Reader Beau B. asks:
12 team league, 5×5 (basically the standard 5×5, but with OBP replacing BA, pitching categories are typical).”
The answer to this question is easy. I’m keeping Verlander, and not thinking twice about it. I suppose I should explain myself, so let’s go a little more in-depth.
First, Verlander is four years younger than Johan, making him a more valuable keeper. Johan also has a recent injury history, with Verlander pitching 200+ innings in three straight seasons.
Second, I think Verlander is a better fantasy pitcher than Johan this year, regardless of keeper status. Verlander won’t strike out 269 batters again, but he will get close to the 200 mark. Verlander’s 2009 was likely a career year that he will never repeat again, but there are some signs he could improve aspects of his fantasy game. His BABIP against was .328 last year, which should drop back down and settle closer to his .306 career line. The only worry I have with Verlander is his declining GB%, as it has dropped from 41.1% in 2007, to 39.9% in 2008, all the way to 36% in 2009. Comerica will help him in this regard, but any further drop in his GB% would be just plain scary.
A little over a month ago, I said this about Johan:
“From 2002-2007, he never struck out less than a batter an inning, and now he is doing so consistently. CHONE projects his strikeout rate to be at 8.11, with fan and Marcel projects hovering around the same mark. But what proof do we have that his strikeout rate should rise back towards his career average (even if it is only a slight bump)?”
On this week’s FanGraphs Audio featuring Jack Moore and Matt Klaassen, they had a discussion about Johan, and essentially came to the same conclusion. For Johan to get back to his old self (and be better than Roy Halladay) he needs to get his strikeouts in order.
Hopefully I have convinced you that you should be keeping Verlander over Johan. Quite frankly, it’s a fairly obvious decision for me.
For those of you in a non-keeper league, I’d draft Verlander over Johan, but that is a closer argument. Both are being selected around pick 45, so you aren’t going to get a value pick by choosing one over the other.
This was supposed to be a look at the ADP values in the tiers I created during my Check the Position series, but two pairs of players in the second center field tier caught my eye. These players lie right on fantasy fault lines: they are within a couple picks of each other, yet it seems that their value is disparate. I think you’ll be able to tell who I fancy (as the Brits say).
First up are two borderline second-rounders (though a bit less borderline if your league breaks out the outfield into three positions). Jacoby Ellsbury (20.36 ADP) goes earliest, and many fantasy managers may scoff at the number if they are accustomed to playing with plain “OF” positions, and they could be right. He is projected to retain his game-changing speed and put up a steals number north of 50. To put that in perspective, only three players crossed that threshold last year, and only one other player is projected to do so in most projection systems next year (Michael Bourn). There’s a good chance that Ellsbury finally nets triple-digit runs too, provided he remains atop the order and the Boston offense doesn’t take a step back with their renewed emphasis on defense. So Ellsbury will have some good qualities.
But what about Grady Sizemore (26.52 ADP), who is being picked almost a half-round later? If you were in the right draft spot, you could actually avoid Ellsbury and take Sizemore after the turn in the third round. I did it recently, and felt great about it. It’s not like Sizemore won’t steal any bases – although the amount is in question. He put up a career-low 6.0 speed score last year (5.0 is average) and the projections range from 20 steals to the Fans’ more optimistic 29 steals. He’s still young (27), and here’s a bet that he’ll touch the higher end of the steals projections. The power is no question – he should out-homer Ellsbury by at least a dozen home runs, and as many as 20. For whatever reason, his batting average won’t be as nice, either.
So how do you compare two different players like this? How much are Ellsbury’s extra singles and stolen bases worth? How much should you pay for Sizemore’s extra power? An excellent site, BaseballMonster.com, attempts to answer this question by measuring a player’s impact in each of the 5×5 categories in terms of standard deviations above the mean in said category. Using Sizemore’s projections for 2009 (2010 is not up yet, and the .276, 32 HR, 38 SBs only need to be scaled back a little in the speed category to make sense), his across-the-board positive contributions gave him a ranking as the ninth-best hitter. How did Ellsbury finish last year? 14th. (I report, you decide.)
Next up is Curtis Granderson (53.64 ADP), who already seems like an ADP value at his draft position. In fact, in that mock where I scored Sizemore in the third, I took Granderson after the turn in the fifth and called it a double-victory. Granderson is going from a park that had a .974 park factor for home runs last year to one that sported a 1.261 factor this year. He’s going to have a nice bounce-back season according to his BABIP (.276 last year, .323 career). Yes, his speed factor was lower than his career average, but the speed factor counts stolen bases, and it’s hard to steal bases when you aren’t on base (and it’s hard to get on base when you’re getting unlucky with the bouncing ball). All systems go for Granderson, despite his unfavorable splits against lefties, which may not be as bad as they first appear.
And yet, Josh Hamilton (52.85 ADP), who has further to bounce back, is getting picked before Granderson. This is really a head-scratcher, in the end. Perhaps fantasy managers are being swayed by that gaudy 130 RBI total a couple of years back, because his career-high in home runs (32) is only two more than Granderson’s, and he doesn’t really steal bases (at all). Again, we are left to ponder the value of Hamilton’s batting average, because the RBI are so team-specific, and Granderson may out-produce Hamilton in that category depending on his position in the batting lineup in the Bronx. I think the home run totals will be close, and Granderson will get the final laugh.
In another edition of the mailbag, it’s time to answer a question from reader John R.:
I play in a 10×10 rotisserie league (all raw numbers, no averages), and have finished second for the past two years. I’ve been ok on picking keepers (drafting is another story), but this year it is down to three per team. I’m inclined to keep Braun and Kinsler as 1-2. My options for third are Votto, Granderson, or Gordon Beckham.
The three factors most affecting my thinking: 1. Kinsler hitting fifth; 2. Granderson hitting to left in New Yankee Stadium (and possibly losing ABs against LHP); 3. Beckham’s potential as a sophomore and positional flexibility.
I’d like to do the right thing this year, and any help would be greatly appreciated.
First off, can we all agree that keeping Braun and Kinsler is a certainty at this point? Yes? Good, let us move on.
Joey Votto‘s numbers from last season are fabulous, but people often forget that he missed time with a stress related issue and could have put up even bigger numbers. He still hit 25 homers with a .322 batting average, adding in 84 RBI and 82 runs as well. However, a .373 BABIP is not going to happen again. Still, his average should sit above .300 in 2010, and combining that with his home run rate makes him a great first baseman.
Curtis Granderson in New Yankee Stadium is a scary thought. Plus, the lineup around him is fantastic, and should allow him to score and drive in runs at a level we’ve never seen. Granderson’s .249 batting average from 2009 is not cutting it, but neither is a .276 BABIP. He may not hit 30 homers again, but a conservative projection of 25 jacks and 20 steals with good runs and RBI numbers works for me, any day of the week.
It’s hard to know what to do with Beckham. First, he only came to the plate 430 times in the bigs last season. Second, he only had 59 minor league games under his belt, so we cannot go off of those numbers, either. Beckham’s .270 average from last season seems low, and is likely to rise due to a slightly low BABIP. Beckham did flash good power in college, so we can assume his 14 homers are also legit. He hasn’t been a huge base stealing threat in his career, but 10 steals is not out of the question at all. In the end, a quick prediction of a .280 average with 18 homers and 10 steals accounts for a good season to come.
But, which of the aforementioned three would you rather keep? I’m probably going with Joey Votto or Gordon Beckham, with Votto winning my heart in the end. Votto’s power production and high average will make him a highly covetable first baseman, of which the likes are hard to draft. Combining his numbers with Braun and Kinsler make your offense an immediate force to contend with.
Reader Jonathan G. asks:
I’ve got an upcoming decision for my keepers to make which I can use some FanGraphs expertise on. The keeper rules are that you forfeit a draft pick of the round your keeper is in minus 2. So if you keep a guy you drafted in the 5th round, you forfeit your 3rd round pick. My best keeper options (with rounds I would forfeit) are as follows:
-Chase Utley (forfeit 1st round)
-Adam Lind (forfeit 19th round)
-Adam Jones (forfeit 15th round)
-Gordon Beckham (forfeit 25th round)
-Andrew McCutchen (forfeit 25th round)
-Ubaldo Jimenez (forfeit 17th round)
-Jon Lester (forfeit 6th round)
My league is standard 5×5. My thoughts right now are to keep Utley, Lind, and Jones though I’ve given a lot of thought to keeping Beckham instead of Lind/Jones/Utley because of the value I’d get from keeping him in the 25th round.
I’d appreciate any time + thought that you can give to helping me out.
You didn’t explicitly say, but I am going to answer this with the assumption that you are limited to three keepers. Generally, you want to maximize value with your keepers. We can use the ADP numbers from MockDraftCentral.com as a proxy for value. Here are the numbers for your guys:
Utley – 4 – first round
Lind – 46 – fourth round
Jones – 87 – eighth round
Beckham – 93 – eighth round
McCutchen – 90 – eighth round
Jimenez – 105 – ninth round
Lester – 57 – fifth round
Here, Utley and Lester give you the least amount of value, relative to what you have to give up to keep them. I would also eliminate Jones, because of concerns around both his GB% (55.4) and Contact% (74.6).
Of the remaining four players, I think you can make a good case for keeping any of them.
Lind’s HR/FB rate is a bit worrisome, but he has a better batted ball profile and BB/K rates than Jones. His BABIP was slightly elevated but nothing too concerning. If you keep Lind, you do have to be a tiny bit concerned about his lack of SB.
Beckham begins the year as a 3B and should pick up 2B eligibility by the end of the month, assuming your league allows mid-year qualifications. He held his own as a 22-year old and had his best power month in September (6 HR). He did most of his damage on the road last year and given the hitter-friendly tendencies of his home park, it is not too hard to see him developing into a 25-HR guy as he matures. Ideally, he would have a higher LD% and a lower IFFB%.
McCutchen hit more HR than was expected last year. None of the preseason projections has him maintaining last year’s pace. Still, a 15 HR and 30 SB year is within reach and it is not impossible to see him topping those marks. One thing to keep in mind is that McCutchen did very well last year against FB but was below average against both CB and SL and will probably see more breaking balls in his sophomore season.
Jimenez is a ground ball pitcher that piles up strikeouts. He has three quality pitches and is clearly an ace-type pitcher. The Razzball Player Rater had him as the 57th best fantasy player in 2009. Jimenez did have a low HR/FB rate (7.8%) which gave him an xFIP higher than his ERA. But in 506.1 IP in the majors, Jimenez has an 8.3 percent HR/FB mark.
I would go Jimenez, Beckham and Lind.
The possibility of losing Utley is no doubt painful. But if everyone else has a first-round keeper, you get to re-draft him and keep him regardless. And if other owners opt to keep value picks, you should have other first-round talents to choose from when it is your pick.
Reader Neil S. asks:
“I have a keeper league dilemma involving chronically injured players. My offense is possibly the weakest in my head-to-head keeper league, and I was planning on keeping [Carlos] Beltran until the recent surgery (we don’t have to announce our eight keepers until early March). But Josh Hamilton is also an option for me. So my question is – is it worth taking a shot on Hamilton bouncing back, or should I take Beltran’s more reliable production numbers, even if he’s going to miss a significant chunk of the year?
I’m keeping HanRam, Texeira, and Bay (though, of course, I’m worried about the hit his numbers will take at the new field), and four of the following five pitchers: Lester, Johnson, Hamels, Cain, and Hanson. Clearly, I’m much better positioned to go forward with my pitchers than I am with my hitters.”
Neil obviously has some pretty sweet offense going on with his team already, and he’s playing in a tradition 5×5 Head-to-Head League. Hanley Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, and Jason Bay will provide some good pop, RBI totals and both Ramirez and Teixeira should hit for good batting averages. In mid-December, Fangraphs fantasy fiend Eno Sarris ranked the center-fielders and had both Beltran and Hamilton within two slots of each other. However, it was announced roughly one month later that Beltran (ADP: 89.58) had undergone another surgery on his troublesome knee, which puts his Opening Day status in doubt.
The outfielder struggled with the knee in ’09 and most of his numbers were down as a result. His batting average was up to .325, but it was aided by a .353 BABIP. At the age of 33, Beltran is no spring chicken so you have to be worried about his mobility when he returns. Previously, a lot of his value in fantasy baseball was wrapped up in his ability to provide power and speed. You have to expect that Beltran will not provide 20+ steals this year, and his ability to score 100 runs could be hampered by reduced speed, as well as a poor lineup around him. If healthy, though, he should still be able to provide 25+ homers and 100 RBI (which he’s done seven of the last nine seasons). The lineup around him, again, could hurt his ability to drive in runs, but improved seasons by Jose Reyes and David Wright could certainly help. With all that said, there are a lot of things that have to go right for Beltran to really put up impactful numbers in 2010.
Hamilton (ADP: 51) also struggled through injury problems in 2010 and his career has been littered with stays on the disabled list. The 28-year-old outfielder has received a lot of press but the truth is that he’s produced just one full outstanding offensive season in his career (2008: .385 wOBA). Unlike Beltran, his injury (pinched nerve in his back) was fixed with rest rather than surgery. In ’09, he hit a disappointing .268/.315/.426 in 336 at-bats. His line-drive rate remained strong at 21% but it’s clear that he had trouble getting around on the good fastballs on a consistent basis as his Pitch Type Value (per 100) dropped from 2.64 to 1.36. Hamilton plays in a better offensive park than Beltan, and the Ranger also has more lineup protection with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Chris Davis. With speedster Julio Borbon likely playing everyday in 2010 (along with a second-year Elvis Andrus), Hamilton should have plenty of swift-footed players to drive in.
With everything said above, I am going to advocate for Hamilton as your keeper choice. He’s younger by five years so he’s a better long-term bet. Hamilton is also expected to be 100% healthy for the start of the year, which makes him a better short-term option (as witnessed by their current ADPs). Now, I am worried about his chronic health woes (as well as his well-documented off-field issues) but you have enough “insurance” with Ramirez, Teixeira, and Bay that you can take the risk. Beltran has a more proven track record, but I think we’re going to see a serious decline in his speed numbers.
*Average Draft Position (ADP) ranking provided by Mock Draft Central.
Seeing that it’s the Holiday season, we are making wishes come true and answering your fantasy questions from our mailbag. Reader Scott writes:
Greetings. I’ve got a tough decision to make in my 9-team NL-only dynasty roto league. Through some solid trades over the past two years, I’ve compiled a strong team, but I can’t decide on my last keeper. We keep 8.
Definites: Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Prince Fielder, David Wright, Matt Kemp, Tim Lincecum
Undecided: Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Pablo Sandoval.
With the hitters I’ve already got, I’m leaning toward keeping Johnson and Kershaw, even though it pains me to let Sandoval go. Though I am nervous about Johnson getting dealt to an AL team. And I’m nervous about Kershaw’s wildness. So, pick two from those three to keep.
We use standard 5×5 categories (Avg., HR, RBI, R, SB … ERA, WHIP, W, S, Ks).
Lineups: 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, C, C, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, Utility; 9 pitchers, no restrictions.
Also, each team keeps 1 AL player (any position) as a “DH” … and mine is Ian Kinsler.
You are right to be worried about Kershaw’s wildness. Even though Kershaw posted a 2.79 ERA in 171 innings last year, he walked 4.79 batters every nine innings, earning himself a 2.03 K/BB ratio and a 3.90 xFIP. While Kershaw may have improved his strikeout rate from his rookie year, his walks increased and his ground ball rate declined. The walk rate is not as bothersome as the ground ball rate, which dropped almost 10% down to 39.4%. A fluky 4.1% HR/FB% will rise, as will his ERA. His stuff is electric, namely his fastball. He has room to improve as a pitcher, but it is unlikely his numbers will be as good as they were last year.
As far as Johnson goes, I’d be more afraid of an injury than a trade. Johnson will likely pitch this season for Florida and be dealt before the 2011 campaign. While this isn’t the best scenario for a keeper, his numbers from last year make it hard to pass up another season of his production. In over 200 innings in 2009, Johnson posted a 8.22 K/9 and 3.29 K/BB, earning himself 15 wins and a 3.23 ERA (3.40 xFIP). He understands how to get ground balls, with a 50.3% rate last year and a career rate of 47.8%. He has a good fastball to go along with a slider and changeup. Johnson had elbow problems in early 2007, and had Tommy John surgery later in the season. If he can stay healthy, he looks to be on pace for another stellar season in 2010.
Sandoval is a solid hitter, but looks to have reached his power peak last season. He isn’t likely to do much better than his .330/.387/.556 line and 25 homers he hit last year. But, don’t expect a decline either. Because he should no longer have his catcher eligibility, his value goes down.
All three have their issues as keepers, but due to your abundance of hitters I would recommend keeping Johnson and Kershaw. While both have their problems, your team should be better off. If you can find a way to package Johnson and Sandoval in a deal for a pitcher, that is your best option. You wouldn’t have to worry about Johnson being shipped to the AL or getting hurt, and you would still get to keep two top pitchers to go alongside Lincecum.
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