Archive March 2007
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Rule No. 1 – Using righty/lefty splits with hitters
This is still underused in most fantasy leagues yet extremely simple. At the beginning of each series, you can look at the projected starters and arrange your starting lineup accordingly. You’d only have to do this twice a week, and it wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Some extreme split examples from last year include bigger names than you’d think:
Grady Sizemore – vs. righties (.329/.416/.586) vs. lefties (.214/.290/.427)
Jim Thome – he hit .321 with 36 HRs in 299 at-bats vs. right-handers compared to hitting .236 with just six HRs in 191 at-bats against southpaws.
Inevitably, fantasy owners will have a hard time benching a stud such as Sizemore or Thome, so this strategy may come more into play with lesser talents:
Corey Patterson – batted .301 with 37 steals vs. righties compared to .207 with eight steals vs. left-handers. His stolen base success rate also fell from 88 percent to 66 percent when a southpaw was on the hill.
Chris Duncan – He hit .170 vs. southpaws last season but mashed righties, batting .318 and belting out 20 home runs in just 233 at-bats.
Wily Mo Pena – Makes a fine platoon partner this season, as JD Drew figures to sit frequently against lefties (not only because he struggles but also in an attempt to keep him healthy), and Pena has clobbered 20 HRs in 361 career at-bats vs. southpaws.
Lance Niekro – Using an extreme example to highlight just how effective this strategy can be, Niekro, who was likely a free agent in most leagues, had a ridiculous 1.019 OPS with nine home runs in 108 at-bats vs. left-handers during the 2005 season. There will be a similar player sitting on your waiver wire this year.
Rule No. 2 – Using home/road splits
This strategy works both for hitters and pitchers and is fairly obvious. Unlike basketball and football, homefield is extremely variable when it comes to baseball:
Hank Blalock – What a frustrating player failing to live up to his potential. While this may be true, he’s still valuable if used correctly: For his career, he has a .693 OPS on the road and an .887 OPS at home, knocking out 23 more home runs despite fewer at-bats. This same type of home success can be said for nearly every Ranger.
Jamie Moyer – When spot starting, it’s not difficult to figure out which parks you want your hurlers pitching in. Moyer’s 2005 season could go down as one of the all-time greatest discrepancies, as he posted a 6.11 ERA on the road and a 2.95 ERA at home.
NL West - Not only is this the easiest division to pitch in, but one where you know when to bench your starters. Sure, Coors Field has seen its runs scored decline in six of the last seven years, but over the final month last season, nearly 8.5 runs were scored per game. Even before that, the stadium yielded a half of a run more per game than the NL average. Bottom line, it’s still very much so a hitter’s park, and you’d be wise to sit your starters there.
Rule No. 3 – Draft injury-prone base stealers
An offshoot of this is drafting someone you know will miss time with injury, such as Dave Roberts (never played 130 games in a season). His 35-40 SBs in 350-400 at-bats are more valuable than Willy Taveras and/or Chris Duffy getting 45 steals in 600 at-bats because someone on your waiver wire will be of more help in the HR and RBI categories during those 200-250 replacement at-bats. This also applies for Ryan Freel.
How to Value Closers
I've seen Mariano Rivera and in previous years, Eric Gagne, go in the second round of my 15-team mixed league. And there have been people like me who have waited until round 10 or 11 to draft my first closer, usually someone like Bob Wickman or Joe Borowski.
Maybe this is coincidence, but in that league, I've always done best getting one guy (in past years, it was Francisco Cordero) in the sixth or seventh round, and maybe one more in the 10th or 11th. Sometimes, I'll draft a closer-in-waiting type for my reserve roster, and usually during the season, there are players to pick up.
But I don't buy the cavalier attitude that people have who say: "Don't ever pay for saves, it's only one category, and there are plenty of guys on the waiver wire to pick up."
First off, if your league is competitive enough to win while getting a 1 in a category, then fine, you can punt, and you'll probably do well in Ks and Wins as a result. But you had better have a good offense and not a terrible ERA and WHIP while you're at it - something that's tough to do with nine starters (who on average are worse than relievers in those categories).
And if you don't think you're punting because it's so easy to pick up a closer, think again. While Otsuka, Borowski, Saito and others were great finds last year - there are 14 other teams in my league bidding on those guys, and I might end up getting Howry or Wheeler or Burgos or some other reliever who seemed to have the job, but didn't keep it.
Plus, if you go all starters, you'll likely be behind in saves by the time you do plug the hole and will likely have to trade for them anyway, i.e., you'd hate to pick up a couple closers who cost you wins and Ks, and only gain three points in saves.
The bottom line is you have a choice:
(1) In a tight enough league where you can win despite being last in one category, you can punt saves altogether.
(2) Or you can draft/buy closers in such a way that give you the most saves for your money.
If you do (2), there's no perfect time to do it, and it varies by league (in a 4 x 4 NL only league, closers are legit. second round picks), or in a yahoo league which requires two relievers, you have to bump them up a bit.
Again, my best success rate (which is admittedly anecdotal) is when I draft a decent closer a couple rounds after the initial run (this year that would be a guy like Huston Street) and then follow that up with a sketchier guy like Jason Isringhausen a few rounds later.
One other note - Scott Pianowski made a good point on my radio show about bumping up closers with one obvious backup, e.g., a guy like Gagne who has Otsuka is safer than another sketchy closer who has no clear cut backup to get.
More Thoughts on the Papelbon Decision
Papelbon wants to close. He says he feels most comfortable in that role and that he helps the team most when pitching in the ninth inning. While the former may be of importance, the latter is egregiously inaccurate. Having a player feel “comfortable” and ultimately most happy in his role needs to be taken into account. For years, Barry Bonds demanded he occupy the cleanup spot, despite the fact he would see 20-30 fewer at-bats over the course of a season and his high OBP played better earlier in the order. What Bonds wants, Bonds gets, and I agreed with the managerial decision to side with the slugger, whose contentment was ultimately more important. Happiness aside, the problem with this reasoning, however, is that when a player such as Papelbon thinks he’s “helping his team more,” he’s often misinformed and mistaken.
No matter how hard the media try to sway our opinion, the ninth inning isn’t any more important than the first inning. Or the third inning. While the pressure of the ninth means a specific type of personality on the mound may perform better, it still doesn’t change the fact that Papelbon throwing 200 innings is more valuable to the Red Sox than him throwing 70. Hey, I have an idea; don’t start David Ortiz this year. Just wait until the ninth inning, and then use him exclusively as a pinch-hitter. After all, he’s clutch! Those 162 at-bats compared to last year’s 558 would be a similar decline (71 percent) to Papelbon’s (65 percent) projected starter innings to relief innings (200 to 70).
What about those projected innings you ask? Well, maybe the biggest factor of all here, is Papelbon’s health. Benefits of pitching in the pen or the rotation are fairly specific to the individual. While Kerry Wood struggles nowadays when he reaches the 50-60 pitch count, and he’ll have a better chance of staying healthy in the pen, John Smoltz swears the bullpen nearly ruined his arm, and the rotation is much more conducive to his overall health. Papelbon came up through the minors as a starter, and the main reason Boston wanted to move him into the rotation in the first place was because the team’s medical staff recommended it. Regular rest and a routine was best for his already tenuous shoulder and long-term health. If this decision was made because Boston was uncomfortable with their alternate closing options (despite the fact Joel Pineiro has been lights out of late), it’s truly ridiculous.
As far as fantasy is concerned, his value probably increases, as the “saves” category actually matters unlike in the real sport. However, you’ll lose 80-110 strikeouts, around 10-12 wins, and an ERA/WHIP of 3.50/1.25 in 200 innings is at least as valuable as an ERA/WHIP of 2.50/1.10 in 70 innings. Still, at minimum, his perceived fantasy value will probably shoot through the roof, so if you drafted him wanting the starter stats, I’d recommend you shop him immediately. Ultimately, the fantasy ramifications will come down to whether this decision benefits or damages his ability to stay healthy.
In my opinion, the Red Sox just relinquished their title as World Series favorites over to the Yankees.
Is Outfield More Scarce than Third Base in 2007?
- Alex Rodriguez
- David Wright
- Miguel Cabrera
- Aramis Ramirez
- Garrett Atkins
- Chone Figgins
- Ryan Zimmerman
- Troy Glaus
- Scott Rolen
- Chipper Jones
- Alex Gordon
- Morgan Ensberg
- Mark Teahen
- Hank Blalock
- Eric Chavez
I've left off guys like Joe Crede, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion, Aubrey Huff, Akinori Iwamura and Chad Tracy, who could arguably be on the this, and of course, up and coming players like Andy Marte, B.J. Upton and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
The 50-60th outfielders on RotoWire's cheatsheet are thinner than that in my opinion - and in any event, it's close.
The bottom line is that when choosing between Carlos Beltran and David Wright in Round 1, don't automatically give Wright extra points for positional scarcity.
Players to Target
Cole Hamels – Hamels’ ADP currently sits at 115.5, among the likes of Joe Crede (111.3), Adam LaRoche (114.3) and Chien-ming Wang (115.6). Absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Hamels comes with injury risk (a theme with the pitchers I’m targeting this year), but none of his previous ailments have ever been of the arm variety. His stuff, however, has never been questioned; featuring one of the very best changeups in the game, Hamels posted a tiny 2.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over the final two months last season. He also sported a 76/19 K/BB ratio over 69 1/3 innings during that span. If he throws 220 innings, he’ll enter next year as a top-10 and possibly top-5 fantasy starter.
Jonathan Papelbon – They say a pitcher’s ERA typically increases by about 30 percent when switched from the bullpen to the starting rotation. So even if Papelbon falls in the average range, we’re looking at an ERA at 1.20 this year. OK, maybe last season’s 0.92 mark isn’t realistic in its ability to hold up, but you get the point. Papelbon is healthy and excelling this spring and has been somewhat forgotten now removed from the closer’s role and with flashy Dice-K now in Beantown. Papelbon’s ADP is 143.6 right now, nestled in between Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Byrnes. Matsuzaka’s is almost 50 spots earlier (94.1), and there’s at least a decent chance he outpitches the import. While his strikeout rate should decline now in the rotation, Papelbon makes a fine mid-round target this year.
John Patterson – After forearm surgery in July, Patterson could have attempted to return in September but instead elected to give himself a full offseason of rest, bettering the chances of him entering this season at full strength. While he remains an injury concern, Patterson is such an asset in strikeouts and WHIP, he cannot be forgotten about. Pitching for the Nationals means wins won’t be plentiful, but calling RFK Stadium home increases his upside. An ADP of 228.1 is simply far too low.
Alex Rios - Rios is hardly an unknown commodity, but at this point, his potential is greater than most give him credit for. The news of Lyle Overbay occupying the second spot in the lineup isn’t great for Rios, but maybe he’ll do more running hitting lower in the order. He’s always had the skill set and was finally living up to that potential last year before a staff infection essentially ruined his season. Before succumbing to the injury, Rios had a .968 OPS in 72 games. If you prorate his stats from then on, his line would look like this: .330, 34 homers, 119 RBI, 104 runs and 20 steals. Those type of counting stats over a full season are probably a tad overly optimistic, but you get the idea. Treat him like a top-20 outfielder.
Nick Markakis - Markakis had a very up-and-down first season; he clubbed just two homers over his first 202 at-bats but then hit .366 over a three month stretch. During August, he hit 10 long balls and finished with a 1.140 OPS, only to struggle throughout the final month of the season. This year, he’s set to bat third in a solid Orioles lineup, and even if he doesn’t immediately become the star he will one day, a .290-25-100-100 line should arrive as soon as this season.
Kelly Johnson - This sleeper is of the catatonic variety, as Johnson’s ADP doesn’t even show up in the top-400, meaning he’s going undrafted in a whole lot of leagues. A Chipper Jones clone in the batter’s box, Johnson has both the skills and the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy commodity this year. Mostly forgotten after missing all of last year following elbow surgery, Johnson is a former first round draft pick with tremendous plate discipline. He also possesses 25-homer power. He hasn’t been officially named it yet, but Johnson should act as the Braves’ starting second basemen this year and even has a chance at occupying the leadoff spot in their lineup. Becoming MI eligible will only increase his value, and with his on-base skills, he’s a threat to score 100 runs. There likely isn’t a better player currently sitting on your waiver wire.
Outfield – It’s top heavy, with numerous sleeper/upside options in the middle tiers. Overall, there are at least 60-70 quality options. Verdict = Deep
1B – Not as deep as usual. Surprisingly, first base is one of the thinner positions this year, as after you get through the top-13 options, only players with significant risk remain. Personally, I’m not even enamored with options 8-13 either. A smart owner will use 3B as their corner infield position, waiting to fill that out later on. Verdict = More Shallow than you think
2B – While middle infield is typically considered the toughest area to fill out each season, that’s not the case with second this year. Chase Utley separates himself, but there are 15 rock solid options and a handful more that could easily prove capable. Verdict = Deep
SS – There’s a pretty clear-cut top-7, and one or two from that tier have typically been falling as far as the fourth round, making a great value pick. The next tier (8-13) is a solid yet not without risk group. After that, you’re reaching. Verdict = Somewhat Shallow
3B – There’s the big three, and then a clear-cut 2nd tier. Options 7-15 will differ on almost every single cheat sheet, and all come with big reward/risk. Since another 10 options exist as passable CI starters even after that, third base is about as deep as it gets. Don’t pigeon hole yourself and take two early, as that blocks your ability to fill it out with value later on. Verdict = Very Deep
Catcher – In a two-catcher format, Joe Mauer has been undervalued in most leagues. In those formats, he’s worthy of a top-20 pick. In 1-catcher leagues, it’s not nearly as big of a deal, since 12 solid options exist. Still, in those 2-C leagues, you better not wait, because options 18-30 are pretty terrible. Remember, production isn’t always just production:
Catcher #1 25 HRs Catcher #2 15 HRs Outfielder #1 40 HRs Outfielder #2 35 HRs
In this example, catcher #1 is obviously the first pick, despite hitting 15 fewer HRs than Outfielder #1.
Relief Pitchers – Do yourself a favor and wait on the closers run. If you’re drafting for saves before round 5, you’re doing a great disservice to yourself. Not only is the “saves” category the most volatile and unpredictable category, but about 30 percent of this position won’t finish there at season’s end. Also, drafting a starting pitcher contributes about 2.5-3 times as much to your team in ERA and WHIP than a RP does, since that’s how many more innings they typically hurl. Verdict – Wait, it’s deep enough
Starting Pitchers – This very much so depends on your league format. If you have a 1250 innings cap, you can probably afford to wait a few rounds before taking a SP. In leagues that allow a bigger innings max, SPs become even more valuable. Remember, in an 1800 innings cap league with 14 starting offensive players, a SP will count for about 1/8 of your pitching stats while an offensive player counts for 1/14. While many sneaky, bottom tier options exist this year, don’t miss the boat early on, as plenty of upper echelon hurlers are falling into the middle rounds. Verdict = Not Deep
In summation, going crazy and drafting Chase Utley over Albert Pujols is obviously wrong, but position scarcity is a very real thing and must be accounted for. When drafting, take a look at how many options remain at each position that you would be comfortable with inserting into your starting lineup. If very few remain at SS but plenty do at OF, use that as a determining factor if you’re deciding between Edgar Renteria and Magglio Ordonez, even if you think Mags is going to put up slightly better numbers.
Good position scarcity targets:
Round 1 – Chase Utley.
Round 2 – Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez (SBs are a category scarcity) and Joe Mauer (if 2-C league).
Round 3 – Derrek Lee
Rounds 4-7 – Starting Pitchers. Think Jake Peavy (ADP=46) and John Smoltz (ADP=69).
Later Rounds – Fill out relief pitching, outfield and 3B/CI.
Sleepers and Busts
- Rocco Baldelli - once he got healthy, he stayed that way - so I'm not too worried about his health. He went 16/10 in 364 at-bats, hit 300 and is just 25 years old. People know he's good, but he's got 30/20 potential with .300 average. Who cares about his allergy to walks - this isn't real life baseball, it's fantasy.
- A.J. Burnett - does everything well. Tough pitching in the AL East, but addition of Frank Thomas should mean better run support, and 118/39 in 136 IP (unlucky hit rate). Keeps the ball on the ground. Injury always a concern here. (29 years old - heading into pitching prime).
- Hank Blalock - Blalock reported to camp early and proclaimed that last year's shoulder problems are a non-issue following off-season surgery. 2003, 2004 - star on the rise at age 22-23 - .500+ SLG, 32 HRs. Shoulder problems to blame. Great park, cut down on the Ks significantly - good for batting average and seeing better counts, better pitches. Just 26 this year.
- Eric Chavez - (forearm tendinitis last year), healthy now. Plate discipline still there - means good pitches to hit. 29 Years old, power spike possible.
- Morgan Ensberg - should get his job back. Terrific plate discipline - only a handful of players walk more than they K. Still got on-base at a .396 clip. Still just 31, decent park - upside if his shoulder is okay.
- Adrian Gonzalez - slugged .500 with 24 HRs in 570 ABs in SD! Won't turn 25 until May. Players don't just go 24, 28, 32. Sometimes they go from 24 to 40, though in that park, it won't be easy. 762 career ABs. means he's got just enough experience under his belt to take the next leap.
- Chris Burke - nine homers, 11 steals in 366 at-bats in 2006, underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair damage due to repeated separations. Opening Day center fielder but qualifies at second base this year - 69 2b starts in 2006. Is 27 years old with 696 ABs. Very strong Triple-A numbers in 2004.
- Ted Lilly - Big time strikeout guy gets out of AL East and into NL Central.
- Khalil Greene - Defense keeps him in the lineup no matter what. Turns 27. 15/5 last two years, but 400-odd at-bats. Give him 600, and you're looking at 22 HRs and 7 bags. Finger injury still a concern, but seems to be getting better.
- Matt Murton - Murton fought off a June slump and subsequent benching by then-manager Dusty Baker to finish his first full season strong: he went .319/.390/.522 in 207 at-bats after the All-Star break. He has decent contact skills, will draw a walk and hits for modest power. He'll also steal a handful of bags. Now that he's heading into his third year and has 595 career at-bats under his belt, Murton's a candidate to take a major step up. 25 Years old.
- Bobby Crosby - 22 HR in 2004 at 24, Very good at Triple-A at age 23. Injuries derailed him - back healthy at 27. If his back is okay by opening day, there's power upside here.
- Angel Guzman - Stayed largely healthy in 2006 and managed more than a strikeout per inning at Triple-A Iowa and for 56 innings in the majors. But during his stay with the Cubs, Guzman walked too many batters, and gave up too many fly balls and home runs. His ugly ERA and WHIP are partially due to an unlucky hit rate, though, and he actually pitched fairly well at Triple-A. Major upside if command returns.
- Luke Hudson - K'd 10 in a game last September - how many pitchers Ks 10 in a game? 20 percent? Ground balls, mid-90s stuff. hard sinker. Command is the issue, but great $1 gamble in AL.
- Dan Johnson - terrible hit rate last year, plate discipline still there, should get a chance to play every day early on with Kotsay out, Bradley moving to CF and Swisher moving to RF. If he hits, he should get at-bats with Bradley injury prone, and Stewart nothing special.
- Alfonso Soriano - moving to CF, no 2B elig. coming off career high in HRs, and doubled walks. Two off his career high in SBs. Regression to the mean. BA concerns with very high K rate. (160 Ks, poor contact). Got the big contract. Also contrarian. Everyone loves him, stay away. Last year, everyone was saying he'd be terrible leaving Texas, so it was time to buy. Still a top-10 pick, but I'd take Crawford over him in the OF. 31-years old.
- Jon Papelbon - moving into rotation is tough, plus gives up too many fly balls. Very easy to go from starter to closer - go all out, no pacing yourself, see hitters only once.
- Jered Weaver - biceps tendinitis - huge flyball rate (.5 GB/FB). Plus threw 200 IP last year at age 23 - 123 in bigs. tendinitis recurring issue, could be more serious this time.
- Nomar Garciaparra - still a good hitter, but 1B only, power ceiling is about 20-25 HRs, doesn't run, pitcher's park and hugely injury prone. Turns 34 in July. (Could see time at 3B If James Loney beats out Wilson Betemit, though).
- Dan Uggla - had a great rookie year, but plate discipline is nothing special, he was already 26, so not a great prospect, and not a ton of room to grow. Got caught stealing 6 times and stole 6, so that's not looking like a growth area. Didn't hit a ton of doubles, so maybe more balls just got over the fence. Tough park for hitters. Expect some regression.
- Melvin Mora - trending steeply downward across the board the last two seasons - slugged just .391 in 624 ABs. If he doesn't steal 9 or 10 bags (and at age 35, it's no guarantee), he's not worth anything in most mixed leagues.
LABR of Love
- I don't have a particular strategy going into these auctions, and I absolutely don't have dollar values next to each player. I simply do about five hours of research (using the RotoWire depth charts and clicking through on any player I'm not sure about), then build a by-position cheatsheet that I fit onto one page, and use as a cross-off list and to see what players are left at which positions as the auction progresses. That's it. I price enforce, sometimes get caught and make the best of it. I also like to shake things up and not merely nominate the best remaining player on the board - not sure why everyone seems to do that. It's not a draft - you can throw out whoever you like.
- I tossed out Reggie Sanders at $6 hoping to get some action, but heard crickets... He's probably worth about that, but I didn't mean to get him.
- Didn't mean to get four third basemen, but wanted to get power after spending $27 on Figgins, and that's where the value was: $15 for Blalock, Chavez and Iwamura. (Particularly like the first two who are healthy this year, and should hit close to 60 homers between them, no problem.
- I bought Bobby Jenks on impulse (while I was refilling my plate with shredded barbeque beef and pork from Honey's BBQ) for $18. Our latest note on him said his shoulder was feeling better (so I considered him healthy) and I had noticed his GB/FB ratio was almost 2.5 to go along with the Ks. Erickson, who was sitting behind me, said he was worried about the shoulder, and got me paranoid, so I resolved to get Mike MacDougal for $4 (something I probably would have done anyway). As a result, I had to let Nate Ravitz of ESPN outbid me for Brandon Wood at MI because I knew I had to have some extra $ to protect my Jenks investment. Which I did, and probably wisely. Settled for Hector Luna, who's not bad, instead. Luna will likely get only 250-300 at-bats or so, though.
- I took a $6 flier on Joel Pineiro because you win your league when you make massive profits on a couple players, and if Pineiro gets the closer job for half the season, he will be one of those players. (Saw the RotoWire note that the Sox saw him throw in mid-90s for short stretches, and decided he could close).
- Was thrilled to get Nate Robertson for $6. Decent Ks, ground balls, great park.
- Didn't mean to get Clemens, but couldn't let defending champ Jonah Keri (ESPN, NY Times) get him for $6. He later told me that he didn't want him either, but couldn't let me get him for $5. If Clemens pitches half a season, he'll be worth $10. If there's a 70 percent chance he goes to the AL, that makes him worth $7. Which is what I paid.
- I thought Johjima at $13 and Lopez at $10 were excellent bargains. Lopez has 1000 career at-bats and is just 23. At around 800-1000 at-bats, players often "get it" and have a breakout season. I was also lucky to get Shannon Stewart, who is slated to start in right field for Oakland, for $1.
- Morneau was a bargain at $28. Players like Lyle Overbay went for $24 once people realized how thin first base was in the AL.
- For the first time in my life in an auction, I didn't buy any $30 players. Once I had Hernandez $24, Figgins $27, Mauer $26 and Morneau $28 early, I realized I was not doing stars and scrubs, but instead trying to get as many at-bats as possible.
- In the reserve draft, I got a bunch of pitching prospects but needed to get more innings: (Clemens and five relievers means just three starters: Hernandez, Robertson and Pavano). I nabbed Sidney Ponson in Round 4 of the reserve draft (round 27 in an AL-only league if we had been drafting), hoping he'll recapture his 2002-03 form. Sometimes, miracles do happen, but I'll likely have to trade for/pick up some starters along the way. (Shawn Marcum could make the Blue Jays rotation, I think, as well).
- Overall, I'm happy with my team. If Clemens joins the AL by June, Pineiro closes, and I don't get significantly more than my fair share of injuries, I think I can win it.
- FInally, don't use these values as a barometer of anything except a 12-team AL only league. They are worthless for mixed leagues.