Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘jose bautista’ tag

Who *really* should be in the HR derby?

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Puig would *make* the home run derby.  photo mlb.com

Puig would *make* the home run derby. photo mlb.com

I have to admit it: the home run derby has probably become my favorite part of the all-star game festivities.  That and the futures game of course.  The all-star game itself has devolved into a farce with a slew of issues (I posted a lot of these criticisms in my 2011 Nats all-star piece, and they remain issues today, so no need to go back into them here).  Lets talk about the Home Run derby.

I kind of like the wrinkle of naming “captains,” which for this year occurred on 6/23/14.  But the captains have to pick the right guys.  I hate the format; when a guy like Josh Hamilton is remembered for his epic performance in an early round moreso than the winner, something’s wrong with the format.   But they’re changing it this year.   And the players take *way* too many pitches.  But whatever.  This year’s captains are Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista.  Fans can vote on who they want to see in the competition.

Here’s my ideal home-run derby slate of participants.  In the interest of keeping the competition “small” i’ve limited this to 5 per league:

National League:

  • Giancarlo Stanton: owner of 3 of the biggest 11 homers on the year, on pace for 45+ homers, leading the NL in home runs.  And he wants in this year.
  • Bryce Harper: last year’s runner-up is one of the few players in the majors scouted with 80 power; despite his injury-plagued season he belongs in this competition.
  • Michael Morse: not too many all-or-nothing hitters like Morse, whose name dots the leader board on hittracker.
  • Evan Gattis: you don’t just turn on chest-high fastballs from Strasburg if you’re a plain ole hitter.
  • Yasiel Puig: just because.  Can he do a bat flip after every homer?

Left out:

  • Troy Tulowitzki: He’s in as a captain, but even despite that selection he’s a decent choice: he’s 5th in the majors in ISO and tied for 6th in Homers.
  • Paul Goldschmidt: has the power capabilities and the overall game.  But he’s not nearly as explosive as the guys above.
  • Ryan Howard: He may not merit inclusion based on his performance, but he’s a classic three-true outcomes hitter.  Lefties get him out with ease; i’m sure batting practice pitchers don’t.
  • Todd Frazier: his power numbers spike thanks to playing in Cincinnati, but he’s still got some serious underrated power.
  • Justin Upton: Owner of the 3rd longest homer on the year.

American League:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: gotta let the man defend his crown.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: MLB leader in Homers as of this writing.  Has to be in this competition.
  • Jose Abreu: MLB leader in ISO and on a 40 homer pace despite hitting the D/L.
  • David Ortiz: Owns the 2nd longest homer hit this season and would make a nice homecoming in Minnesota.
  • Mike Trout: He’s such a good hitter, that he could just sit at the plate and hit homer after homer.  And, he just hit a 489 foot homer to take over the longest homer of the year.

Left Out

  • Jose Bautista: He’s a captain, so we’ll list him here.   Otherwise he’s a stretch to make this list.
  • Victor Martinez: he’s quietly one of the best power hitters in the league right now.
  • Mark Trumbo: too bad he’s hurt; he’s a great power hitter to watch.
  • Nelson Cruz: his homer totals may be augmented by playing in Baltimore, but he’s still putting numbers on the board.
  • Adam Dunn: you know he’d be a favorite to win if he was named to this team, but I could only select 5.  He’d be the 6th man in for the AL.

Are these the best lineups you could possibly ask for in this competition?  Who else would you put on this list of power-crazy players?  Jim Caple posted his own tongue-in-cheek version of this same post, worth a read for a quick giggle.  There’s a handful of other DH-only types in the AL (Billy Butler, Chris Carter, Adam Lind, Juan Francisco, etc) who might make sense.

(I used three resources to name these names: the current major league leaders in Homers, the current major league leaders in Isolated Power, and an eyeballing of the leader board for most astoundingly long homers on the year from Hit Tracker Online.  All stats are as of 6/24/14 and may have changed slightly between then and the publication of this post).

My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

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My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/31/12 edition

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Will the team extend Zimmerman, now that Fielder is off the table? Photo AP via tbd.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Nats continue to talk about a contract extension with Ryan Zimmerman, according to this and other sources.  I’m not arguing against re-signing him; in fact he’ll be at a discount by virtue of missing so much time last season and being relatively injury-ridden as of late.  The question is whether Zimmerman’s camp would accept anything less than what Troy Tulowitzki got (10/$157M) or Ryan Braun (13/$150M between current and extension contracts) signed.  Here’s a case against re-signing him (though to be fair, the same blog posted a “case-for” earlier).  Lastly on the topic; this fangraphs.com article looking for a good comparable for Zimmerman based on his production and value (the answer?  Matt Kemp‘s 8yr/$160M deal).
  • Nats miss out on Prince Fielder, as he signs a 9yr, $214M deal with Detroit.  Quick hit thoughts: Thank god there’s no more rumors about Fielder to the Nats.  I wanted him and his bat, but not at that price and for that length.  The team dodges an albatross of a contract in a few years time.  Lastly; how in the world is Detroit going to manage that payroll?  Its not as if that city is an up-and-coming, wealthy place.  Makes you wonder just how well-off these baseball owners really are.
  • I guess FA rumors are just meant to be with this team; suddenly we’re in the Roy Oswalt mix.  Now, I’ve said in the past that I like this guy and think he’d be a great fit for the team … but that was before we traded the farm for Gio Gonzalez and offered arbitration to John Lannan.  I’ll ask a simple question; if we sign Oswalt, who makes way?  Last time i checked this team has 5 starters, each signed for 2012 and each with a multi-million dollar commitment.  So this rumor doesn’t make any sense any longer.  Oswalt makes a ton more sense for a team like Texas or Boston, as is noted in the many columns on the subject posted recently.
  • LOVE the Brad Lidge acquisition.  The team needed a middle relief replacement for Todd Coffey and just got one, and for almost no money ($1M base with incentives).  He’s struggled with his health, but when he has been healthy he’s been lights out for the last two seasons (not to mention the rest of his career).  He can close in a pinch, he can help offload high-leverage innings off of Tyler Clippard.  And he can mentor the bullpen guys.  Fantastic signing by Mike Rizzo.
  • Nats will play Georgetown U in an exhibition for the 2nd year running.  Knowing how weak Georgetown’s program is, I wonder just how badly the scoreline will look (last year’s score was 15-0).
  • MLB daily dish is attempting to replicate the Big Board and throw in contract details at this site here.  We’ll see how uptodate this site is kept during the turbulent season of player movement in the minors.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Jamie Moyer signs a minor league deal with Colorado.   He sits at 267 wins for his career, so the chances of him getting to 300 are relatively slim, but his chances of making Colorado’s rotation aren’t too bad.  Roto World lists their depth chart right now at Chacin, Hammel, Pomeranz, White and Moscoso.  Lots of youth there; White and Pomeranz are both 22-23 and were both relatively awful last  year.  De La Rosa is coming off injury but may not be ready for opening day.  He very well could feature for this team in 2012.

 

General Baseball News

  • Yes I know these “top 5 lists” are mostly national columnists fulfilling writing requirements during the slow January baseball news period, but if the Nats are listed, i’ll post it.  David Schoenfield lists his “Top 5 rotations” in the game and he goes Philly, Angels, Texas, New York and Arizona.  I gotta say; i think he’s vastly overrating the Yankees rotation and I think he’s overrating the Arizona crew as well.  Arizona’s pitchers were more or less awful in last year’s NLDS; not sure I’d count on them in a pinch.  I’d easily put Tampa Bay and San Francisco’s rotations above these two teams, not to mention the possibility of Atlanta’s group gelling and helping that team win 95 games.
  • Marlins apparently ready to sign up for Showtime’s the Franchise, which featured San Francisco last year and was Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Hard Knocks football weekly documentary.  The show was great in 2011, showing the human side of many of the Giants players and was a must-watch in my house.  Of course, showing Miami could be an interesting endeavor; most of the baseball industry speaks badly about Miami’s ownership and senior management group and these documentary shows usually go to great lengths to humanize and gain empathy for all the participants.
  • Jose Bautista claims to have been “random drug tested” 16 times in the past two years, despite any single player’s chances of being randomly tested only being about 3 times in two years (according to the number of tests MLB is authorized to run versus the number of pro players).  As is noted in the link, it looks to me like MLB is taking no more chances with its big home-run hitters.

 

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • First College top 25 posted by Baseball America (more discussion on each team here), and there’s no surprise who’s #1: Florida by virtue of its absolutely stacked lineup (two first team and two 2nd team pre-season all americans by this publication).  No surprise Stanford is #2 behind their presumptive 2012 #1 overall pick Mark Appel, but surprised that Texas and Texas A&M are so low.  I think by the time the CWS rolls around we’ll be seeing these teams, plus South Carolina back in the mix behind their returning friday and saturday starters.
  • The great Kevin Goldstein unveils his top 20 Nationals prospects on Baseball Prospectus.  We all know who went the other way in the Gio Gonzalez trade; what’s more interesting is who now resides in places 16-20.  Clearly he has to struggle to find “prospects” worthy of ranking there, based on his inclusion of Jason Martinson, Matt Skole, Sandy Leon, and David Freitas.  Otherwise the top 12 or so reads as expected.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo announces their top 100 for the whole game.  Bryce Harper #2 behind Matt Moore; no argument there.  Surprised Mike Trout didn’t get more credit.  Most scouting pundits consider the big 4 (to include Atlanta’s Julio Teheran) as almost interchangeable.   The rest of the top 10 are well known; I’d never heard of #7 Jurickson Profar, a shortstop in Texas’ organization who is really young but really promising.  Other thoughts: surprised to see Danny Hultzen so high; I know he was dominant in college but is he slated to be that dominant in the pros?  Other Nats/ex-Nats on the list: Anthony Rendon at #27, Brad Peacock at #75, Alex Meyer at #83, Sammy Solis at #86, AJ Cole at #88.  No mention of Matthew Purke, but no surprise; he needs to have a healthy, strong season to regain his former 1-1 status.
  • My alma-mater JMU is #1 pre-season CAA baseball.

General News; other

  • Those of you who know me may know that i’m also a pretty passionate Soccer fan.  So here’s a fantastic look at the history of soccer through an “All-time fantasy soccer player draft.”   The first round was rather surprising; I know Lionel Messi is a great player now, but he’s got a bit of work before he supplants Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo or even Zidane in my book.  Of course, he’s already a 3-time world player of the year at the tender age of 24, so by the time he retires he may very well have 3 more awards.  Still, the selections (especially from the non-US based journalists who have a better sense of soccer’s history) are a great read.
  • Speaking of soccer, here’s a Grantland article on the conventional wisdom among most American fans that Soccer is boring.  I’ve tired of trying to argue this point with people who have never actually SEEN a live soccer game.  I have a good friend, born and bred in Pittsburgh and who is a die hard Steeler’s fan (in other words, the complete anti-thesis of a typical soccer fan) who I drug to a US Men’s national team game at RFK about 15 years ago.  He fell in love and now follows the european game with similar gusto as I.  I think American sports fans are too impatient, and have been even before the rise of cell-phones, the red-zone channel and highlight shows, to appreciate the beauty of Soccer.  They devolve the game, without really having any personal experience watching a big match or seeing one in person, into the common phrase, “how exciting can a 1-0 game be?”  I’d say to that; imagine a professional football game where there was no field goals allowed, the end zone was only 24 feet wide and there was a player positioned at that end zone at all times whose sole job it was to stop break away runs and passes.  Its simply that much tougher to score.  So most soccer fans know that the excitement of the game is the tactics, the breakdown of individual skill of the attacker versus the individual skill of the goalkeeper, and the near miss.


At this point, what *really* is the Fielder FA market?

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I swear, I wasn't looking for the obvious pun photo of Prince Fielder eating. Photo: The Onion

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that Prince Fielder is looking for a 9 figure contract, that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of suitors for him, and that he keeps being linked to the Washington Nationals, despite sources saying we’re not interested.

So I thought to myself; what *really* is the market for Fielder right now?  Who wants, or more importantly needs, a big-money, big-time hitting, trip-over-his-feet defending at first base Fielder?  Here’s each of the 30 teams organized into categories to help get some clarity:

1. Teams that have long-term, major money commitments to established 1B stars, right now.

These teams are absolutely not in the market for Fielder.   Team and current 1B:

  • Boston: Adrian Gonzalez
  • Chicago WS: Konerko/Dunn
  • Detroit: Miguel Cabrera
  • LA Angels: Albert Pujols
  • Minnesota: Justin Morneau
  • NY Yankees: Mark Teixeira
  • Cincinnati: Joey Votto
  • Colorado: Todd Helton (not that he’s a major committment, but he did just re-sign thru 2013).
  • Miami: Gaby Sanchez (not really a major star, but he was a 2011 all-star and is pre-arbitration)
  • Philadelphia: Ryan Howard

You could quibble with the selection of Miami as not being in the market; after all they were throwing money at Pujols and have committed something in the range of $165M in heavily back-loaded contracts already this off-season.  But I havn’t read a single sentence indicating any interest with Fielder.

You could slightly quibble with Colorado, but if so I’ll say that Colorado also falls into one of the “No” categories below.  Read on.

2. Teams that are so bad, right now, that I couldn’t imagine Fielder actually going there

  • Baltimore

Baltimore.  That’s it.  Anyone that signs in Baltimore is essentially saying, “I want to play for the worst organization in baseball and guarantee myself 5th place finishes for the entirety of my contract.”  Who would possibly go to play there unless they’re a lower-tier FA who wants to guarantee himself a starting job?  Such a shame; this was the highest payroll team in the game in the mid 90s.  We talk about how Bud Selig needs to take away the Mets … how about forcing Angelos to sell this former jewel franchise to someone who actually wants to see them win?

3. Teams that are aren’t in the market for financial reasons

  • LA Dodgers
  • NY Mets
  • SF Giants
  • St. Louis

Obviously the situation with the Dodgers and Mets prevents them from doing such a franchise-altering commitment.  Plus both teams have half-way decent options playing at 1B for them now (James Loney and Ike Davis).   The Giants were at $118M in 2011 and seem tapped out; they have $84M committed prior to their Arb cases, including a potentially record-setting arbitration case with Tim Lincecum.  They’ll easily be above $100M once these cases are said and done.  Lastly St. Louis: if they were willing to pay $25M/year, they would have re-signed Pujols.  So clearly they’ve reached a financial threshold themselves.

I’d also put Colorado in this category; they aren’t exactly a small-market team but they also don’t seem like they’re in the mood to increase payroll $25M/year.

4. Teams that have waved the white flag and are in 100% rebuilding mode

  • Oakland
  • Houston

Both these teams should be obvious just by their mention.  Oakland is going to try to field a $20M payroll team, and Houston has bottomed out and clearly is starting over.

5. Teams that have big-name prospects currently installed at 1B and who don’t seem like they’re in the market

  • Cleveland (Matt LaPorta); also arguably in the “Small Market” category
  • Kansas City (Eric Hosmer); also in the “Small Market” category
  • Seattle (Justin Smoak); also in the “Teams that are really bad” category
  • Atlanta (Freddie Freeman): also in the “Teams that are tapped out financially” category
  • San Diego (Yonder Alonso); also in the “Small market” category
  • Chicago Cubs (Anthony Rizzo): probably more in the “rebuilding mode” category; Epstein likes Rizzo, just re-acquired him and I’d be shocked if they blocked him by getting Fielder.

Most of these teams could fit into multiple categories.  Lots of rumors out there saying that Seattle is a natural landing spot for Fielder but I don’t see it: Smoak is the reason Seattle agreed to trade Cliff Lee, and you don’t just give up on guys like that.  Meanwhile Seattle is now miles behind their divisional rivals and may not compete for a decade.  Why would Fielder go there?

Meanwhile, the Cubs seem like an interesting case.  NL team, NL central team, storied name.  But they didn’t hire Theo Epstein to just make the leap; their ownership clearly realized that their franchise was on the downside both at the MLB level and in the farm system.  Bad contracts, bad clubhouse.  They’re rebuilding for a renewed run in a few year’s time.

6. Small Market teams that certainly don’t seem to be in the market for a $25M/year player

  • Tampa Bay
  • Arizona
  • Milwaukee (else he’d be looking at re-signing there)
  • Pittsburgh

All these teams seem to be pretty self-explanatory.  Maybe Arizona gets into the market, but they’ve gone to great pains to lose payroll, paring it down to just $56M last year while somehow winning the division.  Their highest paid player in 2011 was just $5.8M.  A $25M/year guy doesn’t fit with their team.


So, after all that, Here’s the teams Left: This is the actual Market for Fielder, right now.  Teams listed with their current starting 1B

  • Texas: Mitch Moreland
  • Toronto: Adam Lind
  • Washington: Adam LaRoche

And here’s arguments for and against each team:

  • Pro Texas: they are getting a massive amount of money influx in.  They may or may not win the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, meaning they may or may not have an “extra” $120M or so sitting around in a couple weeks.  Moreland isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire and wouldn’t be an impediment.
  • Con Texas: They don’t NEED more offense; they’ve bashed their way to two consecutive AL pennants by having an offense ranked in the top 3 in pretty much every category.  They had a guy who hit 29 homers batting 7th for them in the off-season (Nelson Cruz).
  • Pro Toronto: they have payroll room.  They can let Fielder DH some of the time.  They have a good young pitching staff they can build on.  Lind hit 26 homers but isn’t blocking them from acquiring someone better.  They do need to improve their offense and he’d fit naturally behind Jose Bautista, giving him even better pitches to turn on.
  • Con Toronto: they’re the 4th best team in the AL East and havn’t made the playoffs since the Wild Card era.  What makes you think they’re going to catch the 3 teams above them, no matter how much they spend?  This has to come into Fielder’s thought process, doesn’t it?  They also don’t have the pitching right now to really compete in the AL East, having traded away their main studs for prospects in recent years.
  • Pro Washington: This team needs offense; we’ve declined in runs scored 3 years running.  Plain and simple.
  • Con Washington: he can’t DH.  We’d be lighting the $8M we owe to LaRoche on fire.  He doesn’t fit Rizzo’s pro-defense concept of finding players.  He may expose a payroll ceiling that the team hasn’t broached before, resulting in the team possibly losing franchise players in the future because “we can’t afford them.”

In the end though, if Texas signs Darvish I’d think they’d be out of the running.  And Toronto hasn’t really shown an inclination to spend Fielder kinds of money, and seem more in a rebuilding phase than a “go for it now” phase.

Which means the Fielder market may be …. just Washington.

What do you think?  Are there any teams besides Texas, Toronto and the Nats that are *really* in the conversation?  Or is Boras negotiating against himself right now?

End of Season Award Review

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Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here (albeit without MLB comeback player of the year predictions, since those came out very early in the off-season).

Final results: For the 2nd year running, I went 8-for-8 in predicting the BBWAA awards.   But I will say this; predicting these awards going forward will be more difficult, as more modern baseball writers will depend more and more on advanced stats to decided these awards.  Meanwhile, I was only 1-for-4 in predicting the Sporting News “unofficial” award add-ons for GM and Comeback player (and I pretty much disagree with all I was wrong about :-).

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Justin Verlander.  Winner: Verlander.  Ellsbury 2nd, Bautista 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: Justin Verlander. Winner: Verlander, unanimously.  Weaver 2nd, Shields 3rd.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Jeremy Hellickson. Winner: Hellickson rather easily.  Trumbo 2nd, Hosmer 3rd.
  • AL Mgr: Prediction: Joe MaddonWinner: Maddon.  Leyland 2nd, Washington 3rd.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Andrew FriedmanWinner: Dave Dombrowski.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year.  Prediction: Bartolo Colon.  Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Ryan Braun. Winner: Braun.  Kemp 2nd, Fielder 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: Clayton Kershaw.  Winner: Kershaw handily.  Halladay 2nd, Lee 3rd.
  • NL Rookie: Prediction: Craig Kimbrel.  Winner: Kimbrel unanimously.  Freeman 2nd, Worley 3rd.
  • NL Mgr: Prediction: Kirk GibsonWinner: Gibson. Roenicke 2nd, LaRussa 3rd.
  • Sporting News NL GM:Prediction: Doug MelvinWinner: Melvin.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year.  Prediction: Ryan Vogelsong.  Winner: Lance Berkman

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2011 post-season voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com).

  • AL MVP: Verlander as predicted.  Not because I think he’s the MVP (see my rant about Pitchers winning the MVP here), but because he won the voting.  I think this kind of winner will gradually fade as more modern, stats-aware voters pour into the BBWAA and start “improving” the vote.  The same goes for Cy Youngs as well; see commentary for the NL Cy Young award.  That being said, this voter’s explanation perfectly sums up what I would have guessed would have happened.  And this guy, who voted Michael Young first, Verlander 2nd, Ellsbury 5th and Bautista 7th should really have his voting credentials questioned.
  • AL Cy Young: no surprise on the winner, or 2nd or 3rd place really.  I was surprised that Josh Beckett didn’t fare better.  Perhaps it was because of his injury later in the season.  His WAR should have put him in the top 5.
  • AL Rookie: Again, no surprise winner here.  Hellickson proved his value with a sparkling 2010 late season call-up, just as Matt Moore did this year for Tampa.  This award looked to be Michael Pineda‘s at the all-star break.  He finishes 5th.
  • AL Manager: Maddon won pretty handily; no surprise here.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: when you put Ellsbury’s season into context, he certainly out-performed any reasonable expectation of his abilities.  He wasn’t exactly a slouch in 2009, but he certainly wasn’t a 30-home run talent either.  I guessed Colon just based on the fact that he was basically out of baseball before the Yankees signed him.
  • AL Executive: Perhaps the voters have tired of the tight-rope act going on in Tampa.  Dombrowski’s FA signings were sublime, but his mid-season trade for Doug Fister probably won over the voters, who watched the Tigers improve 14 games and win the AL Central.  I question the award though; Detroit already had a massive payroll and established players in most positions.  Tampa made the playoffs in a year they slashed payroll by 40% in the AL east.
  • NL MVP: another award that will be roundly criticized by Sabre-nerds, since Kemp had a slightly better statistical season.  However I agree 100% with Mark Zuckerman‘s reasoning.  The MVP is the best player on a playoff team, unless a player on a non-playoff team has an other-worldly season.
  • NL Cy Young: Even I was surprised at the overwhelming win; 27 of 32 first place votes.  Halladay the easy 2nd place winner, though we’re bound to hear stat-heads whining that Halladay had the more impactful season.  Interesting that Ian Kennedy garnered one first place vote; thankfully it didn’t factor into any of the eventual results, because anyone who thought Kennedy’s season was better than the first three pitchers was crazy.  I think the Kershaw vote was predictable if only because Halladay already has a Cy Young to his credit, and voters wanted to give the award to someone new.  Predictably, Keith Law voted against the majority in a major award category, as he’s done the past few years.  I say predictably because Law represents the stat-heavy minded voter that, while probably correct in their voting way, does not represent the majority of current voters and thus made the predictability of this award relatively straight forward.  Here’s Amanda Comak‘s vote and explanation.
  • NL Rookie: Again, no surprise that Kimbrel won unanimously, as most older voters notoriously over-rate closers.  But there wasn’t a better choice than Kimbrel after his dominant season.  Atlanta shows how good a franchise they have been in developing talent lately with 1st and 2nd place in this competition, to go with the excellent Brandon Beachy.  Watch out next year for Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino to be early ROY candidates.
  • NL Comeback Player:  No offense to Berkman’s incredible offensive season, but its not as if he was exactly chopped liver prior to 2011. Vogelsong hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2006!  Vogelsong was one of this year’s great feel-good stories, stuck in the minors for years and then putting up a fantastic season covering for the injured Barry Zito at the age of 33.  The players showed why they can’t be trusted to vote properly; Vogelsong is the definition of a comeback player.
  • NL Executive: Melvin’s all-in approach for 2011 worked, and he was rewarded for it.
http://www.freep.com/article/20111116/SPORTS02/111116004/Dave-Dombrowski-co-winner-Sporting-News-Executive-Year-award?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CSports%7Cs:

Should Pitchers be eligible for the MVP award?

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Virginia native Justin Verlander is your unanimous AL Cy Young Winner for 2011; is he also an MVP candidate? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

In honor of the AL MVP vote, set to be announced today 11/21/11 ….

Justin Verlander had one of the better starting pitcher seasons in the past few years.  He compiled a 24-5 record with a 2.40 era, a sub 1.00 whip and a 9.0 k/9 rate.  Pitchers getting to 25 wins in the modern 5-man rotations is exceedingly rare and, no matter what you think of the “win” category is still indicative of a stellar season.

Verlander was your unanimous 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner.   He led the AL in a slew of traditional and non-traditional statistical pitching categories, including your “pitching triple crown” categories of Wins, ERA and Strikeouts.  He also lead the AL in bWar and Whip, and is in the top 5 in a number of other categories (k/9, k/bb, fWar, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA).  He wasn’t nearly as “far ahead” of some of his AL competition (in most other seasons any one of Sabathia, Weaver, Shields, and maybe even Beckett before he got hurt would be serious Cy Young candidates), but it’s no surprise that he was the unanimous Cy Young winner.

So, is he also your AL MVP?

In a year where most of the candidates for the AL MVP seem to have “warts” of some sort, is Verlander in line to be the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win both the Cy Young and the MVP?

Lets talk about reasons having a starting pitcher win your league’s MVP does not make any sense:

  • A SP only plays in 34-35 games a year, about 20% of a team’s total starts.  How can the “most valuable player” only play in 20% of a team’s games?
  • Even if your SP wins 25 games (as Verlander nearly did), or the team goes 27-8 in your pitcher’s starts (as Detroit did for Verlander this year) … that’s still only at best representing 25-30% of your team’s victories.

On the other hand:

  • If you have an ace starter and switch places with a replacement-level player, how much of an effect would that have on your team’s success?  If you assume the Tigers replaced Verlander’s 27-8 record in games he started with a .500 pitcher, suddenly the Tigers are looking at potentially 10 fewer victories and missing the playoffs.  But then again, this probably overstates the capabilities of any one pitcher winning games all by himself.
  • Tom Boswell once argued that pitchers may only pitch every 5th day, but they face nearly 1000 batters in a season (Verlander faced 969 batters this year).  That’s nearly 300 more batters faced than positional players get plate appearances.  The converse is that if you’re looking at impact strictly on a plate appearance basis, you have to then factor in every single play in the field that a positional player takes part in.  Using an MVP competitor as comparison:  Jacoby Ellsbury (an outfielder) had 388 putouts in center field while playing 1358 innings.  He also had 729 plate appearances.  So those two figures add up to eclipse direct involvement on a per-at bat level.  Depending on where you play in the infield, your involvement on a per-at bat level is about equivalent to an outfielders (for 3rd basement), significantly higher (for middle infielders) to exceptionally high (for 1st basemen and catchers).  The difficulty of a center fielder catching a fly ball for a putout isn’t nearly as much as a pitcher recording a strikeout with the bases loaded … but then again, when you’re already expecting roughly 75% of hitters to make outs without you (as a pitcher) even really being considered anything much above replacement … the law of averages, averages out a bit.

To me, pitchers are not a large enough part of a team’s success on a day in/day out basis to be the “most valuable player,” in the accepted working definition of the title.  I believe pitchers have an award for accomplishment (the Cy Young) and the MVP, while perhaps poorly named or poorly defined, really should be for positional players.  Perhaps this argument comes back to the pure definition of an MVP, and on this point I’ll have disagreements as well, since I basically consider the MVP to be realistically defined as “the most important positional player on a playoff team.”  I generally don’t believe that the best player on a 4th place team really can be the MVP.

Of course, all this being said, I did predict that Verlander would win the AL MVP.  Why?  Because every one of his primary competitors seems to have some narrative that will prevent them from winning.  Ellsbury‘s team folded in September.  Bautista‘s team didn’t play a meaningful game for months.  Cabrera was only the 2nd best player on his own team.  Granderson had a 40-homer season but he hit .260 and wasn’t even in the league top-10 in bWAR.

What do you guys think?

My End-of-Season award Predictions

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Justin Verlander’s season is one for the ages. Will it net him both a Cy Young and an MVP? Photo unknown origin via rumorsandrants.com

Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB.  In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.

Here’s my predictions for 2011.  There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win.  I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.

  • AL MVP:  Who I think will win: Justin Verlander.   In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years.  I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season.  As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well.  Curtis Granderson‘s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch.  Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team.  Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season.  Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all.  He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats.  But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division.  If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down.  The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again.  Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown.  Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions).   James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily.  Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year.  CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick.   Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod.  Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012.  Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season.  Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season.  Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions.  Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half.  There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes.  But Hellickson should be the winner.
  • AL Mgr:  Joe Maddon‘s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner.  Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration.  You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
  • NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braunled his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch.   Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season.  Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries.  And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members.  Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him.  Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team.   Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd.  Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher.  Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year.  That’s tough to do.  Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new.  Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either.  Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season.  Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
  • NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value.  Freddie Freeman is in the conversation.  Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half.   The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3.  Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
  • NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around.  Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team.  You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).

Thoughts?  There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season.  Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.

My 2011 Fantasy Team

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Note; stop reading now if you’re one of those people who hate to hear about fantasy teams or analysis of leagues.  I understand your point; its kinda like hearing someone go on and on about how their ugly baby just did the cutest thing last week.

I’m in a modified 5×5 yahoo league with 9 other fantasy baseball nuts (of all the fantasy sports, baseball tends to have the biggest nerds I think.  Well, perhaps fantasy golf or fantasy nascar).  We’ve modified the typical 5×5 categories to add in a 6th category on both sides.  We put in OPS on the hitter side and Losses on the pitcher side.  We made this change a few years back when one of the players won by churning and burning starting pitchers over and over to stock-pile wins and Ks.

Before going into my draft results and analysis, a few notes on my strategy for picking baseball teams:

  • I like pitching and I like to analyze pitching, so I focus on pitchers.  I like to have the bare minimum of hitters and load up on pitchers.  This strategy can be questioned; the clear winner last year had a bare minimum of pitchers but tons of hitter depth and was tough to beat.
  • I try to focus on NL starters with good K rates.  I try to avoid AL pitchers if I can, and I especially try to avoid AL east pitchers because of the gauntlet of great hitting teams they face.
  • I try to get 5 closers.  This can be tough, especially in a 10-person league with only (theoretically) 30 closers to go around.  However, I try not to overpay for closers.  Two years ago I experimented with a Zero closer system and it did not fare as well as I thought it would.
  • Do not overpay for a Catcher.  I’ve been burned so many times on catchers going down with injuries (in the past three years I’ve dealt with Varitek, Russell Martin and Victor Martinez injuries or inadequacies, going to the waiver wire each time).

Here’s my team’s draft results.  I was picking 2nd in a 10-man league with a typical snake-style draft order.

1. Hanley RamirezPujols goes first; I could have gone with Tulowitzki here but I opted to go with a guy who has been a bit more consistent (and less injury prone) at the #2 spot.
2. Matt Holliday.  By the time I pick again, all the top tier 1B and 3B were gone.  I figured this would happen and had targeted a couple of lower-end 1B and 3B players that I figured I could get later on (see rounds 10 and 14).   I wanted Hamilton here but he went earlier than I thought he would.  I would have loved for Adrian Gonzalez to slip but he did not.
3. Tim Lincecum.  I was either-or for Felix Hernandez or Lincecum here.  In the end I went for Lincecum because of the NL angle and because of how bad Seattle is.  Hernandez went immediately after Lincecum.
4. Richie Weeks.  Coming back at the end of the 4th, I needed to focus one at least one of the “skill” positions that can be tough to fill.  I wanted Uggla but missed him by a few picks.  Weeks is a good all around player; 29 homers with 11 SBs in 2010.  I’ll take that out of the 2nd base position.  Someone took a flier on Chase Utley not knowing just how bad his injury is … it pays to be prepared and up-to-date on injury news.  Weeks himself is an injury risk and was listed as a possible fantasy bust for 2011.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
5. Jason Heyward: I can’t remember if Posey was sitting there available at this point or not, but I like having an up-and-coming power hitter here.
6. Alex Rios: I filled my 3rd OF position with a bit of a sleeper in Rios.  He was #27 fantasy producer in 2010, hitting 21 homers and getting 34 sbs.  My first 5 out-field players all can be described as guys who can hit for power and get SBs.
7. Cole Hamels: I missed out on Cliff Lee but am a bit wary of him this year anyway.  He wasn’t THAT great in the regular season last year.  Meanwhile Hamels had a sneaky solid season with 211 ks in 208 innings.  He took a lot of losses though; lets hope that his move to the #4 starter puts him in line to get many more wins.
8. Mat Latos.  #32 ranked 2010 fantasy performer in the end of the 8th round.  I’ll take that.  Lots of Ks, great ERA and whip and pitching in the massive Petco.  Love this pick.
9. Neftali Feliz: I announced prior to this pick that I didn’t care if he was starting or closing, that I wanted him.  He apparently will be the closer, which i’m kinda bummed about since I think he’d be a great starter … but at the same time he’s probably the 3rd or 4th best closer out there.  I wanted Marmol and his ridiculous K rates but he went very early.  I also wanted Heath Bell right around here but missed him by one pick, with Acheson getting him just before I was to pick him.
10. Paul Konerko.  In the 10th round I sitll didn’t have a first baseman or a third baseman, two positions that are very power-hitter friendly.  As mentioned above, once I missed out on the top guys in the 1st-2nd rounds, I made a calculated gamble targeting two guys I figured would be either overlooked or be later round guys.  Konerko was the first: he was the #12 fantasy hitter last year, blasting 39 homers with 111 rbis.  It was a contract year, which is a bit scary, but he also inherits Adam Dunn as protection for 2011.  I’m hoping he continues to hit at this level despite him being 35 this year.  With him and Dunn switching off between 1B and DH perhaps the rest will do him good.
11. Jonathan Sanchez.  Oddly Yahoo has him ranked 173rd, despite being the 70th best producer last year.  I don’t get it; 13-9, 205 ks in 193 innings, good era and whip.  This may have been a reach by ranking points but I like him.
12. Matt Weiters. At this point there was a slight run on Catchers and I felt I needed to make a move.  I was looking at either Weiters or Geovany Soto.  Honestly before the draft I would have loved to have taken a shot at Carlos Santana but he went very early.  I debated between Soto and Weiters and went with the promising rookie.  Vito, drafting right behond me, was thinking the same thing and immediately snapped up Soto.
13. JJ Putz.  At this point in the draft, I nearly had all my positional players and generally go SP-RP all the way out.  I wanted to get my hands on at least one of the upper-end closers available and went with Putz.  Putz took a setup job in Chicago last year and pitched well enough to earn another closer job.  Arizona isn’t going to get him a ton of closer opportunities but after their debacle last year trying Qualls, Rauch and the kitchen sink in the role, Putz may do well.  Remember, Matt Capps got a ton of saves for a last place team last year too.
14. Pedro Alvarez.  My last positional player.  Most of the good 3rd basement went in the first two rounds.  I didn’t want to mess with guys like Bautista (flash in the pan?), Michael Young (he’s a utility player in a bad professional situation) or Aramis Ramirez (two bad years in a row).  I was targeting Alvarez or Mark Reynolds.  Reynolds hit less than .200 last year after a monster 2009 and is moving to a fantastic hitters park for him, so that was tempting.  But he’s also moving to the toughest division with a lot of upper-end pitching and he may push 250 Ks this year.  Meanwhile, Alvarez is a cool rookie with a lot of upside and he could be fun to follow.
15. Francisco Cordero: my 3rd closer; from here out my goal is to get the best closers available til I get to 5, then get whatever starting pitchers look enticing.  Cordero got 40 saves last year; works for me.
16. Leo Nunez; 20 picks later I get Nunez, who I have ranked right next to Cordero.  More Ks, better whip but fewer saves for Florida.
17. Brandon Lyon: Not a ton of saves last year but he wasn’t the closer til August.  then in 6 weeks he got 15 saves.  I’m hoping this is a steal of a pick and he racks up 35-40 saves this year.
18. Madison Bumgarner; Amazing, i’ve got Bumgarner ranked the exact same as Sanchez, who I got 7 rounds earlier.  I like Bumgarner and think he can be as effective as he was in the playoffs.  Honestly I wanted Hellickson around here but Droopy got him.  Bumgarner fits my profile better; NL starter with good numbers.  Not the best K/9 guy but he’s also a youngster and can get better.
19. Carlos Zambrano; This pick was partly a joke; there is a massive Cubs fan in our league (Erwin) who absolutely would have picked this guy.  But this was also strategic; Zambrano got an incredibly quick hook out of the rotation last year, missed a month but still finished the season 11-6 with 8.1K/9.  He was very effective down the stretch.  I’m hoping he picks right back up where he was before.
20. David Aardsma: Strategy pick; I know he’s going to start the season on the DL, so I will move him to my DL slot and pick up another guy.  As it turned out I did not pick up a utility player, so I’ll get the best hitter available before the season starts.
21. Anibel Sanchez: in the last round, i looked at my starting pitcher depth charts for the NL and selected what I thought was the best targeted starter available.  I was considering the likes of Fausto Carmona, Travis Wood, Dallas Braden or Jorge De La Rosa.  In the end Sanchez had a solid season last year for Florida and could do well.

Here’s the team by position:

  • C: Matt Weiters
  • 1B: Paul Konerko
  • 2B: Rickie Weeks
  • 3B: Pedro Alvarez
  • SS: Hanley Ramirez
  • OF: Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Alex Rios
  • SP: Lincecum, Hamels, Latos, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Zambrano, Sanchez
  • Closers: Felix, Putz, Cordero, Nunez, Lyon and Aardsma

Based on last year’s averages/week, my hitters are probably going to be

  • a bit below average for Runs scored (30.8 versus 27.6)
  • a bit above averages for Homers (7.92 versus 7.0)
  • right around average for RBIs (29.1 versus 28.1)
  • right around average for SBs (4.8 versus 4.2)
  • above average for BA (.202 versus .273)
  • above average for OPS (.838 vs .790)

Based on last year’s averages/week, my pitchers are probably going to be

  • Above average for Wins (5.00 vs 3.65)
  • Below average for Losses (4 vs 2.9)
  • Above average for Saves (4.56 vs 3.88)
  • Well Above average for Ks (69.4 vs 48.2)
  • Above average for ERA (3.20 vs 3.553)
  • Right around average for WHIP (1.24 vs 1.25)

I see 6 categories where i’m above average, 3 where i’m about average, two a bit below average and one where i’m well below average.  That could average out to a lot of 7-5 or 8-4 weeks.  Far enough.

Draft Analysis Conclusions: it is fair to say i’m weaker on the hitting side.  That tends to happen when drafting very early and missing out on the 1B and 3B rush.  I much more like drafting 4-5-6th spots so you can get top-tier guys in both positions.  I will have to be diligent on the waiver wire looking for hitters.  There are a couple of non-drafted guys that I like who may fit in at 1B if Konerko falters badly.

I’m also depending a lot on 2-3 non-sexy names (Weeks, Rios, Konerko) and several high profile rookies (Weiters, Heyward, Alvarez, Bumgarner).  This could really backfire if these guys don’t produce.  I’m most worried about Alvarez, who put up decent numbers in half a season last year but it may be a stretch to assume he’s already a 30-homer guy. I’m also worried about Weeks’ health and ability to stay on the field.  He may end up sitting in my DL spot for a while. I may focus on finding a speedster/leadoff/high SB/high Runs guy for my utility player.

I really like my slew of starters.  All of them have good K/9, era and whip values.  Lots of losses though; i’m hoping for a bounceback season for Lincecum and better w/l records from the likes of Hamels and Sanchez.

I’ve got a lot of closer depth, including the Aardsma pickup.  There’s a few other possible closers to be had as well; Lidge is down with an injury, Washington’s situation is certainly fluid, Tampa’s closer really hasn’t been identified, Atlanta may flip flop Venters and Kimbrell, and nobody at all knows who is going to close in Toronto.  So there’s more waiver wire work to be done.

1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Matt Holliday
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Richie Weeks
5. Jason Heyward
6. Alex Rios
7. Cole Hamels
8. Matt Latos
9. Neftali Feliz
10. Paul Konerko
11. Jonathan Sanchez
12. Matt Weiters
13. JJ Putz
14. Pedro Alvarez
15. Francisco Cordero
16. Leo Nunez
17. Brandon Lyon
18. Madison Bumgarner
19. Carlos Zambrano
20. David Aardsma
21. Anibal Sanchez