Weekend Matters, June 28

Sorry about today, folks. Between work and hapkido, I spent about one hour total on the computer this week. Also, I’m in the process of enlisting (or at least exploring the option) in the Army, so obviously that took up a lot of time…and was unfortunately reaquainted with the good ol’ Scan-tron test. I’ll definitely have a couple entries up this week, though.

Hope everyone had a good weekend and I want to send a congratulations out to David Aardsma and his wife on the birth of their first child. I’ll see everyone soon.

Weekend Matters, June 21

I don’t know about you, but I hate getting hurt. I mean, I really hate it when I get hurt. The occurence is far from rare in my life; I’ve had surgery on my left elbow (bone spur), left knee (torn meniscus) and right shoulder (torn labrum) twice. Hell, I even have a metal anchor keeping the loose flap of cartilage down in my shoulder. It wasn’t until recently that learned how to keep a lot of recurring pain away.

With fantasy baseball, though, you start hating it when other people get hurt, namely the big studs on your roster who you drafted early. Last year, I took Jose Reyes as my first-round pick (fourth overall) and not only did Reyes go down for the rest of the year in early May, the rest of my team resembled the Mets M*A*S*H-unit: Ian Kinsler, Nate McLouth, Roy Oswalt, Aramis Ramirez, Joey Votto and so-on and so-on. Now this year, I already had seen Brett Anderson and Miguel Montero miss most of the year when the worst news hit on Thursday:

Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki was placed on the DL with a fractured left wrist. Expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. My reaction?

Do Not Like.jpgYeah, I guess you could say I was not terribly pleased with that news. But this is a point in the season that can determine whether or not you are, in fact, a good fantasy owner: a top player on your team in a shallow position goes down with a long-term injury. What do you do? How will you recover…if at all?

First things are first: who got hurt? If the answer is a first baseman or outfielder, you’ve got plenty of secondary options available. But, if the player in question is a shortstop or catcher, things get very difficult. Not only are there very few reliable options available in the free agent pool, but if you were to explore a trade for a replacement, the person you’d try to bargain with can command a higher-than-normal asking price. Simple supply-demand logic.

Troy Tulowitzki 1.jpgTo combat this problem, you have to anticipate the catastrophic injury before it happens–and with injury-prone positions like catcher and shortstop, it would behoove one to do so. Every week or so, look through the free agent pool at the positions in question and add whichever players look interesting to your scout team or watch list. As the season goes on, if some players’ production tails off, don’t think you’re obligated to keep them on your watch list. I find that if you remove the failing players and keep the ones who are succeeding, you eliminate unnecessary options that could make you over-think your decision, make you hesitate and eventually lead you into selecting a regrettable choice.

Another thing to keep in mind is to lower your expectations for your replacement player, whether you’re activating him from the bench or picking him up out of the free agent pool. As in the case of Tulowitzki, you almost will certainly not find another shortstop capable of posting an OPS north of .850. The focus should be on finding a player who has shown a history of–and gives you a legitimate reason to believe–putting up above-average numbers. Then there are the usual splits you hopefully already consider when making any personnel move: how Player X does in such-and-such a month? Is Player X a first-half or second-half player? Who is batting ahead and/or behind Player X in the order? You get the picture.

Lastly, consider how much time your injured stud will miss. If he’s on the 15-day DL and not expected to stay beyond that amount of time, picking up a flavor-of-the-week won’t hurt you. But if the fallen soldier in question is set to miss a month or two of action, target more players who have a history of sustained production.

Will there be some compromise involved? Of course. Are you sorely lacking in one category or another? That would certainly come into play during the decision-making process. Also, consider where you are in the standings. If you’re far ahead or way behind, your decision probably won’t carry as much weight as it would if you were a game out of the playoffs or were holding on to first place by a thread.

Personnel Matters

Lineup card 2.jpg

 

Injury Matters

Injuries.jpg

  • OF Nelson Cruz (15-day DL, torn left hamstring; continuing rehab program … may return for June 22-24 series vs. Pirates)
  • 3B Aramis Ramirez (15-day DL, left thumb contusion; began rehab on June 19 with Class A Peoria … eligible to return Wednesday, June 23)
  • SS Troy Tulowitzki (15-day DL, broken left wrist; out until late July-early August)
  • SS Erick Aybar (day-to-day, torn right meniscus; doubtful for June 22-24 series vs. Dodgers … plan of action unknown)
  • OF J.D. Drew (day-to-day, strained right hamstring)
  • OF Carlos Gonzalez (day-to-day, jammed left knee; missed games on June 18-20)
  • OF Austin Jackson (day-to-day, back spasms; missed games on June 18-20)
  • RP Bobby Jenks (day-to-day, soreness; held of out Sunday’s game … White Sox would not disclose further information about Jenks’ condition)
  • SS Derek Jeter (day-to-day, bruised heel; held out of Saturday’s game, but returned on Sunday)
  • C Jorge Posada (day-to-day, hairline fracture in right foot; questionable for June 22-24 series vs. Diamondbacks and possibly beyond)
  • SS Hanley Ramirez (day-to-day, tight right hamstring; left Saturday’s game and sat on Sunday … status for June 22-24 series vs. Baltimore unknown)
  • 3B Alex Rodriguez (day-to-day, hip; manager Joe Girardi said team will be cautious with Rodriguez during June 22-24 series vs. Diamondbacks)
  • RP David Aardsma is NOT hurt or anything, but his wife is expecting their first child any day now (congrats, D & A!), so he may abruptly leave during the middle of game. Also, if his performance isn’t what it usually is, realize that there may be more pressing matters on his mind, so don’t go cutting him on a whim.

Laughing Matters

JOKE.jpgI’m starting to believe that the Blue Jays have it in for The Men Who Laugh, I really do. I draft Adam Lind in the third round and he performs like someone taken in the 30th round. I pick up Jose Bautista as he’s starting to get hot, cut him when he cools down a little, then he goes bonkers the very day I release him for Travis Snider (who gets DL’d the very next day). I hesitate for a day on Ricky Romero and miss out on one of the best pitchers in the AL. Now, I cut a then-slumping John Buck on Monday morning and he proceeds to score 27 points this week while I start Ivan Rodriguez (2 pts) and sit Miguel Montero (24.5 pts).

Still, I managed to pull out a come-from-behind victory, thanks in part to McCutchen and Neftali Feliz, who as a closer, outscored all but one of my opponents players. You know what they say: sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

 

- ME

Evaluating the Conor Jackson trade

Conor Jackson 1.jpgYesterday, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Oakland Athletics announced a trade, with the D-backs sending OF/1B Conor Jackson and $400,000 to the A’s for Minor League RP Sam Demel. In the real world, this was little more than a cost-cutting move by the D-backs, but in the fantasy realm, this deal may still have some impact in many leagues. First, a little background on the D-back’s first pick in the 2003 FYP Draft.

Prior to last season, Jackson was thought to be a stronger version of Mark Grace: a first baseman with a probable ceiling of just 20-25 HRs, but someone who will hit for a .300-plus average with a near-.400 OBP, good for at least 35 doubles and fewer than 75 strikeouts a year. His best season arguably came in 2008, when he hit .300/.376/.446 with 12 homers, six triples, 31 doubles, 75 RBIs and 87 runs scored. He also posted a 59/61 BB/K ratio while stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts.

What turned the former Cal product into an afterthought in 2009 was him contracting “Valley Fever,” a fungal disease relegated to the southwestern U.S. that lead to serious health issues. Jackson lost his strength, 15 pounds and eventually his starting job in Arizona’s outfield. This season, it still seems like Jackson is not himself as all his slash stats are well below his career norms.

The good news about this trade for Jackson is that he will no longer have to contend with tough pitching staffs and ballparks like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Since he’s also never been very adept with the glove, he can occasionally seek refuge as a DH, and neither any stalwarts in the current Oakland outfield or young studs in the Athletics’ system to rob him of playing time. Conversely, he will be playing half of his games in the Oakland Coliseum and its spacious foul territory.

My take on the situation is this: Co-Jack is probably still recovering from Valley Fever and needs as much playing time as he can get. He might not return to his previous levels of production this year, but since he’s only 28, there is still time for him to improve upon his career highs in 2011. But beyond that, Jackson still is Grace 2.0: solid hitter, but not a slugger who you would want to be your primary option at either first or your top two outfield slots.

 

- ME

Weekend Matters, June 14

This past weekend was practically the perfect storm for fantasy owners in keeper leagues. Not only did ballyhoo’d pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg make his encore appearance on Sunday against the Indians, but the top hitting prospect (Florida’s Mike Stanton) and the top catching prospect (Cleveland’s Carlos Santana) also enjoyed a productive first weekend in the big leagues.

Every few years or so, there seems to be a huge bumper crop in top-flight rookies. 2006 had a ridiculous year that included the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Verlander (to name a few). There were a couple guys named Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki who topped eventual interlopers like CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins and Adam Dunn in 2001. And with Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Mike Leake, Justin Smoak and Neftali Feliz having major impacts in the game during their freshman campaigns, 2010 is looking to be very similar to ’06 and ’01.

For now, though, let’s take a look at how these three uber-prospects fared this past weekend. And just a word of warning: these three players have not been in the big leagues for very long, making for small and unreliable sample sizes. The numbers may eventually prove to be accurate, but there simply is not enough Major League data to make solid guesses/estimates. Proceed with caution!

Santana

Carlos Santana 1.JPGAs much as Indians fans may be missing Victor Martinez at the plate (though him behind it is another matter, altogether…), this kid isn’t too bad himself. While his debut wasn’t much to write home about (0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored on June 11 against the Nationals), he exploded in Game 2 by going 2-for-4 (first hit: double) with a home run, three RBIs and a run scored, then got a hit and a walk off Strasburg on Sunday. And one of the best parts about his first three games is that he has yet to strike out.

(Now watch him go on a horrid, Mark Reynolds-like stretch where he whiffs once every three at-bats.)

In all seriousness, though, one of Santana’s better qualities is his discerning eye. Starting in 2006, Santana’s walk rate in the Minor Leagues improved every season. His strikeout rates have been a little more mercurial, but have never topped 20 percent over a full season. This is good news for fantasy owners in leagues that value walks and/or on-base percentage because in an Indians lineup that has just Shin-Soo Choo as it’s lone legitimate threat, it would be safe to say that Santana will encounter his fair share of walks, since the 24-year-old backstop has clearly demonstrated he has power from both sides of the plate.

Now three games is an awfully small sample size to judge how Santana’s skills will translate at the big league-level (a hurdle all three of the featured players will encounter), but so far, the numbers Santana is providing don’t seem to be out of line with his skill set. He’s only swung at 29.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (comp: Vlad Guerrero leads baseball by offering at 49.5 percent of pitches outside the zone), and when he does swing at pitches inside the zone–55 percent, BTW–he puts the bat on the ball 90.9 percent of the time, so it seems as if he’s making good decisions at the plate, so far.

Stanton

Mike Stanton 2.jpgDoes this guy have rotten timing to make a debut or what? The same day he goes 3-for-5 with two runs scored and almost gets the go-ahead hit, the guy at the end of this list not only makes his MLB debut, but decides to strike out over half-a-dozen batters in less than 100 pitches. This past weekend wasn’t that bad, either: 4-for-10 with a triple, a double, four RBIs, three walks, four strikeouts, two steals and two runs scored in three games against a tough Tampa Bay pitching staff.

And keep in mind this: he won’t be able to buy a drink until just before this Thanksgiving. There is little debate about Stanton’s power. After clubbing 89 bombs in 323 Minor League games (13.4 HR/AB), people would have possibly started talking about his hitting exploits the same way they talk about Chuck Norris “facts.”

Stanton’s biggest flaw, though, is his propensity for strikeouts. Throughout his Minor League career, Stanton struck out 371 times in 1,392 plate appearances, which comes out to him striking out in 26.7 percent of his PAs. 2008 was especially harsh for the Marlins’ 2007 second-round draftee, when he collected 153 whiffs in 540 plate appearances (28.3 percent). Obviously, this is a big red flag because even though he will get his home runs (and they will come), all those missed swings will greatly hold back his batting average and, in turn, limit his batting average and RBI opportunities.

There is plenty of hope on the horizon, though. The majority of those strikeouts came while he was just a teenager and after initially struggling in his first go-around in Double-A Jacksonville last season, Stanton made the necessary adjustments to boost his batting average from .231 to .311 at the time of his call-up. His strikeout rate fell from 99/341 (29 percent) in 2009 to 53/238 (22.3 percent), while his walk rate bumped up from 31/341 (9.1 percent) to 44/238 (18.5 percent). He also is not only an outfielder–limiting the amount of wear and tear on his body–but he is also a highly-rated defensive outfielder, too.

Many scouts and analysts say that right now, Stanton projects to be a Ryan Howard-type player from the right side: a ton of power to go with a ton of strikeouts. But, if he continues to improve on his plate discipline and you add in the element of speed (he already has two steals and a triple, and is considered one of the best overall athletes in the game right now), keeper league Stanton owners may have one of the most valuable players not named Heyward.

Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg 2.jpgC’mon, did you honestly think I’d make it to the end of June without looking into the kid. I mean, The Associated Press only compared him to Walter Johnson after his historic start last Tuesday. Thankfully, some of the hysteria has died down a little, especially after the more realistic outing he had yesterday against the Indians. Yes, his fastball hits 100 mph and “drops” to the upper-90s late in the game. Yes, his changeup can clock in at 91 mph (somewhere, Jamie Moyer just suddenly felt sad and doesn’t know why). And yes, his curveball would probably make Bert Blyleven jealous. But just for a moment, let’s go beyond that and see how Mr. Precedent gets things done.

In my hapkido (a Korean martial art) class, my master constantly preaches about how technique is “the ability to control your opponent.” Controlling his opponent is what Strasburg–and every other pitcher, for that matter–sets out to do in every at-bat, and that starts with throwing first-pitch strikes. Through two games, Strasburg pumps in a first-pitch strike 61.7 percent of the time, an astounding rate for a young power pitcher. Just to serve as frames of reference, only 30 eligible starters have higher FPS rates (Cliff Lee leads the Majors with a 71 percent mark) and names such as Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and David Price lag behind Strasburg’s mark.

All these strikeouts are great, for the fans, the TV ratings and fantasy owners of Strasburg, but we all know what happens when great young arms quickly pile up the whiffs. Probably no one knows this better than Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who, as skipper of the Cubs back in 1998, witnessed both the meteoric rise and fall of Kerry Wood within a span of 14 or so months. Riggleman told Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell that while the strikeouts are nice, “it’s better to get three outs on 12 pitches than three strikeouts on 18 pitches.” Of course, this was said prior to Strasburg’s first start, when he had his cake and ate it, too.

Of the 36 outs Strasburg has recorded in his big league career, 22 were via the strikeout, nine on groundouts and five on flyouts. It would be impossible to expect the San Diego State alumnus to routinely rack up double-digit strikeout games without breaking the 100-pitch barrier, so for this year and possibly next, fantasy Strasburg owners (especially keepers) should go against their nature and hope he doesn’t collect too many K’s. Simply put, Mr. Precedent won’t turn 22 until the end of July and his body isn’t yet conditioned to handle a Major League season yet. Fewer strikeouts mean fewer total pitches he uses and less stress he will put his arm under.

But then again, his stuff is just soooooooooo good that he doesn’t even have to try to get the strikeouts. They will just simple come.

Roster Matters

Lineup card 2.jpgAnother new addition here at The Fact of the Matter. This will list 24 players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, three OFs, DH/UTL, four SPs, two RPs, nine bench players) who I felt did the best between the previous Friday-Sunday period. I mean, this is Weekend Matters, right? But, as a caveat, I may not include players who had one really incredible day and were either mediocre or flat-out bad the other two days. If you feel anyone was egregiously left out, please, by all means, voice your concerns!

Injury Matters


  • Injuries.jpgSP Rich Harden
    (strained gluteus muscle, 15-day DL; put on list on Saturday)
  • 2B Orlando Hudson (wrist, 15-day DL; may return for June 15-17 series vs. Colorado)
  • SS Jimmy Rollins (calf, 15-day DL; starts rehab assignment on June 15 … may return for June 18-20 series vs. Minnesota)
  • RP Huston Street (shoulder, 15-day DL; continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs)
  • SP Edinson Volquez (right elbow, 60-day DL; begins rehab assignment on June 17 with Class A Dayton)
  • 3B Chipper Jones (finger; doubtful for June 15-17 series vs. Tampa Bay … whispers of retirement after season?)
  • 2B Brandon Phillips (tight right hamstring; missed Sunday’s game … questionable for June 17-19 series vs. LA Dodgers)
  • 3B Alex Rodriguez (hip; claims to be unrelated to ’09 surgery, questionable for June 17-19 series vs. Philadelphia)
  • SS Troy Tulowitzki (strained groin on Saturday; available to play on Tuesday)
  • 1B Kevin Youkilis (back spasms, HBP near right elbow Saturday; missed Sunday’s game)
  • C Miguel Montero returned from 15-day DL on Saturday.

- ME

Weekend Matters, June 7

It’s Draft Day here at MLB, and though it isn’t nearly as hyped as it’s NFL and NBA counterparts, it probably has the greatest impact on a ballclub’s future, both short- and long-term. Two shining examples of that are the Tampa Bay Rays and–though I’m not a fan of kicking a dead horse–the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Evan Longoria 1.jpgThanks to atrocious records and astute selections, the Rays have gone from one of the worst teams in baseball back in 2007 to the best this season with players they drafted and nurtured through their system. Players like David Price (first overall, 2007), Evan Longoria (third overall, 2006), Jeff Niemann (fourth overall, 2004), Reid Brignac (second round, 2004), B.J. Upton (second overall, 2002), James Shields (16th round, 2000) and Carl Crawford (second round, 1999).

Meanwhile in the Steel City, the Pirates turned the act of poorly-picked drafts into an artform with selections like Daniel Moskos (fourth overall, 2007), Bryan Bullington (first overall, 2002) and John Van Benschoten (eighth overall, 2001), just to name a few. It has only been until recently that the club’s drafting strategy has shifted into a more progressive, more well-thought-out approach, and the results are showing with players like Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.

And just over this past weekend, other clubs around baseball either got significant contributions from or announced the upcoming MLB debuts for some of their recent draft picks. Some of these players haven’t exactly been flying under the radar, yet some of these players may not only have a major impact on their ballclubs this season, but will also figure in deciding many fantasy leagues, as well.

Now, everyone by now knows the deal with Stephen Strasburg while both Jason Heyward and Mike Leake have been with their respective ballclubs since the end of Spring Training. The players I want to focus on are the ones who have only recently been called up to the big leagues or are within earshot of their manager’s office phone in the Minor Leagues. (all players listed alphabetically)

 


  • Pedro Alvarez 1.jpgPedro Alvarez, 3B — Pittsburgh Pirates
    : Alvarez is the first true, bona fide slugger the Pirates have had in their system since probably Barry Bonds back in the mid-1980s. The first thing out of any scout’s mouth is the tremendous power Alvarez packs into his left-handed swing. The Vanderbilt product has shown a Mark Teixeira-like tendency for slow starts (.224/.298/.424 in April, Triple-A) before rounding into form (.315/.411/.583 in May-June). Speaking of which, a round form is the only major concern the Pirates have with Alvarez, as he sometimes appears more than his listed weight of 225 pounds. He’d make a great first baseman for many fantasy teams, but his value is far greater at the hot corner. And with only Andy LaRoche in front of him at third in Pittsburgh, it may not be long before Alvarez finds himself in big league lineup cards.
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  • Domonic Brown 1.jpgDomonic Brown, OF — Philadelphia Phillies
    : In his final Spring Training game this year, Brown faced the Detroit Tigers and not only did he homer off Justin Verlander, but the lefty-swinging outfielder also took fellow southpaw Phil Coke deep, as well. When young left-handed hitters do well against tough left-handed pitchers, that almost always catches anyone’s attention. The Phillies’ 20th-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft (FYPD) has carried that ability into this season with Double-A Reading, hitting Eastern League lefties at a .311/.373/.644 clip. Brown’s power was a question coming into 2010, but has 10 homers and 13 doubles in 50 games with the R-Phils. Though he is signed through 2011, Raul Ibanez has really shown his age this season and with Philadelphia scuffling offensively, there is a small chance that Brown may make the jump to the big leagues well before the rosters expand in September.
  •  


  • Andrew Cashner 1.jpgAndrew Cashner, SP — Chicago Cubs
    : For the past decade, the Cubs have been known as a having a pitching staff that racks up the strikeouts with plenty of power arms, and Cashner is no exception, armed with a high-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup that is anywhere between 10-12 mph slower than his heater. His slider is considered his best secondary pitch, usually coming in the mid- to high-80s. The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 FYPD, Cashner’s biggest bugaboo was control, but before he was called up, he had a 59/15 K/BB ratio through 57 innings in Double-A and Triple-A. Three pitches are definitely enough to have a solid Major League career, but if the Cubbies can turn someone thought to be useless like Carlos Silva into one of the best hurlers in the NL, then there are plenty of reasons to think Cashner could be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the future. For now, though, Chicago plans on keeping him in the bullpen so they can control his workload, so he won’t have too much fantasy value this season.
  •  


  • Jhoulys Chacin 1.jpgJhoulys Chacin, SP – Colorado Rockies
    : Chacin had always been one of the better pitching prospects in the Rockies system for the last four years, but he really made a name for himself on Aug. 18, 2009 when he helped author a no-hitter for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in his Triple-A debut. Jhoulys (pronounced: YOU-lease) has a lively mid-90s fastball with some sinking action on it to go with a changeup and curveball, all thrown with the same arm action, so it’s more difficult for hitters to differentiate what kind of pitch is coming out of his hand, as was evident when he threw 15.1 scoreless innings to start his his 2010 Major League season. He does a good job in throwing first-pitch strikes for a young pitcher, doing so 54.1 percent of the time. Strangely enough, after never striking out more than a batter per inning during his minor league career, Chacin is fanning 9.42 batters per nine with Colorado so far.
  •  


  • Mike Stanton 1.jpgMike Stanton, OF — Florida Marlins
    : Well, it’s about time! It only took two months of total Minor League dominantion by Stanton and Major League disappointment by the current Florida OF trio of Chris Coghlan, Cameron Maybin and Cody Ross to get the most talked-about pure power hitting prospect up to The Show. Much has been made about all the long balls the 20-year-old, 2007 second-round pick has mashed. Through 52 games with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League, 35 of his 59 hits went for extra bases (12 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs), leading to a staggering 1.167 OPS. And when you look at his Minor League career, your eyes will grow only wider and your jaw will drop even further: 89 home runs, 65 doubles, 10 triples, 244 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 323 games. The only dent in his armor is his propensity for strikeouts (297 whiffs against 117 walks in 2008 & 2009, combined), but it seems as if he’s learning the strike zone better as he left the Minors with a 44/53 BB/K ratio. While Strasburg may steal all the headlines, don’t sleep on Stanton’s debut against the Phillies on Tuesday.
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    Others:

     

       

    Injury Matters

    Injuries.jpg

    Laughing Matters

    JOKE.jpgI’m not sure about everyone else, but it seems like every year, I draft at least one player that makes me feel like the smartest fantasy player ever. In relative terms, it’s a fantastic feeling. Every half-decent owner should experience this at least once a year, if for nothing else than to provide the illusion of brilliance and prop up what little self-confidence they may have after seeing their team crumble by Memorial Day.

    This year, that player for me is Ubaldo Jimenez. I’m still astounded at the fact that I got him. My initial plan going into the draft was to take one of these three pitchers to be my staff anchor: Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson and Jimenez. Somehow, I was able to draft all three of them in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The results: after getting me 44 points last week (29 coming on his shutout alone), he leads The Men Who Laugh with 203.33 total points and keeping them within striking range of first place in my division.

    Now if I could only go back in time to stop myself from dropping Jose Bautista for Travis Snider the day before Snider went on the DL…

     

    - ME

    Alphabet Soup in a Numbers Game

    Hey everyone, I apologize for the gap in entries. As everyone knows, sometimes life can get in the way every once in a while. That and the martial art of hapkido has some rather painful techniques for the fingers & thumbs. Ouch. I think the length and depth of this entry should make up for it, though.

    ***********************************************************

    For about 99 percent of fantasy leagues, there are only a few set of statistics that we care about. For hitting, it’s usually batting average (BA), home runs (HR), runs batted in (RBI), runs (R) and stolen bases (SB). On the mound, it’s the earned run average (ERA), walks-plus-hits by innings pitched (WHIP), strikeouts (K), wins (W) and saves (SV). Nothing earth-shattering with that. The problem we all encounter is trying to find and acquire those players who can give us the best overall production before anyone else can find them.

    This is partially the reason why we have sabermetrics: to accurately gauge a player’s true value and estimate his most likely levels of production in the future.

    Albert Einstein.jpgThe problem with all these new-fangled stats and metrics is two-fold: one, there’s about a million different statistics to choose from and two, many of them employ formulas that would give Albert Einstein–let alone Albert Pujols–a strong migraine. After playing fantasy baseball for almost 10 years now, even I still have trouble trying to figure out how to come up with a player’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and what constitutes a good figure.

    And that’s the biggest dilemma for most fantasy players: they are too intimidated by the complexity of these metrics to understand them, give up and hope they make the right personnel decisions. When it comes to making my roster choices, I’ve narrowed it down to six categories I feel most comfortable with. Now, these aren’t necessarily the absolute best categories to use, but it all comes down to what an individual feels most comfortable with. So here we go…

    (All stats accurate on morning of June 2. Also of note: some of the leaders of these stats are not very surprising. The goal of giving you this information is to help you in waiver-wire decisions or in judging whether a trade is in your favor or not. You should know by now that some times the smallest, seemingly most insignificant transactions hold major implications for the rest of the season…and your team’s chances of making the playoffs.)

    Strikeout rate (K%) & walk rate (BB%)

    This will probably be the easiest out of all of the statistics I will show you. Quite simply, it measures how often a batter strikes out or walks based on his total plate appearances. While you can usually tell if a full-time player strikes out/walks a lot just by looking at his numbers, it’s more difficult to tell with batters who have far less playing time, or during the first part of the season, where everyone is trying to figure out what level everyone else is at.

    For me, it allows me to figure out who is more prone to long slumps and who can still provide value, in terms of steals and runs, when they aren’t hitting well. 

    Highest K% – BB%

    1. Mark Reynolds (39.6) — Chipper Jones (20.3)
    2. Colby Rasmus (36.4) — Kevin Youkilis (19.1)
    3. Will Venable (36.0) — Josh Willingham (18.8)

    Lowest K% — BB%

    1. David Eckstein (2.7) — Adam Jones (2.3)
    2. Jeff Keppinger (5.2) — Aaron Rowand (3.0)
    3. A.J. Pierzynski (6.4) — Ryan Theriot (3.2)

     


    Vladimir Guerrero 2.jpgO-Swing Pct. (O-Sw%) & Z-Swing Pct. (Z-Sw%)

    These stats are fairly straight-forward, too–how often does a batter swing at a pitch outside or inside the strike zone–but it carries more weight than the previous metric. Batters who tend to have higher O-Sw percentages are the ones who expand their strike zone, therefore increasing the likelihood of putting themselves in pitcher-favorable counts, making poor contact and/or striking out. In short, this shows how well-disciplined a hitter is.

    The caveat here is that not all pitches inside the strike zone are very hittable and not all pitches outside the strike zone are unhittable.

     

    Highest O-Sw% — Z-Sw%

    1. Vladimir Guerrero (50.4) — Josh Hamilton (80.9)
    2. Pablo Sandoval (43.3) — Guerrero (80.8)
    3. Jeff Francoeur (43.2) – Francoeur (80.5)

    Lowest O-Sw% — Z-Sw% 

    1. Daric Barton (15.1) — Brett Gardner (43.4)
    2. Bobby Abreu (15.3) — Abreu (48.9)
    3. Marco Scutaro (15.6) — Elvis Andrus (49.8)

    Contact rate (Ct%)

    Once again, here’s another verrrrrry easy stat to understand (noticing an underlying theme here?). But just for the point of stating the obvious, this stat measures how often a batter makes contact with the ball on every swing. Now that wasn’t too hard, was it? And the leaders…

    Highest Ct% — Lowest Ct%

    1. Juan Pierre (96.3) — Reynolds (63.5)
    2. Luis Castillo (95.8) — Justin Upton (69.1)
    3. Scutaro (95.4) — Ryan Howard (69.7)

    OK, Player X almost always makes contact on every swing while Player Z looks like he’s up at the plate with half a broomstick. So what? Well, Mr. You’re-So-Smart, if you notice the pattern of player types at each end of the list, you’ll notice that this significantly impacts two major fantasy categories: runs and RBIs.

    First, you’ll see that the guys at the top of the Ct%-leaderboard are mostly table-setters: the guys whose incredible ability to put the bat on the ball is their primary reason for gainful employment. In most instances, the guys who make more contact stand a better chance to get on base, swipe a few bags (provided they have the speed and awareness necessary) and score runs! The players at the bottom of this barrel are, for the most part, the hard-hitting run-producers who sacrifice a controlled, accurate swing for a faster, more powerful and less-accurate hack in order to drive the ball.

    If your team is greatly lacking in runs scored, start looking for any free agents who swing and miss less than 16 percent of the time (86 Ct%) and (don’t forget!) bat in front of players who can reliably drive them in. Should your team be deficient in RBIs, take the opposite approach. And should you find a player who combines both a high Ct% and a favorable figure of the next stat, well, you better not let him go…at least without getting someone at least just as good in return.

    Isolated power (ISO)

    Corey Hart 1.jpgMost of us know that a guy with high slugging percentage is the guy you want if you’re looking for home runs, RBIs and total bases. But SLG is flawed in two ways: one, guys with high batting averages pumped up by lots of singles (see Suzuki, Ichiro) can sometimes appear to be semi-sluggers, or players mired in slumps will overly defleat their SLG. Secondly, SLG treats a triple the same way as a double or a home run when, in fact, a triple is more the result of a player’s speed rather than power. ISO helps whittle away some of the mitigating factors that go into SLG.

    Now here comes the hard part, the first formula of the entry. The simple version is taking the SLG and subtract the BA from it: ISO = SLG – BA (ex: .658 – .347 = .311, Miguel Cabrera). The more advanced formula goes a little like this (remember, do the work inside the parenthesis first: ISO = (2B + 3B + (HR*3)) / AB (ex: 10 + 3 + (10*3) = 43 / 164 = .262, Jason Heyward).

    As far as gauging a an acceptable figure, a slightly above-average ISO falls somewhere between the .175-.200 mark while an average figure is around .150-.175 or so. The leaderboard I’m showing you is from FanGraphs.com, which uses the traditional formula.

    Highest ISO — Lowest ISO

    1. Jose Bautista (.344) — Ryan Theriot (.029)
    2. Corey Hart (.331) — Pierre (.030)
    3. Justin Morneau (.313) — Castillo (.035)
    4. Miguel Cabrera (.311) — Andrus (.038)
    5. Scott Rolen (.302) — Gordon Beckham (.042)

    Batting Average, Balls In Play (BABIP)

    Ubaldo Jimenez 1.jpgWhen this stat was first introduced, most people assumed that this would be a great tool in assessing a hitter’s value. But when the stat was explored a little more closely, it was revealed that there are way too many variables involved with this stat to have any strong corelation to a hitter’s performance. Buuuuuuuuut, this new metric did have its usefulness with pitchers and team defense.

    In its essence, BABIP demonstrates how effectively a defense can turn balls hit in the field of play into outs, and in a round-about way, how difficult it is for a batter to make solid contact against a pitcher. This cuts out obvious things such as home runs, strikeouts and walks. The way you get this figure is pretty similar to getting a batting average, only with a couple wrinkles: BABIP = (H – HR) / (AB – K – HR + SF) (ex: [45 - 1 =] 44 / [268 - 70 -1 +0 =] 197 = .223, Ubaldo Jimenez).

    The lower the number, the better it is for the pitcher and the higher, the better for the batter, with a league average hovering around the .300 mark. Rule of thumb (tntried to find a cleaned-up Boondock Saints link for that term, but couldn’t get one!) is that if a pitcher’s BABIP is either extremely low or high, he’s gone through a fairly (un)lucky stretch and is due for a return to the mean later on that season or the next. And should you notice one of your pitchers sporting a really nice BABIP, but is walking more and striking out fewer batters than usual, much like the second-ranked starter on the following list, it may be time to see if there are any takers for this particular hurler.

    Highest BABIP — Lowest BABIP, Starters

    1. Justin Masterson (.404) — Jimenez (.223)
    2. Brian Matusz (.359) — Tim Hudson (.225)
    3. Zach Duke (.359) — Livan Hernandez (.229)
    4. Gavin Floyd (.355) — Jason Vargas (.236)
    5. Wandy Rodriguez (.351) — Matt Cain (.237)

    Highest BABIP — Lowest BABIP, Closers

    1. Chad Qualls (.476) — Jose Valverde (.159)
    2. Bobby Jenks (.450) — Mariano Rivera (.182)
    3. Brian Wilson (.424) — Manny Corpas (.186)
    4. Heath Bell (.387) — Jonathan Papelbon (.196)
    5. Matt Lindstrom (.372) — Rafael Soriano (.218)

    Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

    The last stat for the day is probably also one of the more telling when it comes to pitching. You know how you see a pitcher’s ERA and you absolutely know that he is much better/worse than what it says? Well, this nifty metric helps trim away the grizzle and fat. Basically, what this stat does is eliminate the things pitchers cannot control and zeros in on the things he does: strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit batters (similar to the “Three True Outcomes” for hitters). The formula, though, is a little difficult to digest, though: FIP = (13*HR + 3*(HBP + BB – IBB) – 2*K) / IP +3.10

    I’ll give you a minute to process that jumble of letters, numbers and other doo-wackies.

    Javier Vazquez 1.jpgOK, done yet? Good. Now I would absolutely love to tell you how the creator of this stat, “Tom Tango” (yes, that is an alias), but I just don’t think I have the requisite brain power to figure that out. The good thing about this stat is that it operates at the same scale as ERA; someone with a 3.00 ERA is really good, someone with a 4.25 is OK and someone with a FIP above 6.00 is probably Javy Vazquez as a Yankee.

    Highest FIP — Lowest FIP, Starter

    1. David Huff (6.01) — Roy Halladay (2.39)
    2. David Bush (5.66) — Francisco Liriano (2.41)
    3. Rich Harden (5.56) — Jimenez (2.62)
    4. Wade Davis (5.49) — Josh Johnson (2.69)
    5. Freddy Garcia (5.41) — Adam Wainwright (2.73)

    Highest FIP — Lowest FIP, Closer

    1. Trevor Hoffman (9.06) — Jonathan Broxton (0.63)
    2. Papelbon (4.98) — Matt Thornton (1.08)
    3. David Aardsma (4.40) — Wilson (1.43)
    4. Francisco Cordero (4.34) — Carlos Marmol (1.79)
    5. Qualls (4.19) — Bell (1.98)

    Well, hopefully you were able to get some useful information out of this. Like I said before, there are a lot of other statistics out there, and some may be easier to understand for some more than others.

     

    - ME

    Weekend Matters, May 24

    One of the most perplexing things about baseball is how some players quickly emerge into the forefront without any prior warning or hype. The poster boy for this is, and probably forever will be, Albert Pujols, who burst into the big leagues in 2001 after being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. The odds of that happening again are just a little bit more likely than Ronnie James Dio (a Yankees fan) going on the OzzFest tour this summer, but there usually are one or two players who put on a good show out of the blue.

    Jose Bautista 1.jpgWell, in this case, out of the Blue Jays. This year’s best out-of-nowhere (OON) player probably is Toronto 3B/OF Jose Bautista, who somehow has hit 14 home runs to tie Paul Konerko for the Major League-lead despite maxing out at 16 homers in 117 games in 2006 with the Pirates.

    Bautista shares a common theme with most OON players (with Pujols being a major outlier) in that he’s closer to 30 (29, to be accurate) than he is to 20, much like Vinny Castilla (27), Luis Gonzalez (30), Jayson Werth (29) and Ben Zobrist (27)*. Not only that, but each of these players saw a decrease in their strikeout percentage (however small it was) in their breakout season as opposed to the season before. But this is where Bautista’s case takes a unique turn.

    With all of the above-metioned players, their breakout seasons featured solid, respectable ISO’s (ISO – isolated power, helps measure a player’s raw power) with figures ranging from .208 (Gonzalez) to .246 (Zobrist). Bautista, on the other hand, flies well above this level as his ISO today stands at an incredible .327, third-highest in baseball behind Andre Ethier‘s .352 and Konerko’s .340. To give you a better idea, Pujols’ career ISO is .292, and every time Pujols’ ISO was higher than .300, he hit at least 43 home runs (four seasons total).

    The next stat trend (BABIP) is a little more strange. During their breakout seasons, most of these batters–along with many other similar players–posted BABIPs (measures how well a batter hits when he makes contact,or, the efficiency of a defense turning batted balls into outs) north of .310, with the lone exception in our case being Gonzalez and his .262 BABIP. Bautista’s BABIP is an abysmally low .230, 47 points below his career average! Not only that, but his line drive-percentage has dropped (15.1 career to 13.4 in ’10) while his fly ball- and HR/FB percentages have spiked (43.6 – 52.0, and 11.5 to 21.2, respectively). Such rates are rarified air, usually traveled by players like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.

    The last thing that jumped out at me was his plate discipline. According to his player page on FanGraphs.com, Bautista is swinging at far more pitches outside the zone and making less contact on those swings. Conversely, he’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone, but connecting on those swings at a much higher rate.

    So what gives? What can we make of these trends that seemingly pull us in different directions? This morning, I was looking through Buster Olney’s daily blog and saw he wrote about a possible explanation for Bautista’s emergence. Here’s a clip from that entry:

    In the midst of last season, Dwayne Murphy, the Jays’ first base coach at the time, talked with Bautista on the bench about starting his swing a little sooner. ‘There was something in the way he told me,” Bautista recalled. “He worded things differently, in a way I could understand.’

    “So Bautista began working on starting his swing sooner. Until that point in his career, Bautista began his swing mechanics — the lift of his front foot, the cocking of his hands — as the opposing pitcher drew his pitching arm through his motion. What Bautista began to do is start his hitting mechanics just as the pitcher started: Bautista began lifting his front foot as the pitcher’s motion began, as if in sync.

    “The benefit did not come immediately. The whole thing felt awkward, and Bautista struggled to feel comfortable. ‘I had some days when I felt even worse,’ Bautista said.

    “…on Sept. 10, 2009, Bautista smashed a double and a homer and felt much better. Soon, he could not imagine how he had ever hit with his old swing.”

    Luis Gonzalez 1.jpgThis revelation about a change in batting stance brings me back to Gonzalez in 1998. Before, Gonzo used to have a fairly normal batting stance that produced respectable, but not incredible results. It was during this time that he gradually opened his stance up so that his hips at the start of his stance were on an angle pretty much between the mound and the first base-foul line. From 1998 to 2005, Gonzalez was one of the best hitters in baseball, batting .295/.385/.523 with 247 home runs, 345 doubles and 845 RBIs in one season with the Tigers and eight with the Diamondbacks.

    So am I saying Bautista is the next Gonzalez? Not quite, since after all, we’re not even though the first full year of the change and haven’t seen if pitchers have figured out how to exploit whatever weaknesses this approach may have. But, I will say this: the only other third base-eligible players putting up more points than Bautista are Kevin Youkilis and Evan Longoria. Only Ryan Braun is ahead of Bautista in production amongst outfielders. That doesn’t just make Bautista a must-own, he is a must-start-now.

    * (note – These players were chosen at random and do not constitute an expected range of performance. They only serve as recent comparisons; points of reference rather than absolute gospel.)

    Injury Matters

    Injuries.jpgThis is a new section I’m going to put in all W.M.‘s from now on, letting people who weren’t able to follow games this weekend know who incurred any injuries between Friday and Sunday. The type of injury, if known, will be listed and anyone placed on the 15- or 60-day DL during this time span will be listed first and in bold. All listing will be in alphabetical order. And since this is a new section, it will probably have a couple tweaks here and there until it can be at its most useful format.

    Laughing Matters

    JOKE.jpgBringing this article back full circle, I have a confession to make: I am a complete idiot, rock-head, dope and whatever else you can throw at me that’s fit to print. You know how I just spent the majority of this post espousing the hitting wonder that is Jose Bautista? You do?

    Well, I had him and I released him a week and a half ago for Travis Snider.

    Who went on the DL the very next day.

    The fact that I won this past week is an absolute miracle, given I started an outfield of Carlos Gonzalez (ugh), Garrett Jones (meh) and Denard Span (yay…aw, crap) while Tommy Hanson laid a nice little stink bomb that cost me 11 points. And yet, somehow, I’m 4-3 despite having the fewest home runs and third-worst slugging percentage in my 12-team mixed league.

    Just goes to show you that even the so-called “experts” can also double as those people you see trying to push a door open when it clearly reads “pull.”

     

    - ME

    Balancing Passion and Reason

    There’s a reason why people play fantasy baseball: they love the game.

    It probably started back when we were playing tee-ball and collecting baseball cards, trying to trick a friend into trading his Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card by saying that Melido Perez was actually a hitter and that 4.61 ERA was actually a .461 batting average (A hidden impetus for fantasy baseball? And no, that scenario didn’t happen to me.). We all want to prove to our buddies–and even total strangers–that though we don’t have the physical skills to play Major League Baseball, we know what a good one looks like, what kind of numbers he’s supposed to put up and that we can find the good ones better than you.

    Fantasy Draft 1.jpgNow, as many (but not all) of us are long past college, the love of winning gradually crept into the picture. Where before a live fantasy draft might have looked like a frat party at the end, now you have what you see at the left: a bunch of guys (be it geeks, dorks, nerds, jocks, etc…) with their bleary eyes glued to either a laptop, print-out or magazine with a couple half-full beverages and an untouched pizza sitting on a table in the middle of the herd.

    That has happened because we know there are many statistical markers and traits that, most of the time, signal whether or not a particular player is going to break out. We analyze these patters, study the player’s history, look at the environment he will be playing in and try to make the best possible decision from all this information.

    But at some points during the draft, and far more often during the season, the passion comes back out, refusing to be caged in. That part makes you create certain “rules” you abide by when deciding which player you draft or pick up off the waiver wire. For me, I steadfastedly refuse to acquire any player currently on the Boston Red Sox or who was part of the 2004 team (take a wild guess as to who my favorite team is, and it isn’t the Cardinals). I mean, if you have these players on your team, you want to be able to root for them to do well, correct?

    Yet that passion may cause some problems for you down the road. Let’s say that I had Adrian Gonzalez and with my team in the thick of the playoff race in late July, he gets traded to the Red Sox. Now you find yourself in a sticky situation: you desperately want to win this season, but at the same time, you cannot possible stomach the possibility of wanting someone on the Red Sox to do well. What now? This is where you can use passion to your favor, with said passion being someone else’s.

    Every league has at least a couple “homers” in their ranks: guys who blindly go after almost anyone on their favorite team, even if a particular players makes Nick Johnson look like the second coming of Lou Gehrig. If you have a player who you absolutely want no part of, you must do two things:

    1. Pretend that it doesn’t even bother you (if the level of your rooting interests are not known) and keep any and all reactions bland & the same as if the one player was traded to a different team.
    2. Find that “homer” in your league and make him your new buddy.

    Vladimir Guerrero 1.jpgThe point? You want to rob him blind, of course! Now if the player you’re trying to give away is a first-round talent like Gonzalez, that makes negotiations much easier than if he were someone you picked up later on in the draft, like say (for argument’s sake) Vladimir Guerrero. The objective is to tantalize the “homer” so much that he would give up just about anyone to obtain the player you’re dangling in the wind.

    Casually mention about the year Player X is having to the “homer.” Remark about how fortunate you were to draft or pick him up. Ask the “homer” if his biggest regret from the draft was not selecting this guy? Then you drop the hammer:

    You can have Player X, if you want.

    Play it coy, but let it be known that for this player, you need someone from him that can produce A, B and C for you in return. Let the homer throw an offer out there, appear mildly interested, but then say it’s going to take a little bit more. Rinse & repeat, but always make sure you have his interest level up. Eventually, you should be able to have him offer up a package that is in your favor.

    Now every once in a while, you have an incredible offer just fall into your lap like manna from the fantasy gods. It happened not just once to me (I got Paul Konerko in return for Barry Zito, straight up. You just HAVE to make that, especially in a points league.) but twice, though the second instance was too good to be true, which is something all fantasy owners should be aware of.

    I was offered the great Zack Greinke for Tommy Hanson…and Rafael Soriano. Initially, I nearly jumped out of my skin to accept that deal. But I hesitated, and I’m glad that I did. Thankfully, the reason in me got up and smacked the passion in the back of its head. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details and stats, Greinke and Hanson are (value-wise) pretty much the same pitcher. Greinke may give you a lower WHIP and more quality starts (if applicable), but Hanson has the luxury of pitching in the NL, creating better opportunities for more strikeouts and he plays on the Braves versus the Royals (read: more wins).

    Oh, and I’d also be giving up the fifth-best closer without a useful player available to replace him.

    The moral of the story is this: ALWAYS DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE DOING A DEAL! The numbers don’t lie, but it’s up to you to find them and interpret them correctly.

    Hanley Ramirez 1.jpgLastly, as I climb up on my soap box, you always want to have players you can root for on your roster. It’s more fun that way. But let’s say you have the pleasure of owning someone like Hanley Ramirez on your roster, who’s quickly becoming the poster child for immaturity and self-centeredness among today’s athletes. This is just my personal opinion, but I feel that if you think a particular player is someone you personally wouldn’t want to be associated with, you are under no obligation whatsoever to keep him.

    Oh, but he was my top pick, you say? Shouldn’t have to matter. If Ramirez (or whoever is creating your minor moral dilemma) was a first pick or high pick, that gives you all the more leverage to get high-quality players back in a trade.

    Some of the unofficial rules of fantasy baseball are useful, but others, like never sit your top players, for example, I feel will end up hurting a team in the long run. Like the title of the post says, it’s all about finding the proper balance between your passion and your reason. When you achieve that, you won’t automatically walk away with a league championship, but it’ll certainly help improve your chances.

     

    - ME

    Weekend Matters, May 17

    Another weekend down and one more to go before Memorial Day Weekend. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. So here…we…go.


    Joker 1.jpg
    Barren Haren?

    For the last three years, Dan Haren has been the quiet ace in baseball: always putting up top-flight numbers but getting little notoriety for his efforts. For the last three years, he’s gone 45-27 with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, 8.37 K/9 and a microscopic 1.79 BB/9 rate. I don’t know about you, but those numbers ain’t too shaby. This year, though, Haren has been completely out of character, as you can easily tell from his last start on Sunday against the Braves.

    That tidy little ERA is up to 4.83 and his WHIP has ballooned to 1.37. He’s walking nearly one whole extra batter this year (2.3) compare to 2009 (1.5) and his H/9 shot up from 7.5 to 10.1. How does that happen? According to FanGraphs.com, there hasn’t been any real change in the velocity of his pitches–though he has either apparently stopped throwing his slider or there is no information available regarding that pitch. So where does that leave us?

    Well for one thing, hitters are making more contact off of him. Batters are hitting .255 off Haren for his career, but that number jumps to .285 this season. One culprit is an abnormally high BABIP (.357 – 2010, .302 – career). Look a little deeper and you’ll see that the kind of contact batters are making isn’t necessarily bad for Haren. This year, batters hit line drives on just 17.6 percent of batted balls (career – 19.9), ground balls 47.7 percent of the time (career – 44.6) and fly balls 34.7 percent of the time (career – 35.6). And finally, Haren’s opponents are actually making less contact than before when they swing, putting the bat on the ball 73.1 percent of the time, compared to his 78.7 lifetime mark.

    Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that Haren has simply been really, really unlucky so far this season. It happens. This is one of the reasons why stats like ERA (and especially W-L) can be so tricky when trying to properly value pitchers. So, if I were you, I would make it a priority to buy low on Haren and hope that his owner doesn’t have the same insight or patience that you do.

    Leadoff Men: the Brave and the Prado

    Martin Prado 1.jpgWhen a team has hitters like Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in their lineup most of the time, it would be fair to say that they should be one of the better offenses in the league. Yet, the Atlanta Braves have the fourth-highest OBP in the NL but have scored just the ninth-most runs. Something like that happens when your leadoff hitters are batting a collective .183/.272/.294. For the first six weeks of the season, manager Bobby Cox couldn’t find anyone useful to put in at the top spot of his lineup card. That was until this past Friday, when he tried Martin Prado.

    The result? Prado went 6-for-14 (.429) with two home runs, six RBI and two runs scored as Atlanta took two of three games from Arizona. He may not draw too many walks (just a 6.5 percent walk rate this year), but he also doesn’t strike out that much, either (14.2 percent). His .354 BABIP may appear high, but his career mark of .309 suggests that this isn’t unsustainable.

    And with the already-fearsome Heyward batting behind him, pitchers will be even less inclined to get fancy with the 26-year-old Venezuelan and give him more fastballs to hit. When you take that into account that Prado is also eligible at 1B and 3B, and you have an extremely valuable and flexible asset on your fantasy roster…should you own him, of course.

     

    Resurgent Rangers

    A year ago, Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton were on different teams but placed in the same group: injured sluggers who have already seen their better days go by. The two of them combined to hit 25 home runs last year when in 2008, they belted 27 and 32 long balls each, respectively. Now, they are key parts in a Texas offense that I feel is the most explosive in baseball (yes, even more so than the Yankees or the Phillies). If you would like to disagree, let me put this lineup in front of you:

    1. Elvis Andrus
    2. Michael Young
    3. Hamilton
    4. Guerrero
    5. Nelson Cruz
    6. Ian Kinsler
    7. Justin Smoak
    8. Max Ramirez
    9. David Murphy

    Josh Hamilton 1.jpgWhile you try to find the hole in that lineup, let me tell you the biggest reason why Guerrero and Hamilton have improved so much this year: they’re healthy (duh). When Guerrero’s back and knees are right, he’s able to have healthier swings (and less prone to strikeouts, whiffing at just 10.7 percent this year as opposed to 14.6 percent last year) and put more power into those swings (his line drive rate has risen from 18.3 percent in ’09 to 20.2 percent in ’10).

    Hamilton–though he’s in a bit of a slump (1-for-13, 9 strikeouts in last three games)–just looks like he’s healthier and playing better. Will he be a .300-plus hitter and one of the five-best outfielders in the game? Maybe, but it’s far from a guarantee. But will he provide plenty of extra-base hits and RBIs for both the Rangers and your fantasy squad, as long as he’s healthy? Without a doubt.

     

    - ME

    (Note: later on today, I’ll add on a little news about what’s going on with my main fantasy team, The Men Who Laugh.)

    Does Perfection have its Price?

    OK, so this post is a liiiiiittle off-schedule. Better late than never, right? Anyway…

     

    Dallas Braden 2.jpgTonight is Start 1, APG (After Perfect Game) for Dallas Braden, as he and the rest of the Athletics face the Angels in Anaheim, Calif. The question on everyone’s mind, from players to the media to the fans to fantasy owners, is what happens next? How does one follow up perfection? Is it a sign of things good or bad to come, or is it just one of those weird anomalies that helps baseball be so unique?

    Well, of course, that’s a question I just couldn’t let go unanswered. But there is one major caveat before you read further: since there have only been 19 perfect games in the modern era of baseball, the sample size is very small, understandably. Also, since perfect games have happened across different offensive times, so I only looked at perfect games that occurred during the current high-powered offensive climate we’re in now.

    That leaves us with five such games (from earliest to latest): Kenny Rogers on July 28, 1994; David Wells on May 17, 1998; David Cone on July 18, 1999; Randy Johnson on May 18, 2004; and Mark Buehrle on July 23, 2009.

    When I went through these games, all I was looking for was how each pitcher was doing before the big game and how he did after it. Did particular rate statistics increase or decrease by a significant amount for these five? Was there any clearly definitive pattern? The only instance the process was complicated was with Rogers, who made only two more starts after his perfecto before the ’94 season was cancelled due to the players’ strike.

    After I first looked through the data, I was a little disappointed. Some pitchers were better for the rest of the season after The Game while others bombed out, and everyone’s rate stats were different. But, if you take another look, you’ll see a pattern does emerge, and it all depends on when the perfect game takes place.

    I saw that half of the perfect games occurred May and the other half in July. When you separate the two, the pattern smacks you right in the face: those who had their moment in the sun in May went on to have great seasons while those that happened in July saw their season take a steep nose-dive. On the surface, that is how simply it appears, but there are a couple undercurrents that should be mentioned.

    The two pitchers who had perfect games in May, Wells and Johnson, had at least one highly exceptional skill set: Wells was probably one of the best control artists in the last 25 years, while Johnson might simply be one of the two greatest strikeout pitchers ever. Also, with the exception of the then-29-year-old Rogers, all these pitchers were at least 30 years old, so they were able to rely on intelligence and guile as well as their physical abilities to get hitters out. Braden is neither north of 30 nor does he possess a skill set that separates him from the majority of his peers (at least for now).

    So what does this all mean? Braden’s PG came in May (which is good), but he isn’t well-known for a particular stat or ability (which isn’t good), so should I start him? Sit him? Cut or trade him?

    Well, in my opinion, I like to think that Braden will have a good 2010 season, but nothing like what Boomer Wells had in ’98 or the Big Unit in ’04. He’s still learning and improving, so I also highly doubt his season will suddenly careen into the abyss, dragging many fantasy seasons along with it. Not only that, but Mr. 209 pitches half of his games in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the game.

    Braden is definitely worth keeping on your roster as a back-end starter in mixed leagues and a mid-rotation guy in AL-only leagues. But odds are that your league has a guy who’s pitching is so bad that it would make the Mariners’ lineup look more like the Rangers. Make that guy your new best friend and name your price for the irreverant southpaw.

     

    - ME

     

    Oh, one more thing. While searching for pictures of Braden, I came across this beauty. It was too good for me to leave alone, so here it is. Dallas Braden: Human Time Machine.

    Dallas Braden 3.jpg

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