Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy days here again with the Fons?

Last July I attended a Cubs game at Wrigley, and afterward I went with some friends to the outdoor parking lot where many Cubs players leave after the game. Apparently it's a good place to get autographs.

I remember it was beautiful weather as we waited outside a low, chain-linked fence looking into narrow lot. There were many expensive cars, a few unidentified security guys as well as other Cubs employees. I would later find out that some of the people waiting around in that lot were friends and family of the players.

Since Carlos Zambrano hadn't pitched that day, he was one of the first to arrive (and subsequently depart). I also remember Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster (who actually left by pedaling his bicycle). And there was Lou Piniella who, as he walked toward his SUV turned to the small crowd and uncomfortably waved. I had nearly called out, "Hey Lou, nice double-switch in the sixth inning!" The only reason I didn't was because a small part of me thought it might actually have been the seventh... (And it really was a nice double-switch as the Cubs hung on for a one-run victory that game.)

But the person I remember most from that parking lot was "Fons." Alfonso Soriano.

I hadn't realized it before, but Soriano in person is just a cool dude. It's hard to explain, but as he chatted with teammates, friends and family while holding somebody's little girl for part of the time, his smooth style was readily apparent. Although, some of the fans waiting nearby weren't nearly as smooth as they rattled the fence, waving pens and hats and paper, yelling out repeatedly, "Alfonso! Alfonso pleeeease!"

But Fons kept chatting away, occasionally looking over to the fans, flashing a smile and coolly holding his hand up extending his index and pinky fingers like they do at the University of Texas for "Hook 'em 'Horns." The fans would reach a fevered pitch thinking that this was their chance to get Soriano's attention for an autograph, but understandably, he'd just go back to his conversation. Then after about ten minutes he was gone.

From a purely baseball perspective, I never understood why the Cubs committed $138 million toward Soriano; and it's not really the money that bothered me. What bothered me was the following question: Where does Alfonso Soriano fit on a World Series-caliber team?

Ever since Soriano has come to Chicago, a big debate among Cub fans is where to bat Soriano in the lineup. Some say leadoff (which is where he usually bats), but others say with his power he should be batting fifth.

To make a long story short, Soriano needs to bat leadoff by default. Even though he doesn't steal bases like he used to, the leadoff spot is the only spot in the lineup where he'll see a lot of fastballs, which is what he needs to be a good hitter. (The View from the Bleachers has the numbers here if you're curious.)

As if the confusion surrounding where to place Soriano in the batting lineup isn't enough, there is also confusion over where he belongs in the field. He was brought up by the Yankees as a second baseman, the Nationals moved him to left field, then the Cubs tried to convert him to center field and now he's back in left. While he is fast and has a strong (and accurate) arm for throwing out runners, overall he's not a great defensive outfielder.

Last season the Cubs had a better record with Soriano than without, but this year they're doing better without him. At the very least, not having Soriano hasn't been a devastating loss to this club.

I often enjoy listening to Steve Stone's take on baseball, and here's what he said recently on his blog regarding Soriano (please note, Stoney's known for his baseball knowledge, not his writing skills):

I believe the Cub fans are starting to realize that with a tragic loss, at least for a while of Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs have won 7 of their last 10 and have won 4 games in a row. I am sure that the Cubs miss that sterling play in left field, they miss all the bases that Alfonso didn’t steal, they miss how artfully he played the off the wall and his occasional solo homeruns. It appears that that 175 batting average, 2 homeruns, 5 runs batted in, the four walks he had taken in 57 at bats coupled with the 11 strikeouts doesn’t seem to be hurting the Cubs very much.

In fact I would venture to say with a leadoff hitter, whoever Lou decides to put there who is actually a leadoff hitter, the Cubs are a better team without Soriano. There, I’ve said it. Anybody familiar with the emperor’s new clothes? If not, understand this, 136 million dollars over 8 years buys you a very accurate arm, a guy that will steal very few bases from here on out because of recurring leg problems and a man who should change the name on his back to Hans Solo, describing the overwhelming amount of homeruns with no one on base that he will hit.
Hans Solo? Ouch!

Soriano comes off the DL in a few days. I'll be curious to see how he meshes with the team upon his return.

Friday, April 25, 2008


No, I'm not talking about the 1986 Academy Award-winning movie Platoon. I'm talking about knowing when certain baseball players only belong in your fantasy lineup when they have a favorable match-up: the platoon players.

So, let's start with a question. Can you name this player?

Here's a hint: Last year he hit 33 homers, had 99 RBI, scored 121 runs, batted .320 with an OBP of .397 and a SLG of .580... and he was quite possibly on the waiver wire for much of the season in your fantasy league....

Okay, so I've exaggerated a tad. The player above is Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Jack Wilson; and last year he had 100 AB's against lefties in which he posted the following stat line: 6 HR, 18 RBI, 22 runs, .320 BA, .397 OBP, .580 SLG.

Now if Wilson could have had a full season of batting against lefties (approximately 550 AB's), then that's where I got the original (and attention-grabbing) stats of 33 HR, 99 RBI, and 121 runs.

When we take a closer look at the math, one might argue that Jack Wilson's six home runs against lefties doesn't justify a roster spot, especially when looking at the margin over the alternative. In other words, Wilson got 6 homers against lefties, but if you had somebody else instead in your lineup during that time then they might have gotten 3, 4, or even 5 homers which is only a net difference of 1 to 3 homers over the course of a season...

To that last point, yes I agree that the margin gained in homers (and RBI and runs) is likely not going to be great, but keep in mind, those are only three of the stats mentioned. Equally important is the advantage in SLG and OBP (or BA if that's what your league uses). When Wilson is in your lineup batting against a lefty, he's statistically not going to be a drag on your team in HR/RBI/R/BA/OBP/SLG... instead he'll be a help.

Granted, you can't platoon at every position (unless your fantasy baseball league allows 45 roster spots), but I'm guessing that most competitive fantasy teams have at least one platoon going during the season. For instance, last season I had Kaz Matsui in my lineup every time he played at Coors Field because I had noticed the previous season his OBP and SLG were significantly higher at Coors than any other field. If I hadn't platooned Kaz in my lineup, I doubt I would have tied for first place. (Side note: I've noticed that the dreaded O.N. Thugs already have a platoon going this season.)

We could go on and on looking at players' split stats, such as how they do on the road vs. home, day vs. night, lefty vs. righty, pre All-Star break vs. post All-Star break, etc. However, I'll just toss out a few here, and I'd be glad to hear some player observations of your own:

Right now Yahoo has Ryan Zimmerman rated #9 among 3B, right behind Chipper Jones (#8) and ahead of guys like Mike Lowell and Edwin Encarnacion. But what's the whole story?

If we jump right to the split stats, we get a better picture. (I'm going to use OBP/SLG for simplicity in numbers.)

For Zimmerman, here's his righty/lefty split for 2006:
Vs. Left - .364/.447
Vs. Right - .346/.478

Those are comparable numbers and not really enough to see a trend. However, in 2007 we saw Zimmerman become a masher of lefties, but he really regressed against righties:

Vs. Left -.443/.660
Vs. Right - .296/.399

That is not a typo (unless Yahoo has it wrong too). In 2007, Zimmerman was just .296 OBP and .399 SLG vs. righties.

There are many third basemen who have been better against righties than Zimmerman for at least the past two seasons (including both Lowell and Encarnacion). I would never play Zimmerman against righties, although he does seem like a good option to platoon against lefties.

For pitchers, everybody by now seems to know about Ervin Santana and Wandy Rodriguez (start them only at home). Although, I don't hear people talk about Greg Maddux with regard to the same issue--only start him at home. Here are his road numbers from the past two seasons:

2006 - 5.20 ERA / 1.36 WHIP
2007 - 4.65 ERA / 1.28 WHIP

However, his home stats have been good:

2006 - 3.19 / 1.07
2007 - 3.59 / 1.21

Interestingly enough, despite his age, Maddux has posted better numbers after the All-Star break in each of the past five seasons.

Okay, I better stop now. I've already used too many words and numbers for a post that began as one simple word: platoon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Everybody's team is awesome in April

Truth be told, when I get done drafting my fantasy baseball team every year I usually feel pretty good about it. After all, I hand-picked these players myself and, compared to most Major League rosters, my team looks like the '27 Yankees.

Then the season starts...

...and then the excuses...

Of course, I'm not alone in this process. Many fantasy baseball owners could probably relate.

Regarding this topic, Patrick DiCaprio over at The Fantasy Baseball Generals had an interesting post titled "Why Most Owners Think They Have A Good Team In April."

DiCaprio starts out his post by wondering aloud why owners always think they had a good draft, despite the actual merits of their team. He then takes a crack at explaining why this is the case:
Each owner will have his own differences of opinion with even their own methodology, which is to be expected. For example, one of the RotoTimes readers may differ with the RotoTimes projection on Ryan Howard, or Daisuke Matsuzaka. So even in the context of their individual methodology every owner has his own subjective judgments that color his draft or auction.
It is these subjective judgments that pose the biggest barrier to team evaluation. Each owner is viewing his team through two prisms, that of the overarching methodology of their basic projection method, and that of their own subjective judgment.
It is this subjective judgment that plays the biggest role. Every owner, no matter how skilled, thinks that their judgment is to be trusted.
Regardless of the reasons why, it's true that most fantasy baseball owners think they have a good team in April. Fortunately, for better or for worse, we all eventually start to see the truth... usually sometime in May. ;-)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Introducing the new '90 Reds...

With nearly three weeks already in the books for this season, it's high time to introduce my fantasy baseball team here on the blog--and discuss how we're doing.

C - J.R. Towles
1B - Prince Fielder
2B - B.J. Upton
SS - Jeff Keppinger
3B - Chipper Jones
OF - Hideki Matsui
OF - Skip Schumaker
OF - Joey Votto
Util - Carlos Pena
Util - Carlos Quentin
Bench - Hunter Pence (will be back in lineup once he's out of slump)
DL - Jack Wilson

SP - Dan Haren
SP - Chris Young
SP - James Shields
SP - Dana Eveland
SP - John Maine
SP - Wandy Rodriguez

RP - Matt Capps
RP - Joakim Soria
RP - Todd Jones
RP - Manny Acosta
RP - Jon Rauch
DL - Joel Zumaya

Here's how my team is doing in each category through Saturday, April 19:

Runs - 94 (9th, 14 behind the category leader)
HR - 30 (T-1st)
RBI - 108 (T-1st)
SB - 9 (10th, 9 behind the category leader)
OBP - .356 (5th, .040 behind the category leader)
SLG - .461 (2nd, .049 behind the category leader)

W - 6 (T-Last, 7 behind the category leader)
L - 6 (T-3rd, 1 behind the category leaders)
SV - 14 (3rd, 8 behind the category leader)
K - 112 (5th, 41 behind the category leader)
ERA -3.68 (2nd, 1.10 behind the category leader)
WHIP - 1.38 (8th, 0.36 behind the category leader)

Here's a snapshot of the UPL's overall standings through Saturday, April 19: Please note: It's early in the season and these point totals are still subject to wide swings daily. Yes, I'm in third place as of this writing, but I could be 7th or even 10th place tomorrow.

Admittedly, I fell asleep at the wheel during the second half of my league's draft. Not only did I mistakenly think that I had already drafted Rafael Soriano, but I forgot to draft Yunel Escobar (instead taking Frank Thomas in the 17th round). As such, I have a journeyman SS in Jeff Keppinger who might be sharing playing time once Alex Gonzalez is healthy again. Also, my outfield isn't anything to write home about, especially with the way Pence started the season.

As it stands now, I'll be the first to admit that my team isn't good enough to win the championship. So as this week's web poll question, what area do you think I need to address first?

edit 4/21: Just an FYI. Due to Wandy ending up on the DL, I've dropped Zumaya and added Erick Aybar.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hurt feelings

After the Big Hurt's second consecutive 0-for-4 outing on Friday, I took a good look at his season stats and decided that I could do better. After perusing the waiver wire, I picked up Carlos Quentin (instead of Ryan Ludwick whom I also considered).

Now I read that Toronto benched Frank Thomas today, and their manager has informed him that his playing time will likely be reduced from here on out. Of course, this didn't sit too well with Thomas who said the following in an story:
"Sixty at bats isn't enough to make that decision. I'm angry, I know I can help this team. My career isn't going to end like this."
But is Thomas right? Is it not fair to judge a player after 60 at bats? Well, Pizza Cutter @ Statistically Speaking has crunched some numbers regarding what can (and can't) be generally known about a hitter's expected performance going forward after X amount of plate appearances.

Pizza Cutter's findings showed that after just 50 plate appearances, you can judge what percentage of pitches a player will swing at (i.e., is this hitter a free swinger or not). After 100 plate appearances, you can judge the player's contact rate (i.e., if they swing do they make contact or not). After 150 plate appearances, you can judge their strikeout rate, line drive rate, and pitches taken per plate appearance. However, it isn't until after 500 plate appearances that a fair determination can be made about on-base percentage, slugging percentage, singles rate, and popup rate.

Granted, Pizza Cutter's analysis is probably more useful for judging young prospects as they break into the big leagues (such as Evan Longoria or Justin Upton), but it might also be applicable when a hitter at the end of his career starts to regress.

I don't blame the Big Hurt for being upset with being benched, especially since he could miss out on a $10 million option if he doesn't get 376 plate appearances this year. However, I gotta believe that if Frank Thomas were running a fantasy baseball team he'd drop himself in favor of Carlos Quentin too.

HT Brock For Broglio

At a loss for velocity

When I drafted Chad Cordero in the pre-season, my main hope was that he'd just stay healthy and not cause any major problems for my team.

So you can imagine my frustration when I was listening to the 9th inning of the Braves-Nationals game on Opening Day and, despite it being a save situation, Cordero didn't even take the mound. The announcer said something along the lines of, "No word yet on whether Cordero is injured," and I said something along the lines of, "Oh crap."

I did manage to add the next in line for that closer role, Jon Rauch; and since Cordero went on the DL, I was able to free up a roster spot so overall it wasn't a big deal.

However, the bigger problem (for my fantasy team) started when Cordero came off the DL. In Yahoo leagues, you can't keep a player on the DL if he isn't on the DL in real life. So when I took Cordero off my DL, both he and Rauch were taking up roster spots without me knowing who would be the closer.

As it turned out, the Nationals wanted to give the closing job back to Cordero, but he wasn't able to do it. And while his previous outing (April 16 vs. the Mets) was a shutout inning, he never threw a pitch faster than 82 mph. This is odd for a guy who normally is 88 to 91 mph with his fastball. What was more troubling was the fact that the Nationals' trainer went out to the mound to check on him during that inning.

For Cordero's part, he insists that he will be fine. Although others aren't so sure. For my part, it was a great mystery, but one I needed to solve in order for my team to go forward. In the end, I took a page from Warren Buffett's playbook which I like to apply to fantasy baseball: If you don't understand something, then don't invest in it.

So last Wednesday I dropped Chad Cordero and picked up Skip Schumaker. I would have been happy to put Cordero on my DL, but the Nationals don't have him on the DL so that wasn't an option for me.

But this whole drop-in-velocity thing isn't limited to just Chad Cordero. I also drafted Ted Lilly, and he's dealing with a lowered velocity as well. Here's what Cubs' pitching coach Larry Rothschild said last week after Lilly fell to 0-3 on the year:
"The difference I see is when he needs a pitch to reach back for, he's reaching back and it's not quite the same," Rothschild said. "He's always been real good in key situations. Right now, it's just not the same. Part of it is location, but the arm strength just isn't quite the same right now, and I think that plays into the location and everything else."
There's nothing physically wrong with the left-hander, Rothschild said.
"That's what's a little mysterious, obviously," Rothschild said.
Hmm... there's that word "mysterious" again that I don't like.

Even though Larry Rothschild and Lou Piniella kept saying that Lilly will be fine, I went ahead and dropped him last week (before his latest debacle against Cincy) in favor of Wandy Rodriguez (whom I will only be starting at home since he tends to pitch much better there).

I don't know what's going on with Lilly and Cordero, but right now their velocity problems are too mysterious for me to risk.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cheese whiz

The next time you're visiting the Milwaukee School of Engineering, be sure to check out the Lego mini-version of Miller Park which took Tim Kaebisch seven years to make. (Or you could just watch the two-minute YouTube clip below and be done with it.)

HT La Ruina

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pushing the panic button

The panic trade.

We've all seen it. An All-Star caliber player has an atrocious first two weeks of the season so his fantasy team's owner panics and trades him away for some chump whose currently playing out of his mind but will likely cool off so much that he finishes the season on the waiver wire while the traded-away guy comes around and has yet another All-Star season. It sounds crazy, but we see it time and time again.

Today at work Paul (who taught me everything I know about baseball gambling when we were in Vegas earlier this month) was telling me that he had taken advantage of somebody else's baseball panic. He's in a 14-team head-to-head league, and here's the deal he made:

Paul traded away Randy Johnson and Carlos Delgado. In return, he got Roy Oswalt and Edwin Encarnacion.

Honestly, my first thought was: "Dang, I wouldn't want any of those guys on my team." However, with a 14-team league I guess you have to dig deep.

So what are your thoughts? Who got the better end of this deal? Did the owner of Oswalt panic too early?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Closing time

My grandpa often tells me a story from the 1930's when St. Louis starting pitcher Bud Parmelee (Roy Parmelee) first faced his former team, the New York Giants. As you can imagine, Parmelee was a competitive guy who really wanted to beat his former team more than anyone; and he actually made it through the first seven innings with little or no problem--and a 1-0 lead. But he could tell he was tiring by the time the 8th inning rolled around. Common sense said it was time for a call to the bullpen, but Parmelee was a man on a mission and he took the mound in the 8th inning...

As my grandpa relates the story, Parmelee's tiring arm was obvious in the 8th as the opposing hitters crushed ball after ball... to the warning track for lucky outs. However, Parmelee's luck ran out in the 9th inning as he walked the bases loaded, nobody out, and a one-run lead. The Cardinals made a call to the bullpen and brought in none other than Dizzy Dean.

Parmelee felt terrible that he had let his new team down. He hung his head and handed the ball to Dizzy, but Dizzy just patted him on the back and said, "Don't worry, you won the ballgame." Dizzy then proceeded to strike out the next three batters for the win.

I always liked that story for various reasons. First off, I can relate to wanting to beat your old teammates; second of all, the story has a struggle, a hero, and a happy ending. It's great.

But the bigger issue at hand is having a pitcher who you can trust with the game on the line. There really aren't many pitchers like that in baseball today. Yeah, every team has a closer. But seriously, not every team has a closer.

For my money, Jonathon Papelbon and Joe Nathan are the two best closers in baseball. Although, I also like Bobby Jenks in a playoff situation (you gotta respect a World Series champion). In the end, I give the edge to Papelbon. He's got the stuff, the experience, and a proven plan to stay healthy.

Note: From a fantasy standpoint, it's a tougher call. Part of Papelbon's health regimen is to not pitch more than two or three games in a row. As a result, he will rack up fewer saves and strikeouts than he otherwise could.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where is the MLBPA on medical privacy?

We take medical privacy pretty seriously in America. For instance, we have plenty of laws and regulations on the books to make sure every reasonable precaution is taken to keep your medical records from being accessed or viewed by unauthorized people. Why is this the case? Well, one big reason is to minimize the amount of embarrassing information about you that could be leaked to the public. After all, such information could be used to discriminate against you, making it difficult for you to find a job, a mate, or just plain keep your dignity.

But I guess we can throw out medical privacy when it comes to MLB players. Just take this Yahoo baseball note as an example:
Updating previous reports, Houston Astros 2B Kazuo Matsui (anal fissure) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi Tuesday, April 8...

Now, if you're like me, the first time I heard Kaz Matsui had an anal fissure I thought, "Whoa, he's not playing on my team!" Then a few moments later I was like, "What's an anal fissure?"

My main point here, though, is that this type of thing happens all the time in Major League Baseball (and professional sports in general). If a pro athlete gets hurt or sick, it's not enough for the team to say, "He will miss two weeks." The fans and media demand to know why.

What really gets me is that if you type "the most powerful union in the world" into Google, the first link that shows up is The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). But if they're so powerful, why can't they keep their players' medical information out of the press? Sure, the MLBPA has historically done a fine job of keeping a lid on steroid and HGH test results, yet everyone knows poor Kaz Matsui has an anal fissure.

Oh well. The good news is that Kaz is on the mend; and he apparently has a good support group in his new hometown:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bulk to the future

An interesting Fox Sports article points out funny photos from a 1992 Topps Kids baseball card set. Essentially, this specialty set of cards for kids featured the actual faces of MLB players and some were matched with bulked-up cartoonish bodies. Here are two of the more notable ones with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds:

Topps Pretty Much Predicted The Steroid Era In 1992 Photo Topps Pretty Much Predicted The Steroid Era In 1992 Photo
Can you imagine if such a set of cards were made today?


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What about Carlos?

Can anyone tell me why Yahoo! pre-ranked Carlos Pena at #58 this year? Perhaps more importantly, why was he rated #13 among first basemen? Stranger still, of first basemen with the first name Carlos, Pena still only comes in at number two (behind Carlos Guillen).

Granted, I fully realize that Pena had been a journeyman (at best) before his breakout season of 2007. However, when you go back and look at his numbers last year, he was remarkably consistent from month to month. After a poor April, in each of the next five months he had an OBP/SLG of at least .397/.571.

From the articles I've read over the past eight or so months, Pena's turnaround seems to come down to the simple fact that he has matured as a big leaguer and, after bouncing from team to team, finally found a "home" in Tampa Bay. Also, keep in mind that Pena was the MLB's #10 overall pick in 1998, so he's always had the raw talent.

The past few years I've been trying to rank the top 7 or so guys (in my opinion) at each position prior to the draft. This year I found myself really debating my 1B rankings. With the injury uncertainty surrounding Albert Pujols, I took him out of my top rankings. That left me to ponder three guys at the top: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Pena.

Given Howard's regression last year, I chose to stay away from him. But choosing between Fielder and Pena was a little more difficult for me. I do think Fielder has more upside, but Pena seems to be the more seasoned hitter. In the end, I chose Fielder with the #6 pick, and since our league has two utility spots I took Pena in the third round at #30. Although, I do think Pena could end up with the best fantasy numbers at 1B when this season is over.

How about you? There are a lot of mashers at 1B. Who would your pick be for this season?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Blogging leadoff

Welcome to my new blog!

I've gone back and forth in my mind over the years as to whether I should start blogging about fantasy baseball. My biggest hang-up has always been reminiscent of a classic Vito Corleone line: "Never tell somebody outside the Family what you're thinking." After all, if I were to see an MLB trend that nobody else in my league sees, then why would I share it with a competitor?

An example of my aforementioned concern came earlier this year when Tim Dierkes, a fantasy baseball expert of MLB Trade Rumors and RotoAuthority fame, noted that during his RotoAuthority draft many teams were targeting the same players as him.

So why have I finally decided to start blogging about fantasy baseball? Well, first of all, it's going to be fun. I want this to be a place where people can come and just talk baseball. Secondly, it sure will be nice to have an online forum to brag to the world once I repeat as The Urbana Premier League champion. ;-)