…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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Lights, Camera, Action… Jackson!

May 5, 2010

Flashback to 2006: Your fantasy baseball team is in first place, riding high on hot starts by names that strike fear into the hearts of fantasy opponents… like Chris Shelton and Chad Tracy. Maybe you had a venerable Tom Glavine holding down your rotation by leading the league in ERA after a month of play. You see where this is going, don’t you fair reader?

Exactly. Don’t get too excited about what a player does during one mere month of baseball. While you’re riding high on Ivan Rodriguez’s gaudy Average or Livan Hernandez freakishly lucky run, just remember that Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. With a 162 game schedule, there is no greater equalizer than time.

So who are some of baseball’s surprise performers in the early going?

Of course I have to lead off with the blazing hot lead-off man that everyone’s talking about, Austin Jackson. I gushed about Action Jackson a few weeks ago and he hasn’t disappointed. In fact Austin Jackson currently leads all of baseball in hits with 44 going into today’s action, leading to a surprising early line of .376/.430/.521. Of course his .521 BABIP will not remain at such a ridiculous level, but with 38.8% of his contact going for liners, Jackson is hitting the ball hard and that’s all a hitter can hope to do. While he’s whiffed out at a 29.1% rate, Jackson has only struck out twice, while walking three times in his last eight games. While just about every fantasy expert in the game is telling people to sell high on Jackson, I’m not in any hurry to get rid of him (although I had an offer of Jackson and Kevin Gregg for A.J. Burnett rejected in my keeper league). Perhaps Action read Joe Pawlikowski’s article in Fangraphs, because it looks like the studious young outfielder is proving to be a quick learner as he adjusts to Major League pitching.

Fantasy baseball zombie extraordinaire Barry Zito has been in vintage form as he mows down hitters with his devastating curve-ball. The curse of Alissa Milano has been lifted and Zito is pitching as though he were back in an Athletics uniform. With a 1.53 ERA and 2.67 FIP, Zito is finally performing like the $126 million pitcher that The Giants paid for. While he carries a microscopic .209 BABIP against and he has yet to give up a HR in 35 1/3 IP, his 2.18 K/BB ratio and 44.7% GB rate should help maintain the crafty lefty’s continued success.

Another lefty who has channeled his past to out-preform his expectations is Yankee stalwart Andy Pettite. Pettite entered his start against Baltimore this afternoon with a 3-0 record with a 2.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. While Pettite has lost quite a bit of velocity over the years, his solid command and ability to keep the ball on the ground (48% GB rate) keep Pettite running strong. Having one of the most potent offenses in the game behind him should help his Win totals as Andy builds his credentials for a possible Hall Of Fame call in a few years.

Two of the biggest surprises in the early going of 2010 have been Toronto Blue Jays teammates, Alex Gonzalez and Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays tandem have displayed impressive power, with eight HR each so far. Gonzalez will never be accused of being a contact hitter, and his .279 BA is held aloft by a .307 BABIP (he carries a career .284 BABIP). Even with some correction dropping his average and power, he should continue to be a solid play for someone who you probably found off of waivers. Vernon Wells’ career looked about to hit rock bottom last season but he too has risen from the dead, much to the chagrin of American League pitchers. After posting a paltry 84/15/66/17/.260/.311 line in 2009, Wells has already posted nearly half that homer total and a third of last season RBI. A seriously hefty .310/.360/.660 line has made Wells’ owners feel like the smartest guys in their league for having probably drafted him in the late going or picking him up for peanuts at auction. In the past Wells has displayed 30+ HR power and if his present health holds, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t approach those totals again.

Any talk of power cannot exclude the ridiculous power surge that South Sider favorite Paul Konerko has shown so far. Leading the universe with a 1.066 OPS and .460 ISO, Paul Konerko has turned back the clock to a time when he was one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Three True Outcomes lovers swoon over his lovely 17.4%/11.5% BB/K split, as they’ve watched him leave the yard 15 times in 109 PA. Strangely enough, while Konerko’s been jacking off like a horny teenager, his .179 BABIP tells us that he’s been rather unlucky when his balls don’t leave the yard. While I don’t imagine Konerko keeping up this colossal power pace, Paulie Walnuts could certainly see his .279 BA improve a bit. While his Chicago White Sox have been pretty poor offensively in the early going, they should improve, which will boost Konerko’s Run and RBI production.

The last guy I’ll talk about makes me cringe. In fact every time he hits a HR, I curl up into a ball in my bathtub and cry, traumatized by what Kelly Johnson did to my fantasy team last season. After losing his gig in Hotlanta last year, Johnson came to the desert to beat baseballs like a guy who’s really pissed off at having a girl’s name. Channeling his inner Chase Utley, Johnson has tormented National League pitchers with a 1.066 OPS and .376 ISO, both second in the game behind Konerko. With an 18/9/18/2/.301/.389 line so far, Johnson, at 27, seems to be finally developing into an upper-tier second baseman, like many of us thought he would in the past. While Johnson will K his fair share (he’s done it in 22.6% of his PA), his 13% BB rate matches his career high, more than making up for his whiffs. Great. Why couldn’t you be half this useful last season Kelly?

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Replacing Nelson Cruz

April 27, 2010

That sound you just heard was the collective groans of fantasy owners everywhere reading that Nelson Cruz and his balky hamstring have finally ended up on the DL. How do I replace a guy who’s Slugging a MLB leading .778? I don’t I suppose. All I can do is try to find some cheap power production to use as a stop-gap measure in Nelly’s absence. As for Nelson’s Texas Rangers? David Murphy will slide over to right and Craig Gentry was called up from AAA Oklahoma City today.

Needing someone to fill those gaping roster spots that I suddenly found in both of my teams, I sought the wisdom of Grey at Razzball (much like the wisdom of Solomon) to make a choice between Mr. Sunglasses At Night or Dave Of Jesus in my 12 team league. While he had a lousy spring and got in manager Ken Macha’s doghouse early, Corey Hart’s got the upside and hits in a lineup that’s been putting up Football scores. David DeJesus has been hitting at a decent enough clip (23/79 14R/2HR/10RBI/1SB/.291/.349) to begin 2010, but he’s also posting a career worst .46 BB/K rate and an inflated .328 BABIP (.318 career BABIP). Oh yeah and he hits in one of the games worst batting orders.

Corey Hart is the best player in a three-man platoon over two outfield spots in Brewland. Carrying a 13/47 4R/2HR/10RBI/2SB/.277/.364 line into play today, he’s been the hot hand, starting three straight games this week. Showing un-Hart-like patience so far this year, he carries a nice 7/9 BB/K split, which I find quite heartening to his SB totals. This guy was a big deal, with 20-20 cred back in ’08 and is currently hitting in a strong lineup, that should provide plenty of opportunities for counting numbers.

In the 15 team NFBC style, Big Ballers League the pickings are a bit slimmer. I thought I had the man for the job, but some sonovabitch grabbed Nate Schierholtz just minutes before I could. That left me with some other less than ideal choices. The underwhelming Austin Kearns being the best of a bunch that includes Chris Dickerson, Eugenio Velez and Matt Diaz. Right. Crap crap and more crap. Not to be confused with photographer Kern, Kearns got a little pop and has been hitting well for Cleveland as of late. Austin, meet Austin Jackson. Don’t get too comfortable Austin. No, not you. The other one. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe Kearns can channel 2006 for two weeks, while Nelly gets right. Lets all us Nelson Cruz owners hold hands and give a silent prayer to the baseball god of hamstrings, in hopes that Senior Boomstick is back soon.

It’s a marathon and not a sprint, I remind myself, so I can’t get too down on my prospects of victory and end up making poor decisions. Now excuse me while I have a talk with mister Johnny Walker and try to numb the pain.


A Tale Of Two Outfielders: Drew Stubbs vs. Austin Jackson

April 13, 2010

Smart fantasy baseball owners know that the game is won not in the opening rounds, but at the end of the draft. Barring catastrophe, our early picks should perform well, but it’s our final selections or the guys we find on waivers, who propel us to victory. One of the general strategies I employed going into my drafts this season, was to use two outfield slots for 2nd tier power guys, while filling out the rest with speedy, low cost lead-off men for the most part.

Two of the young outfielders who I targeted are Drew Stubbs and Austin Jackson. In my H2H league, I drafted Stubbs in the 22nd round. Coming out of the draft, I felt that my team was a little thin on starting pitching, but pretty solid in the SB department. This is a competitive, 12 team mixed keeper league, but as history has taught me, there are always steals to be had as the season progresses.  I then proceeded to flip Stubbs and speedy SS, Everth Cabrera to another owner for Mark Buerhle. I probably could have gotten a little more for that combination, but there was a reason why I acted so quickly on the deal: Austin Jackson was on waivers and he had just been named The Tigers starting CF and lead-off man.

Drew Stubbs was The Reds 1st round pick (8th overall) in the 2006 draft. The 25 year old outfielder debuted in the majors in August of ’09, slugging 8 HR in 196 PA, while displaying great speed with 10 SB. On the surface, those numbers sound nice. When you look at Stubbs .439 SLG though, you’ll see that he only had 6 XBH to go along with those 8 HR. That’s pretty strange for a guy with his speed. Stubbs has never really displayed a particularly good eye for the strike zone, striking out at a 25.3 % clip in 472 AAA PA, before coming to the bigs and striking out 27.2% of the time. Stubbs began and spent the majority of 2008 at the High A Lynchburg, where he had a paltry .087 ISO. and 5 HR, but a professional career high 14% BB rate in 358 PA. In 2009 Stubbs spent the majority of time in AAA Louisville, where his ISO climbed ever so slightly to .092, with 3 HR and his BB rate fell to 10.8%. So while he hit 8 HR in limited time last year, there is little to suggest that Stubbs has sustainable power. There is little question of Stubbs speed however, as he swiped 46 bags in 54 tries at AAA in 2008.

Bill James gives the most optimistic projections for Stubbs: 76/11/51/51/.263/.336 This is over the course of 152 games and 601 PA. What stands out are the 51 steals. The second highest SB projection is ZiPs with 30, based on 605 PA. I think .263/.336 parts may be somewhat overly optimistic as James sees a 25% K rate, a significant improvement over his rate from the limited time seen last season. In his first 20 AB, Stubbs has K 8 times. A miniscule sample size, but still somewhat troubling for Stubbs in the early going.

Austin Jackson takes over at CF this season in Detroit, having been shipped over from The Yankees in the Curtis Granderson deal. The 23 year old Jackson was drafted in the 8th round of the 2005 draft and projects to display a similar mix of modest power and speed to Stubbs. In full seasons at AA and AAA in ’08 and ’09, Jackson had 9.6% and 7.2% BB rates while his K’s climbed from 21.7% to 24.4% respectively. A .384 BABIP helped him to a .300 Average in 557 AAA appearances last season, while his OBP remained static at .354 over the last two years. His .135 ISO rate at AA Trenton in 2008 fell to .105 last season when he climed to AAA. This was good for only 4 HR in 557 plate appearances. Like Stubbs, Jackson is a legitimate base stealing threat, amassing 43 steals on 53 chances over his two latest minor league season.

Stubbs is not the only young speedster that Mr. James was rather bullish on in the off season. Austin Jackson’s projected line of 40/4/27/14/.294/.356 projects over 309 PA, or roughly a half season. Multiply those numbers by two and you have counting numbers of 80/8/54/28. Comparable to Stubbs, minus 31 SB and a considerable advantage in both AVG and OBP.

What struck me about Jackson this spring was the copious amounts of praise heaped upon him by both his current and former teams. I can’t find the direct quote, but I remember hearing a report this spring that The Yankees felt that Jackson looked like a much improved hitter with a greater command of the strike zone. Perhaps Jackson’s exposure to his new hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has changed his approach to the plate for the better.

What really set Jackson apart from Stubbs to me has perhaps little to do with their own performances and more to do with their current circumstances. While Stubbs is currently starting, he plays for the historically mercurial Dusty Baker, who has no qualms over pulling a struggling rookie. Compounding that, Stubbs plays in a far speedier outfield than Jackson. If Stubbs falters at the plate, his defensive range can be compensated somewhat by the guys around him, Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson, with Lance Nix a serviceable outfielder as well. Jackson roams centerfield, flanked on most days by an aging duo of Magglio Ordonez and Johnny Damon. With considerable skills in the outfield, Jackson’s glove is integral to Detroit’s run prevention and removing his speed for super-sub Ryan Raburn is a significant downgrade defensively at the position. Jim Leyland seems to be giving his young outfielder the keys to the job and telling him that it’s his to lose. If Detroit contends this year, Jackson will be a big part of that success.

While I expect both players to have their highs and lows and eventually end up decent end game speedsters, I see Jackson getting more playing time in 2010 and ultimately being a more significant contributor to my fantasy team. In a full season of play, I can actually see Jackson exceeding James’ projected run total. Again, these are both OBP leagues and that is really where Jackson outpaces Stubbs. In The Big Ballers Auction League, which uses OBP instead of AVG, I nabbed Jackson for $3, while another owner took Stubbs for $4. Small risk for what could be big rewards for both of us. I’m high enough on Jackson to have placed a gentleman’s wager over the two players, with Kelly at Fantasy Game Day, so you’re not alone if you think I’m mistaken here. Time alone will tell, but I feel like I made the right decision. What do you think?

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Playing Smart By Thinking Stupid

April 8, 2010

It’s like being cruel to be kind… but stupider! What am I talking about? An interesting conversation I heard on Fangraphs Audio spurred me to write a little bit about my own experience trying to predict how major league managers might use, and in many cases misuse, their players. There are countless anecdotes of managers playing inferior players due to perceptions based on league tenure, flawed statistical analysis, “intangibles” and any other reason you can imagine. Why is David Eckstein anywhere near the top of a major league lineup? Why does Mets manager Jerry Manual play poster boy for average replacement players everywhere, Gary Matthews Jr., in place of the more dynamic Angel Pagan for the first two games of the 2010 season? What is that all-valuable “closer experience” that Ron Gardenhire speaks of, when he names Jon Rausch his closer? With their solid bullpen, they’d probably be better served using a committee of relievers to suit the situation.

The modern day closer is a special case perhaps, since the conventional baseball wisdom that today’s managers employ flies directly in the face of logic. As opposed to using their best relief pitchers in the highest leverage situations, sometimes earlier in the game, managers employ the 9th inning closer to come in and get the save. Of course the game may have actually been saved earlier in the game by a relief pitcher coming in to pitch in a more difficult situation, say with runners on. As a fantasy owner, nothing makes one’s blood boil like those dreaded words, closer by committee. In real-life baseball, however, it might make more sense.

Legend Of The Overfiend

It’s pretty arrogant to think that we fantasy baseball nerds are smarter than men who have devoted their lives to the real game. I do wonder if that is the case, however, when The Royals GM Dayton Moore gives middle of the road middle-reliever Kyle Farnsworth $9.25 million dollars for two years of his services. How does Ed Wade explain the three year, 15 million dollar contract he shelled out to Brandon Lyon?Why is Lyle Overbay (known as The Overfiend here so long as he consumes playing time) a starting first baseman? A lot of baseball decisions the pros make really do make one wonder what the hell they’re thinking, and as fans we all love to armchair manage. Well, a good fantasy owner needs to get inside the heads of the pros and play it smart by sometimes “thinking stupid,” when trying to figure out playing time based roster decisions.

In a vacuum we could compare two players’ offensive numbers in relation to our team’s needs. Simple enough, even if you’re astute enough to look at the players peripheral and sabermetric numbers. In the case of younger players, we’re going on minor league numbers, which we can mess around with and adjust in an attempt to forecast a major league line. Beyond that though, there are a lot more factors to consider when trying to forecast playing time.

The players’ defensive contributions have to be looked at, since if the guy’s glove is enough of a liability, he won’t see much time in the field. Are the player’s defensive skills great enough, that he’d be sorely missed if he were to be removed from the lineup? Obviously, all MLB rosters are constructed differently, so who else is around to push the guy for playing time? Is the next guy in line that much worse (sometimes he might be better!) than the guy starting? Lefty/righty splits, records against opposing pitchers, hot and cold streaks and all kinds of other things factor (maybe the guy got caught screwing the manager’s daughter…) into a managers decisions when it’s time to fill out the lineup card and it serves fantasy baseball owners well to consider the same things when choosing who to roster.

The most obvious examples of these kinds of decisions point to the eternal question of “who’s going to close the game?” Teams (both real and accordingly, fantasy) put so much emphasis on this mystical quantifier, known as the save, that one often has to wonder what is more important to a team’s manager: getting the win or getting his closer credited with a save. So while deploying a right/lefty combination of Pat Neshak and Jose Mijares might on paper look like the most effective late inning relief combination available to Gardenhire, why did I draft Jon Rausch and later pick up Matt Guerrier on waivers (dropping him when Rausch was officially named closer)? Well, I know Rausch has saved a few games before and managers seem to value that “closer experience” they so often point to when selecting who’s going to get the save opportunities. Why did I go with Guerrier as opposed to Neshak and Mijares, who upon investigation actually have better peripheral numbers (Neshak and Mijares have career 3.86 and 2.61 K/BB ratios, compared to Guerrier’s 2.14)? Well, Guerrier had a better ERA than Neshak, which doesn’t tell the educated baseball fan much, but it seems to hold a lot of weight with old school baseball managers. Mijares has the unfortunate shortcoming of being born left handed and most managers would rather save their left handed relievers for situations where they would be facing left handed batters. So few lefties ever get that sweet closer money, simply because they don’t get the S next to their name in the box score. Ultimately, Rausch got the job and I kicked Guerrier to the curb. I’ll have to play this game again as soon as Brad Lidge returns to the Phillies, since I currently roster his understudy, Ryan Madson.

Why do you hate me skip?

For position players, the issues surrounding playing time are often enigmatic and arcane to baseball fans. We know very little of what goes on outside the lines of the field. Fantasy owners have long decried Angels manager, Mike Scioscia, for playing the defensively sound and pitcher preferred Jeff Mathis over the superior hitting Mike Napoli. It may make perfect baseball sense but that’s little consolation to those fantasy owners that draft Napoli.

I ran into this conundrum when I drafted Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs. As a long time baseball fan, I am well aware of Baker’s mercurial track record when it comes to his usage of rookie players. If they struggle, as rookies often do, they could get a quick hook. Also noteworthy is that The Reds have some other pretty solid defensive outfielders in Chris Dickerson and Jay Bruce. They don’t suffer too much if Dickerson moves over to center and lefty killer Johnny Gomes or Lance Nix play in left. On the flip side is the situation in Detroit, where Austin Jackson, coming off of a solid spring, won the center-field job over super-utility guy Ryan Rayburn. Even if Jackson hadn’t shown greatly improved plate discipline in spring training, his excellent defense in an otherwise putrid outfield, manned by Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, may have won him the job anyway. The Tigers need Jackson’s legs and glove out there patrolling center as much, if not more, than they need him to be an effective hitter in his rookie season. Evaluating the situations, you have two young players with limited and no major league experience respectively, who play the same position, displaying similar skill sets, projecting to bat in the same position in their teams lineups. Which one do I want? Simple, the one that will play more.

I’m going to go further in depth comparing Stubbs and Jackson in the near future. I placed a gentlemen’s wager with Kelly over at Fantasy Gameday that Jackson would provide a more useful fantasy baseball year in my 6×6 format (standard plus OBP) and I’ll tell you why.

So there’s a lot more to player evaluation than simply perusing the box scores, especially in deep leagues. If you want to win a competitive league, do yourself a favor and try to learn as much as you can about the situations surrounding the players you are considering rostering.

Note: There must be something in the current fantasy baseball zeitgeist regarding playing time predictions, because I just read another interesting piece on the subject at The Hardball Times. Check it out.

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