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 backĀ  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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…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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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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