Archive for June, 2008

Monday: 06.30.2008

Chasing Wins is Stupid

It gets said time and time again during every single fantasy baseball season, but it’s just foolish to chase wins. Making trades or pick-ups based solely on the idea of acquiring wins is a losing proposition almost every single time. Think about it, you’re acquiring one piece (albeit a substantial piece) of an amazingly large puzzle that determines whether or not a team wins. Too often, fantasy owners are expectant of wins from their pitchers with strong ratios (ERA & WHIP) without giving enough consideration to the other factors, specifically how well the starter pitcher’s team performs for him while they are batting. The adage that you can’t win a game 0-0 has often been used when talking about excellent starting pitchers that have terrible offense behind them. This is primarily why it is stupid to chase wins. But if you are going to do it, at least do it right.

Shaun Marcum has a 2.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP this season, yet he’s just 5-4 in 15 starts. Kyle Kendrick has a 4.59 and 1.44 WHIP yet he is 7-3 in 16 starts. The point of that exercise isn’t to suggest that you should want Kendrick over Marcum; rather it exemplifies the “unfairness” of win distribution at times. Marcum should probably have 10+ wins given how well he has pitched and Kendrick should be the one with four or five victories. Livan Hernandez and his 5.22 ERA has yielded eight wins, but Scott Olsen and his 3.47 ERA has netted a meager four wins.

So what is the “right” way to chase a category not worth chasing? It comes down to information, specifically information that goes beyond earned run averages and WHIP ratios. I do not encourage ignoring either of those because regardless of how many wins you need, you can’t blow up those ratios just to maybe grab a handful of elusive wins. The key information necessary is Run Support. Run Support is the amount of runs a pitcher’s offense is scoring for him while he is the pitcher of record. It is calculated like an ERA, that is to say, it’s also based off of a nine inning average.

For the piece, I took starters with 80 or more innings this season and sorted them by their Run Support. I broke the 105 qualifying pitchers into two groups. The ones with good Run Support are those getting 5.00+ runs and the rest are those getting “bad” Run Support. Using that measure splits the group very evenly with 54 pitchers falling under the good column and the remaining 51 being part of the bad group.

Here are the findings of the study:
• The good group is averaging 7.3 wins apiece on an average of 16.3 starts, 12 of which are resulting in decisions (74%)
• The bad group is averaging 5.1 wins apiece on an average of 16.2 starts, 11.3 of which are resulting in decisions (70%)
• The good group has a composite ERA of 4.16 and composite WHIP of 1.36 in 5280 innings
• The bad group has a composite ERA of 4.07 and composite WHIP of 1.33 in 5077.3 innings
• Of those in the good group, eight have fewer than six wins (15%)
• Of those in the bad group, 32 have fewer than six wins (63%)

So what does this all mean? It means, obviously, that Run Support is a key factor in determining wins and losses regardless of a pitcher’s performance (that is, ERA & WHIP). Now that doesn’t mean I advocate grabbing a group of shlocks with good run support and try to pile up a ton of wins. To wit, those with good Run Support but an ERA of 4.40 or worse are averaging five wins while those below are enjoying an average of eight wins. The pitcher’s performance still matters so don’t just roll the dice on lesser pitchers playing for supposedly high-octane offenses and assume that will be enough. Take the time to see who is getting the support and make your decisions accordingly.

Chasing wins isn’t for me. I will still take the better peripheral performance 100 out of 100 times. Give me Shaun Marcum (five wins), John Danks (five) and Greg Maddux (three) before Ted Lilly (eight wins), Kyle Kendrick (seven) and Oliver Perez (six). That said, you can listen to any fantasy baseball radio show or peruse any fantasy baseball message board and find plenty of threads that say, “I needed wins, so I grabbed Mike Pelfrey since he’s on the Mets and they have a great offense.” A great offense isn’t equal to all pitchers. Kyle Kendrick tops the list at 8.13 runs, but teammates Adam Eaton, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers are all on the list of pitchers getting poor run support despite Philadelphia being the league’s 4th-best team in terms of runs scored.

The only area with more volatility than wins is saves and both can make you gray or worse yet, bald if you try to acquire them directly instead of trusting skills to be rewarded in the long run. Consider that of the 24 pitchers to win 15 or more games last year, only two had an ERA above 4.40 by season’s end (8%). That was a five-year low that followed 2006’s high watermark of 26% during the timeframe. Looking at the eight-win pitchers here at the halfway point shows that 12% of them have an ERA over 4.40.

Conclusion: Chasing wins is stupid.

Tuesday: 06.24.2008

Player Focus 6.24.08

Elijah Dukes Continues to Hit; Smacks Third Bomb
I don’t really know why the Washington Nationals have Elijah Dukes. Yes, he does have talent, quite a bit in fact and he is only 23 years old. But when you consider the tumult he had been through in 2007 season prior to winter trade that send him to DC, you have to wonder if he would (or will?) be worth the trouble for a team in need of stability as they try to rise from the ashes of the Montreal franchise. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with Dukes’ production in his first full month since coming off of the disabled list. He has a .310/.403/.506 line 87 June at-bats including three home runs and 13 runs batted in. He is not afraid to take a walk either, which is very encouraging, especially for a 23-year old. It’s not hard to stand out in that lineup, but he’s been a very rare bright spot amongst a collection of hitters that makes the San Diego Padres look like Murderer’s Row.

Hawpe Unstoppable Since Returning from DL
Few players are outdoing Dukes in June, but Colorado’s Brad Hawpe is certainly one that is since he came back from injury on June 6th. A Baseball By Paul favorite, Hawpe is up to a June line of .328/.443/.707 after a 2-for-4 effort on Tuesday night. A monthly breakdown seems to suggest he might’ve needed that DL-stint a little sooner:

Either way, the time off seems to have served him well and he’s now back to being the immensely productive and equally underrated third banana of the 3H force in the Colorado lineup as Matt Holliday & Todd Helton steal the bulk of the headlines.

More updates tomorrow and I should finally have that long-promised piece on SPs up as well.

Monday: 06.23.2008

Player Focus 6.23.08

Nick Johnson Could Be Done Until 2009
You’d have to be heartless not to feel at least a little sympathy for Washington Nationals’ first baseman Nick Johnson. Coming off of a career year in which he finally managed 500 at-bats (500 on the dot, in fact), he is staring another season-ending injury in the face. His talent has never been in question as evidenced by last year’s strong numbers across the board. I always wondered what he’d do with a full season given his excellent discipline, ability to hit for average and 20-25 HR power. Last year in those 500 at-bats he posted a .290/.428/.520 with 23 home runs, 77 runs batted in and 100 runs scored. He chipped in 10 steals for fun! He also walked 110 times against 99 strikeouts.

He was struggling a bit with the batting average early this year (.220), but still had a disgusting .415 on-base percentage (disgusting being awesome in this instance, of course) thanks to his tremendous batting eye and it’s not foolish to believe his average would’ve improved drastically as the season wore on. He hit the 15-day DL with a torn tendon in his right wrist on May 15th, which unfortunately didn’t surprise anyone. Now, reports are out that he will have surgery on that right wrist and it could (read: will) sideline him for the rest of the season.

He’s missed 46% of his team’s games since he became a full-time player in 2001. There is a lot of time between now and the 2009 fantasy drafts, but if you draft him with an expectation of more than 90-100 games, you’re only fooling yourself. From a fantasy perspective, Dmitri Young is going to enjoy the job security especially with a .929 OPS in June.

Felix Hernandez Hits Grand Slam; Gets Hurt
It had been 37 years since an American League pitcher has hit a grand slam until Seattle’s Felix Hernandez took Johan Santana (of all people) deep in Monday night’s game, but then he suffered a sprained ankle while making a play on Carlos Beltran at homeplate. As if the M’s weren’t enough of a disaster this season, now their only steady piece gets hurt. If he’s out for a period of time, they could just start shipping pieces left & right including Erik Bedard. Hell, they might do that even if he doesn’t miss a single start. Hernandez is finally putting it all together with a 2.87 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 103.3 innings prior to tonight’s start. He has struck out 7.9 and walked 3.3 batters per nine innings. He had suffered five straight losses prior to his current 4-game winning streak. Tonight he’ll grab a no-decision.

Thursday: 06.19.2008

Eaten Post

You know when you’re working on a big piece for a long time and you go to hit publish and the screen leaves like it’s loading the new one but never comes back? That’s what we bloggers call an eaten post. That’s we idiots call not doing your blog post in Word so these things don’t matter. Truth be told, WordPress has been amazing since I’ve been blogging again so I didn’t even give it a second thought. That’s no excuse though. I just got started in the WP box and didn’t think properly. At least I got all the charts & pictures made. At any rate, I’ll have the pitching post up this evening.

Wednesday: 06.18.2008

Did You Know?

As I was pouring over stats for an article I’ll publish tomorrow, I found some very interesting tidbits that I thought I’d share with everyone:

-The Philadelphia Phillies are the only team to have had the same five pitchers start every game this season. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick make up the team’s 74 starts.

-Of those qualified for the ERA title, there are 42 pitchers with an ERA below 4.00. All of 2007 saw 40 such pitchers.

-Coming into April 14th, Jason Kendall was hitting .405 across his first 37 at-bats. He is hitting .254 after compiling another 176 at-bats.

-Carlos Quentin is on pace for 38 home runs, 127 runs batted in and nine stolen bases. Eric Byrnes is on pace for 13 home runs, 51 runs batted in and nine stolen bases.

-With an 0-for-3 effort on today, Marcus Thames’ home runs in a streak is still alive. The torrid pace (last eight hits have been home runs) helped give him a nine at-bats per home run rate! Obviously, that’ll even out as he garners more and more playing time, but it is pretty impressive. Here are the top in AB/HR from a pool of the top 40 home run hitters so far this season:

-We all knew it at the time, but as the season wears on the Miguel Tejada trade just looks better and better for Baltimore. Tejada has been his regular declining self on pace for 20 home runs, which is fine enough. Baltimore got centerpiece Luke Scott, who is on pace for 28 home runs and looks to be finally putting it all together. In addition, they got Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate who have contributed 75 strong innings out of the bullpen. Troy Patton was also a part of the deal, but has yet to pitch for the O’s. Albers, Sarfate and Scott have been three key players in Baltimore’s very surprising success that has them two games over .500.

-Three players have over 30 stolen bases so far this season (Jacoby Ellsbury, Willy Taveras and Ichiro Suzuki with 34, 31 and 30, respectively). This time last year, Reyes was blowing away the field with 38 and the next closest total was a trio with 22 stolen bases.

-In their best year ever, Carl Crawford has actually been one of the worst performers on the Tampa Bay Rays. After three straight seasons of .800+ OPS, he is at .681 through Wednesday.

-Adrian Gonzalez is on pace for 44 home runs. He hit a total of 54 in 2006 and 2007 combined.

-On May 11th, Emil Brown had 33 RBIs… he has 4 since.

-Freddy Sanchez has the worst OPS amongst players qualified for the batting title with a .564. He posted an .851 in 2006 when he won a batting title and then a solid, if unspectacular follow-up of .785 last year. Off-season shoulder surgery is the likely culprit for a busted 2008.

-Of those qualified for the batting title, nobody is below .200. Last year, Richie Sexson ( .198 ) and Elijah Dukes ( .191 ) were below the Mendoza Line at this point in the season. They are doing their best to get there against as Dukes is hitting .226 and Sexson is at .219.

Look for a study on starting pitchers to come out tomorrow in this space…

Tuesday: 06.17.2008

Player Focus 6.17.08

Marcus Thames Displaying Elite Power
That headline is actually nothing new. Marcus Thames has been a bona fide, top of the line power threat. In fact, during his 12 seasons covering both the minor and major leagues, Thames has a .224 Isolated Power in 4351 at-bats. When you go a step further and parse it down to just his 1088 major league at-bats yields a .262 Iso, that’s more than Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. I don’t mention that to imply he’s anywhere close to the player those gentlemen are and were, rather to give you an idea of the kind of power this guy has in that bat. More topical to today’s Player Focus is the fact that Thames’ last seven hits have been home runs, including numbers 11 and 12 tonight in San Francisco.

The Carlos Guillen Outfield Experiment appears to have been short-lived and Brent Clevlen doesn’t yet have the skills to produce consistently at the major league level meaning there should be at-bats available for Thames either out in left field or at designated hitter for the foreseeable future. In only 18 of the 32 games he played in from April 3rd to June 1st did he get three or more at-bats. His recent streak has included 11 such instances. Seeing 26 and 18 home runs in 348 and 269 at-bat seasons in 2006 and 2007 leaves many to wonder what he could do with 450+ at-bats. (For the record, those seasons pace out to 34 and 30 home runs with 450 at-bats).

For more on Thames, check out this piece over at Fantasy Baseball Generals…

Speaking of Enormous Power Potential…
Remember when Ryan Howard was up for 2008 Fantasy Disappointment of the Season? Perhaps it was during his May low point when he had a .163/.286/.333 with six home runs in 123 at-bats. That was May 7th and he might’ve been available for pennies on the dollar. After joining Marcus Thames and Carlos Beltran in the two-home run club tonight, that is no longer the case. Well, it hasn’t been the case for awhile now, but tonight’s effort that gives him four home runs and 13 RBIs in his last four games seals it.

This is one of the countless examples of the adage “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” with regards to the baseball season. Yet every year, fantasy players across the nation will desperately look for reasons why their stud is struggling and try to justify selling low instead of giving established players a legitimate shot to do what they do best. Injury concerns and/or age are about the only things that could get me to give up on an established, but struggling hitter before June. There are exceptions to just about everything, but 29-year old former MVPs don’t just lose it and Howard has shown that in the past month & 10 days.

Thursday: 06.12.2008

Player Focus 6.12.08

Carlos Gomez Ready to Run Again?
There were mixed feelings about Carlos Gomez, the Twins’ centerpiece in the Johan Santana trade, coming into the season. At 22, concerns centered around the fact that perhaps the Twins were rushing him just to show that the trade wasn’t a bad idea, but he made them look great with a fast start out of gate (no pun intended). Gomez was providing Jose Reyes-type speed with tons of early stolen bases, but then he just stopped running for some reason.

Despite a paltry .300 on-base percentage, Gomez racked up 16 stolen bases in the first month and a half of the season. The .269 average was hardly Earth-shattering, but it kept him from Michael Bourn-like liability (.224 average/24 SBs) in every category but stolen bases. Prior to last night’s stolen base, Gomez had a disgusting 1-for-7 success rate in almost a month’s time. The average was strong and he included some unexpected bombs, but the lack of stolen bases has been a huge disappointment after that start. On the whole, he is still on pace for 44 stolen bases and with the May power surge, 12 home runs as well. Owners of his services would undoubtedly consider 2008 a smashing success if he were able to achieve those numbers by season’s end.

Pitching Dominates the League Wednesday Night
Perhaps it was just because several of these performances found their way onto my fantasy teams, but I don’t remember the last night that this many pitchers were on their game. There were 17 really strong games thrown on Wednesday and it’s not like all of the #1s were going; only five of the gems were out of bona fide aces.

Three complete games and three others going eight innings. All told there were nearly 14 games of 1.30 ERA ball (124.3 IP divided by nine). Reliever turned starter Braden Looper turned in the game of the night with a complete game shutout as Hernandez, Lincecum and Jimenez joined him by holding their opponents to no runs. Cole Hamels paced the crew with 13 strikeouts and Ryan Dempster (!) was close behind 11 of his own. No one posted worse than a 3.00 ERA meaning any combination of this group yielded a very impressive evening for your fantasy team.

A Painful Season Continues…
The disabling of Victor Martinez, Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano continued the 2008 ravaging of fantasy baseball teams. There was a message board this morning about the overwhelming rash of key players missed for periods of time due to injury this season and it was jaw-dropping to see.

I wouldn’t even begin to pretend to have an answer as to what is going on or even speculate just to feel like there is a specific reason. What I do know is that having a couple of these players on a roster can decimate a team’s chances. Seeing 14 starting pitchers on the list offers just one more (of the hundreds) reason not to invest heavily in “surefire” aces. Injuries happen, but this seems more like a season-end list of them as opposed to one we’d see nearly two and a half months into the season.

Tuesday: 06.10.2008

One is the Lonliest Number

Last week, the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft was held and the Tampa Bay Rays made Tim Beckham the #1 overall pick. The high school shortstop joins Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young and last year’s David Price as the fourth player to be drafted first overall by the Rays franchise. The two most recent, Price and Beckham, are the only ones still with the team, but Hamilton and Young are having successful seasons in Texas & Minnesota, respectively. Combine that with Price’s early success (1.16 ERA through four starts) and the Rays have a pretty solid track record with #1 overall picks.

It’s not necessarily a simple thing to achieve. Sure, when an Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. is sitting out there, it sure looks like a slam-dunk in hindsight. It is perceived that the baseball draft delivers more busts from the top slot than any other major sport. That could be due to the fact that it’s almost always a hike through the minors for a draft pick before we see them on the team or it could just be another one of the many misnomers embedded into the general sports landscape that often go unchecked. Until now.

I looked at the #1 overall picks during the 20-year period from 1987 to 2006 in each of the four major sports. Looking at both longevity and impact, I graded their career on a scale from 0-10. From around 2002 to 2006, the lower grades are due more to incompleteness of career than anything else. A rating of 2 from a 2002 draftee is not the same as a 2 from 1992. I didn’t factor potential into the ratings for these more recent players either, they were all loaded with potential or else they wouldn’t have been selected first. Baseball’s Matt Bush & Brien Taylor are the only 0 scores of the 80 players, so essentially we’re looking at a 1-10 scale:

0: Historically renowned busts.

1-4: For those with a completed career, they never amounted to much of anything. Some of them knocked around for awhile, but that was due more to someone buying into the potential as opposed to any legitimate production they had put up. Those with a year or two under their belt and score below 5 are players that haven’t made a huge impact yet. The 1s probably won’t, while the 2s, 3s and 4s have shown something and definitely enough to avoid the dreaded bust label that is often doled far too soon in this instant gratification society that sports lives in today.

5-7: Completed careers in this range were viable players with a number of high quality seasons on their record, but never delivered the overwhelming excellence expected of an overall #1. They might’ve had a season as the best player on their team, but they weren’t ever considered the best at their position if even for a season. Solid pieces, but not franchise players.

8-10: They panned out. These picks yielded (or current yield) solid production for an extended period of time. Usually, they were/are legitimate superstars that not only represent their franchise, but oftentimes their sport.

Based on this scale, which sport delivers the most busts atop the draft? We’ll countdown from the league with the best success rate to lowest of the four.

Not surprisingly, the NBA has the best success rate amongst #1 overall picks during the 20-year period studied. Any league that is going to have just two rounds in its draft had better have some talent concentrated at the top or else how would the bottom feeders replenish? The league tends to favor size since, as the adage goes, you can’t teach size. And for the most part, that size has panned out. In the 20 seasons looked at, I scored five 10s and four 9s. Only three players scored below a 5, the most recent being 2001’s Kwame Brown (1). Overall, the league scored a 7.0 average with 12 of the 20 players still in the league and seven of the remaining eight playing between 10-15 seasons (Michael Olowokandi, 9):

LeBron James (6’8”), Allen Iverson (6’0”), Elton Brand (6’8”), Glenn Robinson (6’7”) and Larry Johnson (6’6”) are the only five players of the 20 that are less than 6 feet, 9 inches. Eight of the players are measured at 6 feet, 11 inches or better. Though the five below produced three superstars (James, Iverson and Brand), it appears that adhering to the draft size first mantra of the NBA is a relatively safe bet.

Many of you likely won’t recognize several of the 20 names listed in the hockey table found below so you will have to trust my judgment on the quality of these players. With nine players in the 8-10 range, including five 10s, the front office men in the NHL are doing their homework. Even more impressive is that only four of the 20 players are out of hockey. Only four players (not the same four, but some overlap) rated below six. Despite the strength of their drafts, they fell just short of the NBA with a 6.9 overall average.

The two decade block is bookended with a pair of superstars on each end. Crosby and Ovechkin (though Crosby significantly more so) are the face of the NHL right now. Granted that face isn’t seen all that much, the Stanley Cup Finals that included Crosby facing the league’s best team over the past 10-15 years (Detroit) was on the best rated in recent memory. On that other end, Modano and Sundin are among the tops to ever lace ‘em up.

Well there goes the suspense! Baseball is not the stingiest league in delivering premier players from the top spot, but that doesn’t mean you are assured a bona fide producer if you happen to land the top choice. There are three 10s among the list and there hasn’t been one since 1993 (Alex Rodriguez). In fairness to my favorite game, players can and very often do take much longer to develop into superstars meaning the likes of Justin Upton, Delmon Young, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez and the resurrected Josh Hamilton could all climb the ranks in the upcoming 5-7 years. For now, MLB rates a 4.7 average thanks housing both 0 rankings and eight others below 4. Of course, this won’t shock any familiar with the game. Baseball talent is so deep that the league holds a draft (50 rounds) more than seven times longer than hockey and football and 25 times as long as basketball. A team can bomb a #1 overall pick but hit on six or seven more of the remaining 49 picks and consider it a successful draft. From 1987 to 2006, the average number of players to make it to the major leagues 170 from an average of 1520 players drafted (11%).

Only two of the eight picks from 1999-2006 look like they are going to fail as top picks. Hochevar, Upton and Young really deserve incomplete grades because the sample sizes to date are just far too small. Same could be said for Gonzalez, Mauer and Hamilton to a degree in we’re being honest. The Tigers could’ve used current GM Dave Dombrowski back in 1997 when they idiotically selected Matt Anderson. Perhaps he’d have seen the potential in Anderson’s teammate, Lance Berkman, who went to the Houston Astros 15 picks later.

Easily the most popular draft of the four, the annual gathering in New York offers the biggest dud rate. Consider right off the bat that only seven of the last 20 top picks are even in the game and one is in federal prison. Given the physical demands of the game, it’s not terribly surprising that so few are still in the game. Ten of the 12 players drafted from 1987 to 1998 played 10 or more seasons so I don’t mean to downplay the overall quality of these #1 picks more than necessary. The 4.6 average is nipping at the heels of baseball’s score to get out of the cellar, but back-to-back bombs from the Browns in 1999 and 2000 with Tim Couch and Courtney Brown certainly haven’t helped matters.

Eli Manning’s recent Super Bowl win was good enough for a 1-point boost. I’m not sold on him moving much higher than a five over the course of his career; I just don’t think he has the smarts that his brother displays. Carson Palmer and Mario Williams are two guys I think could rise into the 8-10 range very soon, but that is the league’s best bet for growth as Alex Smith doesn’t appear to be much.

So not a ton of shocking conclusions drawn here. Basketball needs to deliver the best talent from its draft picks unless it wants the same teams to dominate year-in and year-out. Meanwhile, football holds a 53-man roster and baseball holds a 25-man roster plus several minor league teams therefore the talent runs deep and the stage is set for it to developed over time, especially in baseball. Hockey has a seven round draft like football, but age is not as necessary as it is in football and baseball. You will never see a 19-year or 20-year old stealing headlines in baseball and it’s not possible in football. And though it is big, important news in basketball and hockey, it isn’t a once-in-a-blue-moon situation.

The Tampa Bay Rays have the deck stacked against them when it comes to Tim Beckham’s success given the current career paths of their previous three #1s, but a strong organization that properly handles its kids can overcome “the odds” and the Rays are definitely showing they have what it takes to be considered a first class minor league system.

Thursday: 06.5.2008

National League All-Stars Through May

After posting my American League All-Stars yesterday, I’ll head over to the Senior Circuit today. Let’s get right into it:

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves – This one was really tough because McCann and Geovany Soto have nearly identical statistics. The difference maker for me was that McCann has struck out 31 fewer times (53 to 22) than the Cubs rookie. That discipline has been key in McCann getting back to the level of production exhibited in his breakout 2006 season.

Honorable Mention: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
– He is only 12 points behind McCann in OPS and they each have the same 30 extra base hits (19 2B, 1 3B and 10 HR) while Soto holds a six RBI edge with 39. He became such a hot sleeper in the off-season that come draft time he actually lost his sleeper status. Prior to last year, he was a virtual unknown, but a 26-home run season in Iowa put him on the radar. Consider that during his previous 1574 at-bats in the minors, he had all of 25 home runs.

First Base
Lance Berkman, Houston Astros – There might not be a deeper position in baseball than first base in the National League, yet Berkman still managed to separate himself from the competition. He has a 1.213 OPS powered by 41 extra base hits (out of 84 total hits) including 17 home runs. The lineup around him has cashed in several times as Berkman leads the league with 57 runs scored. As if all of that weren’t enough, he also has a 0.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10 stolen bases! If Vegas put odds on a Triple Crown winner, his would be the smallest of the bunch. (Or is it highest? Whatever conveys they’d be the toughest to win money on…)

Honorable Mentions: I have to give a pair of these, both are very deserving.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals – Congratulations is in order for all of those fantasy owners that didn’t buy into the preseason hype that he’d miss massive time this season. He’s been his usual MVP-self.

Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego
– He is showing amazing power this season, PETCO park be damned. Eight years ago, he was the #1 overall pick for the Florida Marlins in the 2000 Amateur Draft. He is now paying dividends on the elite status that comes with being the first pick.

Second Base
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies – Do I even need to expound upon this selection? Utley is one home run away from last season’s total. Not pace, total. There isn’t a category he is failing in as he has also chipped in six stolen bases to go with all the incredible run production. Provided he continues to rake through September, his 2008 season might unequivocally place him in the top 5 for 2009.

Honorable Mention: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
– Ouch, talk about getting Magglio’d! Uggla is having a tremendous season as he sets his sights on a third straight season of home run improvement. Unfortunately, he is being overshadowed by the otherworldly season being turned in by Utley.

Third Base
Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves – Another walkaway win that needs little explanation. Jones is chasing down .400, but it’s far from an empty batting average. He also has 13 home runs, 38 runs batted in and 42 runs scored. Did I mention he is getting on base almost 50% of the time? Thanks in large part (well the large part is probably the .411 average, but you get the point) to 35 walks against just 22 strikeouts he has a .494 on-base percentage.

Honorable Mention: David Wright, New York Mets – He has been the superstar that we all expected coming into the season; a legitimate across-the-board threat that has done his best to keep the Mets above water. His .286 batting average isn’t blowing anyone away, but it’s hardly damaging and once a few more hits fall his way, he’ll be well into the .300s again.

Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins – Debates raged on over the off-season as to whether or not Ramirez could be worthy of the #1 overall pick given his power-speed combination, but then some injury concerns bubbled up regarding his shoulder and the #1 overall talk stopped. Now he is running a near 30 HR-40 SB pace and is once again one of the best players in the game.

Honorable Mention: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
– A solid, if unspectacular year for Reyes thus far that lacks the overwhelming, dominating speed. The power surge just about makes up for the speed dip.

I’m resisting a strong temptation to put the entire Pirates outfield as my NL All-Star Outfield. I don’t think it’d be completely unreasonable, but I’m resisting it even still. For as excellent as the infield is, the outfield is less-than-stellar.
Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh Pirates – Since August 1st of last year, McLouth has 23 home runs and 21 stolen bases with a .299/.396/.565 line. Like Soto, his sleeper status was just about erased by the time draft season rolled around. Nevertheless, he was one of the league’s best players in April.

Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis Cardinals – Yep, I did it. I know he hasn’t played full time the entire year, but he qualifies for the batting title and has the best OPS among National League outfielders. His overwhelming power has never been an unknown, but he has never really been given the playing time in the majors to succeed.

Jason Bay, Pittsburgh Pirates – OK, so I still took two out of three. Bay was a colossal failure last year, but he regained his batting eye and it’s led to a rebound. Last year, he walked a total of 59 times. This year, he is already at 41 and he is on pace for a career-high. His five stolen bases tops his 2007 total by one and the 13 home runs put him on pace for a career-high 36 at year’s end. Welcome back, Mr. Bay.

Honorable Mentions:
Pat Burrell, Philadelphia Phillies
– Every year the guy mashes in April with a .943 OPS and 13 home runs across 225 at-bats during the past three years. This year was no different with a 1.135 OPS and eight home runs in 89 April at-bats. During the same three year period, he tails off significantly in May from a batting average standpoint but remains a viable on-base and power threat. This year was no different with a .227 average but .378 OBP and five home runs over 88 May at-bats. The guy is a model of consistency for inconsistent. He might frustrate you, but if you’re a Roto owner and you get him just ride his ups and downs out and you’ll get what you paid for by the end of the season.

Aaron Rowand, San Francisco Giants – Everyone expected a huge drop off with the move to San Fran because of a worse park and far worse lineup. Rowand continues to excel and should he keep pace, he will actually improve upon his batting average and RBI totals.

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers – In proving last year was no fluke, Braun is on pace for 43 home runs and 126 runs batted in with a .299 average. He hasn’t shown nearly the same plate discipline of a year ago, but he is getting the job done and justifying his late first-early second round status.

Starting Pitchers
Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds – I can’t remember a trade in recent memory ever working out so well for both teams. Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez was one of the sidenote moves of the off-season, but it has yielded two of the young season’s best stories. Volquez’ walks remain scary, but his other peripherals show he can live with the shaky control.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
– This is why you don’t chase wins. The knock on Lincecum all off-season was that he’d be a great asset to ratios and strikeouts, but wouldn’t notch many wins at all on the Giants. He’s been an asset in the ratios and strikeouts, but he’s gotten the team support good enough to rack up seven wins. So unpredictable is this stat that it’ll make you absolutely crazy trying to figure it out. Draft skills.

Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks – Ho-hum, another dominating season for Webb. All the talk of Peavy and Johan as hands down 1-2 left Webb undervalued by comparison given how absurdly reliable he has been over the past few seasons. He is enjoying his fourth straight season of increases in the strikeouts per nine yet has kept a flat line of consistency across his pitches per inning, plate appearance and game numbers.

Middle Relief Pitchers
Hong Chih-Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers – He is a pitching version of a utility infielder. He can start, long relieve, short relieve and he could probably close. And he can do all of those things very well, he’s not just some rubber-armed clown that the Dodgers ride. He has a 10.3 K/9, a 1.4 BB/9 and a 0.68 ERA as a reliever.

Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
– He has closer stuff, but given that the most high pressure situations usually come before the ninth inning, he might be a more valuable asset to the Cubs as their 7th/8th inning guy. He was amazing last year and things haven’t changed much for 2008. His control can be shaky, but it’s hard to complain when you see the 13.5 K/9 rate.

Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs – For most, it’s been a matter of if, not when for Wood losing the closer’s job due to injury or ineffectiveness. But Wood has taken to the new role very well and it looks like the only thing that could slow him down is the injury bug he is all too accustomed with during his career. Most impressive about how season thus far is the 6:1 K:BB rate. The 16 saves are tied for the National League’s best with Jose Valverde and Brian Wilson. Of those three, his 2.78 ERA is the best.

Thursday: 06.5.2008

Great Read

Ever take those internet journeys where you start off looking for one thing and wind up somewhere totally different, but you’re glad you ended up there? That is exactly how I found this debate between two stat guys & two scout guys conducted by Alan Schwarz at Baseball America over three years ago. In fact, I don’t even remember what I was first looking for… something baseball related I’d bet. I never caught this conversation the first time around during the whole “Moneyball” dustup. It’d be really interesting to get the four guys back for a follow-up and see how they’ve progressed with their stances on everything. At any rate, I thought it’d be topical given today’s amateur draft at 1 PM on ESPN.