Archive for February, 2011

Closing Time

Closers are a volatile crew. As many as a third lose their job from injury or poor performance from year to year – the Small Sample Size Blues if you will. If your league has jettisoned the save statistic, call yourself lucky to avoid the headache that is chasing saves all year.

If you aren’t so lucky, then you know the perils of punting, or even the risks of being cheap when it comes to your bullpen. If you spend on Brian Wilson, you get consistency and statistics that are great when compared to others at his position. There is such a thing as value over a replacement closer, and that’s probably worth paying for.

But, as with most rankings, there must be tiers. There will be a cheaper top-end closer and a more expensive mid-range closer, and you know which one you want. So let’s try to separate these guys into their respective groups. Get it sorted, right?

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Carson’s Non-Prospect Rookie Picks!

Eno Sarris has submitted to this high-quality publication a list of rookies whom he believes might be of some use to fantasy owners this season. While I certainly respect Mr. Sarris’s able analysis and all-around expertise in the fantasy arts, I also harbor an irrational sense of confidence about my own prospecting skills.

To that end, I submit this: a full fantasy team’s worth of players who still possess rookie eligibility (i.e. no more than 130 ABs or 50 IP in the Majors), but who’ve appeared neither on any iteration of Baseball America’s previous top-100 prospect lists or, because BA’s 2011 edition of same doesn’t come out till late February, Keith Law’s 2011 top-100 list.

While I make no claims about potential playing time for any of the following, it’s my feeling that the players below — were they promoted and given playing time — would outperform the players on Eno’s list.

With a view towards standing by my claims, I’ve challenged Mr. Sarris to a bet. I don’t know exactly how we’ll determine the victor — probably using MLEs or something — but I can tell you for sure that the loser buys the winner a beer at Ron Shandler’s First Pitch Arizona event in November.

May the best nerd win!

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Promise and Potential: The All-Rookie Fantasy Team

There’s nothing quite like the siren song of the prospect. Like with Christina Ricci in Buffalo 66, their youth can be exciting and yet vaguely uncomfortable to depend upon. Of course, sometimes you end up in jail or at the bottom of the standings.

Prospect lists are nice. This list is about players that will help this year. You don’t have to be in a keeper league to reap the rewards of drafting a high upside rookie for your bench. Just remember that most debuts don’t look like Jason Heyward’s, so don’t spend too many resources on these guys.

Oh, and to spice things up, Mr. Cistulli and I have put together a wager: his Bad News Bears against my Scout’s Darlings. I’m not nervous. Or, maybe I’m not not nervous.

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How to Deal with Injuries

Fangraphs’ injury expert Jeff Zimmerman takes an in-depth look at how injuries could impact key fantasy players in 2011, and what you should consider before drafting them.

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Park Factors, Team Factors, and Drafts

Consider Adrian Gonzalez. No doubt, he has been an impact player – both on the field and for fantasy owners – over the past three seasons. Gonzalez is sixth among first basemen in homers over that stretch, along with ranks of ninth in AVG, sixth in runs and sixth in RBIs. Now, with Gonzalez’s winter move to Boston, the possibilities appear endless. After averaging 35 HRs per season, could an escape from PETCO mean 50 homers? Could a cleanup spot in the stacked Red Sox lineup mean 120 RBI after an average of 106? Indeed, every available projection system suggests that the highly favorable situation for Gonzalez will increase his performance across the board, potentially making him one of the top three fantasy first basemen in the game.

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Fantasy Story Lines

Each team in baseball opens the year with half a dozen or more storylines that will determine how its season will play out. But some go beyond Player X staying injury-free or Player Y reaching the next tier. So, here are some of the big-picture items to look at as the 2011 season unfolds.

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Late-Round Draft Scenarios

When you go into a fantasy draft, you almost certainly have a shopping list of sorts. However, you are on a limited budget, and won’t be able to draft the best 22 players on your draft board, so you make sacrifices for the greater good. For some people that means waiting until the very end to find a catcher, and for some that means relying on some starting pitchers with upside in the last few rounds. Below are four scenarios and strategies you will likely recognize, and a couple of players that will help you cross something off your list.

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The Sophomore Slump

The sophomore slump has long been a thorn in the side of fantasy owners. Chris Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, went from a .321 AVG with 84 R and 47 RBI as a freshman to just a .268 AVG with 60 R and 28 RBI as a sophomore, thanks in part to a knee injury. His AL counterpart, Andrew Bailey, saved almost the exact same number of games in 2010 (25) as he did in 2009 (26), but threw 34.1 fewer innings because of elbow and trunk issues. Geovany Soto went from a .285 AVG and 23 homers as a rookie to just .218 and 11 the next year. The list goes on and on.

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Keeper League Strategies

Is Mat Latos a keeper? How about Jason Heyward? Or Steven Strasburg? Nick Punto?

I think most people would say, “yes, yes, yes, no” but truthfully all four players could be a “yes” or “no” depending on the rules of your keeper league. Frankly, any player in baseball from Albert Pujols to Cesar Izturis could be a good or bad keeper depending on the league.

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Top Three Offseason Trades

Red Sox acquire 1B Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres for RHP Casey Kelly, 1B Anthony Rizzo and OF Reymond Fuentes

Swinging in the most sinister offensive environment in the game, Gonzalez nonetheless batted .285/.387/.523 over the past three seasons, drawing a walk nearly 14% of the time with an ISO around .240. His three-year wOBA of .383 ranks 20th among qualified MLB hitters, but once you adjust for PETCO, Gonzalez’s bat has been eighth-best in the bigs over that time frame.

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2011 Batter Profiles: A – G

Bobby Abreu

Debut: 1996 |  BirthDate: 3/11/1974
’10 667 146 20 24 78 88 .255 .352 .435 .348
’11 630 152 17 20 87 82 .277 .368 .442 .357

Profile: In 2010, Bobby Abreu hit 20 home runs, stole 24 bases, and showed the same plate discipline (13% BB, 23% K) that he always has (14.8% BB, 21.6% K career) — and yet, there are reasons to think that the end is nigh for his fantasy relevance. While his stolen-base totals have stayed in the steady-but-solid range in the last six years (22 to 31 stolen bases), his Bill James’ speed score hit a seven-year low last year. With his bad body and poor defense — he’s pretty much a designated hitter these days — his lack of athleticism really has to catch up with him eventually. Also worrisome is the fact that he hit a career-low in line drives last year. He’s been undervalued before, and has managed twelve straight years with at least 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases, but as that speed dissipates, so will his remaining fantasy value. (Eno Sarris)

Quick Opinion: The old man with the beer gut has managed twelve straight seasons with more than 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases, but those wheels are getting a little rusty. Treat him more like an extra piece if he falls far enough, and you’ll mitigate the risk that his athleticism is providing these days.

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2011 Batter Profiles: H – N

Travis Hafner

Debut: 2002 |  BirthDate: 6/3/1977
’10 462 110 13 2 50 46 .278 .374 .449 .358
’11 464 112 16 0 64 62 .269 .354 .445 .346

Profile: In 2010, Hafner played in more than 100 games for the first time since 2007, and managed an unflashy, but useful, .278/.364/.449 line in a deflated 2010 run environment as Cleveland’s primary DH. However useful that may be in real baseball, for a DH-only player in traditional 5×5 leagues, it won’t cut it. Hafner was last a good fantasy piece in 2006, a lifetime ago in baseball terms. Without the power to truly make pitchers pay, his walk rate has dropped. Even 2010’s numbers need to be seen in light of his .332 BABIP, so his average will likely drop. Cleveland doesn’t really have any other options at DH next season, so if he stays healthy (and even in 2010, he only played in 118 games) Hafner will help in counting categories; although, given the condition of the rest of Cleveland’s offense, he isn’t going to get that many opportunities to drive runs in or be driven in. Expect .260/.350/.430 with about 60 runs, 60 RBI, and 10-15 home runs. In other words, at this point Hafner is Billy Butler without the average. He should go drafted in all but the shallowest leagues, but don’t spend a high draft pick or more than minimal fantasy dollars on him. (Matt Klaassen)

Quick Opinion: Hafner had a mini-comeback in 2010, but the pre-2007 Hafner is almost certainly gone for good. He’s better than people think in real baseball, but not in ways that can help a fantasy team very much.

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2011 Batter Profiles: O – Z

Miguel Olivo

Debut: 2002 |  BirthDate: 7/15/1978
’10 427 106 14 7 58 55 .269 .315 .449 .327
’11 447 107 13 4 45 41 .250 .285 .407 .299

Profile: Olivo has racked up double digit home run numbers in five consecutive seasons while playing for three different franchises, but he’s decided to really challenge himself in 2011 – he’s going to the worst park in baseball for his particular skillset. As a right-handed extreme pull hitter, Safeco Field punishes his strengths more than any other park, and Olivo is going to have to do a lot of damage on the road to repeat his 2010 numbers. You would think he might have noticed what Adrian Beltre did in Boston after leaving Seattle, or how Jose Lopez failed to make this same approach work in Seattle, but Olivo took the security of a two year deal and now has to try to overcome baseball’s version of death valley for RHBs. Given that former Catcher Of The Future Adam Moore is still hanging around, Olivo will have some competition for playing time, so if he struggles, he might find himself on the bench more often than he had anticipated. (Dave Cameron)

Quick Opinion: Let someone else pay for Olivo’s expected power – his new home ballpark will stifle his production in a big way.

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2011 Pitcher Profiles: A – L

David Aardsma

Debut: 2004 |  BirthDate: 12/27/1981
’10 0 6 31 49 8.9 4.5 0.9 3.44 1.17 4.05
’11 3 4 29 61 9.4 4.1 0.9 3.33 1.31 3.80

Profile: Heading into the off-season, it was essentially a foregone conclusion that the Mariners would trade David Aardsma. He has racked up solid save totals the last two years, but his shaky command and one pitch arsenal always left you feeling that he was something of a time bomb – eventually, hitters would stop swinging at his fastball out of the zone and let him self destruct. However, news broke in December that Aardsma would require surgery on the labrum in his hip, which nuked his trade value, and so he remains a member of the Mariners roster. He also remains one of the highest risk options for saves in baseball. He was already an implosion candidate before the injury, and now he’s going to get up speed in 2011 without a spring training to work out the kinks. If all these warning signs have you thinking buyer beware, you are a pretty smart individual. (Dave Cameron)

Quick Opinion: If he’s healthy, you’ll saves with a side helping of heart attacks. He might not be healthy. Discount heavily.

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2011 Pitcher Profiles: M – Z

Ryan Madson

Debut: 2003 |  BirthDate: 8/28/1980
’10 6 2 5 53 10.9 2.2 0.7 2.55 1.04 2.61
’11 5 3 2 68 9.7 2.4 0.8 3.04 1.10 2.98

Profile: For the last two years, Ryan Madson has been a better pitcher than titular closer Brad Lidge, and yet he only has 15 saves to show for it. Ask a Phillies fan, though, and they’ll assure you he’s not fit for the role. Perhaps he doesn’t have the temperament (he did kick a wall and break his toe after a blown save). What he does have is the ability to strike people out (10.87 K/9 last year, 7.67 K/9 career) and garner groundballs (50.4% last year, 47.6% career) while eschewing the walk (2.21 BB/9 last year, 2.77 BB/9 career). He’s 30 and only pitched 55 innings last year due to a non-pitching injury (the toe-wall thing), and seems primed for a great year. Unfortunately, in most leagues his value will depend almost entirely on the production of Lidge. Given that Lidge has both an injury-riddled and ineffective season in his recent past, it could mean double-digit saves for Madson by the end of the year. (Eno Sarris)

Quick Opinion: In recent times, Ryan Madson has been a better pitcher than the man notching the saves for the Phillies. Still, it looks like his owners will have to wait for Lidge to go down before getting any saves out of their pitcher.

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