April 2008

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Cliff Lee's Dominance

I picked up Cliff Lee in three of my five leagues, as I liked his early K/BB and soft schedule.  I certainly didn't expect for him to go on a run unmatched in at least the last 50 years.  Let's look at the numbers:

31.2 innings
4 starts
7.92 IP/start
0.28 ERA
0.41 WHIP
8.24 K/9
0.57 BB/9
14.5 K/BB
3.13 H/9
.153 BABIP
0.00 HR/9
45.2% groundball rate

Sure, most of it's not sustainable, but let's just marvel in it for a moment. 

OK, let's talk reality.  Lee was nothing special in spring, but won the fifth starter battle.  Last year he posted an ERA over 6.00 amid an abdominal strain, earning a demotion in July.  Lee's career-best K/9: 8.09.  His best walk rate was 2.32.  It's not unfathomable he could combine those career-best rates into one dominant season.

How about the soft schedule?  For that we can use Baseball Prospectus' Opponent's Quality OPS.  That's the aggregate OPS of all batters faced by a pitcher.  Lee's opponents have the 17th-lowest OPS at .694.  By the way, Adam Wainwright has faced the easiest opponents based on this stat.

Obviously Lee can't keep it up, but if you own him you should probably just enjoy the ride.  If you're overflowing with pitching and you're offered a top-30 type hitter, make the trade.  Otherwise, enjoy what should be Lee's career year.


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Popular Drops

Fantasy leaguers are a fickle bunch, adding and dropping players due to one bad outing or one 0 for 10 streak.  Here's my take on this week's most popular drops.

  • Carlos Silva.  I don't get this one; Silva has delivered exactly what was expected (if not more).  Great control, lousy strikeout rate.  If you need some staff filler but are good on Ks he's a fine pick.
  • Manny Corpas.  Time to pull the plug on Corpas now that he's lost his job to Brian Fuentes?  I own Corpas in one league and he's just kind of sitting there because I haven't decided yet.  If you held a gun to my head I'd say he's not getting his job back this year unless Fuentes gets hurt.  Corpas owners may want to try to swing a (reasonable) trade to acquire a closer and then cut him.
  • Todd Wellemeyer.  In his last start he didn't quite own the Bucs as hoped.  He gets the Reds on Monday; I'd consider it.  He's whiffed a batter per inning so far with solid control. 
  • Greg Smith.  The Oakland rookie is off to a nice start; dropping him now is odd.  Still, he's due for major regression and his scouting reports don't impress too much.
  • Lastings Milledge.  His numbers are fairly weak, and he was benched yesterday for showing up late.   I still believe in his talent; I wouldn't cut him unless I was adding another power/speed combo threat.
  • Greg Maddux.  With Mad Dog you can't look start to start.  He will get shelled, he will be brilliant.  You know what you're getting long-term.
  • Bronson Arroyo.  I had him in a league and I cut him a week or two ago.   There isn't much upside here; he's mediocre.
  • Gavin Floyd.  We warned you about his flukey success.  A shaky mixed league pick.
  • Carlos Delgado.  Wouldn't have drafted him in the first place.  I'd be fine cutting bait.
  • Francisco Liriano.  Difficult call.  If I had any kind of decent replacement I'd probably bite the bullet and cut him.  Maybe he has a big second half, but Liriano is pretty far off right now.


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Roundtable: Struggling Stars

I wrote this roundtable answer last week; it's up now at Baseball Geeks.  The question posed to us:

Between Mark Teixeira, David Ortiz, C.C. Sabathia, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Reyes and other underperforming fantasy superstars, who is liable to continue to stink throughout the course of the season and why?


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Corpas In Trouble

Another blown save for Manny Corpas last night.  I didn't see this coming, but he's already in danger of losing his job.  Brian Fuentes is the obvious replacement (he's been solid this year).

By all means check your waiver wire for Fuentes.  He was already owned in all of my leagues as of yesterday afternoon, though.


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Jurrjens, Mailbag, Batter vs. Pitcher Help

A few notes...

  • More Pitch F/X goodness from David Golebiewski.  This time Jair Jurrjens gets the treatment.  No BABIP concerns with Jurrjens, though his HR rate is set to rise.
  • Max Scherzer had an "off" start (6 IP, 5 hits, 3 ER, 9 Ks, 0 BB).
  • Hit me up with your questions for his week's Hardball Times mailbag at rotoauthority@gmail.com.
  • Regarding the batter vs. pitcher matchups...would anyone like to assume these duties?  One person could do it every day, or maybe we could break it into separate weekday/weekend people.  If you are interested email me at rotoauthority@gmail.com and tell me why you'd be good.


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Kosuke Fukudome's Hot Start

Josh Kalk has been doing great work studying PITCHf/x data.  Check out his blog here and Hardball Times contributions here.  Josh decided to examine Kosuke Fukudome's hot start in a guest post for RotoAuthority.com.  His post follows.

Kosuke Fukudome has taken the league by storm starting off hitting .328/.444/.463.  He was billed as a combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui and he has lived up to that so far.  But Jason Kendall has also started off batting .345/.400/.483 so the question for fantasy owners remains, should you sell high on Fukudome or hold to him?

The first thing to look at is Fukudome's BABIP, which is a lofty .396 right now.  While I expect him to end up with a BABIP that is above league average his is almost certainly at least a little over his head right now.  Still, even with a small correction down he would be a solid addition to any fantasy roster.  The main question is will the league catch up to him as the year goes on?  This is where his PITCHf/x data really comes in handy.  Here is a look at every tracked fastball Fukudome has faced:

Kosuke_fukudome0_2 

The first thing to notice on this plot is that Fukudome rarely swings and missed at a pitch.  One the other hand look at how many pitches he is fouling off.  Many of those fouled pitches came with two strikes as Fukudome was protecting the plate.  This is where the Ichiro comparisons come from.  Unlike Ichiro look at home many balls Fukudome takes for a strike.  Early in the count Fukudome is generally content to wait for his pitch.  I have overlaid the MLB defined strike zone but as you can see here, the umpires tend to give the pitcher a few more inches on corners.  This patience has allowed Fukudome to walk 14 times compared to just 13 strikeouts.  This is an excellent sign and I fully expect this to continue thought the year.  How does Fukudome handle off speed pitches?  Here is all the change ups thrown to Fukudome:

Kosuke_fukudome4

Again Fukudome rarely swings at pitches outside the strike zone.  For a full breakdown you can look at his player card here.  The standard approach to a left handed batter is hard stuff up and in with soft stuff down and away.  But if you don't throw those pitches for strikes Fukudome just isn't swinging at them.  So how should pitchers go about pitching to him?

In my opinion the way to attack Fukudome is get ahead early.  While Fukudome will jump on a get me over curve if you make a quality pitch in the strike zone early in the count he will more than likely lay off.  Once ahead, instead of trying to get him to chase pitches away I would bust him in with fastballs.  While most left handers love pitches low and in Fukudome seems to prefer the ball middle away.  In fact, with two strikes he will very often try to go the other way even with a ball inside.  So bust him in with those fastballs when you get two strikes.  If you absolutely need a strikeout then a ball down will probably be more effective than a ball outside.

All signs point to a very good year by Fukudome.  The first key to success to hitting is swinging at strikes and Fukudome clearly has that down.  Because of his patience Fukudome is seeing a huge amount of pitches which greatly increases the chances of a pitcher making a mistake.  When he gets that mistake Fukudome isn't swinging and missing either.  It would take a huge offer to pry Fukudome from my roster if I am a fantasy owner.


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Facing The Giants and Twins

The Giants and Twins are still the worst-hitting teams in each league, in my opinion.  The Nationals and Padres are giving the Giants a run for their money though.  Anyway here are some spot starters to consider this week.

Wednesday

  • Chad Gaudin vs. Twins.  His peripherals aren't too bad so far; I'd consider it.
  • Greg Maddux vs. Giants.  He was bombed last time out but I'd still try it.

Thursday

  • Greg Smith vs. Twins.  Not too jazzed with his numbers; this one's a bit risky.

Friday

  • Ryan Dempster vs. Nationals.  Definitely a low BABIP fluke but I'd still probably start him.
  • Randy Johnson vs. Padres.  I think he'll be pretty good once he shakes off the rust.

Saturday

  • Micah Owings vs. Padres.  You'd have to be in a pretty shallow league for Owings to be available.
  • Matt Belisle vs. Giants.  Hmmm, you'd have to be fairly desperate.

Sunday

  • Ted Lilly vs. Nationals.  First see how he looks against the Mets today.
  • Vicente Padilla vs. Twins.  A worthy spot-start.
  • Edinson Volquez vs. Giants.  I'd definitely do it.


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A Look At John Danks

Is White Sox lefty John Danks for real?  Let's attempt to figure it out.  The early returns:

4 starts
23.2 IP
5.92 IP/start
3.04 ERA
1.01 WHIP
6.08 K/9
2.66 BB/9
2.29 K/BB
6.46 H/9
.250 BABIP
0.00 HR/9
0.0% HR/flyball
48.5% groundball rate (up 13.7% from '07)

Many factors have come together for his hot start, which is comprised of three stellar outings and one bombing at the hands of the Twins. 

Danks' control wasn't horrible last year at 3.5 BB/9, but this is a nice improvement.  He matched his current walk rate in April, July, and August of last year.  It's hard to say if he can keep it up all year.

His .250 BABIP is off his team's .303 mark, but not ridiculously so.  Danks was at .317 last year, but he would've given up more than a hit per inning even adjusting for that.  Best case is probably 8.5 H/9 or so.

It's the home run rate that's truly unsustainable (obviously he will be homered upon at some point).  This was a huge problem for Danks in '07 and his home park didn't help.  The greatly increased groundball rate says he can be at least league average in this regard.

Qualitatively, we know that Danks has a new cutter this year.  In a Baseball America profile from '07, they rated his changeup and curve as above average and noted number two starter potential.  He is only 23 and has often been young for his league.  Maybe '07 was his adjustment period and he really has arrived.

I can see Danks posting a 3.90 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP this year.  One consideration is that he was cut off at 139 innings last year and is unlikely to exceed 170 this year.  In a ten or twelve team mixed league Danks is worth using as one of your last starters.  I'm more interested to see what he can do with 200 innings in 2009.


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Ervin Santana Pitch F/X Analysis

David Golebiewski of The Transaction Guy analyzed Angels' starter Ervin Santana with Pitch F/X data.  He likes what he sees, for the most part.  Here are his numbers so far:

4 starts
27 innings
6.75 IP/start
2.67 ERA
0.96 WHIP
7.33 K/9
2.00 BB/9
3.67 K/BB
6.67 H/9
.250 BABIP
0.67 HR/9
6.7% HR/flyball

Obviously some regression is due, but it does seem that Santana could do something similar to his '06 season (4.28 ERA in 204 IP).  And if he keeps his walk rate under 2.5 this could be the best year of his young career.  He gets a risky opponent in the Tigers next time out. 


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BABIP, Anyone?

Time for another installment of everyone's favorite BABIP, Anyone? series.  Here we look at pitchers with abnormal batting averages on balls in play.  I've incorporated ISO into the chart as well.  ISO, or Isolated Power, is calculated as SLG-BA.  It is a measure of extra-base hits.  League average is right around .150 in both leagues.

The following players have BABIPs below .230; expect their WHIPs to get worse.  Floyd, Dempster, and Jackson appear to be sell-high candidates.

NAME BABIP K/BB ISO ERA WHIP
Gavin Floyd 0.135 1.25 0.109 1.40 0.88
Cliff Lee 0.154 10.00 0.028 0.40 0.44
Ryan Dempster 0.160 1.44 0.063 2.37 0.95
Nelson Figueroa 0.162 2.80 0.115 3.60 0.80
Brandon Webb 0.177 2.75 0.069 1.86 0.79
Ben Sheets 0.183 6.00 0.073 0.96 0.64
Johnny Cueto 0.184 24.00 0.212 3.72 0.62
Shaun Marcum 0.192 4.00 0.173 2.61 0.87
Joe Saunders 0.195 2.00 0.098 2.15 0.89
Edwin Jackson 0.196 1.40 0.076 2.84 1.11
Micah Owings 0.208 3.80 0.159 2.29 0.86
Scott Baker 0.208 4.00 0.268 4.34 1.07
Randy Wolf 0.209 2.57 0.081 1.42 0.89
Cole Hamels 0.212 1.90 0.095 1.86 1.00
Scott Olsen 0.215 1.67 0.091 3.05 1.06
Johan Santana 0.217 7.00 0.186 3.25 0.87
Zack Greinke 0.219 1.80 0.096 0.75 0.92
Dan Haren 0.221 4.75 0.122 1.80 0.88
Daisuke Matsuzaka 0.221 1.65 0.162 3.14 1.22
Shawn Chacon 0.222 1.10 0.091 2.25 1.15
Justin Germano 0.224 1.20 0.055 1.35 1.00
Tim Redding 0.226 1.89 0.159 3.27 1.18

The following pitchers have BABIPs of .360 or higher, and should see their WHIPs go down as their luck evens out.  In the cases of Lincecum, McGowan, Hughes, and Duke, the hits dropping in have been singles (low ISOs).

NAME BABIP K/BB ISO ERA WHIP
Andrew Miller 0.500 2.00 0.237 9.68 2.21
John Bale 0.453 2.67 0.129 7.63 1.83
Tim Lincecum 0.436 3.67 0.082 2.25 1.44
C.C. Sabathia 0.429 1.00 0.305 13.50 2.56
Dustin McGowan 0.426 2.29 0.094 3.71 1.65
Philip Hughes 0.417 1.00 0.086 8.82 2.14
Paul Maholm 0.396 2.60 0.156 5.28 1.76
Dustin Moseley 0.388 1.25 0.210 7.80 2.00
Jonathan Sanchez 0.378 3.50 0.117 6.00 1.47
A.J. Burnett 0.377 1.50 0.208 7.27 1.79
Roy Oswalt 0.375 4.00 0.248 6.65 1.70
Nate Robertson 0.373 3.20 0.217 7.02 1.56
Mark Buehrle 0.368 1.50 0.154 5.74 1.72
Carlos Villanueva 0.364 1.43 0.221 6.19 1.88
Zach Duke 0.361 1.75 0.076 2.89 1.61
Ubaldo Jimenez 0.360 1.00 0.111 4.60 1.98
Jesse Litsch 0.360 2.40 0.172 4.60 1.60


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