June 2008

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RotoAuthority League - Best Pickups Last Week

This feature is written by Jeff, owner of the Volvo Stationwagons.

Lots of good ones this week…

6/17 – RotoAuthority picks up Taylor Buchholz
Buchholz has been filthy all season, posting a 1.43 ERA and 0.77 WHIP through Saturday night.  He’s not a gaudy K/9 guy, but has had incredible command, only walking 9 batters in 37 2/3 innings.  The Rockies will likely field lots of calls about closer Brian Fuentes over the next month or so, and with Manny Corpas mostly out of the picture, Buchholz is the most likely successer to Fuentes.  A solid speculative move on Tim’s part.

6/18 – Aubrey Huff’s $34.99ers picks up… well, Aubrey Huff
This one stings.  Dropped by the Stationwagons the afternoon of June 10 as his season batting average dropped to .239, Huff proceeded to have a 4-hit game later that evening.  Including that game, Huff’s batted .435 with 5 HR since I dropped him.  Huff could be a sleeper for R and RBI in surprising Orioles lineup.

6/18 – Greek God of Walks picks up Elijah Dukes
Dukes has struggled out of the gate with injuries and ineffectiveness, but he’s finally healthy and playing every day due to a rash of injuries in the Nats’ outfield.  He’s opened June hitting .325 with 2 HR and 5 SB and offers pretty good upside – think Mike Cameron in his prime – so it’s a reasonable gamble for a team that’s in the bottom two in most of the offensive categories. 

6/20 – Ms. Behavin’ picks up Eddie Guardado
C.J. Wilson gave up 3 runs in a tie game to take the loss on Wednesday night, and was relieved by Jamey Wright with the tying run on third base (who would later score) and one out on Thursday night.  While the Rangers plan on sticking with Wilson in the short term, a speculative pickup of Guardado – who’s pitched pretty well so far – makes sense in any league.

6/20 – Los Genius picks up Alex Hinshaw
Hinshaw was a relative unknown before being featured in a Yahoo article a couple of weeks back.  He was hailed in that article as the “closer of the future” for the Giants, and that may well be the case, although it seems unlikely that he’d get first crack if Brian Wilson falters this season.  But what sticks out right now is the shiny strikeout rate so far – 21 K in 15 IP.  Like fellow closer heir Chris Perez of the Cardinals, Hinshaw’s value this season will likely primarily be based on that strikeout rate and solid ERA/WHIP.

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Keep An Eye On Josh Johnson

Hurting for pitching in your mixed league?  Keep an eye on the Marlins'  Josh Johnson.  He's making a remarkably fast recovery from Tommy John surgery.  Johnson may return in early July, just a year after he last pitched.

Johnson has been tutored on his changeup by Sergio Mitre, and he's throwing his heater 90-95 mph.  He's a solid pre-emptive pickup if you have the bench/DL space.

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A Look At Daryl Thompson

According to Hal McCoy, Reds rookie Daryl Thompson will make his big league debut tomorrow in Yankee Stadium.  Talk about trial by fire.  Thompson, 22, has just four Triple A starts under his belt.  Three weeks ago I mentioned that Thompson deserved a shot over Homer Bailey, and now he's getting it.

At both Double and Triple A this year, Thompson has demonstrated superb command with strong K/BB ratios.  He posted a 3.25 ERA in Triple A, but it was marred by just one poor start.

Fantasy leaguers just want to know whether Thompson will succeed in the Majors.  Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein gives a strong scouting report:

His low-90s heater can touch 95 and features a bit of cutting action, while his changeup is plus and his curveball solid.

On the other hand, McCoy talked to an NL scout who said, "That kid is not ready for the majors, not even close."  And Baseball America didn't regard Thompson highly enough to include him among the Reds' top 30 prospects.  They seem warmer on him now, calling his fastball "explosive" in May.

Thompson may have fallen off the radar due to '05 labrum surgery.  McCoy says Jim Bowden thought he was "sticking it to the Reds" when he sent Thompson over there in the big Clayon/Bray/Majewski/Harris/Kearns/Lopez/Wagner swap!  Bowden reportedly didn't think Thompson would last.

Who to believe?  At the least, pitching prospects seem more likely to hit the ground running than position players.  I wouldn't use Thompson against the Yankees.  But after that, he'll get the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Nationals if no one is skipped and he remains in the rotation.  So he's worth a speculative pickup if you have the bench room.

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Roundtable: Speed Sleepers

This week's roundtable question:

What sleeper has the best chance to get 20 steals for the rest of the season?

Our answers can be found here.

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Onion Fantasy Baseball Story

Just read this Onion article about a fantasy team manager ripping his team in the media.  Good stuff.  (Hat tip to RotoNation).

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A Look At Chris Davis

Heading into the season, Baseball America ranked Rangers first baseman Chris Davis 65th among all prospects.  He hit .298/.340/.573 in High A ball and .294/.371/.688 in Double A in '07, totaling 36 home runs.

Davis, now 22, has been even better this year.  He continued mashing Double A at a .333/.376/.618 clip.  That earned him a promotion to Triple A, where he's hit a ridiculous .356/.410/.733 in 90 ABs.

Davis could disrupt the Rangers' plan, which had been to use Hank Blalock at first base when he came off the DL.  Blalock is targeting a Tuesday return.  He is no sure thing - he could be moved back to third, he could need more time on the DL, he could even be traded.  Davis will find a way into the lineup this year, it seems.

Davis is available in CBS leagues, so add him if you have the roster space.  He certainly looks like at least a 30 HR bat (and may not need much adjustment time).

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Looking For Wins?

Today's guest article is by Brett Greenfield of Fantasy Phenoms.

Wins may just be the most arbitrary stat in a standard 5x5 rotisserie league.  Many are under the impression that having pitchers on winning teams nets you wins.

That is far from the case. 

Take the Cubs last year, an 85 win team.  Ted Lilly tossed 207 innings of 3.83 ERA ball.  Teammate Rich Hill tossed 195 innings of 3.92 ERA ball.  Very similar, right? 

Lilly finished with 15 wins and Hill with only 11.  Why?  Something called run support (RS).  If James Shields, for example, pitches on a day where the Rays score four runs, then his RS for that day was four.

Lilly ranked 23rd in the RS in the majors last year.  That means that his offense behind him scored enough runs each time he started to rank him 23rd in that area.  Hill, who plays behind the same offense as Lilly, was given the 129th highest RS in the majors. 

How’s that possible?  Wins are just that unpredictable.

Check out these two lines from 2007:

Kelvim Escobar 3.41 ERA 1.27 WHIP 6.43 RS 18W 7L
Matt Cain           3.65 ERA 1.26 WHIP 3.51 RS 7W 16L

Isn’t it amazing how two pitchers can pitch equally as effective as one another, yet whether or not they get a win depends on the amount of runs scored by their offense?

Those of you looking for wins shouldn’t be looking towards teams who have the most wins in 2008, but rather those who have the most run support.  Otherwise, how else can we explain Tim Lincecum having eight wins already?

The top 5 in RS are as follows…

1. Kyle Kendrick – 8.39
2. Oliver Perez – 7.47
3. Justin Duchscherer – 7.40
4. Vicente Padilla – 7.07
5. Jamie Moyer – 7.06

Kendrick, despite a 4.54 ERA, has won six of his 14 starts.  Perez has an ERA just under 5.00 yet has won five times.  Duchscherer has won seven of his 11 starts this year.  Padilla has won nine of his 15 starts.  Moyer has won almost half of his starts despite a 4.09 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP.

Mike Pelfrey, a teammate of Oliver Perez, boasts a 3-6 record despite a lower ERA than Perez.  His RS is ranked 73rd in the majors at 4.62.

The bottom 5 in RS are as follows…

1. John Lannan – 2.39
2. Paul Byrd – 2.78
3. Aaron Harang – 2.85
4. Ubaldo Jimenez – 2.98
5. Erik Bedard – 3.34

Lannan sports a 3.38 ERA yet has won only four times.  Byrd has three wins on the year.  Harang is 3-9 on the season despite a 1.28 WHIP.  Jimenez is 1-7 so far this year, although he hasn’t pitched overly well.  Bedard has only four wins on the year in 12 starts.

While these unlucky few have gotten little run support and have had little chance at getting any wins, their teammates, who have the same group of hitters behind them, have fared amazingly well.

Cliff Lee, teammate of Byrd, has the 18th highest RS in the majors.  Byrd is 115th.   Edinson Volquez ranks 25th while teammate Harang ranks 114th.
Tim Redding of the Nationals ranks 22nd while teammate Lannan ranks 116th.

Wins is the most arbitrary and unpredictable stat in a standard  5x5 rotisserie league.  If you are going to seek out pitchers in search of wins, the best you can do is look at their RS.

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Closers Updated

I've updated the fantasy baseball closers post.  Let me know if you have any input on the depth charts.

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Introduction To Strategy

Today's guest article is by Derek Carty of The Hardball Times Fantasy Focus.

One of the most overlooked concepts in fantasy baseball is that of strategy.  Every fantasy site out there does player analysis; some do it well, some not so well.  If you know where to look, though, you can find good player analysis.  The problem is, in a competitive fantasy league, so can your opponents.  If you are both using the same data to analyze players, there really isn’t going to be a huge variance in your opinions of players, is there?  This means that neither of you really has a large advantage over the other.

There are still some ways to gain an advantage over your opponents in the way of player analysis – the most prominent being the new Pitch f/x system – but aside from this innovation there is little advantage to be gained from looking at the same things as your opponents.

Therefore, the winner of a given competitive fantasy league will be largely determined by luck, judgment, and strategy.  Judgment is difficult to teach (some will even argue that it can’t be taught) and luck can’t be controlled, but strategy is something that most certainly can be taught and controlled.  This is why it is of such great importance that someone serious about winning in fantasy baseball thinks critically about strategy and other, outside-the-box concepts not normally brought into the fantasy arena.  By doing things that your competitors fail to do, you gain a competitive advantage over them.

While not directly related to fantasy baseball, I think the following quote does a good job of illustrating this point.  One of my favorite quotes, actually, this is taken from Keith Woolner’s article first introducing VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

"Baseball is a zero sum game. One team always wins at the expense of another. It is not possible for one team to win without another losing. In order to win, a team must be able to produce more runs (or prevent runs from scoring) than the opposition. Its success in producing wins is directly tied to its ability to produce more runs than its opponent. Any competitive advantage a team has must, in some way, translate to better on-field performance to be valuable.

A commodity which is easily available to all teams at no or low cost confers no competitive advantage, and therefore is of minimal value. Thus, baseball value comes from scarcity."

Fantasy baseball, too, is a zero sum game, and anything that is “easily available to all teams at no or low cost confers no competitive advantage, and therefore is of minimal value.”  Good player analysis is not scarce (at least not when we’re dealing with intelligent owners), but good talk about strategy is, and is therefore of great value.

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone studying up on advanced statistics and reading good, intricate analysis will share the same opinion of a player. If two owners, for instance, see that Gavin Floyd has a .199 BABIP and is getting ridiculously lucky, their opinions might differ a little, but the difference in their opinion of Floyd (and other pitchers with low BABIPs) likely won’t be large enough to overcome the luck involved in fantasy leagues each year.

And, of course, this isn’t to say that you should ignore these kinds of stats and this kind of player analysis.  While you might not gain much of an advantage over those who are doing the same thing, it will give you an advantage over those who don’t, and not looking at them will put you at a big disadvantage to those who do make use of them.

The (controllable) difference in leagues with savvy owners, rather, comes down to how each owner uses the information presented to him, manifested in the form of judgment and strategy.

Read up on advanced stats and player analysis to keep up with your opponents, and read up on strategy and the like to sprint ahead of them.

Even if you aren’t in a league where everyone is aware of BABIP and stats of that nature, though, the fact remains that luck is a huge factor in every fantasy league, and the more advantages you gain over your opponents, the less luck will factor in.  The ability to utilize unique, logical strategy is a big way to gain that advantage.

Some sites do attempt to discuss strategy, but leave some aspects out, oversimplify it, spit out unoriginal ideas, or ignore it completely during the season.

More sites discuss strategy before than season than during, but it often is little more than, say, a repetition of the notion that you should avoid closers early in your draft.  This is a good strategy to pursue in many instances but is a notion that is rarely supported with a logical backing.

And sure, some sites will talk about a strategy in-season like “buying low and selling high,” but this has been talked to death and has become so meaningless and trite that even novice fantasy players understand it.  I mean, you would be hard-pressed to sell Mark Reynolds and his .298/6/15/12 line to even the most unknowledgeable owner for David Ortiz and his .070/1/3/6 line two weeks into April.  And no one in a competitive league will be buying Gavin Floyd and his .199 BABIP and 76% LOB% from you for Jake Peavy this week.

There are certainly less obvious examples, and buying low and selling high definitely has its place (there was a great article yesterday on this topic by Mike Podhorzer of the Fantasy Baseball Generals), but there is so much more to strategy than a phrase that has been rehashed over and over again and rarely shows any creativity or foresight by those writing about it.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about different forms of strategy that you likely won’t find discussed elsewhere but will hopefully find incredibly useful.  Today, I just wanted to introduce myself and hopefully give you a sense of why I think strategy is so important for the successful fantasy baseball owner.  If you have any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear them.

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Chase Headley Projections

Padres outfielder/third baseman Chase Headley is set to make his '08 debut today against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees.  What can we expect?

Before the sesason, over 550 ABs, I had Headley projected at .266-16-74-85-2.  Such a performance would be worth maybe a buck, in roto terms.  Not really worth your time.

However, Headley deserves extra credit for hitting .305/.383/.556 in a half season at Triple A this year.  That line doesn't do his performance justice; he was a monster following a rough April.  He may have been preoccupied after not making the Padres following a .349/.362/.744 spring.

Factoring in his '08 performance, I could see Headley performing at a .280-20-80 type pace.  That's useful, especially if he qualifies at third.

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