Posts tagged ‘sports’

Wednesday: 09.26.2012

Something You Don’t Hear Very Often as a Tigers Fan…

If you have followed the Tigers season at all this year, you know just how rarely this is heard from the mouth of play-by-play guy Mario Impemba.

Tigers Defense

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Monday: 01.25.2010

Is Markakis Overrated? Not So Fast.

There was a piece yesterday at AOL Fanhouse by an RJ White suggesting that Nick Markakis is overrated based on his average draft position (ADP) of 49th overall and 12th amongst outfielders. He’s surrounded by Adam Lind (43rd) ahead of him and a group including Josh Hamilton (51st), Curtis Granderson (53rd), Adam Dunn (54th) and BJ Upton (58th) shortly after him. His career highs are .306, 106 R, 23 HR, 112 RBI and 18 SB. All but the runs and average came in 2007 while the other two were in 2008. Last year was his worst in the last three, but he still managed a .293-94-18-101-6 line.

I used to be driving the bandwagon that this guy was overvalued and I’d tell anyone who would listen. My biggest issue was that I didn’t see him (and still don’t) getting back to that 18-stolen base level anytime soon and yet many of his profiles on websites and in magazines kept hearkening back to that 2007 total implying it was bound to come back that season. I came around on him when I noticed something this fall. I plugged Markakis’ lows from AVG-R-HR-RBI into Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index looking for occurrences of players reaching each of those thresholds in the last three years. The line, by the way, is .293-94-18-87. A line I don’t think many would consider AMAZING by any stretch but recognize as solid.

The results are what brought me back to Markakis’ side. In addition to Markakis, only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have hit those numbers or better in each of the last three seasons. Only David Wright and Alex Rodriguez have done so twice while 21 others have done it once. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of consistency, especially in this game we play let alone on the field for the Orioles. In Mr. White’s article he touts the merits of Carlos Lee (68th) and Andre Ethier (71st), two fine outfielders, as markedly better picks than Markakis. How do they stack up to Markakis? For Lee, he discusses how he is just as capable of hitting .300 as Markakis while maintaining more power (though he recognizes the 4-year decline for Lee). What he misses is that Lee is 33 and likely to continue that decline or plateau for a year or two more while Markakis is 26 years old and entering his prime. It’s not at all unreasonable to believe that Markakis will return to the low 20s or even begin to set new career highs. Another miss from Mr. White is the runs scored column. In 2008, Lee scored just 61 runs but could be given a pass having played just 115 games, but in 160 games last year he managed just 65. I’ll grant that the category is more of a team-dependent one than individual, but it still counts and a 30-run split is significant. I’d bet on the Baltimore lineup before the Houston one if for no other reason than the growth of Matt Wieters thus giving the edge to Markakis in runs scored again.

Ethier is a different matter whereby he matches up better with Markakis statistically, but he also proves my point about Markakis’ power totals likely jumping up in the coming season. To wit, Ethier hit 11, 13, 20 in his first three seasons (spanning ages 24-26) before exploding for 31 last year. His AB/HR in that period was 31.1 and then 19.2 in 2009. Markakis has hit 16, 23, 20 and 18 in his first four seasons (spanning ages 22-25) with an AB/HR of 30.7. With Ethier’s power boost came a sizeable drop in batting average. He averaged .299 for three years before hitting .272, a total of 17 hits based on his 2009 at-bat total. Markakis has hit .298 the last four seasons, but it’s not out of the realm that a power boost would also come at the cost of some batting average. The two were neck-and-neck in runs and RBIs last year, but it was Ethier’s first season topping 90 in both. This is where Markakis’ consistency comes into play again as he’s scored 90+ each of the past three seasons and been below 100 RBIs just once with 87 in 2008.

I think Ethier stands up vs. Markakis, especially 22 picks later. But that brings up one of my least favorite things about ADP comparison articles: lack of context. Twenty-two picks seems like a lot, but Markakis at 49 is the beginning of the 5th round while Ethier at 71 is the end of the 6th. If you have that 49th pick, you drafted first overall giving you 1, 24, 25, 48, 49, 72, 73. Your only chance at Markakis, Ethier and even Lee is that 49th pick based on ADP so the ADPs of Lee and Ethier are irrelevant at that point. When judging the three on their statistical merit alone, I think Lee gets removed from contention based on age-induced decline. Now you’re comparing an ultra-consistent 26 year old entering his prime with an in-his-prime 27 year old who just showed the excellence he is capable of with a career year in 2009. It’s a pick ‘em at that point. The important thing to note is that draft trends suggest that a pick in the top of the 5th is likely your only chance at one of these guys. The other may fall to you with the last pick of the 6th, but it’s a risky bet.

Markakis definitely isn’t being overrated at this juncture in the mock draft season so much as he has been the preferential pick to a host of other comparable outfielders. I’d certainly recommend against Mr. White’s recommendation of taking Lee or Manny Ramirez (62nd) for age-related reasons while Ethier is a coinflip and a reasonable case can be made for either. Among the other in proximity not mentioned by Mr. White, I’d take Markakis over Hamilton and Michael Bourn (64th) without question, I’d take Granderson before Markakis and Dunn, Upton and Nelson Cruz (67th) would depend on my team makeup at that point in the draft. Markakis doesn’t have a standout category like Dunn’s power, Upton’s speed or Cruz’s healthy mix of both, but he also doesn’t have a gaping deficiency like Dunn’s average, Upton’s average and RBIs and Cruz’s runs scored and batted in totals. I think it is that lack of a standout category that causes some to believe Markakis is overrated as evidenced by the fact that Mr. White only looks at his power as compared to Lee and Ethier.

This game is about the balance between accumulating value and mitigating risk whenever possible making a guy like Markakis a strong, but unheralded and often underrated pickup on a team. Not only does his consistent track record alleviate risk, but there is also a viable upside that could come to fruition this season and increase the value of the pick thereby covering for some of the risk that will invariably reside on your roster. Not every pick, in fact not many picks will draw the oohs and ahhs from your leaguemates and make you feel like the smartest person in the room, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad picks or reaches.

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).