January 2009

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Joba Chamberlain's 2009 Innings

Recently a reader pointed out a bold projection from Ron Shandler and company at Baseball HQ: 199 innings for Joba Chamberlain in 2009.  Most forecasters agree that Joba's ERA, WHIP, and K/9 will be very strong in '09, but with that innings total you'd have to consider him a top five fantasy starter.  Mock drafters are taking Chamberlain in the 9th round on average, indicating concern that his innings will be limited by the Yankees, his health, or a midseason move to the 'pen.

I asked eleven of my favorite baseball writers to predict Chamberlain's 2009 regular season Major League innings total.  Here are the results:

The average comes to 142.9 innings.  If Joba pitches 143 innings, I'd rank him 18th among fantasy starters - after Cliff Lee but before Rich Harden.  It's quite conceivable that Chamberlain could have more fantasy value (in just 143 innings) than John Lackey, Felix Hernandez, Scott Kazmir, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who are all being drafted before him.

As we mentioned in the Max Scherzer post, Chamberlain will probably pitch well if he's healthy and hit the disabled list otherwise.  If he's on the DL, you can take the best available waiver wire arm.   143 innings from Joba plus 50 from the waiver wire probably equals a top ten starter.  Scherzer, Harden, and Randy Johnson may be underrated in a similar fashion.

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Max Scherzer Concerns

Should we be worried about D'Backs starter Max Scherzer?  Last year, he had a monthlong bout with shoulder inflammation.  Already this year his arm did not feel great when he started throwing, according to MLB.com's Steve GilbertNick Piecoro talked to Arizona GM Josh Byrnes, who said nothing's changed structurally with Scherzer in comparing his June and December MRIs. 

Byrnes isn't concerned (at least publicly) and projects 170 innings for Scherzer.  Much like Joba Chamberlain (more on him in a future post), Scherzer's fantasy value is tied to his very unpredictable innings total.

Scherzer is being drafted in the 16th round on average, so drafters respect the injury concerns.  Still, that's after a guy like Aaron Cook, who shouldn't have any mixed league value in 2009. 

Say Scherzer reaches that 170 IP mark.  I have him for a 3.83 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and K/9 over 10.  He'd be worth $13.38, more than Edinson Volquez and about the same as Ricky Nolasco, Jered Weaver, Ted Lilly, and Zack Greinke.

Drop Scherzer to 140 IP, though, and he's down to $8.11 (about where I have Hiroki Kuroda and Johnny Cueto).  Here's the thing though.  Scherzer's not like Mark Buehrle, who is worth $7 because he can rack up some counting stats across 210 IP.  Scherzer, like Joba, burns bright.  If he's healthy he will probably pitch well, and if he's hurt he'll be on the DL.  If that's the case, you can sub in a tolerable 60 innings off the waiver wire and end up with good value overall.  The only risk is that he's moved to the bullpen.  For a 15th or 16th round pick, that's a risk worth taking.

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Zrebiec Answers Orioles Questions On RotoProfessor

Eric at RotoProfessor is doing a nice job hitting up beat writers for useful fantasy info.  He recently talked to Baltimore Sun writer Jeff Zrebiec, who is one of the best in the business.  The biggest points for me:

  • Look for a Matt Wieters debut around mid-May unless he has a scorching spring.
  • George Sherrill is the "clear leader" to close but is also a trade candidate if he has success.
  • Zrebiec agrees with many touts that Adam Jones may be primed for a breakout year.

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Stephen Drew Examined

Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew is a popular undervalued/sleeper pick this year.  He's being drafted sixth among shortstops, typically in the 8th round.  Drew, 26 in March, posted a fantasy line of .291-21-67-91-3 in 611 ABs last year.  What's more, his second half production, if replicated over 600 ABs, would come to .326-20-76-96-2 (a $16 value).

If Drew does manage to replicate his second half work over a full season, it'd be hard to argue that he'd be the fourth-ranked fantasy shortstop.

I have a safer projection for Drew: .277-18-72-80-4 in 565 ABs.  This line has him ranked 13th at the position, worth less than $4.

If you think Drew is more capable of something like .290-20-75-85-5, then he is creeping into Michael Young/Derek Jeter value.  Drew is right around his peak age, so there is something to be said for taking the upside guy over these two declining veterans (or an injury risk, Rafael Furcal).  I would like to see Drew run more.  Otherwise I remain unconvinced that I can't get similar production from Miguel TejadaJhonny Peralta, Troy Tulowitzki, and J.J. Hardy later in the draft.

I should add that Alexei Ramirez slots in as my fourth-ranked SS if his 16 games played there in 2008 cuts it for your league.  Certainly can't go wrong with him at 2B though.

If you're picking top four, you can probably get Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez.  If you have the fifth through ninth pick, you can take Jimmy Rollins.  Those three are so far above the other shortstops that I make every effort to get one.  Beyond that trio you have to settle for a shortstop that is flawed in some way.

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What It Takes To Win: ERA

Next up in our What It Takes To Win series, ERA.  The goal here is to determine the stats needed to achieve fourth place in each of the ten common roto categories.  The league type: 12-team mixed with 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, 3 bench spots, 2 DL spots.

In the first league, a 3.74 ERA was necessary for fourth.  In the second league, 3.71 was required.  I know we are short on data here, but I would be comfortable aiming for a team ERA of 3.73.  Using my first seven picks on hitters, I've still been able to assemble teams in mock drafts that project in the 3.76-3.79 range.

Since your three closers should hopefully improve your team ERA a bit, how many starters are projected to come in under 3.90?  I found 39, from Rich Harden at 3.11 to Ryan Dempster at 3.89.  The latest drafted is John Smoltz (3.68 ERA, 19th round), while the latest drafted who can rack up decent innings are Jered Weaver (3.75 ERA, 19th round) and Derek Lowe (3.61 ERA, 14th round). 

Out of roughly 72 starters drafted, 39 of them are projected to have ERAs under 3.90.  Using a 100 IP minimum, 50 pitchers were under 3.90 in real baseball in 2008, 44 in 2007, 34 in 2006, and 45 in 2005.

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At Least $10 In Value

My basic fantasy rankings are based on a $260 budget and use Art McGee's method.  For those who have asked about me posting them - probably in a month or two because they still need serious tweaking.  Anyway I have an arbitrary minimum amount of value I strive for at each position when drafting, and that's $10.  I just hate drafting someone I've projected at less than $10.  At each position, here are the hitters I see cracking ten bucks in value.  Tell me who I'm missing (while keeping in mind that good players may fall pennies short of $10).

  • Catcher: Joe Mauer, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli, Ryan Doumit, Geovany Soto, Matt Wieters, Bengie Molina, Chris Iannetta, Jorge Posada (11)
  • First Base: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Justin Morneau, Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins (13)
  • Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley, Brian Roberts, Alexei Ramirez, Brandon Phillips (6)
  • Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Alexei Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Derek Jeter (6)
  • Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Evan Longoria, Chone Figgins, Kevin Youkilis, Garrett Atkins, Chipper Jones (10)
  • Outfield: Ryan Braun, B.J. Upton, Grady Sizemore, Matt Holliday, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Kemp, Carlos Beltran, Carl Crawford, Carlos Lee, Jacoby Ellsbury, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Ichiro Suzuki, Manny Ramirez, Nick Markakis, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rios, Hunter Pence, Jay Bruce, Nate McLouth, Curtis Granderson, Alexei Ramirez, Jason Bay, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Magglio Ordonez, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, Torii Hunter, Carlos Quentin, Johnny Damon, Ryan Ludwick, Vernon Wells, Jermaine Dye, Willy Taveras, Andre Ethier (36)

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Kenshin Kawakami Examined

One pitcher I haven't paid much attention to this year is Kenshin Kawakami of the Braves.  Ditto for Koji Uehara, but I'm less intrigued with him pitching in the AL East.

Mock drafters are taking Kawakami in the 19th round.  By comparison, Hiroki Kuroda went in the 25th round last year.  So there is increased awareness for mid-level Japanese import starters.

To project Kawakami, we head over to BaseballProjection.com, home of CHONE.  They project Kawakami for a 3.88 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8 wins, and 113 Ks in 123 innings.  Looks like the makings of a sleeper, especially since the Braves probably are looking to get 180+ innings out of him.  It will be interesting to see a few other projection systems weigh in on Kawakami, who posted a 2.30 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 117.3 innings in Japan last year.

Scouting-wise there is reason for skepticism.  Here's what Keith Law had to say:

Kawakami posted solid strikeout rates in Japan, but without a clear out pitch he doesn't project to miss as many bats in MLB. His fastball is fringe-average, and he'll likely have to change his approach and pitch more with his offspeed stuff. Like all pitchers coming from Japan, he'll also have to adjust to the larger baseball used here.

So we shouldn't count on that projected 8.27 K/9.  Law believes Kawakami will be HR-prone as well.  CHONE has Kawakami's HR rate at 1.02 per nine.  Law believes he will be prone to the four-bagger, so it may be safer to put him down for 1.1 or 1.2.

19th round, though...go for it.  He's a nice guy to snag as the sixth starter on your fantasy team.

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Drafting Sixth - With A Twist

In a few short weeks I have become a full-blown fan of mock drafting, which is probably obvious to RotoAuthority readers.  Readers do make a good point that MDC's rankings influence when players are drafted, but it's still a useful experience.

A few days ago I drafted a team starting with the sixth overall pick.  As a twist, I did it without any spreadsheets open.  That means I used more gut feel than specific rankings/projections.  Draft results are here.  Here is what I came up with:

C - Brian McCann (4)
C - Mike Napoli (10)
1B - Derrek Lee (6)
2B - Chase Utley (2)
SS - Jimmy Rollins (1)
3B - Garrett Atkins (7)
MI - Placido Polanco (19)
CI - Adam LaRoche (21)
OF - Matt Kemp (3)
OF - Bobby Abreu (5) yet again
OF - Hunter Pence (8)
OF - Nelson Cruz (12)
OF - Ryan Spilborghs (22)
DH - Travis Hafner (23)

SP - A.J. Burnett (9)
SP - Matt Cain (11)
SP - Ted Lilly (13)
SP - Zack Greinke (14)
SP - Kevin Slowey (15)
SP - Jered Weaver (17)
RP - Heath Bell (16)
RP - Joel Hanrahan (18)
RP - Chris Perez (20)

By now I am kind of set in my ways about who I like at certain points in the draft.  Seems the same few guys usually jump out at me in each round. I am predictable.

One pick that might not look wise is Napoli in the tenth round.  I could pass on him while talking about "value," but if I really believe Napoli is the #5 catcher, why wait and risk settling for significantly less?  In hindsight, with Ryan Doumit also on the board I could've waited one more round.  I chose to get my guy and not risk it.  If you like your rankings you have to trust them.  ADP might say I can wait until the 14th round for Napoli but that is just an average.

MDC's projections put my team in second place, 0.5 points behind due to weaknesses in WHIP and ERA.

I prefer my own projections, which project a 3.805 team ERA: 3.79 for Burnett, 3.68 for Cain, 3.74 for Slowey, 3.75 for Weaver, 4.09 for Lilly, 3.89 for Greinke, 3.33 for Bell, 4.00 for Hanrahan, and 3.79 for Perez.

Regarding the WHIP, I project 1.286 which is indeed unacceptable.  I think this is where not having my rankings around came into play - I didn't realize I was projecting 1.29-1.31 WHIPs for four of my six starters.

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The 3400 Club: 2007 Members

It was interesting to learn that almost the exact same number of pitchers cross the 3400 pitches thrown barrier each year.  In 2008, the group had 19 members.  In 2007, 19 pitchers also passed the benchmark.  Here they are:

  1. C.C. Sabathia - 3892
  2. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 3865
  3. Carlos Zambrano - 3774
  4. Jeff Francis - 3771
  5. Dan Haren - 3635
  6. Brandon Webb - 3623
  7. Jake Peavy - 3610
  8. Scott Kazmir - 3609
  9. Aaron Harang - 3590
  10. Gil Meche - 3578
  11. Doug Davis - 3574
  12. Daniel Cabrera - 3563
  13. John Lackey - 3495
  14. Dontrelle Willis - 3491
  15. Andy Pettitte - 3487
  16. Joe Blanton - 3483
  17. Javier Vazquez - 3463
  18. Bronson Arroyo - 3431
  19. Barry Zito - 3411

Let's take Davis out of the mix since he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer the following year.  That leaves 18 pitchers in this group.  10 of the 18 had serious injuries in 2008.  Specifically I'm referring to Dice-K, Zambrano, Francis, Peavy, Kazmir, Harang, Cabrera, Lackey, Willis, and Pettitte.

The eight who emerged unscathed: Sabathia, Haren, Webb, Meche, Blanton, Vazquez, Arroyo, and Zito.  Arroyo did deal with forearm cramps at one point though.  Also keep in mind that sometimes these 3400 pitch seasons often result in issues or even surgery two years later.

There is reason to believe the 2007 class was an anomaly though.  2005 and 2006 data indicated following-year injury rates of 15-25%.

A dozen pitchers tossed 6800 or more pitches across 2007-08:

  1. C.C. Sabathia - 7804
  2. Gil Meche - 7133
  3. Joe Blanton - 7030
  4. Brandon Webb - 6980
  5. Dan Haren - 6974
  6. Matt Cain - 6957
  7. Johan Santana - 6943
  8. Javier Vazquez - 6925
  9. Carlos Zambrano - 6895
  10. Roy Halladay - 6890
  11. Justin Verlander - 6883
  12. Bronson Arroyo - 6867

I like Sabathia as much as the next guy...but he was three pitches away from being the MLB leader in pitches thrown in each of the last two seasons.  At some point pitching far more than any other human has to take a toll.

So what is the application for fantasy baseball?  So many top pitchers cross the 3400 barrier that you can't downgrade all of them.  And the year-after injury rate can vary wildly.  At the end of the day this info may just be a tipping point in a certain decision - maybe now you take a Ted Lilly over a Gil Meche.

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The 3400 Club

Longtime RotoAuthority reader finite24 brought up an interesting topic recently: injury risk the following season for pitchers who threw 3500+ pitches.  I decided to dig more deeply into this topic, pulling the benchmark down to 3400 pitches thrown in a season.  I included playoff pitches, as well as an estimate of minor league pitches thrown by Brett Myers this year.

First up, your 2008 class (19 pitchers):

  1. Cole Hamels - 3914
  2. C.C. Sabathia - 3912
  3. Brett Myers - 3781
  4. Jon Lester - 3738
  5. Tim Lincecum - 3682
  6. A.J. Burnett - 3650
  7. Matt Cain - 3606
  8. Johan Santana - 3598
  9. Roy Halladay - 3560
  10. Gil Meche - 3555
  11. Joe Blanton - 3547
  12. Chad Billingsley - 3543
  13. James Shields - 3543
  14. Justin Verlander - 3528
  15. Ervin Santana - 3526
  16. Mark Buehrle - 3490
  17. Javier Vazquez - 3462
  18. Ryan Dempster - 3450
  19. Bronson Arroyo - 3436

How great is the injury risk for these guys?  I'll go into detail on past years' results in future posts, but I'm seeing anywhere from 15 to 61% of those in this "club" deal with significant injury the following year.  Best I can estimate is that anywhere from 3 to 12 of these 19 will be significantly injured in 2009.

My top ten pitchers for the risk averse (did not cross 3400 in '08 or '07 or have a major pitching injury in either year):

  1. Roy Oswalt
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Cliff Lee
  4. Derek Lowe
  5. Kevin Slowey
  6. Ted Lilly
  7. Zack Greinke
  8. Scott Baker
  9. Andy Sonnanstine
  10. Joe Saunders

That list gets really tough at the end.  It is a fact of life that you're going to have several injury risks on your staff.

Tomorrow we'll look at those who threw 3400+ pitches in 2007 - a group that responded horribly in 2008.

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