March 2012

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Sleepers & Busts: Soria, Kennedy

After a couple-week hiatus from Sleepers & Busts, the series returns with a look at a couple of surprise performers from 2011.

Joakim Soria, CL, Royals
ADP: 170

After enjoying a ridiculously strong three-year stretch as the Royals' full-time closer from 2008-10, Soria finally hit the inevitable rough patch in 2011. The seasons of 40-plus saves and 2.00-ish ERAs suddenly seemed like a mirage, replaced unceremoniously by a mere 28 saves and 4.03 ERA. There were plenty lowlights, particularly in a brutal first half, but the worst of it for Soria's owners was an early-season demotion from the closer's role in favor of Aaron Crow.

Ugh; not exactly what owners had in mind on draft day.

Things got better for Soria and his owners after his nadir, as the right-hander pieced together a moderate second-half recovery, although even that was tempered by a hamstring injury that cost him the season's final three weeks. More importantly, though, is that a 2012 rebound appears likely for Soria, creating an opportunity for owners to get a perennial top-10 closer at a discounted price.

Soria's peripherals were not quite as sharp in 2011 as they'd been in preceeding seasons, but his 2.95 SIERA indicates he was still a perfectly capable closer and that he pitched far better than his ERA suggests. Mostly, he suffered from some bad luck -- although there have been reports that he toyed with a new pitch in the season's first month or so before returning to his trusty old repertoire. Soria's .312 BABIP was well above his career average of .268, and his 72.3 percent strand rate was well below his excellent career average of 82 percent. If you mix in a home run rate that also clocked in above Soria's career average, you have the perfect storm for a down year.

With an ADP of 170, Soria is currently the 15th closer going off the board in mocks, but I'm confidently (and perhaps conservatively) projecting him for 35 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA, which, on my crib sheet, places him ahead of Carlos Marmol and Jose Valverde, as well as injury risks Andrew Bailey, J.J. Putz and Brian Wilson. Don't reach too far for Soria -- because it's never a good idea to reach too far for any closer -- but I wouldn't hesitate to nab him in the 12 or 13th, one or two rounds ahead of where he's currently going.

 

Ian Kennedy, SP, Diamondbacks
ADP: 70.7 

It sure is tough to look at IPK's tidy strikeout and walk rates and say that he's a potential "bust," but of course it's all relative. I think the young right-hander will once again be a solid fantasy starter in 2012, but to get him, you'll have to spend your fifth-round pick. That's a pretty steep price to pay for a good, but not great, pitcher.

IPK's surface numbers were ridiculously strong last season: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 21 wins. The good news is that with good control and a low career BABIP, you can count on a repeat of a solid WHIP. The ERA and wins, however, are subject to regression. Kennedy's 3.44 SIERA suggests that while the ERA was not a Jeremy Hellickson-like fluke, it was nonetheless lower than it "should" have been. With just a couple more breaks going against Kennedy -- grounders bleeding through the infield or fly balls carrying into the bleachers -- the ERA will trend upward toward the SIERA. And the latter scenario is something to keep an eye on, in particular, because Kennedy is a flyball pitcher whose home ballpark is a launching pad for big flies.

As for the wins, well, you've probably heard this before if you're a regular reader here at RotoAuthority or other sites like it: They're tough to predict. Kennedy is a good pitcher, no doubt, and the Diamondbacks are a solid team with a good bullpen, but would it be a "bad" season if Kennedy ended up with 13 or 14 wins? Hardly. Consider, for example, Cole Hamels' 2011. The lefty posted a 3.03 SIERA on a great team and came away with only 14 victories. You get the idea.

If Kennedy slips a few rounds, I have no problem nabbing him, but chances are, the square owner in your league won't let that happen. I say, that's fine. Be patient, and keep your focus on pitchers with equal (or greater) upside who are going later in drafts, such as Madison Bumgarner, Michael Pineda, Matt Garza, Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez and Yu Darvish, to name several.



Under the Hood: Strikeouts and Extra-Base Hits

The standard 5x5 categories are by far the easiest to find information on, but three of the five hitting categories are pretty terrible predictors of future success. Sure, there is an alphabet soup of advanced metrics out there, for pitchers and hitters. Look on Fangraphs or Baseball Prospectus and you'll all kinds of advanced metrics, from wOBA, to SIERA, to WAR ... and plenty more. These statistics are very useful, but not all of us have the time to make them work for us. Or a statistics degree. Below, I'll consider a couple stats that might show up on the backs of baseball cards but aren't found in a lot of fantasy publications.

If your league happens to count batter strikeouts, doubles, or triples, so much the better, but they can be extremely useful in predicting -- or at least guesstimating -- batting average, runs, and RBIs. The more a hitter strikes out, the fewer balls he puts in play, the fewer balls in play, the more his average will be subject to the vagaries of the BABIP gods; in lucky seasons he might hit .324, in an unlucky season, he might hit .249. The more doubles and triples a batter hits, the more runs he scores and drives in, even if he's surrounded by singles hitters.

Strikeouts

The following is not an exhaustive list of high-K hitters, or even the strikeout leaderboard from last year, but it is a list of players who might see their value change more drastically than others thanks to their free swinging ways:

We all know about Mark Reynolds and his yearly march toward 200 whiffs, but did you know Drew Stubbs led the majors with 205 strikeouts last year? You don't normally think of speedsters as striking out much (well, I don't, anyway), but Michael Bourn wasn't too far away from the strikeout leaders with (140). 

Austin Jackson and his 181 punchouts led to a lousy batting average last year, after batting nearly .300 as a rookie. Expect more fluctuations in his value. Kelly Johnson is a good sleeper/comeback candidate in a lot of formats, but his strikeouts will probably keep his value going up and down a lot, as he whiffed 163 times last year and 148 times even in his excellent 2010.

Matt Kemp is a clear first-rounder, but he had 159 whiffs last year -- which was only slightly down from 170 the year before. Kemp usually posts high BABIP's, but  his strikeouts allow those BABIPs to have an outsized effect on his final average. Don't be shocked if some bad luck leads to a very disappointing average from Kemp. Kemp isn't the only big hitter that strikes out a lot, but he's the only likely first-round pick high on the leaderboard. Other power hitters with high strikeout totals include Curtis GrandersonDanny EspinosaGiancarlo StantonJay Bruce, and Dan Uggla.

Here are a few players whose strikeouts avoidance helps keep their averages a little closer  from year to year: 

If you're avoiding Stubbs and Bourn for their strikeouts, consider Jose Reyes, who fanned only 41 times in over 500 ABs, or (if he somehow gets the starting job in Philly) Juan Pierre, who also struck out just 41 times. Jimmy Rollins isn't elite anymore, but he still struck out just 59 times in 567 AB.

If you've got an early pick, consider Albert Pujols (only 58 strikeouts) instead of Kemp. For power hitters who don't strike out much, consider Aramis Ramirez (69 K's in 579 AB) or, shockingly, Carlos Lee (60 K's in 585 AB). 

Doubles

Doubles and triples are more like homers than singles, and they can have a big effect on how many runs a player scores and drives in. That won't stop things like the ballpark and lineup (and blind luck) from being even more important, but a runner on second is a lot more likely to score than one on first; a double down the line will drive in a lot more runs than a single up the middle. For younger players, doubles power has the tendency to turn in to homers as they gain bulk and experience, though not all do.

First-round first basemen Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez added to their excellent stats by smacking 48 and 45 doubles, respectively; Joey Votto chimed in with 40. David Ortiz was an even better use of your DH slot thanks to his 40 doubles, and Miguel Montero's 36 led all catchers that will be playing next year. Carlos Beltran may not be stealing bases anymore, but the 39 doubles he hit were just as good a way to get to second base. 

The nice thing about doubles is that superstars aren't the only guys on the leaderboards; quieter players can generate a lot of value. Royals Jeff Franceour (47), Alex Gordon (45), and Billy Butler (44) plated plenty of runs on their doubles. Other hitters who got a lot of value from their doubles include Michael Young (40), Edwin Encarnacion (36), and Ben Zobrist (46).  Speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury (46) and Michael Bourn (34) padded their runs scored with their doubles.

Triples

Often overlooked, triples have seemingly been on the rise lately. Jose Reyes and Shane Victorino each hit 16, while Dexter Fowler hit 15. Starlin Castro's nine triples helped separate him even further from the shortstop pack. Speedsters Peter Bourjos and Michael Bourn legged out 11 and ten triples, respectively, while fringe players Austin Jackson and Seth Smith hit 11 and nine. There isn't much reason to load up on triples hitters in most leagues, but if you're deciding between two players, the triples hit by one could make a difference in runs scored.

There are a lot of metrics worth looking at when it comes to predicting next year's stats and valuating players for your draft board. Looking in places where your leaguemates aren't can mean looking up the most advanced, accurate, and technical statistics. Or at simple things, more usually ignored.

 


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Position/Role Battles: The Dodgers' Closer

Poor Javy Guerra. On most other teams, Guerra's rise to prominence would be a Cinderella story; a fairly unheralded minor league starter who battled injuries and a switch to the bullpen, rising through the ranks to finally make his Major League debut in his eighth pro season. And Guerra didn't just debut, he bailed the Dodgers out by taking over from Jonathan Broxton as closer and posting a 2.31 ERA and a 2.11 K/BB over 46 2/3 innings, racking up 21 saves.

So why is it 'poor Javy' and not 'viva Javy'?  Because rather than regard Guerra as a closer on the rise, it seems that everyone has already looked past him to his understudy, who has an even more remarkable story and a ceiling as high as any young reliever in baseball.

Signed as a 17-year-old catching prospect out of Curacao in 2004, Kenley Jansen was converted to relief pitching in 2009 and has been blowing away hitters ever since. Jansen recorded a whopping 110 strikeouts in 64 2/3 minor league innings, earning himself a callup in 2010 and a full-time bullpen job in 2011. All Jansen did last season was post a Major League record 16.1 K/9 (96 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings), along with a 2.85 ERA.  Jansen even finished seventh in Rookie Of The Year voting last season, quite the sign of respect from voters given that relievers rarely get awards attention without saves.

Don Mattingly has said that the closer's job is Guerra's to lose, a fair decision by the manager given that Guerra didn't do anything to warrant a demotion.  With a weapon like Jansen in reserve, however, you wonder how much leeway Mattingly will give Guerra the first time he has back-to-back blown saves, or even a few shaky outings in a row.

Let's look at both pitchers' 2011 numbers...

Guerra: 46 2/3 IP, 2.31 ERA (3.30 FIP, 4.07 xFIP), 38 K, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 42.9% GBR

Jansen: 53 2/3 IP, 2.85 ERA (1.74 FIP, 2.09 xFIP), 96 K, 16.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 5.0 H/9, 26.9% GBR

While Guerra is better at keeping the ball on the ground, that massive gap in strikeouts is hard to overlook.  Equally as interesting are the wildly divergent FIP and xFIP numbers; judging by these advanced metrics, Jansen was unlucky to post his 2.85 ERA while Guerra may have been very fortunate to have such a low real-world ERA.

There are a few areas that will give Jansen owners pause, however.  He has just been pitching for less than four years, he has averaged 4.6 BB/9 over his two seasons (so there's at least a possibility of him transforming from 2010's Carlos Marmol to the 2011 Marmol) and, most disturbingly, Jansen recently visited a hospital with heart palpitations.  He received medical clearance to continue playing, but it's a warning sign given his stint on the DL last year due to cardiac arrythmia.  These are the type of health issues that go beyond the field and make you hope that Jansen will be able to live his life without any difficulties, let alone pitch effectively.

Fantasy outlook: Jansen's peripherals are so eye-popping that his fantasy value is comparable to Guerra's even if he doesn't win the closer's job.  In his recent fantasy rankings of relievers, Roto Authority's Mike Axisa focused on saves first and foremost given that they're the most important fantasy stat for relief pitchers.  Mike ranked Guerra 29th and Jansen 33rd --- or, Guerra near the bottom among closers and Jansen near the top of the non-closers (or, "holds guys"). It's a fair ranking since frankly, if Guerra didn't have the closer's job, he wouldn't be on the list at all.  He is a quality pitcher but, had the situation been reversed and Jansen gotten the first chance to close last year, we wouldn't be calling this a position/role battle.  The job would be Jansen's from start to finish this season, barring a major blowup or an injury.

Non-closers are somewhat of a roster luxury in a standard 5x5 league, but a reliever delivering nearly two strikeouts per inning and keeping a low ERA is hard to ignore. Try to find two full-time closers if you can for your two RP spots, but for an open P spot, picking up Jansen has more relative upside than filling it with a middling starter who will have higher counting stats but at the cost of a much higher ERA and WHIP.

For your fantasy draft, the best way to approach the Dodgers' closing situation is, of course, to draft both pitchers.  If you can't pull off the handcuff strategy, however, I'd take the risk and pick Jansen if both he and Guerra are still on the board.  Jansen has at least a 50% shot of becoming closer eventually and even if Guerra does keep the job all year, Jansen is still worth owning because of his strikeouts (and he will be a beast if your league tracks holds). If you draft Guerra first, you'll spend the entire season crossing your fingers that he can stay in front of the Jansen Express.



Yahoo and MDC ADP Analysis & Draft Tiers: Second Basemen and Shortstops

This week's ADP-related article will rank second basemen and shortstops in order of their Yahoo and Mock Draft Central average draft positions, and then identify draft tiers and strategies (position qualifications referenced in this article are based on Yahoo position qualifications). Based on popular commentary requests, next week's ADP article will compare default player rankings from Yahoo, ESPN & CBS Sportsline to identify players whose ADP may slip in drafts on these websites as a result of undervalued default rankings:

Second Basemen

  1. Robinson Cano - 9.43 (7.9 Yahoo; 10.95 MDC)
  2. Dustin Pedroia - 18.91 (18.2 Yahoo; 19.61 MDC)
  3. Ian Kinsler - 22.67 (21.3 Yahoo; 24.04 MDC)
  4. Dan Uggla - 51.68 (48.3 Yahoo; 55.06 MDC)
  5. Brandon Phillips - 60.05 (59.7 Yahoo; 60.40 MDC)
  6. Michael Young - 64.3 (56.9 Yahoo; 71.70 MDC) - 1B, 3B
  7. Ben Zobrist - 66.40 (54.1 Yahoo; 78.69 MDC) - OF
  8. Chase Utley - 72.60 (66.8 Yahoo; 78.39 MDC)
  9. Rickie Weeks - 84.16 (89.4 Yahoo; 78.92 MDC)
  10. Michael Cuddyer - 87.61 (80.3 Yahoo; 94.92 MDC) - 1B, OF
  11. Howie Kendrick - 91.84 (79.3 Yahoo; 104.37 MDC) - 1B, OF
  12. Dustin Ackley - 139.41 (141.8 Yahoo; 137.01 MDC)
  13. Jemile Weeks - 154.60 (158.4 Yahoo; 150.79 MDC)
  14. Neil Walker - 154.68 (168.3 Yahoo; 141.06 MDC)
  15. Danny Espinosa - 170.28 (193.4 Yahoo; 147.15 MDC)
  16. Jason Kipnis - 192.96 (221.1 Yahoo; 164.82 MDC)
  17. Ryan Roberts - 205.98 (216. 3 Yahoo; 195.65 MDC)
  18. Kelly Johnson - 227.17 (214.8 Yahoo; 239.54 MDC)
  • Tiers:
    • Tier 1: Ranks 1-3 (Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler)
    • Tier 2: Ranks 4-11 (Uggla, Phillips, Young, Zobrist, Utley, Weeks, Cuddyer, Kendrick)
    • Tier 3: Ranks 12-18 (Ackley, Weeks, Walker, Espinosa, Kipnis, Roberts, Johnson)
  • Draft Strategy: Second base provides deep production with large tiers of players worth comparable value, so don't reach when the beginning of a tier starts to get drafted. ... Preferably, owners will take one of the last players from either Tier 1 or 2 as their second baseman. ... Since shortstop is not as deep, owners are likely to draft a second baseman to fill the MI roster spot. Owners that draft from Tier 1 should continue to target a low Tier 2 second baseman for MI rather than ignore second basemen following the early draft pick. ... Within Tier 2, Young, Cuddyer and Kendrick provide good value compared to ADP in Yahoo leagues, as the second base qualification provides additional roster flexibility for each player. ... Within Tier 3, Johnson provides excellent value compared to ADP and is a good MI target. ... Hill and Murphy are sneaky-upside MI selections outside the top 18 and provide depth at the position, so an owner does not need to reach within Tier 3.

Shortstops

  1. Troy Tulowitzki - 5.18 (5.0 Yahoo; 5.36 MDC)
  2. Jose Reyes - 20.04 (19.5 Yahoo; 20.58 MDC)
  3. Hanley Ramirez - 21.1 (21.9 Yahoo; 20.30 MDC)
  4. Starlin Castro - 41.14 (39.9 Yahoo; 42.38 MDC)
  5. Elvis Andrus - 45.76 (47.3 Yahoo; 44.22 MDC)
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera - 73.06 (70.5 Yahoo; 75.62 MDC)
  7. Jimmy Rollins - 83.47 (78.1 Yahoo; 88.84 MDC)
  8. Derek Jeter - 117.24 (112.7 Yahoo; 121.77 MDC)
  9. J.J. Hardy - 134.27 (134.9 Yahoo; 133.64 MDC)
  10. Dee Gordon - 142.35 (140. 9 Yahoo; 143.79 MDC)
  11. Alexei Ramirez - 150.36 (140.6 Yahoo; 160.11 MDC)
  12. Erick Aybar - 153.98 (163.3 Yahoo; 144.65 MDC)
  13. Emilio Bonifacio - 165.25 (156.6 Yahoo; 173.89 MDC) - 3B, OF
  14. Jhonny Peralta - 168.51 (162.7 Yahoo; 174.31 MDC)
  15. Stephen Drew - 190.86 (232.1 Yahoo; 149.61 MDC)
  16. Yunel Escobar - 206.29 (198.7 Yahoo; 213.87 MDC)
  17. Mike Aviles - 239.31 (234.6 Yahoo; 244.02 MDC) - 2B, 3B
  18. Ian Desmond - 242.71 (237.3 Yahoo; 248.12 MDC)
  • Tiers:
    • Tier 1: Rank 1 (Tulowitzki)
    • Tier 2: Ranks 2-3 (Reyes, Ramirez)
    • Tier 3: Ranks 4-5 (Castro, Andrus)
    • Tier 4: Ranks 6-8 (Cabrera, Rollins, Jeter)
    • Tier 5: Ranks 9-14 (Hardy, Gordon, Ramirez, Aybar, Bonifacio)
    • Tier 6: Ranks 15-18 (Drew, Escobar, Aviles, Desmond)
  • Draft Strategy: The drop in value as the draft progresses is much steeper and swifter at shortstop than at second base, and as a result, the draft tiers are smaller at shortstop. ... Outside of Tulowitzki (a legitimate top 3 pick), the shortstop position is being drafted too early compared to the production from players at other positions drafted with similar ADPs, so owners are encouraged to avoid reaching to fill the shortstop position from Tiers 2-4. ... Reyes (injury risk/BA floor similar to his xBAs from 2009 (.259), 2010 (.274) and 2011 (.290)/dropoff in SBs after getting paid) and Ramirez (lost 2011/position change affecting hitting) have too many concerns for me to draft in the second round. ... Andrus has been widely publicized as overrated and could make a nice selection if he falls to the 5th or sixth round; Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster notes Andrus has .300 BA and 50 SB upside, and with a few more HRs in his home ballpark he could provide Reyes-like value three or four rounds later. ... Each of the Tier 5 shortstops provide good value compared to ADP and will be my targeted shortstop picks. ... Owners only need to select one shortstop in the draft and then avoid the position by filling out the MI roster spot from the deeper and more talented second-base pool.


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Out Of Position Value

Every year in fantasy, there are a handful of players with eligibility at a position they will rarely (or in some cases, never) play throughout the course of the regular season. The flexibility of multi-position eligibility is valuable in and of itself, but often times, managers can benefit from playing OF-caliber production at a middle infield position, or getting extra at-bats from the catcher position.

Victor Martinez and Carlos Santana, for example, led all backstops in plate appearances in 2011 due to V-Mart's time at DH and Santana's time at first base. Those are a pair of pretty obvious values, but here's a few more that might get overlooked being further down the draft board:

Ryan Doumit, C/OF/DH, Twins:

Manager Ron Gardenhire recently announced that he plans to use Doumit as his primary designated hitter. Doumit is also expected to see time in the outfield and at first base. His career .271/.334/.442 slash line is solid production out of any catcher, but it sounds like his workload will be increased beyond that of your typical fantasy backstop.

The Top 12 catcher-only eligible players (according to Yahoo final rankings in 2011) averaged 490 plate appearances, and that's including Herculean workloads by guys like Alex Avila and Miguel Montero. Meanwhile, Martinez, who caught just 26 games in 2011, came to the plate a whopping 595 times.

It sounds like the Twins are planning on rostering three catchers (Drew Butera or J.R. Towles will receive the other nod -- try to contain your excitement, please), so Doumit's not likely to see too many games behind the plate barring a Joe Mauer injury. That's good news for his legs and health.

Doumit is essentially an everyday DH (and backup position player) that you can plug into your catcher spot. His power will be sapped by Target Field, so that's something to consider, but with a career ISO of .171 he's decisively higher than names like A.J. Pierzynski (.138) and Kurt Suzuki (.130), both of whom are going ahead of him in AL-only drafts at MDC.

I consider Doumit a strong, underrated play in AL-only formats, and a solid second catcher in two-catcher leagues. He's a fringe option in mixed leagues, but someone to keep an eye on as he transitions into his new surroundings.

Brett Myers, SP/RP, Astros:

It's odd to think of a pitcher "playing out of position," but Myers will be Houston's primary closer this year while carrying SP eligibility (for leagues that distinguish between SP and RP). Closers are a finite commodity on draft day. Most managers will try to come away with two or three of them in their drafts, and scramble to pick up handcuffs and replacements if the guys they draft struggle or hit the DL.

Myers' dual eligibility is a boost in these scenarios, however. He allows owners to transition him to an SP slot should they be the first with access to a replacement closer. While some managers may have maxed out their RP/P spots and therefore not be able to add the additional saves, Myers owners won't have that problem. Allowing a fourth or even fifth closer to be rostered can present your team with a decisive advantage in saves.

Beyond that, Myers allows managers to roster a lights-out setup man such as Tyler Clippard, Kenley Jansen, or Jonny Venters without the downside of having to sacrifice saves. So, while you perhaps wait for an additional closer to pop up due on the waiver wire following an injury, you can receive a boost to your Ks, WHIP, and ERA with a dominant eighth inning presence that other teams may not be able to budget for.

Myers himself may be detrimental in WHIP and ERA, but it's worth noting that his xFIP (3.75) and SIERA (3.83) suggest he was better than the 4.46 ERA he registered in 2011. He's also improved his command each year since 2007 (including a career-best 2.4 BB/9 last year), so there's reason to hope for improvement in his 1.31 WHIP.

He's still a bottom-tier closer, but he's one that I would take over most of the fringy firemen you'll be choosing from in the "scrap saves" portion of the draft.

Trevor Plouffe, SS/OF, Twins:

Plouffe may seem like a bit of a stretch as a fantasy option, and for the time being, he is. He also posted a .154 ISO last season, however, good for sixth among shortstops with 200 or more plate appearances. And when he wasn't with the big league club, the 25-year-old was busy posting a mammoth .313/.384/.635 line with 15 bombs in 220 trips to the plate at Triple-A.

Minnesota is transitioning Plouffe strictly to an outfield role in 2012, where he's a good bet to platoon with Ben Revere in left field. Revere's a defensive wizard, but is just 23 and hit a mere .267/.310/.309 in 2011. The Twins love his glove (and rightfully so), but there's no 100% guarantee that he's in the Majors from here on out. Plouffe, a former first round pick, could hit his way into more playing time in the outfield while still allowing fantasy players to plug him in at SS (or at 2B in some leagues, as he started 15 games there in 2011).

He may not be someone to target on a draft day, but he's one to keep an eye on throughout the season's early phases, especially in AL-only formats where Sean Rodriguez, Cliff Pennington, Alcides Escobar, Mike Aviles, and even Plouffe's teammate Jamey Carroll are all being drafted on MDC and Yahoo.



RotoAuthority Chat Transcript

Click here to read the transcript of today's chat with Tim Dierkes.

 



2012 Position Rankings: Relievers

Time for our final set of rankings, the guys pitching the end of the game appropriately enough. Saves are what it's all about for relievers in 5x5 leagues, but they aren't the only stat that counts.

  1. John Axford, MIL - Strikeouts (10.5 K/9) and ground balls (49.7%) are the name of Axford's game, and his teammates should ensure him plenty of save chances. Every reliever is risky, but I feel there's less risk here than usual despite his unusual background.
  2. Mariano Rivera, NYY - Even at 42 years old, Rivera is a marvel. He's dominant in ERA and WHIP, and will pile up saves like few others. The Yankees have scaled back his workload in recent years, so don't expect to see him make too many back-to-back appearances. No one has more job security.
  3. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI - Papelbon has never really been at risk of losing his job in Boston, but his new contract guarantees him the ninth inning with the Phillies. Elite production in all categories except wins.
  4. Craig Kimbrel, ATL - Kimbrel's absurd strikeout rate (14.8 K/9) does not come without risk. He was second among all relievers in appearances (79) and ninth in innings (77) last season and seemed to tire down the stretch. Throwing over 30% sliders is usually cause for concern as well.
  5. Drew Storen, WAS - The Nationals' new rotation should mean more save chances for Storen, who was already sixth in the league last year (43). Doesn't get enough love as a top tier closer.
  6. Ryan Madson, CIN - A minor elbow injury has slowed Madson in camp, but otherwise the ninth inning job is undoubtedly his for the first time in his career.
  7. Joakim Soria, KC - A hamstring injury and some cutter issues gave Soria problems early last season, but he finished strong and figures to be his usual self in 2012.
  8. Rafael Betancourt, COL - The Huston Street trade opened up the ninth inning for Betancourt, who filled in briefly last season. His high strikeout, low WHIP ways just got a ton more valuable.
  9. Brian Wilson, SF - Wilson had oblique and elbow issues last season that delayed his start this year, but he'll have to show that the drastic declines in his strikeout and walk rates were a fluke if he wants to regain top closer status.
  10. Joel Hanrahan, PIT - Hanrahan is finally get the hang of throwing strikes, though he traded some strikeouts for ground balls last season. He could be midseason trade bait given the Mike Adams, Andrew Bailey, and Mark Melancon hauls.
  11. Heath Bell, MIA - The big drop-off in strikeouts in a concern (11.1 K/9 in 2010 to 7.3 K/9 in 2011), but Bell will still have a shot at 40+ saves even if the secondary numbers are less than impressive.
  12. Jose Valverde, DET - The 49-for-49 in save chances thing helped mask what is now a five-year trend of declining strikeout rates. You'll get lots of saves, but at some point the underlying performance will result in a 4.00+ ERA.
  13. Jason Motte, STL - Motte stepped up as closer at the perfect time for the Cardinals, and now he'll have the job right from the get-go. He's gotten his homer problem under control in recent years, and the strikeouts have always been there.
  14. J.J. Putz, ARI - Putz had a big return to the ninth inning last year, but as always the question remains health. He's good for a DL stint or two per season, plus some other day-to-day stuff.
  15. Sergio Santos, TOR - Santos took the closer job and ran with it last season, and now takes his high strikeout ways to Toronto. If he can cut down on the walks, he'll rocket up the rankings.
  16. Carlos Marmol, CHC - The strikeout rate dropped (to a still excellent 12.0 K/9) but the walk rate didn't in 2011, and he lost his job at times last season. Sean Marshall is no longer a threat, but it doesn't make him any less risky.
  17. Andrew Bailey, BOS - Injuries have limited Bailey to just 89 appearances over the last two seasons, which is the big concern. The Red Sox should give him more save chances than the A's did.
  18. Jordan Walden, LAA - Lots of strikeouts, a low ERA, and lots of blown saves (ten). That's what Walden gave the Angels last year, and I do wonder how long his leash will be given the increased expectations in Anaheim.
  19. Brandon League, SEA - The low strikeout rate hurts, but League is in the final year of his contract and is prime midseason trade bait. He could windup a setup man come July.
  20. Kyle Farnsworth, TB - Farnsworth has traded strikeouts for ground balls in recent years, which hurts his overall value. His elbow problem late in 2011 at age 35 is a concern.
  21. Tyler Clippard, WAS - The game's most fantasy dominant setup man, Clippard is workhorse who will provide elite strikeout, ERA, and WHIP production.
  22. Huston Street, SD - Moving from Coors Field to Petco Park will help his extreme homer problem, but not the injuries. There's still a ton of risk here.
  23. Joe Nathan, TEX - Nathan finished well after a slow start, but as a 37-year-old fly ball pitcher moving to a hitter's park (with a major injury in the recent past), he's a grenade with the pin pulled.
  24. Jonny Venters, ATL - Overworked like Kimbrel, Venters will grab some save chances throughout the season since the Braves seem destined to play a lot of close games.
  25. Matt Thornton, CHW - A terrible April was followed by five pretty good months, and Santos' departure means Thornton is the man at the end of the game on Chicago's south side. For now.
  26. Jim Johnson, BAL - He won't miss many bats, but Johnson took the closer's job from Kevin Gregg last year and will run away with it thanks to his turbo-sinker.
  27. Brett Myers, HOU - The newly minted closer in Houston, hopefully the move back to the bullpen boosts Myers' strikeout rate and allows him to avoid the long ball. SP eligibility will provide some extra flexibility.
  28. Frank Francisco, NYM - Prone to the occasional meltdown, Francisco is good for strong strikeout numbers and a DL stint (at least one in each of the last three seasons).
  29. Javy Guerra, LAD - Guerra stepped in nicely last season, seemingly getting his career-long walk issues under control. He'll be the closer from day one.
  30. Chris Perez, CLE - Perez flirted with a 1.0 K/BB ratio for much of 2011, but he finished well. An oblique problem could delay the start to his season.
  31. Vinnie Pestano, CLE - Few setup men were better than Pestano last season, who's going to get the call in the ninth if Perez starts the season on the shelf.
  32. Mike Adams, TEX - The setup man extraordinaire is first in line for saves if Nathan slips up or gets hurt.
  33. Kenley Jansen, LAD - No one struck out a greater percentage of batters faced last season (min. 40 IP), and Jansen is right there waiting for Guerra to slip up.
  34. Brian Fuentes, OAK - The Athletics have yet to decide on a closer, but Fuentes held the job while Bailey was hurt last season. It could give him a leg up.
  35. Grant Balfour, OAK - If not Fuentes, then Balfour is likely to be The Guy in Oakland. He offers better strikeout and WHIP numbers as well.
  36. Sean Marshall, CIN - Arguably the best left-hander reliever in the game, Madson means it'll be tougher for Marshall to steal saves than it was with Marmol in Chicago. Good thing he's valuable in other categories.
  37. Joaquin Benoit, DET - A rough start to his Tigers career was long forgotten by the time the playoffs rolled around. Benoit showed that 2010 was no fluke.
  38. Matt Capps, MIN - If you don't like strikeouts, low ERAs, and low WHIPs, here's your fantasy closer. Without saves, Capps is unrosterable.
  39. Glen Perkins, MIN - Perkins was off-the-charts good in 2011, and Capps' perpetual shakiness means he could see his fair share of save chances in 2012.
  40. Sergio Romo, SF - Romo was so good last season (70 K and 5 BB) that Bruce Bochy made sure he didn't break him by only using him for 48 IP. We need more than that, Boch.
  41. David Hernandez, ARI - When Putz makes his annual DL trip, Hernandez is the guy that will fill in. The walks are a little high, but the strikeouts make up for it.
  42. Francisco Rodriguez, MIL - It's easy to take K-Rod for granted - 9+ K/9 in each of last nine years plus a sub-3.00 ERA in seven of last eight years - but Axford is standing in the way of saves. Too bad.
  43. Scott Downs, LAA - If Walden slips up at all, the save chances will likely go to Downs. The strikeout rate isn't great, but it's tough to ignore everything else.
  44. David Robertson, NYY - Roberton broke out in a big way last season, but his walk rate is scary high and could result in a 5.00+ ERA with some bad luck.
  45. Greg Holland, KC - Holland was very quietly one of the best relievers in baseball last season, but he's only third in line for saves for the Royals right now.
  46. Kerry Wood, CHC - With Marshall out of the fold, Wood is next in line for ninth inning work whenever Marmol has one of those glorious meltdowns.
  47. Mark Melancon, BOS - From closing for the Astros to setting up for the Red Sox. Bailey's sketchy medical record means a few save chances should come his way.
  48. Addison Reed, CHW - A hard-throwing reliever prospect, Reed struck out a dozen and walked one in his six game cameo last season. He's right behind Thornton on the depth chart.
  49. Francisco Cordero, TOR - The self-proclaimed closer of the eighth inning, Cordero gives the Jays a veteran fallback option of Santos slips up at any point.
  50. Rafael Soriano, NYY - Rivera never slips up, but if an injury were to sideline him for an extended period of time, the Proven Closer could get the nod over Robertson. Soriano isn't exactly Mr. Durable himself, remember.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Broxton, KC; Aroldis Chapman, CIN; Andrew Cashner & Luke Gregerson, SD; Joel Peralta, TB; Fernando Salas, STL; Jon Rauch, NYM; Jesse Crain, CHW; Brad Lidge, WAS; Kevin Gregg, BAL; Brandon Lyon & David Carpenter; HOU; Hong-Chih Kuo, SEA

Pitchers with both SP and RP eligibility

  1. Cory Luebke, SD
  2. Brett Myers, HOU
  3. Neftali Feliz, TEX
  4. Daniel Bard, BOS
  5. Chris Sale, CHW
  6. Alexi Ogando, TEX
  7. Josh Collmenter, ARI

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield, Starting Pitchers


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Only For You

Here at RotoAuthority, the finest free fantasy site around, we focus on serpentine, mixed league drafts. We are also extremely good looking. This morning, I took grainy photos of myself in the mirror with my white iPhone to post on Match.com! We know how to live, and we also know that some of you nerds are too nerdy even for mixed leagues. You play in Only leagues, the Himalaya of nerddom. From your obvallate mountain fortresses of telencephalon, you glare down at the impolitic fantasy populace, dazed within the labyrinthian mediocrity of mixed league involvement.

For you, then, you lithotrophic fantasy Leibniz, you Tenzing Norgay of sabermetric alpinism, I will hastily review this weekend past's AL and NL Only LABR auction drafts, playing favor to your teeming intellect and perhaps garnering a vaunted Facebook like. Might a five best, five worst gets for each suffice?

AL Only, 5 Best Gets:

Kevin Youkilis, $20. A healthy Youkilis, hitting cleanup for the Red Sox, playing a premium position. 3B is deeper in the AL, but this is an excellent buy. 

Kendrys Morales, $9. Morales has already begun running zig-zag cuts and will run the bases this week. Huge upside in this buy, and, at $9, not much downside. 

Josh Reddick, $7. All but guaranteed a full slate of ABs in the middle of the Athletics lineup, Reddick could easily go .270/15/75/75/5.

Philip Humber, $4. Humber's WHIP in 2011: 1.18. If he can manage a WHIP in the 1.20's in 2012, this bid is gold. 

Bartolo Colon, $2. Don't look now, but Colon posted a 3.60 SIERA in 164 innings in 2011. He'll be pitching in the friendly confines of O.co Coliseum, home of the 5th lowest HR park factor in 2011. 

AL Only, 5 Worst Gets:

Brandon Inge was not drafted. There are still reserve rounds, of course, but a player with Inge's pop and a good shot at 2B should go for at least $1, especially in the Tigers lineup. 

Nelson Cruz, $26. Cruz still has huge power potential, but he can't stay on the field. In an Only league, paying $26 for 450 ABs will sabotage your season.

Delmon Young, $21. Sure, Delmon will bat behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but he's a tease. Young's 2011 ISO was an anemic .120. With a career FB% of 33.6, HR/FB% of 9.2, and BB% of 4.2, I say blech. Either Alex Avila or Jhonny Peralta could easily end up in the five hole. 

Ricky Romero, $19. Romero is Philip Humber. Ricky lucked out with a 79.2 LOB% and .242 BABIP. Sure, he gets a lot of ground balls (54.7%), but that's about it. Romero is bound to regress.

Vernon Wells, $16. Wells could certainly rebound, and will obviously get playing time.  Wells is 33 and had a .248 OBP in 2011, however, and is too risky at this price. 

Scott Baker, $14. Baker is talented, but can't stay healthy. A dangerous play.

NL Only, 5 Best Gets:

J.D. Martinez, $14. Martinez raked in the minors and will be locked in to the three-hole. The Astros will likely be terrible again, but there is serious upside here. 

Alfonso Soriano, $10. There is plenty of pop left in Soriano's bat (.225 ISO in '11), and he could still threaten 30 HR. A .260/30/90/75 season is possible. 

Jordan Schafer, $5. Another Houston OF, Schafer could go 10/30. At $5, a bargain. Hit up the Astros for your NL Only discounts. 

Johan Santana, $5. No setbacks yet for Johan. Sign me up for $5. 

Chris Capuano, $3. Capuano quietly had an excellent 2011, posting an 8.13 K/9 and 3.60 SIERA. A steal at $3. 

NL Only, 5 Worst Gets:

David Wright, $30. Wright has been on tilt for the past three years. The power came back in 2010, but at the expense of a 10.3 SwStr%. Marred by injuries and the psychosomatic cesspool that is being the failed poster boy of a failed franchise, I'm staying away. The corner positions are extremely shallow in the NL, but I don't think this is a reason to overspend. Best to let others spend heavily on overpriced players and build depth and breadth. 

Starlin Castro, $28. Castro, like Elvis Andrus in the AL, is overvalued due to his youth and supposed upside. Castro does have a sweet swing, but that doesn't make him a great fantasy SS. He can't take a walk, isn't a good basestealer, and doesn't have much power. With Jose Reyes going for $29, this is a bad investment. 

Michael Cuddyer, $27. Not good. I understand that the deflated pitching market affected the entire draft, but this is too much. Roy Halladay went for $28. 

Martin Prado, $24. Also not good. 

Daniel Hudson, $17. Hudson is the NL's Ricky Romero. Overrated for no apparent reason, Hudson's SwStr% fell back to 7.7%. Especially in the context of this particular draft, $17 is too much for Hudson. 

POST ANALYSIS DISCLAIMER:

Auction drafts are expressly fluid, and thus retrospect price evaluation is suspect. Nonetheless, perhaps you Only leaguers now have a slightly enhanced market understanding as you engage in final preparations. Not that you'd need any help, Narcissus.  


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Mock Draft Analysis: Can My Team Win?

Congratulations! After hours weeks of preparation, plus a couple hours of your precious time spent drafting, you've assembled your fantasy roster for 2012.

All the agonizing about who will boom and who will bust is set aside till next year. You shelve yet another dogeared copy of Ron Shandler's Forecaster. During web-browser spring cleaning, you delete your bookmark to Fangraphs' ZiPs or Marcel pages, or whichever absurdly titled projection system you use. And, yes, you finally stop trolling mock draft forums.

Wasting no time, you rush over to your team's page at the conclusion of your draft. Maybe you tweak your squad's name and avatar to honor someone you've just drafted (e.g. Bourn Mediocrity). With or without that step, the reason you're there is to plug the players into their corresponding positions. To see the lineup slots fill up till everyone is in his right place ... it's fantasy magic.

But, for most of us, there's more to it than just the aesthetics of seeing a rounded-out roster. We want to know: Is my team any good? Sure, if you've drafted competently, your team will probably pass the eyeball test. But truthfully, most teams look decent enough on paper before Opening Day, so how can you really tell?

Thankfully, we have a pretty good idea of what it will take to win fantasy leagues in 2012, courtesy of some number-crunching by Tim Dierkes. Using Tim's what-it-takes-to-win estimates, as well as his 2012 projections, I'm now going to see how closely the team I drafted in RotoAuthority's mock will finish to 90 roto points. The league is classic 5x5 roto, with two starting catchers, five outfielders, nine pitchers (1,500 innings cap), and three bench slots.

Here's my roster:

And here are the results:

Offense

  • Target average: .270
  • Projected average: .278
  • Target homers: 271
  • Projected homers: 272
  • Target RBI: 1,071
  • Projected RBI: 1,046
  • Target runs: 1,092
  • Projected runs: 1,044
  • Target steals: 187
  • Projected steals: 121

Pitching

  • Target ERA: 3.54
  • Projected ERA: 3.67
  • Target WHIP: 1.21
  • Projected WHIP: 1.24
  • Target strikeouts: 1328
  • Projected strikeouts: 1376
  • Target wins: 99
  • Projected wins: 97
  • Target saves: 101
  • Projected saves: 52

 

Analysis

This roster should net nine or more roto points in four of 10 categories as of now. That's a decent start, and although I do think this team is better than that would typically suggest based on some easy-to-correct roster glitches, there is obviously work to be done. Here are some thoughts:

  • Saves and steals are the categories I most want to address as areas of need. Fortunately, they can both be dealt with post-draft to varying degrees, but that's not necessarily ideal, so I'll take a hack at a realistic and minimal draft reconstruction. 
  • A botched 14th-round pick on the underwhelming Alonso looks to be an obvious culprit. The projection systems just don't like this guy very much -- obviously not for speed, since that's not his game, but not for power, either, and perhaps not even to get a full season's worth of ABs. Had I passed on him in favor of a closer (there were still plenty of good ones available at that point), I could have then rounded out my outfield several rounds later with a much-needed steals contributor like Angel Pagan, who would have cost me my late-round flier on Bedard. I like Bedard as a sleeper this year, but a closer like Joakim Soria or Rafael Betancourt and Pagan would help my team much more than Alonso and Bedard, so it's pretty much a no-brainer.
  • ERA and WHIP don't look great, although those stats are fairly inflated by Billingsley and Liriano. It's especially unlikely that I'd take two guys like that, let alone one. But assuming Liriano shows nothing out of the gate, I'd probably drop him pretty quickly for a top setup man like Greg Holland, who can contribute (albeit minimally) in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Pitchers like Holland can always be dropped without pause if and when the time comes that you need to stream starters to meet the innings cap. Billingsley, too, would be on a very short leash.
  • Street is my only sure-thing closer, although I'm not especially worried about that. For one, I do think Jansen will eventually (hopefully sooner than later) wrestle closing duties away from Javy Guerra, which would give me two closers. But aside from that, I'm pretty confident in my ability to nab spec closers off the wire when a change occurs. Whether you're willing to follow this or prefer the security of completing a draft with three closers in the big is really a matter of knowing how shrewd and quick you are to the draw.
  • Obviously, Howard's injury setback (announced after this mock took place) changes the look of my team pretty significantly. Again, I don't want to completely overhaul my draft with hypotheticals, but Gaby Sanchez (15th round) could have been a decent target as an alternative.
  • Position flexibility is not a strength of this team, so it's something I should be cognizant of. In fact, I've actually taken a liberty just by slotting Montero in at catcher, although it appears he will gain eligibility there before too long. Anyway, there aren't any utility types in my lineup, and those guys can be very useful to account for injuries and off-days of others.


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What It Takes To Win 2012

Our annual What It Takes To Win series attempts to estimate the stats you will need to place fourth in each of the ten roto categories in a 12-team mixed league with 14 hitters (2 catchers), 9 pitchers, 3 bench spots, and 2 DL spots.  Aiming for fourth in each category might seem like a lame strategy, but if you pull it off you'll have 90 points and a good shot at winning.

Looking at info from various 2011 leagues that followed the above format, here are my estimates for 2012:

Offense

  • .270 AVG
  • 271 HR (19 per hitter)
  • 1071 RBI (77 per hitter)
  • 1092 R (78 per hitter)
  • 187 SB (14 per hitter)

Pitching

  • 3.54 ERA
  • 1.21 WHIP
  • 1328 K (190 per starter, assuming 62 Ks per closer)
  • 99 W (15  per six starters, assuming 4 W per closer)   
  • 101 SV (33 per three closers)

Offense is similar to last year, but pitching continues to improve.  It wasn't long ago that a bunch of  3.75 ERA and 1.25 WHIP starters would result in a strong pitching staff.  These days, a staff of Jordan Zimmermann, Colby Lewis, Shaun Marcum, Gavin Floyd, Brandon McCarthy, and Scott Baker probably isn't going to cut it.  Of course, good relievers help pull your ratios down.

In my projections, about 21 starters meet filters of an ERA below 3.60 and WHIP below 1.23.  Of those, only five are typically drafted after the seventh round: Tommy Hanson, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, and Cory Luebke.  Three pitchers coming off injuries, one coming from Japan, and one who made 17 big league starts in 2011.  If you sit out the first seven rounds on starting pitching, you will probably have issues.





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