…It Was The Worst Of Times

May 15, 2010

So while I’ve been busy pursuing gainful employment of various sorts, The Uptown Ham Fighters have been busy sucking it up over in my 12 team mixed head-to-head keeper league. While we entered this week the only team to have won four out of five weeks, we were also one game below .500, due to a Week 3 1-10-1 ass-kicking at the hands of My Boomstick. As we enter the weekend stretch for Week 6 things have really gone south however, as we now trail The Mountain Cats 12 zip! I can take a beat down or two, but a sweep might just push this manager over the edge into Billy Martin punching out his pitcher nutzo territory! Now before I do anything rash and before it’s a dead corpse, lets bring this patient to the roster doctor and try to figure out a course of treatment.

Here’s the team as it’s presently composed. We’ll first look at the frosty bats:

The first major issue of course was Nelson Cruz landing on the DL with a bum hammy. He was absolutely raking when he was injured and it’s not easy to make up for the loss of such a big bat. Filling the hole over the past week, I had Corey Hart and then Nate Schierholtz. Hart did little aside from a lone HR in Boomstick’s absence. Nate The Ok provided me with a Run Scored on Sunday, which gave me a win in the category, but other than that he had little impact over the past week. Now mind you, this is isn’t to say that neither of these guys will be decent fantasy contributors, but in head-to-head, it’s often necessary to play a guy with a hot hand or tailor your lineup to fit your teams immediate needs.

What are some other culprits of our recent woes? Well for one, my team is pretty damn slow overall. Like mummy slow. I had to change that.

The one recent addition I made to the lineup is Alcides Escobar, who was acquired off of waivers, while Reid Brignac was dropped. Considering Brignac was sitting against lefties, this small lateral move made to address The Ham Fighters lack of team speed. While Escobar has been off to a slow start, a lot of that is due to an abnormally low BABIP of .253 entering play today. With his speed, he’s projected to have a BABIP of around .320 to .330, so I expect correction in that department as the season progresses. Leading me to more optimism is Esco’s 6.6%/13.5% BB/K rate. While this needs to improve for him to really blossom at the Major League level, it’s actually an improvement over the BB/K numbers he posted (3%/14.4%) in his limited time last season. What has really been missing from his game is his speed. The highly touted speedster has yet to swipe a bag, being caught once. This obviously alarmed his previous owners enough for them to let him go. I see Alcides picking up the SB pace however, as he gets more comfortable in the bigs. It doesn’t help that he’s hitting in the 8th hole, with a pitcher behind him, in Milwaukee. I can see him moving down up in the order as his bat heats up though, and I’m still hopeful that he can end the season with over 20 steals, while not killing me with his bat.

Aaron “Benny” Hill and Carlos “Live In San” Quentin have both been disasters so far, but I’m not pressing the panic button on those two yet. Both have slumped hard, but still can provide a lot of pop and it doesn’t take a power hitter long to snap out. I learned that lesson with Derrek Lee, last season, as he may have been my most valuable player in the 2nd half. I also learned this the hard way, by dropping a somewhat slow starting Kendry Morales. That obviously didn’t work out well. Quentin’s still walking and making hard outs, so it’s just a matter of time until he snaps out as he currently has a .180 BABIP, which is better than only Aramis Ramirez in all of baseball. The entire White Sox team has been hitting poorly, so there’s nowhere to go but up on the South Side, which should lead to nice counting numbers for Quentinsity. Hill has been a little more troublesome, due to another balky hamstring. Perhaps I should change my name to the Hamstring Fighters! He’s another guy with a ridiculously low BABIP and solid (in fact career high) BB rate, so I’m not going to get nuts. His power has certainly come down from those heady ’09 numbers, but I’m hoping that should improve as long as he stays healthy.

Derek Jeter and Pablo Sandoval are two guys who’ve hit hard time recently, but both are outstanding hitters and I’m sure they’ll perform at or around their career norms as we progress into the season. With .259/.306 and .238/.291 BA/OBP lines respectively over the past month, needless to say that both of those guys are a lot better. Jeter went 3 for 29 over the last Yankee road-trip. While his walks are down, I don’t expect this kind of lousy hitting to continue. In the case of the Kung-Fu Panda, we have a player who’s yet to reach his potential I believe. His counting numbers are hampered only by his home park and the dubious supporting cast around him, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t exceed 20 HR and at least match the 90 RBI he knocked in last season. His biggest asset is his BA, which of course is a result of him hitting just about everything hard. With a contact rate of 83.8%, that BA will definitely improve.

As for players who’ve outperformed their projections, Austin Jackson has to top that list. You can’t throw a rock without hitting his gigantic .481 BABIP, which has caused every fantasy writer in the blogosphere to simultaneously hit the “Sell!” button, tearing a rip in the space-time continuum. That number leads all of baseball now, so Jackson will undoubtedly slow down his Cobb-ian pace. He’s going to need to continue to adjust in order to maintain success as his luck evens out. I’m pretty confident that he can do that but not so much to be a .300 hitter at year’s end. Maybe .290 though, which would make me very happy.

Another guy who’s been absolutely mashing is Casey McGehee. I picked Ty Wiggy Jr. off of the scrap heap when I first saw him producing in The Brewers 5 slot, shortly after the start of the season. Figuring he should be knocking in runs in his sleep, he’s done a lot more than that though as he’s currently leading my team in RBI and tied in the lead for HR. Pretty nice numbers for a guy who everyone (myself included) pegged for schmo on draft day. I don’t see him sustaining his .323 BA but he’s walking at a career high 11.9% clip, so he should continue to get on base. It’s hard not to like that .245 ISO, hitting behind The Hebrew Hammer and Prince, so it’s easy to see him cracking 100 RBI at years end, even with some regression factored in. There may in fact not be much regression in order for McGehee. His .333 BABIP matches the number he posted AAA back in ’08, so I feel that this guy might be capable of sustaining a pace, not far off from his current one.

The X-Factor here of course is Carlos Santana, who hasn’t been great since fouling a ball off of his knee back a few weeks ago. With a little luck, the young catcher will feel alright by the time he’s called up, which should be within the next month or so. That frozen roster spot has cost me some numbers and it would be nice to have another solid bat in the lineup.

On the other side of the ball I have a pitching staff with a a few issues and a lot of question marks. Check it out.

Lead by Adam Wainwright and his devastating curve, I’ve got a couple of guys in Gavin Floyd and Kevin Slowey, who have really underperformed. Floyd’s peripherals suggest major improvement’s on the way as his numbers are just not nearly this bad. A 4.16 FIP, along with .371 BABIP against and sorry 57.7% LOB rate tell us he’s been seriously unlucky. Combine that with a BB/K rate of 3.69/7.38, an improved GB rate of 47.6% (up from 44.3% last season) and a .92 HR rate, down from .98 and you see a pitcher who is doing things right but getting poor results. With a tough schedule and little run support from the ChiSox lineup, we’re bound to see Floyd get much better results before long.

Kevin Slowey on the other hand has been an enigma, seemingly incapable of getting past the 5th inning. His increased walk rate has been alarming and he’s getting hit hard, so those guys are scoring, leading to some early knock outs for the Minnesota starter. While I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, I would have to think that Slowey’s still recovering from the complex wrist surgery that he endured last September.

While Cole Hamels may never be a fantasy ace, he’s striking out batters at a career high pace. The bad news is he’s also walking more batters (3.30 per 9) and allowing more dingers (1.44 per 9) than ever before. Hopefully he can get that HR rate down, because his BABIP of .372 tells us that better days are ahead for Hamels.

Mark Buerhle has been less than stellar, also giving up more walks than usual. He’s had to endure some awful offensive support as well as a brutal run of games against the AL East, so I’m on the fence as to whether or not to keep sending Buerhle out there. The five straight hits he gave up to the hopeless Royals this evening give me even more reason to worry.

On the positive side, we have Jaime Garcia and Wade LeBlanc, two young lefties who’ve seen tremendous success in the early going of 2010. Garcia has just been magnificent and has shown little signs of slowing down. LeBlanc, like the rest of his Padre cohorts, has been doing a lot of LeBlanking of opposition hitters. While he’s left a very high, 87.8% of baserunners on, he’s also been the victim of an inflated .356 BABIP.

Kevin Correia has been pitching pretty well in spite of only throwing one quality start so far. We can only wish for the best for the Correia family in light of the tragic loss of his younger brother, Trevor Brent Correia. He goes against The Dodgers tomorrow in his first start since returning from the bereavement list.

2/3 of my budget bullpen has been effective with surprisingly stellar performances by Jon Rausch and Kevin Gregg. Brian Fuentes on the other hand has been pretty shaky, but I knew that he’d be trouble when I drafted him. Hopefully he can save enough games to keep his job. If he doesn’t, I’ll be back playing that familiar game of closer musical chairs.

So that’s it for this exhaustive recap of The Uptown Hamfighters season to date. If you’ve made it this far, kudos. I know there is little less exciting than hearing someone bitch about their fantasy teams but perhaps you have some of these guys and you’re wondering what to do with them. I obviously need some guys to play the way they are capable of playing, but I do feel that if they do, I may only be an arm away from turning this thing around. In fact, I may already have that arm in Kris Medlen, who’s been moved into the Braves rotation in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens. I can also use another speedy guy and have been actively going after Brett Gardner. If I can’t get Gardy, I’m confident that I can find someone else off of waivers or via trade. In the mean time I’ll call this week a wash, hope that I can just avoid a sweep and look forward to getting it together next week.

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Week 2 Review: Floyd And The Damage Done

April 19, 2010

I woke up Sunday morning, trailing 4-7 in my H2H league, with a few categories still up for grabs. Poor starts earlier in the week by Big Z and Gavin Floyd set me back, but I still felt good about my prospects of still pulling out a win against The Men On A Mission. I trailed by a Win and a Quality Start and a little bit of WHIP, with Hamels going against The Fish, Wainwright up against The Mets and Floyd facing the The Indians. Three starts, three wins, three quality starts in the bag, right? Well thinking like that is why I don’t bet anymore. Well ok, maybe one more bet…

The Phils bats went quiet in support of Hamels. Got the QS there, but no W. Encouraging nonetheless, as Hamels made his best start of the young season. Floyd on the other hand threw up an epic stinker, against a decidedly bad Indians team. Floyd allowed seven runs before being chased in the 2nd without even getting an out. Forget about WHIP. Not quite what I planned when I drafted him in the 9th round. As Stephen Colbert would say, “Floyd, you and Z are on notice!”

That left me with Wainwright, the same guy that I watched crush my dreams in ’06 with that mighty curve that sent The Mets packing and The Cards off to win a World Series. Yeah it’s an ugly route to go but playing with your heart will get you last place. Anyway, by the second inning I was cursing my TV as Wainwright was coughing up a crooked number and it seemed my team would go down without a fight. Alas, Wainwright held the line, kept The woeful Mets bats at three runs and managed to go the entire game for the victory! A bit of redemption for Ryan Ludwick, with the game-winning home run that almost erased the memory of his prior day’s idiocy. Nice way to end the week. A little disappointing the way I started off the week on fire, but we got the W and that’s what counts.

Notable players for week 2:

The Captain, Derek Jeter continues to defy naysayers with his stellar play atop the vaunted Yankee lineup. 11/22 with 5 runs scored, 3 dingers and 7 RBI. He’s currently the 16th ranked player in Yahoo, tops amongst SS.

Casey McGehee has been huge for me in the absence of Aaron Hill. Since picking him up last Sunday, he’s hit 10/22 with a 5 runs, 2 jacks and 6 RBI while posting a .519 OBP. Not bad for a replacement utility guy. With Hill possibly returning at the end of the week, there’s no way I can ditch this guy. Looks like Baby Jete’s going to get kicked to the curb, unless I can make a move…

Over in The Big Ballers League, “Whaddya know” Robbie Cano has been smacking laser beams all over The Stadium. The two jacks he laced on Jackie Robinson night were a nice touch to honor his namesake. I can easily see Cano breaking career highs in HR and RBI this season, vaulting him into elite 2B status alongside Utley.

Cameron Maybin looked awful in the first series against The Mets this season. 3 K’s against Johan will do that to you. Well he’s had a much better run of things this week and he looks like The Marlin’s centerfielder is on track. On base at a .412 clip, Maybin had a homer, 6 runs scored, 3 RBI and 2 steals for the week. With a move up to the lead-off slot, he should get more opportunities to use his modest speed a little more. Look for 20 – 25 steals by years end.

Kevin Correia, ace of the often-ridiculed Hodge-Pad‘s staff, came through big for both of my teams this week. In 11 1/3, he posted 2 wins, 11 K, a 1.59 ERA and a tidy 1.15 WHIP. With my H2H team getting healthy, I want every reason to send Correia packing, but he’s pitching too well to even consider that. Go out there and throw kid. Don’t worry, you’ve got a job.

So a wild and woolly week ended and another begins. As of this writing, The Uptown Hamfighters sit at 13-9-2, good for 2.5 games out of first place. In the Big Ballers League, The Harlem Hangovers are currently tied for first with 107.5 points. So far so good.

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Finding A Balance

April 16, 2010

I’m going to cover some basics today. Since friend of TTO, Tim gave a shout today on his music blast, I imagine I may get some curious visitors who may not be as deep in the fantasy game as some. I don’t want to scare anyone away with talk of BABIP or FIP or prospects from far away lands, so lets look at some basics of fantasy baseball. Maybe a few people who enjoy baseball, but aren’t into fantasy will dig a little primer. Well here it goes.

When constructing fantasy rosters, it’s common for owners to pick players in the draft that compliment one another’s skill sets. The object of this strategy is to fill their rosters will a variety of players, the sum of which should add up to balanced offensive numbers. The classic example is drafting Ichiro and then coming back to draft Adam Dunn. These two players are diametric opposites. Dunn is the reigning god of Three True Outcomes: HR, BB or K. No speed but awesome power. Ichiro swings at and hits everything. He has modest power but steals his share of bases. Dunn the classic cleanup hitter who will drive in runs while hitting in the middle of the order. Ichiro bats lead-off, there-by getting the most plate appearances in the Mariners lineup. Batting first, he’ll score many more runs than he will drive in. Simple enough. I like to play in a league that counts On Base Percentage. This places even more value on a guy like Dunn. He may only be a career .249 life time hitter for average, but because he walks to much he gets on base at an astounding .384 OBP. Ichiro on the other hand, carries a lifetime .332 Batting Average, but his free swinging amounts to only a .377 OBP – less then Dunn’s.

Going down my roster, I have some similar analogies in my lineup. Free swinging Giant, Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, who I like to call “Fat Ichiro.” Of course he has more power then Original Recipe Ichiro, but being a big boy, won’t steal too many bags. He’s a free swinger in the Vlad Guerrero (post-Montreal) mold. Nick Swisher is like Dunn-lite. Good pop, K’s a ton and will take a lot of walks. These sorts of player pairings allow the varied player-types to fill holes in your production, so that you don’t find yourself ahead a lot in one category and failing miserably in others. Some owners will intentionally gear their teams towards extremes, in an attempt to overwhelm the opposition in one category, while “punting” others. I don’t feel punting offensive categories is a viable strategy in mixed team leagues, 12 teams or shallower, but could be used advantageously in larger leagues where you’ll be rostering many more replacement level players (or worse). I’m going to stick with 12 team or fewer strategies here for simplicities sake.

Now lets apply this idea towards our pitching staff. When selecting pitchers, I like to use the same principle that I apply to building my offense. In my experience, it seems the balance principle is not as regularly followed for pitching as it is for hitting. I frequently face teams who are heavy on strike-outs but will have inflated ratios (ERA and WHIP) and vice-versa. Of course your ace starting pitchers should produce across four categories (in a standard 5×5 game), much like many of the heavy hitters who will be drafted early on. When we go a little deeper down the line though, you’ll have to make choices between pitchers who’s skills will translate into production in one category, but perhaps a deficiency in another. Many of those high strikeout, power pitchers that you’ll find available later on in a draft will walk a lot of people. That’s sort of how it goes in baseball. Guys who throw gas, Yankee’s A.J. Burnett for example, tend to give up a higher than average amount of walks. Of course there are always exceptions, but I’ll use A.J. to describe a certain type of pitcher.

Last year A.J. sent 8.48 batters per nine down on strikes, while giving 4.22 batters per nine free passes. Both of those numbers are well above the league averages of 6.99 K/9 and 3.46 BB/9. I know from viewing that A.J. is “effectively wild.” He’s a guy who’s pitches have such great movement, that they’ll often end up outside the strike-zone. When A.J. is on, his ball breaks late, making batters swing at a ball that suddenly moves. A patient hitter can exploit his lapses in command and draw a walk, while more aggressive hitters are more likely to go down flailing. So Burnett K’s a lot of guys and BB’s a lot of guys. Along the way he finished with around league average ratios of 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP (BB + Hits/9). One knows from watching him, he can be dynamite some days or a disaster on others.

In Bizarro World, White Sox lefty, Mark Buerhle is A.J.’s opposite. In fact A.J.’s thin and clean shaven, while Buerhle’s a big guy with a beard. See, just like that Star Trek episode! I’ve already raved about Buerhle here before but I’ll do it again since he’s pitching today and I need a big win tonight. The dependable Buerhle is a control freak, who doesn’t strike many guys out (4.43 K/9 1.90 BB/9 in ’09). If A.J.’s that fast sports car that’s fun to drive, but will sometimes break down and cost you a lot of money, Buerhle’s a Honda Accord. Nothing flashy but easy to drive and he’ll be on the road a long time. So long in fact that Mark Buerhle’s pitched more innings than anyone since 2001. Admittedly, a fact like that doesn’t mean much more than the guy’s dependable and not terrible, but we like dependable and not terrible. Buerhle strikes out far fewer batters than the league average pitcher, so he’s going to hurt us a bit there. His ERA and WHIP however are pretty damn good for a guy you’ll find hanging around hours into your draft, waiting to get picked: 3.84 ERA and 1.25 WHIP last year. Now if you take the two of these guys and squish them together, you get a sort of super-pitcher, like “The Thing With Two Heads,” except they’re both white! What you get is a nice balance and balance wins.

Hopefully that balance will pay off tonight, as Buerhle tries to shut down the woeful Indians again. I need a well pitched game tonight from the lefty, since the highly volatile Carlos Zambrano, blew up my ERA and WHIP yesterday with another less than satisfactory performance. I’ll give him a Mulligan since the wind was blowing out at Wrigley yesterday but Big Z better get his act together or he’ll be riding the fantasy pine!

So to sum it up: When you’re building a better fantasy team, select players who’s numbers work together in tandem and you’ll get the most out of your picks. Don’t get too caught up in balance that you over-look serious bargains you might find, just keep it in mind. I’ve found a pleasant by-product of this plan is that you’ll often end up with some players who might be seriously under-valued by other owners but compliment your squad perfectly.

Because I can’t help myself…

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Hitting The Cutoff Man

April 10, 2010

Hitting the cutoff man is a fundamental part of baseball. Thank you very much Captain Obvious, AKA Tim McCarver. I like to draw similarities between real ball and fan ball, so I’m going to run with it anyway

In fantasy baseball, owners have to draw a cutoff point, when looking down the list free agents available. How low can I go down this list to find bargain basement production? Seemingly marginal players are always emerging from obscurity to dazzle experts and casual fans alike. “Mr. Hill, may I introduce you to Mr. Zobrist?” Buried beneath god forsaken lineups, or stuck hurling from mounds in homer happy ballparks, there are always surprises to be found for astute fantasy owners. Since we’re talking fundamentals here, I suppose digging deep into the waiver wires is a fundamental part of fantasy baseball blogging. So this is me throwing my at into the fortune telling ring. Feel free to agree or call me a fucktard.

  • I don’t expect Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson to be lights out all season long, (although Oliver loves Colby Lewis long time) but both Texas pitchers put up impressive lines this week. Both are gone in my leagues, but are a nice add if you need back of the rotation depth. I’ll get more excited about Wilson when he performs well against a team other that’s not The Blue Jays.
  • Mike Pelfrey was very impressive against The Nationals and could be of fantasy significance very soon. Big Pelf From The Group Home has added a splitter and he had it working last night. If he can continue to use the splitter effectively, Pelfrey could post some surprising numbers this season. I’m totally stalking him now.
  • Luke Hochevar had an impressive start to 2010, by posting 7 2/3 shutout innings against The Tigers. I read that he’s throwing gas, so he might be primed for a breakout. He has the misfortune of pitching for The Royals of course, but maybe Zack Grienke’s taught him the zen of pitching for an awful team.
  • Jamie Garcia has looked real good today against The Brew Crew. Maybe Dave Duncan’s magic pitcher pixie-dust can shape Garcia into a waiver wire gem this year. Definitely a kid to watch closely.
  • Casey Kotchman has a good eye and should see regular playing time. I should have picked him up in my 15 teamer, that uses OBP. Instead, I’m rostering Aubrey Huff as a backup corner guy.
  • I’m really excited about Ian Desmond’s bat. He’s shown some extra base pop and decent plate discipline so far. Desmond seems to have taken his fielding cues from Roberto “Manos De Piedra” Duran, however, booting balls with alarming frequency. I’m really hoping that Desmond’s awful D doesn’t get him yanked from the lineup. It would be pretty cool for fantasy purposes, if he were moved to right though. I have him in my MI right now, and I just picked up Casey McGehee, to provide some depth in case Desmond rides the pine.
  • J.J. Hardy’s name popped up on Razzball last night and it had me rethinking my position on the free swinging, Twins shortstop. He’s got more verified pop than McGehee, but should probably have a lower average and OBP by year’s end. I don’t like AVG killers and to drain both AVG and OBP is criminal, but depending on what you need, Hardy could produce for you. I went with McGehee, since he’s 3B/2B eligible and I could use another guy to cover a corner. I have a feeling Hardy will be grabbed off of waivers in my 12 team league very soon though.
  • Mets rightfielder, Jeff Francoeur smacked two homers on Friday night, instantly putting him on the radar of many deep-league fantasy owners. Another low AVG/OBP guy, he will give you some power and drive in his share of runs. In fact he did a good bit of both of those things back in ’06 and ’07. Frenchy seems to be a very good fit in Flushing, drawing raves about his character and enthusiasm for the game. Unless your league uses grit and determination as categories, that’s meaningless of course. Hearing that leads one to believe that Jerry Manual likes to pencil his name into the lineup every day, which is a good for Frenchy. He’s also a fine outfielder with one of the league’s best arms, so his defense will get him at-bats.
  • Light hitting firstbagger, Daric Barton, is available in my 12 team, OBP league and is an interesting option if you’re really into Sabermetrics. That’s me mocking Billy Beane, like a stodgy, old school baseball guy. I’ll be surprised if Chris Carter hasn’t taken the Oaktown 357 1B job by year’s end, but in the mean time, Barton is getting on base, which we all know is the most important thing a hitter can do. Aside from looking good in his uniform that is.

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