Posts tagged ‘Data & News’

Monday: 06.8.2009

Roy Halladay: The Complete Picture

It wasn’t always bubblegum and lollipops for the American League’s best pitcher. Roy Halladay notched his major league-leading 10th win of the season on Sunday with a complete game shutout of the Kansas City Royals. The complete game was his third of the season and second of the week as he continues to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the junior circuit’s best pitcher. In fact he is right on the heels of Johan Santana for baseball’s best overall. It was an up-&-down path to stardom for Halladay, though.

He came to the majors for a cup of coffee in 1998 getting just two starts totaling 14 innings. He made the club the following season as a 22 year old and went 8-7 in 149 innings with an incredibly lucky 3.92 ERA. He had essentially a 1.0 K:BB rate with 82 strikeouts against 79 walks and allowed better than a hit per inning for a 1.57 WHIP. You can understand why I declared his ERA so fortunate. Things came to a head the following season as he maintained his 1.0 K:BB ratio and was decimated to the tune of a 10.64 ERA and 2.20 WHIP in 68 innings of work. He stayed down for the rest of the year save three relief appearances in September.

Then he had to work his way up from High-A at the beginning of the 2001 season. Toronto’s 1999 #1 prospect according to Baseball America was essentially in remedial classes as a 24-year old working his way back to the bigs from High-A, where he was a reliever. He made seven starts between AA and AAA before coming back up in July. In his first appearance (a 1st inning bailout of Esteban Loaiza, who had given up 5 runs in just 1/3 of an inning), he was destroyed, allowing six runs in 2+ innings of work and it looked like all of his hard work was for naught. But the Blue Jays stuck with him. He had come a long way having displayed the best control of his career during the minor league stints of 2000 and 2001. And though just 71 innings of work, his strikeouts were way up, too.

The rest, as they say, is history. He started 16 times the rest of 2001 and put together a 5-3 record with a 2.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 103 very strong innings. The next season he made the All-Star team and he followed that up with a Cy Young Award winning performance. His only hiccups in the run up to becoming one of baseball’s elite were a bum right shoulder in 2004 that limited him to 133 innings and a freak accident broken leg the year after that again held him under 150 innings (141.7). Since 2002, he has been the gold standard for complete games with his 40 (including Sunday’s) standing as a major league best in that timeframe (Livan Hernandez and CC Sabathia, 28).

Outside of just being fascinating on its own accord, I wanted to write about Halladay on the heels on my piece of patience that I wrote yesterday. I’m not suggesting you should’ve held over Halladay yearly since 1999 if you owned him, but rather that you can’t just write off young players at the first sign of distress. Halladay was a highly thought of prospect, but it took 336 innings spanning parts of four years for him to really break through. Today’s fantasy owner would’ve discarded him after the 2000 meltdown and then been baffled by his emergence two years later. In fact, it’s unfair to limit it to just fantasy owners. The baseball watching public and media would’ve behaved similarly on both fronts. This is speaking generally of course, as there are pockets of people and certain outlets that don’t hastily judge prospects on minuscule samples.

Brandon Phillips is another example. He was a highly touted prospect for several years ranking 9th, 2nd, 1st and 1st in his organization from 2000-2003. He was in the top 20 for all baseball in 2002 (20th) and 2003 (7th). After a 31 AB stint in 2002, he came up for over 100 games in 2003, but struggled mightily in 370 at-bats. In fact, he put up a .206/.246/.310 line in his first 432 at-bats spanning parts of four seasons, but 86% of those at-bats came in one season as a 22 year old. Alas, the Indians gave up on him and let him go in a trade at the beginning of the 2006 season. He finally got a full season’s worth of work at the age of 25 and performed quite well with 17 HR, 25 SB and a .276/.324/.427 line. He got even better in his age 26 season, going 30-30 and garnering a shred of MVP consideration. He had paid dividends on the prospects from the early 2000s and it’s not like he was a late bloomer at 25, just that the Indians were wildly impatient.

The latest iteration could be happening before our eyes in the form of Edwin Jackson. Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 17 back in 2001, it feels like Jackson has been around forever. The Dodgers afforded him a whopping 75 innings in the big leagues before discarding him at the age of 22 to the Rays for Danyz Baez and Lance Carter. The Rays gave him a sample even larger than Halladay’s 336 innings as they saw him through 381 innings spanning three seasons with varying degrees of success. The only thing is, they didn’t stick around for the payoff. Instead they dealt him to Detroit for Matt Joyce. Jackson is enjoying a career year at age 25 (just like Halladay) thanks in large part to massively improved control (just like Halladay). In fact, Jackson has improved his walk rate four straight seasons going from 6.2 BB/9 in 2006 to 2.1 BB/9 through 83 innings in 2009. I’m not saying Jackson is going to be the next Roy Halladay based on 83 excellent innings of work, but there are some nice similarities.

In fact, when I started this piece, it was for the sole purpose of showing Halladay’s path and how it had bumps in the road to stardom. As many of you may know, I’m a diehard Detroit Tigers fan so I don’t want this coming off as a spin job to say my favorite team’s new shiny toy is headed towards the top 3 starting pitchers in all of baseball in the coming years. Jackson is just one of many examples that shows that major league teams are sometimes hasty in their judgment of youngsters and expect too much of kids that haven’t fully matured. That effect trickles down to the fantasy baseball community and creates these seasons deemed as “out of nowhere” that shock everyone even if the player was highly thought of coming up through the minors and is still very young. They are actually just breakouts due to the maturation of mid-20s players. Not everyone will come up and be Ryan Braun, Tim Lincecum or Evan Longoria.

Ervin Santana went through this last year. His breakout was seen as a “rising from the dead” because he had been solid if unspectacular in his first two seasons and then hit a major road bump in season three with a 5.76 ERA in 2007. That season included a trip back to AAA to try and “fix” him. The thing is, his skills hadn’t just fallen off of a cliff that year. He was actually striking out more than ever (7.6 K/9) leading to his career-best K:BB ratio of 2.2. The walks were up a tick at 3.5 BB/9, but he wasn’t nearly as broken as was perceived. Then last year, his control improved dramatically and he had a breakout season at age 25. So far this year he has stumbled out of the gate after starting the season on the disabled list. Two flameout starts have inflated his numbers, but he took a huge step forward on Friday with 8 and 2/3rds of 1-run ball against the Detroit Tigers. It was the first start I had seen of his all year and he looked so 2008 as he brought the boom, boom pow on the Tigers. (I really won’t blame if you stop reading and never come here again after that…)

Who will be the next player written off at far too young an age only to meet or exceed his prospect promise?

Thursday: 06.4.2009

Trade Targets – Pitching

This was the final part of what ended up being a 3-part series that appeared on Owner’s Edge at fanball.com –

Infield
Outfield
Pitching

Finishing up my series of trade targets leaves me with just the mound men to cover. As a refresher or for anyone that didn’t read either of the first two installments that covered the infield and outfield: this isn’t just a group of buy low targets; there are some buy at-cost and even some buy high, too. This group just brings value in some form or fashion to your team, so let’s get to them.

Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins – Since about late April, I have been furiously beating the drum to buy low on Baker and his teammate Kevin Slowey. The window has closed on Slowey, as he is 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in five starts since May 12th. His season ERA is now below 4.00 at 3.97. But Baker hasn’t quite gotten on track like Mr. Slowey. He appeared to be turning the corner with a May 8th outing that included seven shutout innings but followed that up with nine earned runs allowed in his next two starts spanning 11 innings of work. Then he threw 8.1 strong against Milwaukee, but followed it up by allowing four in 5.2. That has been his “thing” thus far for 2009. Four runs in 5.2 equates to a 6.32 ERA, which is his season ERA. But alas, he finds himself on this list. I’m a sucker for anyone with ridiculous control. Baker walked six in 38 innings during May; Daniel Cabrera walks six during the National Anthem. Baker is also striking out 6.7 batters per nine, which is a very reasonable rate. His numbers are in line, but he is being punished by a ridiculous home run rate that WILL come down. He’s at 2.4 HR/9 so far this season, but his career number through 2008 is 1.1 HR/9.

A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees – The haters and naysayers are out in full force screaming, “I TOLD YOU SO!!!” regarding the Burnett signing. But the Yankees may (and probably will) have the last laugh. Burnett hates the first half of the season for some reason. From 2006-2008, Burnett has a 4.64 ERA before the All-Star Break, yet a 3.28 after. He is coming off of back-to-back nice starts and three strong out of his last four, so his cost probably isn’t as low as it was after his May 22nd start when his ERA reached a sky-high 5.28, but his overall numbers are still unappealing at 4.69 for the ERA and 1.39 for the WHIP. In leagues counting strikeouts, he has at least been delivering some value during his struggles. If you get him now, you’re looking at 130 strikeouts and an ERA around 3.20 with a chance at a boatload of wins in 140 or so innings. One key factor is health, as he has never had back-to-back 200-inning seasons, but health aside, I think he will improve his numbers without question.

John Danks, Chicago White Sox – It would appear as though Danks’ 2008 bubble has burst when you look at his 4.80 ERA/1.47 WHIP combo, but the skills are in line for a strong rebound. His strikeouts are up (8.3), as are the groundballs (0.99 G/F ratio), both of which are great indicators. The walks are up too much at 3.6, but that is inflated by two terrible outings in which he yielded six and four runs, respectively, in separate six-inning outings. Though I’m not a huge fan of this practice, if you take those out, his BB/9 is back at the 2.6 it was at last year. With the outings, it’s at 3.6. Simply put, everything points to a journey back into the 2008 realm for Danks, and soon. Acquire confidently.

Jorge De la Rosa, Colorado Rockies – de la Rosa was one of “my guys” coming into the season. Ya know, the guys that you love that aren’t getting much pub so you can usually get them cheaply; in other words – a sleeper, but a legitimate one unlike a Nelson Cruz that touched every radar out there by the time draft season hit. Through his May 15th start, I was looking like a genius. I hadn’t counted my chickens before they hatched given how early into the season we were, but I was enjoying his success on several of my fantasy teams. Then the wheels came off. De la Rosa has been thrashed in his three starts since May 15th, allowing 18 runs in 12 innings while walking 10 and allowing 18 base hits. He has struck out 12, but even that can’t cover the damage he has done in a short time. His season ERA is now up to 5.43 and the WHIP is at 1.43. He is still striking out better than a batter per inning at 9.5 K/9, which keeps him above the 2.0 threshold aimed for in K:BB ratio despite a 4.3 BB/9 rate. I would probably hold off in mixed leagues without reserve lists, but he is probably dirt cheap in NL-only leagues and makes for a nice addition to the strikeout totals even while he works out the kinks elsewhere in the arsenal.

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox – This is one of the more higher profile buy low candidates due to name, past success and the team he plays for, but he is still coming at a discount thanks to a 5.65 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. His peripherals suggest neither of those numbers should be anywhere near that high. He is striking out batters at an amazing 10.2 per nine clip while walking just 3.3, good for a 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Home runs have eaten him alive so far, as he is just three away from his 2008 total. His HR/9 (1.5) rate is 2.5x his 2008 mark of 0.6. A correction in that figure combined with these peripherals would yield a sharp drop in his ugly ERA and WHIP totals. Take him at any discount you can get right now, because he is not long for this level of ineptitude. In fact, he has two strong outings sandwiching a dud over his past three, so the wheels of the turnaround may already be in motion. He does have a worthy opponent Saturday in his next start when the Texas Rangers head to Fenway.

Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros – They say that history has a way of repeating itself and Oswalt’s beginning to 2009 when compared to 2008 seems to play that adage out. Oswalt posted a 4.68 ERA and 1.38 WHIP during the first half last year spanning 115 innings. He has been similarly shaky again in 2009 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.34 WHIP through 69-plus innings of work. Yet his indicators are very strong and almost identical to 2008’s first half indicators. He is striking out 7.2 batters per nine (7.3 in ’08) and walking 2.5 (2.1 in ’08). Like several others covered already, the home run ball has been the bane of existence so far in 2009 and it was in 2008, too. Only once had Oswalt posted a HR/9 rate at or above 1.0 and that was an injury-shortened season in 2003 in which he pitched just 127 innings. He posted a 1.4 HR/9 rate in the first half but cut it back down 0.5 during his incredible second half run. With his skills in order, that once again appears to be the sticking point to success for Oswalt and once he gets that in order he will return to the elite class of bankable starting pitchers. His value may never be lower, so now is the time to buy, especially since his price probably jumped a tick after his latest outing in which he threw seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts.

Carl Pavano, Cleveland Indians – How hard is it to erase a one-inning, nine-run shellacking? Pavano threw 45 innings of 3.60 ERA work in the month of May and his ERA is still sitting at 5.29. That opening week abomination is likely still overshadowing the progress Pavano has made into a viable fantasy starter. He has a sparkling 3.9 K:BB ratio thanks to a career-high 7.1 K/9 rate. His ability to hold those strikeout gains will determine how far he goes in 2009 since the control has never been in question. He is in a no-pressure situation in Cleveland and it almost seems as if he relishes sticking it to the Yankees with every passing successful start. He gave up more than three runs just once in May and has walked more than two only once since the ugly debut. Pavano might still be on the wire in many leagues, which, of course, would obviously eliminate the need to trade for him, but it shouldn’t be hard to spin a discount from any owner looking at his gaudy ERA and factoring his injury history and lack of a legitimate track record outside of that magical 2003. Of course, that means there is also an inherent risk involved for you if you acquire him, but his skills support an ERA comeback.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
– Most of the names included on this list have qualified as buy-low candidates in some form or fashion, which wasn’t always the case on the two hitter lists. Those lists had guys performing well that I still recommended chasing down and CC is probably the first to fit that bill for the pitchers. That said, there is still a legitimate upside in that strikeout rate that you’re buying low on. He is at 6.5 K/9 right now, a figure he hasn’t touched since 2004. The best has yet to come for him in 2009 despite his 3.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He is a top dollar ace that will command a premier hitter or a package of 2-3 quality talents, but he can begin to repair a broken down pitching staff. If he gets on the kind of run he had with Milwaukee last year, he can single-handedly lead you up your league’s standings.

Also Look Into:


— Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
– He appears to be all the way back from 2008’s washout, yet the ERA isn’t as pretty as it should be with a 4.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I’d pay full price, but you might be able to get a bargain thanks to a 4.19 ERA.

— Rich Harden, Chicago Cubs – Unsurprisingly on the DL right now, Harden has a surprisingly mammoth (for him) ERA of 4.74. Yes, he has walked 4.4 per nine, but that’s tolerable when you’re striking out 11 per nine innings. He’s ALWAYS going to be an injury risk, but the reward can be huge as fantasy owners learned last year in his 25 brilliant starts.

— Koji Uehara, Baltimore Orioles – Slated to be back in a week, Uehara has displayed pinpoint control (1.9 BB/9) and solid ability to miss bats (6.7 K/9). Though much lesser heralded than Kenshin Kawakami in terms of imports, he has definitely outshone him to date.

— Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals – He won’t be too discounted in keeper leagues despite a 6.07 ERA, but he’s worth targeting either way. He just can’t keep an ERA that high while striking out more than a batter per inning (9.2 K/9) and walking fewer than 3.0 batters per nine (2.7 BB/9).

Wednesday: 05.27.2009

Around the Diamond – 5.26.09

Transcript from Tuesday’s show:

Podcast can be found here: http://sporer.podbean.com/
or in iTunes under Baseball by Paul*

* – there are two Baseball by Paul listings because I used to have the podcast at MyPodcast.com, but they blew up so I had to move it and start anew.

Note – I said “best well run” re: the Red Sox organization… sounds weird to hear it now. Not sure it’s proper grammar.

FIRST BASE
First base is well known as a power position in the lineup. Many teams have one of their best hitters manning first base and it isn’t necessarily important that they man it well on the field so long as they swing a sweet stick in the middle of the lineup. The Major League average SLG at 1B is .490 so far this season (it was .463, .464 and .488 the past three seasons), yet 14 teams are below that mark. Worse yet is that 9 teams are below .450 including four below .410. San Francisco is getting a .290 SLG from their 1B—nice work there by Travis Ishikawa and Rich Aurilia. Even Emilio Bonifacio has a .304 SLG.

SECOND BASE
Jayson Nix
banged his 3rd and 4th home runs of the night, but even more notable is that his brother also hit his 4th of the year. Cincinnati’s Laynce upped his average to .287 with a 2-for-4 effort that included that 4th home run. I’m sure the DiMaggios-Joe, Dom and Vince-pulled off the feat a few times in their career. As I’m sure Cal and Billy Ripken did SEVERAL times! OK maybe not. Billy had 20 home runs in 3015 ABs spanning 12 seasons.

SHORTSTOP
Jason Bartlett
is headed to the disabled list along with his double play partner Akinori Iwamura, who will actually miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Rays are M*A*S*H unit right now with a quarter of their 25-man roster disabled. Bartlett is probably the most damaging loss at this point. He has been amazing at the dish including a 1.127 OPS in May, which is best among all shortstops and 9th in the majors.

THIRD BASE
Garrett Atkins
was rumored in potential trade talks this offseason, but now it will be next to impossible to get much in return thanks to his awful start to the 2009 season. His disgustingly bad May in which he has a .399 OPS have sunk his season totals to .190/.273/.293. How does such a potent run producer just fall off at age 29, especially playing half of his games in such a favorable home park? His 2B, HR, RBI, BB, AVG, OBP and SLG totals are all in a three-year decline. He’s relatively young so he might not be toast, but a slide like this in this era can only lead to one question: did he have “help” during the 2006-2007 heydays? Who knows, but something is seriously wrong with Garrett Atkins.

CATCHER
Joe Mauer
has the May Triple Crown right now with a .444 batting average, 11 HR and 31 RBIs. He has done so with fewer AB than any of the other HR leaders in the top 10 except ARod (7 in 58 AB). In fact, he’s actually got a Quadruple Crown when you factor in his 25 runs scored. He has been just brilliant. And he’s not the only one. According to Noah Coslov of MLB.com’s Twitter, the Twins have homered in 9 straight games. The last time they accomplished such a feat was a 12-game streak all the way back in July of 2002. During yesterday’s broadcast, Detroit Tigers announcer Dan Dickerson said “The Royals are Detroit’s closest competition in terms of games back, but any Tigers fan knows it’s the Twins you always worry about.”

OUTFIELD

I won’t complain too much because the Detroit Tigers are off to a great start, but remind me again why THEY are paying Gary Sheffield to hit .291 with a .430 OBP and .535 SLG for the Mets? He hit his 5th home run tonight and he appears to be in quite a groove. I realize he was bringing very little to the table in Detroit except for a logjam for ABs and I don’t really object to getting rid of him, just wondering if there wasn’t a better way available to where Detroit doesn’t eat the ENTIRE $14 million while he plays and plays well for another team.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Kansas City Royals might be the top suitor for Jeff Francoeur if the Braves shop him. Question 1: why WOULDN’T the Braves shop him? Question 2: why would the Royals be their top suitor? I know the answer is because Dayton Moore, their GM, is a former Braves guy, but c’mon—Francouer just isn’t that good. And I actually like Frenchie, I’m just being honest. Question 3: Rosenthal mentions that the Red Sox are known to have an eye on Francoeur. The question once again is WHY? I thought the Red Sox liked to acquire good players. They are one of the better run teams so this one perplexes me unless Theo & Co. are seeing something beyond his awful numbers.

PITCHER
Jason Berken
made his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles tonight and fared alright. He went five allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out three. He picked up the win as his offense supported him well with 3 HR off of Ricky Romero en route to a 7-2 thrashing. Berken is one eight starting pitchers to rate in the top 15 for the Orioles organization according to the Minor League Analyst put out by the guys over at BaseballHQ.com and the second one up to the majors this year. Brad Bergesen was the first and he has been beat up in seven starts so far with a 5.49 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. The three best are still in the minors and they are all off to very strong starts. Chris Tillman is the closest at AAA-Norfolk and he is 5-0 in eight starts with a 2.13 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 10.4 K/9. Jake Arrieta is at AA-Bowie and he has a 4-2 record in eight starts with a 2.97 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.8 K/9. And Brian Matusz (I think it’s pronounced: Muh-twos, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is 3-2 in nine starts with a 2.68 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 10.8 K/9.

If these arms pan out for the O’s, the future will be very bright with three of their lineup centerpieces already established in veteran Brian Roberts and youngsters Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Prospect Nolan Reimold has impressed early on with three home runs, the latest of which came tonight. And their top prospect overall, Matt Wieters, is set to debut Friday. That said, they have no legitimate pitching on their major league roster outside of maybe Jeremy Guthrie, so while it would be unreasonable to expect ALL eight prospects to pan out entirely, they definitely need half of them to be prime contributors to their future especially because they are stuck with the unfortunate curse of playing a division that seems like it will never have a down period.

Monday: 05.25.2009

It’s Still Early

I realize we’ve reached Memorial Day and that is often a signpost for people to start reacting to numbers, whether by individuals or what your team as a whole has put up. While I am not against using today as a day to start aggressively looking at your team and trying to pinpoint weaknesses, I would caution that it is still early. If you follow me on Twitter, you have probably seen me lament (whine?) about my terrible pitching staff in my 10-team 4×4 AL Only league. We use just six pitching spots with 4 SP and 2 RP. Comprised initially of Scott Baker, Dallas Braden (qualified RP) Felix Hernandez, David Purcey, Andrew Sonnanstine and Joakim Soria, I watched as my ERA started poorly (4.93 after week 1) and just rose meteorically into the stratosphere (5.49 by week 3 and above 5.00 until week 6). I eventually shuffled Purcey out for Kyle Davies, but he was back to being Kyle Davies by the time I got him. Once Soria hit the DL, I scooped Scott Feldman and Josh Outman, but nothing worked.

Every time I got a nice outing, Sonnanstine was there to completely erase it and then some. Feldman gave me two strong starts, but Sonnanstine wasn’t having any of it. Then Outman comes along and starts throwing brilliantly, but Baker was there in a flash to cut out that nonsense. I was starting to get frustrated as my ERA hovered at, around or above 5.00 deep into May. Finally, I made a real move. I traded some of my offensive depth for another arm. I don’t think there’s a single media outlet that I participate in where I haven’t suggested buying low on Baker and his teammated Kevin Slowey. So I practiced what I was preaching and grabbed Slowey for Shin-Soo Choo. But alas, Baker and Hernandez both crapped the bed in their first starts of the week and I figured here we go again. However, that proved NOT to be a precursor of things to come for the Kramerica Industries. The first starts of Baker and Hernandez would stand as the only non-quality starts out of nine for my team. Feldman and Sonnanstine threw very strong games, each notching a win. Newcomer Slowey enjoyed an excellent debut on my team with his third straight gem going 7+ and grabbing a W.

But the All-Star was Outman (great name for a starting pitcher, btw… much better than Balfour). Coming off of a struggle against Toronto, I picked him up in a free agent buy on May 10th for just a $1 (real $, not FAAB). I targeted him mainly because of his nice K-rate (despite not counting Ks in this league), quality home park and upcoming schedule. He had the lowly Royals, the Rays (who can’t seem to beat lefties according to my good friend Jason Collette… more on that in a second) and the D’Backs. I was set to give him a 3-start audition with the last coming on the day of our next buy. He certainly couldn’t be any worse than what I was getting. Just as I drew it up he beat KC handily, STEAMROLLED the Rays and played with fire (5 BB/0 K) & escaped against the D’Backs. The latter two came in week 7 giving him 13+ IP of 0.66 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Back to the Rays vs. southpaws for a minute. Though I went with Collette on that one as he’s a diehard Rays fan, I was blown away when I saw that the Rays actually have the most runs scored against lefties by a wide margin. That said, Outman got the best of them, lefty Brett Anderson wasn’t terribly sharp by still got his first major-league win and Dallas Braden was strong through seven but the Rays beat up righties Andrew Bailey and Brad Ziegler to salvage a win in the 3-game set.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Hernandez and Baker redeemed themselves on Sunday going a combined 16+ innings allowing just four runs and 15 base runners good for a 2.21 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 2 wins. All told, my six starters went 60+ innings of 3.12 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while going 6-2. I lowered my ERA from 4.98 to 4.60 and my WHIP from 1.42 to 1.37 which brings me back to my original point: it is still early enough that a strong week can drastically move the needle on your numbers. This was a very good week for my starters, but it wasn’t some otherworldly performance that can’t be duplicated a couple more times in the next month or so. Yes at-bat and inning totals are piling up as we get ready to flip the calendar to June, but don’t give up on a category and just say, “Oh it’s too late, I’m buried in that… might as well forget about it.” If you’re going to do that, you might as well forget about your season.

Another tip, and this works especially well for offensive categories, is to sort through your league history and see what the winning total was a year ago. See how the top team in your standings is currently pacing. Chances are they are set to blow last year’s winning mark out of the water meaning they are likely to regress. Check your pace as well. We’re about 30% through the season which means there is still a TON of time left and outside of a team just LITTERED with catastrophic injuries, no one should be throwing in the towel yet.

Sunday: 05.24.2009

Around the Diamond – 5.23.09

Welcome to the Baseball by Paul podcast notes for Saturday May 23rd, 2009. I won’t be doing audio for Saturday, but I will share the notes. So let’s go Around the Diamond:

FIRST BASE
On May 16th, Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto left the Reds’ game early with dizziness after just two at-bats. He was ruled out that Sunday, but he was nothing more than day-to-day, which made things tricky for fantasy owners setting their weekly lineup the following Monday. He went in for a battery tests before it was finally determined on May 21st that he had an inner ear infection. It was a bust of a week for those unable to do daily transactions and especially crushing for those in head-to-head leagues… that is until Saturday. Votto tried to make up for the lost time by smashing two HRs in consecutive innings off of Cleveland Indians starter David Huff. That said, I would still monitor his status on Sunday and if you have a legitimate replacement, it might be worth putting him in for Votto—especially in H2H leagues.

Jason Giambi hit his 400th HR on Saturday night and it came against former teammate, Danny Haren. He hasn’t quite jumpstarted the Oakland offense as expected, but he can get hot and string five or six homers together in a the span of a week to 10 days. Many, including yours truly, believed that Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Matt Holliday would join forces with Jack Cust and Kurt Suzuki to boost the Oakland offense. But they have sputtered, to say the least.

SECOND BASE
Orlando Hudson
was one of my favorite pickups in the offseason and I sought to acquire him in every league possible. He hasn’t disappointed in the least! If he can stay healthy, he is en route to a career year of 12 HR, 14 SB and a .339 average. I thought he’d be an underrated source of runs scored based on the team that the Dodgers were putting together and that has played out so far as he’s on pace for 120, but the loss of Manny Ramirez until July definitely puts that pace in doubt. In Manny’s absence, Hudson has taken over the 3-hole in the lineup. He has .346 there, but scored just five runs. He has certainly done his part to fill the void as he carries a 13-game hitting streak into play on Sunday and he has hit safely in 22 of 23.

SHORTSTOP
If I told you I had a shortstop available for you that is hitting .329/.356/.503 with 5 HR, 25 RBI and 26 runs scored, would you be interested? Of course you would be, those are some pretty strong numbers. What if I told you that shortstop was Miguel Tejada, would you be as interested? Unfortunately, there are too many fantasy owners whose interest would dip once they learned the name. There is an inherent bias that creeps into our game and often does more harm than good.

Jason Collette of Owner’s Edge at fanball.com & rototimes.com does an excellent weekly piece entitled “Who Am I?” where he presents a player’s stat line and gets you to buy into something for better or worse without the preconceived notions of that player clouding your judgment. At the end of the day, this is a numbers game pure and simple. Trades that would be perfectly viable in a fantasy league would be laughably bad in the “real-life” and vice versa. However, as a community we get too tied to name value instead of focusing on the numbers value of a guy.

THIRD BASE
Speaking of eliminating biases, Andy LaRoche has done nothing but leave a sour taste in mouths of fantasy owners since arrival to the big leagues, but discounting him after 223 major league at-bats is nothing short of stupid. He added 63 more ABs to his total in April but still wasn’t doing much to impress. Fast forward through May 23rd and he’s up to .288 with a .360 on-base. He still has too few ABs to make any wholesale judgments but it is very nice to see him hitting like he had in the minors (.295 in 1800 ABs). Fun factoid – he attended the same school as John Lackey: Grayson County College in Denison, TX. No idea why I remembered Lackey went there.

CATCHER
Chris Iannetta
was really getting into a nice groove, so why wouldn’t he go on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. After hitting just .174 in a tough April, Iannetta was at .276 in May while continuing to display his usual sharp discipline. He was still at .333 OBP in April despite the average and he remained rather disciplined in May with 8 BB in 58 AB resulting in a .364 OBP. Now, Yorvit Torrealba becomes the full time catcher in Colorado. Your waiver wire almost assuredly holds a better option.

OUTFIELD
I mentioned my good friend Jason Collette earlier and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention him again as I bring up the player that almost single-handedly took from super-sleeper status to mid-round talent by championing him so fervently this offseason. The player in question is Nelson Cruz and he hit his 10th and 11th home runs of the season and he’s not hitting a healthy .285 to go with the massive power. Perhaps more impressive are the six stolen bases. After 44 HRs between the minors and majors last year and 20+ the two years previous, his power was not in question. But you didn’t hear much about his speed despite the fact that he had 27 SBs last year. At 28, he is a late bloomer, but he definitely looks legit and he will only get better as the weather warms up in Arlington.

On May 23rd in baseball history – Shawn Green rips four home runs in 16-3 rout of Milwaukee. He went an absurd 6-for-6 with the four home runs, a double and a single. He scored six times and drove in seven. He had 19 total bases! He ended up with 42 HR that season and 114 RBIs to go with them. I thought it was odd that he only had 114 RBIs with that many HRs, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, it’s not uncommon at all. There have been exactly 50 instances of 42+ HR and 114< RBIs.

PITCHER
Since I’m not going to do the audio for Saturday, I’m going to cut the pitching section short since I didn’t find there to be too much remarkable news. I’ll just leave you with this:

Why is Brian Moehler allowed to pitch…. ever? Just go look at his numbers; I won’t waste any more time on this clown.

Also congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals staff allowing just two runs in the past five games. I don’t care if it came against a struggling Chicago Cubs offense and a pitiful Kansas City Royals one, that is a damn impressive feat regardless.

Sunday: 05.24.2009

Best Promotional Giveaway Ever?

I want to be in Kansas City on June 16th, specifically at Kauffman Stadium where the Royals will host the Arizona Diamondbacks. On its own merits, that may not be anything special. It could be Zack Greinke vs. Danny Haren, which would be amazing or it could be Luke Hochevar vs. Yusmeiro Petit. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if it were the latter so long as I get there early enough to scoop this brilliant t-shirt:

Courtesy of Aroudn the Horn in KC (http://royals.mlblogs.com/)

Courtesy of Aroudn the Horn in KC (http://royals.mlblogs.com/)

I’d love to see a line of these come out for all of the game’s premier aces. Either way, I must get my hands on one of these KC ones. A very well thought out t-shirt and I’m surprised we haven’t seen it before now.

Friday: 05.15.2009

K/BB as an ERA Indicator Addendum

Over at Owner’s Edge by Fanball.com, I wrote a piece about strikeout-to-walk ratios and how they relate to a pitcher’s ERA. I looked at the past two seasons to see how strong a correlation there was between K/BB ratio and ERA. If a strong enough relation existed, I wanted to use that information to see which pitchers stood out as buy-low or sell-high targets based on their K/BB and ERA thus far.

I was happy with the results in terms of the players identified, but some of my statistical conclusions left me a little uneasy, so I went back to the drawing board a bit. This time around, I went five years back and grabbed every qualifying ERA. This data set presented 393 samples with ERAs ranging from 2.27 to 6.47 and K/BB ratios from 8.3 to 1.1. I was comfortable with the depth of this set. In the original piece I used a 2.0 K/BB threshold, but given that 2.0 is the baseline that we generally look for in the fantasy baseball world, I thought it was a bit low for the purposes of what I’m looking to get out of the data.

I bumped it up to 2.5. At 2.0, it’s essentially a coinflip which isn’t surprising considering that it is hardly an elite mark. In fact there were 248 data points of 2.0 or better and it was a 60%/40% split of ERAs +/- 4.00. The worst ERA in the entire study, Eric Milton‘s disgusting 6.47 offering from 2005, actually topped the 2.0 threshold thanks to his sparkling 2.5 BB/9 rate. Moving to 2.5 cuts out the bottom 31 ERAs in the study and 46 of the bottom 50.

Here are the results with the deeper data pool and higher K/BB threshold:
k-bb ratio

4.00+ ERA

The above charts show that a 2.5+ K/BB ratio is three times more likely to yield a sub-4.00 ERA than not. Within a given season, there will be a group of pitchers whose skills should have netted them a better ERA, but poor defense or simply bad luck plagued them and left their skills unrewarded. The average was eight such starters per season. Given that recent trends have between 80 and 90 ERA qualifiers, it is about 9-10% of starting pitchers that get the short of the stick regardless of skills.

Here are some of the best buy-low opportunities who are also at risk of being part of this year’s batch of unlucky pitchers:

buy low

I don’t think you can really buy low on Justin Verlander given how unbelievably hot he has been lately striking out 9, 11, 11 and 13 in his past four starts. However all four of his AL Central counterparts on the list should come at legitimate discounts. I’d target Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey above all. His 0.9 BB/9 is amazing and while it might not hold 100%, he maintained a 1.3 in 160 IP last year so it’s unlikely to jump up too much. Rich Harden, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy won’t be bargain bin pick ups because of their gaudy strikeout totals (and because Harden and Peavy don’t have outrageous ERAs), but if you can get them at any discount, I’d recommend doing so immediately.

The at-risk group has it’s fair share of star power on it, too:

sell high

Three-fifths of the New York Yankees rotation is overachieving so far while the remaining two are getting obliterated (A.J. Burnett-5.36, Phil Hughes-7.56). And that over achievement has earned a record just one game above .500. Any regression could be very damaging and quickly push the Yankees to fourth in their division. But I actually expect Sabathia and Chamberlain to get better as we close out May and head into June. Sabathia will up his K-rate while Chamberlain will trim his BB-rate and continue to strikeout a batter per innings.

Jair Jurrjens and Brian Bannister are major red flags. We know what the bottom looks like for Bannister (1.9 K/BB in 183 IP last year led to 5.76 ERA), but Jurrjens flirted with the 2.0 threshold last year and ended up having a pretty successful year. Of course he did go for a sub-3.00 ERA in the first half and then regress heavily with a 4.49 in the second half. At least in 2008 he was straddling the limit with a 1.9 first half and 2.1 second half. I’d sell him instantly. And I’d have never bought Bannister so if you do have him, cash in that lottery ticket as soon as you can because it has an expiration date.

The names on this list that I’m least worried about are: Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer and Matt Garza because of their strong K-rates of 9.3, 8.4 and 7.9, respectively. Yes Mitchell Boggs is toting an 8.1 K/9, but the last time he reached a mark that high was his final year at the University of Georgia in 2005 so I’m not buying it in the least with just 22 innings of work. As I mentioned earlier, I do think Chamberlain will turn it around, but there is still some risk because he has a nearly 10.0 H/9 rate to go with the gaudy BB-rate. There are concerns that he is trying to save himself to go six or seven innings and it’s causing him to be very hittable in the rare instances that he is actually in zone.

Tuesday: 05.12.2009

Running Wild

Teams across the league are stealing bases as a rapid pace (pun completely intended) as compared to last year. On average, teams have swiped 20 bags apiece paced by Tampa Bay’s 53, who are of course paced by Carl Crawford and his 22 steals. Teams are on pace for a 101 average after 93 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Crawford’s stolen base total is better than 20 other teams!!! Crawford really caught everyone’s eye when he abused Jason Varitek to the tune of six stolen bases. This was after rookie Rockie Dexter Fowler burst onto the scene with five against the notoriously slow delivery of Chris Young. And now tonight, Jayson Werth grabbed four off of the Dodgers.

One of the vagaries of the game is that catchers take the full brunt of the blame when players run wild even though the pitcher is at least as culpable if not more so in many instances. That said, any pitcher is only starting every five days so any catcher that finds himself atop the stolen bases allowed list isn’t blameless. So who are the stolen base sieves behind the dish? It’s no surprise that the two guys victimized by Crawford and Fowler are the top two in SBA:

C SBA

But it’s actually another guy who has the worst caught stealing percentage:

C CS%

A.J. Pierzynski is allowing a stolen base per game! Meanwhile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is ensuring he stays out of a full timeshare with Taylor Teagarden by adding value behind the dish. Of course Teagarden is only hitting .219 right now, so it hasn’t been hard for Salty to set himself apart. Get your basestealers in against Chicago (A), San Diego, Boston and Baltimore. But if you have a stolen base guy on your bench that you rotate in, you might want to choose the other option, whether it’s an AVG or HR-RBI option ahead of the SB guy when playing Texas, Colorado, St. Louis, Los Angeles (N), Washington, Houston and Detroit. And I’m talking more of the marginal basestealers like a Shin-Soo Choo, Kaz Matsui or Ryan Spilborghs, not Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Willy Taveras, etc…

Sunday: 05.10.2009

Abreu on 4 Times in 0 At-Bats

Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) outfielder Bobby Abreu has long been known for his tremendous plate discipline. From 1999-2006, Abreu strung eight straight 100+ walks seasons which stands as tied for a major league record with Frank Thomas. On Sunday, he pulled off an impressive though not entirely unique feat involving walks. His boxscore was 0-0-0-0-4-0-0. He went 0-for-0 with 0 runs, 0 runs batted in, 0 strikeouts and 0 left on base. His afternoon consisted of four free passes!

As I mentioned, this not a unique feat nor is it the record for walks in a game with 0 at-bats. The record is 5 achieved by 19 different players include Alex Gordon just last year. All told, 10 of the 19 instances have happened since 2000 and all but two have occurred since 1975. Barry Bonds, not surprisingly, is the only repeat achiever on the list. Teams for guys that have done this are 12-7. Here is a look at the list of those currently sharing the record as copied from Baseball Reference.com:

5 walks 0 at bats

Saturday: 05.9.2009

The Next Wave

Here is a quick look at how some of the baseball’s top prospects are performing so far this year:

HITTERS (sorted by OPS):
Mat Gamel is destroying the ball, but there isn’t a clear spot for him in Milwaukee especially because he’s a horrible third baseman and Bill Hall is doing pretty well thus far. They will do something to make room for him if he continues to hit this well, though.

Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings is another guy who is on fire, but appears to be blocked at every avenue in the majors. Though B.J. Upton is off to a horrible start, he isn’t the kind of guy that will get bumped for a minor leaguer, even a star in the making like Jennings.

Keeping with the trend of being blocked, both Jeff Smoak and Buster Posey are 2008 draftees that already turning heads with their bats. Smoak might not be as firmly blocked as the others with Chris Davis striking out in an absurd 47% of his at-bats. If he didn’t have eight home runs already, he would almost certainly be back in the minors. Meanwhile Bengie Molina has been San Francisco’s best hitter and he’s highly regarded as a catcher. Of course, Posey is not really “blocked” because he would stay in the minors until September even if Gregg Zaun was San Francisco’s starting catcher.

Speaking of Zaun, what is Baltimore waiting for with Matt Wieters? Wieters hasn’t been otherworldly in AAA, but he’s ready. Enough of the Zaun/Chad Moeller combo that has yielded a robust .224 average and .303 on-base percentage in 107 at-bats. With an average of .290 and an OBP nearly 100 points higher, Wieters has been good enough to make it clear that the O’s are keeping him down for service time/financial reasons. Enough already.

minor hitters

PITCHERS (sorted by IP):
Tommy Hanson has got to heading to the majors very soon. Kenshin Kawakami and JoJo Reyes have both been horrible and I don’t know that Kawakami’s mediocre outing today will be enough to save him. Yes he won, but he still walked four in six innings and dropped his ERA to a microscopic 5.79! Kevin Medlen has been brilliant in the minors so far this season, too, but Hanson is far more heralded and could get the first shot. The Braves might be best served giving both a shot together since they have two big holes.

With Joakim Soria headed to the DL, the Royals have finally called Luke Hochevar up. Hochevar had stretches last year, but overall he walked too many and didn’t strike out enough batters.

Baltimore not only has one of the best hitting prospects in the game, but they have several pitching reinforcements making their way through the minors, which is their biggest problem right now anyway. They actually have a capable lineup that ranks 7th in OPS in the American League, but their team ERA is 12th of 14. None of their starters hold an ERA below 4.00. The sooner that Brian Matsuz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta can get to the majors, the better. Hopefully Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara can be stable forces atop the rotation and teach the youngsters later this year and moving forward.

Super phenom David Price was massively overhyped in the fantasy baseball realm this offseason based on his strong playoff performance, but he failed to break camp with the team and he hasn’t been flawless down in the minors struggling with control and the long ball. He WILL be up this season, but those that invested double-digits in him for a non-keeper league are immediately regretting their decision.

minor pitchers

I’ll post another minor league update in a few weeks.