January 2009

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Closer Report

I'm not sure if I am going to be able to do the constantly-updated closer report this year.  I may instead just post up new closer info here quickly if possible, and those who get RotoAuthority on RSS can take advantage.  Anyway here is a look at the current closers for each of the 30 teams, with draft round in parentheses.

  • Red Sox - Jonathan Papelbon (5).
  • Phillies - Brad Lidge (6).
  • Mets - Francisco Rodriguez (7).
  • Twins - Joe Nathan (7).
  • Yankees - Mariano Rivera (7).
  • Royals - Joakim Soria (9).
  • White Sox - Bobby Jenks (9).
  • Astros - Jose Valverde (10).
  • Blue Jays - B.J. Ryan (11).
  • Cubs - Carlos Marmol (11).  Kevin Gregg (19) is the backup plan.
  • Dodgers - Jonathan Broxton (11).
  • Angels - Brian Fuentes (11).  Pretty good value at this point in the draft.
  • Reds - Francisco Cordero (13).
  • Indians - Kerry Wood (13).
  • Pirates - Matt Capps (13).  Nice value.
  • Giants - Brian Wilson (14).
  • Braves - Mike Gonzalez (15).  Rafael Soriano (19) is coming back from elbow surgery and may not be ready for Spring Training.
  • Rockies - Huston Street (15), Manny Corpas (20).  Drafters seem to think Street will win this battle.  Troy Renck of the Denver Post tells me Street has a "slight edge," but Corpas could up his stock with a strong WBC performance as Panama's closer.
  • Padres - Heath Bell (16). Excellent value.
  • Athletics - Joey Devine (17), Brad Ziegler (18).  Could be a co-closer situation.
  • Brewers - Trevor Hoffman (18).
  • Diamondbacks - Chad Qualls (18).  Jon Rauch (19) and Tony Pena (35) are also firmly in the mix.
  • Nationals - Joel Hanrahan (18). Doesn't have much competition.
  • Cardinals - Chris Perez (18).  Chris Carpenter (19), Jason Motte (24), Ryan Franklin (22), and Kyle McClellan (undrafted) are in the running as well.
  • Rangers - Frank Francisco (18).  C.J. Wilson (19) is healthy now and could be in the mix.  An acquisition is possible as well.  Derrick Turnbow (undrafted) could be a long shot.  Francisco excelled in the role late last year.
  • Orioles - George Sherrill (19), Chris Ray (19).  Sherrill's shoulder is feeling better.  Ray had Tommy John in August '07 and hopes to be ready for Spring Training.
  • Marlins - Matt Lindstrom (19).  Has a pretty firm hold on the job, so he's a great value at this position.
  • Rays - Troy Percival (20).  Had offseason back surgery and may not be ready at start of season.  Other closing candidates: Dan Wheeler (19), Grant Balfour (19), and Joe Nelson (undrafted).
  • Tigers - Fernando Rodney (23).  Jim Leyland sounded skeptical on the idea of Rodney closing full-time.  The Tigers are likely to acquire someone.  Joel Zumaya (19) may not be ready for Spring Training, but it's possible.
  • Mariners - Aaron Heilman (36), Miguel Batista (undrafted), Tyler Walker (undrafted), Mark Lowe (undrafted), Roy Corcoran (undrafted).  This one looks wide open right now.  Brandon Morrow (17) is preparing as a starter.

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Drafting Fourth

I decided to test my assumptions and do an actual live mock draft with 11 strangers last night at Mock Draft Central.  I was pleasantly surprised - everyone seemed to draft as if it was a real fantasy team (oxymoron?).  Everyone seemed present, as we knocked out the 23-round draft in about an hour.  I had first choice of my pick and I decided to take the fourth.   Here's a look at the draft results by round.

Here's my team, with the round in parentheses:

C - Russell Martin (4)
C - Jorge Posada (18)
1B - Derrek Lee (6)
2B - Mark DeRosa (17)
SS - Derek Jeter (8)
3B - Alex Rodriguez (1)
CI - Joey Votto (7)
MI - Edgar Renteria (21)
OF - Alfonso Soriano (2)
OF - Matt Kemp (3)
OF - Bobby Abreu (5)
OF - Jay Bruce (10)
OF - Randy Winn (20)
DH - Ryan Spilborghs (23)
SP - A.J. Burnett (9)
SP - Javier Vazquez (11)
SP - Matt Cain (13)
SP - Kevin Slowey (14)
SP - Aaron Harang (15)
SP - Andy Sonnanstine (19)
RP - Jonathan Broxton (12)
RP - Brian Wilson (16)
RP - Manny Corpas (22)

I was kind of surprised to see A-Rod available with the fourth pick, and I chose him over David Wright.  Bargains, in my opinion: Posada, Jeter, Bruce, Spilborghs, most of my starters, Wilson, and Corpas.

Once again this team came remarkably close to my benchmarks without me planning it.  My projections: .283 AVG, 285 HR, 1111 RBI, 1154 R, 175 SBs, 3.76 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 1174 Ks, 82 W, 98 SV.

Through some sort of error, I projected Wilson to have 48 saves.  So I have to look into that.  My projections were otherwise safe though.  Mock Draft Central's projection tool said my team would come in second, with 82.0 points (weaknesses: HR, SV).  I can see where they're coming from with saves but this team does have good power.  It is weak in the middle infield, though.

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Transaction Limits

What are your thoughts on transaction limits in fantasy leagues?  I was in five leagues last year, and three of them allowed for unlimited transactions.  I made over 75 add/drops in each league, and many of my league-mates topped that total.  I was trolling the waiver wire daily.

Is this a good thing?  Allowing infinite transactions can pull the focus away from draft day - I typically turned over half my roster.  It also creates a situation where those who sit on the Internet all day (like me) are able to snag new closers first.  And if for some reason the commissioner sets up a league without transaction or innings pitched limits, pitcher streaming often becomes a factor.

In other leagues, we had limits such as two transactions per week or even 15 total add/drops.  The result is much better thought-out pickups.

What's your stance on transaction limits?

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Mock Draft Roundtable

Derek Carty rounded up a bunch of guys, myself included, to ask about mock drafting.  I am kind of a mock draft leech - I love the data, but rarely contribute.

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100-199 ABs In 2008

Finishing up our series, let's look at players who received 100-199 big league ABs in 2008.  ADP data from MDC.

  • Travis Hafner - 198 ABs.  He's an 18th round pick following a worthless 2008.  Hafner had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in October.  I'm inclined to roll the dice on him late.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia - 198 ABs.  Salty's path to playing time improved slightly when Gerald Laird was dealt.  With 350 ABs, he could be worth a few bucks.
  • Miguel Montero - 184 ABs.  Montero could be worth a few bucks if he finds a starting gig via trade.  The Red Sox are known to have interest.
  • Jorge Posada - 168 ABs.  Posada had shoulder surgery in July.  If he bounces back, he's very solid in the 17th round.
  • Brandon Wood - 150 ABs.  Could pop 25 HR and steal 10 bags with a .250 average if he plays full-time.
  • J.R. Towles - 146 ABs.  A year ago Towles and Geovany Soto were the two big catcher sleepers.  Don't give up on Towles yet, as he still has 10/10 potential.  The Astros haven't brought in anyone of note to catch.
  • Rafael Furcal - 143 ABs.  As a sixth round pick, drafters certainly aren't treating him like he missed most of the season.  This is why it's comforting to get one of the Big Three shortstops.
  • Russell Branyan - 132 ABs.  The Mariners want to give him more playing time than ever.  Could flirt with 30 HR with 450 ABs.
  • Ryan Freel - 131 ABs.  If he can stay healthy for 400 ABs he should swipe 20.
  • Daniel Murphy - 131 ABs.  Quiet 10/10 candidate with 400 ABs, which he should get unless the Mets sign someone.
  • Brett Gardner - 127 ABs.  Even in a half season could steal 20.
  • Nelson Cruz - 115 ABs.  With 500 ABs you might be looking at 30 HR, 15 steals.  He's being drafted in the 13th round now.
  • Nick Johnson - 109 ABs.  More of an OBP league sleeper if anything.
  • Chris Dickerson - 102 ABs.  If the Reds don't sign anyone, Dickerson could flirt with 20/20 (with a poor AVG).

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Drafting Ninth - Hitter Projections

There are some doubts as to whether this mock-drafted team could reach the AVG, HR, and SB totals I've projected.

You can check out this spreadsheet to see the individual projections of the 14 hitters.  I think this team is deceptively balanced - only three players below .275, all hitters with double digit HRs, and eleven players with five or more SBs.

I could probably knock a few ABs off Chase Utley's total to be safe, but I think it would balance out since I'd combine another player with Colby Rasmus.

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Drafting Ninth

I used a random number generator and snagged the ninth pick in my own mock draft.  This is a simulation I did with a spreadsheet.  Here's a stab at my perfect-world team, using Mock Draft Central's ADP data as a guideline.  Round is in parentheses.  (League: 12 team mixed.)

C - Geovany Soto (6)
C - Mike Napoli (16)
1B - Chris Davis (7)
2B - Chase Utley (2)
SS - Jimmy Rollins (1)
3B - Edwin Encarnacion (10)
CI - Alex Gordon (14)
MI - Mark DeRosa (15)
OF - Nick Markakis (3)
OF - Alex Rios (4)
OF - Bobby Abreu (5)
OF - Torii Hunter (9)
OF - Colby Rasmus (21)
DH - Daniel Murphy (23)
SP - Ervin Santana (8)
SP - Adam Wainwright (11)
SP - Javier Vazquez (12)
SP - Aaron Harang (13)
SP - Gil Meche (18)
SP - Hiroki Kuroda (20)
SP - Todd Wellemeyer (22)
RP - Trevor Hoffman (19)
RP - Joey Devine (17)
Bn - Fernando Rodney (24)
Bn - Aaron Heilman (25)
Bn - David Bush (26)

I haven't thrown out the pitching benchmarks yet, so let's just take a look at the offense for now.  The projected totals of the starters:

  • .281 AVG
  • 284 HR
  • 1113 RBI
  • 1155 R
  • 177 SBs

A reminder of our benchmarks:

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

I'm honestly really surprised my team projected so close to the benchmarks.  I didn't tabulate a thing as I did my little mock draft - just picked guys I liked and went round-by-round, tying to maintain balance.  Nice group though.

We'll look at the pitching staff more later, but I love my rotation.  Weak on saves, but my teams are always that way coming out of the draft.

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What It Takes To Win: SBs

Next in our What It Takes To Win series, stolen bases.  We're trying to determine the stats you should strive for to achieve fourth place in each of the ten standard 5x5 categories.  If you get nine points per category, you'll end up with 90 and a good chance at taking the title.  I'll use rotisserie leagues that I consider standard - 12 teams, 5x5, 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, 3 bench spots, 2 DL spots.  I was in two such leagues in 2008.

In the first league, 176 SBs snagged fourth place.  In the second, 173 did it.  Last year we used a 169 SB benchmark.  This year we're going with 175.  If you want to be safe, shoot for 13 SBs per position player slot.

Only five players are projected to reach all of our offensive benchmarks: .283 AVG, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 83 runs, and 13 SBs.  They're all first-round picks: Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, and Ian Kinsler.  You may be able to get Holliday in the early second round.  You might even be able to get both Kinsler and Holliday if you draft 11th or 12th.

Obviously you don't need to and can't assemble a team of hitters who all reach these five offensive benchmarks.  But balance is huge in assembling a fantasy team.  Let's pull it back a bit to .280-17-75-75-10.  Now we can add Matt Kemp, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rios, Joey Votto, Hunter Pence, Jay Bruce, and Alexei Ramirez

The speed component that is easy to overlook.  You get a couple of burners and figure you're set.  Not true - too many zero SB players and you just lost a category.

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Mailbag: Signs A Pitcher Can Break Out

We get quite a bit of emails from readers with specific questions about their fantasy teams. Every question is read and appreciated. And if nothing else, we try to address incoming questions in one form or another in future entries. Questions that have universal application will usually be answered more specifically.

Chris asks:

Before going into any drafts this year, I'd like to get your opinion on drafting pitchers. I know you say wait till the 8th round (which I probably will after drafting Smoltz and Kazmir 3rd and 4th last year), but what exactly do you look for in a pitcher? I know that injury risk and potential career years often mean a pitcher should be avoided, but are there any telltale signs that a pitcher is due for a breakout?

One of my favorite aspects of baseball is the amount of data available on any given players career. By the time most players get to the major leagues, they've established a significant data-pool to draw conclusions from.

Unlike other major American sports--baseball is comprised of many micro battles--between individual players, that precisely allow us to quantify their skill set. This bodes well for games like fantasy baseball, where research and knowledge usually separates winners from losers, and luck only plays a marginal role.

To answer Chris' question: the best prognosticators are those that investigate a pitcher's entire track record, and look at their incremental improvements--over time.

Lets look at some areas to keep a close eye on:

Age Relative to Level

Most current and past big leaguers were successful in the minor leagues. But there's more to look at once you crack open the hood. Pitchers that excelled vs older competition throughout their pro careers; Rookie, A, A+, AA, AAA, and then, finally, MLB, are likely to have higher production ceilings, and are a much better bets to have that  "breakout" type season.

Major league pitchers in their early twenties (Gallardo, Gonzalez, Price, Gallagher etc.) can all be the next Danks, Jurjens, Litsch, Billingsley, etc. come this time--next year.

Pitching Peripherals

A pitcher that has a track record inducing many K's, many groundballs, and keeps players off the bases by not giving up the walk, have immense potential. Sometimes a pitcher is successful in these areas, but their ERA and/or WHIP hasn't translated, yet.

xFIP is a fantastic statistic that summarizes a pitchers ability to be successful in these key areas. It's good practice to know what a pitcher's xFIP is--during the season, or what their xFIP was the previous season.  xFIP does a better job predicting future ERA, than ERA itself.

For example: if a pitcher's ERA was 5.0, but their xFIP was 3.50--that year, there's a good chance their ERA will be closer to 3.50 the following season.

Pitch Velocity

Now that we have easy access to any given pitcher's fastball velocity, we can separate hard throwers from soft tossers.

It's no secret, there's a connection between those who throw the ball hard and an increased level of productivity. Ubaldo Jimenez, Felix Hernandez, Ervin Santana, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett all lead the league in average Fastball Velocity--last season (starting pitchers that qualified), respectively.

If you go down the sortable list, you can spot some players who might not have honed all their skills yet, but have very good pitch velocity. These players are more likely to have breakout potential than those pitchers who don't throw the ball as hard.

To point out a few in chronological order: Joba Chamberlain (95 MPH), Dustin McGowan (94.8 MPH), David Price (94.2 MPH), Max Scherzer (94.2 MPH), Clayton Kershaw (94 MPH), Edwin Jackson (94 MPH), and so on.

Scouting Reports

Scouting reports reveal things like Size, Instincts, IQ, Athleticism, Pitch Variety, Delivery etc. Pitchers reported to be outstanding in these areas, are likely to sustain heavier workloads, throw harder, have more deceiving pitches, and be smarter players.

Always try to find a good scouting reports from Sickels, Baseball America, Keith Law, Goldstein, etc. and try to incorporate scouting information with performance data. Professional scouting reports can reveal breakout candidates, who haven't materialized into their potential yet. As a shortcut, you can look at top 100 prospect lists--many of the players on these lists have fantastic scouting reports.

Combining all 4 of these *indicators* gives us a solid breakout-forecasting methodology. What are some clues you look at to spot breakout candidates?

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What It Takes To Win: Runs

Next up in our What It Takes To Win series, runs scored.  We're trying to determine the stats you should strive for to achieve fourth place in each of the ten standard 5x5 categories.  If you get nine points per category, you'll end up with 90 and a good chance at taking the title.  I'll use rotisserie leagues that I consider standard - 12 teams, 5x5, 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, 3 bench spots, 2 DL spots.  I was in two such leagues in 2008.

In the first league, 1157 runs were required for fourth place.  In the second, 1151 did the trick.  Last year we used a benchmark of 1143 runs, which seems light.  I will put the number at 1154 for now.

That means roughly 83 runs per each of the 14 hitter spots on your roster.  I see 75 players pulling off the feat in 2009.  Applying other benchmarks of a .283 AVG, 20 HR, and 80 RBI, we are down to 24 players.  I think we'll find that the only players who meet all five offensive benchmarks are first-rounders.

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