Anatomy Of A Trade: Goodbye Boomstick

June 22, 2010

After a long and arduous road, it’s done. Weeks of back and forth negotiations proved fruitful, when I divested myself of my last share of Nelly “Boomstick” Cruz. Last week in my keeper league, I finally dealt the injury prone Texas Ranger outfielder, along with the disappointing tandem of Blue Jays second baseman, Aaron Hill and Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, in exchange for Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth and San Francisco catcher of the future, Buster Posey. Hear that? That’s me giving a dramatic sigh of relief as I feel like I can finally start to set my team towards a late summer playoff run.

Don’t get me wrong, Cruz is a phenomenally talented player. His per-game numbers are unmatched by anyone in baseball this season. The Texas Ranger outfielder has hit for tremendous power, good average and has been quite the thief on the basepaths. I bet the multi-talented slugger can even make a mean margarita! Unfortunately, Cruz has one major flaw to his game, he cannot seem to stay healthy. Hounded by a balky hamstring, Cruz, who returned today from a second stint on the disabled list, has proven to be injury prone through out his career, an absolute albatross around the neck in a head-to-head league. After drafting him in the third round in my 12 team keeper league, I quickly came to regret the decision as I saw my team plummet in the standings without Cruz’ potent bat in the lineup.

Thankfully, I’ll no longer have to go scrambling for a roster replacement the next time Cruz visits the doctor. In Werth, I have a player whose numbers should come close to approximating Cruz’ production. He hasn’t stolen as much as he did in the past, but Werth has a ton of pop and hits in a bandbox of a stadium, while nestled comfortably in the five hole of the best lineup in the National League. Along with Werth, comes hard hitting Giants catcher/first baseman, Buster Posey. While the rookie has slowed down his torrid pace in recent days, he provides my team some flexibility, allowing me to play him at the corner infield position or at catcher when rookie sensation Carlos Santana gets a day off. This ability to add more counting numbers from the C slot, proved invaluable to me last season when I had both Wieters and then catcher eligible, Pablo Sandoval alternating at the position. Perhaps more importantly, it gives me valuable better bargaining chip, which I’m already trying to flip – I’ve just offered this weeks opponent, the surprising Jamaica Beef Patties Posey and reliever Jon Rausch for disturbingly ineffective Arizona starter, Dan Haren.

Moving the offensive black holes of Aaron Hill and Matt Wieters seems like a case of addition by subtraction right now, as neither have been producing much aside from goose eggs in the box scores. In fact their horrifying numbers have been a terrible drain on my ratios, one of the main reasons my team carries a .264 team batting average, third worst out of the 12 teams in the league. To be fair Hill has provided decent power with 10 homers on the year, while his .182 BABIP is the lowest of all qualifying hitters in baseball. That number simply has to rise as the season progresses. With my team flush with power and needing run scorers, base stealers and batting average, Hill was just not a good fit for my lineup. Wieters was an even bigger disappointment after coming into the league with such fanfare last season. While his hot September played a key role in my playoff success, the young Baltimore backstop has looked clueless at the plate this year, seeming to regress more and more with each passing game. I have little doubt that the talented youngster will one day be a star, his lack of production was hurting my team too much to continue to hold him. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised to get anything for him. With Carlos Santana proving to be every bit the hitter he was advertised as so far in his young career, Wieters became expendable.

Filling in at the second base hole for Hill right now is Cardinals utility man Felipe Lopez, who has hasn’t been doing much either in recent weeks. The versatile Lopez has seen a lot of time at the top of the St. Louis batting order, which has been eerily quiet as of late. As the Cardinals heat up (as Matt Holiday has begun to do) look for Lopez to be crossing the plate with greater regularity. Along with taking Lopez off of waivers, I also grabbed injured San Diego Padre shortstop, Everth Cabrera for a much needed speed boost. I had originally drafted the light hitting infielder in the 21st round of this years draft, but quickly sent him and Reds outfielder, Drew Stubbs to the Patties in exchange for White Sox work horse Mark Buerhle, in what may go down as the most futile trade in our leagues history. The Patties ultimately cut Cabrera and Stubbs and I sent Buerhle off to waivers after his inauspicious start to 2010. Now the EverCab is back¬† in the fold and looks to return from the disabled list on Friday.

So with the team retooled and ready to go, we managed to dispose of last place Animal House by a score of 9-2 last week, as we closed the first half of the 2010 fantasy season on a high note after an excruciatingly slow start. Next up, a rematch with The Patties and a push towards another playoff berth.

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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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