Archive for April, 2012

Monday: 04.30.2012

Maddening Max

I remember seeing the news across the crawl on TV, “Detroit Tigers option RHP Max Scherzer to AAA Toledo…” and kind of doing a double take.  “Wow, that’s a shock!”  He had posted a 2.12 ERA in his first three starts, twice against Kansas City and once against Seattle, but his skills (10 K, 5 BB) weren’t particularly special.  He was better against Texas in his fourth start (7 IP, 3 ER, 7 K, 2 BB) before things came completely unhinged.  In his next four starts, he failed to go more than five innings posting a 13.50 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, 9 K and 9 BB in 18 innings.

It was mid-May of 2010 and the Tigers had little choice but to send the talented, but flailing hurler down to the minors for a spell.  Two weeks later he returned to the majors and went on to enjoy the best run of his professional career pitching like one of baseball’s best pitchers from May 30th through the end of the season with a 2.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 158 K and 54 BB in 154 innings giving up 0 or 1 run in 15 of his 23 starts.  Could a similar move be in the offing for the 2012 version of Scherzer?

He was a complete mess on Sunday in Yankee Stadium walking a career-high seven, allowing seven hits as well and ending up very lucky to come away allowing just three runs in his 4.7 innings of work.  His ERA for the season is now at 7.77 and his league-leading 10.0 K/9 is completely cancelled out by the 4.8 BB/9 and 13.7 (!!!) H/9 rates.  His WHIP is an astronomical 2.06.  So what’s wrong?

Would you accept “everything” as an answer?

OK, maybe not everything, but “plenty” is definitely a viable answer.  Max himself said that fastball command was a huge issue on Sunday suggesting the ball felt like a “cue ball” as he struggled to find the zone with any amount of consistency.  The numbers bore out his assessment as he hit the strike zone a meager 52% of the time with his 74 fastballs.  He has always been what you might call effectively wild, but it was excessive on Sunday.  The outing in Yankee Stadium was more like things coming to a head for Scherzer as he hasn’t really been crisp at all this year, even when he struck out 11 in Chicago a few weeks back.

He has a 62% strike rate with the fastball on the year, down from 64% last year.  He was at 65% during that 2010 run.  While the lack of fastball strikes are contributing to his control issues, it is really the lack of reliable secondary stuff that is fueling his struggles so far this year.  He has a devastating wipeout slider when he is right as well as a strong changeup that often carries ~10 MPH split from his fastball which he buries down and away to neutralize lefties.

Just as with the fastball, he isn’t throwing nearly enough strikes with the secondary stuff as his slider is crossing the dish just 59% of the time, down from 63% in 2011.  Meanwhile, when it does go for a strike it is often being obliterated as hitters have a 1.224 OPS in plate appearances that end on a slider.  That is nearly twice the .617 OPS from last year.  Furthermore, the change is doing nothing to stifle southpaws.  He has a 59% strike rate on the changeup against lefties and they are battering it to the tune of a 1.065 OPS, numbers that were at 66% and .721 a season ago, respectively.

Scherzer has always had something of a violent delivery making consistency a constant challenge, especially with his release point.  On Sunday, the only thing that was consistent was Scherzer dropping his arm and throwing across his body as he continually flew open and finished all but falling off the mound.  The silver lining to these early issues is that they can be ironed out as the 2010 season showed.  You can refine and work on a pitcher’s mechanics.  You cannot, however, teach an arm to be as electric as Scherzer’s.  It’s subtle (and to me more evident in watching the starts), but you can see the difference in Scherzer’s release point yesterday when compared to his other starts this year.

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Another tick on the plus side would be that his velocity isn’t diminished during this tough time.  In fact, it’s up.  He has averaged 93.1 MPH with his fastball the last two years, but he is up to 93.7 MPH so far this year.  Often when a pitcher is struggling, analysts eye fastball velocity as an indicator to potential injury.  Scherzer is at his best mark since his 2008 debut (94.2 MPH) when he worked a lot out of the bullpen.  He has lost some of the velocity split on his changeup, though, which is currently averaging 85.6 MPH, up 3 MPH from last year.  His slider velocity is also up to a career high 86.6 MPH after sitting 82.7 MPH last year.

He appears to be overthrowing both secondary pitches helping explaining the velocity gains as well as his inability to consistently draw strikes with either pitch.  In short, Scherzer is a mess right now and that is obvious.  Even when he gets ahead of batters, they are still pounding him for a .751 OPS (.514 last year, .525 career).  What isn’t so obvious right now is what to do if you’re the Tigers.  Do you see if another stint in AAA does the trick a la 2010?  Or do you let him ride it out with the big league club?

If you choose the former, you probably have to wait until Doug Fister is ready to come back from the disabled list as you’re already working shorthanded.  Drew Smyly has been incredible in the early going and he is the only thing holding up the non-Verlander end of the starting pitching bargain as Rick Porcello has hardly been any better than Schezer (6.45 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) while Adam Wilk was forced into duty after the Fister injury and subsequently batted around for an 8.18 ERA in just 11 innings across three starts.  Duane Below will take his spot this week drawing a pair of starts and hoping to bring his bullpen success (12 scoreless IP) into the rotation.

How about handling Scherzer from a fantasy perspective?  Any AL-only league manager has to keep him, he is simply too talented and anyone you replace him with is likely a flavor of the month with nowhere near the upside.  Cutting him after just 24 innings would be hasty and likely end up backfiring.  I would say the same goes for deep mixed leaguers (14+ teams) and it is rare that a mixed league doesn’t allow a bench so I would just reserve before I would ever decide to cut him.  What about 10-12 mixed leaguers?  That is where a decision gets a bit more dicey.

There are no doubt a throng of options with better stats than Scherzer (not a tough bar to clear) and while I would personally practice some patience with him, I could understand making a move for a new pitcher in those types of leagues.  Looking at some of the names available in a 12-team mixer that I am playing, I see some nice options beyond the flashes in the pan like Joe Saunders and Bruce Chen, who I don’t trust at all.  Names like Jeff Niemann, Chris Capuano and the aforementioned Smyly among others.

I would assume a 10-teamer would have even better names in addition to those.  So while I would still recommend reserving Scherzer ahead of anything that involves cutting him, there is a case for releasing him for a better performing arm if that is your only choice or if you utilize Matthew Berry‘s Wandy Line Method for streaming starters.

Friday: 04.27.2012

Here He Comes

Despite a modest start to his AAA career (.250/.333./375), Bryce Harper is headed to Los Angeles to make his MLB debut against the Dodgers and Chad Billingsley.  Harper made a push to break camp with the big league club, but that was always a longshot.  Most saw his callup coming in mid-May or early-June, but the disabling of Ryan Zimmerman has facilitated the potentially high impact move for the NL’s best ballclub by record (14-5, .737 win pct.) and second to the 15-4 Texas Rangers for baseball’s best record.  The 2-time #1 overall prospect according to Baseball America hasn’t been great in his 57 games in the high minors (37 in AA last year) toting a .254/.328/.388 line in 229 plate appearances with four home runs, but that won’t keep expectations from being unrealistic and sky-high.

The potential is enough to make him worthy of a pickup in literally any format, but be careful with who you cut to get him in 10-team mixed leagues.  Chances are strong that you have a replacement level player somewhere on the roster, but don’t drop a real talent just in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.  I really hope we see Harper coming up and catch fire immediately, but at the same time, that is unlikely.  He will likely have his moments, but I think we will see a .240 average with 12-15 home runs if he stays up for the rest of the year.  He is still just 19-years old.  In the expansion era (since 1961), we have seen just 19 players come up and have 100 or more plate appearances as 19-year olds and the results have been mixed.

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Just six of the 19 ended up with an OPS+ of 100 or better (100 being league average).  One of those was Ken Griffey Jr. who skipped AAA destroying the minors for 129 games before hitting the ground running on his Hall of Fame career.  He was thought of as a once in a generation talent like Harper, who has… yep… 129 games of minor league work on his ledger.  That is a decent collection of talent, though only Griffey was transcendent and Conigliaro may have been had it not been for his hit by pitch accident.

How about the collection of those who were subpar as 19-year olds?

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Now that is a collection of talent.  A-Rod, both Uptons, Yount, Beltre, Pudge and Jones all went on to have very successful careers (several of which are still going) including some Hall of Fame resumes in there.  Meanwhile, Trout is running neck and neck with Harper for the top spot on prospect lists and he was pretty bland in his 40 games of work as a major leaguer last year.  That was after a lot more minor league experience than Harper has had, too.  The point is that you should temper your expectations with a 19-year old in the majors, especially one with limited AAA experience during which he has been pretty ordinary.  There is a non-zero chance that Harper could set the world on fire from the jump.  There is a stronger chance that he looks downright mortal and often overmatched as he gets acclimated to a level of competition unlike anything he has ever faced.

Friday: 04.27.2012

BP Work This Week

I made my debut at Baseball Prospectus this week.

  • First up was the Starting Pitcher Value Picks piece in which I analyzed some under-utilized arms capable of delivering some fantasy value.  One of my picks, Washington’s Ross Detwiler goes tonight in Los Angeles squaring off against that Clayton Kershaw kid.

 

  • Next up, going live this morning, was the Weekly Planner piece which takes a look at the all the two-start pitchers for next week and decides who you should go with and who you should probably avoid.  A pair of arms, Ricky Nolasco and Randy Wolf, each get to face San Francisco and San Diego in their favorable home parks making them strong options to spot start in mixed leagues where they are still available.

 

  • And finally, long-time friend and BP colleague Jason Collette and I restarted a BP Fantasy Podcast which debuted last night.  We are working to get it into iTunes and Jason said it should be ready by Monday.  Thursdays will usually be the record night as long as schedules fit for it, but you should expect a weekly iteration.  This week we discussed the slow start of Matt Moore, the hot start Jake Peavy and so much more.
Tuesday: 04.24.2012

Justin Verlander After 125+ Pitches

On Monday April 16th, Justin Verlander threw his first complete game of the season in a 3-2 win against the Kansas City Royals.  Five days earlier, he entered the 9th inning with just 81 pitches thrown, but came a bit unraveled and couldn’t close out the Tampa Bay Rays.  To do so against Kansas City, he needed 131 pitches, a figure that drew the ire of some fans and analysts largely because of the time of season we are in right now (in addition, of course, to the general overreaction and misunderstanding of pitch counts).  When will people stop treating Verlander like just another pitcher?  He has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is on a different level especially when it comes to workload concerns.

This has been clear for the last couple of years and of course last year, he showed that his talent is on a different plane as well.  We live in a hypersensitive era when it comes to the handling of pitchers, but that doesn’t mean that every pitcher should be subjected to the same standards when it comes to pitch counts and workloads.  The most important thing to remember is that it isn’t the number of pitches thrown, it is the number of pitches thrown when tired that causes issues.  Racking up laborious pitches are the ones that will destroy a pitcher over time.  Nothing about Verlander’s 9th inning last Monday appeared fatigued and anyone that knows anything about the ace understands that he gets stronger as the game progresses, not weaker.

Your eyes don’t deceive you: Verlander threw 19 fastballs of 95+ MPH to close out the game including four of his final five pitches at 100 MPH (not seen in the chart: an 88 MPH changeup).  And while the numbers might be a tick inflated because there is some dispute around the readings at Kaufmann Stadium, he was still pumping crazy heat in 110+ pitches into the game.  As FanGraphs’ Bill Petti showed last week in a great breakdown, hot gun or not this is the norm with Verlander and he is in a class by himself.

It is generally believed that any ill effects from a heavy workload start will be felt in the subsequent two or three starts.  So how does Verlander perform after outings of 125 or more pitches?  I decided to look at the three starts immediately following a 125+ outing for Verlander over his entire career.  He has 17 such outings in his career (including six a season ago), but only 15 fit the study as two of his final three starts in 2009 saw him meet the threshold, but he didn’t have a subsequent trio of starts to measure and carrying over to the next season wouldn’t have made sense.  Unsurprisingly, his work in those outings is nothing short of excellent.

There are some meltdowns sprinkled in there, but the bottom line is incredible with a 2.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 112 innings averaging 127 pitches per outing and peaking at 132 during a May 29th start last year.  So what happens in the subsequent starts?  Surely he should see some degradation after posting such strong numbers in the big pitch count starts, right?

Or not.  Incredibly he actually gets better.  Yes, the ERA does jump 0.40 to 2.90, but the WHIP dips below 1.00, the strikeout and walk rates improve by 1.0 resulting in an eye-popping 5.0 K/BB.  He also manages 20+ innings in 13 of the 15 trios meaning he is going 6.7 innings or more on average and 11 of the 15 saw him averaging 7+ innings per outing (21+ IP in the trio).  In fact in the six instances from 2011, he threw no fewer than 22 innings in any of the trios and averaged nearly 24 innings (23.8 IP).

In the eight instances since 2010, he has yet to post an ERA of 2.75 or worse, only once topped 0.91 WHIP (1.10) and dipped below 9.4 K/9 just once (7.2), too.  The bottom line is that on the whole he shows no discernible ill effects from an outing of 125+ pitches.  Furthermore, he has no problem going deep into the games following the big pitch count game averaging 112 pitches per over the six year span and 115 pitches per in the last two years.

Following the well-established trend, Verlander showed no discernible degradation in his stuff in his first follow up start over the weekend against the Texas Rangers.  His six innings were his fewest of the season, but he allowed just four hits and struck out eight while walking three.  It was the 5th time since 2009 that he went six or fewer in one of the three starts after a 125+ pitch outing and part of that may have been Jim Leyland pandering to the unnecessary outrage against the high pitch count for Verlander last Monday.  He ended up with 115 pitches as the Rangers, arguably baseball’s best offense, ran up his count a bit by racking up 29 foul balls (25%) after he had yielded 56 (17% of his 340 pitches) in his first three starts.

His next start is Friday night in Yankees Stadium and then he draws the Royals again, this time at home.  Verlander isn’t some run-of-the-mill third starter who needs to be coddled and immediately pulled once he hits the century mark.  Of course, that doesn’t mean he should be used recklessly either, but I didn’t see anything reckless with letting him finish out the game in Kansas City last Monday.  If you were one of those who saw it as egregious and now fear it will impact Verlander going forward, I would encourage you to relax.  The data is on your side.  Oh and the fact that Verlander is a gordita loving-robot (and proof) doesn’t hurt, either.

Monday: 04.23.2012

Jordan Zimmermann and His Tiny K Rate

Coming into the 2012 season, the Washington Nationals were a chic pick to improve upon last year and even contend for a playoff spot for some (I gave them top NL wildcard with 87 wins), especially in light of the added wildcard.  On the heels of their 80-81 record a year ago, they added two big time arms in Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson via trade and free agency, respectively.  Perhaps even more importantly, they have Stephen Strasburg for most of the year (likely being capped around 160 innings) and Jordan Zimmermann for the entire season after his successful 161-inning return from Tommy John Surgery.

Zimmermann, a big time prospect in his own right though definitely a cut below Strasburg in terms of hype and pedigree, is building off of a solid foundation with 284 innings under his belt coming into the year during which he has posted a 3.84 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.7 K/9 and 3.5 K/BB.  With the reins off in terms of an innings limit, he is poised for a breakout in what should be his first full season of action.  He is off to great start already with a 1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 5.0 K/BB in his 21 innings spread across three starts (he has exactly three 7-inning, 1-run outings).

The gaudy 5.0 K/BB rate catches the eye, but it is spurred by his allowing just two walks (0.9 BB/9) as his 4.3 K/9 is far from special.  The first thought when strikeouts are down against expectations or track record is to check velocity, but Zimmerman’s fastball velocity is exactly the same as last year’s at 93.4 MPH so there is nothing amiss in that realm.  In lieu of the strikeouts, he is inducing plenty of weak contact with a sky-high 52% groundball rate off of which batters have a meager .121 batting average.  We saw something like this from him last April when he had a 4.3 K/9 while posting his best groundball rate of any month at 45% in 30 innings.

In fact, his two best groundball months were easily his worst strikeout months by a significant margin.  In June, he had a 41% groundball rate while striking out just 5.7 K/9.  In the other months (excluding April), his strikeout rate was 8.1 or better while the groundball rate failed to top 37%.  Can he get back to inducing groundballs and missing bats simultaneously?  In the first 23 starts of his career spanning 2009-2010, he had an 8.8 K/9 with a 46% groundball rate so he has the ability to combine the two skills.

A sharp difference early on has been his curveball and Zimm’s ability to generate swings-and-misses with it.  In 2011, he was at a 15% swing-and-miss rate with it and for his career coming into 2012, he was at 21%.  The curve has definitely been his knockout finisher in the past.  This year he has just a 7% swing-and-miss rate on his bender due in large part to batters laying off of it as he tries to get them to chase out of the zone.  Just 29% of his benders have even hit the zone compared to a healthy 51% coming into this season.

Courtesy of MLB.ESPNTrueMedia.com

With hitters laying off the low, out-of-the-zone curveball, Zimmermann will need to change his approach if he wants his strikeout rate to return to previously established levels.  Of course, we are just three starts into the season, too, so while there is definitely a difference between what we have seen from Zimm in the past, it could just be him getting a feel for the curve as the season starts.

Another difference we have seen in the early (and small) sample is that he isn’t afraid of contact with two strikes.  Batters have put it in play during 21 of Zimm’s 34 two strike plate appearances (62%) with just a 29% strikeout rate while last year those rates were at 57% and 37%, respectively (meanwhile his career rates coming into ’12 are 55% and 38%).

It has served him well thus far with a .191 average and .491 OPS against in two strike situations, but in the long term he would be better served to start hitting the zone more (specifically with his curve as previously mentioned) and generating strikeouts instead of trusting his defense so often.  Based on both his talent and stuff, I think we will see Zimmermann start putting away more hitters as the season progresses.

Batters will start to get more hits off of him going forward (5.6 H/9, .200 BABIP), but hopefully he is able to counter that with an improvement in punch-outs.  You can’t argue with the outstanding results in his first three starts (though I’m sure he isn’t thrilled with the 8 runs of support from his offense across the three games) and I think we will see an even better Zimmermann going forward though the gaudy results (1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP) are sure to rise.

If anyone in your league is trying to “sell high” on Zimm in fear of the miniscule strikeout rate, take them up on it as long as the price isn’t egregious (Justin Verlander/Roy Halladay).  I don’t think any reasonable fantasy manager expects a leaguemate to pay for a 1.29 ERA and 0.71 WHIP knowing full well that neither is sustainable, but if they are thinking of buying low on Josh Johnson or Tim Lincecum, for example, and offering Zimmermann as a foundation, then I would entertain such a move without question.

Friday: 04.20.2012

Joining BP

No, I’m not joining the oil business with British Petroleum.  Rather, I have signed on as a contributor over at Baseball Prospectus as part of the fantasy baseball team.  I will be doing two columns a week covering starting pitchers (yes, we call that right in the wheelhouse).  I’m ridiculously excited by this opportunity.  Nothing changes here as the site will remain functional.  Speaking of that, content will be ramping up now that we are starting to get some real data to play with and examine.  Samples are still small, but pitchers are amassing three and four starts so it is worth taking a look at things now as opposed to overreacting to everyone’s debut start.  Look for another piece on Monday.

Thursday: 04.19.2012

Mat Latos and His Slow Start

Well before the Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips contracts this season, the Reds announced their intent to contend (or try to, at least) in the near term by trading a significant haul of prospect value and major league arm Edinson Volquez to the San Diego Padres for top starter Mat Latos back in mid-December.  While he benefitted from the favorable PETCO Park, Latos was hardly a product of the pitcher’s haven seeing minimal (if any in some cases) degradation in his numbers away from home.

He posted a 3.22 ERA in 190 innings at home while toting a 3.57 ERA in 249 road innings.  His WHIP was actually a tick better while his strikeout and walk rates were nearly identical regardless of venue.  Armed with a bat-missing arsenal and a groundball lean, I was definitely on the high end of the spectrum when it came to projecting Latos for 2012.  After three starts, things aren’t looking so good.  Time to readjust expectations or simply a slow start for an ultra-talented arm?  Let’s take a closer look.

Slow Starter

Latos is starting his third full year as a major leaguer in 2012 and in his two 31-start seasons the last two years, he has shown himself to be a perennial slow starter posting a 5.57 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 42 April innings.  Adding in his three starts from this year, the numbers balloon to a 6.28 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 57 April innings.  Meanwhile, May is his best month from an ERA and WHIP standpoint.

Regardless of whether or not you include his 2012 numbers, April is far and away the worst month for Latos.  History alone suggests he should improve once the calendar turns or rather, as he accumulates more work to iron out the kinks.

Velocity

With Pitch F/X data more prevalent than ever, the first data point most people check when a pitcher is struggling is fastball velocity.  It can often be an explanation for a downgrade in performance as well as be an indication of potential injury in some instances.  In the case of Latos, velocity doesn’t appear to be tied to his struggles in any way whatsoever.

In 2010, his April velocity (93.8 MPH) was actually better than his velocity the rest of the way (93.6 MPH), though just marginally.  He got a late start to 2011 accumulating just 10 Spring Training innings and then not starting until the 9th game of the year due to a strained right shoulder.  Thus it wasn’t really a surprise that his April velocity (92.0 MPH) was a tick below his 92.8 MPH mark from May on.  Through his three starts this year, his fastball velocity is right in line with 2011’s at 92.7 MPH.  In fact, he was at 93.7 MPH on Wednesday night and 76 of 112 pitches were heaters.  Velocity isn’t the problem for Latos.

Pitch Performance

While the velocity isn’t askew, the quality of his fastball early on has been in question.  Batters are tattooing the pitch to the tune of a 1.197 OPS and it hasn’t been nearly the put away pitch it was last year when he generated a 13.6% strikeout rate with it compared to just 7.5% this year (just to clear up any potential confusion, this means plate appearances that end with a fastball are yielding a strikeout 7.5% of time).  Even with the lowered velocity, his fastball was more effective last April though it was still not to the level he would enjoy from May on.  It yielded an .815 OPS last April but dipped to .752 the rest of the way.

More important than the fastball, his slider (which is easily his best pitch) hasn’t been as effective as usual thus far in terms of inducing poor contact.  The pitch earned 13.2 and 10.5 pitch values at FanGraphs in 2010 and 2011, but it’s at -1.3 through his first two starts and will likely go down once they factor in the results from Wednesday night’s start in St. Louis.  In 2010 and 2011 combined, the slider yielded a paltry .409 OPS while amassing an insane 41.8% strikeout rate.  It’s his finisher and while he has an excellent 42.9% strikeout rate with it so far this year, it is also being hit around to a .714 OPS, astronomical for that pitch when you compare it to rest of Latos’ career.

Perhaps he needs to start incorporating more sliders into his pitch mix.  He has thrown it 15.8% of the time so far this season, down a bit from the 18.6% rate in 2010 and 2011 combined.  Last April his changeup was getting blasted to a 1.214 OPS.  He was using it 12.4% and cut that by 5% from May on giving all of the excess to his slider (going from 15.2% to 20%) and it clearly spurred his success as batters had a video game-esque .338 OPS against it from May on.

He is currently throwing his changeup at an equal rate to the slider (15.8%) and while it’s not being pummeled like last year, it isn’t faring too well at .819 OPS.

Conclusion

The information available seems to suggest that Latos simply takes a while to get going.  There is nothing that jumps out in his data that points toward a prolonged degradation in performance or worse, an injury.  Some pitchers just stumble out of the block before turning it on.  While I’m not comparing the two directly, Justin Verlander had notoriously awful Aprils heading into 2011.

He made a concerted effort to work harder in Spring Training and treat those like important games instead of just tune ups so he would be ready on Opening Day.  The results were immediate as he posted 3.64 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 in 42 April innings last year.  Even with the strong April last year and great start this year, his April line is still ugly compared to the rest of his numbers: 4.45 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 7.7 K/9.

If you have Latos on your team, you have to stay the course and give him time otherwise you are doing yourself a disservice and wasting your draft day investment.  The peripherals are weak and the surface stats are even worse, but weathering April before breaking through is Latos’ modus operandi.  As for those of you who don’t currently have him on the roster, he makes a nice trade target who may even come at a discounted price.

I don’t like the practice of looking at struggling stars in April and labeling every single one a “buy low” as I don’t think anyone with any knowledge of how to play this game is actually putting a severe discount on Tim Lincecum or Matt Holliday to name a couple.  The price was simply too high on draft day and cutting bait for pennies on the dollar after half a month is just stupid for the current manager and a pipedream if you’re the buying manager.

Latos isn’t exactly on the level of those two (24th and 36th picks, respectively), but he’s star-ish as a top 70 pick in average draft position and so you shouldn’t go in expecting someone to completely cut their losses and take Joe Saunders or Omar Infante for him.  Maybe they will take someone in the 90-105 ADP range which would be a nice little discount, but even at draft day cost (someone in the 65-75 ADP range), Latos is worth buying in on because it is plenty reasonable to expect him to improve soon and stay good for the remainder of the season.

Wednesday: 04.18.2012

Patience

You have probably experienced this feeling at some point in your fantasy baseballing career.  One of the three or so daily shellackings doled out to starting pitchers happens to be on your team every night.  Your closers are the ones putting their jobs in jeopardy with two or three blown saves already.  Your star hitter is mired in an 0-for-24 slump to start the season and even though you know he will probably have two or three such slumps during the summer, it just hurts more to START the season.  And your sleeper is still fast asleep and in danger of a trip back to AAA.  Worse yet is all of these things are happening at once leading to a disastrous start.  What’s a fantasy manager to do?

Nothing, really.

The hardest thing to do when faced with one of these starts is absolutely the right thing to do.  Unless you’re being ravaged by injuries and demotions, you have to (or at least you should) trust the roster you constructed at the draft table and give it a real chance to flesh out.  That doesn’t mean you should blindly reject trades or avoid picking up useful pieces on the waiver wire, but don’t tinker just to tinker.  Don’t get early (1 thru 10) rounders off to slow starts for the flavor of the week.  In the internet age with up-to-the-second standings, staying the course in the face of disaster* (*as disastrous as a bad 10-14 days can really be) is the hardest part of the game, but you will be better for it more often than not.  Trust the March version of yourself who made the decision to purchase/draft these players.  At least wait a month to 45 days before determining that early Spring version of you was wrong.

Wednesday: 04.18.2012

Spring Training Stats STILL Don’t Matter

Getting through the winter can be difficult for baseball diehards, especially if they don’t like football (thankfully I do and my Lions are good again, but I still crave baseball throughout).  Sure the Hot Stove League stays pretty active all winter with signings and trades and the MLB Network has continued to improve their offseason programming in each of their three years of existence.  Of course we diehards love games so even the best offseason is still only going to satiate the appetite at something less than 100%.  The crazed appetite for game action can be problematic by the time late February rolls around and Spring Training kicks into gear. 

What starts to happen is that even the smartest, most well-meaning baseball people are desperate to attribute legitimate meaning to the stats being accumulated on their sets and in their radios.  Laced with caveats and qualifiers, we still see pieces every year suggesting that this guy’s Spring Training numbers are meaningful.  I understand that you can find a guy here and there who changed something, added something or got rid of something and it started improving his performance as early as March and carried throughout the season.  Those are called outliers and for every one of those, there are 50 guys whose Spring Training numbers had no correlation to his regular season work. 

This preseason we were regaled with the exploits of Francisco Liriano and Brian Matusz and led to believe that their impressive 25-ish inning samples were indicative of bigger things for the regular season commensurate with their perceived skill level whether in the minors or previously in their MLB career.  Liriano, on the heels of a terrible season, threw 27 innings of 2.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP along with 33 K and just 5 BB.  Time to return to 2010 levels, or better yet 2006 levels, right?  Perhaps not.  He has allowed 5 ER in each of his three starts (11.91 ERA, 2.74 WHIP) going five innings or less in all of them with just 8 K and 9 BB. 

Both samples are small, I get that.  My point is that if his Spring was indicative of anything meaningful at all, would he really just COMPLETELY LOSE IT the second the regular season light flicks on?  He is literally the direct opposite of what he was during Spring Training at this point.  Sure it is just 11 innings, but they are more in line with his 134 from 2011 than anything we saw in the 27 from March. 

They’ve yet to find a word to describe Matusz’s 2011 (10.69 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 1.6 K/BB in 50 IP).  It was such a far cry from the minor league pitcher who earned a pair of top 25 rankings in Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings include #5 in 2010.  There was a lot of attention paid to his Spring Training performance, specifically the 22/3 K/BB in 25 innings.  The 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 29 H were given less mention as it is believed that Spring K/BB correlates best with regular season performance. 

After two starts, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Matusz as evidenced by his 8.38 ERA, 2.17 WHIP and 0.6 K/BB in 10 innings.  Ten innings is nothing.  But again I reiterate that if his Spring Training really meant anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, would he really lose every single solitary bit of that effectiveness now that the regular season is upon us?

Stop trying to attribute meaning to Spring Training stats.  It will only hurt you. 

“But Paul, Luis Mendoza’s 417 years in the minor leagues with awful statistics aren’t important, rather his fluky-as-can-be 19 innings of 0.47 ERA against players wearing jerseys with triple digit numbers and name plates that simply say “PLAYER NAME” on them MUST mean he has turned the corner at 28 years old.  His 10.0 K/9 and 4.2 K/BB are probably not a product of competition, rather his new established level of production.  His 4.8 K/9 and 1.7 K/BB marks in 1111 minor league innings aren’t reliable!!1!!one!1!!!”

Mendoza has a 5.59 ERA, 2.28 WHIP, 2.8 K/9 and 0.4 K/BB in 10 innings across two starts thus far.  He is still terrible. 

The reason there is some measure of correlation between Spring Training K/BB rates and regular season performance is because every Spring Training there are several stars who perform well.  Guys like Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, James Shields, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee all had good preseasons and will likely have very good regular seasons, too. There were others, too, but that isn’t surprising since they are actually highly talented pitchers. 

Stop giving value to Spring Training statistics. 

Enjoy Spring Training as the signifier that baseball is back and fantasy draft season is upon us.  Watch the games and see if someone has added a new pitch or if someone appears healthy after injury, but do not check the box scores and stat sheets and then start adjusting your rankings.  Roy Halladay had a 5.73 ERA thanks to 7 HR this Spring?  BFD! 

Thursday: 04.12.2012

The Road Soon Travelled?

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The Diamondbacks will take this road soon and I think there is a pot of gold at the end of it.