Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why the Joe Mauer Deal Makes $ense

When I first learned that Joe Mauer was up for free agency in 2010, I assumed that he'd likely go for a mega-contract with the Yankees (or perhaps some other big market team). Either that or he'd give a home town discount to stay with the Twins.

So imagine my surprise when I read that Mauer had signed the fourth richest contract in MLB history, an 8-year deal worth $184 million dollars, with the Twins. I was absolutely stunned, not just that the Twins did it, but that they were even able to do it. I didn't think they had the money. But of course, my next thought was, "Aren't the Twins getting away from what has made them so successful through the years as a small market team?"

Joe Mauer is undoubtedly a great talent, evidenced by his 2 gold gloves and 3 batting crowns in just 5 MLB seasons. But he's a catcher, and they tend to break down sooner than other positions. Plus Mauer has already had injury problems, including just last year. To me, it seemed crazy for the small market Twins to invest so heavily in a catcher with a history for nagging injuries.

But I've had some more time to consider this deal, and I've done a 180. Not from a baseball standpoint, but from a business perspective. In Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins have landed marketing gold. He's more than just a local hero who will fill their new stadium--which I'm sure the organization feels much pressure to fill--he's also become a national icon.

I don't know the details of the Twins' finances or how they figure Mauer's value to their organization. But my hunch is that they've done the math and concluded that, from a marketing standpoint, he's a good bet to be worth more than $184 million.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Global Warming Might Help Padres' Cold Bats

For the past two seasons the San Diego Padres' offense has finished at the bottom of the major leagues. But the team's fans can take heart, help might finally be on the way. According to a new study published by the University of California at Berkeley, the rising temperatures associated with dangerous global warming should also extend to the Padres' cold bats, improving the team's chances of making the playoffs.

"The devastating effects of global warming include melting polar ice caps, rising ocean levels, altered ecosystems, accelerated extinction of species, disrupted food supplies, and the downward spiral of economies," reported the study, published last week by UC-Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. "But there is a silver lining here: The earth's widespread rising temperatures should also heat up the Padres' bats--even David Eckstein's ice cold bat."

While the study concluded that it might take "up to two decades" for the Padres' bats to heat up enough to make a run at the playoffs, some evidence shows global warming is already having a positive impact on the team's offense. The study cited data showing that the Padres' bats did exhibit mild warming last year, moving from 30th out of 30 teams in 2008, up to 29th in 2009.
The earth's rising temperatures could put the San Diego Zoo's polar bear exhibit on thin ice, but global warming could also be a boon for the city's professional baseball team.

The scientific community seems to be in agreement on the issue of global warming heating up the Padres' cold bats. However, not everyone is convinced. ESPN's Tim Kurkjian counts himself among the skeptics. "We all know that the Padres' only good hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, is going to be traded away by the All-Star break," explained Kurkjian, "so if anything, in the second half of 2010 we should expect the Padres' bats to experience further cooling."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Post-draft thoughts

So the UPL just finished its 2010 fantasy baseball draft. Earlier I posted about some decisions I would need to make in this keeper league. And some of these decisions were made easier after the expansion draft, which saw me lose Billy Butler to the Milwaukee Whiffers. So after that and Joe Nathan's injury, here's who ended up making my 18 keepers:

C - Victor Martinez / Miguel Montero
1B - Ryan Howard / Pablo Sandoval / Victor Martinez
2B - Empty
SS - Jason Bartlett
3B - Aramis Ramirez / Pablo Sandoval / Chipper Jones
OF - Justin Upton
OF - Manny Ramirez
OF - Carlos Gonzalez / Michael Bourn / Chris Coghlan

SP - Dan Haren
SP - Javier Vazquez
SP - Wandy Rodriguez
SP - Edwin Jackson
RP - Brian Wilson
RP - Chad Qualls

Last year I had 4 closers going into the season, and that seems to be a good number in the UPL (which usually has about 12 teams). If I can find 5 reliable closers, then that's an even better number. At the bare minimum I want to have 3 closers, so that's another good reason to always have at least 4--if one goes down with an injury or gets demoted, at least you still have 3.

No doubt, the Joe Nathan injury is a huge loss for my team, especially if he would have gone on to have another 40+ save season with phenomenal peripheral stats. But here's the bright side: At least the injury happened before the draft, giving me an opportunity to plan around it.

As mentioned on the UPL blog, I actually beat the odds and won a lottery pick in this year's draft. While it was exciting at first to learn I had landed my 1.28% chance of moving up into one of the top 3 picks in the draft, after some time had passed I realized the true implications. Basically, there were only 2 "special" prospects available in this draft--Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg. If I could have drafted one of those two, then I would have either had a nice prospect with a relatively high chance of becoming an All-Star, or at the very least I had a piece that could likely be traded for a top 100 player immediately. The problem, of course, is that I ended up falling one slot short and ended up with the 3rd pick. And that was a bitter pill to swallow.

When we look back on this draft 5 years later, we might laugh at how highly we regarded Heyward and Strasburg. But what matters now is that these two guys are widely perceived as the next two Hall-of-Famers in the making. And really, JimmyDix has already cashed in on this perceived value by trading the #1 pick (which turned out to be Heyward) and Kendry Morales for an upgrade at 1B, Adrian Gonzalez, and a quality closer, Jose Valverde. It will be fun to look back on this trade a few years from now to see if one side got the better deal or not. 

Another thing that hurt my team was Coghlan losing his 2B eligibility. I guess this proves I don't follow the Marlins closely, because I thought he had played a little 2B last year and would keep his eligibility for this season (I know Dan Uggla is Florida's regular 2B, but I thought Coghlan might have stepped in at times). But I was wrong. And while Coghlan is a very nice player to have at 2B, his value at OF is considerably less. And it meant that going into this draft I didn't have any 2Bs.

So my team's holes were very clear: closer and 2B. And I felt the worst thing I could do in the draft would be to not at least try to shore up my team's ability to acquire saves. While I hated the idea of picking a low-end closer with the #3 pick that I had won in a lottery, it seemed as though I had no other choice. Sure I could have tried to trade the pick, but I think there was a huge drop in value from the #2 pick to the #3 pick. Perhaps others will disagree, but people weren't exactly banging on the door to pick third in this draft.

I studied the relievers available in this draft very closely. By my count, there were only 3 relievers who were very likely to be their team's long-terms closers on Opening Day: Octavio Dotel, Matt Capps, and Matt Lindstrom. Conventional wisdom had it that Jon Rauch would get the nod in Minnesota, but I also was hearing rumors that Francisco Liriano or someone else might get the job. I also liked Chris Perez, because he would likely be Indians closer at least well into May; and Franklin Morales was on my radar because he was slotted to be Huston Street's replacement through April. And I also had a close eye on Ryan Madson since he was going to be the Phillies closer to start the season. Sure, Brad Lidge is scheduled to return soon, but you never know. Plus Madson's peripherals are very nice to have.

At the top of my 2B wish list was Martin Prado. He's likely to bat at or near the top of the Braves' lineup, and by all accounts he's going to be a solid hitter for a 2B. I considered taking him with the third pick, but here's the other problem with drafting toward the top... it's a long wait until you get your second pick. In my case of drafting third out of 13 teams, I would have to wait 20 picks before my next chance would roll around. Also, it's important to not lose sight of the fact that this isn't really a traditional "first round" of the draft--with 18 keepers it's more like the 19th round. So if this were the 19th round, what would I value? And what would my opponents value?

In my world, I figured that those remaining closers would look good to at least a few teams with those 20 picks in between my first two picks. I could easily envision a scenario where I take the 2B I want at #3, Martin Prado, and then have my top 3 closer choices all go off the board before I have a chance at the #24 pick. So with Capps having elbow issues last year and some competition for his job this season in Washington, and with Lindstrom also coming off an injury-plagued year and potentially some competition with Brandon Lyon in Houston, I decided that I would take Octavio Dotel and his high-K rate in Pittsburgh where he has relatively little competition for the closer role. I know, it's not what I had envisioned when I "won" a lottery pick, but I feel it's what I had to do.

Unfortunately, and actually surprisingly, Martin Prado went off the board at #7 to Phatsnapper. I was hoping that Prado would fall to me at #24. While I think it was a good pick for Phatsnapper, I just thought Prado would have slipped a little further in the draft. Plus I would have guessed that Phatsnapper would have gone for a player with a little more upside. But then again, I do think there's plenty of upside with Prado--especially for a 2B.

But the bigger surprise to me is that all 20 of those picks went by without anyone taking a closer. I would have never predicted this outcome. Sure, I could see people being uncomfortable taking a low-end closer with their first pick of the draft, but by the time you're in the 2nd round (which is really the 20th), how can you not at least consider another closer? Even if you already have 3 good closers, I would think that there would be some good value in at least trying to find a fourth.

At #24, I already had decided that I needed to address 2B. And with Prado already off the board and my other top choices already kept by other teams (such as a guy like Rickie Weeks), I was forced to look in places I otherwise would have preferred to avoid. I went with Casey McGehee who is likely just a one-hit wonder from last year, but I had to take the chance. I had read up on him last week and he seemed likely to start the year as Milwaukee's 3B ahead of Mat Gamel, but his struggles recently (which I read after the draft) now have him in a dogfight for a job. McGehee might not be my solution at 2B, but there was one other interesting name on my 2B wish list that I thought maybe, just maybe, might fall to me later in the draft.

At #29, still no other closers had gone off the board, so I had to take a flier on Matt Capps. I think it's unlikely he can regain his form of 2 years ago, but for now he is set to be the closer for the Nationals in a pitcher friendly park. I'm not sure what all was wrong with his elbow last year, but here's hoping he can regain the magic. If so, then hey, I'll be happy with this pick. For now, he's my fourth closer and that was a major goal of mine going into this draft. I'm trying to claw my way back into contention for the saves lead.

Now it's time to wait another 20 picks... During this time a few other relievers finally started to go off the board. Hats for Bats took Brandon Lyon (as a Marlins fan, he probably has no faith left in Matt Lindstrom), IamJabrone took Chris Perez (as a Cubs fan, he probably has no faith left in Kerry Wood), and the Benver Droncos took Jon Rauch. Interestingly, during Hats' 2nd pick out of these 20, he took Matt Thornton--a great setup guy with nice peripherals who many expect to replace Bobby Jenks as the White Sox closer at some point this year.

At #50, I had a few options. But with my #3 rated pre-draft available closer, Matt Lindstrom, still on the board, and with the opportunity to go 3 for 3 in landing these closers, I couldn't pass. At the very least I would likely be denying one of my opponents an opportunity to add to their closer depth. (Due to a comment from Westy later in the draft, I learned that he was the opponent I was denying. Muahahaha!)

At #55, I was happy to see the Tigers' rookie 2B Scott Sizemore still available. I think someday he could be a solid hitter at 2B, although it's unlikely to be this season. Unfortunately, due to my desperation at this position, I had to take a flier on him. It might pay off this season, but only time will tell.

And now it's time to wait another 20 picks... If you look again at my 18 keepers listed above, you'll notice I only have one guy at SS--Jason Bartlett. I like to have at least two at each of the hitter positions, so I felt now was the time to address SS. I hadn't really read up on SS before the draft, but right now I was cruising the web to get the latest info. I quickly honed in on Ian Desmond, who I remembered reading about a while back as a top prospect who could be starting in Washington this season. Plus he had some quality MLB experience from last season--and best of all, he was still available in the draft. I also found info on San Diego's SS Everth Cabrera, who many people listed as a good late round sleeper. He was available as well, but Ian Desmond--in my view--had way more power and upside... and after Benver's pick at #75, Desmond would be mine at #76.

Too bad Benver reads up on baseball prospects, too, because with the 75th pick he stabbed me in the back and took Ian Desmond. It was another bitter pill for me to swallow. I ended up taking Cabrera, and for now I hope that my starting SS Bartlett can have another season where he's at the top of the Rays' lineup with a .390+ OBP, 90+ runs, and 28+ steals.
At #81, all of my top SP choices were gone. I thought Wade Davis would have been nice to land late, but he ended up going off the board in the second round (which is a good pick if you're looking for SP help). There were a few other SPs that would have been nice, but none of them were left. However, another reliever who was on my radar before the draft was surprisingly still available: Franklin Morales. While he'll likely be replaced by Huston Street a few weeks into the season, there's still a good chance he'll rack up 3 to 5 saves beforehand. Plus there's always the chance that Street has a setback or is ineffective upon his return. In the 7th round (really the 25th round), Morales seemed like the guy who could most help my team now. Yes, this means I'm likely entering the season with 6 closers, and no I don't consider that ideal. But there are worse predicaments for a fantasy baseball team. Plus the closer position is so volatile, it's hard to know where things will stand a month from now.

With my final pick at #102, I finally got my fifth SP with John Maine. He's still fairly young for a SP and (hopefully) developing. Plus if you look at his splits, he's been a decent pitcher at home (including last year in the new Citi Field). So he'll likely only pitch at home for my team.

So how would I rate my draft? Well, every year after the draft I think that I could have done better. Perhaps the grass always seems greener on the other side of the street. But my main goal was to add some closers to my roster to give my team a chance at being competitive in saves to start the season, and I feel that this was accomplished. I was disappointed that Prado didn't fall to me at #24, but if either Casey McGehee or Scott Sizemore steps up, it might be OK. Or maybe I'll need to swing a deal for a 2B.

And how do I feel about my team overall? Come on, are you serious? Everyone thinks their team is awesome in April.

Update I: Pauly of Hats for Bats has posted his take on the draft here.
Update II: The Chairman has analyzed the draft as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My strategy: Drafting players (Part 5 of 7)

This is the fifth in a seven-part series documenting my fantasy baseball strategy. Last time in part four we discussed pitcher evaluation. Now we'll examine how I approached the 2009 Urbana Premier League Baseball Draft and assembled the core of my championship team.

I tend to be wary of general draft advice. After all, draft strategies should vary greatly from league to league. An 8-team league is going to have a vastly different draft from a 16-team league. Also, much depends on the type of managers in your league. If most guys in your league live in Chicago, then you have to expect a high number of Cubs/Sox players will go off the board earlier than they really should. Whereas MLB players on other teams around the country might be hidden gems who fall further in the draft than they should. Each league tends to have its own biases and blind spots.

I can only speak to my own experience. I've never participated in an auction draft, so that's not what this post is about. In the UPL where I play, up until this season we've always had a basic snake draft with all MLB players available. Now 2010 will be the first time we have just a small 8-round draft to fill in our keeper teams. However, here I'll focus on the traditional snake draft for a 12-team league, which is what we had in the UPL for 2009.

The basic principles that I apply to drafting players are the same ones already laid out in the first four posts of this series:
  • Focus on winning now. Don't get caught up on players who might be good in the 2nd half of this season or next season. Try to get the guys who will produce right away.
  • Build a balanced team. If possible, have multiple players available at each position in order to foster competition and maximize roster flexibility.
  • Pick high-OBP power hitters early. Predicting which players will perform the best is hard, but hitters with a track record for high OBP and power numbers tend to be the most reliable bets.
  • Target pitchers with low WHIPs and high Ks. Drafting pitchers is risky by nature, so here you can afford to take more risks by drafting them in later rounds.
Now let's see if I took my own advice. Here are the picks of my team, the '90 Reds, from the 2009 UPL Draft:

Round 1 - Ryan Howard, 1B (8th pick overall)
Round 2 - Carlos Beltran, OF (17)
Round 3 - Manny Ramirez, OF (32)
Round 4 - Aramis Ramirez, 3B (41)

What do all four of these players have in common? They're all hitters who had put up big-time numbers for at least the past three seasons (2006, 2007, 2008). Beltran, Manny, and A-Ram all typically go .400/.500 (OBP/SLG), and Howard has simply been the most reliable power guy since 2006. Yes, Howard's OBP isn't as high as I like, but he's been so consistent in a championship-caliber Philly lineup that I just couldn't pass on him. I have no regrets taking Howard over Fielder or Braun, mainly because Howard has been doing it for longer.

Sure, Beltran and A-Ram both got hurt, and Manny got suspended for 50 games, but these were still good picks. After all, when those guys were in the lineup, they produced. That's so much better than having a guy in the lineup who doesn't get the job done.

2010 Outlook: I'd keep Howard rated about the same. But yeah, you have to downgrade Beltran, Manny, and A-Ram based on their disappointing results last season.

Round 5 - Dan Haren, SP (56)

Season after season Haren has low WHIPs and high Ks. Plus he's had a relatively clean medical history. Somewhat early in the draft I like to get at least one bona fide ace starting pitcher to anchor my staff. I was a little surprised that Haren was still available at #56, so I was happy to take him.

2010 Outlook: I'd keep Haren rated about the same heading into 2010 as he was for 2009.

Round 6 - Victor Martinez, C, 1B (65)

V-Mart was my favorite pick of the draft. Why? Because no other pick showcased my strategy better than this one. I admittedly struggled when I was on the clock here, mainly because I was also considering Adam Dunn. The way I saw it, my choice was between the best hitter available (Adam Dunn, who you can pencil in for .400/.500 and 40 homers every season) or the guy who could best balance out my team (Victor Martinez, who also goes .400/.500 with decent power at a scarce position, catcher, plus he has 1B eligibility and thus could backup Howard in an emergency).

Like V-Mart, Dunn also had dual eligibility (OF/1B) and could have backed up Howard. But I already had 2 OFs, and having V-Mart at catcher would have been amazing value if he could stay healthy and go .400/.500. Not only is V-Mart a better hitter than almost every other catcher in the league, but I had read that his manager (for the Indians) was going to make sure his bat was in the lineup every day, even when he wasn't catching (most catchers take at least 1 game off per week). In V-Mart, I saw a way for my team to potentially dominate the position of catcher both in terms of quality and quantity, so I snatched him. Fortunately, he stayed healthy and, as I had hoped, proved to be a key difference for my team.

2010 Outlook: Since V-Mart actually stayed healthy last year, his rating goes up for 2010. But don't look for his overall numbers to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009. 

Round 7 - Joe Nathan, RP (80)

Nathan was 34 going into last season, and some people would have stayed away from him in a keeper league. (Maybe worried that he'd hurt his elbow and miss the season with Tommy John surgery or something.) But I just saw a guy who was among the best in the business. He had a relatively clean medical history, and since I also like to get at least one bona fide elite closer relatively early in the draft, I went for Nathan. Fortunately, he went on to have a career year in 2009 with 47 saves.

2010 Outlook: Okay, so I guess all those people who were worried about Nathan's age can gloat now. He's out for the year with that Tommy John surgery. But this is another pick that I'm not going to second guess.

The core

I was really happy with my first seven picks. I had five hitters who, if healthy, were great bets to produce at or near .900 OPS levels. Four of my five hitters were coming off at least three straight great seasons. And with Victor Martinez, I had potentially found an elite player at a scarce position, C, who could also serve as an emergency backup for my top pick Ryan Howard at 1B if he went down with an injury.

Also in those top seven picks I managed to take an ace SP, Dan Haren, and an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan. By this point, many of my opponents had a head start with pitchers, but my plan was to try to catch up in pitching either through the latter part of the draft or through free agency. For now, I was happy to stock up on top hitters.

For anyone interested in my picks from Rounds 8 to 24, I've posted them in the comments below. I didn't always take my own advice, but for the most part there was a method to my madness. Perhaps I can learn more from my mistakes than from my successes.

Now that the draft is over, it's time to let the games begin. In part six we'll look at making roster moves during the season.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Razzball recently listed their 10 overrated players for 2010. I noticed that a whopping 5 of the 10 are currently on my UPL fantasy team:
I would have had a sixth on this list if I hadn't lost Billy Butler in the expansion draft. Whew!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My strategy: Pitcher evaluation (Part 4 of 7)

This is the fourth in a seven-part series documenting my fantasy baseball strategy. Part three discussed how I evaluate hitters. Now we'll flip the script and look at pitchers.

Last spring, Edwin Jackson likely went undrafted in every fantasy league outside of Detroit. But on April 7, 2009, he tossed 7.1 strong innings of one-run ball in his first start for the Tigers. Suddenly he was on many fantasy baseball managers' radars as someone who was worth considering for a roster spot. However, if you were in the Urbana Premier League (UPL), Edwin Jackson was already long gone.

So what's my secret? Do I really have a special method for evaluating pitchers, or did I just get lucky last year with Dan Haren, Javier Vazquez, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson, Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson, Dan Qualls, and J.P. Howell? Well, I've always admitted that luck is a significant part of fantasy baseball. But when we're talking about accumulating stats over a 6-month period, I also think you need to put yourself in position to be lucky.

As mentioned in my keeper theory post, it's easier to predict how players will perform this season than next season. Something similar can be said when comparing hitters to pitchers. While it's difficult to predict how hitters will perform in any given season, it's even tougher to predict pitchers. 

But picking pitchers is still 50% of roto baseball, so we need to have a strategy for it. In the UPL where I play, there are six pitching categories: W, L, K, S, ERA, and WHIP. Below is how I study the categories when evaluating a pitcher. 

Walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP)

When I study a pitcher's stats, I begin with WHIP. A pitcher is supposed to make it hard for batters to even reach base, and WHIP is the best measure we have in this department. Really, my WHIP strategy isn't complicated. I tend to look for guys who I think can have a season WHIP of 1.20 or less. 

Strikeouts (K)

After WHIP, I look at strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). My thought here is that a pitcher with a high K/9 can be more than good. He can be dominant. After all, when you strike out a batter, the batter has no chance of reaching base (barring a swing at a pass ball or wild pitch). But even a weak grounder to the pitcher gives the batter a chance.

One thing to keep in mind is that pitchers with high K/9 ratios tend to throw more pitches and suffer more wear and tear. Just think how each strikeout requires at least three pitches, whereas a groundout could happen on the first pitch. However, I don't worry about this too much unless a pitcher has already shown some significant history of injuries. (For example, I wouldn't be too interested in Ben Sheets or Rich Harden at this point. But if either of them were converted to a closer, like Kerry Wood, then that could be a different story.)

In terms of K/9 ratio, I like to see at least 8 K's per 9 innings for a pitcher. Anything less than 7K/9 usually gets me thinking about a replacement.

Saves (S)

I place a high value on saves, mainly because this stat is not quite as difficult to predict as some of the others. If you know that a pitcher is the established closer for a team, then presumably if he stays healthy he'll rack up some saves.

By now it should be self-evident why I also value dominant setup men. First off, they can help out with WHIP and K's. Second, they're potentially in line to become a closer and hence pick up saves as well.

Earned run average (ERA)

Honestly, if a pitcher has a low WHIP, then I'm not too concerned about his ERA. The only exception is if I notice that the pitcher gives up a high number of home runs. In that case, a pitcher could have a low WHIP and still sustain a high ERA, which would be troubling in the long run.

Wins and losses (W/L)

Do you want to know a dirty little secret about the UPL? Wins and losses are garbage categories. This is true for any league that counts W's and L's instead of quality starts (QS).

I find W and L so hard to predict that I've taken to ignoring them. They're basically just luck. I would have argued for getting rid of these categories, but then I realized that the middle of the UPL Baseball scoreboard is kind of a fun place to have a roulette wheel.

Some people get caught up in whether a pitcher is on a good team or not. Part of the thinking here is that if a pitcher is on a good team then he'll pick up more wins, or if he's on a bad team he'll pick up more L's. I try to avoid that thinking. I'm more focused on whether the pitcher has a low WHIP, high K/9, and then perhaps if he's in a hitter-friendly park or not. Whether his team is slated to win 60 or 100 games doesn't really concern me too much.

American League vs. National League

Yes, I tend to favor NL starting pitchers over AL starting pitchers. If everything else is equal, then I have to believe that NL starters getting a weak-hitting pitcher at the plate once every nine at-bats instead of a talented DH makes a difference over the course of a season. However, this isn't a primary consideration.

I also pay attention to the division that a starting pitcher plays in. Will he being going up against elite offenses on a regular basis, or is he in a division with relatively weak offenses and pitcher-friendly parks? Again, this is only a minor consideration; and it's not a factor when thinking about closers.

About that Edwin Jackson pickup

After last season's UPL draft in March 2009, I got curious about the waiver wire and which players had gone undrafted. In doing some research, I came across a controversial article written by Michael Salfino. In it, he compared a 24-year-old Edwin Jackson to a 24-year-old Bob Gibson. He then went on to say that Edwin Jackson might come out of relative obscurity to have a breakout year similar to the way Cliff Lee did in 2008 or Esteban Loaiza in 2003.

Even now, people would look at you weird if you mentioned Edwin Jackson in the same sentence as Bob Gibson. Heck, even comparing Jackson to Cliff Lee would put you on shaky ground in most fantasy baseball circles. But can you imagine if I had gone around telling people back in March 2009 that I had read some article comparing Edwin Jackson to Bob Gibson, so now I'm going to pick him up because I think he'll have a breakout year? Yeah, I would have been mocked to say the least. Troy Patterson over at Roto Savants could give you a taste of the criticism I would have received.

But here's what the critics missed. Salfino's article wasn't trying to say that Edwin Jackson will be as good as Bob Gibson or Cliff Lee (although admittedly the Yahoo article title was a bit misleading). The article was simply reminding readers that Edwin Jackson is still young and talented. Its main message: There's still hope for Jackson to develop into a much better pitcher.

Furthermore, when I looked at Jackson's numbers for myself back in March 2009, I noticed that his WHIP from 2006 to 2008 was 1.84, 1.76, and 1.51. Those numbers were bad, but they were steadily going in the right direction. So I took a flier on him before the season even started, not in hopes that he would be Bob Gibson or Cliff Lee, but in hopes that he'd be a solid fantasy starter for my team in 2009.

Looking back on what Edwin Jackson did in 2009, for the first half he was an All-Star and then in the second half he tailed off. Overall, I'd say he was simply a solid fantasy starter for my team. That's all I wanted.

Closing time and final thoughts

Of course you want pitchers with low WHIP and high K/9. Everyone does. But where I differ is that I don't go after the "brand name" pitchers. That's because, compared to hitters, it's very tough to predict which pitchers will really perform the best from year to year, especially when you factor in injuries.

The key for me isn't so much where I focus, but where I don't. I tend to ignore W/L, quality of team, and the big names. This frees me up to focus on WHIP, K, and who I think is really ready to perform now--whether he's a steady veteran or a blooming prospect.

So far in this series we've discussed my keeper theory, my framework for accumulating points, and how I evaluate hitters and pitchers. I'd say we're ready to draft. That's next time in part five.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trivia: Double trouble thieves

Since 1900, only five major league players have hit at least 45 doubles and stolen at least 50 bases in the same season. Three of these guys are in the Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Lou Brock. Another is Craig Biggio. The fifth guy is still playing. Who is he?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hit parade...

Joba Chamberlain / Photo courtesy: Sipken/News

Sunday, March 7

I hope your day is going better than Joba's outing last Friday.

Were you disappointed with the umpires during last season's MLB playoffs? You're not alone.

Joe Nathan is having tests on his elbow. He says he's not worried, but of course Twins fans (and fantasy owners) are worried.

Tim Dierkes has posted his undervalued hitters for 2010. (Guys on this list who are currently on my 24-man roster include Chris Coghlan and... that's it. Although, in his "others I like" he mentions Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero, and Billy Butler, who are all on my team as of this writing. But I'll need to drop at least one or more before our keeper draft.)

Monday, March 8

The top ten stories of spring training thus far.

Good start: Aroldis Chapman is beginning to feel at home with the Reds.

Tuesday, March 9

Jason Heyward: Peter Gammons offers high praise for Heyward and the importance of family.

Old school fantasy baseball: The Sports Guy has posted notebook scribbles of his 1983 catcher rankings and outfield rankings. (I like the Bo Diaz pick. He was my first baseball idol, and yes, I wore his #6 when I caught during one Little League season  in the late 80's.)

Pauly returns.

Joe Nathan injury update: Bad news.

Wednesday, March 9

The 9th pick of the 2010 UPL Baseball Draft goes to... SuckMyKnuckleballs. And the 8th pick goes to... Cheeseheads.

Thursday, March 10

UPL draft order results continue:
Reminder: We're 99% sure that Nathan is done for the year, not 100%.

A new and unproven fantasy baseball advice site,, gives its two cents about ESPN's and Yahoo's fantasy baseball experts. (I can see the success stories now. "I won my fantasy baseball league because I knew to trust Brandon Funston over Brad Evans. Thank you,!)

Sunday, March 14

Top four picks of the 2010 UPL Baseball Draft:
Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard? Could this rumor possibly be true?

Best wishes to top Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My strategy: Hitter evaluation (Part 3 of 7)

This is the third in a seven-part series documenting my fantasy baseball strategy. Part two discussed how I think about roster spots for accumulating points in a roto league. Now we'll delve into filling these roster spots with players. Let's start by looking at hitter evaluation.

Maybe you've heard this one before. Right after you've tried something and failed, someone attempts to cheer you up by saying, "It's okay, you can't be successful every time. Just think about a major league hitter. If he's successful just three out of every ten times, he's doing a great job."

While such words of encouragement might make you feel better, they aren't actually true. My response to the above statement would be something like, "Uh, no. If a major league hitter is successful just three out of ten times, then he's either a catcher or on his way back down to the minors."

Gold: On-base percentage

In the UPL 6x6 roto league where I play, the six hitting categories are HR, R, RBI, SB, OBP, and SLG. (Noticeably absent is batting average, which is fine by me.)

When analyzing a hitter's stats for fantasy baseball, the first thing I consider is the on-base percentage (OBP). In fact, I place so much emphasis on OBP that even if your league doesn't count OBP, I'd still suggest that you start with OBP when evaluating a hitter. Why? Because of two reasons. First, the more often that a player gets on base, the more likely that good things will happen (runs scored, stolen bases, runs batted in, etc.). Second, OBP is the best measure of a hitter's ability to be consistently productive.

One of the main points in the book Moneyball was the importance of using OBP, not batting average, when evaluating hitters. This is because OBP measures all the ways a hitter can safely reach base, whereas batting average largely ignores walks. A hitter's ability to draw walks says a lot about a hitter's ability. That's why I never bother with batting average if OBP is available.

A great OBP would be in the neighborhood of .400 (a hitter who reaches base four times for every ten at bats). I'd consider an OBP of .350 to be good, not great. But my reaction to an OBP of .300 would be, "Hmm... is there a better option available?"

Here's another way to think about it. At the most basic level, hitting entails two things:
  1. Recognition. A major league hitter has a split second to decide if the pitch is a good one to hit.
  2. Execution. If the hitter has decided the pitch is good to hit, then he must strike like a snake to get the barrel of the bat squarely on the ball.
Some hitters have mastered recognition, but are relatively poor at execution. Whereas other guys might excel at execution, but have trouble with recognition. As you can imagine, hitters who are good at both recognition and execution are consistently the best hitters.

So how do we find hitters who are good at both recognition and execution? Start by looking at OBP. An OBP above .400 is really a great sign. If you can find a hitter who has had an OBP above .380 and played at least 145 games in each of the last three seasons, then you're looking at a really consistent hitter. That's my gold standard.

Silver: Home runs

After OBP, the second-most important stat that I consider is home runs (HR). Similar to what I said about getting on base, whenever a player hits a home run, good things happen in other categories. In fact, every time a player hits a home run, not only is your home run total boosted, but so is your runs batted in, runs scored, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. In the UPL, one swing of the bat can boost 5 of your 6 hitting categories (all except stolen bases).

Possibly more than any other stat, home run production can be affected by the ball park. So if a player is switching teams or if his team is moving to a new ball park, keep this in mind when you're trying to estimate how many home runs he will hit.

Bronze: Slugging percentage

In truth, slugging percentage (SLG) is rarely the deciding factor when I'm considering a player. I don't think that I ever picked up a player specifically because he had a high SLG. This is because I'd be more interested in the player's OBP and HR production. But if a player has a historically low SLG, then that could definitely be a dealbreaker.

Whether it's in the draft or on the waiver wire, I'm often on the lookout for hitters who I feel have an OBP/SLG potential of .400/.500.

The rest: Runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases

I tend to lump runs (R), runs batted in (RBI), and stolen bases (SB) together. Sure, these stats count just as much as the others, but they're tougher to predict. R, RBI, and SB are more dependent upon where a hitter bats in the lineup and the quality of hitters he's surrounded by. Hitters batting first through fourth tend to score the most runs, and hitters batting third through sixth tend to get the most RBIs. Obviously, hitters batting third or fourth are especially desirable because they are in a prime spot to both score runs and get RBIs.

One particular problem I have with trying to predict SB is that speed guys tend to get hurt. Sometimes it feels as though the faster the guy, the more likely he is to get hurt. I think this is especially true of guys who play the outfield and do a lot of running, cutting, and diving. For example, let's compare a speedy center fielder with a masher first baseman. If the first baseman tweaks his hamstring and leaves the game, he might be okay to come back in a day or two and do his thing: mash the ball on offense, and walk three steps and catch the ball on defense. But if the speedy center fielder leaves the game with the same injury, he probably can't come back as soon because he has so much more ground to cover on defense. Plus when the speedy guy does come back from the hamstring tweak, he might be advised to not steal bases until he's 100% healthy. So for that same hamstring tweak, the masher at first base might be back to mashing within a game or two, whereas the speedy center fielder might not be back to stealing bases for a week or two.

Beat the system

Having an eagle eye for spotting players with high OBPs can give you an advantage over your opponents who overvalue other stats. It also can help you cut through the smoke and mirrors of Yahoo's rankings. One problem with typical computer rankings is that they'll weigh OBP equally with other hitting categories.

While the Internet will always be buzzing about the hottest waiver wire player who gets five steals in a game or four homers in two games, I tend to focus more on hitters who have quietly put up an OBP of .400+ over the past month or past week at a position you need. Following this strategy, I managed to pick up guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Billy Butler, and Chris Coghlan last August, and they all contribued to my team down the stretch. (CarGo especially so. Shortly after I picked him up he homered in four straight games. I'm sure the Internet was buzzing about him by then.)

Of course, it's fine to pick up a player who's on a hot streak. But everyone's looking for that player, and besides, those hot streaks end. However, if you find a guy who's flying under the radar while emerging as a consistent hitter at the big league level, that type of production tends to last longer and will be more valuable to your team.

Next week our series continues with part four where we'll discuss pitcher evaluation. The current working title for that post is "Picking Pitchers? It's Nothing More than Luck and a Wave of the Magic Wand."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

McGwire Changes Tune, Glad Brother Gave Gory Details About His Illegal Steroid Use

It's been a roller coaster year for Mark McGwire. From his much-hyped steroid admission to his hiring as Cardinals hitting coach to his brother Jay's new book about his shameful yet juicy past, McGwire has already had his share of ups and downs in 2010.

"It was tough enough dealing with the lies of Jose Canseco, the Mitchell Report, and the media," said McGwire last week. "But the toughest was when I heard my own brother was stepping forward with a fresh set of lies. At least with the other liars I could say, 'They don't know me.' Or I could claim to remain silent in an effort to protect my family. But when the charges are coming from your own brother, these formerly solid defenses start to break down." 

However, after finally getting a chance to read his brother's book this week, McGwire has changed his tune. "It's surprisinlgy accurate," admits the former slugger, now 46. "Jay was able to go into all the gory and embarrassing details of my illegal steroid use as though he were actually there or something. And as I read all of his accounts about my odd personality and character shortcomings, I kept saying to myself, 'That's totally me.'"

McGwire is happy for his brother and wishes him well with the book's sales. "I'm so proud when I look at this book and see his name, Jay McGwire, in big letters on the front cover as the author. I remember back in high school Jay was terrible in English class. It's pretty amazing that he was able to come out of nowhere and successfully write a book without any outside, performance-enhancing help."

Friday, March 5, 2010

What would John Kruk say?

Is there an alarming rise of corpulence among Major League Baseball players? I can't help but wonder what John Kruk would say...