September 2008

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Fantasy Baseball Writers League Review

Today I'll review my team in the '08 Fantasy Baseball Writers League.  I managed a first-place tie with 95 points in this roto league.

Description

Standard 5x5 12-team roto league.  Normal-sized rosters, 1500 IP limit.  David Chase of Brock For Broglio assembled this league of a dozen fantasy baseball writers.  Draft details and participating websites can be found here.  Transactions were unlimited, and the average team made 62 moves (I made 77).

Results

First-place tie with RotoRob at 95.0 points.  The RotoRob team made up several points in the season's final weekend.  Category points results for my team: 12 in runs, 6.5 in HRs, 11 in RBI, 11 in SB, 12 in AVG, 10 in wins, 7 in saves, 12 in Ks, 4 in ERA, and 9.5 in WHIP.  The 3.92 team ERA was my biggest flaw. 

Drafted Players Retained All Year

Of the 26 players drafted, I finished the season with 13 of them (round picked in parentheses): Russell Martin (3), Joe Mauer (6), Derrek Lee (4), Kelly Johnson (13), Jimmy Rollins (1), Carlos Lee (2), Matt Kemp (8), Nate McLouth (18), Roy Oswalt (7), Javier Vazquez (9), Ted Lilly (14), Bobby Jenks (11), and Kerry Wood (23).

Key Pickups

Cristian Guzman, Mark DeRosa, Milton Bradley, Fred Lewis, Aubrey Huff, Jason Giambi, Elijah Dukes, Nelson Cruz, Jose Guillen, Cliff Lee, John Danks, Gil Meche, and Joel Hanrahan helped me out.  Unlimited transactions really gives you flexibility to pick up anyone decent-looking.

Dumb Drops

If you make 62 moves, some of them are bound to be dumb.  I dropped Randy Winn, Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo, and Jon Lester at various points.  If I hung onto Lowe and Lester all year I would've had a better team ERA and won the league outright.  I didn't think Lester would be this good, but the Lowe cut was just an overreaction to the 5.34 ERA he had on May 18th.  After that point, Lowe posted a 2.49 ERA in 155.3 innings.

Trades

June 28th: Traded Cole Hamels for Prince Fielder.  At the time, I decided I had too many good starting pitchers.  I was on pace to go well over my innings limit, and even after the deal I had to sit many good starters in September to get back on pace.  I shopped around quite a bit before deciding on this deal.  Fielder hit .277 with 18 HR, 60 RBI, 41 runs, and 2 steals in 300 ABs after the deal.  I was thinking Hamels might get hurt, but instead he posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 101 Ks, and 7 wins in 114.3 post-trade innings.  I'm indifferent about the deal.

Summary

I'm mostly content with this performance, but with better pitching management I might've gotten the victory all to myself.  In hindsight my early-round picks were not fantastic - it was risky to take two catchers, and D-Lee was an overdraft.  My work on the free agent wire was much better, with big pickups like DeRosa, Cliff Lee (my third Lee), Danks, Bradley, and Huff.  Despite the Lowe/Lester blunders, I succeeded mainly due to an aggressive approach to free agency.


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Fantasy League Results

I played in five fantasy leagues this year.  Two of them were head-to-head, three were rotisserie style.  All were mixed leagues.  I think five leagues is the most a person can reasonably play while paying proper attention to all of them (and writing about baseball is my full-time job).

At one point this month I was in first place in all five leagues and though I had a shot at championships across the board.  Instead I ended up winning three of the five leagues, if you count a tie in one league.  An overview (each league will eventually get its own post for analysis):

  • Fantasy Baseball Writers Roto League: Tim McLeod of RotoRob made a phenomenal charge this weekend and moved into a first-place tie at 95.0 points.  It looks like we are co-champions.  I'll take it - I thought I lost by a half point last night based on Yahoo's StatTracker.
  • H2H League With Former Coworkers (extra categories: IP, TB): This league was with people I used to work with at DoubleClick Performics.  I had the best regular season team by a margin of 12.5 games.  I got a bye in the first round of the playoffs, then won the next round by the narrowest of margins (Yahoo awarded the 6-6 tie to me because I had a lower ERA).  The league champion was determined by a two-week playoff that I lost 8-4.
  • RotoAuthority Roto League: I battled with 11 readers of this site and won it with 97.5 points (Dizzy Llamas took second with 85.0).  Gotta love winning a money league.  We'll have four slots open for this league in 2009, as Chris, Jay, Aussie Dan, and Daniel get the boot (thanks for playing guys).  Not sure if the Silver League winner will want one of those slots.
  • Fantasy Baseball Search League: A H2H league rife with drama like I have never seen before in fantasy baseball.  Didn't have anything to do with my third place finish though.  I earned a first round playoff bye with the best regular season record, but got knocked out in the second round.
  • Keeper Roto League With Friends: This one's the sweetest.  I won it with 98.0 points, with the second place team getting 90.0.  I have been in this league off-and-on since high school and never sniffed a finish near the top.  Finally this year everything came together.  Bonus: it's a money league.


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First Baseman Ranking Comparison

My first baseman rankings back in March, including round drafted:

Rnk Name $ VAL Round
1 Albert Pujols $30.64 1
2 Ryan Howard $24.85 1
3 Prince Fielder $21.91 1
4 Mark Teixeira $19.25 2
5 Lance Berkman $17.02 3
6 Derrek Lee $15.61 4
7 Justin Morneau $13.02 4
8 Carlos Guillen $12.14 5
9 Carlos Pena $11.41 5
10 Adrian Gonzalez $11.25 7
11 Todd Helton $10.19 11
12 Paul Konerko $8.98 8
13 Victor Martinez $8.84 3
14 Nick Swisher $7.76 7
15 Alex Gordon $6.00 12
16 James Loney $5.36 11
17 Carlos Delgado $5.29 12
18 Adam LaRoche $4.04 19
19 Kevin Youkilis $3.79 15
20 Conor Jackson $2.76 26
21 Ryan Garko $2.61 15
22 Mike Jacobs $0.30 27
23 Aubrey Huff $0.19 28

Actual rankings for 2008:

Rnk Name Round
1 Albert Pujols 1
2 Lance Berkman 3
3 Mark Teixeira 2
4 Aubrey Huff 28
5 Kevin Youkilis 15
6 Miguel Cabrera 1
7 Justin Morneau 4
8 Ryan Howard 1
9 Adrian Gonzalez 7
10 Carlos Delgado 12
11 Derrek Lee 4
12 Prince Fielder 1
13 Jorge Cantu N/A
14 Conor Jackson 26
15 Garrett Atkins 5
16 Jose Lopez N/A
17 Joey Votto 24
18 James Loney 11
19 Adam Dunn 4
20 Jason Giambi 23
21 Carlos Pena 5
22 Casey Blake 24
23 Mike Jacobs 27
24 Adam LaRoche 19
25 Carlos Guillen 5

It's quite possible first base was make or break for your fantasy season this year. 

Busts: Lee, Guillen, Pena, Helton, Konerko, Swisher.  These picks did not work out as hoped.  Lee, Guillen, and Konerko may just be naturally declining.  Helton was hurt.  As for Swisher...maybe he needed an adjustment period after the trade?  He's had two decent months out of six; last year he only had one bad month.  Fielder's been disappointing, but it's mainly because he was drafted too early originally.  By the way I would suggest not drafting Huff or Delgado in the fifth or sixth round.

Surprises: Huff, Youkilis, Delgado, Cantu, Jackson, Votto.  If you were "stuck" with one of these guys at first, you were pleasantly surprised.  Aside from maybe Jackson and Votto, I'm not sure how these breakouts/career years could've been predicted.  I guess the lesson again is that if you have a guy you know is decent and he starts raking, just pick him up and ask questions later.  Huff, Youk, Delgado, Cantu...all four have had past fantasy success, just not much in '07.


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Podhorzer On Tulowitzki

Mike Podhorzer takes a nice look at Troy Tulowitzki's lost season in a post today.  He explains that Tulo's 2007 season seems more of an outlier than his '08.

I considered Tulowitzki a reach in the fourth round last March.  However, I was also a big Rafael Furcal booster and wasn't particularly impressed by Stephen Drew or J.J. Hardy.  I have five fantasy teams this year, and shortstop is currently manned by Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young (twice), Mike Aviles, and Cristian Guzman.  I also managed to snag Alexei Ramirez in one league.  So, I recovered decently after drafting/acquiring Furcal in three of five leagues.  Everyone deals with injuries; you just have to move on.


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Catcher Ranking Comparison

My catcher rankings back in March:

Rnk Name $ VAL
1 Russell Martin $23.39
2 Victor Martinez $22.40
3 Joe Mauer $21.32
4 Brian McCann $18.38
5 Jorge Posada $17.43
6 Geovany Soto $12.22
7 J.R. Towles $12.15
8 Kenji Johjima $11.63
9 Bengie Molina $8.79
10 Carlos Ruiz $7.94
11 A.J. Pierzynski $7.49
12 Ivan Rodriguez $7.23
13 Ryan Doumit $6.86
14 Ramon Hernandez $6.70
15 Ronny Paulino $6.26
16 Jason Varitek $6.11
17 Mike Napoli $5.24
18 Paul Lo Duca $4.74
19 Chris Snyder $3.64
20 Kurt Suzuki $2.32
21 Johnny Estrada $2.28
22 Jarrod Saltalamacchia $1.55
23 John Buck $1.30
24 Josh Bard $1.00
25 Dioner Navarro $0.95
26 Gregg Zaun $0.58
27 Gerald Laird $0.40
28 Michael Barrett $0.10
29 Yadier Molina $0.02

The actual rankings for 2008:

Rnk Name Round
1 Joe Mauer 5
2 Brian McCann 5
3 Russell Martin 3
4 Ryan Doumit 26
5 Geovany Soto 14
6 Bengie Molina 19
7 Kelly Shoppach N/A
8 A.J. Pierzynski 20
9 Chris Iannetta N/A
10 Yadier Molina 25
11 Ivan Rodriguez 14
12 Kurt Suzuki 27
13 Dioner Navarro 28
14 Ramon Hernandez 21
15 Mike Napoli 23
16 Gerald Laird 28
17 Chris Snyder 27
18 Miguel Olivo 28
19 Rod Barajas 28

Shoppach was the biggest surprise at catcher in 2008.  Doumit and Soto have been huge, but they were definitely on the radar as preseason sleepers.  Suzuki, Navarro, and Iannetta came up at various points in that thread too (though Iannetta only received a brief mention).  Shoppach came up with a .268-21-55-66-0 line in 339 ABs, ranking behind only Soto and McCann in HR. 

Could this have been predicted?  PECOTA had Shoppach at .231/.305/.414 heading into the season, only a slight nod to his power.  He slugged .472 in limited duty with the Indians last year, so it wasn't out of nowhere.  I would've had him down for 16 HR if I knew he was getting 350 ABs.  We couldn't have seen the injury to V-Mart coming.

Martinez, Posada, Towles, and Johjima were high-profile busts.  As a 16th round pick, Towles' rookie failure didn't kill anyone's team.  Those who took Martinez as a top 30 overall pick got burned pretty badly though.  Three of the big five catchers came through, making early-round catcher picks pretty risky this year.  Martinez and Posada are the oldest of the five, so maybe that's the lesson to be taken away.  If you're going catcher early, he'd better be young.  I'd add Soto to the Mauer/McCann/Martin mix for '09, but no other catcher gets into the elite tier.  Martinez could be undervalued, but not if picked in the fifth round.

Don't think you're playing it safe waiting for that third tier crapshoot of catchers, though.  Sure, you might snag a Doumit or a Molina.  But catchers are scarce, and if you guess wrong you could be stuck with crap (Jose rather than Bengie/Yadier) all year.  If you're in a two-catcher league and plan to wait back for both, you'd better add security by drafting a third catcher as a reserve.  You also need to pounce on any chance to upgrade (for example, I dropped Ruiz for Doumit in April in one league).


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Miguel Cabrera's Second Half

Anyone notice Miguel Cabrera's performance since July 1st?

He's hitting .310/.358/.634 with 25 HR, 77 RBI, and 46 runs in 284 ABs.  It's a massive three-month stretch that projects out to at least .310-50-154-92 over a full season. 

It's not that Cabrera was terrible for his first three months as a Tiger; he just couldn't meet the lofty expectations.  Even in those off-months, he hit .281/.350/.459 with 11 HR, 48 RBI, and 37 runs in 303 ABs.  Not terrible, but not close to worthy of an average draft position of 7.4.  Like others, we were high on M-Cab, projecting a .322-33-119-109 line.

It would've been nice if Cabrera's first-half adjustment period (new team, position change) held down his overall line enough to make him an '09 sleeper.  However, he's recovered to a .295-36-125-83-1 performance with a week left to go.  It's a career-high in both HR and RBI for the 25 year-old, so he'll hardly fly under the radar in 2009. 

I'm still hoping his ADP may stay the same or even get slightly worse, though.  What do you think?  Will Cabrera make it to the eighth pick in 2009?  Players who could go earlier: Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Manny Ramirez (?), Grady Sizemore, Lance Berkman, David Wright, and Alex Rodriguez.  That's probably the extreme case, M-Cab slipping to tenth.


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The Fantasy Baseball Code Of Honor

In real baseball, there's a clear code of honor.  For instance, you don't bunt to break up a no-hitter.  You don't try to steal if you're up more than five runs.  Cheating has been treated with a wink in some cases - Gaylord Perry for example.  Other times, not so much - Barry Bonds can't find a job.

Does fantasy baseball have a similar code of honor?  I'd like to read your thoughts in the comments.  If there is a code, here are some possible hot-button issues:

  • Pitcher streaming.  In a league without inning or transaction limits, an owner can run through four or five starters every day.  This pumps up strikeout and win totals while abandoning ERA and WHIP.  In general, this strategy has a negative connotation.  Should it?  If league rules allow it, you might be at a disadvantage if you don't consider doing it.  Plus, abandoning two categories isn't guaranteed to help.  Is there an unwritten agreement not to stream pitchers, or at least not to do it too often?
  • Lopsided trades.  I am on record as saying trades should not be vetoed unless collusion is obvious.  Lopsided trades are part of the real game as well, plus who are we to judge the fairness of a trade?  We can't predict the future.  Still, it does seem wrong to see one owner stocking their team at the expense of a less experienced person.  These kinds of trades cause grumbling from other owners in some cases, vetoes in others.
  • Collusion.  In MLB, we have seen owners collude in the past.  In fantasy baseball, this might be a lopsided deal among brothers (one in first place, the other in last in a non-keeper league).  Or maybe a guy drops a quality player, knowing his buddy is first in the waiver order.  You'll be hard-pressed to find an owner who considers this acceptable.  We also have draft-day collusion - if you lay off your friend's sleeper picks, he'll avoid yours.  Is this OK?
  • Complaining.  One thing you don't see too much in real baseball is whining -  every team has injuries or bad luck.  Players routinely play through pain and don't talk about it.  So when an owner makes excuses ("I'm really busy at work right now!") it tends to annoy the other owners who were also busy at work but still set their rosters.  If you lose, it's best to say nothing or just say, "I was outplayed."
  • Showboating.  Back in the day, if a player admired his home run or simply hit too many of them, he'd get plunked in his next at-bat.  There is no fantasy baseball equivalent to burying a heater in the numbers.  What are your thoughts on gloating and talking smack?  In my experience, karma seems to get me every time I get cocky.
  • Cheating.  For most owners, it's simply not possible to cheat.  I've never heard of a fantasy owner hacking their way to a title.  I have, however, heard stories of commissioners using their omnipotence to bend the rules.    


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Looking For Next Year's Sleepers

The best sleepers are the ones no one saw coming, like Cliff Lee.  Looking back at our 2008 Undrafted All-Star Team, one common theme is players who have had past success but not in 2007 (Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Randy Winn, Lee, Ryan Dempster, Ervin Santana, Kerry Wood, Brian Fuentes).

With that in mind, here are some players who had success in '07 but not 2008:

David Ortiz, Jorge Posada, Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Victor Martinez, Edgar Renteria, B.J. Upton, Robinson Cano, and Troy Tulowitzki for hitters.

Fausto Carmona, Brad Penny, Erik Bedard, Aaron Harang, Chien-Ming Wang, Justin Verlander, Chris Young, Ian Snell, and Rich Hill had nice years in '07.


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Pitcher Abuse Points Per Start

Here's a more sophisticated way to gauge which starters might be injury risks in 2009.  Plus, it's a rate stat.  The leaders in Pitcher Abuse Points per start (100 inning minimum):

  1. Tim Lincecum (Bochy)
  2. C.C. Sabathia (Yost/Wedge)
  3. Roy Halladay (Gibbons/Gaston)
  4. Justin Verlander (Leyland)
  5. Carlos Zambrano (Piniella)
  6. Matt Cain (Bochy)
  7. Jake Peavy (Black)
  8. Ben Sheets (Yost)
  9. Gil Meche (Hillman)
  10. Brett Myers (Manuel)

Last year's leaders:

  1. A.J. Burnett (Gibbons)
  2. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Francona)
  3. Carlos Zambrano (Piniella)
  4. Roy Halladay (Gibbons)
  5. Aaron Harang (Narron/Mackanin)
  6. Bronson Arroyo (Narron/Mackanin)
  7. Matt Cain (Bochy)
  8. Livan Hernandez (Melvin)
  9. Oliver Perez (Randolph)
  10. Justin Verlander (Leyland)

Anybody else worried about Cain and Lincecum?  Bochy pretty much snapped Adam Eaton's elbow ligament himself back in 2001.


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Roundtable: Verlander, Bedard, Snell

This week's roundtable deals with three pitchers who fell from grace in 2008.  Check it out.


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