Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spanning the Blogosphere

It's been a busy day on the ol' blog, as I attempt to calm my nerves before my cross-continental flight tomorrow. Has travel anxiety ever affected any of you? I used to travel all the time, for vacation, as a kid. When I started working, I used to fly about once a month for business reasons. Sometimes, I'd feel a bit of anxiety about flying and not landing safely, but for the last couple of years I've had a different emotion. Now, I get to the point where I cannot rest before a flight. I have dreams that I am going to miss my flight, or I'm forgetting something important on my way to the airport. It's terrible. I wish I could simply relax and calmly pack my bags and be on my way, like I used to. But instead, I'm left with these fears & uncertainties about what lies ahead. My theory is that I cannot calmly travel without my sweetheart. For some reason, leaving someone behind, or even rushing back for a reunion, makes me about as anxious as a promiscuous male on Maury Povich.

So, here I sit in Andaluzia, trying to get my mind off of tomorrow's 17 hours of travel by reading hot stove reports with the help of Rob Neyer, Buster Olney, and Tim Dierkes's group of writers on Without further ado, here are some of the recent stories that I have found of interest...

As mentioned in our latest post, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, writes that Buster Posey has a chance to be a regular contributor to the Giants if he can succeed as an infielder.

Jeff Wilson writes that the Rangers may be done shopping this offseason, but they may want to add a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Chris Davis. I would highly suggest that, considering Davis' resume against left-handed pitchers includes 2009 slash numbers of .189 / .235 / .311, with 6 walks and 49 strike outs. That is despicable. According to Frank Thomas, Jermaine Dye is considering retirement, but I think Jon Daniels should be very interested in his services.

Nerd Alert! If you are so inclined, check out this discussion on the advanced pitching stat SIERA.

After reading this Anthony McCarron piece, Yankee fans can look forward to Jorge Posada's successor, Jesus Montero. Similarly, Met fans should be pretty excited about 20% of their games because John Harper reports that Johan Santana is getting pretty close to being on top of his game.

Keeper league roto players take note: David O'Brien writes that baseball's #1 prospect has a very good chance of winning the starting right-field position in Atlanta... Keep in mind, he's only 20-years old, while measuring 6'4" 245lbs.

Everyone agrees the Yankees have a fantastic chance to repeat this season. I think the smart money is on them for 2010. Reading this John Tomase article about the Red Sox reflects that the AL East is scary good.

Speaking of scary good, do American League hitters really want to hear that Zack Greinke is getting an early start to honing his craft for 2010? Sorry, Lincecum fans, but Greinke is probably the best pitcher in baseball.

Hey! Here's a guy that my roto team might end up keeping this offseason... Kyle Blanks has lost weight and looks to be a big time bopper for the Padres.

With reports like this one from Geoff Baker, the Mariners are quickly becoming my 2nd favorite team.

I've always been fascinated, yes fascinated, with how teams construct bullpens. Last summer, I tried writing a post about that very topic, but I couldn't get my mind around the topic in either a micro or macro sense. Here is a nice little piece about how Walt Jocketty has built the Reds 'pen this offseason. The only question remaining is how (not if) Dusty Baker will mess this up?

Getting back to Chris Davis, of the Rangers, this Evan Grant article, mentions that Davis started choking up on the bat with 2-strikes at the end of last season. Davis calls it a "breakthrough". If he can cut down his strikeouts, he should be a very dangerous hitter in that lineup & ballpark.

If you click on only one link in this post, click on this one from the beloved Ernie Harwell.

Actually, if you're only going to click on one link in this post, change it to two and also click here. I love Hal McCoy, Andrew Dawson, and Tony Perez references.

If you're a Cubs fan, like me, you probably don't want to click on this preview of the NL Central. Why not? How about a big photo of Marlon Byrd that will remind you that the Cubs bleeping stink.

White Sox fans rejoice. Ozzie Guillen is reportedly happy with his roster, for once.

I think the Twins will win the AL Central, and the White Sox will be good. While the Tigers have some questions, there is no doubt that Jim Leyland will have them within striking distance next September.

Wrapping up with the World Champs, George King writes that the Yankees are taking a close look at Cuban defector Adeinis Echavarria to be either Derek Jeter's replacement or the center fielder of the future. Staying with Jeter, Tyler Kepner foreshadows a fairly easy new contract negotiation between the team and its Captain.

That ought to keep y'all busy for a while. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to see how FC Barcelona can come back from this 2-0 whole they've fallen into against Atletico Madrid. My cousin Jaime must be furious.

Fantasy Baseball: Catchers

We're coming to you live from a coffee shop/bar in Valdelagrana, Spain. Keeping up with our tab has us at one cafe con leche.

Per the request of a new, loyal reader, we are beginning our series of fantasy baseball preparation for drafts out there. For a while, I was against doing these posts because I am afraid of jadrools in my league stealing my ideas. The joy of defeating them, while playing with an open hand is more alluring than keeping this inside. Plus, it's only mid-February. Roto players out there should review these notes/lists as a starting point for their own analysis. By the time drafts come around in 4 to 6 weeks, opinions on player expectations will change substantially.

As we get this started, there are a couple other key points to keep in mind ~ I look at players who will help with On-Base Percentage, not Batting Average. A few years ago, my league switched from BA to OBP, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Few things are worse in fantasy baseball than seeing one of your guys reach base a few times by a base on balls and have that count the same as if he didn't even play. One glorious season a few years ago, we even went away from the archaic stat of RBI in favor of Runs Created, but the reactionaries of my league made a big stink about not understanding the stat, so we are stuck with a league where we get rewarded for the heroics of teammates who happen to be on base before your player steps into the batter's box. But, I digress. Keep in mind, these are the hitting columns for my league: OBP, R, HR, RBI, SB.

There are thirty MLB teams, but only about seven really good catchers and less than fifteen who can be quote / unquote counted on for fantasy purposes. Unlike seasons past, that's not too bad of a number, since most people only play in leagues of 10 or 12 teams.

I like starting this series with the Catcher position because due to my league's keeper league rules, my team isn't even going to draft a catcher, unless a very good prospect is still available in the very late rounds (20+). We had the good fortune of trading for Joe Mauer two seasons ago and the good sense to keep him last season, even though it was known that he would miss at least the first month of the season with back problems. He only went on to have an MVP season, that may have been the best season any catcher has ever had in the Major Leagues.

Catcher Rankings (14-Feb-2010)
1. Joe Mauer
I would not shy against taking him with the #1 Overall pick in any fantasy draft. I may be alone in this feeling, but the difference between him and most other Catchers is so vast. Sure, you can be happy if you get one of the next two guys on this list, but there is uncertainty to their availability when your next turn to pick comes around. So, go ahead and draft him in the 1st Round with all the confidence in the world.

2. Victor Martinez
What separates V-Mart from the next guy on this list, Brian McCann, is that he will be hitting most every day. Mauer has this advantage, as well. When he doesn't catch, he usually DH's. When Martinez needs a day off from behind the plate, he will either play 1st base or DH. McCann, being in the National League, just cannot compete with that quantity of plate appearances. Even if McCann winds up catching 145+ games, his 2nd half production could diminish substantially by the additional wear and tear of the position.

3. Brian McCann
There really aren't any other AL catchers that you can pencil into DH on days they do not catch. I see McCann as a top tier catcher because of his track record, youth, protection around the lineup, and ability to just plain hit. Too many teammates of his, whom I respect, have raved about the fact that he is probably the best hitter on the Braves - including Larry "Chipper" Jones. If you get him, you're psyched. I would definitely start looking at him somewhere in the Top 40 or 50 players off the board, maybe higher.

4. Matt Wieters
Okay, so I am still a sucker for the potential of last offseason's computer projection darling, Matt Wieters. I could see him blossoming into the type of player that DH's on his days off, which puts him up here. He'll be in the middle of the lineup, at an RBI position & that always helps, too.

5. Ryan Doumit
Now, we get into more areas of doubt. Doumit is a poster boy for injury prone, and there is another pretty good catcher in Pittsburgh, called Ronny Paulino. That being said, there aren't a lot of Pirates that can swing the club like Doumit, when healthy. He's played defensively on the corners of the infield and outfield, so you can basically pencil him at #4 or #5 in the Pirates' lineup 5 or 6 days a week. Still, I see very little difference between numbers 5 through 8 on this list. So, if you are so inclined, it could be wise to group them together and take one of them when there are only 1 or 2 left from the group.

6. Chris Iannetta
He has youth on his side, is on a very good offensive team, with a fantastic home ballpark, and has had very good amateur experience playing with some of the best American players in the world in last winter's World Baseball Classic. He was a sexy sleeper last offseason, but like so many sleepers who don't do as much as expected, he could be a very good value the following year.

7. Russell Martin
Last year, I think I had Martin ranked #2 on the list of catchers. The two main reasons I like Martin is because he had the best stolen base numbers of any catcher and his backup, Brad Ausmus, is no competition to steal his job. After moving in with some bikini model in Los Angeles last season, his numbers dropped and he was accused of losing his edge. It could be because of the distracting butterflies of love, or staying up all night with extra curriculars. Or, he could have just been run down from a heavy workload the last few seasons. If reports from spring training are positive, he could rise to as high as #4 on the list, directly behind Brian McCann.

8. Mike Napoli
He's not as flashy as the guys above him here, but you can confidently pencil him in for 20+ Homeruns.

9. Jorge Posada
I never liked Jorge Posada as a fantasy catcher, but the Yankees seemed to have cleared the DH position to rotate him in there occasionally. Playing in the new Yankee Stadium certainly helps the Homerun numbers, as Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and the rest of the World Champion bombers showed in 2009.

10. Buster Posey
As I started righting this column, I had Posey higher and needed to drop him from the rankings for the reasons listed about the players above. There is an excellent chance that I am still overrating Posey, and he could be even worse than Matt Wieters was last season. The Giants resigned Bengie Molina to mentor Posey, and thus steal many of his AB's. The reason I feel good about him today is this piece in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing that Bruce Bochy & Brian Sabean will give Posey a chance to make the team this Spring by playing a bit of infield. That would be awesome for fantasy owners & keeper league owners really need to take note.

/just ordered a Cuba Libre, with Cuban rum.

11. Miguel Montero
12. Geovany Soto
13. Kelly Shoppach
14. Chris Snyder
15. Kurt Suzuki
16. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
17. Carlos Ruiz
18. Miguel Olivo
19. Ramon Hernandez
20. Yadier Molina
21. A.J. Pierzynski
22. Bengie Molina
23. Max Ramirez
24. Tyler Flowers
25. Justin Towles
26. John Baker
27. Jesus Montero
28. Angel Salome
29. J.R. House
30. John Jano

Please feel free to provide comments for anyone who is overrated, underrated, or foolishly omitted from this list. Since there are about five or six guys in my Top 30 who do not start, I certainly left a few starting catchers off the list. Please let me know whom you think is worth taking a closer look at.

Stroll Down Memory (bowling) Lane

This is not a baseball post. In fact, there is no originality on my part. I just want to share a recent Posnanski blog post, which I enjoyed very much.

My favorite part:
"My father worked in a factory, brutal work, six days a week, and he would treat himself to two things … three if you count the Kent cigarettes he smoked by the pack. On Tuesdays, he would go out and play chess. And on Sundays, he would bowl in his league. I grew up thinking this was what all fathers did. Chess and bowling. Looking back now, it seems a pretty odd combination. But my father was good enough to win the Cleveland Open chess tournament one year and good enough to be the anchor on his bowling team. It’s no wonder I grew up thinking my father could do anything."
Here is the link to the entire story. Maybe, this was better suited for Father's Day, than St. Valentine's Day, but I think it works great for the first Sunday morning of the NFL offseason.

For the half-dozen loyal readers of this space, we will start focusing on fantasy baseball team construction, i.e. how to win your league from Day 1 to Day 163. Please feel free to post questions or topic suggestions to our comment section, email, or on our Facebook fan page for all to see.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coop & Dunc

It has been an unseasonably long break between posts because I have been forced to leave the country. I am in Spain for a covert scouting mission that is still covert, since only about five (5) people read this blog. In the meantime, I wanted to get some thoughts out there about pitching coaches.

The most revered pitching coaches in recent history have been Leo Mazzone, and more recently Dave Duncan. Other recent success stories include Rick Peterson, Larry Rothschild, John Farrell, and Mike Butcher, but we are going to color within the lines of the works of Dave Duncan and the White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.

Duncan is known as someone who is maybe a smidgen lower than a miracle worker by taking average-to-mediocre pitchers and making them extremely successful. His reclamation projects have helped his teams win world championships, while surprising many. Here's a list of pitchers off the top of my head that I think he has done wonders for...

Dennis Eckersley
Chris Carpenter
Jeff Suppan
Joel Pineiro
Todd Wellemeyer

Against my better judgement, I am absolutely cherry picking examples to make my argument sound stronger. At least I'm taking the names off the top of my head, though. What did you expect? Until someone like the Worldwide Leader pay me for these words, I will continue to make my cases stronger with cherry picked examples for support. To show that I recognize some examples where Duncan has not been the best pitching coach for some players, just look at Jose Rijo. He was below average for Duncan in Oakland and became a super star in Cincinnati.

Okay, now forget that. To make my point stronger, let's look at ERA+ numbers for my cherry-picked pitchers with Duncan and without Duncan...

Dennis Eckersley
Indians (without): 116
Cubs (without): 109
Red Sox (without): 109
Athletics (with): 144
Cardinals (with):117

Forget for a minute that relievers' ERA+ are usually much higher than starters', and he was a started everywhere without Duncan. Okay, I'm sorry, let's not forget that and just try to move on. This was a bad example, and I am dangerously getting to the point where this is a really bad post.

Chris Carpenter
Blue Jays (without): 98
Cardinals (with): 147

Ok, that'll work. Sure, Carpenter had some injuries in Toronto that affected his success, but still Duncan helped him after those injuries and after an injuries in St. Louis basically wiped out his '07 and '08 seasons, he shined in 2009 with a league-leading 183 ERA+.

Jeff Suppan
Red Sox (without): 80
D'backs (without): 63
Royals (without): 105
Pirates (without): 122 (only 141 innings, compared with 2,410 for his career)
Cardinals (with): 109
Brewers (without): 86

I thought Suppan would be a better example because he was never fantastic, but he won a Championship in St. Louis, got overpaid by Milwaukee as a free agent, and proceeded to stink it up with an ERA+ in the 80's, while being paid like a big time pitcher. Here is an archaic stat that sadly helps me make my point... Jeff Suppan's Win-Loss record with Duncan: 44-26, without Duncan: 91-109.

Joel Pineiro
Mariners (without): 96
Boston (without): 94
Cardinals (with): 102

Again, this was not as good of an example as I had hoped. Still, there was improvement last year, and unless Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher can keep him throwing strikes & ground balls, we could very well see him regress to below-average.

Todd Wellemeyer
Cubs (without): 71
Marlins (without): 79
Royals (without): 92
Cardinals (with): 98

Okay, so he improved but didn't even get to league average. Why is this a success story? Well, conversely from looking at Eckersley, his time with Duncan was the only time he was a starter. Since, relievers usually have much higher ERA+ than their starting counterparts, it iss rather impressive that Wellemeyer's best work seems to have come as a starter for Dave Duncan.

For all you remedial readers out there, the point of this exercise is to see how much better pitchers have been with Duncan than without. Of course, there are many factors outside of Duncan's control that can manipulate these numbers, but we at least can be proud that we are not using any fuzzy math.

From a not-so-quick glance through Baseball Reference, other pitchers who had more success with Dave Duncan than without him include Mike Moore, Woody Williams, Matt Morris, and Kyle Lohse.

How did we get here? What is the point of this (so far) booooooring post? Well, I first want to say that Rich Hill is a fantastic sleeper for deep-league fantasy players. He was signed by the Cardinals this offseason and could very well win 15 games and strike out 200 guys. Of course, due to his control problems the last two seasons, he could also not make the major league club and be done as a professional by March 21st.

The other reason I started this post was to consider the brilliance of White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. He does not have the successful notoriety of Dave Duncan, but he does have some fantastic success stories of his own. I will simply mention that he was the pitching coach that can be largely, if not solely, responsible for the magnificent starting pitching that catapulted the White Sox to a world title a few years ago. Remember, they won the World Series with starting pitching that did not even have a bad inning against the NL champion Astros. Well, I guess "bad" is a relative term, but the White Sox never gave up more than two (2) runs in any inning during their four game sweep of Houston.

Anyway, why should we care about Don Cooper? We don't like the White Sox. Most people who like the White Sox have never read as many words as it has taken to even get to this point in our post. No, we are looking at this because the White Sox also signed a pitcher this season who is the sleepiest of sleepers. His name is Daniel Cabrera. This guy has shown no ability whatsoever to throw strikes. Sometimes, it is as if maybe he's left-handed and no-one told him. Regardless, I cannot help but be intrigued by the tools and velocity he shows off the mound. The guy is 6'10", and he routinely throws his fastball in the high 90's.

I don't think that Ricky Vaughn glasses will work. In fact, I one of his old teams already tried that. What the Cabrera fans have to hope for is for him to acquire the ability to throw strikes and ground balls. I wanted to say that D-Cab still has a chance to be a late bloomer, following in the footsteps of others like Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson. Unfortunately, I am a moron and none of those guys were as bad as Cabrera has ever been.

So after all this, I have to apologize. I wanted to find more evidence that my thinking was on the right track and found just remnants. The fact remains that I think Rich Hill and Daniel Cabrera have a chance to be useful next season, and beyond, for their real baseball teams and fantasy teams. Still, unless you are in a 33-team league, you probably don't need to draft either of these guys. Just keep an eye on them. If they have two or three solid starts in April, don't be afraid to pounce on them. You've been advised.