Posts tagged ‘James McDonald’

Wednesday: 07.6.2011

Practicing Patience: How Much Is Enough?

Being patient has got to be the most difficult trait for a fantasy baseball manager to exhibit year in and year out.  The difficulty is born out of the internet age where you have instant access to every single pitch going on in any game and with that the ability to alter your lineup on a daily basis (in many leagues, there are still plenty of leagues that limit teams to weekly moves).  Of course just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you have to take it, but still many fantasy managers see their team wallowing near the bottom of the standings on Tax Day and feel the only appropriate measure is to start tinkering or worse, making wholesale moves.

Others think they have exhibited enough patience if they wait until the calendar at least flips a month over to May.  Still some have a mid-May mark mapped out while some use Memorial Day as a demarcation point.  How long do you wait on a struggling player?  The answer, unfortunately, is that there is no universal answer.  One guideline that has gained steam comes from Cory Schwartz over at MLB Network and MLB.com and it is to take the 26 weeks of the season, subtract the player’s round you drafted him in and that is how many weeks you should wait into the season before even considering a cut.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but for those who struggle with an exact date, this is a quick measure that can help you make the difficult choice.  There are far too many variables at play to give a definitive answer.  Another major factor is your league’s free agent pool.

Often to roster a new guy, somebody has to leave.  There will invariably be roster-worthy guys in your free agent player pool whether they went undrafted and have now acquired some playing time that they are doing well with or they have been called up from the minor leagues and have the talent to make an impact.  Every team has those last few rounds worth of picks that are often fliers and sleepers and they should probably be your first gone if you feel you *must* take a chance on a waiver player hoping that he is the next Jose Bautista.  But even that isn’t always a great idea.  More on those types later.

What I really want to focus on right now is the good players and how much patience they deserve in a given year.  In most cases, 80-85% of your early round picks (say 1-12 or 1-15, assuming 12 team leagues here) are spent on guys with significant track records spanning three-plus years of work.  How long do these guys deserve to be rostered before you cut bait for a flavor of the week? Waiting until mid-May or Memorial Day sure feels like a long time, but is it?

Through Memorial Day of this season Nick Markakis had a .249/.316/.324 line with four home runs, 17 RBIs and four stolen bases.  As a career .297 hitter, he was well below expectations in the category you expect him to excel in.  He was starting to turn up on a lot of waiver wires.  An outfielder hitting .249 with mediocre production everywhere else just isn’t that enticing.  But is that really a large enough sample to turn your back on a 9th round pick?

His home run totals have declined yearly since 2007 and at 27 years old there likely isn’t about to be a massive turnaround for him in that area.  His pace after May 31st was 14 which is actually an increase from last year so that wasn’t on the list of reasons to drop him.  If you had misguided expectations about his power, that is on you.  Meanwhile his 14 stolen base pace would actually mark a four-year high.  The major issue, without question, was that he wasn’t delivering in his best category.

But do you cut a guy with 3202 at-bats (his total after Memorial Day 2011) because he has underperformed his career mark in batting average for 7% (213) of them and that 7% just happens to be at the beginning of a baseball season making it look worse?  Looking at it on a season-only level, he had expired about 33% of his expected at-bats with a .249 average.  Again, it feels like a lot, but he still had two-thirds of the season to get back on track.  He would need to hit .322 over his remaining 67% of at-bats to reach the career mark of .297, does that sound feasible for a guy with 3341 at-bats of .297 batting average under his belt?

Many of you probably realize how this is turns out.  Markakis hit .351 in June with 12 multi-hit games (out of 25), a 19-game hitting streak from June 8th-30th and just four hitless games in the month.  Only two of his five games in July have been hitless while the other three are all multi-hit games including a 5-for-5 effort on July 3rd.  He is hitting .294/.340/.386 while still pacing for 14 home runs and stolen bases.  He’s the 34th rated outfielder at ESPN despite runs scored and driven in paces that don’t reach 70.

In 10 and 12-team leagues, the waiver pools are deep and while I often encourage fantasy managers to practice extreme patience, especially with their studs, it would have been tough to blame someone who gave Markakis one more week after Memorial Day before making a decision.  That was his only lull in the month with all four of his hitless games coming in that week as he went 3-for-24 pushing his average down to .236 for the year.  I bet he was cut a lot in the eight day period from May 31st to June 7th, just before he went on his torrid pace.  Can you blame somebody, though? According to Schwartz’s guideline, with Markakis going anywhere between the 8th and 10th rounds, he should’ve been held until the 15th-17th week area.  Memorial Day week was only week nine, way too early to even consider a cut.

For me, he is this year’s Wandy Rodriguez.  Last year Rodriguez just didn’t look good through mid-June.  He posted a passable 3.65 ERA in April, but that came with 5.1 K/9 and 1.8 K/BB rates.  The strikeouts ticked up a bit in May and June (6.5 & 6.8), but his strikeout-to-walk rates held firmly below 2.0 at 1.8 and 1.6 for the months.  After a June 18th start against Texas during which Rodriguez was ripped for six runs in three innings, his ERA was at 6.09 (the worst since his second start when it was 6.10) in 75 innings.

Overall, 75 innings isn’t a major sample, but it was 38% of his expected inning total and in the “Year of the Pitcher”, Wandy managers watched as several viable starters were picked up by their leaguemates while they held onto the struggling Rodriguez.  A friend of mine asked if he should cut Rodriguez (I honestly don’t remember for who) after that June 18th start.  He is chronically impatient and I encouraged him to hang on through May and early June, but after that implosion I gave him my blessing figuring he had waited long enough.  Whoops.

Rodriguez would allow more than three runs just once in his remaining 18 starts as he posted a 2.03 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 and 3.7 K/BB in 120 innings as one of baseball’s best pitcher.  His season ERA landed at 3.60 which was an increase from 2009’s 3.02, but in the grand scheme it was about eight extra earned runs which is negligible for a nine man fantasy staff.  Did my friend and other fantasy managers who cut bait in mid-June wait long enough?  Rodriguez wasn’t an elite arm of the Halladay-Lincecum class coming into 2010, but he was certainly in that second or third tier depending how strict you are with your #1s.  Using the Schwartz Method, he should have been held until week 16 or so.  June 18th was in week 11.

Obviously given his league format, a 10-team mixed league, I thought he was patient enough.  I think I would have green-lit his move in a 12-team league, too (by the way, the Schwartz Method is tailored to standard 12-team mixed leagues).  This is why there isn’t one standard answer.  It all depends on league size, league rules and who is available.  This is more of a thought exercise than a piece filled with answers.  My stance is and always will be to error on the side of too patient, especially with your better, more proven players (i.e. guys with legitimate three-plus year track records).

It isn’t just about being patient with your best, though.  What about your sleepers?  You spend all winter crafting your lists and poring over the numbers to find your late round gems only to dispatch them to the waiver after a slow month.  I understand they are more expendable than someone like Markakis or Rodriguez because they were your 20-something round pick, but why even draft them if you aren’t going to give them a reasonable chance to prove you right?

Take James McDonald for example.  He had a strong second half with his new team last year after a midseason trade and many (including myself) liked him for a breakthrough season under the radar in Pittsburgh.  He was available very late in just about any league (even NL-Only leagues unless you encountered an owner or two who felt the same way and pushed the bidding or draft position up a bit).

He was toting a 7.66 after April with more walks than strikeouts.  Even allowing for the fact that his stretch run in 2010 was a sample size of just 64 innings, it was still much larger than the 19-inning sample many used as grounds for cutting him after his April 21st start where he was bombed out for eight runs in just three innings.  He has a 2.95 ERA in 73 innings since April 27th.  In fairness, the WHIP is very high at 1.49 due mostly to his walks, but he has delivered a strong 7.2 strikeout rate.  He was almost certainly your final pitcher selected so it wouldn’t have tanked your season to see things through for more than 20 innings or even ideally at least 60-65.

What about Erik Bedard?  It has never been about talent with Bedard, only health.  You knew the Mariners were going to ease him into things in an effort to get as much out of him as they can considering how injury-riddled his Seattle tenure has been thus far.  He didn’t go more than five innings in any of his first four starts and carried a 7.71 ERA into his April 27th start.  Home runs were destroying him (seven allowed in four starts including two in each of his first three).  His HR/FB rate was 16%, odd for a guy who only once topped 9% in his career (12% in 2007).

Over the next two months, from April 27th to June 27th, he posted a 1.77 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 and 4.5 K/BB in 71 innings.  You took a flier him obviously recognizing his talent and the low cost on draft day.  Why not see it through more than four starts at the beginning of the season?  I am not saying everyone cut him, but I can speak to his availability being significant because he featured in Trolling the Wire for his May 8th, 25th, June 1st and 5th starts and I don’t recommend anybody that isn’t widely available (50% or more) at all three of the major outlets.

So we have run the gamut here.  From star-level players to young sleepers to injury risk talent and the one conclusion I think we can come to is that Tax Day, May 1st and May 15th are all out as viable “patience points”.  Tax Day was never viable… never, ever, ever, but I guarantee you some names will hit the wire two weeks into next season that will end up being major contributors for a different team in your league.  As for May 1st and May 15th, I just don’t know how you can reasonably say that they are legitimate samples from which to make a decision as large as cutting a player.

Your league format will play a role, but even then I think only May 15th should be the only those three early dates to come into play because if your league’s waiver wire is that deep, it is still going to have talent in mid-May so you can least hold out that long before making major cuts that could come back to hurt you.  What everyone needs to understand is that even mid-May or the end of May simply might not be long enough when you are dealing with all single digit and early double digit round picks.  That should sound like “no duh” advice, but playing in a wide variety of leagues year in and year out, I see guys released who have no business being on waiver wires before the first day of summer.

Just this year I saw a fantasy manager, who prides himself on being patient, cut Markakis on June 9th to get out in front of the latest prospect, Anthony Rizzo.  Guess who that idiot was?

 

Me.

Monday: 06.13.2011

Sunday Twidbits: June 12th

Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season.  It’s a simple exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer).  Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.

Sea – Michael Pineda has faced 3 tms a 2nd time w/a 4.66 ERA & 1.19 WHIP, yet still a 10 K/BB. ERA elevated by DET start. Don’t worry.

Det – Austin Jackson starting to drive the ball more w/2 2B & 4 3B since being given a June 1st off-day: .372/.426/.605 during the stretch.

Det2 – Protection or coincidence? Brennan Boesch hitting .307/.350/.551 w/all 8 of his HR & 25 of 34 RBI in 3 spot ahead of Miggy.

Ari – Willie Bloomquist = old Sam Fuld. This is why you don’t buy into these guys & sell em ASAP: .190/.227/.214, 0 SB since return from inj.

Flo – Chris Volstad has a 4.29/7.56 Hm/Rd ERA split, but has only allowed >3 once at home. 6.9 K & 2.4 K/BB = worthy home spot-starter.

Cle – 5/22 I said: J.Tomlin has largest ERA-FIP diff in MLB. He will implode bc .175 BABIPs & 85% LOB%s don’t last. Trade now… for anything.

Cle2 – Since 5/22: Josh Tomlin has 8.61 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in 23 IP allowing 6 ER in last 3 starts & 8-9-10-12 H in the 4 start stretch. Hope you sold.

NYY – A-Rod was hitting .259/.359/.463 a month ago w/5 HR. Since 5/12: .310/.355/.569 w/8 HR, 18 RBI & 3 SB… stop writing him off, folks.

Chc – The Chicago Empty Batting Avgs: Fukudome-Castro-Barney-Aramis all hitting .286 or better. All are pacing 10 or < HR & <75 RBI. Sell.

Phi – Top 3 SP (Halladay-Hamels-Lee) continue to lead Philly (5-0 in Jun) as finally whole lineup has struggled (.639 OPS-24th rk’d) so far.

Bos – The Red Sox have scored more runs in 10 June gms, 87, than Seattle scored in 26 May gms. Bos 9-1 in June despite 1 SP w/sub-4.50 ERA.

Bos2 – Dustin Pedroia sure isn’t playing like he’s injured: .389/.522/.583 w/10 RBI & 7 R in June. Only 1 hitless gm, 4 multi-hit ones.

Tor – Not even sure how Kyle Drabek is in the majors at this point. Has 3+ BB in 13 of 14 starts & more BB than K in 73 awful IP.

Tor2 – By the way, Brad Mills has a 2.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in hitting-crazy Las Vegas w/8.3 K/9 in case you’re looking for obvious replacement.

Tor3 – Eager to see how many K lovers hold strong w/Brandon Morrow. ERA now 5.63 w/boom or bust season: 4 4+ ER starts; 4 2< ER starts.

TB – On April 28th DH, Ben Zobrist had 2 HR, 10 RBI. Since: 2 HR, 11 RBI in 38 G. Hitting .386/.460/.591 in June. Another HR surge upcoming?

Bal – Mark Reynolds is a must-own. 3B is paper thin & power is light league-wide. On pace for 30-90-10(sb), you eat the .203 avg for that.

NYM – Hope you got Angel Pagan when he was reco’d in 5/29 Twids. His own rates were ESPN 35%, CBS 65%, Y! 36% then.

NYM2 – Pagan (cont.) Rates are way up as he’s remained on fire since return: .349 avg, 5 sb, 9 r, 7 rbi in 15 g. Big help to middle of Mets lineup.

Pit – Horrid start buried James McDonald‘s ERA (10.12 after 4 GS), but 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 & 2.0 K/BB in 51 IP (9 GS) since. Buy.

Atl – A modest hot streak for most could be a start of something for Dan Uggla after big wknd: 4-6, 3 BB, 4 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR in the #2 hole.

Hou – How good has SP been in ’11? Bud Norris‘ 3.67 ERA is 100 ERA+. With a 9 K/9, he’s a must-start even on cusp on below avg ERA, though.

Oak – Not yet an all-format must-start, but Scott Sizemore adds depth to ugly 3B wasteland & he’s hitting early on w/OAK: 6-19 in 5 G w/HR & 4 RBI.

CWS – Phil Humber‘s value gets a major boost if recent K stretch is at all legit. 5.5 season K/9, but 7.0 in 22 IP across last 3 GS. Monitor.

Tex – Derek Holland has skills worth betting on despite modest season-long #s. 3 ugly, 3 great in last 6 incl. 7.9 K/9 & 2.9 K/BB in 40 IP.

Tex2 – Holland (cont.) HRs killing him in latest 6 starts having allowed 2 in ea. of 3 blowups & 0 in 3 gems. 24 y/o so more ups & downs coming.

Min – Francisco Liriano‘s last 4: 26 IP, 29 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 2 W. Still leery, but confidence growing as 3 were rd starts, 4th was v. TEX.

StL – Jon Jay hitting .309 w/some pwr & speed (pacing 10 hr/12 sb). Held .350 BABIP for 105 G in ’10 so maybe .353 this yr can hold. 50%+ avail.

Mil – Prince Fielder has been insane the last month: .330/.458/.742 w/11 HR, 29 RBI, 23 BB to 11 K… SO locked in. Mil 22-7 during stretch.

LAD – Why is Rod Barajas owned so scarcely across all 3 major outlets? On pace for 19 HR. Doesn’t have enough AB for his .233 AVG to hurt much.

Col – CarGo hitting .452/.485/.710 in 7 gms as leadoff hitter incl. 4 straight multi-hit gms in LAD series. Perhaps the jump-start he needs.

LAD-Col – 63 runs scored in 4 gm LAD-Col series, yet just 11 scored in first 4 inn. of all 4 gm. Sweet lives, relievers… 2.6 R/IP in 20 IP from 5th on.

KC – Alex Gordon still on pace for career yr, but it’s built mostly on hot April. Might be getting going for June: .273 AVG & .377 OBP.

LAA – Mark Trumbo has flaws (.299 OBP), but pacing for 27 HR & 15 SB w/potential OF elig. based on lg (6 GP). His value lies in OF, not 1B.

Was  – In 13 GS, Jordan Zimmermann has re-faced opp. 4x. Just an oddity.  Has allowed >2 ER once since May 1st (3 ER @ ATL, but also 11 K).

SD – It’s a whopping 4 gms, but what stands out about Anthony Rizzo early on is the patience. 5 BB & 4.6 pit/PA in first series ever.

SD2 – Rizzo (cont.) He also went 3-for-10 w/a 2B, 3B and HR. Great debut, hope it lasts for the highly touted prospect.

Cin – Scott Rolen carrying an ugly .240/.291/.380 line in 150 AB. Still nice leather, Juan Francisco toting .309 AVG, .819 OPS in AAA.

SF – Twidbits Curse? Touted Tim Lincecum in 5/22 ST’s. Since: 7.66 ERA, 1.59 WHIP in 22 IP. Still 19 K, 2.7 K/BB & 93 MPH FB velo. intact.

Monday: 05.23.2011

Trolling the Wire: Week 8 Tuesday-Friday

I am doing a great job at picking starters who end up involved in rainouts.  Of course, half the league gets rained out nightly so I guess that’s not too surprising.  Tuesday was a total washout with Rick Porcello and Jordan Zimmermann getting wiped out, but I went back to the well with both on Sunday and it went quite well (14.3 IP, 2 ER, 8 K).

I pound this one home time and time and time again, but the week 7 Trolling picks accentuate perfectly just in case you still don’t believe: you cannot chase wins… ever.  Twelve starters threw 78 innings with a 2.89 ERA and 1.21 WHIP yet netted just two wins.  TWO!  It wasn’t a necessarily an ill-begotten ERA, either, as the group had a solid if unspectacular 6.1 K/9, but a very strong 2.5 K/BB.

We will still aim for skills first and foremost, but hopefully we can pull a few more wins with this week’s picks.

MONDAY:  Found here.

TUESDAY:

Chris Narveson (MIL v. WAS) – He has spent most of May chiseling away at an ERA that was heavily damaged by a 7 ER in 2.3 IP outing, but now it’s at a very respectable 3.44 thanks to a really strong month.  Again, I know you can’t pick and choose starts, but if you remove that outlier, you see a 2.34 ERA in eight starts with a strong 7.9 K/9.  Of course, leave it in and the strikeout rate remains the same and the ERA above average, even in the very heavy pitching environment of 2011.

Charlie Morton (PIT v. ATL) – This is still a tough nut to crack with his just over 1 K:BB rate (1.12), but the insane groundball (62%) masks some of the K:BB shortcomings.  He has three really weird starts with five walks in each and just one or two strikeouts (five total), but he has a 3.50 ERA in 18.3 innings with two wins during the starts.  In his last two starts, he has five Ks in each with 14 and 17 groundballs, respectively.  He’s facing a team with 21st ranked OPS on the heels of losing one of their best hitters in Jason Heyward.  He has succeeded against much better teams including two complete games at Cincinnati (1 ER total).

WEDNESDAY:

James McDonald (PIT v. ATL) – He has really picked it up in May with a 3.18 ERA in 23 innings along with 24 strikeouts.  Still a little inconsistent, but the favorable matchup (6th-most Ks in MLB) helps.

Erik Bedard (SEA @ MIN) – I’ll simply reiterate my Sunday Twidbit on Bedard: “After posting an 8.56 ERA in first 3 starts, Erik Bedard has a 1.97 ERA & 0.97 WHIP in last 5 w/7.3 K/9 & 2.4 K/BB.”  Plus he has 18 K in his last 13 IP and he gets to face Minnesota in a pitcher’s ballpark.

Mike Minor (ATL @ PIT) – I love the skills of this kid and he’d have probably gotten a shot sooner had he been on rotation when they needed the spot starts that eventually went to Julio Teheran.  He has better than a strikeout per inning in 53 innings at AAA-Gwinnett and just 2.4 BB/9 leading to a near-4.0 K/BB.  He had nearly identical skills in 41 major league innings last year (9.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.9 K/BB) and I think he has a chance to be a high-impact starter the rest of the way.

THURSDAY:

Ryan Vogelsong (SF v. FLO) – His huge, albeit surprising, skills are holding strong with a 2.9 K/BB rate in 33 innings.  He has also added in some luck so the 1.93 ERA will almost certainly rise a bit, but I’d be surprised if there was a total implosion as long as he maintains the skills hold.

FRIDAY:

Scott Baker (MIN v. LAA) – The Hold List is coming apart at the seams with Brandon McCarthy on the disabled list and Baker struggling in his last three with a 7.04 ERA, though he does have 21 Ks in 15 innings.  While a 4.12 ERA might have been usable 2-3 years ago (in fact, Baker’s 4.37 in 2009 netted a 100 ERA+), it’s below average now which costs Baker his HL spot.  That said, I’m going to use him for this matchup because the skills are still strong (2.8 K/BB power by 9.1 K/9) and his main weakness (home runs) isn’t a particular strength of the Angels (17th-most in baseball w/38).

Tuesday: 03.22.2011

Walking the Walk

Have you ever wondered how much analysts follow the advice they dole out?  I get curious sometimes when I’m listening to various podcasts or reading different sites.  In case that is something you have wondered about me, I wanted to share some information from a 15-team mixed league draft I just completed.

All told, I drafted five of the pitchers from the list of 18 favorites for 2011:

Chad Billingsley (95th overall, 7th round)

Ricky Romero (176th overall, 12th round)

Edwin Jackson (245th overall, 17th round)

James McDonald (296th overall, 20th round)

Tim Stauffer (326th overall, 22nd round)

I had a few others queued up and watched as they were swiped right before I could take them.   Of the many interesting picks throughout the draft, one that is pertinent to this discussion was Brandon Morrow being taken 101st overall (7th round).  Remember what I said about him yesterday, “I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.”

Going that early does dissuade me.  I like him a lot, but I have my limits.  Notable names taken shortly after him that I value higher include: Shaun Marcum, Wandy Rodriguez, Colby Lewis, Brett Anderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Romero.  And that was just in the subsequent two rounds.  In a 15-team draft, you will have to extend out at times to get your target, but that was a bit egregious as far as I’m concerned.

Even though there is a near-100% chance nobody cares, here’s how my whole team turned out.  I picked 5th and it’s a hold + saves league otherwise standard 5×5 categories:

C – J.P. Arencibia

C – A.J. Pierzynski

1B – Billy Butler

2B – Omar Infante

3B – Evan Longoria

SS – Derek Jeter

CI – Gaby Sanchez

MI – Danny Espinosa

OF – Shin-Soo Choo

OF – Ichiro Suzuki

OF – Jay Bruce

OF – Nick Markakis

OF – J.D. Drew

UT – Adam Lind

BE – Juan Uribe

BE – Mark DeRosa

BE – Bill Hall


P1 – Chad Billingsley

P2 – Ricky Romero

P3 – John Lackey

P4 – Edwin Jackson

P5 – James McDonald

P6 – Tim Stauffer

P7 – Aroldis Chapman

P8 – Mike Adams

P9 – J.J. Putz

BE – Rick Porcello

BE – Randy Wells

BE – Jordan Walden

BE – Bobby Jenks

Miguel Cabrera was available at 5, but I went with Longoria because third base dries up in a hurry and I didn’t think Ryan Zimmerman would make it back to me in the 2nd round (I was right, he went 5 picks before me in that round).  I was going to build my infield with Dustin Pedroia in the 2nd round, but he went the pick before more so I shifted to outfield with Choo.  The same exact thing happened in the 3rd round as I was looking infield again with Jose Reyes and he went three picks before me so I shifted again to the outfield.

I think the depth/scarcity of outfield is consistently misperceived in these leagues with five outfield spots.  I do think there is some scarcity within the position in that middle area so I decided to build a beastly outfield since I covered the two scarcest positions very well (Longoria) and pretty well (Jeter).

I trust myself enough with pitching that I can work with this group and on the wire to put together a strong staff.  I would rather have enough offense at the outset and have to work on the pitching aspect than vice versa.  Consider one team that has Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Tommy Hanson, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Papelbon giving them the makings of a tremendous staff, but a severely lagging offense after Miguel Cabrera including an outfield “highlighted” by Brett Gardner along with Franklin Gutierrez, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce and Seth Smith.

That’s just one example, of course.  But I got “my guys” on that pitching staff and if they perform as I expect/hope, I may not have to do much work on the wire, anyway.

Monday: 03.21.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 1

Any fantasy baseball magazine, book or website is bound to have a sleepers section somewhere.  They are a fantasy staple loved by all and for good reason as everyone is looking to get the next big thing at a great price that will propel them to a title and help them for years to come if they play in a keeper league.

Of course in the Information Age we live in these days, it is really hard to get anything by your leaguemates in terms of a legitimate sleeper.  The more obvious sleepers turn up in seemingly every one of these articles all of sudden making them overvalued or at least just fairly priced sapping the value.  I am not here to bash sleeper articles as I have done them for the last five or six years whether here or at the various outlets I have worked for in the past.  I wanted to try a different approach this year.

Instead of worrying about sleeper label and pretending like we are pulling a fast one on our leaguemates, let’s just look at some guys I like for 2011.  These aren’t necessarily sleepers as many will be firmly entrenched on the radar of your opponents.  Nor are they necessarily breakout candidates, either.  After all, who really knows what defines a breakout?  It can mean 10 different things to 10 different people.

If you read the Starting Pitching Guide then you won’t be surprised by some of these guys as I made it clear how much I liked them there by suggesting you aggressively buy in or go the extra dollar or a host of other ways I used to convey my excitement for them.  Essentially if they are on this list, I like them more than their current projection meaning there is profit to gained.  There isn’t a uniform theme to this piece so let’s just get started with the names and you’ll see what I mean.

1. Cole Hamels – Seeing Hamels on a list like this might come as a surprise after all he doesn’t fall too far out of the top 10 starting pitchers in most drafts.  His inclusion is due to the fact that I have him as a top 5 guy for 2011.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff.  It was a travesty that his pitching led to just 12 wins, but that’s why judging pitchers on wins is foolish.  He is a bit overshadowed by teammates Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, but I think he’s the best bet from a production-to-cost ratio.

2. Tommy Hanson – Like Hamels, this is a superstar in the making, but an overreaction to a 10-11 record from 2010 is depressing his value a bit.  Guys like Hamels and Hanson are the ones who will be my aces in 12-team mixed leagues because I refuse to pay the premium attached to the Lincecums and Felixes of the world.  If you’re looking for guys to take Ubaldian leaps from good to great, target Hanson and this next guy…

3. Chad Billingsley – Noticing a trend with these first three guys?  Billingsley also had a record that belied his true value going 12-11 for the second straight season masking his return to 2008’s 2.5 K/BB and a career best 0.4 HR/9.  Are you surprised to learn that he is just 26 years old?  In a standard 12-team mixer, I’m building my hitting base filling in some scarcity fields like shortstop (if I can get Hanley or Tulow), third base and outfield (remember, we need five) while taking advantage of the first base depth with those first 6-8 picks then pairing Hanson and Billingsley as my 1-2 punch.  My offense is going to be better than the guy who took Halladay in round 1 or 2 and my pitching is going to nearly on par and potentially better even if he paired a Sabathia or Weaver with him using yet another early round pick.

4. Brandon Morrow – I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.  Last year, I loved Gio Gonzalez and Jonathan Sanchez to make big leaps forward and they didn’t let me down.  Morrow is my guy of that class this year.  If he can shave a full walk off of his rate like Gonzalez did, he would be near 3.0 and if it didn’t cost him over two strikeouts in the process (as it did Gonzalez), he can be truly elite.

5. Ricky Romero – I love me some Blue Jays this year.  I will lift a quote from myself from the Guide re: Romero, “Romero meets the three criteria of Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) with a strong strikeout rate (7.5 K/9), a truly elite groundball rate (55% career) and an above average changeup (though it was valued higher in ’09)”.  He has the stuff to take a step forward, but even a 2010 repeat has value at the cost I’m seeing for him in the two drafts I have already done and the expert leagues that have already taken place.

6. Hiroki Kuroda – A victim in the W-L column going just 11-13 last year despite a very strong skill set.  He has managed three straight sub-3.80 ERA seasons in the majors despite failing to reach even 70% LOB% let alone the league average 72% mark.  His age (36) undoubtedly scares some off, but nothing in his profile warrants fear (50%+ GB rate, 2.2 or better BB/9 and improving K/9 reached 7.3 last year).  He comes cheaper or at the same cost as the likes Matt Garza and Tim Hudson despite a more stable set of skills and even a tick of upside if that LOB% bumps up to average.

7. Edwin Jackson – Not much love out there for Jackson for some reason.  Maybe because it took him so long to begin paying any sort of dividends on his elite prospect status (4th in baseball in 2004) or because he teased and tantalized with so many false starts prior to that breakout year in Detroit back in 2009.  In Don Cooper I trust.  In 75 innings he righted Jackson’s season from the disaster it was in Arizona assisting Jackson to eight quality starts out of 11 including a run of three in which he struck out 11, 10 and 11.  I think Cooper and the Sox will finally extract the best out of Jackson for a full season returning a sharp profit on his current value.

8. James McDonald – This is the third year of me driving the McDonald Bandwagon.  He’s just getting going after a trade to the Pirates finally got him into a rotation so I’m not going anywhere now.  He went for $4 in NL Tout Wars over the weekend.  He is the kind of endgame play that can yield $10+ dollars of profit and be integral to a championship run.  Frankly I’m surprised he was so cheap as he has popped up on a lot of sleeper lists this offseason, much to my chagrin.

9. Jordan Zimmermann He got a nice little 71-inning (31 in the majors) tune up last year coming back from Tommy John Surgery displaying 99% of his velocity from 2009 (92 of 93 MPH) and posted some decent stats albeit in smallish sample.  I am quite intrigued by what he can do in a full season (though a full season this year may mean  approx. 170 innings) having displayed strikeout an inning stuff throughout his minor league career as well as the 91 innings from his rookie year.  Injury returns are often a great source of profit and Zimmermann will be a prime candidate in this field for 2011.

Tomorrow’s portion of the list will feature nine names geared more towards single leagues and deeper mixed leagues.  That doesn’t mean they are entirely out of play for 10 and 12 mixed leaguers, especially if you have a reserve roster or taxi squad, but a lot of those leagues will have several of these guys on the waiver wire after the draft.

Ed. Note – if you’re wondering where Dan Haren is on this list, I figured he was too obvious to include.  If you’ve been reading my work at all this offseason, participated in the chat I hosted a few weeks back or talked with me via Twitter, you know how much I love this guy for 2011 (and beyond for that matter).  He is an unheralded ace with one of the best and most stable skills profiles in all of baseball.  He was tied with Max Scherzer as the 6th most expensive starter in AL Tout Wars ($20), a bargain in my book.  I have him 3rd-best in the AL behind Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester, just ahead of Justin Verlander.