The Cortizone Kids

September 22, 2010

It’s been a month to remember for Team Donkey Punch. Never thought you’d see that sentence in writing did you? After closing out the regular season with a scorching 30-3-3 record, I ultimately finished in 2nd place, 1/2 game out of the top spot. I actually held first going into the furious final day of play, that saw three teams in first, before the dust settled and The Thirsty Monster stood atop the standings for the second straight year.

With the additions of pitchers Yovanni Gallardo and Ryan Dempster via trade and young phenom Daniel Hudson and veterans Joe Blanton and Jake Westbrook off of waivers, the starting pitching that was a weakness earlier in the season became a strength down the stretch. I patched the speed-hole in my offense as well by adding Brett Gardner to the mix and seeing Chone Figgins come on in the second half. With a team more well-rounded than ever and a first-round playoff bye, Donkey Punch was ready to battle it out for another championship.

Then the injury bug struck.

On the first day of my semi-final match up with the commissioners team and 2007 champ, The Devil Wears Prado, I had Albert Pujols, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner all receive cortizone shots to various aching body parts. Three days later, the Cardinals would shut down rookie sensation Jaime Garcia. Lead by a resurgent pitching staff and big weeks by Jason Werth, Angel Pagan and Derek Jeter, Donkey Punch overcame the odds to earn a trip to the finals to face The Thirsty Monster. Which is where we are today, currently leading 8-3 (no thanks to lousy performances by Cole Hamels and Trevor Cahill today) going into the second week of the championship series. With the offense clicking (I’m ahead in all offensive categories) and the rotation loaded with 15 starts for the final week, we might be sipping bubbly once in October once again.
Some notable moves: I finally let go of the Panda. Lets call him F.U. Panda, shall we? He’s been bad enough to land on the bench as the Giants battle it out with the Padres and Rockies in the final weeks. Panda get sent off to waivers in place of Marlins rookie Logan Morrison. Had I rostered Morrison instead of F.U. a month ago, I’d have probably finished in first. Now that I pick him up, he cools off, going 5 for 28 in the past week. At least he’s playing and not terrorizing Bay area buffet tables, unlike the disappointing Panda.

Mike Aviles on the other hand has done serious work the past week, with 7R/2HR/5RBI/2 SB and a .333 BA. Aviles replaced Emilio Bonnafacio who I rostered to give me a speed boost while Brett Gardner was out with his recent wrist injury. Aviles is a perfect example of playing the hot man in H2H as he’s hit 6 of his 8 homers in the month of September.

That’s all for now. I’ve got some writing to do for SYFFAL.com, a music/culture/variety blog that I write for now but I’ll be back next week either celebrating another championship season or licking my wounds after a monumental collapse.


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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Climbing Cahill

July 1, 2010

2010 continues to be the year of the young gun with a bumper crop of fresh faces appearing to display their fine pitching talents. High on that list of hurlers who I find most intriguing is Oakland Athletics right-hander Trevor Cahill. Drafted out of High School by the A’s, in the second round of the 2006 draft, the 6’4″ 230 lb pitcher posted impressive minor league numbers, before being ranked as the 11th best prospect in the game by Baseball America at the dawn of the 2009 campaign. His minor league experience however was limited, as he only reached as high as a brief stint in AA ball, before opening 2009 as a member of the A’s starting rotation.

Cahill’s ’09 numbers were pedestrian at best but the A’s gave the kid a chance to fight through his difficulties and grow at the Major League level, which says a great deal about the organization’s confidence in him. In the first half of this season, Cahill has emerged as the pitcher that Oakland once put on par with their other, more highly touted 22-year-old pitcher, Brett Anderson. Anderson now resides on the DL, nursing an inflamed elbow and is looking to begin a rehab assignment in the coming week or two. While the Athletics as a team have floundered, currently finding themselves 10 games behind the first place Rangers, one bright spot amidst their recent woes has been Cahill.

Going into tonight’s start against the Orioles, Cahill is 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 52K/24BB in 75 innings. His xFIP of 4.03 suggests that this high a level of pitching from Cahill is not really sustainable though, as he carries a very low .235 BABIP. Cahill holds a rather high 53.3% GB rate however and gets to pitch home games in a pitcher’s paradise. Last year, Cahill posted a .273 BABIP against in his 32 starts. Oakland pitchers as a team carry a .289 BABIP, good for 7th best in baseball, so there is reason to believe that his current rate may not make that big a jump.

The most marked improvements that Cahill has seen are in the stats not contributing to his BABIP: K, BB and HR. Those numbers are now at 6.24/2.88 and .96/9 respectively, a big difference from rather uninspiring 4.53/3.63/1.36 rates he posted in ’09. While there’s nothing too eye-popping there now, that’s still a big improvement and I believe Cahill’s strikeout rate will get a bump in the second half. We’ve already seen that number climb over his last three performances, capped by his 10K/3BB/2H masterpiece on June 26 against the Pirates (not to get too nuts over shutting down the lowly Pirates), as he threw 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball.

I believe the reasons for the improvement are two-fold: Cahill has shown improved velocity – Cahill throws his average fastball at 90.4 MpH this season, up from 89.8 MpH last year – greater usage of his curveball – which he’s now throwing 11.9% of the time versus 2.7% in ’09. As he matures, Cahill is mixing his pitches better, with less reliance on his slider and change-up equaling improved effectiveness in all of his pitches aside from his change – his only “minus” pitch, which comes in at a -.5 RA value. The new-found confidence in Doctor Hook combined with the improved fastball and slider have kept hitters off-balance as they are swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone and taking more called strikes in the zone. For more details on those numbers, check out Dave Golebwieski’s 6/29 Stock Watch column, from Fangraphs and yes, he should certainly be owned in 12 team and maybe even 10 team mixed leagues. I own him in my keeper league and he’s been huge for me since I acquired him on June 3rd.

Interestingly enough, ZiPs rest of the season projections for Cahill are not kind. It’s calling for major regression, to the tune of 5.63K/3.71BB/1.13HR/9, as well as a .294 BABIP – leading to a 5-6 4.73 ERA/1.45 WHIP/50K line, from tonight until season’s end. I think this projection comes way short of what we’ll see from Cahill the rest of the way, as it seems to be missing the effect of his new confidence in his curve. I expect an ever greater K rate in the coming months and I believe his other rates should hold steady near their current rates. This looks very much like case of a young and talented pitcher, in a position to succeed, taking advantage of the opportunity and doing so by taking his game up to the next level. While Cahill alone may not help the A’s play meaningful baseball this October, a strong second half and a return of Brett Anderson, could make things interesting. Regardless, Cahill and a healthy Anderson could provide Oakland a nice one-two punch for years to come… or at least until they reach free agency.

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Head To Head Strategy – The Numbers Game

June 23, 2010

An interesting topic came up over on the Razzball comments today, where you can frequently find me talking baseball and trading zingers with the best writers and most knowledgeable readership in the fantasy game. The question regards the validity of punting pitching categories in a head-to-head league. Regular commenter, Mr2Bits posed the following question this morning:

Anyone ever punt pitching categories, specifically QS/W and K’s? Seems as though I’m going against a guy who has 6 more starts than I do this week and is already 3 for 3 on QS. I’ve reached my IP pitched min and he has no closers so I’d only need about 3 more saves to be safe (already have 2). Guess winning 3 out of 5 categories is better than possibly losing more.

I’m in a similar position this week. My opponent is carrying 11 starters right now, compared to my seven. Two of his guys are going twice, while only Jaime Garcia is scheduled to make two starts this week. That’s 13 starts against my eight. My opponent should gain easy victories in wins, quality starts and strike outs this week by virtue of sheer volume. On the flip side however, I have four closers to his two, my pitching has been very solid as of late and his has been rather shaky. This leads me to believe that it’s likely that I’ll take ERA, WHIP and saves. Playing in a league that has an 80 transaction limit, I’m already up to 42 moves after doing a ton of streaming in the early going of this year. Instead of continuing to burn through transactions, I’d like to be able to save them until the stretch run, in case I’m in really dire straights and need to do some heavy duty streaming to win. Thankfully, it seems that I have finally found a good core group of arms, as the recent success of Jason Hammel, Kris Medlen and Trevor Cahill has stabilized my dubious rotation. Garcia, who I grabbed up early on in the year, has continued to perform as well and has even cut down on his walks lately, improving my WHIP along the way. I won’t get too excited about these young guys though, as I know that things can change fast. A steady, veteran arm is definitely needed for a playoff push. Overall though, I’m happy with my current roster after the big Cruz trade and waiver additions of Felipe Lopez, Angel Pagan, David DeJesus and Johnny Damon, there aren’t any pitchers available on waivers right now that I would want to roster over one of my current players.

So the game plan this week is to run quality over quantity and hope that my opponent will continue his poor pitching, while my hurlers keep faring well. If all goes right for me, I should at least get a split of the six pitching categories. With a little luck, I might even be able to steal wins from him, as I’m currently ahead 1-0. Doubtful but possible. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, I have faith that my offense can win all but the stolen base category, as my opponent has a team full of burners. Runs will be close, but I’m currently up by five. Interestingly enough, we’re tied at three homers a piece. I have little doubt that I can take him in jacks though as I have a rather power heavy team – we’re second in the league with 112 bombs, only one behind the leader. With all said and done, I think this strategy gives me a good shot at taking the week overall.

This isn’t a case of punting a category as much as a strategic decision to play my opponent rather than the schedule. Trying to go toe to toe with him in the pitching counting stats would be a fruitless endeavor – wasting transactions by dropping talented players for mediocre pitchers who may not even get me the victories I want. Worse than that, going that route could possibly blow up in my face and lead to a pitching blow out by inflating my ratios.

We’ll see how it pans out. The Patties are managed by a shrewd owner, who will stop at nothing to beat me. I’ve taken four straight match-ups from him, dating back to the beginning of last season and including my victory in the 2009 finals. So far so good as I enter play today up 7 – 2. When this week is finished, I’ll be sure give an update with the final tally.

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