Stealing Signs: Good Reads From Around The Web

May 15, 2010

In honor of The Philistines and their eagle eyed coach, Mick Billmeyer, I’m going to steal a few notable links from around the baseball blogosphere in an effort to get a few cheap hits.

  • Eriq Gardner at Fantasy Baseball Junkie leads off with a great piece, breaking down the various types of trades that occur in fantasy baseball.
  • Stephan at Razzball threw down a fantastic article breaking down Minor League ballpark factors. Take a look at where the prospects are playing before deciding whether or not to buy into the hype! Read Part One before Part Deux, or so I’m told.
  • Mets fans, don’t hold your breath for Roy Oswalt to be coming to Flushing this season. Mike Puma (that can’t be his real name. Is he a porn star? A mercenary?) of the NY Post says the Mets have enough reservations about eating the $1.8 million owed to replacement player extraordinaire Sarge Jr., let alone taking on the additional $15 million Oswalt is owed this season. Now that I’ve cited The Post, I’m going to go pull up The World Weekly News (“The world’s only reliable news”) to find out where LeBron James will end up next.
  • If you’re wondering what I’m doing inside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, perhaps you should pay a visit to Fangraphs to read Carson Cistulli’s series entitled, “Why We Write.” Me? I’ve taken up baseball writing to justify my anti-social behavior to my friends and family. Oh and as Ice Cube perhaps said best, “I’m only out for one thing: the pussy, the money and the M-I-C.”
  • Derek Ambrosino dropped science as usual over at THT Fantasy. Part one of his series, “What Should Fantasy Baseball Be About?” was posted last week, discussing the cause and effect of league parameters and the arguments for and against the legitimacy of streaming. Part two, where he digs into keeper league dump trades was just posted for your reading pleasure.
  • Speaking of pleasure, I’ve recently began reading, “The Yankee Years,” Joe Torre’s memoirs of his era in pinstripes, written with Tom Verducci. I’m thoroughly enjoying the read so far, thanks D! Gotta love that “Clueless Joe,” headline that the NY Daily News ran after his first press conference as Yankee Manager. I knew he was the players union rep but I never realized one of my all-time favorite players, David Cone, took such a large leadership role in that mid-90’s Yankee clubhouse. As a Mets fan with plenty of schadenfreude, I’m looking forward to reading about the Kevin Brown years of Torre’s tenure.
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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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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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