Hanging Around The Hot Stove With Bill James

Bill James 2018

Many baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation haven’t really bought into the immense change in how statistics are viewed. They still look at the game with their eyes and are only concerned with the numbers on the back of the baseball card. For those of us more immersed in the details of the game, the man who guided us through the wilderness is Bill James. Starting in the late 70’s, he published an annual “Baseball Abstract” that began the task of analyzing data in new and different ways. By 1985, he wrote the first “Historical Baseball Abstract” and that 700+ page volume still sits on the bookshelf in my office.


For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who can’t wait for the upcoming season, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2018 version is available now and at 606 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.


So, here are some random observations from my first time through the pages…


> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.  Sale & Verlander were in the top ten last year and moved up, replacing Jon Lester & Madison Bumgarner. Lester dropped to #18 while Bumgarner stayed in the top ten at #9. The biggest drops since a year ago were Johnny Cueto (from #9 to #34), Rick Porcello (#12 to #32) and Marco Estrada (#13 to #33).


> Most spectators are much more aware of pitch velocity than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. With radar guns in stadiums and in every scout’s hands, we focus on that statistic and assume a pitcher’s performance will deteriorate with diminished velocity. This year’s handbook charts average fastball velocity by age and actually shows how little difference there is for most pitchers. For example, Kershaw’s average velocity for the last eight years has been either 93 or 94 mph. Looking for outliers, however, shows that from 2010 to 2017, Felix Hernandez has dropped from 94 to 90, Andrew Cashner from 96 to 93, Ubaldo Jimenez from 96 to 90, Matt Cain from 92 to 89 and Clay Buchholz from 94 to 91. On the flip side, Ian Kennedy has upped his velocity from 89 to 92 during the same timeframe. Even when you look at a disastrous performance like Jordan Zimmerman’s 2016 campaign, the obvious assumption of diminished velocity doesn’t hold up…his 92 mph velocity is the same as it was in 2010. Verlander might be the most interesting case study as his velocity was 95 in 2010, then dropped as low as 92 in ’14, but is now back to 95 at age 35.


> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart does help us verify what we think we’re told by our eyes. The Red Sox defense was a major part of their winning formula in 2017, as their three OF’s were superb. Mookie Beets was the 2nd best defensive player in all of baseball with 31 runs saved while Jackie Bradley Jr. & Andrew Benintendi saved 10 & 9 respectively. The BoSox also got a 10-runs saved contribution from 1B Mitch Moreland. Angels SS Andrelton Simmons was the #1 fielder with 32 while the other leading infielders were Reds 1B Joey Votto with 11 and two Rockies…3B Nolan Arenado (20) & 2B D.J. Lemahieu (8). The Yankees Brett Gardner led the LF’s with 17 and the Twins Byron Buxton topped the CF’s by saving 24 runs…not surprisingly, Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar were close behind. If you’re wondering why Martin Maldonado is penciled in as the Angels starting Catcher, look no further than his 22 runs saved defensively. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…


1B) Tommy Joseph -10

2B) Daniel Murphy -15

3B) Cory Spangenberg -14

3B) Nick Castellanos -14

  1. SS) Jose Reyes -15
  2. LF) Matt Kemp -17
  3. CF) Denard Span -27
  4. RF) Melky Cabrera -10
  5. C) Jonathan Lucroy -15


> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defense shifts. In 2014, shifts were utilized over 13,000 times, in 2015 the number increased to over 17,000 and in 2016, it grew tremendously (+58%) to over 28,000. This year’s numbers seem to show that the optimum advantage has been reached, as the 2017 figure dropped slightly to 26,700. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 196 runs in 2014, 267 runs in 2015, 359 in 2016 and 346 in 2017. About half of MLB teams reduced their shifting in 2017 with the Rockies & Cardinals actually going down by over 50%. On the flip side, the White Sox & Marlins almost doubled their numbers. With much more detailed data available, we know that the shift impacted Mitch Moreland & Anthony Rizzo more than any other batters…they both had a net loss of 22 hits.


> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only were their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 20 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. Only one team managed to have a net gain of over 100 bases in 2017 and it was the D’Backs at +106…the worst number belonged to the Tigers at -61.  Only three MLB players gained over 50 bases for their team in 2017…Byron Buxton (+55), Mookie Betts (+54) and Dee Gordon (+51). The worst baserunners were Joey Votto & Matt Kemp (-34 each).



> Were there any successful major league pitchers who threw their fastball over 90% of the time? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that three relievers fit the bill…Kenley Jansen, Zach Britton & Jake McGee.


That’s just a taste of the information in this year’s edition and we haven’t even looked at the individual player stats. No wonder that “stathead” is now an accepted baseball term.




Getting My Dux In A Row


In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 25 championships can make you feel like an “expert”. The real test, however, is when you compete in a league full of experts. That has been a yearly challenge for The Old Duck and it presented itself once again as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix last week for their 16th annual draft.


As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only experts keeper league within the fantasy industry and many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player live auction draft in early November with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured four championships and holds the best overall performance record encompassing all 15 seasons of the league.


After finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd from 2011-14, the Dux  struggled with 7th place finishes in 2015-16 and then a more respectable 5th place spot this year. The 2017 season was decent but the squad never really had the stats to be in the top three spots. Strong performances from Jose Abreu, Jonathan Schoop, Didi Gregorius, Domingo Santana, Yasiel Puig, Nelson Cruz, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Gio Gonzalez & Zack Greinke couldn’t offset the disappointing campaigns from Odubel Herrera, Jayson Werth, Brandon Crawford, Leonys Martin, Matt Moore & John Lackey. Throw in the injuries to Julio Urias, Tyler Thornburg & Jerad Eickhoff along with the role-changing trade involving David Robertson and the Dux were like the Red Queen in “Alice In Wonderland”…running as fast you can to stay right where you are.



So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2018 season, the strategy seemed simple…take advantage of a strong keeper list and do a better job at the auction. As always, money management would be factored into the equation with a budget mix of 2/3 for hitting and 1/3 for pitching.


Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 20th –


C – Wilson Contreras $7

C –

1B – Jose Abreu $13

3B –

1/3 – Anthony Rizzo $33

2B – Jonathan Schoop $11

SS – Didi Gregorius $11

2/S – Yoan Moncada $4

OF – Yasiel Puig $16

OF – Domingo Santana $16

OF –

OF –

OF –

U –

P – Gio Gonzalez $12

P – Kelvin Herrera $6

P – Brad Hand $6

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

Farm – Willy Adames

Farm – Gleyber Torres

Farm – Kolby Allard

Farm – Alex Verdugo


The eight hitters had a salary total of $106, while the three pitchers equaled $24 leaving $130 to buy 12 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $68 for the six hitters and $62 for the seven pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…


>  Find three OF’s in the $15 range prioritizing at least one SB contributor because speed is becoming more and more scarce. This will not an easy task, as most of the speed guys left in the pool are suspect. Players like Rajai Davis, Ben Revere, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarod Dyson and Delino DeShields all have the skill but will they have the playing time? Secondarily, pay $15 for an everyday 3B and then take end-game shots at C & Utility. One other factor imbedded in this approach is to not overpay for HR-only players. With the likelihood that the juiced ball is here to stay, power will be the easiest commodity to find in March or during the season.


> On the pitching side, allocate $50 for four starting pitchers, $10 for a second-tier Closer and one end-gamer for the final pitching spot.


> Not much research needed to be done on the offensive side, as I could bid on any position player and was only concerned about getting regular playing time and some SB’s. On the pitching side, the plan needed to be a little more precise. My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. This was the biggest challenge because at least 80% of the top twenty SP’s were already rostered. Here’s what the tiers looked like a few days prior to the draft…


Tier 1 – Greinke, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto & Jon Lester

Tier 2 – Jose Qunitero, Jeff Samardzija, Rich Hill, Lance Lynn & Ervin Santana

Tier 3 – Taijuan Walker, Kenta Maeda, Chase Anderson, Ivan Nova, Drew Pomeranz, Trevor Bauer, Alex Cobb & others.


The Dux needed to get at least three of the pitchers on that list and then try to find some hidden skills guys like Zach Davies, Patrick Corbin, Michael Wacha and Tanner Roark.


The need for an additional Closer comes from role uncertainty. Hand could end up being the 2018 version of Robertson…traded to a contender and becoming a set-up man. A few potential additions would be Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Juan Nicasio, Sean Doolittle and Alex Colome.


Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves.


The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat passive-aggressive. Passive in the sense of being patient, as eight other teams had a similar (or higher) amount of money to spend and aggressive in the sense of acquiring solid starting pitchers. And, of course, never forget the words of a world-class poker player who once told me, “If you sit down at the table and don’t spot the pigeon, it just might be you”.


It became apparent early on that the available dollars at the table were going to impact pitching prices dramatically. Greinke came out early and went for the inflated price of $50. It also became clear that the group was going to go all-in for offensive stars when Paul Goldschmidt cost $65 and J.D. Martinez $55 in the first round. The highest priced SP last year was Cueto at $30 and the top hitter was Miguel Cabrera at $45 (he went for $17 this time).


When I digested those prices, my thought process changed. The sense was that the best available players at each position were going to be more than just overpriced and I needed to be aggressive in filling roster spots. The initial switch in strategy came when Kenley Jansen was brought up. Elite Closers usually go for around $20 in this format (Zack Britton was the highest priced last year at $22), so the Dux acquired Jansen for $23. He earned $25 in this league for 2017 and has the type of consistency that you look for at the back-end of your bullpen. Later in the draft, Corey Knebel went for $21 while both Aroldis Chapman & Wade Davis cost $17. While this somewhat altered my pitching budget, I felt that based on the Greinke valuation, top-tier SP’s were going to be out of my range. That proved correct later in the proceedings when Quintana went for $31, Arrieta for $30, Lester for $22, Bauer for $20 and Cueto for $19.


The next two players rostered were Wacha at $10 & Samardzija at $17. The Dux had now spent $50 on three hurlers and would have to wait until much later in the draft to fill the remaining spots on the staff.

Turning to offense, the Dux next acquisition was Eduardo Nunez for $18. Although his late-season leg injury is troubling and his destination for ’18 in unknown, he qualifies at both 3B & OF and had 64 SB’s the last two seasons.


Now it was time for OF’s. Michael Taylor joined the squad for a surprisingly low $9. Yes, plate discipline has always been an issue, but he’s the Nats CF at the moment and produced 19 HR’s & 17 SB’s in 399 AB’s. Next up was Shin-Soo Choo for $12 and despite his age (35), he’s a five category asset in this format. The third flyhawk (a 1950’s term) was Odubal Herrera for $16 with the hope that he’ll return to his 2016 form at age  26.


Getting four offense players for only $57 left the budget with $25 for the final five players. Shifting some dollars from hitting to pitching allowed the Dux to acquire two SP’s from the Braves…Luis Gohara for $8 and Julio Teheran for $10. Then, in the end game, it was Randal Grichuk for $3 in the Utility spot, Corbin for $3 as the 6th SP and Jason Castro for $1 as the 2nd Catcher.


An obvious criticism could be that the allocation of money didn’t fit the 67/33 goal. Spending $95 on pitching made the split closer to 63/37 but there are two factors in play here…1) the four offensive players came in under budget by at least $6 and 2) hitting is much easier to find in the March Supplemental Draft than pitching.


Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…


> When it comes to Saves, sometimes guys who aren’t yet the Closer (Bradley, $11) go for more than guys who have the job (Sean Doolittle, $7)


> November is much too early to evaluate injured players…Mark Melancon went for $1, as did Matt Shoemaker & Troy Tulowitzki


> Reputations don’t matter as Felix Hernandez was rostered for $4, Carlos Gonzalez for $7, Chris Davis for $9, Rick Porcello for $4 & Cole Hamels for $8


> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $18 for Aaron Sanchez” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $17


> Other big contract players included Daniel Murphy for $40, Michael Conforto for $33, Andrew McCutchen for $32 & Buster Posey for $31.


> $1 players the Dux would love to have included Reynaldo Lopez, Josh Reddick, Andrelton Simmons, Yonder Alonso, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Woodruff, Jose Reyes, Maikel Franco, Kyle Barraclough & Nova.


> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing players who were not even drafted…Fernando Rodney (worth $10 in ’17), Kurt Suzuki (19 HR’s), Nick Markakis ($8 in ’17), Ben Zobrist (multiple positions), Scooter Gennett (27 HR’s), Mark Reynolds, Logan Forsythe, Jonathan Villar, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Harvey, Tommy Joseph, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Jedd Gyorko, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Jayson Werth, Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Gordon, Joe Mauer, Todd Frazier, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Pillar & Albert Pujols.


You can peruse additional league information at fantasyxperts.com



Grading The Prognostications

'17 Fantasy Guide

Each year, a number of us who write about the game are fortunate enough to be included in the best Fantasy Baseball pre-season magazine. It is called “The Fantasy Baseball Guide – Professional Edition” and is edited by that Superhero, Rotoman. For many of us, the contribution is a list of “Picks and Pans” where we try to predict which players the readers should target or avoid.


Before attempting to objectively assign a grade to my own 2017 predictions, a few disclaimers are in order…


1) While the publication itself hits the shelves in anticipation of Spring Training, our lists need to be submitted well before the December holidays. At that point, numerous free agents haven’t signed and many MLB roster roles haven’t been determined.


2)  The Old Duck always attempts to focus on players that are more marginal than the obvious fantasy stars. You don’t need me to tell you that Mike Trout is a good player, you need me to find you a bargain or to steer you away from an over-rated player. Taking this approach is more fun but also more challenging.


3) One lesson to take away from this exercise is that being an “expert” has a price. Most of my opponents sitting around the Draft table in March/April have read the magazine and already know my thoughts about many players. Having your name in print is a reasonable excuse for sharing information, but for those of you in home leagues, make sure you keep your opinions to yourself in the company of your mortal enemies.


So, without pulling any punches, let’s see how the Quacker made out…first the prediction and then the post-season analysis.


> Jose Abreu, PICK – Everyone seemed to be down on him in 2016 but in three full seasons, he’s averaged .299 with 30 HR’s & 103 RBI’s. In Fantasy, there’s something to be said about boring consistency. – Got one correct right off the bat as he delivered .304 with 33 HR’s & 102 RBI’s…Grade “A”


> Cody Allen, PICK – Let Andrew Miller’s presence lower the price…in the last two seasons, he’s had 66 Saves with 186 K’s in 137 IP’s. – 30 Saves with solid peripherals and 92 K’s in 67+ innings…Grade “A”


> Javier Baez, PAN – Yes, he’s a great 2B but in parts of three seasons, he has 173 Hits and 227 K’s. Job security may hurt instead of help when it comes to plate discipline. – Got 469 AB’s and produced 23 HR’s with a .273 average…Grade “C”


> Kyle Barraclough, PICK – No role yet but in 97 MLB IP’s, he has 143 K’s…the stuff is there. – Didn’t get the chance to close but had 6 Wins, a 3.00 ERA and 10.4 K rate…Grade “B”


> Jose Bautista, PAN – Thinks he’s worth $20+ Million per year, but his BA & OPS have gone down for the last two seasons and he’ll be 36. – Stick a fork in him, as he hit .203 with a OPS under .700…Grade “A”


> Brandon Belt, PICK – Doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of some other 1B, but a .868 OPS playing in that ballpark tells you he’s a great second-tier fallback pick. – We’re just starting to understand how concussions impact athletes but he did hit 18 HR’s with a .823 OPS in 382 AB’s…Grade “C”


> Byron Buxton, PAN – Even though he was the #1 prospect in baseball, there’s something missing…427 MLB AB’s, 162 K’s, 29 BB and a .672 OPS. – Proved me wrong by finally living up to the hype with 16 HR’s & 29 SB’s but still struck out 150 times in 462 AB’s…Grade “D”


> Mauricio Cabrera, PICK – Jim Johnson has the Closer job but this is the guy down the road. – Started the season on the DL and didn’t pitch at the major league level…Grade “NA”


> Nick Castellanos, PICK – May fly slightly under the radar because he only played 2/3 of the season…an .827 OPS going into his age 25 campaign. – One of the few bright spots in Detroit, he contributed 26 HR’s, 101 RBI’s and a .811 OPS…Grade “A”


> Wilson Contreras, PICK – Even though he weighs 210, from a Fantasy perspective, he’ll be Buster Posey “Lite” in 2017. – How many Catchers would you rather have? Despite only 377 AB’s (due to injury), he had 21 HR’s, 74 RBI’s and a .855 OPS…Grade “B”


> Chris Davis, PAN – A highly paid slugger can’t have an OPS under .800…427 K’s the last two seasons. – Right on target as he hit 26 HR’s with 61 RBI’s and a .215 BA…Grade “A”


> Chris Devenski, PICK – His 1st big league season was impressive with 104 K’s in 108 IP and a 2.16 ERA…now let’s see how the Astros utilize him. – A big part of the team’s bullpen, he pitched 80+ innings with 8 Wins and 4 Saves…Grade “B”


> Brandon Finnegan, PAN – Not his fault, but a young SP in that ballpark is going to have trouble…he was lucky to have an ERA under 4.00. – Injuries limited him to only 14 IP…Grade “NA”


> Ken Giles, PICK – Early season hiccups are behind him…102 K’s in 66 IP says he’s a Closer. – The Astros Closer all season, he added 34 Saves to the cause…Grade “A”


> Carlos Gomez, PAN – Hits .210 in 295 AB’s in Houston, then .284 in 116 AB’s in Arlington. The result? His agent thinks he’s a candidate for a five-year deal. Don’t even give him a one-year deal. – The second half of ’16 was a fluke as he battled injuries and only hit .255…Grade “B”


> Matt Harvey, PAN – Anyone with the word “syndrome” on his medical chart isn’t on my draft chart. – Sorry to say the prediction was right. 5 Wins and a 6.70 ERA makes him a non-tender candidate in ’18…Grade “A”


> Ryon Healy, PICK – A possible late-bloomer….861 OPS in 269 AB’s. – 25 HR’s & 78 RBI’s as a full-time player…Grade “B”


> Cesar Hernandez, PICK – Sneaky improvement with a .371 OBP…speed component is there, as he led the NL in Triples. – Started slow and then had a DL stint, but his final numbers might surprise you….373 OBP, 85 Runs and 15 SB’s….Grade “B”


> Adam Jones, PAN – His HR totals always make him over-priced as a Fantasy player…OPS under .800 the last three seasons. – Spot on, as he had 26 HR’s and a .787 OPS…Grade “B”


> Tommy Joseph, PICK – Out from behind the plate and Ryan Howard is gone…hit 21 HR’s in 315 AB’s. – Not sure how he’ll be impacted by the arrival of Rhys Hoskins, but he delivered with 22 HR’s in 495 AB’s…Grade “B”


> Starling Marte, PAN – Great Fantasy player but when a speed guy misses the last month of the season with a bad back, you better hedge your bet. – Honestly, I didn’t know about the PED issue but he blew up countless Fantasy rosters…Grade “A”


> Leonys Martin, PICK – If you can absorb the BA/OBP, he gives you 12-15 HR’s and 20+ SB’s. – WTF! Started slow, lost his job, spent the season in the Minors…Grade “F”


> Jose Peraza, PICK – The Reds will find AB’s for him this time around…speed is scarce and he swiped 21 bases in 241 AB’s. – Not a great season with a .259 BA but did have 23 SB’s…Grade “C”


> Jose Quintana, PICK – Four consecutive seasons of 200 IP and good ERA have only produced 40 Wins…doesn’t his luck have to change? – Found himself in the post-season after a trade to the Cubs, he was 11-11 to make his lifetime record 57-57. Guess he’s just a .500 Pitcher…Grade “C”


> Robbie Ray, PAN – A fantasy darling due to the strikeout rate, he still had a 4.90 ERA and pitches in a launching pad. – A force in the D’Backs resurgence, the 2.89 ERA was a vast improvement…Grade “D”


> A.J. Reed, PICK – After tearing up the minor leagues, hit .164 in 122 MLB AB’s. There is such a thing as a post-hype sleeper…in 2011, Anthony Rizzo hit .141 in 128 MLB AB’s. – Spent the year in the Minors…Grade “NA”


> Ryan Schimpf, PAN – None of the plotlines fit…a 28 year-old lifetime minor leaguer hits 20 HR’s in 276 AB’s and strikes out 105 times while hitting .217. – Hit .158 before being sent down…Grade “A”


> Jonathan Schoop, PICK – Played all 162 games at 2B with 25 HR’s & 82 RBI’s…just turned 25, so plate discipline improvement could take him to the next level. – Now All-Star caliber with 32 HR’s, 105 RBI’s and a .841 OPS…Grade “A”


> Tyler Thornburg, PICK – The Brewers are re-building and won’t spend money on a Closer…90 K’s in 67 IP with a 2.15 ERA tells you he gets first shot. – Lost the Closer opportunity due to a trade and then missed the season with injuries…Grade “NA”


> Troy Tulowitzki, PAN – Will be overpriced in every league…even in a great hitting environment, his OPS was under .800 and at age 32, he’ll only be less durable. – 241 AB’s and a .249 BA shouldn’t have come as a surprise…Grade “A”


> Justin Upton, PAN – The late-season surge doesn’t sway me…with a big contract and no plate discipline (179 K’s), improvement isn’t likely. – Arguably, his best season with a .901 OPS but he’ll probably screw it up by leaving Anaheim…Grade “D”







Statistics can be manipulated to reach a number of different conclusions, but the Quacker did manage “A” or “B” ratings on 70% of the players. The overall GPA was about 2.93, which matches my blood alcohol level in college. The good news is that Schoop, Hernandez, Giles, Devenski, Contreras, Barraclough & Abreu were helpful members on my fantasy squads…hope they helped you too.



You Can’t Tell The Players Without A Program

'47 ProgramAre you old enough to remember when major league players didn’t have names on the back of their uniforms? The first thing you’d see at the ballpark was a small stand with a vendor yelling, “Programs, Programs…you can’t tell the players with a program”.


During the course of any given year, lots of sports memorabilia comes across my desk. Dominated by baseball cards and autographed items, there are always odds & ends. This time, a collection included an official program and score card from a 1947 game at Yankee Stadium. The exact date isn’t on the program as they were most likely printed for a series of games with the same opponent, but the best guess is that this particular one was from an August visit from the defending AL pennant-winning Red Sox.


Looking at baseball history through a 70 year-old lens is one thing, but before focusing on the game and the players, let’s get a sense of American society at the time by examining the advertising that helped keep the cover price at 10 cents…


> Smoking was an accepted practice in 1947 and there are cigarette ads for Camel, Chesterfield, Old Gold & Lucky Strike…none of which had filters. In addition, Briggs pipe mixture, Muriel cigars and Garcia y Vega Havana cigars (made in Tampa) were featured.


> Catering to a predominantly male audience, tobacco shared the space with alcohol. Three Feathers Whiskey claimed to be “Major League” quality, Great Western Champagne showed a winning medal from a 1900 Paris tasting, Ruppert Beer was “slow aged” and Ballantine Ale & Beer always meant “The Perfect Glass”. In case you needed to concoct a mixed drink, there were also ads for Morgan Beverages, Canada Dry Ginger Ale and White Rock Sparkling Water.


> The well-dressed fan was also being tempted with marketing from Eagle Clothes, Douglas Shoes, Sherman Bows (bow ties), Esquire Boot Polish & GGG Clothes.


> To make the fans taste buds take notice, some New York restaurants took space along with ads for Schrafft’s Peppermint Patties, Gulden Mustard, Drake’s Cake (“The Rooters Snack”) and Beech-Nut Gum.


> Not to leave Fantasy Baseball players out of the history, there was even an ad for a baseball-themed board game called Pro-Baseball Game. You could purchase it at Department and Sporting Goods Stores for $5.00.


Now that the stage has been set, we’ll travel back to the Friday night game on August 15, 1947 in front of 67,803 fans at Yankee Stadium. Here are the starting line-ups…


Red Sox


1) Sam Mele, RF – A rookie who ended up with a 10-year big league career, he was very productive in ’47 with a .356 OBP in 123 games.


2) Johnny Pesky, SS – A legendary figure in BoSox history including the famous “Pesky Pole” at Fenway Park. Think about this…he led the AL in hits (205) in his rookie season of 1942, then missed three years serving in World War II before coming back to lead the AL in hits again in both 1946 (208) and 1947 (207).


3) Dom DiMaggio, CF – Despite playing in the shadow of his Brother, he was an outstanding player. In 10 seasons surrounding his three-year military commitment, he was a 7-time All-Star.


4) Ted Williams, LF – Arguably the greatest hitter in the history of the game…in ’47, he led the AL in Runs, HR’s, RBI’s, BB, BA, OBP, SLG & OPS. Oh, by the way, he finished 2nd in the MVP vote.


5) Bobby Doerr, 2B – The oldest living Hall-of-Famer at age 99.


6) Jake Jones, 1B – Traded over from the White Sox in June, ’47 was his only season as a regular…he hit .237, but had 19 HR’s & 96 RBI’s.


7) Birdie Tebbetts, C – A reliable back-stop who made four All-Star teams during his career, he shared the catching duties with Roy Partee. In the 50’s & 60’s, he was a big league Manager for 11 seasons.


8) Sam Dente, 3B – The Sox never had a reliable regular at this position during the season and this rookie hit .232 in 168 AB’s.


9) Mickey Harris, P – Had 17 Wins in ’46, but only got six starts in ’47…had a 5-4 record with a 2.42 ERA.


Manager – Joe Cronin




1) Stuffy Stirnweiss, 2B – An interesting case study, as he was one of the few everyday players who didn’t serve in World War II. He led the AL in Hits for both 1994 & 1945, batting over .300 each season. Once the soldiers got back and the competition was tougher, he regressed to a .256 BA in ’47.


2) Tommy Henrich, RF – A natural hitter, he was very good even into his mid-30’s…led the league in Triples for both ’47 & ’48 at ages 34 & 35.


3) Yogi Berra, C – Just starting his illustrious career in ’47, he played 83 games and hit .280. Won three AL MVP’s in the 50’s.


4) Joe DiMaggio, CF – The famous “Yankee Clipper” was still in his prime at age 32…a 315 BA, 20 HR’s & 97 RBI’s got him the MVP.


5) George McQuinn, 1B – A 37 year-old veteran, he posted a solid year with a .304 BA, 80 RBI’s and a .395 OBP.


6) Billy Johnson, 3B – Hit .285 with 95 RBI’s and made the All-Star team.


7) Johnny Lindell, LF – Played as a position player through 1950, then returned to the majors in 1953 (at age 36) to make 26 starts as a NL Pitcher.


8) Phil Rizzuto, SS – “Scooter” was on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career and many years in the broadcast booth.


9) Karl Drews, P – Started 10 games at the back-end of the rotation…his best season was 1952 when he won 14 games for the Phillies.


Manager- Bucky Harris


So, how did the game turn out? It ended up being somewhat of a slugfest, as neither starting pitcher got out of the 2nd inning. Amazingly, the Yankees brought in their best relief pitcher (Joe Page) in the 2nd inning and he pitched 7 2/3 innings, finished the game and got the win. Can you imagine one of today’s Closers being asked to accomplish that task?


On the offensive side, Stirnweiss had two solo HR’s and a Triple while Berra had 3 RBI’s. For the Sox, Williams went 4-for-5 with two Doubles and Doerr had two RBI’s. The final score was 10-6. Two interesting pieces of trivia are that Williams had an OF assist and Berra got picked off 3rd base.


Hope you enjoyed this little trip through the baseball time machine.'47 Program

The Last Inning Of The Last Game

'17 Turner TTT

As Summer turns to Autumn and the calendar turns to October, many of you will head for the coat closet. As an Arizona resident, that isn’t really necessary, so for this visit, we’ll find a few appropriate remarks in the “quote closet”. They’ll be used to help commemorate the Old Duck sharing the championship of the NL-only Rotisserie auction-style home league in which I compete.


As Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it” but my comments will also be tempered by the advice of Fantasy Hall of Famer Ron Shandler, who reminds league winners to “Revel in your success because fame is fleeting, but also exercise excruciating humility”.


For all of us who play this wonderful game, the next few months gives us the opportunity to look back at our player decisions and wonder what we were thinking. In “The Magnificent Seven”, Bandito Eli Wallach asks Gunslinger Steve McQueen, “Why You Gringos Come Down Here”?  and he answers, “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”. That could also be the answer for keeping a “Shark” or drafting Franklin Gutierrez (instead of Ricky Gutierrez). Maybe by reviewing some of the positive and negative roster moves in a winning scenario, your brain cells will begin to focus on 2018. If your friends, family and colleagues don’t understand your passion for the game, remind them that Dr. Seuss suggested, “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of the telescope…and that enables us to laugh at life’s realities”.


> Donald’s Ducks…12 Team, NL only, 4×4, 23 man rosters (14 hitters, 9 pitchers), $260 budget, maximum of 15 keepers and 3 Farm players, established 1984


* Smart Keeper Decisions (April 2nd)…


1) Kris Bryant $20 – Followed up his ROY season in ’15 with the MVP in ’16, so his Fantasy contract was extended thru 2019. While 2017 didn’t quite live up to last year, his $24 value was solid.


2) Eugenio Suarez $10 – Didn’t run as much as last year, but his 26 HR’s lifted his value to $15.


3) J.T. Realmuto $10 – A Catcher with a good BA and a few SB’s is like gold and he also added 17 HR’s to contribute $16 to the cause.


4) Anthony Rizzo $31 – In this format with significant Draft inflation, top 1B go in this range…he provided a $25 return.


5) Trea Turner $20 – Another contract extension thru ’19 because SB’s are just getting more scarce. Despite only 412 AB’s (due to injury), he was worth $32.


6) Corey Seager $10 – Last year’s ROY battled injuries all season but still produced $20 in Fantasy value.



* Dumb Keeper Decisions


1) Jeff Samardzija $14 – Traded for him in the off-season just to add another pitcher to the roster (Ivan Nova was the only other keeper). His 4.42 ERA in over 200 IP didn’t help much.



* Good Draft Day Decisions ( April 8th)


1) Domingo Santana $16 – Had overpaid for him last year in an injury-plagued season but got him back at a more reasonable price….his 30 HR’s & 15 SB’s produced a $25 campaign.


2) Enrique Hernandez $1 – The ultimate Utility player, he ended up qualifying at five different positions to provide roster flexibility.


3) Aaron Nola $13 – Another player who was on my squad last year, he came back from 2016’s injuries to post a solid season.


4) Arodys Vizcaino $5- Following a familiar pattern, we also had him a year-too-early in ’16 but rolled the dice on him eventually getting the Closer job…14 Saves equaled $14.


5) Alex Wood $3 – Sometimes you find skills in the end-game and the player gets the opportunity…16-3 with a 2.72 ERA was beyond any expectation.


* Dumb Draft Day Decisions


1) Adonis Garcia $11 – Seemed to be in line to play everyday and hit in the middle of the line-up…started slow, got hurt, disappeared.


2) Logan Forsythe $13 – Was patting myself on the back for picking up a middle-infielder who had hit 20 HR’s the previous season…he hit .224 and didn’t even have a positive dollar value.


3) Wei-Yin Chen $6 – Locked as a member of the rotation due to his contract, he seemed like a reasonable comeback opportunity…he only pitched 33 innings.


4) Mark Melancon $31 – The Mother of all blunders. There were only a few Closers available at the Draft and he seemed the most reliable. Greg Holland went for $25 coming off surgery, Neftali Feliz cost $26 and had 8 Saves with an ERA of 6.00, while Wade Davis was purchased at $35. If the Ducks hadn’t succeeded, this would have been reason #1.



* In-Season Roster Moves


1)  Activated Manuel Margot from the Farm portion of my roster on opening day…had a solid rookie year with $14 in value.


2) Picked up Dinelson Lamet in late May and even though he had typical rookie issues (4.57 ERA), his seven Wins helped in a very close category.


3) Added Josh Hader from the Farm in late June and even though he didn’t have a defined role, a 2.08 ERA & 0.99 WHIP was a boost.


4) After being outbid on J.D. Martinez in July, went all in to FAAB Rhys Hoskins in August. He wasn’t as good as Martinez, but 18 HR’s & 48 RBI’s in 170 AB’s definitely made a difference.


If nothing else, this summary shows two strategic points…1) if you have a chance to win, go all-in and 2) even seemingly insignificant moves can make a big difference in the final outcome of a Fantasy league.


So, how did it come down to “the last inning of the last game”?

The Ducks and two other teams were jockeying for position during the final week and thanks to MLB starting every game on the last Sunday at the same time, watching box scores and biting nails were the order of the day. With only one game still in progress, it seemed like the Ducks were doomed. It appeared that one team would end up with 70 1/2 points, another with 70 points and the Ducks with 69 1/2 points. Most veteran Fantasy players know, however, that some categories can be so close, the results may not be locked in ’til the Fat Lady sings. In the last game to finish, the Nationals inexplicably still had Trea Turner in the line-up and he was due up in the 9th inning. When he got a base hit, it moved the Ducks season-long BA to .2677, putting them ahead of another team that finished at .2676. That extra hit (out of 6,552 AB’s) gained one point and put my squad into a 1st place tie. Can we even understand the feelings of the 3rd place team? If you’ve played the game long enough, you can. I’ve lost a title on the last day of a season that was so close, the winning team sent me an e-mail congratulating me on the championship…I had to convince them that they had won. In this same league just a few years ago, we had another tie for the title, as two teams had 75 points each.


Of course, we all agree that hearing about someone else’s Fantasy team is a cure for insomnia, but for those of you who play the game, reviewing the principles utilized to win can be helpful. Remember the words of Groucho Marx, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others”.






The Clutch Chronicles – 2017

Perez, Tony

The Urban Dictionary defines Clutch as, “To perform under pressure”. For decades, baseball pundits and fans have extolled the virtues of players who supposedly had this trait. Their evidence, however, was only visual and anecdotal. Back in the 1970’s, most people considered Tony Perez of the “Big Red Machine” one of baseball’s best clutch hitters. After all, he had over 100 RBI’s in six seasons between 1967 & 1975. In fact, some would argue that his election to the Hall of Fame was based on this reputation.


Now that baseball is in the age of statistical analysis, our old observations may be called into question. Even a math-challenged fan understands that you can’t get a plethora of RBI’s without baserunners. And, boy, did those Reds teams have baserunners!


Statistics on RBI Percentage (RBI-HR/Runners On) now go back to 1974, so let’s see how our legendary clutch hitter fared in a season where he was an All-Star. Perez had 101 RBI’s, 28 HR’s & 489 runners on base for a RBI percentage of 14.93%. That didn’t even crack the top 50 for the major leagues in ’74! He finished behind household names such as Reggie Smith, Richie Zisk, Jimmy Wynn, Cesar Cedeno & Ted Simmons. The leaders were Jeff Burroughs at 21.18% and Sal Bando at 21.15%.


Our Hall-of-Famer improved considerably in 1975 as he accumulated 109 RBI’s with 20 HR’s and 489 runners on base (again). His percentage improved to 18.20% and he just snuck into the top ten for that season. The only hitters at 20% or higher were Willie Stargell at 20.48% and Thurman Munson at 20.00%.


As a fan, you certainly have an opinion on today’s clutch hitters but do the stats back you up? In 2017, there were 25 hitters who exceeded the 18.20% that Perez posted in ’75. We’ll only include players who had at least 200 baserunners during the season to eliminate the “small sample size” outliers.  These are “Quacker’s Clutch All-Stars” and we’ll see how well their performance aligns with their reputation.


1) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies OF, 22.4% – Maybe his season was even better than it appeared…had 104 RBI’s out of the lead-off spot.


2) Adrian Beltre, Rangers 3B, 21.6% – This future Hall-of-Famer got his 3,000th hit and still was clutch at age 38.


3) Marwin Gonzalez, Astros OF, 20.8% – Also played every infield position during the season and hit .303 to go with his 90 RBI’s.


4 Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, 20.7% – Talk about consistency, he was also 4th last year with a 20.6% number.


5) Josh Reddick, Astros OF, 20.5% – Another under-the-radar contributor for Houston.


6) Scooter Gennett, Reds 2B, 20.5% – If you don’t get it, join the club…the Brewers waived him prior to the start of the season and he had 97 RBI’s. That’s like finding a Mantle rookie card in the bargain bin.


7) Nomar Mazara, Rangers OF, 20.5% – Seems like everyone got off the bandwagon when he was off to a slow start. Yes, he only hit .253, but 101 RBI’S at age 22?


8) Wilson Contreras, Cubs C, 20% – Should only get better after less than two seasons in the “show”.


9) Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B, 19.8% – Health was all he needed and the last two years have been stellar…85 RBI’s in ’16 and 100 in ’17.



10) Justin Bour, Marlins 1B, 19.6% – May only be a platoon player due to lefty splits, but produces when he plays.


11) Adam Frazier, Pirates OF, 19.3% – Got the chance to play regularly thanks to Starling Marte’s stupidity…might be an everyday player in ’18?


12) Nick Castellanos, Tigers 3B, 19.3% – Seemed to be on everyone’s watch list in the Spring and came through with 101 RBI’s.


13) Gerardo Parra, Rockies OF, 19.3% – A free agent bust in ’16, he was much improved this season.


The rest of the 25 included expected performances from the likes of Daniel Murphy, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson & Jose Abreu. The emerging stars are Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Schoop, Whit Merrifield & Nick Williams.


How about some of the game’s young stars? Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton were solid at 18% but some of the other numbers will surprise you. ROY locks Cody Bellinger (15.3%) and Aaron Judge (14.5%) were decent but Mike Trout at 15.9% and Kris Bryant at 11.6% seemed to underperform in this category.


For everyday players, the worst clutch hitters in baseball were Kevin Pillar at 7.7%, Gregory Polanco with 9.6% and Russell Martin at 9.9%.


Hope all your fantasy players come through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.




'17 Judge SP

“Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) has been discussed in this space on multiple occasions and the complete definition & calculation formulas can be found at baseball-reference.com as well as fangraphs.com. In essence, it is an attempt by baseball analysts to come up with a player’s overall contribution to their team in one statistic. The key question is, “if this player got injured and was replaced by an available minor-leaguer or AAAA bench player, how much value would the team be losing?” The answer is shown as the number of wins a player is worth to his team over the course of a season. If you’re an “old school” fan, this type of stat might not be your cup of tea but over the years it has become much more mainstream and is certainly taken into consideration by writers who vote on post-season awards.


With that background, let’s look at the real MVP’s of each major league team for 2017.


AL East


> Red Sox – Mookie Betts’ WAR rating of 6.4 isn’t quite up to 2016’s performance but still leads the AL Champs…Cy young contender Chris Sale leads the hurlers at 6.0


> Yankees – Two emerging young stars bode well for the Bombers future…Aaron Judge (age 25) had a MVP caliber season at 8.1 while Luis Severino (age 23) led the rotation at 5.4


> Rays – Only two games under .500, they got good performances from numerous players like Steven Souza, Logan Morrison & Evan Longoria but the one worth his weight in Gold (Glove) was Kevin Kiermaier with a 5.1 rating.


> Blue Jays – A disappointing year north of the border but Marcus Stroman pitched his way to a 6.0 WAR…Josh Donaldson led the offense with 4.8.


> Orioles – Cellar dwellers with lots of offense and dismal pitching…breakout star Jonathan Scoop led the way with 5.1.


AL Central


> Indians – Corey Kluber’s 18 Wins and 2.25 ERA puts him in the hunt for the Cy Young Award with a 8.0 WAR…multi-talented Jose Ramirez added 6.8 Wins to the Tribe’s success.


> Twins – This year’s amazing turnaround with 85 Wins…Byron Buxton finally lived up to the hype with a 5.1 rating while Ervin Santana’s 16 Wins were worth 4.9.


> Royals – The last gasp of their core included a strong 5.3 WAR season from CF Lorenzo Cain.

> White Sox – They’re in full rebuild mode but Jose Abreu’s stability and consistency is a model for their young players…his 4.7 WAR was fueled by 33 HR’s, 102 RBI’s and a .304 BA.


> Tigers – This will be tough to watch in ’18, as their two best players were Justin Upton (5.2) and Justin Verlander (4.5)…both were traded in August.


AL West


> Astros – A great combination of youth and experience, they won 101 games…likely MVP winner Jose Altuve had a spectacular season that generated a rating of 8.4.


> Angels – Hung around in the Wild Card race despite a patchwork pitching staff because they have the best player in baseball…Mike Trout produced a 6.1 WAR in only 114 games. They also had the most under-rated player in the AL in SS Andrelton Simmons…his 7.1 WAR was based on 14 HR’s, 69 RBI’s, 19 SB’s and amazing defensive skills in the middle of the diamond.


> Rangers – A disappointing season at six games under .500, their top contributor was Elvis Andrus at 4.8.


> Mariners – Also six games under .500 as their pitchers couldn’t stay healthy, they did get a 4.1 WAR from Nelson Cruz due to his 39 HR’s & 119 RBI’s.


> Athletics – When your best player is Jed Lowrie (3.9), the season won’t be a success. In ’18, watch for Matt Chapman (3.6 in only 84 games) and Matt Olson (2.8 in only 59 games).


NL East


> Nationals – Max Scherzer leads an impressive pitching staff with a Cy Young Award caliber 7.5 rating, but both Stephen Strasburg (6.4) and Gio Gonzalez (6.5) have been stellar…the best position player is Anthony Rendon at 5.9.



> Marlins – Despite a losing season, Giancarlo Stanton will get some MVP consideration with his 59 HR’s & 7.6 WAR.


> Braves – Another franchise set on rebuilding, they still count on their cornerstone player in Freddie Freeman who produced a 4.5 WAR in only 117 games.


> Mets – That vaunted starting rotation fell apart other than Jacob deGrom and his 5.0 WAR.


> Phillies – Speaking of rebuilding, this team was 30 games under .500. Their best player was Aaron Nola with 12 Wins, a 3.54 ERA and a 4.3 WAR.


NL Central


> Cubs – Most observers thought Kris Bryant didn’t have a great year, but he hit 2nd in the line-up and didn’t have Dexter Fowler batting leadoff. If you look closely at the numbers, what you find is a .295 BA, .409 OBP, .946 OPS & 29 HR’s. It all factors in to the team-leading 6.1 WAR


> Brewers – They had 86 Wins and were in the Wild Card race down to the last weekend of the season. The best news is that there’s talent all through the roster with six players contributing at last a 3.0 WAR…Travis Shaw was #1 at 4.0.


> Cardinals – A disappointing season from the Redbirds even though they won 83 games…their best player was a 29 year-old in his first full major league season and Tommy Pham produced a 6.3 WAR.


> Pirates – Starling Marte’s suspension for PED’s was the beginning of the end for the Bucs in ’17…Utility man Josh Harrison was their top contributor at 3.3.


> Reds – Another last-place finish doesn’t bode well for the future even though Joey Votto may have been the best hitter in the game with a .320 BA, .454 OBP, 1.032 OPS, 36 HR’s, 100 RBI’s and a 7.5 WAR.


NL West


> Dodgers – The most victories in baseball led by 3B Justin Turner (5.7) and SS Corey Seager (5.6)…Clayton Kershaw’s 18-4 record added another 5.0 WAR.


> Diamondbacks – New leadership in the front office and in the dugout made a huge difference in this team’s ascension to the playoffs with 93 Wins…the difference makers on the field were Zack Grienke (6.4) & Paul Goldschmidt (5.8).


> Rockies – Another surprise team in the playoffs, they were led by Nolan Arenado (7.2) & Charlie Blackmon (6.0)


> Padres – Difficult to have hope when no player on the team even had a WAR rating of 3. The best upside for ’18 may belong to Manny Margot, who produced a 2.5 rating in his rookie year.


> Giants – Sometimes, it all goes wrong…Buster Posey’s 4.0 was the best they could muster and where are the young players? This storied franchise may be busy in the free agent market.


Overall, the five best position players were…


1) Jose Altuve 8.4

2) Aaron Judge 8.1

3) Giancarlo Stanton 7.6

4) Joey Votto 7.5

5) Nolan Arenado 7.2


And the top five Pitchers…


1) Corey Kluber 8.0

2) Max Scherzer 7.5

3) Gio Gonzalez 6.5

4) Stephen Strasburg 6.4

5) Justin Verlander 6.4





As the developers of this gauge point out, you shouldn’t get too bogged down in decimal points. Over the course of a  season, one player with a 6.4 WAR and another player with a 6.1 WAR cannot really be distinguished from each other. However, a 6.4 WAR player and a 4.1 WAR player are significantly different when calculating their value to a team in any given season. If you had no other information available and had been in solitary confinement since March, your MVP ballot with Altuve or Judge in the AL and Stanton or Arenado in the NL along with a Cy Young ballot listing Kluber in the AL and Scherzer in the NL certainly wouldn’t put your BWAA membership card in jeopardy.