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RA Retrospective: We Went Bold...Did We Go Home Too?

It is perhaps not completely pertinent to note that I’m writing this only a few, very short hours of sleep after one of the greatest playoff games of my lifetime. It makes me feel better that the playoffs are here and takes the sting out of the suddenly-gone fantasy season. As you can tell, I’m not an A’s fan. 

The upshot is that if you see typos here, don’t be as quick to judge as I usually am…up late watching baseball is the only valid excuse for such things.

The other upshot is now I wish I had TV…

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my rambling homage to last night’s amazing game out of the way, let’s actually introduce the article: each preseason the RA staff produces a series of articles offering bold advice and suggesting that you (proverbially only, I promise) go home if you don’t take it. How were our results? As is customary with bold advice, the results were a mixed bag. I review our collective boldness below. 

CC Sabathia Will Regain His Form

This one came from Mark, but I was plenty on board with it, snagging CC Sabathia on at least one team. So we went bold.

And yeah, we went home. Or at least, the team (teams? I can’t even remember) that I got the big Yankee on definitely finished out of the money. In case you didn’t think about any players but your own, CC managed just 46 IP before getting injured, posting an unpleasant 5.28 ERA for his trouble. So it’s hard to say he regained his form in the sense of “helped your fantasy team or his own real-life one.”

But there is a technicality that intrigues me for Sabathia’s future: he posted a FIP of 4.78 (yeah, still bad), and an xFIP of 3.11 (straight-up good). The return of his strikeout ability (9.39 K/9) and one of the lowest walk rates of his career (1.96 BB/9) probably helped on the good side. On the bad…well, it was probably that 1.96 HR/9. No, that’s not a typo (I checked, like, three times), CC had identical walk and homer rates per nine innings. So that’s probably part of the difference in his peripheral and real numbers. Is it enough to say that he “regained his form?” No…I mean, being injured for most of the year is the opposite of being a good draft pick. But I’ll be watching his health next spring and maybe sneaking him onto some rosters. 

Masahiro Tanaka is the Next Great Fantasy Import 

I’d love to take credit for this one, but it was all Luckey. Even with Masahiro Tanaka’s injury, I suspect plenty of his owners got positive value. His super-high mock draft price (remember those?) cooled off a lot in my real drafts, to the point where I (an admitted skeptic) considered taking him. The fact that I nearly got beat in the RA Silver League by a team named after this guy testifies to his fantasy worth. In an anecdotal, non-analytic sort of way…

Anyway, Tanaka went 13-5 in 136 IP, with over a strikeout per inning and a miniscule walk rate (1.39). He posted a 2.77 ERA…and a 2.58 xFIP. So yeah, well played Luckey.

For all that, I’m not planning to draft Tanaka next year. Why? Well, he seems to have just missed the chance for us to see if the league will figure him out the second time around, a problem that has hit Japanese import pitchers in the past (I think anyway…I’ll look for real evidence before making my draft choices…) and plenty of other phenom pitchers with similar IP totals (Dontrelle Willis anyone?). I actually think Tanaka’s real, but the downside of paying an ace price for him before he’s truly proven is pretty steep.

Carlos Beltran is a Top-10 OF

Andrew called this one, but I’m not leaving him alone out there: I drafted Carlos Beltran on several teams, and while I didn’t think he was really in the top ten, I thought he was closer than most pundits.

This one couldn’t have gone much worse, with ol’ Beltran showing his, well, age. He didn’t hit and he was injured a lot, batting just .233 with 15 homers in only 449 PA. He did enjoy a monster couple weeks there that provided some hope down the stretch…and then slid back into awful. This one sent me home in particular, but what will I do with Beltran next year? Is he a good bounceback candidate…or is this the end of the line for him as he rides off into the Hall of the Very Good?

Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn’t Lie 

This was my call, and I followed it up by grabbing Everth Cabrera in multiple leagues. Maybe next year’s snappy column title will be “Everth Cabrera Lies, Cheats, and Doesn’t Steal Much,” because this one failed about as badly as they can.

The Padres’ shortstop played half the year, cut his walk rate by about 40%, inflated his whiff rate by about 30%, and was just 18 for 26 in steals. He batted just .232 with a .272 OBP and just a .300 SLG. Hopefully you didn’t have him in a league that counts OPS. So Cabrera slid back in every way he could have. Was it thanks to losing those PED’s? Jhonny Peralta didn’t seem to miss ‘em. Can it all (or mostly) be chalked up to the injuries? It’s tough to say. His speed at such a scarce position makes him a hard guy to forget about, but I don’t think I’ll be counting on him to anchor my steals category or my SS position next year.

My Guys

Another of my posts, this one took note, not of who I was plugging in columns, but who I was actually mock drafting. It had enough players to have some hits in with the misses, so that was cool.

My frequent picks included Yan Gomes (win!), Brandon Moss (win!), Aaron Hill (ouch), Everth Cabrera (ugh), Aramis Ramirez (okay, I guess), Matt Holliday (eh…okay), Leonys Martin (not bad, but not special), Colby Rasmus (back to bad), Anibal Sanchez (not even a win before he got hurt), Matt Cain (I have to look away), Francisco Liriano (only good after I dropped him), Scott Kazmir (finally, another good one!), and Josh Johnson (literally useless).

I think Holliday was the only one of these guys I didn’t end up drafting. Gomes was the best one, as I had him on a couple squads, including a league-winner. Moss and Kazmir were very helpful for about the same amount of the season, and Ramirez could have been a lot worse. Like most third basemen this year. Martin delivered the steals. 

The pitching was actually where it really got ugly; while I think Sanchez could have gotten back to a near-ace level (and I think he will next year), Cain was an unmitigated disaster and Johnson didn’t pitch.

I mentioned at the end of the column that I was really amenable to injury risk and I think I spread the risk out a little better in most of my actual drafts…but yeah, I saw a lot of red DL flags during the season. 

Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Well…nope. Sorry Joe, but the whole playing first base all year thing just didn’t seem to help. Instead of hitting like a first baseman while playing catcher for your fantasy team…well, at least you could still slot him in at catcher. 

Worryingly, it was Joe Mauer’s power that cooled off the most. I’ll be surprised if it returns after a year as rough as this one. I made Mauer a key target in a keeper league when he was a prospect, and he’s paid off for me for a decade now…but without catcher eligibility going into next year (he didn’t catch at all this year), I’m gonna have to release him. It's gonna hurt. Mauer isn’t that old, and it’s not too late for him to provide some real-life value at first, but if his power doesn’t increase it’ll be hard to see much daylight between him and James Loney next year.

Big Papi, Big Value

It feels good to be right, finally. I compared David Ortiz to similar first basemen (Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Albert Pujols, and Eric Hosmer) and suggested that he might be the best…but was getting drafted the latest. (I also hedged this bet by suggesting that it might be rational to take Freeman ahead of Ortiz based on his youthful potential.)

With 35 homers, Ortiz provided some very nice value relative to his draft position. A strong comeback from Albert Pujols and a much better lineup gave the Angel a better than expected year (and way more runs scored than Ortiz), but I think anyone who drafted Big Papi was pretty pleased with what they got. Certainly happier than Fielder or Hosmer owners. 

This is another one I actually drafted on—Ortiz made it onto two or three of my teams, plus one of my wife’s. We were pretty pleased.

Justin Masterson, Top-15 Pitcher

Talk about saving the best for last. There were plenty of reasons to like Justin Masterson going into the season—well, mostly there was great strikeout potential and the fact that Cleveland looked good enough on paper to net some wins for their putative best pitcher.

Things are…different now. I wasn’t as in on this prediction as some of the others—I thought Masterson would merely be very good, instead of a fantasy ace, but not even that came to fruition. Then he was traded to the National League, so I picked him up and advised everyone else to do so. Hopefully you ignored me.

With a 5.88 ERA in just 128 IP, Masterson’s season was an unmitigated disaster. He still managed some strikeouts, but a bloated BABIP and a high walk rate were more than the whiffs could overcome. I don’t know yet whether Masterson is someone to forget about going into next year, or a great flier for the back of your fantasy rotation, but I’ve got a couple months to decide. 

Instead of harping on our mutual batting average of boldness, I’ll end this column with two predictions that are quite certain: 

1)   The A’s will not win the World Series this year, but may in the future.

2)   Tonight’s Pirates-Giants matchup will not be nearly as exciting as last night’s Royals-A’s epic.

Enjoy the playoffs, everybody. RA will finish out this week, then we'll see you in January.

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