Bloops and Bleeders: Midsummer Night Dreams

July 7, 2010

This week, we find the newly renamed “Don’t Fuck DeJesus,” ascending in the standings, thanks to big contributions from Adam Wainwright and a piece-meal pitching staff that features Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Kris Medlen and Jaime Garcia. Along with the resurgent play of Rockies speedster Dexter Fowler and the continuing surprise that is Brew Crew Basher, Corey Hart, my team finally seems to be kicking into gear and rising in the ranks. This week my boys face-off against the “My Boomstick,” the team to which I traded Nelson Cruz, Aaron Hill and Matt Wieters, in exchange for Jayson Werth and Buster Posey some three weeks ago. Since the trade my team has gone 23-10-3, while my trading partner has flailed with a 11-23-2 record, dropping below me in the standings by a game. It’s not as though Werth or Posey have been gangbusters. Both have been contributing, but neither have gone nuts while on my team. The move did allow me the space to reacquire Fowler last week, who I drafted, only to drop him due to his poor play this spring. Now Fowler is doing what I thought he could (4 triple in this past weekend’s series versus The Giants?! Hey Dex, stop at first and get me some steals!) and I seem to have the lead-off/stolen base threat that my team so needed. The players I traded have struggled, as the three have done little for “My Boomstick,” aside from the recent improvement from Weiters – who would have been on my bench anyway, with Carlos “Smooth” Santana swinging serious stick for me behind the plate. I have little doubt that Cruz will get hot again, but I’d rather have a healthy Werth any day.

So it seems like a case of addition by subtraction has pushed my team up the standings, while this weeks opponent juggles playing time between a bunch of mediocre players who bare the “potential” label like a scarlet letter. I’m actually a little bit sorry to see the guys I moved doing so poorly, since it’ll make any further trades with my opponent more difficult in the future. Don’t worry, I won’t lose any sleep over the deal though.

I’ve been working putting more effort into actually generating an income, instead of focusing so much on baseball lately, but I’m still following the game as closely as ever. So while I’ve been working, what’s been happening in baseball land?

*NOTE* I’m not going to get caught up in All-Star Game shennanigans  – like how Omar Infante gets picked for the team and Joey Votto doesn’t – as it’ll get me ranting and raving about how much I hate the idea that the Midsummer Classic should decide home-field advantage in the World Series.

The Cliff Lee sweepstakes seem to be in full gear, with the Twins reportedly offering prospects Aaron Hicks and Wilson Ramos for what might amount to a three month rental of the former Cy Young award winner. Today, Peter Gammons reported that the Rays have tossed their hat into the ring and that a three-team deal might be in the works, which would ship disappointing all-hustle-team captain, B.J. Upton off and net the A.L. East contenders the stud pitcher. The Mets, Yanks, Phils and Reds have also been said to have been talking with the Mariners about acquiring the 31-year old lefty. Stay tuned, since where ever Lee goes, his fantasy value is expected to rise – at least as far as W’s go.

Another player possibly on the move is Hart, who sounds like he may be headed to San Francisco. The Brewers need major league ready starting pitching and the Giants have plenty of that. If the Brewers are to resign Prince Fielder, it looks unlikely that they’ll want to shell out the kind of money Hart is likely to earn through arbitration. Hart is making $4.8 million this season and that number is likely to go up in light of the monster year that he is enjoying. As a Hart owner, I’m not particularly excited about the idea of the outfielder calling pitcher-friendly, AT&T Park his new home. I do however also own Kung-Fu Panda and Posey, so their value would increase should the Brewers slugger be inserted into that weak Giants lineup.

The aforementioned Dexter Fowler has put up video game numbers since his return from AAA gulag on June 29th. After going 0-8 with 2 BB and 4 K against San Diego, in his first two games after his recall, Fowler went crazy against The Giants this weekend. Over the four game set, Fowler collected a 10-16 line with 7 BB, 4 K, along with 7 runs scored, 3 RBI and 2 SB. I was very high on the 24 year old outfielder coming into this season and drafted Fowler in the 16th round back in March as a low-cost speed source, but dumped him in May when his poor play lead him to the bench and ultimately back to the minors. A resurgent Fowler is just what the Rockies – as well as my fantasy team  – could use at the top of the lineup.
The Cleveland Indians and fantasy owners alike took a big blow, when the dynamic Shin-Soo Choo hit the DL on Sunday, after spraining his thumb while attempting a diving grab in Oakland on Friday night. MRI results showed that Choo’s thumb was more damaged than originally thought and that the team leader in batting average (.286), homers (13), RBI (43) and OBP (.390) may need surgery. Word now is that Choo will be out until September. This conspiratorially-minded writer wonders if Choo’s injury is a just a ploy to avoid having to fulfill his duties in the South Korean military – sort of like when that black dude in “Platoon,” stabbed himself in the leg to get his ass out of Vietnam. Ok, not really. I just thought that would be funny sub-plot to what looks like a rather sad end to Choo’s season. Young speed merchant, Michael Brantley was recalled and is starting RF in place of Choo, while leading off for the Tribe.

Jake Peavy left the game in the 2nd inning of tonights match-up between the ChiSox and the Halo’s. After delivering a pitch to Mike Napoli, Peavy appeared to be in pain as he shoot his right arm. Peavy headed for the dugout before manager Ozzie Guillen even had a chance to reach the mound and check on him. Doesn’t look good for Peavy – or my opponent this week, who owns him.

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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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