Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 Closer Strategies - Finding Cheap Saves

posted by Jon Williams
This week alone we have seen Joakim Soria, Royals Closer, go down needing Tommy John Surgery, Ryan Madson, Reds Closer, also need TJS, and Drew Storen, Nationals Closer, has inflammation in his elbow but apparently no structural damage, he may not be available for the start of the season. That is enough to make almost anyone question the decision to pay market rates for saves.

Why Paying Full Price (Dollars or Draft Picks) Is Dangerous

Closers get hurt and replaced constantly. Even when you think someone has settled into a role as a dominant closer, things can change very quickly. Carlos Marmol certainly is not as secure in the role of Cubs closer as he seemed this time a year ago. Many analysts are pointing at Marlins closer Heath Bell's declining K-Rate as a reason to be cautious when drafting him.New York's Mariano Rivera looks like a safe investment but the Yankees closer is 42-years old! I do not mean to come off like Fox News, but grabbing saves with early picks or top dollars is playing with a potential disaster.

The save category represents just ten percent of your potential points in the standings in a standard 5x5 roto league. But if you are spending fourth and fifth round picks or spending 20 to even 30 dollars on a closer you are spending nearly 12 percent on just one closer for one category. You will probably need two closers to finish at the top of the category. Look at it like this - if you spend 30 dollars on the right hitter, say Carlos Gonzalez, you'll get major contributions to five categories. Even spending 30 on a starter like Clayton Kershaw will get you four categories.

It probably sounds like I am advocating punting saves as a category, but that is not the case. I am not saying not to get saves, just not to pay so much for them. The average closer pitches fewer than 60 innings a season and a lot of them less than that. This really reduces their impact on ERA, Ratio, and Strikeouts. If you spend a good portion of the dollars dedicated to saves on improving your starters (get guys with lots of quality innings) you can even further reduce a closer's impact on the non-save categories. Why would you want to do that?

Drafting the Closers No One Else Wants

At first it probably seems like a plan bound to fail. However, it makes some sense. No further testimony is needed to see that no closer is safe. Even the most highly rated closer can get hurt or lose his job. By spending more of our pitching budget on quality starters we can lessen the impact a lower ranked closer's ERA or WHIP can have on your standings points. The following closers are at the bottom of most rankings but are fairly secure in their roles.

Frank Francisco, New York Mets
Brett Myers, Houston Astros
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners

Pick the closers that have jobs but have analysts speculating on their job security. Any closer can be ineffective for a short period and then lose his job. It is even possible that despite the speculation the closer remains in the role for the entire season. The following closers have the closer role heading into the regular season but are not expected to hold onto the job.

Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox - to be replaced by Addison Reed
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians - to be replaced by Vinne Pestano
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers - to be replaced by Kenley Jansen
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics - pick 'em: Brian Fuentes, Joey Devine, Fautino De Los Santos

These closers have an injury or a history of injury that may put their value into question.

Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

Picking your closers from these groups will usually allow you to build a decent base of saves without spending nearly as much as you would drafting the best and safest options. The idea is to get them cheaply enough that the difference in cost allows you to improve your starting pitching.

If you get caught sleeping and miss out on all the closers draft one of these future closers. They aren't in any order.

Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Glenn Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Mike Adams, Texas Rangers
Brad Brach, San Diego Padres
Ramon Ramirez, New York Mets

Good luck adding saves on the cheap.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Expert League: Triple Crown AL-Only

posted by Jon Williams
Earlier this week I participated in the Triple Crown Al-Only expert league auction. The league is run on CBSSports.com and is sponsored by RotoExperts.com, where I used to work.

The league includes a lot of talented writers - Dave Gawron, RotoExperts.com; Al Melchior, CBSSports.com; George Fitopoulos, Baseball Professor; Matt Torvomina, Fantasy Gameday; Steve Parsons (freelance); Nick Fleder, HardBallTimes; Keith Hernandez, KFFL; Ian Riley, RotoExperts.com; Michael Pichan, RotoInfo.com; Eric Stashin and Will Overton, RotoProfessor.com; and William Bender, Sporting News.

The Plan
I have the unfortunate distinction of coming in last two years running in this league. That will not happen again. Part of the problem has been not focusing enough on the league. bad luck also played a large role. Either way, I fully intend to do everything possible to win this league this year.

My strategy was to use my first 160-180 on as many studs as possible and save 80-100 for the middle and late round bargains. I overshot the mark on the studs and spent over 200 before reaching even the halfway point. I got caught trying to price enforce a couple of times, which is something much easier to do in a live auction. In an online auction you can't read body language and other signals that will tell you an owner is willing to go further. Lesson learned.

Still despite the budget problems I like this team much better than the ones I drafted in 2010 and 2011. I am already on the hunt for saves which I failed to acquire, not unusual for me.

C Ryan Lavarnway 1 - A very good hitter, Bobby Valentine is a big fan, he'll be a factor
C Hank Conger 1 - Not scheduled for many at-bats but Chris Ianetta has disappointed before

1B Adrian Gonzalez 36 - I didn't mean get him but I'm okay with a potential Triple Crown
3B Alberto Callapso 1 - I can't believe Mark Trumbo will last at third base, he'll get At-Bats
CR Prince Fielder 35 - I really wanted him, I think the Tigers are going to have a big year.

2B Johnny Giavotella 8 - One of my favorites, I think he'll hit for average and score tons
SS Nick Punto 1 - Not great, but hopefully he will steal bases
MI Reid Brignac 1 - he'll start the season on the DL, he used to have some potential...

OF Curtis Granderson 36 - I love him, I think he'll come close to a repeat of 2011
OF Alex Gordon 27 - I have him projected for a big year following his breakout 2011 season
OF BJ Upton 35 - His skills are coming together and its a contract year
OF Yoenis Cespedes 13 - He may start slowly but I see 25-30 homers
OF Rajai Davis 5 - Even off the bench he'll steal 20-30 bases

U Travis Hafner 1 - A solid bat in a productive Indians lineup

SP CJ Wilson 19 - My favorite for American League Cy Young
SP Brandon McCarthy 13 - If he stays healthy he'll be in the Cy talk too
SP Yu Darvish 18 - He has ace potential and I think he'll live up to it
SP Derek Lowe 1 - The strikeouts are low but he is a solid and usually dependable starter
P Blake Beavan 1 - I think he will be a lot like Lowe, Safeco helps
P Alex Cobb 1 - If he could get free he could pitch in the middle of a dozen rotations
RP David Robertson 4 - Mariano's understudy, a great pitcher
RP Scott Downs 1 - The guy I think backs up Jordon Walden
RP George Sherrill 1 - A solid relief pitcher likely to get cut for saves at some point

R1 Ryan Flaherty - The Orioles Rule V pick could be the starter at second base
R2 Brandon Inge - Fighting for a job, if he finds one he can provide some power with a low BA
R3 Kila Ka'aihue - A candidate for the first base job, he can hit
R4 Russell Branyan - If Ibanez doesn't get it together, he could get major at-bats

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 FBF Expert League V

posted by Jon Williams
I had a couple of Expert League Drafts last night. First up was the 2012 FBF Expert League V, sponsored by Todd Farino of The Closer Report. It is a 12-team mixed head-to-head league. Standard rosters with a six-man bench, and 5x5 but using OBP instead of batting average.

You can hear some of the guys discussing the draft tonight at 8:30 EST on the Fantasy Baseball Tonight Show, hosted by Blog Talk Radio.

The Plan

Typically I would have used my stand-by strategy of drafting a strong offense and waiting on pitching while avoiding paying a premium for saves. This has worked for me quite often, except in Head-to-Head leagues. I developed a new strategy for H2H leagues this season and used it in this draft for the first time.

The idea was to build a roster that could dominate categories from week to week. So I decided i would go after players with power and speed, even if batting average (or in this case OBP) suffered. When the power/speed guys ran out I would concentrate on extreme speed or power hitters. I wanted a few top starters which meant I would have to take starting pitching earlier than usual. I also wanted to get enough closers to dominate the category or not bother with saves at all.

I think it worked pretty well.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia Bos
C Salvador Perez KC

1B Pablo Sandoval SF
3B Jose Bautista Tor
CR Paul Goldschmidt Ari

2B Dustin Pedroia Bos
SS Dee Gordon LAD
MI Jose Altuve Hou

OF Alex Gordon KC
OF BJ Upton TB
OF Martin Prado Atl
OF Jose Tabata Pit
OF Matt Joyce TB

U Chris Heisey Cin

Batting Bench - John Mayberry, Ian Stewart, Jed Lowrie

SP C.J. Wilson LAA
SP Madison Bumgarner
SP Jordon Zimmermann
SP Anibal Sanchez
SP Hiroki Kuroda
SP Ryan Dempster

RP Mariano Rivera
RP J.J. Putz
RP Sergio Santos

Pitching Bench - Grant Balfour, Sergio Romo, Carlos Zambrano

So, what do you think.

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Ten Players I Love More Than You

posted by Jon Williams

I stole this idea from the Yahoo! Sports Columnists who posted their lists on Friday. This is not a top ten to draft list. This is a list of the guys I want to own in almost every draft this year. Guys I will draft far ahead of their ADP, that will I spend the extra dollar to own for the 2012 season.

Brandon McCarthy - I love Brandon McCarthy. He was always expected to be a very good MLB starter. He just kept getting hurt and when he was healthy he failed to deliver. Then he read Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and decided he needed to get more groundballs and more strikeouts. It is a great story, but more importantly he succeeded. Oklahoma City pitching coach, Terry Clark, helped him make a mechanical change.
Watching video of McCarthy's extreme overhand motion, Clark realized that the pitcher's arm was pronating at the moment of delivery, and the pressure was twisting his scapula. "It was really ugly," says Clark. "He's lucky his scapula was the only thing that broke." Clark had McCarthy drop down to a more natural three-quarter arm angle, like Halladay's. McCarthy's whole motion became a study in minimalism. Less right arm, more back leg. No more falling off the mound toward first base.
Do what it take to grab this guy while you still can. He has greatly improved skills, mechanics that should help him stay healthier in addition to helping him get more outs. There seem to be very few believers out there. Maybe because you thought the Athletics had traded their best starter away. They didn't.

B.J. Upton -
I loved him as a prospect and he disappointed and I avoided him for a few years. However, it looks like he has begun to put things together. He finished the 2011 season impressively, with what seemed to be a better approach. This comes as he approaches Free Agency for the first time. A contract year, improved skills and a better approach come together for a career year.

Alex Gordon - Despite his obvious improvement at the end of the 2010 season and his breakout 2011 season, Gordon is still being drafted later than he should. Maybe it has something to do with being one of the older young guys on the Kansas City Royals. It could be that his initial disappointments have turned potential owners off. Either way, I think he will hit for a great batting average, 25-30 homers and 20 steals.

Logan Morrison - The knee injury this spring is annoying but not dissuading me from drafting him. I see a player who has the skills to hit .300 and the power to blast 30 homers out of any park. Morrison ran into some bad luck with the broken hand in 2009 (which sapped his power in 2010) and the unfair demotion last season. He only needs to get a full season of at-bats to reach 30 homers, with some skill improvement it could be more. He hits like Joey Votto and you can get him 10 rounds later in a lot of drafts.

Curtis Granderson - Everyone is assuming that Granderson won't repeat his amazing 2011 season. Maybe he won't. I see an already great player in his prime who took some advice from a great batting coach that allowed him to tap into his full potential. I think a 30/30 season is a cinch. In my eyes he is more likely to go 50/50 than Matt Kemp.

Rex Brothers - I am absolutely certain you have heard about Kenley Jansen. You have at least read (if not been convinced) that Jansen will at some point snatch the closer job of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from Javy Guerra, who has done nothing to lose his job at this point.

Rex Brothers has every ounce of ability that Jansen has and is as likely (if not more so) to take the Colorado Rockies closer job from Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt has been a great reliever for a long time. He has been given the opportunity to close in the past and has always blown it. Maybe that's just coincidence or maybe it is a lack of guile or something.

Alexi Casilla - Maybe you have forgotten the lofty expectations once placed on Casilla's shoulders. Between disappointing seasons and injuries, it is easy to understand why you may not even have him on your cheat sheet. He dominated in the Dominican Winter League, batting .336 (runner-up for the batting title) and as of Sunday he was batting .357 in the Grapefruit League. He says he is in a better mental state than last season and his confidence is soaring. If he can stay healthy I expect great things.

He isn't afraid to take a walk and is an excellent contact hitter. He has more discipline at the plate than you may realize. He rarely swings at pitches out the strike zone and again, makes excellent contact. That and his speed is a recipe for a better batting average and with some BABIP luck I think he could hit over .300 this season. In a neutral park he could probably hit ten homers, but we'll be happy with whatever he provides as long as he comes through with the 30 steals. Draft him as your MI and reap the benefits.

Jed Lowrie - This is a tough player to evaluate because of the injuries and the variety of skills he has shown and then not shown at different times. He has looked like an above average defensive player, he has also looked like a below average defensive player. He has shown the ability to hit for power and to hit for average. He is a very intelligent player, he just finished his degree in political science from Stanford University. Unfortunately, injuries have sucked up a lot of the time he should have been developing into one of the better fantasy shortstops in the game.

The good news is that Lowrie is still just 26-years old and just entering his prime years. He is finally healthy coming into the 2012 season. He has swung a hot bat this swing - batting .348/.464/.609 as of yesterday. He fouled a ball off his foot and will miss just one game that he was not likely to travel for anyway. I think he'll hit for a strong batting average, get on base a ton and slug 20-plus homers. That is an awesome return on a late-round shortstop.

Luke Hochevar - The pedigree is first rate. He was expected to be an ace. A real ace, not just the number one starter by default. He has shown us flashes in the past and then failed to deliver the following season. Check out these numbers from after the All Star Break - 79.1 IP, 3.52 ERA, .222 BAA, 68 strikeouts, 24 walks and 6-3 record in 12 starts. That may not be an ace but it is a massive improvement. You can draft him extremely late so the risk is minimal.

Jason Heyward - Last but not even close to least is The New Kid, Jason Heyward. The 2011 season was obviously a disaster for the young Atlanta Brave. Few realize that Heyward first hurt his shoulder in April, he played through it but re-aggravated it and even though his numbers sunk he kept trying to play through it. Probably because he did not like how he had been labeled injury-prone after the 2010 season. The shoulder injury warped his swing and he got into bad habits and finally with everything out of whack he was sat on the bench to watch someone else do his job.

This off-season he changed his diet, improved and increased his workouts and came into camp a lean mean machine. He worked hard with the team coaches and Chipper Jones to get his swing back and they think they have it. He struggled the first two weeks of the Spring season (as did most of the Braves) but has hit a couple of massive blasts since the team started winning spring games. He can hit for average and power and steal bases. He is in a solid lineup and he is a crucial cog. I love him a lot, at least more than you.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why I Do Not Worry About Carl Crawford

posted by Jon Williams
Go to your favorite fantasy baseball site (assuming it is not this one) and see what they have to say about former fantasy stud, Carl Crawford. Chances are they suggest that Crawford can probably rebound from his poor first season with the Red Sox but they preach caution due to the wrist injury. That kind of blurb makes a lot of sense. I am not very concerned with Crawford's wrist, but first a look at last season.

What Went Wrong

The most mentioned aspect of Crawford's 2011 season was probably his lousy start. It truly was abysmal. For March and April of the 2011 season Crawford had a wRC+ of 10. That's not just bad, that is like he was not even standing at the plate when they called him out. His career wRC+ is 110, which is slightly above average. For reference purposes, Albert Pujols has a career wRC+ of 167 and Yuniesky Betancourt's career number is 78.

The rest of the season looks pretty normal - May 114, June 102, July 69, August 111, and September/October (when the entire Red Sox lineup went into a slump) he was at 91. Take out April and a lousy injury-plagued July (only 48 at-bats) and he is pretty close to his career numbers. The funny thing about that is I was expecting a career season from Crawford in 2011.

Heading to the offensive environment of Fenway Park from the run suppressing Tropicana Field should have been a net gain for Crawford. Fenway does reduce lefty homeruns (by almost 20 percent the last three seasons) but pretty much boosts everything else. And Crawford was better at Fenway than on the road, a 92 wRC+ at home and a 76 on the road.

Carl Crawford was never a great hitter against left-handed pitchers and during the 2011 season he was worse than ever - 48 wRC+ versus a career 82 against lefties (career 113 against right-handers). Having a more typical year against lefties would bring his numbers almost right back where they should have been.

The Injuries

On June 17 of the 2011 season Crawford left the game with a strained hamstring. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list despite the injury being designated a type-one strain, the least severe. I felt at the time that the Red Sox were using the injury as an excuse to give Crawford a little break from his woeful season. I still believe that to some extent, but he did miss an entire month and that suggests the injury was more severe than was reported. This might have contributed to his low stolen base total. In September he missed a couple of games with neck soreness but this truly was minor.

In January when it was reported that Crawford would require surgery on his wrist Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told the Boston Globe that Crawford had experienced discomfort in the wrist during the 2011 season. This had not been previously reported, Cherington elaborated that Crawford sometimes had the same discomfort while with the Tampa Bay Rays. The surgery, which Cherington called “relatively routine,’’ was performed in Arizona by Dr. Donald Sheridan, who also operated on Crawford’s right hand in 2008. He was expected to be ready close to Opening Day.

Crawford seemed ahead of schedule at the start of Spring Training but suffered a set back when the wrist was hit during bunting drills. He may miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season but is expected to be 100 percent healthy at that point barring any further set backs.

Why I Do Not Worry About the Wrist

The wrists are important to a hitter, especially when it comes to hitting for power. Crawford is not a slap hitter but it would be wrong to call him a power hitter. Plenty of power hitters have had wrist surgery and returned to hitting as before. What usually happens is the power doesn't return as quite as fast, but it does come back. You would not draft Crawford for his power except as relative to the Michael Bourns and Brett Gardners of the player pool, especially as a lefty in Fenway Park.

By all the reports I could find this was relatively simple, routine surgery. It was initially expected he could be a participant in Spring Training games and be ready for Opening Day. He also apparently played through the wrist discomfort for years before he needed to do something about it. This suggests to me that the problem was very small and has been fixed. The rest is just getting it strong again.

The Subjective Conclusions

Most Red Sox analysts have come to the conclusion that Crawford after signing his record contract put too much pressure on himself to live up to it. That is probably at least a small part of what happened. I believe that the egg in this situation was just bad BABIP variance. Once he was already off to the bad start he may have put too much pressure on himself to snap out of it. That pressure was not necessarily a bad thing as it seemed to have rebounded his game in May. Then the injuries hit and sucked away what momentum towards a rebound he had built.

You know that saying "If it were not for bad luck, I would have no luck at all"? Carl Crawford lived that during the 2011 season. Crawford could not seem to draw an ounce of good fortune the entire season. The bad start, the pressure of the contract, the injuries and finally the team collapse all led to a career worse season for Crawford. Simple regression to his career numbers would be enough. If the universe is fair (yeah, it probably is not) Crawford will have some good luck in 2012. I'm sure Crawford would gladly accept no luck at all.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Miguel Cabrera Bloodied By Batted Ball

posted by Jon Williams

PHOTO: Miguel Cabrera is attended to by Brandon Inge and Max Scherzer after being hit in the face by a grounder.


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Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers Report

posted by Jon Williams

Catchers

Top Targets: Matt Wieters, Joe Mauer, Jesus Montero
Post Hype: Jason Castro, Nick Hundley
New Skills/Opportunity: Tim Federowicz, Josh Donaldson, Stephen Vogt

Matt Wieters is my top catcher sleeper. He had a small breakout during the 2011 season but I believe there is still quite a bit of upside for fantasy owners... Joe Mauer has been injured more than most owners can stand but he is still a talented hitter. Where Mauer is being drafted now is low enough to take a chance with him...Stephen Vogt can hit with any catcher in the game, his defense is just okay. Vogt is doing his best this spring to prove to manager Joe Maddon that he belongs in the majors and behind the plate.

First Basemen


Top Targets: Bryan LaHair, Adam Dunn,
Post Hype: Chris Davis, James Loney
New Skills/Opportunity: Yonder Alonso, Anthony Rizzo

You may look at the names above and find it strange that two players on the same team are listed as sleepers. But Bryan LaHair plays a passable left field and the Chicago Cubs need all the bats they can get. Anthony Rizzo has been a beast this spring and deserves a shot to begin the season in the majors...Old man James Loney (not really that old) seemed to have himself a Jose Bautista moment last summer. After working with new hitting coach Dave Hansen, Bautista has changed his stance and swing to prevent his shoulder flying open and thus sapping his power. You can check out an objective review of the change at Chad Moriyama's Blog.
What is clear though is that Loney has changed his approach and swing over the last two months in a way that has drastically affected his hit distribution and production. As such, the possibility does exist that his numbers could improve significantly in 2012 if the changes he has made carry over on a consistent basis.
Third Basemen

Top Targets: Brett Lawrie, Martin Prado, Ryan Roberts
Post Hype: Ian Stewart, Edwin Encarnacion, Wilson Betemit
New Skills/Opportunity: Jimmy Paredes, Brandon Inge

Brett Lawrie has made such an impression on the baseball world that he has become monstrously overrated. I've seen more than one projection by respected analysts where he comes in hitting over .300 and approaching a 30/30 season. I would not pay the price he is getting right now...I prefer a low-cost Edwin Encarnacion or Wilson Betemit to $30 it will take to roster Lawrie. Both are scheduled to get nearly full-time at-bats this season...Jimmy Paredes will not be much of a keeper in most NL-only leagues with the Astros moving to the American League. Paredes should provide some cheap steals even if he finds himself filling a utility role rather than starting shortstop or third basemen...Brandon Inge is fighting for the starting second baseman job in Tigers camp. If he wins he should provide solid production for a low price.

Second Basemen

Top Targets: Jose Altuve, Ruben Tejada, Jemile Weeks
Post Hype: Gordon Beckham, Tyler Green, Sean Rodriguez
New Skills/Opportunity: Steve Lombardozzi,

Sometimes analysts will refer to a player and give his stats over his last 300 MLB at-bats. Often they are doing this unfairly. When a player gets 300 at-bats over four years and several separate call-ups, the opportunity to succeed in the majors is small. Tyler Green needs an opportunity to show he belongs in the majors. This spring he is competing for an opportunity thanks to the injury to Allen Craig...Gordon Beckham and Ozzie Guillen never seemed like a good mix to me. But I like his chances of a rebound under new manager Robin Ventura. It is almost like a change of scenery without actually going anywhere. The entire White Sox roster should benefit from a more relaxed environment...I love Jose Altuve, reminds me of Dustin Pedroia without the laser show.

Shortstops

Top Targets: Emilio Bonafacio, Dee Gordon
Post Hype: Sean Rodriguez, Jed Lowrie, Alcides Escobar
New Skills/Opportunity: Zack Cozart, Trevor Plouffe, Adrelton Simmons

Emilio Bonafacio has to prove that he can contribute on a daily basis even when his BABIP isn't soaring over .400 in one of his insane hot streaks. Even off the bench he's good for 20-30 steals so don't sweat the small stuff if he isn't named the regular center fielder...Dee Gordon is leading off for the Dodgers and could steal 80 bases if allowed to run at will. He has the green light thus far...Jed Lowrie could hit 20 homers and steal a few bases this season. He has a better bat than you think...Adrelton Simmons has only a small chance of becoming the Braves shortstop THIS season. But he is impressing everyone this spring.. He has a bat you need to remember when he gets his opportunity. I like him a lot more than Tyler Pastornicky on a long term basis but even Pastornicky should be able to steal you bases on the cheap.

Outfielders

Top Targets: Yoenis Cespedes, Shin Soo-Choo , Luke Scott,
Post Hype: Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, Fernando Martinez, Domonic Brown,
New Skills/Opportunity: Lorenzo Cain, Nate Schierholtz, Michael Saunders

A friend suggested that I was bound to own Yoenis Cespedes this season based on my love for the toolsy young players with star potential. I could not argue with him. I just fear the price will turn me off. Clay Davenport sorted through all the Cuban statistics to come up with some projections and comparable players. Ultimately, it looks like Cespedes and Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles are not too far apart...Nate Schierholtz has been given a starting role in San Francisco (probably at the expense of Brandon Belt for now). He could cheaply provide 20-25 homers in full-time at-bats...If I get to Dollar Dayz in my NL-Only leagues I'd spend a dollar on Fernando Martinez...Michael Saunders says that if he goes down this season it will be done swinging the bat like a man. He hired a hitting coach Mike Bard to shorten his swing and teach him to utilize his lower half. He is using a 60-ounce bat in the cage so he can't revert back to a more "handsy" hitter. He will start the season as the Mariners center fielder.

Starting Pitchers

Top Targets: Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana, Ryan Dempster, Max Scherzer
Post Hype: Brandon Morrow, Jonathan Sanchez, Homer Bailey
New Skills/Opportunity: Gavin Floyd, Matt Moore, Drew Pomeranz , Jeff Neiman, Luke Hochevar, Robbie Erlin

Johan Santana looks healthy. He's throwing in the low 90's. His fine control is not all the way back yet but he is throwing strikes...Ubaldo Jimenez has his velocity back and should be much better this season if he can avoid injury...Jeff Neiman and Luke Hochevar both showed improved skills in the second half of the 2012 season and could be very good for cheap money.

Relief Pitchers

Top Targets: Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen,
Post Hype: Scott Downs, Jeff Samardzija,
New Skills/Opportunity: Addison Reed, Cesar Cabral, Brian Shaw, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus, Brad Brach

Brad Brach was selected by the Padres in the 42nd round of the 2008 draft. He is the future closer of the Padres... Cesar Cabral was a Rule V pick dealt to the Yankees from the Royals for cash. The Yankees want him to make the team as their second lefty out of the pen...Do not draft Addison Reed as if he is already the closer, draft him as a future closer. This may not be the season he receives that opportunity.

Bench/1st Call-Up Players to Watch:
Luke Hughes, Michael Martinez, Eduardo Nunez, Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Ryan Flaherty, Matt Antonelli, Corey Brown,

Adam Laroche is not healthy. Tyler Moore could have a major league impact sooner than expected. Moore will not have a great OBP but he can slug 25-30 homers without question...The Phillies are an aging and brittle team. Michael Martinez could get a ton of playing time and his bat is improving. If Rick Ankiel can not get the job done in center field for the Nationals, Corey Brown could get a quick call-up. He impressed a lot of people this spring.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Fantasy Baseball Investments: Safe or Dangerous?

posted by Jon Williams
As fantasy owners we are constantly searching for an edge. Something that will allow us to know a little more and draft a little better than our rivals. It is not easy these days. Everyone has access to great information. One of the little tapped areas (and we have seen more articles about it than ever this year) is in drafting those that hard fluke bad seasons, obviously expecting a rebound. Another area would be avoiding those that had fluke good seasons.

I've put together a list of some of the most surprising performers of the 2011 season (both good and bad) and given you my views on what led to the performance and how likely it is to last. To make things simpler to understand for those that tend to scan articles quickly without reading, Ive labeled the players I believe will be solid contributors as Safe and those unlikely to be as Dangerous.These aren't in any special order.

Adam Dunn - Dangerous Investment

Last season I predicted that Adam Dunn would hit 50 homers. There wasn't much evidence to suggest that he couldn't. he was moving into a more favorable park and into what seemed to be a better lineup. However, there was some evidence that a down year was coming, it stands out a bit more now.

The last two seasons Dunn has swung at many more pitches out of the zone than he did in previous years. He has never been a good contact hitter on such pitches and it led to a two year spike in his strikeout rate. He also had an appendectomy just before the season started and came back to play very quickly. It seemed to me at the time, and my belief in this has only gotten stronger, that this led to some reduced power. He also hit a lot more infield fly balls than he typically does. This is usually a sign that a batter's timing is off. It could also be a sign that his bat is slowing down. His .240 BABIP relative to his career .292 rate will probably rebound some. But if his bat is truly slowing it is not likely to come back all the way.

My belief is that Dunn's power is not entirely gone. I do believe that his bat is slowing down and as a consequence his power will not come all the way back. If he gets a full workload I can see him hitting 20-25 homers but i think the average will be closer to .200 than the .250 average we've always been willing to accept for 40 homeruns. I am avoiding Dunn unless I get a very extreme discount.

Mike Morse - Safe Investment

Mike Morse has been a pretty good hitter for a while. He has shown little patience but is a decent contact hitter for a slugger. He had a slightly elevated line drive rate in 2011 which probably contributed to his high average and slightly elevated slugging percentage. But the thing that most contributed to his great season was a high number of at-bats. Morse should see even more plate appearances this season as the full-time starter in left field from the start of the season. This should allow him to come fairly close to repeating his homerun totals from 2011. However, there should be some regression to his career BABIP and batted ball rates. But I think this is more likely to reduce his average than dramatically reduce his power. I see a .275-280 hitter with 30 homerun power. I am definitely buying.

Alex Rios - Dangerous Investment

It is kinda weird, but some of the problems Rios had in 2011 were probably due to him making too much contact, thus putting more balls in play. He swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than he usually does, but he also made much better contact with those balls, unfortunately he could not do anything with them. That combined with poor BABIP luck and a slightly lower HR/FB relative to his career rates, suggests that this was just more of the tragically bad luck that struck the White Sox last season. He should rebound but still bid cautiously. Rios has been very bad two of the last three seasons. I'm staying away.

Jeremy Hellickson - Invest Very Cautiously

The funny thing about Hellickson is that most analysts expected him to be good. Hell Boy had great numbers in the minors and the Tampa Bay Rays are very good at extracting the most from their young pitchers. In the minors he displayed a strong k-rate and excellent control to go with a decent trend of inducing groundballs. He was one of the better pitching prospects in the game.

However, his performance in 2011 as a major leaguer did not much reflect those skills, despite his excellent results. He had an extremely low BABIP of .223 and a rather weak 5.57 K9. At the same time his walk rate was higher than it ever was in the minors at a mediocre 3.43 BB9. All this led to a FIP of 4.44 and a xFIP of 4.72, numbers you would not like to see as ERAs on your fantasy roster.

Not all is lost is lost for Hellickson owners. He has a very strong history as a pitcher. I full expect that his control and strikeout rate will rebound. Owners need to be aware that even if his skills show a massive improvement he is still unlikely to repeat his 2011 results. That leaves plenty of room for him to be good however. I am not buying but if I owned him at a decent price I would still hold him. I do not think he will turn into a disaster for his owners, but he will be disappointing relative to his 2011 results.

Ryan Vogelsong - Invest with Caution

Vogelsong was a pretty bad pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates early in his career. He ended up in Japan where he apparently learned enough about pitching to sign on with first the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies and finally the Giants as a minor leaguer.

His problem has always been horrid control. Until 2011 that is. Last season Vogelsong had pretty good control. It was not there in 2010 in the minors. Even his short stint in the minors during the 2011 season he didn't show amazing control, but it was still improved from previous seasons. His BABIP was low but not so low to suggest that there was no talent involved.

It is difficult to believe in a repeat of his 2011 results but I do believe that he has made enough real improvements to be a solid average pitcher providing innings at the end of the Giants rotation.

Alex Rodriguez - Safe Investment

There is little doubt that A-Rod is getting older and closer to the end of his career than to his prime. However he has still been very effective when he has been healthy. The problem is his injuries have been more frequent and longer lasting than in the past. I suppose some will point to his past PED use as a factor but I do not actually believe that to be the case.

Rodriguez began the off-season by having a procedure done on his knee on NBA star, Kobe Bryant's recommendation. Bryant vouched for the German doctor who developed the course of injections of plasma-rich platelets called Orthokine that supposedly stimulates healing in arthritis-affected areas.

A month after the knee treatment Rodriguez had a 45-minute conversation without another NBA star, Grant Hill. Hill was able to answer questions A-Rod had about signing on for Dr. Mike Clark's Athletic Performance Optimization System. Hill credits Clark with extending his career after being close to retirement due to consistent injuries.

Here's a quote from a great article about it in the New York DailyNews:

An almost instant convert, Rodriguez invited Clark to his Miami home. The toes-to-neck assessment, which included a breakdown of Rodriguez’s swing, left Clark believing A-Rod had strength imbalances and/or a lack of flexibility in his right big toe, left ankle, right knee and right hip. It is a chicken-and-egg argument what came first, but all feed upon each other to create a domino effect of wear, tear and pain. They also helped cause, in Clark’s estimation, an impingement in Rodriguez’s left shoulder. A result of the lack of movement here and instability there was a swing that had lost some range and power.

You might want to dismiss the idea of inflexibility in a toe as being consequential. But Clark doesn’t, believing “in a ground up” evaluation. Rodriguez had a 27-degree range of motion in his right big toe, when 70 is ideal. Without that flexibility, when the toe grounds into the dirt just past the midpoint of a swing, greater stress is placed on, among other things, the knee and hips — the two areas where Rodriguez has had surgery over the past three years.

I am buying on A-Rod's rebound this year.

Doug Fister - Dangerous Investment

Fister was drafted by the New York Yankees in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. he held out for more money and it did not pay off. He wound up the seventh round pick of the Mariners the following season. His performance in the minors was okay but not spectacular. He always displayed solid control and mediocre strikeout rates. More recently his control improved and his k-rate slightly improved. Still little was expected of him.

He had a solid debut in the majors in 2009 and displayed more of the same in 2010. However in 2011 his velocity spiked and he showed the best k-rate of his career. This led to great success but even with the slight improvement to his skills there are reasons to wary of his ability to repeat. He had an extremely low BABIP and HR/FB. He is moving from Seattle's Safeco Field which has a 95/82 L/R HR factor to Detroit's Comerica Park which has a 88/108 factor. He will also have a much weaker defense behind him for the entire season. With less luck, less favorable park, and a less favorable defense, Fister's BABIP is very likely to go up a significant amount.

Fister may still be a solid starter but do not expect an ace or even more than a solid mid-rotation innings eater. If you want a sleeper in Detroit's rotation take a look at Max Scherzer. I am not buying on Doug Fister.

Ubaldo Jimenez - Safe Investment

Most of Ubaldo's core statistics have been relatively consistent over the last four seasons. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rates have been pretty much in a consistent range. What first stands out from the 2011 season is his BABIP of .317 relative to his career .286 mark. Then his HR9 and HR/FB are both elevated. taking a look at his PitchFX charts makes the cause seem pretty obvious - reduced velocity. You can see it for yourself in the chart below.

After spending most of his career throwing in the mid to high 90's, Ubaldo was suddenly in the lower 90's. It may not seem like a tremendous change but to major league sluggers it was. He mostly fought through two injuries last season. A thumbnail injury and a groin injury.

Here's a quote from Cleveland Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti:
"Ubaldo felt that his season was sidetracked by a groin injury that affected his lower-body strength and his ability to consistently execute his delivery. To be sure he comes into camp with the best foundation for success, Ubaldo has worked diligently this winter with one of our strength and conditioning coaches on his core and lower half strength and flexibility."
In fact one of the Indians Strength and Conditioning coaches, Nelson Perez, moved to the Dominican Republic over the winter so that he could work with Jimenez and catcher Carlos Santana every day. It seems to have worked because so far this Spring Training, Jimenez had his fastball back to a consistent 94-96 mph. I'm buying.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

American League LABR

posted by Jon Williams
You can access the results of the Al-Only League of Alternative Baseball Reality on a Google Docs Spreadsheet. I won't reproduce the teams here but I will give you my quick impressions of each team.

Chris Liss - Rotowire

Pricey Stud - Ian Kinsler $30

Best Bargain - Travis Snider $5

Nick Minnix - KFFL

Fully Priced Power - Albert Pujols $41

Super Sleeper - Alexi Casilla $6

Perry Van Hook - Mastersball.com

Biggest Expenditure - Brett Lawrie $28

Frugal Find - Matt Harrison $6

Nate Ravitz - ESPN

Big Buy - Jose Bautista $35

Best Buy - James Shields $19

Dave Adler - Baseball HQ

Most Money - Mark Teixeira $30

Priced to Move - Henderson Alvarez $5

Jason Collette - Baseball Prospectus

Fancy First Baseman - Prince Fielder $32

Stud Sleeper - Wilson Betemit $9

Larry Schecter - Sandlot Shrink

Admired Anchor - Jacoby Ellsbury $36

Crackerjack Pick - Grant Balfour $7

Brad Evans - Yahoo! Sports

Costly Corner - Adrian Beltre $29

Prized Prospect - Ryan Kalish $2

Wolf/Colton - Rotoworld.com

Meritorious Man - Miguel Cabrera $40

Small Speculation - Manny Ramirez $3

Ambrosius/Childs - NFBC

Rare Red Sox - Adrian Gonzalez $36

Least Likely - Matt LaPorta $1

Erickson/Melnick - Sirius XM

Laser Show - Dustin Pedroia $33

Sharp Savings - Max Scherzer $13

Steve Gardner - USA Today

Ace Acquisition - Felix Hernandez $27

Former Ranger - Chris Davis $7

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

The 2012 Fantasy Baseball Index Expert Poll

posted by Jon Williams
I blatantly stole these questions from the 2012 Fantasy Baseball Index magazine's expert poll. Join in the fun by providing your own answers to one, some or all of the questions in the commenting section.

Late round player who will provide early rounds value

AL- Henderson Alvarez

NL-Chris Heisey

Marquee player who will disappoint his owners

AL- Matt Moore

NL- Stephen Strasburg

Closer most likely to lose his job

AL- Jose Valverde

NL- Rafael Betancourt (not because he lacks skills but because the Rockies are already grooming his replacement).

Best value pick at closer

AL- Joakim Soria

NL- Ryan Madson

Rookie of the Year

AL- Yu Darvish

NL- Nolan Arenado

The biggest fluke of the 2011 season

AL - Adam Dunn's lack of power

NL- Allen Craig

2012 Fantasy MVP

AL- Josh Hamilton

NL- Matt Kemp

Convince us that we should spend money (or not) on Yu Darvish. Are we just supposed to ignore that no system for translating performance from Japan to MLB seems to get it right? Is Daisuke Matsuzaka the most important piece of evidence we have or not, and why?

Spend it but within reason. I see Yu Darvish as a potential front line pitcher, a top ten type of guy. I see his downside as still slightly better than league average. In an AL-only I'd be willing to bid into the low to mid 20's.

Darvish's situation is nothing like Dice-K's. Matsuzaka came to the Red Sox and rather than be happy with what they had, they tried to change him into their version of what he should be. They made him change his workout routines, reduced his use of his change-up, and then didn't support him publicly when he failed to be an ace. In addition, Darvish isn't like a lot of japanese pitchers. He doesn't rely on hesitations and other forms of deception.

I also have a ton of faith in the scouting, evaluation and teaching skills in the Rangers organization. They put a lot of work into Darvish and being certain he was the pitcher they wanted to spend 100 million dollars to acquire. This might be the largest factor in my faith that Darvish will perform as expected.

What is your strategy for saves?

I usually refuse to spend top dollar on closers. If a closer or closers don't go into my acceptable range I will just dump saves during the draft or auction. I used to practice buying next year's closers but this strategy has become so popular that it is sometimes cheaper to just pay for this year's saves.

Every expert is still holding out hope for some struggling (or apparently failed) prospect. Who is your guy and why is this his year?

I have a few I'm willing to bet on - Jason Heyward and Brain Matusz are two.

Heyward was hit hard by injuries. He has worked hard this winter. He has radically changed his diet and workout habits for the better. He has tremendous natural talent as well as advanced skills with the bat. With health, those talents and skills should be on display in 2012.

Matusz was, not so long ago, considered one of the better pitching prospects in the game. He suffered a couple of injuries that contributed to his loss of velocity. He re-gained most of his fastball towards the end of the season but the control was still a bit behind. I think he'll be fine. The Orioles believe the same thing if that matters to you.

Fill in the blanks in 50 words or less: Everyone is missing out on ______ (secretly valuable fantasy player) because _______ (esoteric expert reason).

Everyone is missing out on Chris Heisey because of the mistaken belief that Dusty Baker would prefer to play the mediocre Ryan Ludwick instead. Dusty does believe in easing youngsters into starting roles, but he has no problem putting more experienced players on his bench. Ludwick was acquired as depth and protection, not as a better option than Heisey.

Heisey has 20/20 potential this season and even 30/30 if everything breaks right for him. Yet he is being drafted in the very late rounds (if at all). This is the year for the Reds and Chris Heisey.

Which reliever turning starter would you draft first and why?

The candidates have to be Neftali Feliz, Chris Sale, Daniel Bard, and Aaron Crow.

I actually like them all to some degree but the one I am most willing to bet on would be Neftali Feliz. Feliz has the highest ceiling, the most success as a starter in the minors, and the best pitching coaches. I'd take Daniel Bard second, Chris Sale and close third, and Crow brings up the rear.

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Baseball Manager (BBM)

posted by Jon Williams
Baseball Simulation games are becoming very popular with the Advanced Fantasy Baseball crowd. These games are offering experiences that are coming closer and closer to feeling like a MLB General Manager. Baseball Manager or BBM is one of the classics of this sub-section of the fantasy industry . I spoke to BBM owner Josh Metzger about his game.

1. What makes Baseball Manager different from other baseball simulation games?

Baseball Manager (known as BBM to its loyal fans) provides users the most realistic fantasy baseball game. Users play a 162-game season. Just like Major League Baseball. Users set different lineups, one to face left-handed starting pitching, the other lineup to face right-handed starters. Just like Major League Baseball. Users manage a bullpen, making sure they have enough pitchers to throw all nine innings, relying on long relievers and short relievers. Just like managers do in Major League Baseball. Salary caps and salaries are particularly unique to Baseball Manager as no salary is predetermined before a league drafts like so many other leagues. Salaries are established by where managers rank their players in the draft lists with a higher ranking producing a higher salary, which provides a drafting strategy not available anywhere else. Only in Baseball Manager can fantasy baseball users get stats from last night's games plugged into their lineup to produce a box score and a game result with a win or a loss. Unlike some rotisserie games where you wait for cumulative scores, BBM is involving, immediate and often addictive because it challenges you to deal with the daily demands and dramas real GM’s and managers confront

2. Twenty-two years is an eternity in the Fantasy Sports industry. What is the origin story for Baseball Manager? How has the game evolved over twenty-two years?

BBM was created and launched by Prodigy in 1991, and created the game and its unique Scorecard® algorithm, our scoring mechanism which appeals to sabermetric fans. In the early years, Prodigy would use BBM as a means to market the Prodigy Service. It was the first game of its kind on the Internet.

Comparing BBM of 1991 to today's BBM is like comparing the Pony Express to Federer Express: when BBM was launched it was only available on Prodigy and it did not nearly have as many features as it does these days. Since GameLine (led by former Prodigy employees who believed in BBM and bought it as Prodigy was downsizing) bought it, the game has evolved dramatically. It was the first game to offer Keeper Leagues online. It partnered with Fox, Sports Illustrated and ESPN to offer their users a simulation game. Last year, we introduced at our site, www.baseballmanager.com, Progression Leagues, which enables the best players in fantasy baseball to compete against other tough competitors in a ladder format. And this year, Baseball Manager is the first simulation game to be offered as a game on Facebook. For free! Other enhancements include: Free Agent bidding, Stadium effects to impact your offense, and the option to have a Disabled List.

3. What makes Baseball Manager so appealing to fans of Sabermetrics? Does good statistical analysis add to the enjoyment of the game?

Basically, Scorecard® factors your team’s offense (hitting and base running), your team’s defense (pitching and fielding), and your opponent’s offense and defense in determining game resolution. The game appeals to Sabermetrics fans because it is based on real baseball rather than a points system and stats like on base percentage, WHIP, slugging percentage, etc. are vital to BBM success. Situational stats, like RBI and saves, are meaningless in Baseball Manager and likely not very important to fans of Sabermetrics.

4. I understand there are different levels of game play. Can you explain some of the differences between them and what might makes each version special?

We offer a wide range of games to appeal to all managers. We offer a FREE 54-game version of BBM available on Facebook that serves as an introduction to the game. We offer two 162 game season versions of the game: Ultimate and Express. Within each version there are different price points. The different price points provide different levels of prizes. The main differences between Ultimate and Express games, in addition to price are: (a) in Ultimate users need to set lineups to face left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching whereas in Express you only have one lineup; and (b) in Ultimate there are two rounds of playoffs as the top 4 teams in the ten team league advance to the playoffs after a 162 game season. A full list of our league offerings is here: http://www.baseballmanager.com/fantasybaseball/signup.asp

5. What does a potential owner need to do to get started?

To get started, just visit www.baseballmanager.com and enroll. Or go to www.facebook.com/baseballmanager and try the free version on Facebook.

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