A Minor Diversion

'88 Las Vegas Stars

The real difficulty is explaining how much fun it is to be a baseball junkie. For the uninitiated, the game holds endless facts and stories about teams, seasons, games, players and outcomes. The history of the game is what makes it all come together. Who could know that a young Pitcher named Babe Ruth would eventually set a record for hitting Home Runs? Who could imagine that a skinny High School basketball player would turn out to be a Hall of Famer named Sandy Koufax…and did you know that he was born Sanford Braun?


You can never run out of stories when it comes to our national pastime. I was reminded of this vividly when a collection of minor league baseball cards recently came across my desk. One of the team sets featured the 1988 Las Vegas Stars, the AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The team finished the Pacific Coast League season with a record of 74-66 but as with all teams, there are 25 stories beneath the surface. Let’s take a look behind the curtain at the 25 individuals in this beautiful, black-bordered card set.


> #1, Joe Bitker P – The workhorse of the rotation, he pitched 178 innings with a 3.58 ERA and a record of 8-10…he was 11-9 the previous season for the Stars. He pitched briefly in the majors in 1990 & ’91, appearing in only 15 games. His lifetime big league record was 1-0…undefeated!


> #2, Keith Comstock P – A veteran at age 32, he was the Closer and had 5 Wins & 17 Saves. His career included two seasons in Japan and stints with four big league clubs. The left-hander had a lifetime major-league record of 10-7.


> #3, Greg Harris P – One of the Padres top prospects, he was 9-5 at age 24 and made his big league debut that September. Pitched in eight seasons as a major-leaguer with a lifetime record of 45-64 and a 3.98 ERA.


> #4, Joel McKeon P – Was 2-5 for the Stars with a 5.96 ERA. He had pitched for the White Sox in 1986 & ’87 but never made it back to the majors.


> #5, Pete Roberts P – Started 13 games and had a record of 4-6. Pitched three more years at the high levels of the minors but never made a big league appearance.


> #6, Todd Simmons P – Had a true “vulture” campaign as he pitched 54 games in relief and complied a record of 12-5. Completed one more minor league season and was out of baseball at age 25.


> #7, Ed Vosberg P – A very useful swing-man, he started 11 games and pitched another 34 in relief. Finished with a record of 11-7 and posted 2 Saves. His baseball career spanned from 1983-2007 and he pitched in 10 big league seasons before retiring at age 45. The prototypical situational left-hander, he won a total of 10 games in the majors and was part of the 1997 World Series champion Marlins.


> #8, Kevin Towers P – A familiar name that was recently in the news as he passed away at age 56 just last week. 1988 was essentially his last season as a player but he later became a famous front office executive. After starting as a scout for the Padres in 1990, he eventually became their GM, serving in that capacity from 1995-2009. From 2011-2014, he was the GM of the Diamondbacks.


> #9, Joe Lynch P – Was 6-6 with 8 Saves out of the bullpen and had an impressive 3.27 ERA. Pitched two more seasons for the Stars and retired at age 27.


> #10, Shane Mack OF – Got 267 AB’s with the Padres in 1987 and got back up to the big club again in ’88. His real MLB success came during his stint with the Twins from 1990-1994 where he hit over .300 in four of the five seasons. Played in Japan in 1995 & ’96 before coming back to the majors for a few more years. He was a lifetime .299 hitter with a .821 OPS in nine big-league campaigns.


> #11, Thomas Howard OF – Played with the Stars in both ’88 & ’89 before making his big-league debut with the Padres in 1990. Ended up with over 2,600 big league AB’s over 11 seasons. Also played for the Indians, Reds, Astros, Dodgers & Cardinals.


> #12, Jerald Clark OF – Hit .301 in 408 AB’s for the Stars. Ended up playing parts of seven seasons in “The Show” with a lifetime BA of .257. His Brother Phil played for three teams in the 90’s and hit .276.


> #13, Randy Byers OF – A .267 hitter in 100 games for the Stars, he only had 26 major league AB’s and was out of baseball before turning 24.


> #14, Bip Roberts 2B – Hit .353 with 29 SB’s and was on his way to the majors. One of the quickest players in the NL during the early 90’s, he had 46 SB’s for the Padres in ’90 and 44 for the Reds in ’92. Leon (his real name) played 12 years with over 1,200 Hits and a .294 BA. Made over $17 Million during his big league career.


> #15, Brad Pounders 1B – A productive bat in ’88 with 14 HR’s & 74 RBI’s but it was his last professional season at age 24. His Son Brooks did make the major leagues and pitched for the Royals in 2016 and the Angels in ’17.


> #16, Rob Nelson 1B – The power hitter in the middle of the line-up for the Stars, he hit 23 HR’s with 77 RBI’s in 388 AB’s. Ended up with only 152 major league AB’s and hit .178.


> #17, Gary Green SS – Had over 300 AB’s and didn’t hit a HR. Eventually accumulated 180 AB’s in the big leagues and didn’t hit a homer there either. His Dad Fred pitched in the majors during the early 60’s and was a member of the 1960 World Series champion Pirates.


> #18, Joey Cora 2B – This diminutive infielder hit .296 for the Stars and only struck out 19 times in 460 AB’s. Spent 11 years in the majors and had over 1,000 Hits with a .277 lifetime BA. His Brother Alex played 14 seasons and is the new Manager of the Red Sox.


> #19, Mike Brumley SS – Hit .315 and swiped 41 bases for the Stars. A switch-hitter, he played parts of eight seasons in the majors before retiring in 1996. His Dad (also named Mike) was a Catcher for the Washington Senators from 1964-66.


> #20, Roberto Alomar, SS/2B – Even though he was only 20 years old, the talent level was obvious and he got called up to the Padres after only nine games in Las Vegas. His rookie season gave a glimpse of what was to come with a .709 OPS & 24 SB’s. One of the best fielding 2B in the history of the game (he won 10 Gold Gloves), he was inducted into Cooperstown in 2011. His Dad & Brother (both named Sandy) were also major leaguers.


> #21, Bruce Bochy C – At the other end of the spectrum from the young players, this was his last season as an active player after playing parts of nine years in the majors. The epitome of a back-up Catcher, his lifetime BA was .239. He managed in the minor leagues for the next four years and became the skipper of the Padres in 1995 and stayed for 12 years including a World Series appearance in 1998. In 2007, he took over the helm with the Giants and three world championships later, he is one of the most respected leaders in the game. After 22 seasons and almost 1,800 Wins, he may be on track to Cooperstown someday.


> #22, Sandy Alomar, Jr. C – A .297 BA with 16 HR’s put him on the radar at age 22. Became the starting Catcher for the Indians in 1990 and made six All-Star teams in his career.


> #23, Tom Brassil IF – This was his 7th minor league season and despite hitting .311, he called it quits at age 28.


> #24, Steve Smith Manager – A minor league infielder form 1976-82, he never made the majors. He managed in the minors for 12 years, half of them at the AAA level.


> #25, Sonny Siebert Coach – An outstanding major-league Pitcher in the 60’s & 70’s, he won 130 big league games with a lifetime ERA of 3.21. Won 16 games three times and made two AL All-Star teams.


Lots of baseball history from a minor-league team that played 30 years ago. One, and possibly two, Hall of Famers, multiple All-Stars and some baseball heritage of families that played the game. If you think this team is the exception to the rule, think about this…we could have chosen the 1988 Richmond Braves and talked about the cards of John Smoltz, David Justice, Lonnie Smith, Jeff Blauser & Leo Mazzone.


As always, the history of the game is what makes it all come together.




Watch Your P’s & Q’s And Those MLE’s


For baseball fans and especially for Fantasy players, prospects are a passion and a plight. This time of year, we scour lists from Baseball America, MLB.com, magazine annuals and numerous websites that claim to have that crystal ball. The reality is that each season’s top 100 list includes a logjam of bums who will never make an impact on your team or their MLB employer. Do the names Rick Ankiel, Paul Wilson, Brandon Wood, Joba Chamberlain & Jesus Montero sound familiar? They should because over the last 20 years, they’ve each been one of the top three prospects in baseball.


In our ongoing quest to find talent, we look at pedigree (in terms of draft position or contract), athleticism, roster opportunity, scouting reports and statistics. One of those statistics should be Major League Equivalents (MLE’s). Originally outlined in 1985 by Bill James, the concept is to evaluate minor league statistics and create a reasonable expectation of how they would correlate to major league performance. A number of analytic sites have formulas in place to determine these outcomes and while no one statistic is carved in granite, it’s another item for your prognostication toolbox.


Looking back at some of the surprising players from 2017, it’s interesting to see what their MLE’s looked like from 2016. It’s a reasonable guess that some of these guys weren’t highly valued in your Fantasy Draft last Spring, but they turned out to be the kind of bargains that help win leagues…


> Albert Almora, Cubs OF – Buried behind lots of more-hyped prospects, his ’16 MLE’s showed the possibility of a .270+ BA at the major league level. Of course, platooning helped, but a .298 BA and 8 HR’s in 299 AB’s was a positive contribution.


> Josh Bell, Pirates 1B – Experts were somewhat skeptical about his impact, but the ’16 MLE’s showed a .270 BA and double-digit HR’s. 26 HR’s and a .255 BA for the big club in ’17 shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.


> Alex Bregman, Astros 3B – Success was expected after his debut in ’16 but check out these numbers…’16 MLE’s projected a .274 BA with 17 HR’s and the MLB ’17 performance was .284 with 19.


> Matt Chapman, A’s 3B – His ’16 MLE’s predicted a low BA but some significant power. In 290 AB’s for the Athletics, he hit .234 with 14 HR’s.


> Mitch Hanger, Mariners OF – The ’16 MLE’s showed a .270+ BA with 19 HR’s & 9 SB’s. Despite being limited to 369 MLB AB’s due to injury, his line in ’17 was .282, 16 & 5.


> Rhys Hoskins, Phillies 1B/OF – Almost unknown a year ago, he burst on the scene last August with record-setting power. Guess what? His ’16 MLE’s from AA equated to 34 HR’s.


> Manny Margot, Padres OF – At AAA in ’16, his MLE’s were a .258 BA with 21 SB’s. His rookie season in San Diego had real numbers of .261 & 19.


> Hunter Renfroe, Padres OF – Also at AAA in ’16, the equivalent was a .248 BA & 21 HR’s. His ’17 numbers with the parent club were .231 & 26.


> Bradley Zimmer, Indians OF – His ’16 MLE’s predicted a .229 BA with double digit HR’s and a bunch of steals. In 299 AB’s for Cleveland in ’17, he hit .241 with 8 HR’s & 18 SB’s.


Some of these guys might have been had at single-digit prices in an auction or late round picks in a snake? Of course, we’re not reviewing the opposite end of the spectrum, but MLE research can be another stat to consider. As we head toward the 2018 season, let’s look at some top prospects with solid MLE’s along with a few that might be flying under the radar. The number represents where they are on the current MLB.com top 100 prospect list.


> Miguel Andujar, Yankees 3B (#65) – Only 22, he’s a potential .300 hitter with power.


> Jake Bauers, Rays 1B/OF (#64) – Also 22, his BA needs work (.245) but double digit HR’s & SB’s are part of the profile.


> Bobby Bradley, Indians 1B (NA) – The #3 prospect for the Tribe, he 20 projected HR’s at AA and he’s only 21.


> Lewis Brinson, Marlins OF (#27) – Should play everyday in Miami and his MLE’s show a .284 BA with power & speed.


> Willie Calhoun, Rangers OF (#53) – Built like a fire-hydrant, he projected 24 HR’s at AAA. If he’s in the line-up at that ballpark, the ball could fly.


> Thairo Estrada, Yankees SS (NA) – Added to the 40-man roster in November, he hit well at age 21 in AA.


> Dustin Fowler, Athletics OF (NA) – #8 on their organizational list, The A’s are hoping he’ll be ready for Spring after a horrific leg injury. His ’17 MLE’s at AAA included a .273 BA with double digit HR’s & SB’s.


> Zach Granite, Twins OF (NA) – A .315 comp BA at AAA with SB potential.


> Danny Jansen, Blue Jays C (NA) – Hit an equivalent.295 in the low minors at age 22 and is the #15 prospect in the system…we’re always looking for Catchers with decent BA.


> Ryan McMahon, Rockies 1B (#41) – A spot might be open and his MLE’s are .340 BA with power.


> Jurickson Profar, Rangers IF (NA) – Once the top prospect in baseball, now forgotten at age 24. At AAA in ’17, he had a 9% walk rate and a 89% contact rate…maybe a fresh start somewhere?


> Luis Urias, Padres SS (#36) – If you love players who put the ball in play, here’s your guy…a .294 comp hitter with a 13% walk rate at AA…at age 20!


Hope you find a few sleepers for your squad.






The Cincinnati Kid

Votto Debut

No, not the 1965 movie where Steve McQueen loses that last poker hand to Edward G. Robinson after rolling around with both Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld. This is the nickname for Reds 1B Joey Votto that should replace “Votto-matic”. The logic is the connection between the current star and the original “Kid”, Ted Williams.


In 1938, Williams honed his batting philosophy under the tutelage of Rogers Hornsby at the Spring camp for the Minneapolis Millers. The 19 year-old phenom soaked up everything “Raj” had to say, especially the idea to “get a good ball to hit”. That became Ted’s personal quest and he decided that a walk could be as a good as a hit and that getting on base helped your team in the long run. His SABRmetric approach at the plate also created the impression with both Pitchers and Umpires that if he didn’t swing at a pitch, it couldn’t be a strike. In his first two seasons in a Red Sox uniform, he would often be put in the position of defending his hitting to the members of the Boston press. There was even a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room toward one of the writers who criticized him taking a base-on-balls when there was a runner in scoring position. By 1941, when Ted hit .406, even the scribes came to realize that he was the best hitter in baseball and they moved on to find other topics of aggravation.


In the evolving debate between stats and scouting, Joey Votto seems to be a lightning rod at the center. A few years ago, Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman took the old school position when he said, “Votto will take a 3-0 pitch an inch off the outside, when he could do some damage. I believe in expanding the strike zone when you have guys on base”. The fact that Votto had only 73 RBI’s in 581 AB’s for 2013 and 80 RBI’s in 545 AB’s in 2015 drove people like Brennaman crazy. In 2013, Reds 2B Brandon Phillips had 103 RBI’s in 606 AB’s, but many of those were accumulated because Votto was getting on base in front of him. In 2015, Todd Frazier was the recipient with 89 RBI’s in 609 AB’s. So, the scout half of the debate will criticize Phillips (and his .310 OBP) and Frazier (.309 OBP) for not being more like Votto after criticizing Votto for not being more like Phillips & Frazier. The other thing Brennaman has in common with those Boston newspapermen from 70+ years ago is that he’s never stepped into a big league batter’s box and tried to hit a 95-mph fastball.


Fortunately for the Reds organization and their fans, Votto doesn’t care about the negative comments. With a contract that extends until 2023, he isn’t focused on personal stats, only on the team’s success. In 2017, the Reds won only 68 games, but Votto took his game to an even more elite level. In 559 AB’s, he hit .320 and led the league in both OBP (.454) & OPS (1.032). Oh, and he added 100 RBI’s.


From a stat guy’s perspective, Joey Votto might be the most under-rated player in baseball. His performance over the first ten years of his career is on a secure historical path. In terms of old-school stats, it looks really good. A lifetime BA of .313, OBP of .428 and a slugging percentage of .541 with an average of 25+ HR’s & 80+ RBI’s despite missing parts of two seasons with injuries. When you start to break down the SABRmetrics, it looks even better.


OPS (On-Base & Slugging) is a relatively new stat that is widely accepted in the baseball community as a benchmark for offensive excellence. Votto’s career number is .969, which is 15th best of all-time, ahead of Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Mel Ott, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron. An even newer stat is OPS+, which actually adjusts for the offense produced in the league each year and the ballparks. With the baseline being 100, Votto’s career OPS+ is 158, which puts tied for 16th place all-time, ahead of Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Albert Pujols & Miguel Cabrera.


WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a single number that presents the number of wins a player added to the team above a replacement level player. Since joining the Reds in 2007, Votto has accumulated a number of 54.8 at age 33. Four or five additional seasons at this level would put him ahead of Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and numerous other Hall-of-Famers on the all-time list. He’s already ahead of Reds Hall of Fame 1B Tony Perez.


“Win Shares” is a Bill James contribution that relates a player’s individual statistics to the number of wins he contributed to the team. Generally, 30 or more Win Shares indicates an MVP-caliber season. Votto’s average for his last seven full seasons is 31.7.


“Runs Created” is an additional category now being examined by analysts and Votto’s number of 155 in 2017 was better than Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton & Jose Altuve.


Another fairly recent analytic is “Offensive Win %”. That gauges the percentages of games a team would win with nine of this player batting…assuming average pitching and defense. The two best in 2017 were Mike Trout (.817) and Joey Votto (.797). 129 Wins in a 162 season would probably get your squad into the post-season.


As for the “Old School” opinion versus the “Stat Guy” analysis, the debate will continue and it is always interesting. One school of thought from baseball writer Paul Daugherty is that if Votto batted second in the line-up, there would be no discussion because both sides would agree that he’s the best two-hole hitter in the game. However, as long as he’s batting third, the old school fan will say, “he’s not paid to walk”. Just for the record, Ted Williams hit third.


Clyde McPhatter & Barrett Strong

McPhatter Money

For those of you under a certain age, the answer is no, these aren’t two sleeper prospects for your 2018 Fantasy Baseball roster. In 1953, Clyde McPhatter was the lead singer of the Drifters when they recorded “Money Honey” (later covered by Elvis Presley). Not to be confused with the Lady Gaga song, it’s lyrics include…


Well, I learned my lesson and now I know–


The sun may shine and the wind may blow–


Women may come, and the women may go,


But before I say I love ’em so,


I want–money, honey!


Money, honey


Money, honey,


If you wanna get along with me.


The fledgling Motown Records was provided with important capital when Barrett Strong hit the charts in 1960 with “Money, That’s What I Want” (later covered by the Beatles).


The best things in life are free–


But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees,

Now give me money, (that’s what I want), that’s what I want.


As this off-season seems to be slow for free agent signings and there are even whispers of collusion, a look at the landscape tells you that clubs are wary of long-term deals. Five free agents have signed contracts that some may feel are slightly above market…Carlos Santana ($20 Million), Wade Davis ($17 Million), Tyler Chatwood ($13 Million), Zack Cozart ($13 Million) & Jay Bruce ($13 Million). The one thing in common, however, is that they are all 3-year deals. So, let’s give you an opportunity to once again be a General Manager. Based on some minimal research, it appears that there are about 20 current major league players who are already under contract to make at least $15 Million for the 2021 season. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine which of these players you would really want on your roster in 2021 at these prices. The figures represent the average salary of a long-term deal. The player’s age for that season is listed to help with your analysis. As you read the names and think, “This guy is on the downside of his career”, remember that three more full seasons need to be played before these salaries come due. And when you wonder why the 2018 market seems soft, this history may certainly be a factor.



> Zach Greinke, age 37, $34.4 Million


> David Price, age 35, $31 Million


> Max Scherzer, age 36, $30 Million


> Miguel Cabrera, age 38, $29.2 Million


> Stephen Strasburg, age 32, $25 Million


> Giancarlo Stanton, age 31, $25 Million


> Albert Pujols, age 41, $24 Million


> Robinson Cano, age 38, $24 Million


> Chris Davis, age 35, $23 Million


> Jason Heyward, age 31, $23 Million


> Joey Votto, age 37, $22.5 Million


> Justin Upton, age 33, $22.1 Million


> Johnny Cueto, age 35, $21.7 Million


> Buster Posey, age 34, $18.6 Million


> Aroldis Chapman, age 33, $17.2 Million


Also above the $15 Million threshold are Freddie Freeman, Dexter Fowler, Kenley Jansen & Elvis Andrus.


OK, GM…how many of these paupers are on your team in 2021? More than five? Of course, it’s an easier commitment when you don’t have to write the check. One of the other key considerations (if you’re still the GM three years from now) is how your budget will look in January of 2021. Why? Because the following players will be free agents at that time…


> Clayton Kershaw, 2020 salary of $35.5 Million


> Mike Trout, 2020 salary of $34.1 Million


> Yoenis Cespedes, 2020 salary of $29.5 Million


> Masahiro Tanaka, 2020 salary of $23 Million


> Justin Verlander, 2020 salary of $22 Million


> Justin Turner, 2020 salary of $20 Million


> Jon Lester, 2020 salary of $20 Million


> Jeff Samardzija, 2020 salary of $19.8 Million


Others available include Yadier Molina, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce, Matt Carpenter & Jason Kipnis. Would you rather have the money to spend on the free agent class?


Wow, this is almost as difficult as owning a Fantasy team. My dilemma in March is deciding how many contract years to extend Corey Seager.






Watch For The Dips

'17 Scherzer

For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.


If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.


In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to determine a pitcher’s skill based on those three factors and once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB’s run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.


The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the DIPS numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 20+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at DIPS results for 2017 reveals the following tidbits.


> For the season, only eight (8) major league starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, while just four (4) had a DIPS under the same threshold. The members of the exclusive club that land on both lists are Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg & Max Scherzer.


> Let’s look at the other four sub-3.00 ERA hurlers and see how their performance matched up when teammates were taken out of the equation. Clayton Kershaw’s DIPS number of 3.02 was significantly higher than his 2.31 ERA (2nd best overall). Could it be that his season wasn’t quite as good as it looked on the surface? Luis Severino’s 3.06 DIPS number was very close to his actual 2.98 ERA, so that performance looks solid. The other two posted numbers that make you think twice on their Fantasy (and real-world) value. Gio Gonzalez had a DIPS figure (3.87) almost a run higher than his ERA (2.96) and Robbie Ray was in a similar category with a DIPS number of 3.59 compared to a 2.89 ERA. While these are certainly two very good Pitchers, the question is, are they as good as they seemed in 2017?


> So, if you’re a Fantasy owner or a real-world GM, how can these new statistics help your cause? Let’s start with free agent SP’s still on the market (as 1/7)…


* Yu Darvish, 3.86 ERA / 3.73 DIPS – Looking for a six-year deal?

* Jake Arrieta, 3.53 ERA / 4.04 DIPS – In his 30’s looking for a nine-figure contract?

* Lance Lynn, 3.43 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Is this worth four years and $50-$60 Million?

* Alex Cobb, 3.66 ERA / 4.12 DIPS – A contract similar to Lynn’s?

* Andrew Cashner, 3.40 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Should be represented by Penn & Teller because this is smoke & mirrors.


> What other rotation members might be slightly over-rated or over-priced? In other words, you might want to temper your expectations.


* Drew Pomeranz, 3.32 ERA / 3.82 DIPS

* Marcus Stromen, 3.09 ERA / 3.90 DIPS

* Sonny Gray, 3.55 ERA / 3.86 DIPS

* Zach Davies, 3.90 ERA / 4.19 DIPS


> How about the hurlers who might have had some bad luck in 2017?


* Chris Archer, 4.05 ERA / 3.34 DIPS

* Jeff Samardzija, 4.42 ERA / 3.52 DIPS

* Jose Quintana, 4.15 ERA / 3.57 DIPS

* Michael Wacha, 4.13 ERA / 3.58 DIPS

* Jon Lester, 4.33 ERA / 3.97 DIPS

* Tanner Roark, 4.67 ERA / 4.00 DIPS


> And, of course, every team wants stability on their staff.


* Aaron Nola, 3.54 ERA / 3.23 DIPS

* Zack Greinke, 3.20 ERA / 3.27 DIPS

* Jacob DeGrom, 3.53 ERA / 3.36 DIPS

* Michael Fullmer 3.83 ERA / 3.70 DIPS

* Carlos Martinez, 3.64 ERA / 3.81 DIPS


You’ll notice that Win-Loss records aren’t part of this analysis. Fantasy players have long understood the cruel category of “Wins” but the real game has begun to catch up. With starting pitchers going less innings and teams spending $8 Million on middle relievers, the concept of a 20-game winner is a thing of the past. In 2017, no big-league Pitcher even won 19 games…Yu Darvish won 10 games! MLB teams are no longer concerned with starters going deep into games because they’ve got lock-down guys in the bullpen. What they want is quality innings.


> Who’s the worst when it comes to DIPS? 2017’s bottom five are Jeremy Hellickson (5.64), Jose Urena (5.11), John Lackey (5.06), Ricky Nolasco (4.89) & Julio Teheran (4.81).


As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe DIPS has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my DIPS”.





Are You A Real Baseball Fan?

'05 Doerr Auto

Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer yes to most of the following questions…


> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?


> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?


> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?


> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?


> Did you get your Grandson a T-shirt that says “6+4+3=2”?


> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?


> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?


There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 31 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t know some of the 30 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.


So, as we celebrate the history of the game and the wonders of the 2017 season, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…


> Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 2B 1937-1951 – The heart of the BoSox for parts of three decades, he was the oldest living Hall of Fame member at age 99 when he passed away in November. Made the All-Star team in nine of ten seasons and missed his age 27 year serving in World War II.


> Jim Bunning, Tigers & Phillies P 1955-1971 – The other Hall of Famer we lost in 2017, he won 224 games and pitched over 250 innings in eight different seasons. He threw no-hitters in both leagues and later represented Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.


> Roy Halladay, Blue Jays & Phillies P 1998-2013 – Tragically lost at age 40, he was one of the most dominating hurlers for the good part of a decade. Captured two Cy Young Awards and had a lifetime record of 203-105.


> Jimmy Piersall, Red Sox & Indians OF 1950-1967 – One of the great characters of the game, he was a superb defensive player winning two Gold Gloves.


> Don Baylor, Angels DH 1970-1988 – Built like a football player, he accumulated over 2,000 Hits and 338 HR’s. The 1979 AL MVP, he led the league that season in Runs (120) and RBI’s (139).


> Lee May, Reds & Orioles 1B 1965-1982 – A middle of the lineup slugger, he made three All-Star teams, had over 2,000 Hits and powered 354 HR’s.


> Roy Sievers, Senators OF 1949-1965 – A consistent power-hitter in the 1950’s, he made four All-Star teams and won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1949. In 1957, he led the AL in HR’s (42) & RBI’s (114).


> Solly Hemus, Cardinals SS 1949-1959 – His specialty was getting on base. Led the NL in being hit by pitches in both ’52 & ’53 and had a lifetime OBP (On-Base %) of .390.


> Darren Daulton, Phillies C 1983-1997 – A stalwart behind the plate, he made three All-Star teams and led the NL with 109 RBI’s in 1992.


> Jim Landis, White Sox OF, 1957-1967 – One of the great defensive players of his era, he won five consecutive Gold Gloves in CF (1960-1964).


> Frank Lary, Tigers P 1954-1965 – The workhorse of the Bengals staff, between 1956 and 1961, he had 103 Wins & 99 Complete Games.


88 former big-leaguers died in 2017 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of them. There were guys who played in the 1940’s like Ned Garver & Sam Mele, guys who excelled at more than one sport like Gene Conley, guys with great nicknames like Todd “Which Hand Do You” Frohwirth, players who became Managers like Dallas Green & Gene Michael, guys who were defined by a famous moment like Tracy Stallard and guys with famous roommates like Bob Cerv. For me, there were also players I watched in the 1950’s like Daryl Spencer, Jim Rivera, Bob Kuzava & Dick Gernert.


They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.




Mama, Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Relievers


Today’s question is what would you do if, during the next nine months, you received $8 Million? Of course, there would tax obligations and with the current American median household income at about $59,000, you’ll need to do some significant planning. Maybe that $1 Million house on the hill, 2 or 3 new cars, trips to exotic places and college funds for the youngsters in the family? Or a few charitable contributions or surprise gifts (like a $10,000 check) for special people in your life? If you’ve ever purchased a lottery ticket, these things may have crossed your mind. After all, as Sam Spade once said, it’s “The stuff that dreams are made of”.


In today’s world of Major League Baseball, these dreams are not so far-fetched. Just train that young fellow in your family the ability to pitch a quality inning 3 or 4 times a week. How is this possible, you ask? Once you analyze the landscape of today’s baseball rosters, it will become crystal clear to you. When I first became a fan, only 9 or 10 of the spots on a 25-man roster were filled with Pitchers. There were 4 SP’s, 2 fairly solid guys in the bullpen and 3 or 4 old “war horses” who were no longer good enough to start games. Once free agency arrived and 5-man rotations became the norm, things started to change and today, specialization is the structure of a pitching staff.


If you’re the GM of a team today, your goal is to have quality arms to pitch the 9th inning (Closer), 8th inning (Set-Up Guy), 7th inning (Bridge Guy), 5th & 6th inning (Multiple Inning Guy), 3rd & 4th inning (Long Man) and even a hurler to get one batter out (Loogy = Left-Handed One-Out Guy). The importance of all this is clarified by looking at recent championship teams. The 2015 Royals only needed 5 or 6 innings out of their SP because Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis & Greg Holland were in the bullpen. Relievers delivered 56 Saves for that team. The 2016 Cubs gave up their top prospect for a two-month rental of Aroldis Chapman. The 2017 Astros had three relievers with ERA+ ratings of 172, 148 & 133 (100 is league average) and still used SP’s in the post-season to get more innings out of bullpen.


The 2017-18 off-season has been slow for big money free agent hitters like J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain & Carlos Gonzalez but the market for middle-relievers has been booming and the payoffs have “old school” fans scratching their heads. Let’s look at some these lottery winners who happened to find the incredible sweet spot between recent performance and free agency.


> Steve Cishek, Cubs, $13 Million (2 years) – This side-arming 31 year old RH was once the Closer for the Marlins…73 Saves in 2013-14. Started 2017 on the DL but ended up pitching 45 innings with a 2.01 ERA & 0.90 WHIP.


> Luke Gregerson, Cardinals, $11 Million (2 years) – Another veteran with Closing experience, he had 31 Saves for the Astros in 2015. Now at age 33 with a World Series ring, he’s coming off a season with a 4.57 ERA but 70 K’s in 61 IP.


> Tommy Hunter, Phillies, $18 Million (2 years) – This will be the 7th stop for a 31 year old who debuted with the Rangers in 2008. Finally healthy in 2017, he posted a 2.61 ERA & 0.97 WHIP in 59 innings at Tampa Bay.


> Brandon Kintzler, Nationals, $10 Million (2 years) – A  33 year old soft-tosser who managed to get 28 Saves for the Twins in ’17 before being traded to Washington. He struck out only 39 batters in 71 innings last season, so beware of the correction.


> Jake McGee, Rockies, $27 Million (3 years) – Another former Closer in his early 30’s, he could be the fallback for Saves if the Rockies don’t find someone else. Had a 3.61 ERA & 1.10 WHIP in 2017.


> Mike Minor, Rangers, $28 Million (3 years) – You’re probably thinking this is a misprint. A once highly touted SP in the Braves organization, he didn’t pitch in the majors during 2015 or 2106. This past season, he posted 6 Wins, 6 Saves and incredible peripheral numbers for the Royals. Now this LH is viewed as the next Andrew Miller.


> Brandon Morrow, Cubs, $21 Million (2 years) – His ERA’s for the Blue Jays in 2013-14 were 5.63 & 5.67. But in 2017, he took the ball almost everyday for the Dodgers in the post-season and has now cashed in big-time. At age 33, this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


> Pat Neshek, Phillies, $16 Million (2 years) – Another crafty side-armer, he’ll join Hunter in the bullpen. The elder statesman of the group at age 37, he pitched 62 innings in 2017 with a 1.59 ERA & 0.87 WHIP. He’s already made $22 Million in an eleven-year career.


> Bryan Shaw, Rockies, $27 Million (3 years) – The ultimate lesson in stick-to-itiveness, he led the AL in appearances 3 of the last 4 years as a member of the Indians bullpen. GM’s love durability and now, at age 29, he’s rich!


> Joe Smith, Astros, $15 Million ( 2 years) – Another 30-something side-winder, his lifetime ERA (in 11 seasons) is 2.97. Essentially replaces Gregerson in the Houston bullpen.


> Anthony Swarzak, Mets, $14 Million (2 years) – Who? Has made 5 stops in an 8-year career, but the timing is what matters. Splitting 2017 between the White Sox & Brewers, he had a 2.33 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP with 91 K’s in 77 IP. His salary last season was $900,000. America is a wonderful country.


Today’s advice – if you have an athletic boy in the family, take some money out of his college fund and buy a radar gun.