Hitting The Cut-Off Man: Existentialist Edition

April 28, 2010

“He who fights with monsters should be careful least he thereby becomes a monster. When you stare at the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Nietzsche was addressing the human condition, man’s struggle for self-determination and enlightenment. Old Freddy could just as easily been talking about baseball though because such is the price of hedging your bets players of ill repute and dubious integrity. Sometimes we have to do things we aren’t proud of when we’re struggling for our very fantasy existence in deep leagues.

The Uptown Ham Fighters are struggling to find their way in the absence of two monsters that I drafted. One monster was the maleficent Carlos Zambrano, who I need waste no more virtual ink on here. What stares back at me in the void in strikeout production, which I hope to address at some point. The other, more terrifying (to opponents and now myself) monster was Nelson Cruz. With his absence, I stare into the abyss that are my waiver wires and here are a few uber-menchen who stare back at me.

There was a time not long ago when Andy LaRoche was actually a somewhat ballyhoo’d (he was hip hip  hoorayed as well) prospect believe it or not. Between two season in AA and AAA for The Dodgers, LaRoche averaged .300 BA/.400 OBP lines while hitting a modest 37 HR over those 818 PA. He’s never projected as a power guy, which hurts his value at 3B, but he’s always displayed a major league eye. Perhaps in his 27th year LaRoche will put his skills together and approach the .285 – .290 BA level that he’s capable of. I know he’s carrying an inflated .459 BABIP into today, but I’m going to give him a run while he’s hitting well, as his 9.8%/15.6% BB/K rate are encouraging and he’s posted 10 hits in his last 18 PA. With big time prospect, Pedro Alvarez waiting in the wings down in AAA, there’s little future for LaRoche in a Pirate uniform. The Pirates would love to get something of value for LaRoche in a trade, so they’re going to run him out there and hope he can increase his stock by hitting well. I think he can do just that and give me the little boost in BA that I need.

Another face that stares at me from the void is that of Pinella’s Spring Training favorite, Tyler Colvin. Colvin’s a 25 year old rookie who came into the league with little hype, but now finds himself pushing both Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano for playing time in The Cubs outfield. While Colvin has displayed some pop in the early going, he’s also has a 27% K rate. Fortunately for him, he’s also walking at an 11.6% clip, but those K’s will have to go down if he is going to make a name for himself. He’s currently hitting .324 with a ridiculous .378 ISO in the early going of 2010, but will that change as those numbers are buoyed by a .375 BABIP. If you’re going to play a hot hand, I suppose you could do worse, but I’m not buying.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea that stretches into the distance beyond the Rightfield wall, stands a Giant named Nate Schierholtz. While his numbers have hardly been gigantic through his young career, Nate The Ok (as opposed to The Great) has been a pretty decent contact hitter. With an 85.9% contact rate and a 29% O-Swing rate (percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) so far in 2010, Nate’s cut down on his K’s (15% down from 20.4%) and been selectively hacking at the plate and it’s paid off as he carries a .300 BA, held aloft by his .353 BABIP going into today. He won’t show much pop, being a left handed hitter in AT&T Park and he’s been buried deep in the 8th hole in the S.F. lineup, which never helps, but The Giants lineup will change with whoever possesses the hot bat and Schierholtz won’t be getting on base with a pitcher behind him much longer. Look for a shift down in the order soon, increasing his value as an BA helping outfield option in deep leagues, such as the Big Ballers League, where he was snagged moments before I could take him yesterday.

As far as that noxious void in starting pitching that Zambrano took with him to the bullpen, I’ve taken to trying to stream starters against my opponent this week, since I am definitely out-classed in that area. With an impending loss in ERA and WHIP, I’m focusing my starting pitching on winning Wins, K and Quality Starts. With Saves up in the air, I might be able to win the counting categories.

After Grandpa Moyer‘s predictably lackluster effort in S.F. last night, I’m going with the old “Hodgepads at home” mantra that Grey at Razzball professes. That sees me throwing Padre lefty, Wade LeBlanc out there against The Brew Crew at Petco Park. A former 2nd round pick by San Diego back in 2006, LeBlanc carried a 8.3/2.4 K/9 split in 462 2/3 Minor League innings, with short rather unspectacular call-ups to the show in 2008 and 2009. In his first two starts in 2010, LeBlanc has allowed only one run in 11 innings, with a 10/4 K/BB ratio and no homers. With few better options in the days to come, I’ve got to hope for the best as LeBlanc looks to Leblank The Brew Crew in the cavernous confines of Petco.

NOTE: Schierholtz went 5-5 with 3R/1RBI/1BB in S.F.’s 7-6 loss against The Phils this afternoon.

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When The Going Gets Weird… Notes From Week 3

April 25, 2010

Barry Zito returns from the grave to haunt fantasy owners

Weird happenings from around baseball this week…

An $18 million dollar starter with a penchant for implosions gets banished to the bullpen. Zambrano the set up man debuts in Milwaukee. Fantasy owners who drafted him collectively double over as Sweet Lou kicks them in the nuts.

Ivan Rodriguez and Livan Hernandez lead the NL in Batting Average and ERA respectively.

The Yankees tripled up, in a game that will be better remembered for A’s Dallas Braden taking umbrage to A-Rod’s breach of baseball etiquette.

Hebrew Hammer, Prince and The Brews build their reputation for intimidation at the expense of Pirate goyum. 20 – bupkis.

Barry Zito is fantasy baseball’s Solomon Grundy. I believe potent magic has finally dispelled the curse of Alyssa Milano. I feel your pain my friend. He out dueled my ace in the battle of mega-curveballs.

To end this recap of a bizarre week, I’m going to recommend the ageless Jamie Moyer for deep-league owners looking for two good starts to stream in this week. The 3% owned lefty has a start in SF against Todd Wellemeyer and the punchless Giants and then comes home to face Oliver‘s Army and The Mets.

In honor of The Brews 20-0 beat down…

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Zambranooooooo!

April 21, 2010

That’s me screaming his name and shaking my fists at the sky. I don’t have enough expletives to hurl at Lou Pinella’s inane decision to put his opening day pitcher, Carlos Zambrano into the bullpen. Couldn’t he at least asked my opinion? Lou must have thought I was booing, rather than Loooooouing back when I saw him play so many moons ago.

I really thought Zambrano turned the corner last night against The Mets as he went 6 and gave up 2.  Aside from his usual opening day blow-up, he’s been alright. Not good, not bad but alright, giving up a lot of cheap hits that have marred his numbers. He’s mowed down hitters at a blistering clip of 12.9 K/9 and even kept his cool when he’s gotten shoddy D behind him or squeezed by the ump. Now I understand that outside of Marmol, The Cubs pen has been Hatchet-Face ugly. I’ve seen a lot of ugly bullpens, but never before have I seen a club ask it’s supposed ace (who’s making about $18 million this year by the way) to go out there and earn his money… by getting out three batters?!

Now I’m left with some decisions to make. Aaron Hill is supposed to come off of the DL on Friday, which means I have to drop someone. It was going to be Ian Desmond and it still might be. Meanwhile, I’m trailing or tied in all of the pitchers counting categories and my opponent’s got at least 3 more starts than me scheduled for the remainer of the week. I may be picking up Mister Fister after all.

Bad day all around for the Uptown Ham Fighters. First the Z news, then Buerhle goes and gets rocked and to top it off, nobody’s hitting aside from Fat Ichiro and J-Will tonight. Not fun. Better luck tomorrow boys.


Hitting The Cut-Off Man: Fist Of Fury

April 20, 2010

A few interesting players to consider as we scour the deep league waiver wires…

  • Until Angel Pagan‘s HR in the 7th inning of last night’s 6-1 win over The Cubs, The Mets had gone 117 plate appearances without an extra base-hit. I’m feeling pretty good about the combustible Zambrano going to the mound tomorrow. The Mets have been swinging at everything, particularly with runners in scoring position. If Pagan gets regular playing time in favor of Gary Matthews Jr., he could be worth a flier for those in need of speed in 12 team or bigger mixed-leagues. I actually drafted Pagan in the reserve draft of The Big Ballers League, but dropped him when Manuel started the season playing Sarge Jr. in center. If he keeps playing, he’ll be on someone’s roster again soon.
  • The star pitcher of my all-porno name team, Doug Fister, put together another tremendous start tonight. With 6 no-hit innings tonight against clueless Baltimore bats, Fister strung together a total of 10 straight innings without a hit, dating back to his last start against Oaktown 357. There’s a lot to like about the big sinker-baller, as Fister has pounded the strike zone to the tune of 9K’s and only 3BB, over his first 18 innings this season. While the White Sox bats have been chilly so far this season, they should provide a tougher challenge than his previous two opponents. We’ll see if the Fist of Fury continues to beat down the competition.
  • Will the real Brandon Morrow please stand up? Was tonight’s 7 inning (5 1/3 without a hit), 1 run, 8 K, 2 BB, 3 hit performance, against The Royal Tenenbaums a taste of things to come, or will he go back to walking the world (5.84% career BB rate) in his next start? There has never been a question of Morrow’s ability, rather it’s been health and questions over his role that have been at issue. With his starting job clearly defined, it will be interesting to see if Morrow can develop into the quality starter that scouts projected. I’m not overly optimistic. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance before from Morrow, only now he’ll start facing much stiffer competition in the AL East, in front of a defense that is hardly has proficient as the one he left behind in Seattle.
  • With The D-Backs placing Conor Jackson on the 15-day DL with a strained hammy. Gerardo Parra should be seeing more time in the Arizona OF. Bill James gave a preseason projection of 70/8/64/13/.297/.351/.428 for Parra, which is a nice improvement over his 2009 numbers. Obviously those numbers are contingent on about a full season of playing time. He won’t get that if Jackson’s healthy, but he’s playing now and he could be a valuable run scorer in a strong D-Back lineup. Parra won’t wow anyone in any particular category, but deep league owners might be able to find some use for the soon to be 24 year old outfielder. At his best, I think he could be Franklin Gutierrez-lite with the bat.

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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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The Naturals

April 6, 2010

So by now we know that Jason Heyward > Sliced Bread x foi gras. The home run he hit on the third pitch of his first at bat might one day be spoken about in the same breath as other great regular season homers, like Aaron’s 715th or George Brett’s Pine Tar Shot. One day I’ll probably tell my grand kids about it and lament that I didn’t draft him in my keeper league. It’s funny how baseball works. How all the little things can add up to history.

The heavens opened up and smiled on Heyward, the local kid made baseball legend before he ever took his first swing in the bigs. Fortune took a dump on the trimmed down and sedate, 2010 edition of Cubs pitcher, Carlos Zambrano. With a little luck, Zambrano (why in god’s name did I draft him?) could have very easily gotten out of that inning unscathed. A couple of bloops are correctly played, a seeing eye single bounces a foot to the left or right and The Say Hey Kid 2.0 never steps up to the plate with runners on and Big Z flailing to get a guy out. Baseball’s a cruel mistress isn’t it Mr. Zambrano?

This is the text exchange between JP, who drafted Heyward in our keeper league, and myself. Remember precisely what you were doing when Heyward hit his first. One day it’ll make for fantastic party filler conversation.

Me: Wow Heyward takes Z deep in his first at bat!

JP: 3 run job beeyotch.

Me: Cruel inning for Z. bloops and bleeder… that’s alright albert hit 2 sucka!

All sarcasm aside, it was pretty sweet to witness a great baseball moment. Now excuse me while I try to forget that Zambrano’s epic fail probably just sunk my ERA and WHIP for the week. Enjoy this poor quality, Zapruder-esque video of Heyward’s first at-bat taken by a fan at the game.

Aside from Zambrano’s stinker, it was a damn fine start to the 2010 season for The Uptown Hamfighters. Albert jacked 2 and mocked all other hitters by singing “anything you can do, I can do better.” Mark Buerhle tossed a gem and flashed the leather for what might be the play of the year. Nelson Cruz used his boomstick and Brian Fuentes picked up a 1-2-3 save out west. The Uptown Hamfighters are well on their way towards handing the hated Jamaica Beef Pattie it’s first beating of the season.

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