Moving the Needle

Over the past weekend, there were a few performances of which it's worth taking note:

Justin Masterson - After failing to strikeout a batter in his first outing of the year, Masterson struck out nine on Sunday (albeit against the Mariners) and allowed just one run on four hits and a walk. As usual, Masterson keeps almost everything on the ground (3.43 GB:FB this year, 2.74 in 2010), pitches in a division without the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers and gets to work in pitcher-friendly Progressive Field. While his problem in the past was getting lefties out, eight of his nine strikeouts so far this year are against lefties, though they have fared better in this small sample on balls in play.

Josh Beckett - After laboring through his best Daisuke Matsuzaka impersonation against the Indians, Beckett annihilated the Yankees Sunday night for eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, just two hits and one walk. Beckett's fastball reached 94 mph, and he threw all four of his pitches for strikes against arguably the toughest lineup in baseball (minus Alex Rodriguez who was out with the flu). Clearly, Beckett's arm is completely healthy this season, and given his career track record, that's enough to make him a top-25-ish starter with upside.

Dustin Pedroia - With nine hits and two walks in his last 13 plate appearances, Pedroia's sporting a .400/.447/.571 line early on, good evidence that he's completely healthy after a September foot surgery. One of the hardest batters in the game to strike out, Pedroia, at age 27, is among a handful of players - like Ichiro, Joe Mauer and Robinson Cano - capable of being your team's batting average anchor - especially when you consider the second base roster slot he occupies. A healthy Pedroia will score 120-ish runs on this team, and if he hits 15 homers and steals 15 bases (numbers he surpassed in 2008 and 2009 and below his pace before he got hurt last year), he'll be a top-15 overall fantasy player.

Jose Tabata - With a .342/.457/.553 line, two homers and five steals in 38 at-bats, Tabata looks like what the Red Sox had hoped to get when they signed Carl Crawford. While I wouldn't trade Crawford for the 22-year old Tabata just yet, it's worth noting Tabata's 106 hits since last year's All-Star break lead the majors. That Tabata has drawn seven walks against only four strikeouts early on portends further success.


By: bogfella
On: 4/11/2011 5:33:00 PM
Beckett's start was amazing. I kept checking to make sure it was him.
By: Mark Stopa
On: 4/11/2011 10:22:00 PM
I thought you'd put Votto in this list. Yes, he was elite already, but I think he finishes with better stats than Pujols, and this is the last year he'll ever be drafted behind Pujols in a fantasy draft.
By: msarvi
On: 4/12/2011 5:24:00 AM
I know it's early, but for some reason I have a feeling about Hafner this year. If he can be 80-85% of his peak, he'll be useful in deep leagues, esp if you have OBP as a category.
By: whiskeydjohnson
On: 4/12/2011 7:58:00 AM
Give me ALL of the Rangers starters. They all have the potential to continue their strong starts, they're in the offensively weak AL West, and they have that offense backing them up. At the very least, it should be a win bonanza.
By: matthewthill7
On: 4/12/2011 9:29:00 AM
The last time Travis Hafner was useful, Jason Bay and Alfonso Soriano were 2nd round fantasy picks. That should tell us all we need to know about Pronk.
By: Kenn Ruby
On: 4/12/2011 7:01:00 PM
Remember when the stories about Tabata were just about his crazy 44-year-old wife? As a Tabata owner, I like these stories better...
By: lvtdude
On: 4/12/2011 7:04:00 PM
Hello, my name is Jose Tabata. I steal bases. My wife steals children.
By: Chris Liss
On: 4/12/2011 10:46:00 PM
Stopa, I'd take Pujols over Votto for 2012. And probably 2013. Pujols is one of the top-10 hitters of all-time. Votto's a guy coming off a couple great seasons. Didn't we have this same debate about Rivera/Broxton two years ago?
By: Mark Stopa
On: 4/13/2011 6:23:00 AM
For fantasy purposes, prior stats are relevant only to the extent they predict the future. You know this. In fact, the whole concept of "moving the needle" is to predict changes in value going forward (a concept that I love, BTW).

I'm not saying Pujols is over the hill. But he's certainly not going to get better, and he may decline some, whereas Votto is an MVP entering his prime. Look at, say, ARod. He's one of the greatest hitters of all-time, too, and he's seen a slow decline in production in his early 30s.

Rivera/Broxton is irrelevant except to say you were right about one of our many debates.
By: Chris Liss
On: 4/13/2011 7:54:00 AM
I'd take ARod over any other third baseman this year, too. And he's several years older than Pujols. My point is Pujols has sustained greatness for 10 years. Votto has done it for less than three. What makes a player one of the all time greats is consistency over time. That's why Rivera/Broxton is relevant. One had been able to repeat elite skills every year, the other had matched him only during a year of peak performance. It's possible this is the last year anyone drafts Pujols over Votto, but that's the less likely outcome.
By: kennruby
On: 4/13/2011 7:57:00 AM
Hey, I love me some Votto as much as anyone, and I agree with Mark's reference to the fact that we ARE discussing "moving the needle." That said, Pujols now has a track record of 10 great seasons in a row. Nearly every single one of those - including last year - being as good or better than Votto's high-water mark of 2010. This season's slow start notwithstanding, I don't see him declining yet. Will Mark prove to be right that Votto will be better in 2011 and be drafted ahead of Pujols for the rest of his career? Maybe. But I wouldn't bet against Pujols to stay ahead of Votto for at least two or three more years.
By: bogfella
On: 4/13/2011 8:09:00 AM
Excellent discussion! I have always been somewhat surprised by the tendency of many to look almost exclusively at past performance when evaluating potential for future performance. While I focus on pitchers, I think some of the same factors can be applied when trying to predict what a player might do this year or in subsequent years. However, I do believe it is generally easier to predict upward movement compared to decline in pitchers. Other than actual statistics, what do you look for in anticipating a player taking a step forward in production?
By: msarvi
On: 4/13/2011 9:12:00 AM
Thanks Matthew I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm in a six team mixed league. However, my question was referring to an 18 team league with OBP as a category, where Soriano and Bay are still relevant. It's easy to comment on a Pujols or a Votto, who cares. They are both great and taken. Always looking for an overlooked asset. Pronk appears to be healthy and pulling the ball with authority. We'll see.
By: matthewthill7
On: 4/13/2011 10:30:00 AM
Oh come on, now - why do people have to go to the "my league is harder than your sissy league" talk? You play in a deeper league, I get it. So you want to know if a guy with a career on-base % of .385 is an asset in an OBP league? I'm no expert, but I think you can safely say "YES".

Of course he looks healthy. It's been 10 games... EVERYBODY looks healthy. We can revisit health once guys have had to swing the bat a thousand times.
By: msarvi
On: 4/13/2011 12:30:00 PM
Um, not saying my league is tougher, just you commented on my remark about a potential "Moving the Needle" type of guy by saying how irrelvant Hafner is. The tone led me to presume you thought I was in a shallow league. I wanted to put it in context for you. But thanks for your expert, I'm no expert, opinion. I actually can look up his career OBP. Just there has been little said about the man. I think if it is true he's stronger now after a few years of shoulder problems, he can be useful. I thought that was the purpose of the blog. If I get a few productive months out of him I'll be ahead of the game.

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