Sharing The Wins

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With the Winter Meetings finally in the rear view mirror, let’s take a look at the relative value of the players in the game. In a sport awash with money, old-school fans often have difficulty wrapping their heads around the new levels of salaries and budgetary guidelines. With the average MLB salary now above $4 Million, how do we really know what a player’s contribution is worth? And do these contributions really make a difference in the standings?

 

In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We’ve discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it confirms that Mike Trout was the best player in the AL (10.6 WAR) and Kris Bryant topped the NL (7.7 WAR). The fact that they each won the MVP adds to the credibility of the statistic.

 

Most baseball stat-heads believe a player is worth about $6-8M per win to his team and free agent signings give us a window into that formula. Dexter Fowler’s average WAR for the last three seasons is 3.3 and he got $17.5M per season…Ian Desmond’s 2.9 WAR average netted $14 per season. When it comes to free agents, scarcity and need sometimes throw salaries out of whack. Aroldis Chapman’s 2.4 WAR average doesn’t seem to justify his new deal with the Yankees but how many Chapmans come along?

 

Each year at this time, we turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge player value. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a “win share”. So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it’s all about comparisons between players among positions. Less than twelve position players had a number of 29 or better in 2016 and it’s difficult to take exception with the results – both MVP’s are on the list with Trout at 35 and Bryant at 32.

 

Let’s see who made the Win Shares All-Star team in ’16…

 

1B – Joey Votto at 32 followed closely by Anthony Rizzo at 29.

 

3B – Bryant followed by Kyle Seager with 30 with Adrian Beltre right there at 29.

 

2B – Jose Altuve was the best in the game at 36 while two others had amazing campaigns…Daniel Murphy at 31 and Ian Kinsler at 29.

 

SS – A rookie led the way as the younger Seager (Corey) chipped in with 29.

 

C – Buster Posey & Wilson Ramos each contributed 29 Win Shares.

 

LF – A bit of a wasteland at a historically offensive position with Christian Yelich posting 21 and Ryan Braun 20.

 

CF – Trout in a runaway…no other CF had more than 22.

 

RF – Mookie Betts exploded onto the scene with 29.

 

SP – Corey Kluber, Jon Lester & Justin Verlander each contributed 20 Win Shares.

 

CL – Zach Britton’s magical season was the best at 19…above the three guys who got a total of $230 Million in the last few days.

 

As always, there are some hidden tidbits in the rankings that impact both fantasy and reality baseball…

 

> The Nationals have taken quite a beating in the media for dealing three pitching prospects to the White Sox for Adam Eaton. Eaton’s Win Share total has been 24 for each of the last two seasons while Fowler’s has been 22…Fowler’s contract is $44 Million more than Eaton’s over the next five years.

 

> The Phillies are afterthoughts during their rebuilding phase but two of their young players accumulated 24 Win Shares in 2016…Cesar Hernandez & Odubal Herrera.

 

> Jose Abreu’s numbers during his first three seasons were 29, 27, then 20.

 

> Jake Arrieta had 16 WS, down from 27 in 2015.

 

> At age 21, Carlos Correa had a WS total of 26…and a WAR of 5.9.

 

> Paul Goldschmidt is underpaid with 60 WS the last two seasons…Carlos Gonzalez is overpaid with only 36 in the same timeframe.

 

> Bryce Harper dropped from 38 in ’15 to 20 in ’16…$400 Million doesn’t buy what it used to.

 

> Jayson Heyward went from 21 to 12…$184 Million doesn’t buy what it used to.

 

> Yes, Andrew McCutchen’s decline was real…his WS numbers the last five seasons are 40, 34, 33, 35 & 17.

 

> Trea Turner had 17 Win Shares (and a 3.5 WAR) in 73 games.

 

> Justin Upton had 21 WS each year in ’13, ’14 & ’15…then he signed a $133 Million deal and had 14.

 

Don’t forget, it’s the season for sharing…Happy Holidays

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Hanging Around The Hot Stove With Bill James

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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 2017 version is available now and at 609 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 Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber & Jon Lester. Justin Verlander was 98th in mid-2015 and is now 6th while Felix Hernandez was 12th a year ago and is now at #31.

 

> 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 2009 to 2016, Felix Hernandez has dropped from 94 to 90, Johnny Cueto from 93 to 90, Ubaldo Jimenez from 96 to 90, Jered Weaver from 89 to 83, Jonathan Papelbon from 95 to 91, C.C. Sabathia from 94 to 89 and Francisco Rodriguez from 93 to 89. On the flip side, Carlos Carrasco has upped his velocity from 92 to 94 during the same timeframe. Even when you look at a disastrous performance like James Shields’ 2016 campaign, the obvious assumption of diminished velocity doesn’t hold up…he’s been at 89 or 90 for the last eight seasons.

 

> 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 Cubs defense was a major part of their winning formula in 2016, so it isn’t difficult to understand that Anthony Rizzo saved 27 runs over the last three seasons to lead all 1B and Jason Heyward led all RF with 62 runs saved during the same span. Throw in Addison Russell’s 19 runs saved in 2016 alone (trailing only Brandon Crawford at SS) and you can easily understand what a difference that makes. Nolan Arenado topped all 3B with 20, Starling Marte was the best LF with 19, Kevin Kiermaier led the CF’s with 25 and Mookie Betts was the best in the game at 32 runs saved in RF. In addition to Crawford’s heroics, the Giants also had the best defensive Catcher in Buster Posey, who saved 23. 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) Joey Votto -14

2B Ryan Schimpf -9

3B) Danny Valencia -18

  1. SS) Alexei Ramirez -20
  2. LF) Robbie Grossman -21
  3. CF) Andrew McCutchen -28
  4. RF) J.D. Martinez -22
  5. C) Nick Hundley -16

 

> 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. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting more if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 196 runs in 2014, 267 runs in 2015 and 359 in 2016. Only three teams (Blue Jays, Orioles & Royals) shifted less than the previous year. The Mariners, Angels & Brewers increased their defensive shifting from a few hundred times to over 1,000. With much more detailed data available, we know that the shift impacted Curtis Granderson more than any other batter…he lost 34 hits and gained 10 hits for a net number of -24. Close behind was Kendrys Morales (-21), David Ortiz (-17), Ryan Howard (-16) as well as Victor Martinez & Albery Pujols (both at -15).

 

> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only weren’t 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 three teams managed to have a net gain of over 100 bases in 2016…Padres (107), D’Backs (106) & Indians (105).  Only one MLB player gained over 60 bases for his team in 2016 and it was the Reds Billy Hamilton at 68. AL MVP Mike Trout was next at +58, while the worst baserunners were Victor Martinez (-34) & David Ortiz (-32). The worst baserunning teams were the Angels & Athletics, both at -57.

 

> If you’re wondering how the top five pitchers ascended to that rank, The “Pitcher Analysis” in the handbook gives you some insight. Old-school fans would tell you that getting ahead in the count is extremely important and digging deeper into the stats seems to confirm that logic. When you check how many times these hurlers got ahead in the count 0-1, the numbers are amazing. Kluber is at 49%, Lester at 51%, Bumgarner at 55, Scherzer at 56% and Kershaw was at 57%!

 

> 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 there only two and both are well-known Closers…Kenley Jansen & Zach Britton.

 

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.

 

james-handbook

Baseball Card Q & A

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Baseball fans fall into categories – 1) card collectors…2) former card collectors…3) wannabe card collectors…4) or as George Carlin once said, “Grow up, these are just pictures of grown men”. For those of you in the first three groups, maybe a primer on the basics of collecting would enhance your experience or motivate you to get back into the hobby. For this exercise, we’ll stick to new products as opposed to secondary markets that sell older cards.

Q. Where do I buy cards

A. Card shops, hobby stores, retail chains and Internet dealers.

Q. Are the products from these outlets all the same?

A. No, there are “Hobby” packs and “Retail” packs. A hobby pack will have more autograph, memorabilia and insert cards…and will have a higher price.

Q. Huh, what are autograph, memorabilia and insert cards?

A. When the card manufacturers re-invented themselves about 15 years ago, they created interest in new products by inserting cards autographed by players or including a piece of memorabilia in the card (jersey, bat, etc.). Insert cards include parallel versions of the regular card or a special set highlighting certain players.

Q. Can cards be purchased directly from card companies?

A.Yes…some manufacturers sell on their websites, but the pricing will be comparable to other outlets

Q. What is the configuration of today’s cards?

A.Baseball cards still come in packs which have a certain number of cards (depending on the product). A sealed box of cards will include a specific number of packs. For example, Topps Heritage brand arrives from the factory in a case of 12 boxes, each box has 24 packs, each pack has 8 cards.

Q. What size are cards?

A. Today’s standard is 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches.

Q. What is a rookie card?

A. Usually, the first regular issue card of a player in his major league uniform.

Q. What is a short-print card?

A. This goes back all the way to the 50’s and is a card made in smaller quantities than others. Again, using Topps Heritage as an example, the 500 card set has #’s 426-500 made in lesser quantities.

Q. Sometimes when I open a pack, there’s a blank card inserted – why is that done?

A. Companies insert them to discourage people from trying to “search” unopened packs for thicker memorabilia cards. If they weren’t used, a buyer could just buy the one thick pack in a box to acquire a more valuable card.

Q. What is a “common” card?

A. The Beckett price guide only lists certain star players in each set. The remaining cards are listed as commons or semi-stars are have equal value.

Q. What is a “redemption” card?

A. When card companies contract with players for autographs, the timing doesn’t always allow for those cards to be in the original production run. So, the manufacturer puts an insert in the pack that describes the card and gives the collector guidelines to redeem the insert for the real item at a later date.

Q. When were the first cards made?

A. Baseball cards first appeared in the late 1800’s when they were inserted into packs of cigarettes and tobacco. The modern era of baseball cards really began with the 1952 Topps set.

Q. When I was kid, there was a piece of bubble gum in the packs…when did that end?

A. As collectors became more aware of card condition, they complained about the gum staining or damaging the cards. Topps removed gum from the cards in the early 1990’s.

Q. How can I protect my cards?

A. For newer cards, many collectors still use albums and nine-pocket pages…especially for sets. For loose cards of any value, always use “penny sleeves” (a clear plastic sleeve that covers the card) and then a “top-loader” (a more rigid holder). Never use rubber bands!

Q. What about really valuable cards?

A. Utilize a “screw-down” holder (two pieces of hard plastic screwed together) or a “one-touch” holder (the same concept but held together by a magnet)

Q. What is grading?

A. Third-party companies will inspect your card, give it a grade (from 1-to-10), encapsulate it and include a serial number on the case. This is the best way to protect valuable older cards and enhance their marketability. The two major vendors in this field are PSA & Beckett.

Q. What is an error card?

A. A mistake on the card such as the player’s name spelled incorrectly or his position missing. If the mistake was never corrected by the manufacturer, it is listed in guides as “UER” (uncorrected error). However, if the mistake was corrected, these cards become variations and can be more valuable.

Q. I see some cards referred to as “Refractors”…what does that mean?

A. A Refractor is a card manufactured by Topps using a technology that creates a shiny version of their “Chrome” cards. It reflects light and can be found in a number of colors. These are always made in limited quantities.

Q. What is a rack pack?

A. Not as prevalent as in the past, it was a pack of cards made from clear cellophane that usually had cards in three separate compartments. Today, they are primarily found at retail outlets.

Q. Who should I collect?

A. The most difficult question of all. Think about your own personal history involving baseball and go from there. Your favorite player(s), your favorite team or maybe your favorite year. Above all, create a collection you can enjoy and share.

 

Questions are welcomed…

 

 

 

Remembering Dad

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Buying and appraising baseball card collections for the last ten years has been great fun for a number of reasons. Obviously, making a little income is nice but the truth is that it is more of a hobby than a business. Just looking at the cards, especially the vintage variety, is always interesting for this life-long baseball fan, as every card tells a story. However, what really makes the moments shine are the nice people you meet. For every collection, there’s a unique story. Whether it’s a gentleman in his mid-70’s who still had 100 year-old tobacco cards that were originally purchased by his Uncle, to the lady who was selling her ex-husband’s cards because she no longer wanted to think about him when she saw the boxes in the garage, to the guy selling his childhood cards for cash to do some remodeling of his house.

 

This past weekend, I went to visit a very nice lady who had finally decided to sell her Dad’s baseball cards. He passed away 13 years ago and she could never bring herself to part with the memory. It wasn’t a particularly large or valuable group of cards, but to her, the emotional connection was priceless. She told me that her Dad had graduated High School in 1951 and these were the cards he bought during his teenage years. When she opened the little cigar box, the 125 cards from the 1948 & 1949 Bowman sets told me that her recollection was spot-on. For me, every card from this era has its own story, so let’s look at some of the players that were found in the box just from the ’48 set alone.

> ’48 Bowman

 

* Ralph Kiner, Pirates OF – This Hall of Fame slugger was only in his 3rd season and had hit 51 HR’s in ’47.

 

* Bob Feller, Indians P – After leading the AL in Wins in 1939, ’40 & ’41, he came back from 3+ years serving in World War II and led the AL in Wins again for ’46 & ’47.

 

* Yogi Berra, Yankees C – This is the “rookie card” of one of baseball’s most famous characters.

 

* Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS – “Scooter” followed up his great career by spending decades in the broadcast booth.

 

* Warren Spahn, Braves P – Won 21 games in ’47 on his way to a lifetime record of 363-245.

 

* Stan Musial, Cardinals OF – Won the NL MVP in 1943, ’46 & ’48.

 

* Bobby Thomson, Giants OF – This was years prior to the famous “shot heard round the world” in the ’51 playoff game.

 

Almost every player in this era had a nickname…have you heard of these?

 

* Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, Reds P

 

* “Pistol” Pete Reiser, Dodgers OF

 

* Allie “Superchief” Reynolds, Yankees P

 

* Enos “Country” Slaughter, Cardinals OF

 

* Tommy “The Clutch” Henrich, Yankees OF

 

* Emil “Dutch” Leonard, Phillies P

 

* “Whitey” Lockman, Giants OF

 

* Billy “The Bull” Johnson, Yankees 3B

 

* Al “Red” Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B

 

All this from a set that only had 48 cards!

 

I did buy the collection and will treat it with the proper respect but as I was leaving, it became clear that she was still very emotional about the decision. At that point, it was important that she was able to put it all in perspective. I told her that instead of being sad, she should be happy. These cards gave great satisfaction to her Dad and kept him in her heart for the last 13 years. Now, after 65+ years, they will bring joy to dozens of collectors who cherish the history of the game. She is now sharing her Dad with all those people.

 

 

Resurrecting The Dux

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In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 25 championships can be good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ve proven your skills by establishing strategies and methods for success. The bad news could be that you’re hesitant to adjust and make significant changes because you’re afraid to mess with the baseline that has achieved positive results. That was the quandary that presented itself as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix last week for their 15th 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 14 seasons of the league.

 

After finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd from 2011-14, the Dux have struggled with 7th place finishes the last two seasons. In 2015, injuries to Yasiel Puig, Devin Mesoraco and Carlos Gomez somewhat derailed the offense. On the pitching side, Tanner Roark lost his rotation spot during the off-season, Kyle Lohse imploded, Ervin Santana got suspended and Addison Reed & Steve Cishek lost their Closer gigs early in the season. In 2016, similar collapses happened with an outfield that included Puig, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Ben Revere & Colby Rasmus.

 

So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2017 season, the first question was whether the strategy was flawed or was it just the player choices. Objectively, it seems like the answer is the players because the attempt to balance the roster by spending 38% of the team’s draft budget on pitching yielded a respectable 49 points while the hitters failed miserably. What to do now? The 62/38 idea has failed for two seasons, so is time to go back to the old 70/30 guideline?

 

 

Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 21st –

 

C – Wilson Contreras $4

C –

1B – Jose Abreu $10

3B –

1/3 – Anthony Rizzo $28

2B – Jonathan Schoop $6

SS – Brandon Crawford $11

2/S – Cesar Hernandez $7

OF – Yasiel Puig $13

OF – Odubel Herrera $16

OF –

OF –

OF –

U –

P – Jerad Eickhoff $6

P – Julio Urias $4

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

F – Willy Adames

F – Gleyber Torres

F – Yoan Moncada

F – Alex Verdugo

 

The 8 hitters had a salary total of $95, while the two pitchers equaled $10 leaving $155 to buy 13 players at the draft table. Historically, under the 70/30 strategy, the allocation would have been $87 for the six hitters and $68 for the seven pitchers. Realistically however, the hitters on the keeper list really only provide about $25 more than their salary, so shifting a similarly large percentage as the past two years to pitching didn’t really make sense. The initial strategy was to think in terms of a “halfway” point equaling a 65/35 split. That would shift about $13 from hitting to pitching at the Draft leaving approximately $74 for the six hitters and $81 for the seven pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…

 

>  Find three OF’s in the $20 range prioritizing at least one SB contributor. Pay $15-$20 for a second Catcher, the most scarce commodity at this draft. Then take end-game shots at 3B & Utility

 

> On the pitching side, allocate $45 for four starting pitchers, $25 for two closers 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 – Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, Jacob Degrom

Tier 2 – John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, Marco Estrada

Tier 3 – Dan Straily, Matt Moore, Junior Guerra, Ervin Santana, Ivan Nova, Hisashi Iwakuma, Gio Gonzalez & 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 Robbie Ray, Zach Davies, Jason Hammel and the like.

 

For the $25 allocation on the two closers, the list included David Robertson, Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Roberto Osuna, Cody Allen, Wade Davis & A.J. Ramos. If getting one of those proved expensive, the next tier had Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Johnson, Tyler Thornburg, Ken Giles & Tony Watson.

 

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 six other teams had a similar amount of money to spend and aggressive in the sense of acquiring solid starting pitchers. It became apparent early on that the available dollars at the table were going to impact pitching prices dramatically. Cueto came out early and I stayed in the bidding up to the mid-20’s…he went for $30. It also became clear that the table was going to pay dearly for offensive stars when Miguel Cabrera brought a $45 sale price in the first round.

 

After not rostering anyone in the first round and a half, it was time to start spending money. While I’m not a huge Nelson Cruz fan, he was the highest-earning available OF in the pool with a 2016 value of $25 in this format. Paying $35 for him didn’t make me happy but my displeasure dissipated later in the proceedings when J.D. Martinez & often-injured Carlos Gonzalez both went off the board at $39. Andrew McCutchen (who I threw back at $25) sold for $37 and Jose Bautista brought $34.

 

After the acquisition of a slugger, it was now time to focus on Pitching. David Robertson doesn’t have the allure of Jansen or Britton, but the $15 price was reasonable…he contributed 5 Wins & 37 Saves in ’16. One of the toughest challenges in Fantasy Baseball is finding the Closers and it’s even tougher in November. To emphasize the volatility of bullpens, five major league rosters didn’t have a relief Pitcher kept or drafted when we finished…Angels, Twins, D’Backs, Phillies & Giants.

 

Starting pitching now had to be prioritized and the Dux went to $19 to get Zack Greinke. He won’t be as good as he was in ’15 but can’t be as bad as he was in ’16. DeGrom & Hamels went for the exact same price later in the Draft.

 

It became obvious very quickly that my plan of getting a top-rated second Catcher is the $15-$20 range wasn’t viable. The inflation factor for this position creates bidding excess. The early run of backstops included Yasmani Grandal at $27, J.T. Realmuto at $24, Russell Martin at $20 and the injured Wilson Ramos for $16. I shifted the money to other offensive positions.

 

Back to pitching for the 4th pick, we rostered Matt Moore for $14. Apparently healthy, a full season in S.F. could bring decent numbers…his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was a full run lower in the NL.

 

The 5th pick brought another OF in Domingo Santana for $11. Injuries impacted his ’16 campaign but he’s still only 24 and had 11 HR’s in half a season.

 

In every auction, there is a “sticky” moment when your strategy gets impacted and you have to change priorities in mid-stream. The 6th pick was the spot for me this time around as I was looking for speed in the 3rd OF spot. Of the available players, Hernan Perez & Leonys Martin had the most SB’s in ’16 ( 34 & 24). They both have drawbacks as Perez isn’t guaranteed everyday playing time and Martin struggles with OBP. Going in, I was willing to pay $10-12 for either one, so I decided to test the SB market by putting Perez on the table. Moments later, I’d acquired him for $5 and wasn’t sure if I was really smart or really stupid. In either case, the Dux had some additional dollars for other players.

 

Back to SP’s for pick #7, Jeff Samardzija was added for $9. A good arm in a good ballpark, he doesn’t have to be an ace as our 5th starter.

 

The 8th pick was one of those moments when you immediately say to yourself “why did I do that”? Gio Gonzalez at $7 isn’t a disaster, but the money could have been used elsewhere. The little bit of good news is that the Nats have picked up his 2017 option and his FIP might indicate that he pitched in some bad luck in ’16.

 

It was now time to get a 2nd Closer and we met our spending goal by drafting Tyler Thornburg for $9. The Brewers are re-building and won’t go out to sign another Closer. Thornburg had 90 K’s in 67 IP with a ratio of under 1.00…he should have the job.

 

With only four spots left (C, 3B, OF & P) and $31 in the budget, the Dux appeared to have so many dollars that waiting for the end-game was probably not a good idea. It became even more problematic when I put the aforementioned Martin (who had 15 HR’s in addition to his steals in ’16) on the table. To my surprise (or consternation), the result was the famous Roto sound of crickets and he was rostered for $1. Now we really had too much money!

 

Adding Derek Norris for $5 as our 2nd Catcher didn’t change the dynamic and we were left with $25 for one hitter and one pitcher. Scanning the roster sheets, it appeared that the only real power left belonged to Jay Bruce. I stayed in the bidding into the 20’s but one team with slightly more cash had the same idea…he went for $23!

 

Eventually, Jayson Werth was drafted for $10 (Perez being shifted to 3B). Interestingly, even though Bruce hit 12 more HR’s (33-to-21), Werth’s better OBP (.335-to-.309) made them worth about the same value in ’16. The downside is that Bruce is eight years younger.

 

$15 for a Pitcher at the end of the draft is overkill, so we took more of a known commodity (rather than taking a risk) by paying $6 for John Lackey. Not a sexy pick, but a duplication of ’16’s numbers will make him a bargain.

 

Leaving $9 on the table is never a good thing, but knowing that I would have paid significantly more for the two speed guys makes it palatable. In the end, the expenditures were 65% for offense and 35% for pitching. The positives are that SB’s won’t have to be chased in March and the roster has seven established SP’s. The downside is that HR’s must be added and too many of the Dux are “long in the tooth”.

 

It was disappointing to not be in the end game finding bargains. That approach had helped my team tremendously in the past as players like Josh Willingham, Michael Brantley & Anthony Rizzo were all drafted for a dollar or two.

 

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

 

> The timing at the table impacts pricing dramatically…Roberto Osuna went for $11 early and Francisco Rodriguez went for $14 late

 

> Cody Allen was $13 and Andrew Miller was $9

 

> Last year, Felix Hernandez was a keeper at $34…this year, he was drafted for $13

 

> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $20 for Danny Salazar” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $19

 

> Reputations occasionally supersede recent performance…examples are Sonny Gray (5.69 ERA) for $11, Michael Conforto (.220 BA) for $18 & Alex Gordon (.220 BA) for $16

 

> $1 players included Melky Cabrera, Mike Napoli, Ian Kennedy, Ervin Santana, Logan Forsythe, Mike Montgomery, Zach Davies, Denard Span & Jhonny Peralta.

 

You can peruse additional league information at fantasyxperts.com

 

 

The Clutch Chronicles

clutch

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 2016, there were 12 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) Daniel Murphy, Nationals 2B, 21.7% – Proved that his post-season performance in ’15 was no fluke.

 

2) David Ortiz, Red Sox DH, 20.8% – This is of the few examples of a player going out on top.

 

3) Yangervis Solarte, Padres 3B, 20.8% – Under the radar on a lousy team in the Pacific time zone

 

4 Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, 20.6% – He was at the top of this list last season and he’ll only be 26 in 2017.

 

5) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF, 20.1% – If you won’t give the MVP to Mike Trout due to his team’s record, this is the guy who should get your vote.

 

6) Coco Crisp, Indians OF, 19.7% – Limited playing time but still productive with runners on base.

 

7) Eric Hosmer, Royals 1B, 18.9% – KC had a disappointing season, but he wasn’t the reason.

 

8) Nick Hundley, Rockies C, 18.9% – Another part-time player who came through in the right spots.

 

9) Ryan Schimpf, Padres 2B, 18.8% – Not sure what to make of this when he had 276 AB’s, 20 HR’s, 105 K’s and a .217 BA.

 

 

 

10) Adam Duvall, Reds OF, 18.6% – As a fan, you’ve got to love it when a AAAA, 27 year-old gets a chance to shine.

 

11) Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox 1B, 18.2% – Turned things around after last year’s poor debut in Beantown.

 

12) Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians OF, 18.2% – Tempered slightly by his platoon status.

 

Trout posted a decent number of 17% while probable NL ROY Corey Seager only came in at 12.6%. Historically, Miguel Cabrera has been near the top of this category, but was only at 16.4% this year.

 

The  three worst clutch hitters in baseball were Kolten Wong at 8%, Jace Peterson at 8.6% and Ender Inciarte at 9.1%.

 

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

 

 

Jeepers Creepers Where’d You Get Those Keepers

 

jeepers

Don’t lie to me! At some point, you’ve been a relationship where you thought of the other person as a “keeper”. What exactly did you mean by that? Could the objective definition be someone whose value is worth the cost…both emotionally and financially? For those of us who are fortunate enough to play keeper-league Fantasy Baseball, the definition is even more telling. As with Ross Atkins & Jose Bautista or Dan Duquette & Mark Trumbo, we must make those tough calls when it comes to our roster. Of course, our decisions don’t involve a $17.2 million qualifying offer, but they are nonetheless difficult and heart-wrenching.

 

Every keeper league has its unique characteristics, but 99% of the time, keeper decisions are being made within a few weeks of opening day, when information and advice is plentiful. For the owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), their keeper list is due in late-October for an auction draft that takes place just as the World Series is ending. The XFL is a 15-team mixed keeper league with a $260 auction draft for a roster of 23 players (14 hitters + 9 pitchers). It has a fairly standard 5×5 format with On-Base Percentage (OBP) replacing Batting Average (BA) and each team can keep up to 15 players, including minor league prospects. So, for example, if three of your 15 keepers are Farm players (less than 50 AB’s or 20 IP in the Majors), you still need to draft 11 players at the table. To give you some understanding of the challenges involved, here’s a quick review of the salary structure –

 

> November Draft – Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a break-out player in the end-game, there’s a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.

 

> March Supplemental Draft – A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Examples this time around could include Jonathan Schoop, Rajah Davis, Rick Porcello, Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Villar & Chris Carter. Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to “the show”, their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the “dynasty” component in this particular league. An example would be Jose Abreu, who was taken as a free agent by Donald’s Dux (my squad) in March of 2014 and now enters his 4th season on the roster at a salary of $10.

 

> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections – Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you’ll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year. Current examples include Adam Duvall, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ryan Schimpf, & Aledmys Diaz.

 

As with all keeper leagues, draft inflation is an important factor and some of the bargain salaries put the percentage beyond the scope of my abacus. This creates an atmosphere where one of the difficult decisions regarding keepers is not just their value versus cost, but what the estimated price will be at the draft to get them back. This makes those marginal keepers even more valuable as you pare your roster down to 15. As an instructive exercise for keeper-league aficionados, we’ll look at each roster and choose a “no-brainer” keeper (the team’s MVP) and a marginal keeper in the classic “bubble” category. That way, you can drool over the former and see if you agree with the latter.

 

> Jeff Winick

 

* MVP – Nolan Arenado $13 – Lots of choices from this championship squad, but this Rockie slugger is the man.

 

* Bubble – Chris Davis $25 – With HR’s more plentiful, is this a reasonable salary?

 

> Steve Moyer

 

* MVP – Kris Bryant $7 – Always ahead of the curve on young players, this roster also has Carlos Correa at the same price.

 

* Bubble – Johnny Cueto $24 – Good pitching is always expensive in this environment, so deciding on the salary threshold is difficult.

 

> Ron Shandler

 

* MVP – Manny Machado $16 – Won’t even be 25 until next Summer.

 

* Bubble – Jon Lester $27 – Same comment as Cueto.

 

> Todd Zola

 

* MVP – Francisco Lindor $7 – Has the SS position ever been this strong?

 

* Bubble – Dexter Fowler $21 – Where will he be in ’17?

 

> Trace Wood

 

* MVP – Giancarlo Stanton $22 – Injuries aside, every AB is must-watch TV.

 

* Bubble – Brandon Belt $19 – Will he take the next step or does the ballpark hold down his numbers?

 

> Gene McCaffrey

 

* MVP – Corey Seager $7 – ROY and another great young SS.

 

* Bubble – Aroldis Chapman $22 – Has never been on another roster in this league, but reaching the top-end for Closer salaries.

 

> Don Drooker

 

* MVP – Wilson Contreras $4 – In a two-Catcher format, having a young one like this at an inexpensive price is golden.

 

* Bubble – Andrew McCutchen $25 – Has been on this roster for all of his career, but at age 30 he only earned about $15 in this format. Was it a fact or a fluke?

 

> Peter Kreutzer & Alex Patton

 

* MVP – Mike Trout $19 – Another of those dynasty players, he’ll be on this roster when Congress votes to give themselves term limits.

 

* Bubble – Salvador Perez $20 – How much less could he be at the table?

 

> Perry Van Hook

 

* MVP – Mark Trumbo $6 – The leading home run hitter in baseball wasn’t even drafted last November

 

* Bubble – Adrian Beltre $28 – Another productive season on a career path to Cooperstown.

 

> Greg Ambrosius

 

* MVP – Rougned Odor $10 – 33 HR’s from a 22 year-old MI.

 

* Bubble – J.T. Realmuto $21 – Do you throw back the only Catcher who provides SB’s?

 

> Jeff Erickson

 

* MVP – Nomar Mazara $4 – This why you take prospects every March.

 

* Bubble – Nick Markasis $10 – Earned more than that number in ’16.

 

> Brian Feldman

 

* MVP – George Springer $10 – A healthy season was all he needed.

 

* Bubble – Lance McCullers $7 – Speaking of health?

 

> Brian Walton

 

* MVP – Addison Russell $7 – Yet another great young SS

 

* Bubble – Matt Harvey $16 – Too much of a question mark at this price?

 

> Lawr Michaels

 

* MVP – Yoenis Cespedes $16 – Will rake in New York…or somewhere else.

 

* Bubble – Jacoby Ellsbury $15 – Branch Rickey always thought you’d be better off getting rid of player a year too soon rather that a year too late.

 

> Doug Dennis

 

* MVP – Eduardo Nunez $10 – Earned double that number with his 40 SB’s

 

* Bubble – Ryan Schimpf $10 – 20 HR’s in less than 300 AB’s but he hit .217

 

While you’re sorting out all the Halloween candy in early November, these 15 (or 16 if Alex makes an appearance) hearty fellows will be bidding in Arizona and enjoying the camaraderie of the XFL’s 14th annual draft. More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com