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What would a Cuban WBC team look like if everyone could play?

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Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

I saw a little throw-away post at USAtoday.com before the start of the 2016 baseball season: there were no less than 23 Cuban-born players on MLB rosters on 2016 opening day.  And even more defected or were signed in the 2016 calendar year.

How awesome is that?  I think its great that we have a huge contingent of Cubans playing in the league again and I wish that a generation hadn’t been lost due to politics.  A good percentage of the teams in the majors now have at least one Cuban on their 40-man roster somewhere, and many have multiple IFA Cuban signees scattered in their lower minors.  Not the Nats though; we got kinda burned by Yunesky Maya and then blew our IFA budget last year on some D.R. players; perhaps they’ll go after some of the rising talent next July 2 window.

I’ve long hoped for a unification of the Cuban National team to compete in the WBC; I think they’d take so much pride in their team it would really add to the event.  However it looks as if the Cuban government will continue to hold a grudge and prevent any defectors from representing their country in the 2017 WBC.  The WBC rosters were announced recently, and we’ll see some of these names in the analysis below for reasons that will become apparent soon.

So, since we won’t get a full-strength Cuban WBC team, I thought I’d take a stab at what could have been.   I did a similar post in March of 2013 but with all the recent defections the roster looks much improved.

 


 

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  The only Cuban-born hall of Famer Tony Perez can be the bench coach.  They can bring out the likes of Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual to be his assistants; they’re the most decorated Cuban ex-pros still living.

Pitching Coaches: Livan Hernandez and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez: the brothers re-unite to teach the staff how to throw junk balls and make starts despite being hooked on Marlboro Reds.

Hitting Coaches:  Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro.  These two can double as “Strength coaches.”  :-)

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal, starting catcher for the Dodgers, 2015 All-Star.
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, 91 homers in his first three years in the MLB, Rookie of the Year in 2014, when he also made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger.
  • 2B: Aledmys Diaz: debut in 2016 and made the All-Star team; prodution fell off so he “only” finished 5th in 2016 Rookie of the Year voting.
  • 3B: Adonis Garcia: a solid bat for Atlanta at the corner despite debuting at age 30.
  • SS: Jose Iglesias: 2015 All-Star for Detroit after finishing 2nd in RoY voting in 2013.
  • LF:  Jorge Soler: Flipped to Kansas City this off-season, escaping a log-jam in Chicago.  Huge power, yet to reach his potential.
  • CF: Yoenis Cespedes: just signed the largest contract of the off-season; not really a CF but played there nonetheless.  2-time All-Star and Home Run derby winner 
  • RF: Yasiel Puig: despite his demotion in 2016 has the potential to be one of the elite players in the game, which he in-arguably was his first two years in the league.  2015 all-Star.

That’s a pretty solid starting lineup; 6 of the 8 players here have already made a MLB all-star team.  Lots of power; you’d probably have a slugger like Soler batting 7th.  I think you line these guys up Iglesias, Diaz, Pug, Cespedes, Abreu, Grandal, Soler, Garcia, Pitcher.

Reserves:

  • Catcher: Brayan Peña
  • Corner Inf/PH: Yonder Alonso , Kendrys MoralesYulieski Gurriel, Yoan Moncada
  • Middle Infield: Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria,  Alexei Ramirez,  Alex Guerrero
  • OF: Rusney CastilloHector OliveraYasmany Tomas, Leonys Martin, Alfredo Despaigne, Yoelkys Céspedes, Victor Mesa

The reserves include a number of solid veteran guys like Alonso and Morales, middle infield cover from the likes of  Hechavarria and Ramires, and plenty of OF coverage from players like Tomas and Olivera.  And one of the top prospects in all of baseball (Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade this past off-season) can’t even crack this lineup; he may be your starting 3B before long.  Perhaps Gurriel, a decade-long star in the Cuban series, should be starting at third over Garcia; we’ll see how he fares once he gets more time in Houston.  Despaigne is the biggest player on this list who still hasn’t come to the MLB: he opted to take up the Cuban government’s relaxing of rules and has been playing in Japan recently.  Yoelkys Cespedes is indeed Yoenis’ younger brother and is getting some attention for his abilities already.

Starting Pitchers

  • Oridismar Despaignehe’s been knocked to the bullpen in the Majors, but someone has to start for the Cuban team.  Career 4.89 ERA.
  • Raisel Iglesias: posted a 2.53 ERA in 2016 as he transitioned from the rotation to closer.  He’s gotta start for this team though.
  • Roenis Elias: 4th starter for Seattle in 2014-15, struggled/got hurt for Boston in 2016.
  • Ariel Miranda : 10 starts for Seattle last year with a 3.54 era; he may not make their rotation in 2017 but he’ll get time.

So, we’re a little light on starters.  We may be reaching out to some domestic-based pitchers.  Starter Lazaro Blanco just pitched two masterpieces in the Caribbean Series, shutting out the Dominican Republic team for 6 innings then giving up just one run in seven innings in the semis against Mexico.  Their #2 and #3 starters (Vladimir Banos and Vladimir Garcia) weren’t half bad either.  Freddy Alvarez got pummeled in his only series start but is on the WBC roster as a returning veteran and should see time.  Perhaps we should also look at promising 18-yr old Cuban prospect Osvaldo Hernandez, who was just declared a FA and may sign a multi-million dollar deal soon.

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member): the most dominant reliever in the game, 4-time All-star
  • Dalier Hinojosa: setup guy with Philly, decent numbers, like a 6th/7th inning guy.
  • Raudel Lazo: lefty reliever with Miami’s farm system; closed for their AAA squad and posted a 1.78 ERA in 2016 in New Orleans.
  • Yaisel Sierra: struggled in AA for the Dodgers, demoted to bullpen.
  • Armando Rivero, RP for Atlanta
  • Yadier Alvarez: LA’s #1 remaining prospect; only in high-A but well regarded.

Past Chapman and Hinojosa, there’s not much depth here either, so again we dip into the domestic-based players.  Cuba depended on three late-innings relievers in the Caribbean series: Livan Moinelo, Miguel Lahera and Jose Garcia.  All three are named to the official WBC roster.

 


In summary, the Consoildated all-Cuban team can bash the heck out of the ball … but will struggle on the mound until the 8th or 9th inning when Chapman can take over.  But it’d be a fun team to watch play!

Did I miss anyone?  Maybe; its impossible to keep track of the dozens of Cuban signings done over the last couple of years.  Pipe up if you see someone mising.

Some references used to make this:

And Peter Gammons just posted his own version of this the day before I published (but weeks after I wrote this).  Compare and contrast his team; i did not cross check to see if I missed anyone.

2014 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer.  Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer. Photo unk via rantsports.com

(Standard disclaimer; this is ranting about my fake baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, might as well skip this).

I’m really beginning to question my abilities in fantasy sports.  Despite being deep into baseball and knowing random things off the top of my head that should be of use in fantasy (which managers are more inclined to do closer by committee, which ball parks are skewed offensively and thus players who play there may be at an advantage), I struggle year after year.

This year, thanks to an unfortunately timed meltdown (I lost a week 0-10-2 after having been ahead early in the week), I dropped just out of the playoff spots in my league (top 6 make the playoffs out of a 12 team league).  But the ills of my team were seen early.  Once again, I was plagued by under performing players and a poor draft that left me churning the waiver wire.  By the end of the season I had made 58 of the 65 allotted moves in a failed attempt to improve enough to sneak into the playoffs (where honestly, I would have been a tough out; I can grind out 6-5-1 wins with the best of them).

So, what happened?  Here’s a link to the post talking about my initially drafted team.  And here’s a matrix of my 21 initially drafted players, their performance on the year and a note indicating whether or not they over- or under-achieved (bold means on the team at  year’s end, red = badly under performed, green = greatly over-performed).

Player round Drafted/# Drafted overall Yahoo o-rank 2013 Yahoo O-rank 2014 ADP at time of draft 2014 Perf Rank
Adam Jones-OF 1st round (#10 overall) 7 13 10th/11.4 21
Adrian Beltre-3B 2nd round (#15) 15 12 13th/13.2 46
Alex Rios-OF 3rd round (#34) 25 44 34th/35 179
Giancarlo Stanton-OF 4th round (#39) 222 26 24th/27.8 5
Kenly Janssen-RP 5th round (#58) 52 48 49th/53.2 102
Greg Holland-RP 6th round (#63) 36 63 62nd/62 60
Mark Trumbo-1B/OF 7th round (#82) 66 78 53rd/56.0 944
Carlos Santana-C/1B 8th round (#87) 134 87 69th/74.0 159
Shelby Miller-SP 9th round (#106) 76 88 110th/113.0 485
Hyung-Jin Ryu-SP 10th round (#111) 85 101 124th/127.2 95
Aaron Hill-2B 11th round (#130) 402 111 124th/115.8 364
Danny Salazar-SP 12th round (#135) 336 96 154th/150.4 355
Tony Cingrani-SP 13th round (#154) 152 133 156th/156.8 941
Jim Henderson-RP 14th round (#159) 130 155 170th/175.0 750
Shane Victorino-OF 15th round (#178) 67 113 125th/129.0 1144
Chris Archer-SP 16th round (#183) 175 171 208th/209.0 314
Asdrubal Cabrera-SS 17th round (#202) 267 151 171st/177.4 177
J.J. Hoover-RP 18th round (#207) 237 629 344th 922
Tim Hudson-SP 19th round (#226) 299 300 311th 171
Brandon Belt-1B 20th round (#231) 106 104 142th 988
Jake Odorizzi-SP 21st round (#250) 548 358 445th 197

So, what happened?

My first two picks didn’t underperform “badly,” but were not the super stars you need to take hold of a league.  I didn’t really like Adam Jones or Adrian Beltre at the draft, and despite some hot streaks they’ve been disappointments.  Beltre got hurt in camp and missed games at the beginning of the season.  My #3 pick Alex Rios I finally gave up on and waived; his seasonal rank of 179 belies what he’s done the last two months (closer to the 900 ranked range).  It’s never a good sign when your #3 pick gets waived thanks to performance (and not injury) reasons.

Giancarlo Stanton is my one major “win” out of the draft; a 4th round pick who likely will finish in the top 5 of stats on the season.  At the time of this writing, he was trailing only Mike Trout in terms of fantasy rankings for offensive players.  He single-handedly carried my team offensively for weeks on end and is a large reason that my team offense was 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI.   I feel vindicated here: I suffered through at least two injury-riddled Stanton seasons in the past after having drafted him highly, and he’ll have the same issue next year; he’ll likely be a top-5 pick with a huge injury risk on his head.

My two big-time closers did not disappoint: both Janssen and Holland performed as expected and led me to be 5th in team saves and  have a 14-7-1 record in the category on the year.  This is a big lesson learned for me; you can get by with just two big-time closers and be successful in this category.  Of course, I wanted more closers but got unlucky; my #3 closer Jim Henderson suddenly and without warning was yanked from the role on opening day.  Another team vultured his replacement (Francisco “K-rod” Rodriguez); all he’s done is pitch lights out all year and is 6th in the league in saves.  That should have been my 3rd closer.  That was a disappointment.  I tried just one waiver-wire closer grab (Chad Qualls for Houston) and despite picking correctly, Qualls went weeks without save opportunities so I dumped him after two weeks looking for more starter quality.

Lets talk about the god-awful positional player issues I had in the draft: Mark Trumbo started out white-hot, fractured his foot and missed months.  Aaron Hill did not come closer to living up to the hype of fantasy analysts.  Shane Victorino was on and off the D/L all year.  And poor Brandon Belt fractured his thumb, fought his way back and then got hit in the head during BP and still remains on the concussion D/L.

Of the Starting Pitchers I gambled on: Shelby Miller struggled all  year, Danny Salazar got demoted, as did Tony Cingrani.  Chris Archer did not produce at fantasy levels and Jake Odorizzi struggled early and was dropped (I eventually picked him back up).  I only kept two drafted starters on the team all year (Ryu and  Hudson) and frankly Hudson was so bad for so long that I came pretty close to dumping him.  That basically means that my “wait on starters” strategy was a complete failure, if I’m only keeping ONE decent starter the whole  year.

So, for the 2nd straight year I cycled the waiver wires.  Here’s some of the guys I went through:

  • Starters: Scheppers, Kluber, Eovaldi, Skaggs, Kennedy, Strohman, Peralta, Montero, Keuchel, Garcia, Beckett,  Wood, Leake, Despaigne, Bauer, Liriano, Duffy, Hellickson, Cole, Smyly
  • Relievers: Qualls
  • Catchers: Mesoraco, Ruiz
  • 1B: Francisco, Adams, Alonso, Singleton, Napoli, Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Walker, Prado, Gennett, Wong
  • SS: Aybar, Escobar, Baez, Betts
  • 3B: Castellanos, Seager, Arenado
  • OF: Rasmus, Parra, Stubbs, Crawford, Ozuna, Eaton, Reddick, Aoki

Scheppers I took a gamble on b/c his numbers were so good as a reliever; mistake.  He got shelled opening day and soon was on the D/L.   A number of these pitchers were decent moves and pitched well for a while (especially Josh Beckett and Marcus Strohman).  The biggest failure here was dumping Corey Kluber after he got hit hard opening day: He’s turned into the 16th best fantasy performer all year, a 2nd round talent.  That was a huge mistake.  I liked Eovaldi‘s peripherals (lots of Ks) but he struggled with runners and his ERA/WHIP were inflated all year.  Skaggs got hurt, Kennedy was ineffective.  I got great value for a while out of Keuchel, but after a good mid-summer he tailed off badly.  Garcia made like one start before returning to the D/L.  Josh Beckett was a great waiver wire pickup for a while, but he too got hurt and remains on the D/L today.  Alex Wood was a great find.  I snaked Gerrit Cole off the D/L just before he came back on but he contributed little.  Most of my other experiments were far too inconsistent week-to-week to trust (see Trevor Bauer, Despaigne, Mike Leake, etc).

As mentioned before, I only tried to gamble on one closer waiver wire pickup thanks to the solid two starters that I had from draft day.  Most of the available closers on the waiver wire were in committee situations and couldn’t be trusted anyway.

I worked 1B, 2B, and 3B hard.  At one point I was trying to engineer a 3B trade, having Seager while he was hot and Arenado after he came off the D/L.  But my potential trade partners badly low-balled me for Beltre (offering guys who were worth far less than Beltre was) and suddenly Seager dropped off a cliff, making his trade value useless.  Eventually I dumped both.

1B pickups Napoli, Duda and especially Carter turned out to be huge winners.  Once again proving my point that some positions are just so deep they’re not worth drafting.  Same with outfielders to a certain extent; I had Ozuna all  year and he’s turned out to be well worth it.

My season’s end Fantasy team after all this waiver wire churning.  Bold are original, red are waiver wire:

  • C: Santana
  • 1B: Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Baez, Prado
  • SS: Betts
  • 3B: Beltre
  • OF: Stanton, Jones, Ozuna
  • SP: Hudson, Ryu, Odorizzi, Cole, Hellickson, Wood, Duffy, Liriano, Smyly
  • RP: Jansen, Holland

That’s a lot of red.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. You only need two big-time closers to compete.  Spend draft picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, try to get a third closer later on and you’ll do fine.  You must do a better job on the waiver wire though trying to grab closers if you want them.
  2. There’s always 1B talent on waivers.  Do not over-spend on 1B.
  3. My strategy of over-loading on mediocre starters just doesn’t seem to be working.  I was 3rd in wins and 5th in Ks, but 8th in ERA, dead last in losses and 11th in whip.   Meanwhile the #1 team this year went with an uber-pitching strategy (over-drafting starters and ending up with Kershaw, Sale, Felix Hernandez as well as several top closers) and he just dominated pitching.  Despite having a ton of starters, he managed to be 4th in Wins AND be 2nd in Whip.  I think he’s got a good strategy.  And i’m sure people will try to emulate it next year.
  4. Do not sweat churning and burning waiver wire picks early on; you may just end up with a monster surprise player on the year.  This was the 1st place team’s strategy and it netted him Charlie Blackmon and a couple of extra closers.  Two of the top 10 starters on the year were waiver wire guys: Corey Kluber and Garrett Richard.
  5. Do not hesitate grabbing big-name call-ups.  I missed out on more than a couple guys that I would have grabbed but hesitated.  This cost me last year with Yasiel Puig and it cost me this year with Jorge Soler and George Springer.  I waited, and I missed out.

Blech.  Hope you enjoyed the rant.