the mailbag!

For a keeper league, are any of these guys worth a gamble?:

Jason Jennings
Morgan Ensberg
Matt Murton
Jorge Sosa
Jason Hirsh
Brad Hennessey.

Thanks!

Alan

Alan,

It depends on the type of league we're dealing with and how the keeper system works. In a mixed league (unless it is very deep), I would have to say that none deserve consideration. Even in an "only" league, Sosa, Hirsh and Hennessey are simply too poor to consider keeping, so they are out of the question for any kind of mixed league. For the other guys it would depend on the individual circumstances. If you absolutely had to keep one guy, Murton would likely be my choice. He's got solid potential but is far from a sure thing. In a deep mixed league, again depending on the exact situation, he might deserve consideration.

- Derek Carty

What do you think of Chris Davis going forward? In particular how do you see his BA playing out next year given that we have a half season of MLB experience and data to add to his minor league stuff. Hit me with some sabermetrics. I looked up his stats on him on your site, which is cool, but I don't really know how to interpret yet.

Background:

I have him in a freezer league (10 team 4X4 AL only, freeze six guys per team). I can freeze him for free this year and decide next year if I want a long-term contract. I'm in love with his power potential, but I'm afraid he's going to hit .250 because of his contact rate. I think he's a no-brainer compared to some of my other bottom end freezer options (Damon, Aviles, Shields). I figure there's a decent chance he's the best of that group next year, but with added potential value of a long-term big-time power guy (which we're short on with Ellsbury/Upton/Rivera/Granderson as other freezers). I don't think I can pass on him. I'm really not big on SP, so though I love Shields I'd be unlikely to freeze him over any of my other bats.

Also: What do you think for N. Cruz and Aviles next year? They're both guys we could freeze, but expect we can probably get them back in the draft.

Thanks,
Mark

Mark,

Everything you said about Davis is true. He has fantastic power potential but has definite batting average risk. I see no reason why Davis can’t keep putting up big power numbers. However, he has a few indicators that would suggest there is batting average downside. Davis struggles to make contact. which is one of the most important indicators for batting average.

Also, Davis had a 25.5 percent line drive rate and .351 BABIP. It will be quite difficult for him to keep these numbers up and thus his batting average will likely regress next year. With that being said, Davis should be considered as a keeper. As you said, the group of players you are considering keeping doesn’t have great power numbers. If you decide to keep Davis,, you could also go after a high batting average like Placido Polanco to balance out the batting average risk with Davis. What you also need to consider is that Davis will most likely be eligible for third base next year.

In the end, though, it depends on your risk preference. Are you willing to accept the batting average risk and limited sample size that Davis brings? Or would you rather face the risks that Shields brings as a pitcher?

Finally, I would say no for sure for Aviles. Aviles probably isn’t going to perform as well as he did last year. When it comes to Cruz, everyone is going to be looking for the next Ryan Ludwick next year and Cruz could be a popular target. However, we need to remember that the chances of picking a specific player to break out like Ludwick are very low. If you feel that you can get a good return for Cruz in a trade, it might be worth considering keeping him. Otherwise I would rate Cruz a distant third behind Shields and Davis.

- Victor Wang

How horrible is Mark Reynolds? Will he every stop the strikeouts?

Cory

Cory, to be concise, most likely no, he will not strike out less next season. And for this reason alone, his fantasy value will remain low because of the .239 batting average he puts up. You can play around with any of the more advanced plate discipline statistics mentioned in this article. But all of them say the same thing: He is too aggressive a swinger for someone who makes contact as little as he does.

The one thing he could do to lessen the amount of strikeouts he gets without actually increasing his contact skills is to swing much less. So instead of his current 47 percent swing percentage, he could drop to the Jack Cust level of 38 percent. I still, however, see no reason why he will stop striking out next season at the rate he does, except that perhaps he does not want to set the strikeout record again.

- Paul Singman

What do you hear about Bobby Abreu going to the Cubs? What round would you project him at?

John

John,

I have not heard/read any rumors regarding Abreu and his potential homes for next season, at least nothing solid. I believe he has filed for free agency, and according to Rotowire, its not clear if the Yankees will try very hard to re-sign him. That being said, I'm not convinced the Cubs really have a need for a 35-year-old, defensively challenged right fielder. (I believe John Dewan's +/- system ranked Abreu as the second worst right fielder in 2008), as two larger concerns are finding an adequate center fielder and filling in the hole in the rotation, since Ryan Dempster also has filed for free agency.

If the Cubs do sign Abreu, I think it would be safe to say that they are trying to win now, since their lineup won't be getting any younger with this addition. But again, I haven't heard anything that's worth betting on...

As far as fantasy goes, I don't think Abreu's value will drop considerably just because he is out of New York. I'm not the biggest believer in lineup protection, so I'm not too concerned about his performance from that aspect. He is awfully consistent, and pretty durable (150-plus games each season since 1998), so unless he moves to a place like PETCO or Dodger Stadium, I'd expect the consistency to continue.

I can't answer ihat round I would take him in, since that depends on the format of the league, but generally speaking, I would rank him slightly below guys like Nick Markakis and Alex Rios.

- Marco Fujimoto

It's early, but I'm thinking about optimal parameters for my league's setup next year.

C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF, UTIL
P (x9)
Bench (x2)
DL (x2)

Members: 10
Scoring: Roto
Categories: HR, RBI, NetSB, OBP, SLG | K, W, IP, ERA, WHIP
GS max: 162

I am in leagues this season that do not differentiate between OFs, so I am unsure if Yahoo! or ESPN has accurate positional designations, and how difficult it is to play one player in each slot. It seemed as though a good portion of my free agent pickups this past season were outfielders, but I'm not sure whether that was just natural variance or whether the fact that there was no difference between OF slots just made me feel as though there were more of those pickups. (It didn't help that the league I was most active in had five starting OF slots).

I am aiming to give hitters and pitchers roughly equal value, so I have nine starters of each, as well as three counting stats and two rate stats for each. I enjoyed the generic pitcher slot much more this season than strict starting and relief slots. The tight bench aims to prevent an overabundance of swapping pitchers out for spot starts, as does the max games-started limit. The tight bench also makes the league a bit more difficult overall.

The stats I've chosen give a much more realistic sense of value to players' statistics; I think 10 categories is a good number as opposed to eight. I have thus included RBI and wins—while not the best indicator of player value, they do have some relevance and are counting stats (I got burned using too many rate stats in the league I formed this year). Net steals also give a much more realistic sense of how a player is helping his team.

Any thoughts on the parameters of this league would be appreciated.

John

(This question was of quite a bit of interest to our authors, so we're publishing two responses.)

John, interesting that you bring up league settings. They often go overlooked and can make for a much better league so long as you make reasonable variations of traditional 5X5 scoring. I especially like the net steals category which, as you said, better shows how a player's steals helped or hurt his team. Dustin Pedroia (20 steals, 19 net) rightfully becomes worth about the same as Chone Figgins (34 steals, 21 net).

Without a runs category, I am concerned that leadoff guys might become a bit undervalued, as they do not get as many RBI. I know you want to keep the same number of rate stats for both hitters and pitchers, but I would consider changing OBP and SLG simply to OPS---a combination of both--- and then making Runs the fifth hitting category. I don't think there is necessarily a correct answer here, but I would consider the change.

I like having innings pitched as a category since it makes having a roster of elite set-up men to win WHIP and ERA much less valuable, but I see then saves were left out. As unimportant a stat saves are, I find they are one of the more fun fantasy categories to compete in. Without saves, I can also see the RP market getting annoyingly saturated. If you willing to go 6X6, my suggestion is to keep OBP and SLG as you have it, and then to add runs and saves as sixth categories. If you decide to scrap innings pitched as a category, make sure you set a high minimum innings pitched limit as well.

- Paul Singman

The challenge in structuring fantasy baseball (and, for that matter, and group competition) is in ensuring that as many players as possible can enjoy the experience. And for most of these players, enjoying the experience involves some sense that they could, on any given day, beat any other team.

In every league, there are casual players and there are folks like us, who live, breathe and sleep fantasy baseball. We look at stats and we're already coming up with our draft board even though the 2008 season has been over for maybe 11 days. If the folks who put the most time and nerdly effort into it were the ones who won the league every year, it would quickly cease being fun for the more casual players.

I'm convinced that this is why fantasy leagues run by Yahoo and other websites have put in a number of measures to help ensure parity in the leagues. The biggest of these is the head-to-head structure, in which results are laughably luck-induced. A second factor is the presence of some pretty good preseason rankings. Yahoo's "O-rank" in particular, is frustratingly similar to my preseason draft board each year. Assuming my projections are good, this mutes my advantage in player valuation over other managers—they can spend 10 seconds looking at O-rank to make their choice, and be on just about equal footing to me, who spent 10 hours combing various projections.

And that's my main point about your league. For better or worse, you've substituted categories like runs and batting average, which are subject to a lot of season-to-season variation in each player, for OBP and SLG, which are much more stable. Whereas a savvy fantasy baseball player will be able to identify "lucky" and "unlucky" seasons that a player has in batting average and adjust his valuation of that player accordingly, OBP and SLG tend to have less variation from year to year. The top 10 last year will be pretty similar to the top 10 this year. You can't really say that about BA.

So in short, I like your league settings because I think they come closer to measuring the true value of a player. On the other hand, my one piece of advice is that the categories you've chosen probably will help some of the otherwise weaker managers perform pretty well. Which is great for parity and for having them want to play again next season... but not as good for helping your chances of winning the league and securing bragging rights!

- Michael Lerra

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