January 2009

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Last Year's Starters: First 7 Rounds

In general I am not a fan of taking starting pitching within the first seven rounds of a draft.  In 2008, 16 starters were chosen within the first 84 picks on average (draft round in parentheses):

  • Johan Santana (2)
  • Jake Peavy (2)
  • Brandon Webb (4)
  • Erik Bedard (4)
  • Josh Beckett (5)
  • C.C. Sabathia (5)
  • Cole Hamels (5)
  • Justin Verlander (5)
  • John Lackey (6)
  • Dan Haren (6)
  • Carlos Zambrano (6)
  • Aaron Harang (6)
  • Scott Kazmir (7)
  • Roy Oswalt (7)
  • John Smoltz (7)
  • Felix Hernandez (7)

Using ESPN's Player Rater, 6 of these 16 were ranked within the top 20 starters.  The majority of pitchers chosen in this group did not meet expectations.  On the other hand, there were reasons to avoid Bedard, Beckett, and Verlander coming in and the rest chosen within the first five rounds panned out.  I took Haren in one draft; he profiled as a very safe pitcher.  Then again, I would've said the same about Lackey and Harang.

Taking a pitcher early can certainly work out, but is it necessary?  14 of ESPN's top 20 starters were NOT drafted within the first seven rounds.

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What It Takes To Win: Offense

In this post we will sum up our offensive benchmarks.  The goal: assemble a balanced team that achieves fourth place in every category.  That seemingly modest goal will usually result in a championship with 90 points.  The league type: 5x5 12-team mixed with 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, 3 bench players, and 2 DL spots (1500 IP max).  I realize our sample size for these benchmarks is small, just a few leagues I've been in.  But I want to be careful to limit it to leagues of this exact type that I know were competitive.

On to the benchmarks:

  • .283 AVG
  • 285 HR
  • 1111 RBI
  • 1154 R
  • 175 SBs

Later today we'll start doing the pitching categories.

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Felix Pie Traded To Orioles

The Cubs traded Felix Pie to the Orioles on Saturday for Garrett Olson and a minor league pitcher.  The move may have fantasy impact.

The Orioles seem intent on giving Pie a good chunk of playing time as their left fielder, much as they handed a job to Adam Jones in 2008.  Like Jones, Pie is a power/speed threat for fantasy baseball.  If Pie gets 500 ABs, he could hit .270 with more than 10 HR and possibly 20 SBs.  You can grab him at the end of most mixed league drafts.

Olson is mildly intriguing, as he's moving to the NL.  The southpaw could be decent given a rotation spot.  Best case, he winds up in San Diego as part of a Jake Peavy deal.

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Odds and Ends: Padres, Davis, Mocks, Sleepers

Links for Monday...

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Drafting First

As I mentioned, I am coming around to mock drafting.  I did one on Friday, choosing to take the first pick.  That's a challenge, because once the draft kicks in you do two consecutive picks each time and then wait 23 picks to go again.  If you want a particular player, you can't afford to wait until your next pick because he might be gone.  Click here to see the full draft results.  Here's my team:

C - Joe Mauer (4)
C - Mike Napoli (9)
1B - Derrek Lee (6)
2B - Placido Polanco (17)
SS - Hanley Ramirez (1)
3B - Garrett Atkins (7)
MI - Derek Jeter (8)
CI - Adrian Beltre (15)
OF - Alfonso Soriano (2)
OF - Matt Kemp (3)
OF - Bobby Abreu (5)
OF - Delmon Young (19)
OF - Ryan Spilborghs (21)
DH - Adam LaRoche (22)
SP - Javier Vazquez (10)
SP - Matt Cain (11)
SP - Ricky Nolasco (13)
SP - Ted Lilly (14)
SP - Jered Weaver (16)
SP - Andy Sonnanstine (20)
RP - Matt Capps (12)
RP - Chad Qualls (18)
RP - George Sherrill (23)

Not a huge fan of Lee, but Chris Davis is going earlier and earlier these days.  First base doesn't seem very deep this year.  I think my best bargain was Spilborghs.  I have my typical Abreu pick, strong catchers, and late-drafted rotation.  I think my owning two good shortstops caused a lot of teams to reach at the position.

Here's how I projected my team: .291 AVG, 272 HR, 1099 RBI, 1201 R, 180 SB, 3.79 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 1128 Ks, 83 W, 75 SV.   The team isn't entirely balanced, but it's a good one.  I'm light on HR, RBI, Ks, and SV.  However, the team should dominate in AVG, SB, and R.  Mock Draft Central's projected standings agreed - they have me coming in first in those three categories, making up for the deficiencies and putting my team in first place by 3.5 points.  If I was to play out this team, I'm confident that I'd move up a few spots in saves by working the wire aggressively.

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Mock Drafts Are Growing On Me

I did my second mock draft this week on Friday.  I have to admit, the whole thing is growing on me.  I don't think I ever gave it a fair chance.  Sure, my wife is incredulous that I would spend an hour drafting a fake fake team.  But over at Mock Draft Central it moves quickly and the results seem realistic.  I find myself very much invested in fielding the best team possible.

There are certain "pockets of value" you can really only get a knack for when you do a draft.  You notice certain trends repeating themselves, ones you always knew about but needed a reminder on.  Runs on catchers, shortstops, and closers that you can avoid and take advantage of.  Guys like Kevin Slowey who are consistently undervalued.  And the "sleepers" who are gaining too much hype to be big bargains - Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Mike Napoli (I'll admit it now).

But then I wonder - are these results representative of the leagues I will play in this year?  I imagine only a small subset of fantasy baseball players take the time to mock draft.  Doesn't it draw in the diehards?  I am only seeing a handful of questionable reach picks - a Carlos Quentin here, an Adrian Gonzalez there.  Maybe this is an advantage.  Kind of like taking swings with the donut on, once you take it off you'll be a step ahead for the real thing.

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Late Draft Upside Starter Picks

Today let's try to create a list of interesting late-draft starting pitchers for 2009 (say, outside of the top 120 picks or so).  These are guys who have breakout potential but may not shine in the projection systems.  I try to make a point to keep an eye on them regardless of what my dollar values say.  Which starters are you making a point to snag in the latter half of the draft?

  • Yovani Gallardo (11).
  • Kevin Slowey (16).  One of my favorite bargains, projecting at a 1.21 WHIP.
  • Ricky Nolasco (11).
  • Jered Weaver (19).  He deserves better than this.
  • Zack Greinke (13).
  • Scott Baker (18).  One of those guys who won't hurt you.
  • Adam Wainwright (12).
  • Andy Sonnanstine (19).  Similar to Baker.
  • Aaron Harang (14).  Was a fantasy monster as recently as 2007.
  • Gil Meche (19).
  • Josh Johnson (13).
  • Hiroki Kuroda (20).
  • Johnny Cueto (17).
  • Max Scherzer (16).
  • Clayton Kershaw (17).

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Napoli Could DH

MLB.com's Lyle Spencer continues to beat the drum for the Angels to give Mike Napoli significant time at designated hitter in 2009.  He says Mike Scioscia's stance has softened on the idea recently and it will be discussed during Spring Training.

With 406 ABs, we have Napoli as an $18 player given his catcher eligibility.  We're currently ranking him 5th among catchers due to a projected 26 HR.  Bump that to 500 ABs, though, and Napoli easily passes Joe Mauer as fantasy baseball's most valuable backstop.  His only negative would be a .250 AVG, easily overcome by his other stats.

Napoli is currently being drafted in the 15th round, 10th among catchers.  In a recent Mock Draft I did, I was chilling and waiting to take Napoli in the 14th or 15th.  Instead, some guy using AutoSelect took him in the 11th.  Not sure if it means anything.  MDC says Napoli has been picked as early as the 8th round.  If you become dead set on Napoli, and that's a dangerous thing to do with any player, you might have to plan to take him around the 11th or 12th round.  Last year I reached on Rafael Furcal, Corey Hart, and Matt Kemp, and it paid off for the two outfielders.  It is possible to get too reliant on Average Draft Position data.

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Closers: A Different Beast

In fantasy baseball, closers cannot be treated the same way as the other players.  That is, we cannot slap a dollar value on them and rank them with decent accuracy.  That's because a closer's value is significantly derived from his save total, which can vary wildly.

Take Mike Gonzalez of the Braves.  There's no specific reason he can't save 40 games this year.  If he does, I'd value him around $18.  But if he saves 30, also completely reasonable, he's closer to $12.

I can tell you that Joe Nathan's job is more secure and that his ERA and WHIP will be better than Gonzalez's.  If Nathan saves 40, he's worth $26.  But if he saves 30, he similarly loses about $6 of value.

So when we're ranking these guys, we can't have 37 saves projected for one and 33 saves for another and that be the deciding factor on who to draft or who's a bargain.

We need some kind of separate closer ranking system, one with four criteria:

  • Controllable stats: ERA, WHIP, Ks
  • Job security: Carlos Marmol has less than Brian Fuentes, even if he's a better pitcher.  We have to look at contracts, backup closers, and experience here.
  • Health: We have to dock Kerry Wood for his injury history while rewarding Nathan.
  • Team quality: It stands to reason that Matt Capps will not get as many save opportunities as Mariano Rivera, though it's far from a lock.  Derek Carty found the R Square between wins and save opps to be 0.15.  Team wins are hard to project, and they explain only a small portion of the variance in team save opps.

What are your thoughts?  I'd like to create some kind of RotoAuthority Closer Ranking System, which we can use to determine the best bargains without trying to predict the pitcher's number of save opps.

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Garko To The Outfield?

Indians manager Eric Wedge revealed yesterday that Ryan Garko well be tested as an outfielder during Spring Training.

For Garko himself, I can see mild utility in mixed leagues in that he could hit 20 HR with 80 RBI given 500 or so ABs.

The effects on Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez are more interesting.  V-Mart can remain a 500 AB guy, which is huge for a catcher.  And if Shoppach gets 400 ABs, he's a threat to repeat as a 20 HR backstop.

It's also possible one of these players is traded.

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