June 2011

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Value Catchers: How Were They Found?

I have a habit of investing heavily in catchers in two-catcher mixed leagues.  Like many of my longstanding tendencies, this needs to be reconsidered.  I could have snagged Dan Haren or Jered Weaver for my rotation instead of Geovany Soto, and a quality closer like Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, or Jose Valverde instead of Mike Napoli

This has been a disappointing year for catchers, with at least five of the first ten drafted looking like busts.  But there have always been fantasy players who ignore position scarcity and just try to find bargain catchers late, and if they hit on this strategy their teams are much stronger for it.  A look at this year's top ten fantasy catchers and how they were acquired in leagues:

  1. Alex Avila, Tigers.  In the RotoAuthority League, the team that has Avila added him as a free agent on March 26th, dropping Ervin Santana.  That team dropped him the same day for Joel Peralta, then added him again on March 30th.  Then the team cut him for Julio Borbon on April 3rd, but added him April 7th for the last time while dropping Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Avila hit his second home run of the season in his fifth game, and by then the indecisiveness was over and he remained a member of Philly Cheez.  After an ugly 2010 season offensively, Avila was simply a flier that worked out.  Perhaps a savvy player could have targeted Avila after looking him up in the 2010 Baseball America Handbook, where he was projected as a possible .280/15 home run type.
  2. Victor Martinez:, Tigers.  V-Mart profiled as a top five fantasy catcher, and he required a third round investment.  With all kinds of studs on the board at the end of the third round, and Martinez moving to a pitcher's park, this felt fairly risky to me.  But it paid off.
  3. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks.  Montero was a respected catcher, though after an off 2010 that included knee surgery, he was available in the 11th round in many leagues and the 10th in mine.  The team that took him went for A.J. Pierzynski in the 19th round as their second catcher.
  4. Brian McCann, Braves.  McCann was another of the big investment types, as he went first in the fifth round in our league.  In this case the investment looks good, though we've seen plenty of early round catching busts.
  5. Miguel Olivo, Mariners.  Olivo was drafted in the 23rd round in our league.  Solid value, as I had him projected for 17 home runs this year.  His home run power has not held up at Safeco, so he hit seven of his ten on the road.  This is an example of drafting a catcher who has one particular skill.  One thing that might have been anticipated was increased playing time and therefore bigger counting stats for Olivo.
  6. Russell Martin, Yankees.  Martin was drafted in the 21st round in our league, a little earlier than most.  Back in spring there were questions about Martin's surgically-repaired knee, plus he hadn't shown double digit power since '08.  This pickup might only look good because Martin had a big April.  It remains to be seen if he can hold value all year.
  7. Yadier Molina, Cardinals.  He was a 20th round pick in our league, from the same team that took Olivo in the 23rd.  As a high contact guy Molina can hit .300 in certain years, and that's what's making him valuable right now.  In that regard, guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz, Ramon Hernandez, and Ryan Hanigan might reward you in batting average if you're lucky.
  8. Matt Wieters, Orioles.  Wieters was a tenth round pick in our league, as everyone still kind of anticipates a breakout.  He hasn't done anything amazing, but he doesn't hurt you either.  Really, you expect more than .275-6-31-23-0 from a tenth round pick, though that looks great to the guy who made a huge reach for Soto in the sixth round.  Yes, that's why I'm in last place.  Then again, if Soto repeated his '08 or '10 season over 425 ABs this year the pick would look just fine.
  9. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays.  Arencibia went in the 20th round.  He's doing exactly what was expected - showing 20 home run power and hitting in the .230s.  Pretty much a young fantasy Olivo, but with more upside and a better ballpark.
  10. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers.  Lucroy was picked up in our league on April 21st by a team that dropped Hanigan.  He's basically matched Wieters.  His work in the high minors didn't hint at double digit power.

Only two examples of waiver bait here, so picking your catchers on draft day is important.  A good strategy might be to grab one of the 10-11th round younger upside types, pairing him with a 20th round veteran or Arencibia-type flier.

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Was My Rotation Ever Good Enough?

I'm in dead last in the RotoAuthority League this year with just 30 points.  My team is all-around bad, but my pitching has been particularly atrocious.  I'm last in wins, ERA, and WHIP, and second to last in strikeouts.  What went wrong?

First off, let's take a look at what I drafted, with draft round in parentheses.

  • C.C. Sabathia (5) - The anchor of the group, a player I somehow had the confidence to trade away on April 14th with Carlos Lee for Shin-Soo Choo.
  • Ted Lilly (10) - Lilly remains on the team.  I projected him for a 3.59 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, but he does lack upside.
  • Ricky Nolasco (11) - I had him down for a 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but expected more.  He's still on the team.
  • John Danks (15) - I projected a 3.84 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and felt there was room for a little more.  I dropped him after his May 29th clunker, after which he immediately reeled off two solid efforts.  I considered Danks quite a bargain in the 15th round.
  • John Lackey (18) - I called for a 4.05 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, but felt there was a chance he'd return to his 2009 level.  I dropped him on May 5th, which showed uncharacteristic patience for me.  I gave him six starts.
  • Edwin Jackson (19) - I projected a 4.44 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, so this was a breakout play.  I cut him on April 23rd, after five starts.

If everyone simply played to my projections - no breakouts, no disappointments - how would I be doing?  The season is 40.86% over, so I'll apply that percentage to their counting stats.  The result: a 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 427 strikeouts, and 33 wins for the starters.  I've used 11 relievers so far this season, and adding in their actual numbers brings me to a 3.64 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 501 strikeouts, and 37 wins.

Such numbers would have me eighth in ERA, ninth in WHIP, tenth in strikeouts, and tied for sixth in wins.  That might not seem like much, but I'd be 15.5 points higher in the standings, in tenth place at 45.5.  I'd also have a good opportunity to climb quickly in WHIP and wins.

Still, this shows that the rotation I built on draft day was never expected to be even middle of the pack.  I hoped for some things to go right with a few pitchers, and they never did.  I picked up Ian Kennedy, Derek Holland, Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez, Ervin Santana, Tim Stauffer, and James McDonald at various points in the season.  I ended up trading Beachy on April 23rd, which to date has cost me 21 strong innings.  I cut Holland, Stauffer, and especially Sanchez at inopportune times, showing poor judgment.

Possible lesson: don't trade away pitching if you're not sure you have a surplus.  Every year I see a few intriguing names on the waiver wire and assume I have pitching to spare, and I'm usually wrong.  On the other hand, Kennedy, Beachy, and Sanchez are very worthy adds, so it pays to be active.  The other lesson, I think, is that a 3.64 team ERA ain't what it used to be.  In the '08 RotoAuthority league, 3.64 would have ranked fifth.  In '09, fourth.  Last year, sixth, and this year so far, eighth.  Granted, my current team ERA is actually a much worse 4.15, but if everyone had met projections and I kept Sabathia my rotation would still not be anywhere near championship-caliber.

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