Stephen Strasburg Leads The Rookie Parade

June 10, 2010

…And on the eight day, God created Stephen Strasburg and he was very good. As baseball followers know, the Capitol City phenom made his first entry into Baseball’s history books last night with a scintillating 14 strikeout, zero walk victorious debut against the hapless Pirates. The first overall pick of last year’s draft exceeded all expectations, gunning down the Pittsburgh batters with prodigious power, precision and a maturity perhaps never before seen in a pitcher so young. Across the Maryland border, Matt Wieters scoffed at another player being The Chosen One and immediately got three hits in defiance.

While Strasburg worked his magic before a rabid D.C. crowd (nice to see that kind of excitement in Washington) another youngster was making a splash a short trip up I-95 in Philidelphia. Mike Stanton premiered with the Florida Marlins after decimating AA this year. The hulking outfielder who lead all of minor league baseball in homers with 21 in 52 games, picked up three singles in five plate appearances in the Fish’s 10-8 loss to the Phillies.

But wait, there’s more! You may have missed the above players in your league, or whiffed on Heyward, Jaime Garcia or Leake, but don’t cry with one eye like the Indian in the old PSA. there are more rookies who’ve just arrived, or on the way, who can help your fantasy teams this season. Here are a few…

Jose Tabata made his big league debut for Pittsburgh against Washington tonight, going 2 for 4 with a run scored and a steal. Good timing for the Pirates, since everyone’s still talking Strasburg. Tabata lead the International league in stolen bases and contributed a 42R/3HR/19RBI/25SB/.318/.385/.436 line in 247 PA at AAA Indianapolis. His base stealing prowess is something of a new development, but Tabata has always displayed an advanced plate discipline, which sets apart the good speedy guys from your average fast whoshisface.

Brad Lincoln made his debut the above mentioned game for the Buccos tonight and had a rather inauspicious start to his major league career, surrendering five runs on two BB, seven hits and a homer, while striking out three in six innings to take the loss. Lincoln, the 4th overall pick in the 2006 draft had solid numbers in AAA prior to his arrival in the show, going 6-2 3.16/.99/14BB/55K in 68 2/3 innings of work. He’s not more than a streamer in 12 team right now, but keep an eye on the kid.

While we’re talking Pirates, we can’t pass up an opportunity to mention hometown hero in the making, Pedro Alvarez, who I hope to see with the big club soon. The red hot Washington Heights native has picked up his numbers and currently posts a line of 37/11/48/3/.283/.374 over 246 PA. Expect Andy LaRoche to be traded and hard-hitting young slugger to move on up to the big time soon.

Jake Arrieta makes his first big league start tomorrow against the Yankees. The O’s 2008 5th round pick out of Texas Christian University (so he’s got god on his side, along with Matt Wieters) has been almost Strasburg-like in his domination of AAA hitters, going 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and a 34/64 BB/K split in 73 innings before being pegged as a human sacrifice, so Jeremy Guthrie can get an extra day of rest. The Baltimore Orioles saw how Washington lined up Strasburg against the weak hitting Pirates and said, “Pfft. That’s too easy. We want our young star in the making to have a challenge!” So Arrieta gets to have his young spirit horse crushed by the Bronx Bombers in their series finale tomorrow. Way to ease a kid into the show Charm City.

Carlos Santana is still in AAA, which hurts my heart. It’s like having Christmas come late. Only worse, because I have money the on the pagan celebration falling on Jesus’ birthday. C.S. Smooth keeps making AAA pitchers wish they were never born with nary a peep about an arrival date in Cleveland. Oh he’s raking by the way, to the tune of 36R/12HR/47RBI/6SB(!)/.314/.447 (best in the minors)/.580

Andrew Cashner got his call to the bigs last week, as Epic Beard Lou and the Cubbies continue to throw shit against the wall to see what sticks in the bullpen. Not to say Cashner’s shit by any means. To the contrary, by Cubs 2008 first round pick (19th overall) was dynamite in AA and AAA before being sent to Chi-Town. Over the two levels, Cashner racked up an impressive line: 6-1/15BB/59K/2.05 ERA/.95WHIP in 57 innings (9 starts in 11 appearances). Cashner’s racked up four scoreless innings in the majors so far and looks to be in line to become the Cubs setup man, which would mean closer if Marmol screws the pooch.

Matt Carson had a cup of coffee in Oakland last season, as well as this past April, getting one start before being sent back to AAA Sacramento. Down on the farm he went 25/6/19/9/.293/.362 in 138 PA before getting recalled today. Carson who turns 29 next month, started in center tonight, going 0-3. The Swiss Army Knife of an outfielder is an under the radar kind of player, who can do a little bit of everything. If you asked me before the season, which Oakland outfield prospect would make an impact in 2010, I’d have gone with Michael Taylor. The more heralded outfielder and presumed heir-apparent in center has struggled however and if Carson makes his presence felt, he can have some value for the A’s and fantasy owners alike.

Mike Moustakas has been such a hit in the Texas League that he got a burger named after him. With Stanton making the jump from double at to the majors, and Moustakas hitting at a similarly ridiculous clip at AA, could the Royals bring their young third base prospect up sooner rather than later? Moustakas certainly deserves to be promoted as much as anyone as he’s put up some gaudy numbers with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals: 35/13/49/.368/.441 in 177 PA. Somewhere Alex Gordan waits above the stage, like the Phantom of the Opera (or Park if you will) waiting for the curtain to fall. The former 2nd overall pick of the 2005 draft has had his difficulties in the bigs but is currently leading the PCL in OBP at 1.196, since getting sent down early last month.

Which newcomers do you think will make an impact in the final two thirds of 2010?

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Something To Get Excited About In Queens?

April 15, 2010

Last Friday night I watched closely as Mike Pelfrey hung tough through 6 innings and held The Nats to 2 runs on 4 hits, 4 BB and 4 K in the winning effort. Pelfrey had success in his first full season in ’08 but regressed mightily in ’09 as he lost confidence in his off-speed pitches and threw the highest percentage (77.4%) of fastballs of any starter in the league. Obviously you’re not going to get through too many Major League lineups like that.

It’s never been a matter of ability for the hard throwing former 1st round pick of the ’05 draft. This spring, Pelfrey tooled with his approach and developed a new pitch in a splitter that arrives in the 85 MPH range. Replacing his ineffective change-up with the heavy dropping split that tails away from lefties and refining his slider, Pelfrey has looked like an entirely different pitcher so far this season. Today’s start was particularly impressive: 7 innings of shut out ball, striking out 6 and allowing only 5 hits and no walks. He was confident and efficient as he worked his way through a Rockies lineup that was without CarGo, Hawpe or Helton, with little hassle.

With a lilliputian career .69 HR rate and 50% ground ball rate, the big righty impressed me enough today to make me drop Scott Downs in The Big Ballers league and grab up the Big P. Maybe it’s blind homer optimism, but I think Pelfrey has the ability to be a surprisingly productive fantasy start this season. I’d take a wait and see approach in smaller leagues, but don’t wait too long. Another good start and Pelfrey’s going to be a hot name in fantasy circles.

For more on Flushing’s favorite palm-licker, check out this article by Dan Budreika at Rotographs.

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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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