Help – Save Me!

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How can a Pitcher get credited with a Save when he never shook the Catcher’s hand after the final out of the inning and the game wasn’t actually over? In August of 2013, the Tigers Bruce Rondon came on in relief against the Indians in the top of the 7th inning protecting a 5-2 Tigers lead. After allowing one hit and then getting the final out of the inning, he calmly walked to the dugout. The Tigers proceeded to score two additional runs in the bottom of the 7th and eventually, the game was called after seven innings due to rain. Opening up the newspaper the following morning, the box score of the game shows Rondon getting his first Save of the season! How would you like to lose your Fantasy Baseball League by one point in the Saves category?

 

When the founding fathers of Rotisserie baseball included a “Saves” category back in the early 80’s, they probably didn’t anticipate the type of angst that would be cascading down on the owners of Fantasy teams. In the original 4×4 format, an established closer could cost more than 10% of your roster’s budget at the Draft table. Maybe even more challenging, however, is the changing landscape that is part of the quest for Saves. Lets see a show of hands for all the experts who were spending late-March targeting Jonathan Papelbon, Trevor Rosenthal, Jake McGee, Steve Cishek, Glen Perkins and Huston Street.

 

Saves didn’t become an official stat until 1969 and now, in the age of specialization, it isn’t uncommon to see Closers save 30, 40 or even 50 games. It certainly wasn’t like that in the 1950’s & 60’s, but thanks to baseball-reference.com and other baseball researchers, the history of Saves can now be tracked back over the last hundred years of baseball. For today’s baseball card collecting adventure, we’ll find the rookie cards of the Saves leader for each of the 20 seasons prior to the stats birth in 1969. As always, the card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> 1949 – Joe Page, Yankees, 27 Saves – This tall lefthander was a starting pitcher when he first joined New York in the mid-40’s but became the last guy in the bullpen in 1947. To illustrate how the role has changed, he appeared in 60 games, finishing 48, with 135 IP and 13 Wins. Not an unsung hero, he also finished 3rd in the AL MVP balloting. This workload, however, took a heavy toll and his career was essentially over after 1950. His rookie card is from 1948 Bowman (#29) and books for $70.

 

> 1950 – Jim Konstanty, Phillies, 22 Saves – Philadelphia won the NL Pennant and Casimir James Konstanty was a major contributor. When you digest his stats, it is clear to see why he won the NL MVP…appeared in 74 games, finishing 62 of them!! Pitched 152 innings and had 16 Wins to go along with his Save total. You can find his rookie card in the 1950 Bowman set (#226) with a value of $30.

 

> 1951 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 14 Saves – Nicknamed “Old Folks”, he was an excellent starting pitcher for four seasons prior to moving to the bullpen in ’51. In 1949, for example, he went 23-6 and led the AL with 6 shutouts. His performance in this season was amazing and included an 11-2 record in 127 IP while finishing 41 games. The 1950 Bowman set is also home to Kinder’s rookie card (#152) and it books for $30.

 

> 1952 – Al Brazle, Cardinals, 16 Saves – “Cotton” was another starting pitcher from the late 40’s who transitioned to the bullpen. He even started 6 games in this season and went 12-5 for the year. The 1949 Bowman set has his rookie card (#126) and $30 will add it to your collection.

 

> 1953 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 27 Saves – Still effective at age 38, this tied Page’s record for the most Saves in a season. He also led the AL with 69 games pitched and 51 games finished. Oh, and his ERA was 1.85!

 

> 1954 – Jim Hughes, Dodgers, 24 Saves – A journeyman who didn’t get to the majors until age 29, he also led the NL with 60 appearances. His 1953 Topps card (#216) books for $40.

 

> 1955 – Ray Narleski, Indians, 19 Saves – The starting rotation was Early Wynn, Herb Score, Bob Lemon & Mike Garcia with a spot starter named Bob Feller. This slender right-hander also led the league with 60 appearances and added a 9-1 record. His 1955 Topps card (#160) is worth $45.

 

> 1956 – Clem Labine, Dodgers, 19 Saves – The “Boys of Summer” had a great staff and this veteran closed the door by finishing 47 games. His rookie card is the jewel of this collection, as it comes from the high-numbered run of the famous 1952 Topps set (#342) and books for $525.

 

> 1957 – Bob Grim, Yankees, 19 Saves – The 1954 AL Rookie of the Year award winner when he went 20-6, Grim transitioned to the bullpen and added a 12-8 record to this All-Star season. The 1955 Bowman rookie card (#167) is worth $25.

 

> 1958 – Ryne Duren, Yankees , 20 Saves – Sort of a cross between Ricky Vaughn and Nuke Laloosh, this hard-thrower wore eyeglasses that looked like Coke bottles and always threw his first warm-up pitch all the way to the back-stop. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race and had 87 K’s in 75 IP. His 1958 Topps card (#296) can be found for about $20.

 

> 1959 – Turk Lown, White Sox, 15 Saves – Actually, a three-way tie with NL leaders Lindy McDaniel & Don McMahon, we’ll stick with Omar Joseph Lown. He led the NL in games finished for ’56 & ’57 with the Cubs and then went cross-town to the Pale Hose. He added 9 Wins in this stellar season for a 35 year-old. His 1952 Topps rookie card is also from the scarce series (#330) and books for $375.

 

> 1960 – Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals, 26 Saves – He and his Brother Von both pitched for the Redbirds in the 1950’s. This outstanding season included a 12-4 record and a 3rd place finish in the Cy Young voting. Led the NL in Saves again in 1963. His rookie card is from 1957 Topps (#79) and books for $20.

 

> 1961 – Luis Arroyo, Yankees, 29 Saves – Not the prototypical closer at 5″ 8″, he had one of the greatest bullpen seasons ever for the pennant winning Bronx Bombers. Led the league with 65 appearances and 54 games finished while adding 15 Wins in 119 IP. Two years later, his career was over. The 1956 Topps set has his rookie card (#64) and it is valued at $25.

 

> 1962 – Roy Face, Pirates, 28 Saves – Another diminutive relief pitcher, this was the 3rd time Elroy led the NL in Saves. And that’s in addition to his 18-1 record in 1959. His rookie card from the 1953 Topps set (#246) will set you back $155.

 

> 1963 – Stu Miller, Orioles, 27 Saves – A consistently good closer for both the Giants & O’s in the 1960’s, his stats for this year included league-leading totals of 71 appearances and 59 games finished. His 1953 Topps card (#183) is worth $40.

 

> 1964 – Dick Radatz, Red Sox, 29 Saves – Considered by some as the first of the modern closers, he was intimidating at 6″ 6″ and his nickname was “The Monster”. Groomed as a closer, he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting in ’62 when he accumulated 24 Saves & 9 Wins. If you ever want a relief pitcher season for your historical Rotisserie roster, this is it…in addition to the Saves, 16 Wins and 181 K’s in 157 IP. Not surprisingly, after pitching 538 innings in his first four campaigns, he was “toast”. The 1962 Topps rookie card (#591) can be yours for about $60.

 

> 1965 – Ted Abernathy, Cubs, 31 Saves – A “sidearm” hurler since hurting his arm in High School, he had 84 appearances and 62 games finished for the Cubbies. His 1957 Topps card (#293) books for $30.

 

> 1966 – Jack Aker, Athletics, 32 Saves – Nicknamed “Chief”, he pitched for 11 seasons but never matched this particular performance. 57 games finished and a 1.99 ERA in 113 IP tells the tale. His 1966 Topps card (#287) is worth $10.

 

> 1967 – Ted Abernathy, Reds, 28 Saves – Another great season, this time in Cincinnati. Led the league again with 70 appearances and 61 games finished.

 

> 1968 – Phil Regan, Cubs, 25 Saves – Actually started the season with the Dodgers but had all the Saves for the Cubbies. Acquired “The Vulture” as his nickname in Los Angeles when he went 14-1 out of the bullpen in ’66 behind Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen & Sutton. His 1961 Topps card (#439) is valued at $10.

 

There you have it…the 20 leaders of the unofficial category before Ron Perranoski of the Twins topped the leader board in 1969. Hope you enjoyed the history lesson.

 

 

 

Johnny Pesky & Tommy Bahama

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When Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky died at age 92 in the Summer of 2012, it brought back a flood of memories and mental snapshots to the young boy who grew up in the shadow of Fenway Park. While Pesky’s baseball career will never be confused with that of my boyhood idol Ted Williams, his story is one that could only happen in baseball. To understand what the game was like in the 40’s & 50’s, you only need to read David Halberstam’s wonderful book “The Teammates” published in 2004. It chronicles the story of four ballplayers from different places with different backgrounds who became lifelong friends…Pesky, Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr. While the context of the story is about a journey to make a final visit to see Ted, it weaves the history of the players and their relationship through the years into the chapters. Funny and poignant, it is a must-read for both the die-hard and casual baseball fan.

 

Ted Williams was a larger-than-life figure who deserves the admiration of every baseball fan…young and old. It is a shame that the misguided decision-making of his children after his death has caused even a slight tarnishing of his legacy. The greatest hitter who ever lived should never be a mentioned as a joke or throw-away line by people who can’t really be baseball fans. If you aren’t old enough to have seen him play, here’s a summary of stats to contemplate…

 

> 1939 – Hit .327 with 145 RBI’s in his rookie season

 

> 1940 – Hit .344 and made his first All-Star team

 

> 1941 – .406 BA, 37 HR, 147 RBI’s but finished 2nd in the MVP voting (to Joe DiMaggio)

 

> 1942 – .356, 36 HR, 137 RBI’s winning the Triple Crown, but finished 2nd in the MVP voting again (this time to Joe Gordon)

 

> 1946 – .342 BA and won the MVP

 

> 1947 – .343 BA, 32 HR, 114 RBI’s winning the Triple Crown once more, but finished 2nd to Joe D. in the MVP voting

 

> 1948 – .369 BA, 3rd in MVP

 

> 1949 – .343 BA, 43 HR’s 159 RBI’s winning his 2nd MVP

 

> 1950 – Injured during the All-Star Game, he had 28 HR’s & 97 RBI’s in only 89 games played

 

> 1951 – .318, 144 Walks (the 6th time he led the league in base-on-balls)

 

> 1954 – 117 games, his .345 BA would have led the league but because he was walked 136 times, he didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify (they eventually changed the rule)

 

> 1955 – 98 games, .356 BA

 

> 1956 – .345 BA

 

> 1957 – .388 BA at age 38, 2nd in the MVP balloting to Mickey Mantle

 

> 1958 – .326 BA, won his 6th batting title

 

> 1959 – Limited to 103 games due to injuries and only hit .254

 

> 1960 – 113 games, .316 BA & 29 HR’s including the one off Jack Fisher in his last at bat

> Career Batting Average of .344…7th all-time

 

> Career On-Base Percentage of .4817…1st all-time

 

> Career On-Base & Slugging (OPS) of 1.1155…2nd only to Babe Ruth

 

> 2021 Walks, 709 Strikeouts

 

> The last player to hit .400 (.406 in ’41)…if today’s Sacrifice Fly rule was in effect, it would have been .411

 

While all these numbers might be impressive, consider three other elements of Ted’s life….

 

1) He missed five years in the prime of his career to serve in the military during two wars…one writer commenting on the fact that John Wayne never served during World War II said, “John Wayne played John Wayne, Ted Williams was John Wayne”.

 

2) Without any fanfare or publicity, he helped start the “Jimmy Fund” in Boston to help children with cancer. Today, that organization is the Red Sox official charity and supports the Dana-Farber Clinic, where kid’s lives are saved everyday…I’m proud to be a member of their society made up of people who have the charity in their estate plan..

 

3) At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966, he said, “I’ve been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given a chance.” Many feel that this powerful and unprecedented statement from the podium was the first step in opening the doors of Cooperstown to these players. Paige was the first Negro League star inducted in 1971.

 

Back in 2012, in honor of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary celebration, the Tommy Bahama  clothing company came out with a beautiful commemorative shirt for the occasion. At a price tag of $250, it was slightly out of the range for this Senior Citizen. They did, however, offer a contest on their website asking fans to share their personal memories of the ballpark with the opportunity to win one of the shirts. Here’s my entry…

 

” As a boy growing up in New England, I remember clearly how baseball fans would talk about Ted Williams. However, I never really understood the legend of the man until I happened to be in Fenway Park on an August night in 1953. Even though I was only seven years old, I could feel the electricity in the stands as Ted made his first appearance since his return from serving as a Jet Fighter Pilot in Korea. My recollection is that he popped-out as a pinch-hitter but what is crystal clear is that the fans gave him a standing ovation both before and after the at bat. A hero to his fans, a hero to his country and still a hero to that little seven-year old boy”

 

No, a package didn’t arrive on my door-step from Tommy Bahama but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the rich history of the man, the ballpark and the game we love. I did share the entry with many baseball friends and my competitors in our national experts fantasy league (the XFL) got together and surprised me with a gift of the shirt that Fall at our annual draft. It was a treasured moment for this old baseball fan and I wear the shirt every November when we all gather in Phoenix. Here’s hoping the tradition will continue for years to come.

 

 

My Pal Vinny

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As Joe Pesci might say, as a “Yute” growing up in a suburb of Boston, it was pre-determined that I would be a Red Sox fan. After all, my Uncle had seats behind the home-team dugout at Fenway Park and, along with my Dad, instilled in me the history of the team and the tradition of the franchise. Some of that tradition wasn’t always positive, like waiting until 1959 to roster a player of color, but my roots will be forever tied to the Green Monster and that 100-year-old ballpark.

 

The Braves left Boston for Milwaukee after the 1952 season, which was just on the cusp of my baseball fandom. I have no recollection of National League baseball from that era but occasionally, when we drove past Warren Spahn’s diner on Commonwealth Avenue, my Dad would recite some limerick that included the words “Sain & Rain”. By 1954, I had become a full-fledged baseball fan and started consuming all the information available in the print of newspapers, magazines and baseball cards. I also had the chance to see the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Al Rosen, Minnie Minoso and others in person.  However, with no telecasts of regular season games available, the images of players like Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Ted Kluszewski were left to my imagination.

 

For all of us who occasionally dabble in the realm of sports journalism, we are always humbled to read the words of writers who achieve another level like Jim Murray or Joe Posnanski. In the recent 60th anniversary issue of Sports Illustrated, reading the eight-part essay by Steve Rushin on the evolution of sports over the last six decades was such an experience. His words reminded me of the impact that baseball can have on a young boy and how that interest can help define a life as it comes full circle. There are two seminal moments from 1954 that were of lasting significance to that young boy sitting in Fenway Park. The first was in August, when Sports Illustrated published its first issue with Eddie Mathews on the cover. The second happened toward the end of the year, when a company called Texas Instruments introduced a revolutionary product called the Regency TR-1. TR stood for transistor radio and it changed the sports world forever.

 

Sometime in the following year or two, my parents (who were of modest means) finally caved in to my constant whining and purchased one of these “new-fangled contraptions” and it immediately made me more knowledgeable and connected to baseball. Not only could I listen to Curt Gowdy do the play-by-play of Red Sox games (home & away), but this amazing little device actually functioned even better in the evening and picked up Dodger broadcasts from 200 miles away in Brooklyn. The beautiful voice on the other end of that pocket-sized radio belonged to Vincent Edward Scully and he taught me about the “Boys of Summer”…Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe and so many others. Not only that, but Red Sox and Dodger fans had something in common…we both hated the Yankees!

 

The mystique of those Brooklyn “Bums” ended when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958 but in a weird bit of symmetry, the young boy from Boston followed them there in 1960. Ted Williams retired that same year and keeping up with the BoSox from 3,000 miles away wasn’t an easy task for a teenager, but becoming a National League fan was easy because the voice of Vin Scully was back on my radio and could now tell me about Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Wally Moon & Frank Howard. When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, I had just barely managed to pass the test for a driver’s license and going to games at that beautiful ballpark was a passion of mine for the next 40+ years. During that entire time, Vin Scully was always there guiding all of us through the nuances of the game and making us smarter just by sharing his knowledge.

 

As the years have passed, my understanding of what Scully brings to the airwaves has increased exponentially. Just the inflection in his voice can impact the fan’s experience of the action on the field. If Vin says (in a soft-toned voice), “It’s a bouncer to third, bobbled by Santo and the runner is safe at first”, we know it is an error. If he uses a slightly louder tone and says, “Ripped to third, off the chest of Santo and the runner is safe at first”, we know it is a hit. Dodger fans listening on the radio could be official scorers of a game without actually seeing it. In addition, he brings an educated viewpoint to broadcasts including an occasional quote from Shakespeare. If you mentioned “The Bard” to most play-by-play announcers, they’d probably think the team signed Daniel to a minor-league deal.

 

Best of all is that Vin manages to retain his objectivity, style and grace. Since the addition of satellite radio in my car about a decade ago, the pedestal he is on has become even higher as I’ve listened to the home-town broadcasts of other major league teams. Can you even imagine Vin Scully screaming that an umpire’s call was “total BS”? Of course not because he says things like…

 

> “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (pause). Aren’t we all?”

 

> “Bob Gibson pitches as though he’s double-parked.”

 

> “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” (Gibson’s HR)

 

> “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”

 

> “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star game and an old-timer’s game.”

 

> “It’s easier to pick off a fast runner than to pick off a lazy runner.”

 

> “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.”

 

> “The roar of the crowd has always been the sweetest music. It’s intoxicating.”

 

> “The passing of Ted Williams so close to a national holiday seems part of a divine plan, so we can always remember him not only as a great player but also a great patriot.”

 

> “There’s 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies.”

 

> “Good is not good when better is expected.”

 

> “All my career, all I have ever really done, all I have accomplished, is to talk about the accomplishments of others. We can’t all be heroes. Somebody has to stand on the curb and applaud as the parade goes by.”

 

> “Let’s all take a deep breath as we go to the most dramatic ninth inning in the history of baseball. I’m going to sit back, light up and hope I don’t chew the cigarette to pieces.” (Larsen’s perfect game)

 

> “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: swung on and missed, a perfect game.” (All you heard for the next 38 seconds was the crowd cheering)

 

 

In the movie “Field of Dreams”, James Earl Jones’ character says, “The one constant through all the years has been baseball.” That is true for that young boy from New England, but two other wonderful additions to my constant have been Sports Illustrated Magazine and the voice of Vin Scully. It’s only appropriate that as the final games of Vinny’s career are approaching, 2016 is the year when he was on the cover of SI.

 

Does Exit Velocity Matter?

Lamb Heritage

MLB is on the cutting edge of sports technology and it is making their teams rich. In 2000, they established MLB Advanced Media (BAM) and it has become a $3 Billion enterprise that supplies streaming video services to ESPN, HBO and the WWE.

 

For the fan, player and front-office executive, BAM has become the go-to provider for advanced analytics through “Statcast”. For the past two seasons, this operation has tracked every pitch, hit & catch in every major league game and gives us information we’ve never been privy to before. Much of the data is proprietary but even the basics you can find at mlb.com are fascinating as well as informational.

 

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Albert Chen tells the story of D’Backs 3B Jake Lamb. Even at age 25, Lamb is an old-school type player and doesn’t pay much attention to stats. This past off-season, he worked on swing changes that he hoped would help improve on his 2015 numbers of 6 HR’s & 34 RBI’s in 350 AB’s. Early in 2016, he was struggling and wondering if what he’d done was really going to work. What Statcast told him was that his average “exit velocity” (how hard he hit the baseball) at that point in the season was higher than Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and his teammate Paul Goldschmidt. In other words, the changes were working and he just needed to have patience. The result? Through August 27th, he has 25 HR’s & 79 RBI’s in 422 AB’s.

 

Does exit velocity matter? Let’s look at the top ten hitters in this category for 2015 and determine if their 2016 seasons have been successful…

 

1) Giancarlo Stanton – 98.5 mph

2) Miguel Sano – 94.8 mph

3) Miguel Cabrera – 94.5 mph

4) David Ortiz – 93.9

5) Jose Bautista – 93.6 mph

6) Nelson Cruz – 93.4 mph

7) Ryan Braun – 93.4 mph

8) Mark Trumbo – 93.4 mph

9) Randal Grichuk – 93.3 mph

10) Josh Donaldson – 93.3 mph

 

If you extend the list to include 93+ mph, Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes & Paul Goldschmidt join the group. Aside from injuries to Stanton & Bautista, the only players that have struggled slightly are Grichuk & Sano…and they still have 38 HR’s between them. The most telling information (especially for Fantasy players) was that many of the older players still had their skills intact and weren’t yet “over the hill” despite their age. And, maybe including this information in your scouting tool-box would have led you to Trumbo.

 

What about 2016? Again, through August 27th, the leaders are…

 

1) Nelson Cruz – 96 mph

2) Giancarlo Stanton – 95.4 mph

3) Yasmani Grandal – 94.8 mph

4) Mark Trumbo – 94.7 mph

5) Joc Pederson – 94.5 mph

6) Ryan Zimmerman – 94.5 mph

7) David Ortiz – 94.4 mph

8) Josh Donaldson – 94.3 mph

9) Miguel Sano – 94.1 mph

10) Chris Carter – 94.1 mph

 

Cespedes, Grichuk & Cabrera are once again over 93 mph. Statcast will also tell you which players had the highest average distance, the highest launch angle and average height. If you believe the monitor at your golf pro shop when you’re buying that new driver, you should believe these stats.

 

Just for the record, Stanton produced the hardest hit ball of the year on June 9th at 123.9 mph…it was a ground ball that turned into a double play!

 

Baseball Will Keep Us Together

Roto Book

Whenever I cross paths with any long-time acquaintance after a decade or two and they find that the I’m still the Commissioner of the same Rotisserie / Fantasy baseball league that started in 1984, they find it hard to believe. It is genuinely surprising that in today’s age of people drifting away from group activities (summarized brilliantly in Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone”), this group has held together. Certainly, many of the participants have changed and just last year, we added a new owner, but in the end, the league is still strong and maybe even more competitive than ever.

 

Growing up as a prolific sponge of baseball statistics from books, magazines and baseball cards, I can still remember opening the March 1981 issue of the now defunct magazine called Inside Sports. The article by Daniel Okrent titled, “The Year George Foster Wasn’t Worth $36” was the first glimpse into what has become a vibrant industry intertwined with American sports. It outlined a baseball game developed by a group of New York writers that allowed fans to “own” their own team by having a pre-season auction and bidding on players whose stats would generate standings within the framework of the league. While the piece was exciting and interesting, Okrent and the others didn’t really detail the rules until 1984, when they published the book “Rotisserie League Baseball.”

 

Seeing that publication at the book store brought back the memory from the magazine article and I read the book cover-to-cover that night. The next day, I got on the phone and started calling friends saying only, “Go get this book and tell me if you’re in.” Within the next few days, they all said yes and we began this journey. That first season was so much fun, it can’t really be described to people who don’t play some form of fantasy sports and I even had numerous phone calls with author Glen Waggoner in New York as we ironed out questions regarding rules interpretations. The result is that we are at least tied for the longest-running Rotisserie League in the country and when people ask about the longevity, I respond by saying that we have very seldom changed any of the rules.

 

The newer generation of Fantasy players would probably feel that the book’s “old school” rules are too restrictive or that they require too much of a commitment to time and effort. For us, that is exactly why we love the game as it was originally developed. As with the U.S. Constitution, we refer to those pioneers of the first Rotisserie League as “Founding Fathers” and it is incredible how often we look back at what they wrote 30 years ago and realize the wisdom they showed. For a brief summary, here are the basics…

 

> 23 man rosters chosen auction-style with a budget of $260.

 

> Position eligibility guidelines must be met at all times…1B, 3B, 1/3, 2B, SS, 2/S, C (2), OF (5), Utility & Pitchers (9).

 

> Trading available from Draft Day to August 31st.

 

> No initial reserve list, but injured or demoted players can be replaced from the free agent pool. Replacements are “linked” if the original player is reserved.

 

> Statistics based on eight (4×4) categories…BA, HR, RBI, SB, W, SV, ERA & Ratio (WHIP).

 

> With minor exceptions, FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is only used after the All-Star break.

 

> Each team is allowed three Farm (minor league) players that do not count toward the 23-man roster.

 

> You can keep up to 15 players from season-to-season, but in most cases, contracts expire after three years.

 

Over the years, many Fantasy players have asked me about our approach and the rationale behind rules decisions. Here are some of the things we haven’t changed.

 

> “Linking” players is something most leagues don’t want to deal with and there have certainly been a few complaints over the years about it being a pain in the posterior. The truth is that it’s only a pain for the Commissioner and the reasoning behind the idea is one that we hold dear from the 1984 book – the decisions you make on Draft Day should be meaningful and the benefit a team might derive from an injury should be minimized. So, if you replace an injured player with a good performer in April, you can’t just dump some bum you drafted when the injured player comes back.

 

> We’ve stayed with the 4 X 4 concept instead of going to currently popular 5 X 5 because while adding Runs makes some sense, Strikeouts never seemed to belong with the other statistical categories. Even in a later edition of the book, the authors suggested using Innings Pitched instead of K’s because it at least represented a Pitcher getting outs.

 

> By not having FAAB bidding early in the season, we assist the parity of the league because free agent call-ups are in reverse order of the standings and the lower teams have a chance to bolster their rosters.

 

> There are no restrictions on trading other than the salary cap of $305 for the active 23-man roster. That allows teams to replace low-cost draftees who get hurt or sent down and to make reasonable trades, but puts a damper on “dump” trades. We don’t have a committee to approve trades (how can anyone be objective when they have a team in the league) and even though every trade solicits whining from somebody, the Commissioner doesn’t pass judgment. The closest I came to voiding a deal was in 2003 when a team fighting for the pennant seemed to be taking advantage of a team that had just joined the league, but after speaking to the new team and getting perspective on their re-building plan, I backed off. The decision was verified when that new team won the league championship in 2005, 2006 & 2007.

 

So, what rules have we tweaked or added and have they been positive?

 

> The original book suggested paying four (4) places – 50%, 25 %, 15 % & 10%. We expanded that years ago so that finishing in the first division of our 12-team league was worth something – 45%, 22.5%, 13.5%, 9%, 6% & 4%. In other words, we took 10% from each of the first four spots to add 5th & 6th.

 

> If a team activates one of their Farm players during the season and he doesn’t exceed the rookie status levels (130 AB’s or 50 IP), the team can put him back on the Farm the following year if he isn’t on a major league roster. They do lose one year of his eligibility, but we didn’t want teams penalized when they had nurtured a prospect over time.

 

> The worst decision ever made in our league was to allow the trading of future Farm picks. While it seemed like a fun idea at the time, the rule had unintended consequences. In 2009, a long-time member of the league let it be known on Draft Day that he was not going to be able to participate beyond the current season. Needless to say, he played to win that year and made bold moves along with countless trades. Early in the season, he indicated that he wouldn’t be making any trades, as he didn’t want to “leave the cupboard bare” for a prospective new owner. Less than week later, he proposed a couple of trades that were to include his team’s Farm picks for the following year. I ruled that he couldn’t do that because those assets were being taken away from a future owner and weren’t really his to trade. My ruling applied to all teams and didn’t need to be retroactive, as no other trades of that nature had transpired since the Draft. He pontificated to all the owners about how selfish I was and that my decision was made to help my team (which was never in the pennant race and finished 6th). Of course, one could argue that he didn’t need to tell us he was quitting in the first place and while that’s true, it just confirms that the rule was a bad idea. He also made some outrageous FAAB bids late in the season, knowing that he wouldn’t be around to pay the penalties the following April.  He did win the league and I made a deal with him…I would pay the penalties myself for his promise to never speak to me again. 15 years earlier, I should have been smart enough to re-read the original book and the comment about trades…”Unless you want knife fights to break out among owners, prohibit all trades involving cash, players to be named later or future considerations. Trust us.” We no longer allow the trading of future picks.

 

> Another area that the book doesn’t cover is what happens in September. This has been a problem for many leagues across the country and of all the ideas we’ve developed, this one has been shared the most. The problem arises when major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters as of September 1st. For Fantasy purposes, the main area of consternation has to do with injuries. If a player gets hurt on 9/2, there’s a reasonable chance his MLB team won’t even bother to put him on the DL because they’re no longer limited to 25-man rosters. If that player is on your Fantasy team, what do you do? With today’s proliferation of baseball information on the Internet, you’ll see conflicting reports and inaccurate speculation. For a Commissioner, it is essential that the league have clear guidelines to handle these situations. Here are our guidelines for replacing a player in September…

 

1) Currently on the DL

2) Gets placed on the DL

3) Hasn’t played for at least 15 days

4) Is reported by MLB, ESPN or a team’s official website as being “out for the season” – this must take place at least15 days before the end of the season.

 

If a league doesn’t have something like this in place, the Commissioner will get e-mails with ten (or nine, or eight, or four) days left in the season from owners wanting to replace an “out for the season” player. Also, teams will get upset because some “report” on the Internet says a player is “probably out for the season” even though the writer has no specific knowledge of the injury. Having guidelines usually (but not always) keeps the rhetoric within reason. In the meantime, the Old Commish is the final arbiter.

 

Of course, every league will have members who try to push the envelope on rules and lobby for new interpretations. We have one original franchise that prides themselves in finding loopholes and our youngest owner has thrown down the gauntlet in an attempt to take away their title. Both teams are in contention as the calendar turns to September, so the Old Duck needs to be alert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve Been Framed

Flowers

Watching the D’Backs – Braves telecast earlier this week, the broadcast crew was talking about a stat that was so hard to believe, they had to check it twice. Atlanta’s starting Catcher Tyler Flowers was only 2-for-40 in throwing out baserunners during the 2016 season. An old-school fan would hear that number and assume that Flowers was a terrible Catcher and a detriment to his team.

 

This old-school / analytic fan didn’t jump to that conclusion because earlier this season, I took the time to read “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik. It is the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates resurgence starting in 2013 and how they got ahead of the curve regarding baseball analysis. This mid-market team with a limited payroll, found ways to win that confounded the experts. Defensive shifts, pitching adjustments and pitch-framing helped them turn around a 20-year losing streak. Possibly the most important move they made was signing a Catcher that had lost much of his appeal and was coming off a season where he batted just .211. His name is Russell Martin and the two-year $15 Million deal turned out to be life-changing for the Pirates & Martin.

 

In  both 2013 & 2014, Martin finished in the top ten for all MLB Catchers in the amount of runs saved through pitch-framing. If you think that statistic is a bunch of hooey, consider this…in 2015, the Blue Jays signed Martin (at age 32) to a five-year, $82 Million free-agent contract. The Pirates could no longer afford him, so they acquired Yankees back-up Catcher Francisco Cervelli to take Martin’s place. That season (2015), Cervelli rated out as the best pitch-framer in baseball and the Pirates locked him up with a three-year, $30 Million deal that starts next season…he’s making $3.5 Million in 2016. Who was a close second in the ’15 ratings? You guessed it…Tyler Flowers.

 

What does pitch-framing mean? With today’s video technology, it has become rather simple to determine the number of called strikes caught outside the strike zone. That isn’t the only criteria, however, as Catchers can be guilty of catching a pitch in the strike zone that ends up being called a ball by the umpire. All of this, and more, goes into the overall ratings. If you’d like to see the formulas and better understand the statistic, go to statcorner.com.

 

If you’re a real baseball fan and actually watch at-bats and how they play out, you can begin to understand how this unique ability can change the dynamic of the game. The difference in success when the hitter is ahead in the count as opposed to being behind in the count is something even old-schoolers understand.

 

So, who are the best framers for 2016 through August 22nd? Buster Posey of the Giants leads the way and he was 4th last season. Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal is 2nd and he finished 3rd in 2015. Jason Castro of the Astros and Miguel Montero of the Cubs are 3rd and 4th respectively. Both were in the top ten last season.

 

As for our friends Flowers, Martin & Cervelli, they’re all in the top ten again. Maybe this is a baseball skill after all.

 

 

 

Believe In The OPS

'61 Who's 001

On the shelf in my office is the 1985 edition of “The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract”. It wasn’t the first material of his that I read and certainly not the last, but it looks down at me with a reminder of the era in which this fan transitioned from old-school to analytic. After all, the inaugural “Rotisserie League Baseball” book had come out in 1984 and our home league (which is still going strong) started that April.

 

As a kid looking at the backs of baseball cards and reading Street & Smith’s preview issue along with “Who’s Who In Baseball”, the statistics we learned were the ones they gave us. Batting Average (BA), Home Runs (HR), Runs Batted In (RBI’s) were what we used to determine if a player was fair, good or great. The back of Mickey Mantle’s 1959 Topps card doesn’t even tell you how many Stolen Bases (SB’s) he had the previous season. The 1961 Who’s Who did include SB’s but nothing so exotic as Slugging Percentage (SLG) or On-Base Percentage (OBP).

 

So, now that at least 30 years has passed in the debate between tradition and analytics, maybe we can finally agree on the validity of one stat. No, I’m not going to try and sway you about Wins Above Replacement (WAR) because that glazed look in your eyes tells me it’s a hopeless task. As with Capt. Queeg in the Caine Mutiny, I’m going to “prove beyond the shadow of a doubt…with geometric logic, that a valid stat does exist”.

 

In his new book, “Ahead Of The Curve”, Brian Kenny writes that Bill James #1 revolutionary theory about baseball is that getting on base is the most important thing in offense. It seems to make sense intuitively, but OBP was never on baseball cards, in magazines or listed in the Sporting News. After all, how did Eddie Yost of the Tigers lead the AL in Runs Scored (115) in 1959 at age 32 with a BA of only .278? Simple…he led the AL in OBP at .435. No player was going to get benched if he got on base 40% of the time, but writers and broadcasters paid no attention because it wasn’t a mainstream stat. Over 40 years later, Billy Beane and the A’s, followed quickly by the Red Sox, found that OBP was under-valued in the game along with the players who provided those quality numbers. The 2002 Athletics had eight offensive players with an OBP of .348 or better and they won 103 games with a small-market payroll. The 2004 Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” with eleven (11) hitters having a .365 OBP or higher.

 

Old-school fans and pundits still weren’t convinced and argued that OBP diminished the contribution of power hitters because those HR’s they hit were worth three more bases than a walk. That brings us to a slightly more traditional stat – Slugging Percentage. SLG tells us how many total bases a hitter has accumulated compared to his amount of plate appearances. After all, Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle led the AL in SLG in ’60 & ’61, so what could be more fair to power hitters?

 

That brings us to the stat that really matters when analyzing major league hitters. If you take OBP and add it to SLG, a player is rewarded for both his on-base skills and power production. The result is On-Base + Slugging (OPS) and even though we never spotted it on the back of a baseball card, it is the number that tells the tale. How do we know? Because there are only seven players with a lifetime OPS over 1.000…Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg & Rogers Hornsby. Others in top 20 include Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout & Joey Votto. Even old-school fans have to admit that there aren’t any flukes on that list.

 

Votto seems to be the poster child for fans, writers and even the Reds own broadcasters, as he gets criticized for not driving in more runs. They feel that he should “expand the zone” and not walk as much. If you don’t seem to remember similar comments about Bonds & Williams, you’re correct. In 2015, Votto’s OPS was 1.000…the 3rd time he’s exceeded that threshold. As analytic pioneer Ron Shandler said earlier this year, “Critics of his approach are embarrassing themselves.”

 

So, in today’s game, you’ll see what is called the “slash line” for an offensive player. OBP + SLG = OPS looks like 321/417/738, which is the average production for all major league hitters through August 15th.

 

 

In mid-August of 2016, who are the best offensive players in the game based on OPS? Let’s look at the top dozen…

 

1) David Ortiz, Red Sox DH…404/621/1025 – Historic numbers for the 40 year-old slugger in his final season. He’s been over the 1.000 four previous times in his career, but this is amazing.

 

2) Jose Altuve, Astros 2B…427/572/999 – If you were 5′ 6″ tall, you could hit like this…right? He leads the AL in BA & OBP while hitting 19 HR’s and adding 26 SB’s. A definite MVP candidate.

 

3) Daniel Murphy, Nationals 2B…387/612/999 – Came out of nowhere late last season at age 30 and might be the best player in the game during the last 12 months.

 

4) Mike Trout, Angels OF…426/557/983 – At age 25, this player is so good, he’s almost taken for granted. Even on a lousy team, he still has the best WAR number in the game (7.6).

 

5) Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B…399/571/970 – The leader of the Cubbies juggernaut at age 27.

 

6) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays 3B…400/562/962 – Last year’s AL MVP isn’t slowing down…and won’t be a free agent until 2019.

 

7) Ryan Braun, Brewers OF…390/569/959 – Will probably never remove the stigma of the PED suspension, but these numbers are almost equal to the juiced version.

 

8) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 3B…405/547/952 – Last year’s HR total seemed like a fluke, but this is his best all-around campaign.

 

9) Joey Votto, Reds 1B…428/511/939 – Since the All-Star break, his BA is .455. Fantasy or reality, give me a guy like this.

 

10) Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies OF…373/566/939 – The numbers are always tempered by the fact that he plays half his games at altitude, but they still count.

 

11) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 1B…384/550/934 – This future Hall-of Famer just keeps on producing. His lifetime OPS is .960, so even at age 33, he’s a dangerous man in the batter’s box.

 

12) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B…382/545/927 – No sophomore slump for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. In fact, his numbers are even better and he’s already exceeded the 26 HR’s he hit in 2015.

 

Now, of course, we could also discuss OPS+, which adjusts the figure based on the ballparks. OK, I see that “deer in the headlights” look, we’ll talk about it some other time.