Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rich Hill 2009

On the surface, Rich Hill looks like a good high risk, high reward pick to make in the late rounds of fantasy baseball drafts in 2009. But once you look a little deeper, it becomes apparent that this isn't the case. At his best, Hill offers strikeouts. Lots of them. The problem is, that's about all he offers. His control was never terrific. He's an extreme flyball pitcher. He'll be 29 years old on opening day, so he's at the point in his career where players don't tend to make dramatic overnight improvements. Then consider his 2008 season, where he completely lost the ability to throw the ball over home plate. Pitching at four different levels (including rookie ball), Hill averaged almost a walk per inning. When pitchers suffer such a complete loss of control (often refered to as 'Steve Blass Disease') it tends to be mental rather than physical, and also tends to be very hard to overcome. Hill is someone I would stay away from, no matter how good a "bargain" he appears to be, until he is able to string together three or four consecutive starts in the major leagues with low walk totals.

Paul Maholm 2009

Paul Maholm is a pretty good pitcher who tends to fly under the radar when it comes to most discussions. Because of his ability to induce groundballs (between 53% and 54% each of the last three years), Maholm doesn't need an outstanding strikeout to walk ratio to be successful. That said, he's been improving, and last year struck out 6.3 batters per games while walking only 2.9. That numbers make him a very solid starting pitcher, and at 26 years old he could still improve substantially. Particularly in formats that don't place an emphasis on high strikeout totals, Maholm is worth considering for your team in 2009 now that the Pirates offense isn't the joke that it was for many years.

Friday, January 30, 2009


You can't miss the ads for Draftbug on my website, but if you're new around here, you may not realize that the site belongs to me. I'd like to invite you to try it out. We're offering daily fantasy contests along the lines of Snapdraft or Fantasysportslive. Most contests last one day only and require you to pick a team within a limited salary cap. I know that most of the readers here are more interested in baseball, but we're running basketball contests right now and will be adding hockey soon. I'm not sure how long this will last, but at the moment we're also giving anyone who registers 4,000 player 'points' which allow entry in $4 worth of real money contests. So you can use those to try the format out, and possibly build up a decent bankroll in preparation for baseball season. If you do decide to deposit a more substantial amount of money, you can use credit card or Paypal. Unlike sports betting, Draftbug is completely legal. Registration is free and takes less than a minute. I'd love to get everyone's feedback on how to make the games even better, so please send me an email (or post a comment here) after you try it out.

Felix Hernandez 2009

This is an important year for Felix Hernandez. His component statistics have been in a very gradual decline since he first arrived in the Major Leagues as a 19 year old. The decline has been very subtle though, and isn't sharp enough to be sure that his skills have changed at all. Of more concern is a variety of discussion that his approach has changed and his stuff isn't quite what it used to be. I'm skeptical whether there's been any real change. The guy is still putting up terrific numbers as a 22 year old in the Major Leagues, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he his 2009 statistics made a leap forward from last year's (K/9: 7.9, BB/9: 3.6, GB%: 52.1). All of those represented career worsts for Hernandez. One thing that may limit Hernandez' value somewhat is that wins could be hard to come by, with a weak lineup in Seattle, and an unresolved closer situation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jon Garland 2009

Jon Garland hasn't been much of a major league pitcher, but with the announcement of his signing by the Arizona Diamondbacks, his career should be safe for now. Although Arizona is a tough park for pitchers, that will more than be compensated for by the move from the American League to the National League. Garland has consistently had strikeout rates between 4.0 and 4.9, with good but not exceptional control. His groundball rate has fluctuated from year to year. If he can match last year's 49.9%, then he'll be moderately successful. If he reverts to 2007's 39.4% then his results are going to be pretty. On balance, pitching in the National League, Garland is not likely to quite bad enough to be worth targeting with your hitters in leagues with daily transactions, but he certainly isn't someone who I'd want any my team (regardless of format).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adjusting Projections By Component

As I've discussed before, the key to success in games where you can change your entire lineup every day is to make the proper adjustments for context when projecting player performance. While important in any fantasy baseball format, this becomes the single most important skill in games where you have the opportunity to adjust to the specific context of each game.

There are so many factors to take into account, that the 'model' you build to predict each day's statistics is never going to be perfect. For example, are you going to use weather as a factor? If so, does temperature matter? Wind speed? Wind direction? Precipitation? Humidity? The odds are, you're not going to bother with any of this...although each factor that you include (if you make the right adjustments) is going to make your projections every so slightly more accurate.

One area where I generally try not to take shortcuts though is that I will generally make my adjustments by component, rather than simply taking a player's projected value or points and adjusting that directly.

To take an extreme example of why this is important, let's use the Mets' new ballpark - Citi Field. Some people (including me) believe that it will be extremely difficult to hit home runs at Citi Field, but that the park is likely to inflate triples significantly. For argument's sake, let's assume it decreases home runs by 25%, increases triples by 25%, and overall decreases runs by 10%. Let's say it also decreases overall points scoring in the format we care about by 10%. Think about how this is going to affect Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes. Is it really appropriate to just adjust everything down by 10% for both players? Not only will Delgado be hurt more by the decrease in home runs, but he's not going to benefit at all from the increase in triples. Meanwhile, Reyes will gain so many triples, that it will almost offset the loss of home runs. Realistically, the park will probably reduce Delgado's value by close to 15%, while reducing Reyes by less than 5%. The only way to properly reflect that in our model is if we make all of our adjustments at the level of specific component statistics.

The same approach is needed when adjusting for anything...opponent, weather, home field advantage, etc.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Neftali Feliz 2009

Neftali Feliz is probably at least a year away from the major leagues, but he's probably the top pitching prospect that I haven't already discussed this offseason. After putting up dominant numbers at the Texas Rangers' A level affiliate (106 strikeouts and 28 walks in 82.0 innings), Feliz moved up to AA where he struggled a little with his control (47 strikeouts and 23 walks in 45.1 innings). That's still very good for a 20 year old in his first shot at AA, and I'm optimistic that he'll improve on both the strikeout rate and walk rate if he starts 2009 at AA. Although I don't have access to his groundball rate, I suspect that it's very good as he's only allowed 5 minor league home runs in almost 200 innings. Wherever he starts the season, Feliz should end up at AAA at some point this year and will likely go through a similar adjustment with his control as he did after his previous promotion.

Huston Street 2009

Huston Street is expected to start the 2009 season as the Colorado Rockies closer. If things go the way I expect, he should end it that way too. Although Street's 2008 numbers (K/9: 9.3, BB/9: 3.6, GB%: 36.2) weren't quite as good as the previous year (K/9: 12.2, BB/9: 2.3, GB%: 40.0), they were still very good. With the limited number of innings relievers pitch, that kind of year to year variance should be expected, and isn't really reason for concern. Of slightly more concern is the perception that Street struggled, and that Manny Corpas would be an adequate replacement. Street has to be downgraded slightly in traditional full season leagues because of the risk that if he has a few bad outings he could lose his job, but in daily leagues he should be considered a top notch closer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nelson Cruz 2009

Nelson Cruz is a popular pick as a sleeper in 2009, and with good reason. Based only on his major league performances over the past few years, he would appear to be a slightly overrated 'sleeper', and his outstanding 2008 performance (in his age 27 year) would look like an outlier. But his performance at AAA has been excellent for years, and has reached the 'absurdly good' level over the past two years. Combined in 2007 and 2008 at AAA Cruz has hit .345 with 52 home runs and 144 RBIs in 545 at basts. Throw in 25 stolen bases, and you've got yourself a fantasy super star. The outlier for Cruz was his performance in his first couple of tries at the major league level. Some people will point to his performance last year and say that it was simply his '27 year old breakout/spike', but the idea that players tend to have breakouts at 27 is based on a misunderstanding of the research. Hitters tend to improve fastest at much younger ages, with the improvement generally becoming more and more gradual until they level out at a 'peak' at 27 and start gradually declining. There is nothing typical about Cruz's 'peak' in stats at the major league level last year, and once we look at his minor league statistics we realize it's not even a peak, but in line with what he's been doing for several years. Cruz is going to be a particularly good deal in daily leagues like Rotohog, Snapdraft, Draftbug, and Fantasysportslive, where you can just use him at home in Texas, where his performance will likely make him one of the best bargains in baseball.

Freddy Garcia 2009

The Mets recently signed Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract, with large incentives built in based on how much time he spends in their major league rotation. This seems like a good move. Garcia was a pretty good pitcher before losing more than a year to injury, and his return late last season was moderately successful as he struck out 12 batters and walked 6 in 15 innings in the Major Leagues. Certainly not enough sample size to know that he's going to be as good as pre-surgery, but not bad at all. Pitching in the National League in what I expect to be a terrific pitchers' park, Garcia will have a good chance to be successful if he wins a spot in the Mets' starting rotation in 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chad Qualls 2009

Chad Qualls is considered the leading candidate to be the Arizona Diamondbacks closer in 2009. Frankly, there shouldn't be any other candidates. Qualls is a terrific pitcher. Even if his incredible 2008 (K/9: 9.2, BB/9: 2.3, GB%: 58.3) was a bit of a fluke, a reversion to his 2007 statistics (K/9: 8.8, BB/9: 2.8, GB%: 56.7)would still make him a terrific pitcher and an outstanding closer. Given Qualls' success in a limited time as closer at the end of 2008, I think he's going to be handed the role and won't relinquish it. Given how far Qualls has fallen in some mock drafts, he's definitely someone that I'd be targeting for this season.

Jeff Francis 2009

After an excellent 2007 season (K/9: 7.0, BB/9: 2.7, GB%:44.4) Jeff Francis took a major step back in 2008 as his strikeout rate dropped all the way to 5.7. There was speculation that his shoulder problems were the cause, and that theory was supported when he was shut down for good in mid-September. Unfortunately, Francis' 2008 strikeout rate is much more in line with what he's done the rest of his career, so there's plenty of reason to believe that his 2007 season was the outlier, and that we shouldn't expect a repeat. Francis performance early in 2009 will bear watching, and as always we'll need to be open to changing our opinions based on the latest evidence, but in ranking Francis for drafts, I'd project him for a K/9 rate around 6.0, which makes him a mediocre pitcher. If I'm going to draft a pitcher with his overall stats, I'd rather take a less skilled pitcher who's putting up the same stats in a better pitchers' park. That way I can spot start them when they're at home and in effect get half of a much better pitcher.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Franklin Morales 2009

In limited innings, Franklin Morales went from good in 2007 (K/9: 6.3, BB/9: 3.3, GB%: 54.9) to really, really bad in 2008 (K/9: 2.9, BB/9: 5.5, GB%: 40.0). The dropoff was so extreme that it was clear there was some physical issue, particularly because his average fastball velocity dropped from 92.5 to 90.9. It is being reported now that Morales is over some back problems he suffered from last year, has fixed his mechanics, and is consistently throwing in the 92 to 94 MPH range. If Morales continues to be healthy and throw well in Spring Training, I'd consider him an excellent late round sleeper in deep leagues. One of the keys to watch for is his groundball rate, since that's where a lot of his 2007 value came from. Morales turned 23 yesterday, so there's still the potential for rapid improvement in his performance.


Since several people have commented on it...I incorrectly wrote that Jorge De La Rosa had been signed by the Royals for 2009. De La Rosa actually remains on the Rockies. Given the fact that Coors Field is not as extreme a hitters' park as it used to be, this is probably better for him than a switch to the American League would have been.

Kendry Morales 2009

Kendry Morales has been a major disappointment in 377 career at bats in the Major Leagues. On the other hand, he continues to excel in the minors, putting up high batting averages with good power every year in AA and AAA. While the AAA numbers have been helped by his home park , at 25 years old there's no reason Morales shouldn't succeed in the majors given another chance. Morales doesn't walk much, which is certainly a strike against him, but he also doesn't strike out a lot which is part of the reason he should be able to hit for high batting averages. Morales should get an opportunity to start the 2009 season as Angels starting first baseman. I expect him to hit around .300 with fifteen to twenty home runs. He's not likely to be worth using in Rotohog, but should have some value in most other formats.

Friday, January 23, 2009

James McDonald 2009

James McDonald is the Dodgers top pitching prospect, and one of the better prospects in baseball. He's got an outside chance of winning a job as the fifth starting at the major league level. In 2007 he was dominant in high A and AA ball, strikout out 168 and walking only 37 in 134.2 innings. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite as dominant in AA in 2008, striking out 113 and walking 46 in 118.2 innings. He did rebound with 22.1 great innings at AAA, striking out 28 and walking 7. Anytime I see a declining strikeout rate in a young pitcher I'm somewhat concerned, but in this case the decline wasn't great enough to be sure what it means. Its very possible that McDonald's ability lies somewhere between what he did in 2007 and 2008, although its certainly possible that he's lost some effectiness. Overall, I'd expect him to have a decent strikeout rate in the majors in 2009 (let's say 7.0 K/9), but to struggle with his control (maybe 4.5 BB/9). As with any young player, improvement is not only possible, but relatively likely.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aaron Heilman 2009

For 2009, Aaron Heilman definitely falls into the 'wait and see' category. He won't be worth a draft pick at the start of the season except in the very deepest leagues. Among the factors working against him are switching from the National League to the American League, switching from pitching in relief to starting, and the fact that he was just plain awful in 2008. While his strikeout rate was better than it had been the past few years, his control was terrible (5.0 BB/9) and his groundball rate decreased to 40.8%. If Heilman can get his control back, then he's likely to be a moderately effective starting pitcher. However, his upside is limited, and usually such a drastic change in control either indicates health problems or mental problems...neither of which is good news for his fantasy future.

Brandon Morrow 2009

The Mariners have apparently announced that both Brandon Morrow and Aaron Heilman will be part of their rotation in 2009. We'll leave the question of who is going to close for them for another day and take a look at how Morrow is likely to fare as a starter. Morrow has two important things going for him. He had a fantastic strikeout rate in 2008 (10.9 per nine innings) and he's only 24 years old. However, he was very wild, walking 4.9 batters per nine innings. Generally when pitchers move from relief to starting, they're not quite as effective, so I think it's reasonable to project Morrow as striking out just about a batter per inning, and walking the same number of batters as last year or slightly more. Let's say he'll have K/BB per nine innings of 9.0/5.0. He's an extreme flyball pitcher, so that's a strong negative too. For a comparable pitcher, those numbers are not much different than what Jorge De La Rosa did last year. Morrow is likely to go too early in most drafts based on the amount of pre-season attention he's getting. While I think he'll be somewhat effective, he's really going to need to improve his control to become very good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Looking For Affiliates

I'm currently looking for affiliates for If you're interested in earning some income, send me an email and I'll provide all the details. The basic deal is you refer people to Draftbug, and for each person who signs up, you'll earn a percentage of whatever they spend on the site in the future for as long as they have an account. Obviously if you already have a website this is a great opportunity, but I've also got some ideas that I don't have time to work on for new sites that could be created, and I'd be happy to 'coach' anybody who needs help with some of the technical details or doesn't know how to publicize the site to generate traffic. So if you've got a little free time and either like to write about sports, know how to program, or don't mind gathering data manually, there are some opportunities.

Matt Holliday 2009

Among the hitters likely to go early in 2009 fantasy baseball drafts, Matt Holliday is (by far) the most likely to disappoint. Obviously, the biggest factor in the likely decline of his numbers is that he'll be going from a great hitters' park in Colorado to a poor one in Oakland. But there are a number of other minor contributing factors. He's 29 years that's neutral or very slightly negative. In general, the American League is tougher than the National League, so that's another very slight negative. His 28 stolen bases in 2008 were FAR more than he had in previous years. While his high percentage of success should encourage him (and his managers) to keep running, he's going to a team that isn't known for its aggression on the basepaths, so it seems likely that he'll steal less bases in 2009 as well. While I don't generally put much stock in situational splits (because of somewhat limited sample size), Holliday does have a much larger than normal home/road split in his numbers of the course of his career. Parks can favor some hitters more than others, and seems possible that Holliday has been benefiting even more than other hitters from Coors Field. Overall, I think there are a lot of reason to expect Holliday to be less valuable this year. He's still going to be good, but I don't see a lot of reason to expect him to put up numbers much different from a guy like Nick Markakis who may be picked twenty to thirty picks later in most drafts.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ben Sheets 2009

Ben Sheets is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago. He's always been a high risk player because of his frequent injuries. However, through 2006, he compensated for that risk with exceptional performance, typically strikout out more than 10.0 batters per nine innings, while walking 1.5 or less. In 2007 and 2008, he only struck out 7.5 and 7.0 batters per nine innings, and his control wasn't quite as good either (2.4 and 2.2). Those numbers are still pretty good, but not special at all. His exact value in 2009 is going to depend in large part on what team he ends up with, but between declining performance and injury risk, Sheets is unlikely to justify his price, since his decline has largely been masked by relatively consistent earned run averages over the years. Don't be fooled by the fact that his ERA doesn't show an obvious trend. Especially if he ends up in the American League, Sheets it not a good pick for 2009.

Jorge De La Rosa 2009

The Kansas City Royals have signed Jorge De La Rosa to a one year deal worth two million dollars for 2009. That's a pretty good deal, and De La Rosa is worth considering as a potential fantasy sleeper as well. He's put up some pretty scary lines in the past. Earlier in his career, he had high strikeout rates, but consistently walked close to one batter per inning. Then his strikeout rates plummetted in 2006 and 2007. Either he must have been pitching through an injury, or trying to compensate for his awful control. Finally in 2008 it all came together for him, as he struck out 8.7 while walking 4.2 per nine innings, and even saw his groundball rate rise to 45.7%. He'll need to pitch better to equal those numbers in the American League this year, but the potential is certainly there for him to have another good season.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pedro Martinez 2009

The numbers don't look good for Pedro Martinez. In fact, his strikeout rate has dropped off so sharply, that it would be obvious that he's been pitching with an injury, even if we didn't have any other reason to think so. From 2004 to 2007 his K/9 ranged from 9.5 to 9.8. During the same period his BB/9 was always between 2.1 and 2.9. In 2008 his K/9 was 6.8 and BB/9 was 3.5. There's just now way that can be random variance, and from what's been reported in the media, it doesn't sound especially likely that his arm is going to heal itself. His groundball rate has risen slightly, presumably because he's changed his mechanics or approach to compensate for his decreasing ability, but 41.0% is still not good enough to make up for his other shortcomings. The best that can be said about the 2008 version of Pedro Martinez is that he certainly pitched better than his 5.61 ERA would indicate. If he pitches the same in 2009, an ERA in the mid-to-high 4s would be reasonable, but with his health issues there are few riskier pitchers. I wouldn't take him in a traditional league under any circumstances. In leagues like Rotohog, Snapdraft, FantasySportsLive, and Draftbug I would keep an eye out for the slight chance of a sharp rebound in his strikeout rate (let's say to something above 8 after his third or fourth start).

Garrett Olson 2009

When a team has as many question marks on their pitching staff as the Baltimore Orioles, you generally don't expect to see them trading pitching for hitting, but that's exactly what the Baltimore Orioles did yesterday as they traded Garrett Olson and minor leaguer Henry Williamson for Felix Pie. It's always worth looking closely at pitchers going from the American League to the National League, as they not only benefit from facing pitchers instead of the DH, but also face a slightly easier level of competition overall. However, Olson is going to need to improve quite a bit to provide any value in most formats. While his 2008 statistics (K/9: 5.1, BB/9: 3.8, GB% 41.9%) were actually an improvement on 2007 (when he walked a batter per inning), they were still pretty awful. The league change will help, and between that and the natural improvement that can be expected from a 25 year old pitcher, Olson may be good to keep a spot in the Cubs rotation if he's able to beat out Sean Marshall for the last spot (which I doubt). That said, Olson is still a very mediocre pitcher, and not someone I'd want on my fantasy team in 2009. And with a fastball in the high 80s, he seems unlikely to show the kind of sudden improvement that would change that opinion.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cole Hamels 2009

I've always been a big fan of Cole Hamels, and at one point I believed that he had a good chance to be the best pitcher in baseball. Hamels has been excellent, but is reason for some concern as his K/9 rate has dropped from 10.1 to 9.3 to 8.3 over the past three years. That's still very good, and the magnitude of the decrease is small enough that it's possible this is simply year to year variance, but my instinct is that it's an actual change in 'skill' and that Hamels is unlikely to reach 10.1 again. Looking at his rate statistics, Hamels has gone from being Scott Kazmir with better control to being James Shields with worse control. That's not a very encouraging change in a young pitcher, and although I still definitely consider him a top ten starting pitcher, I would avoid him in drafts for 2009, given how early he's being picked. I like him a lot more in games like Rotohog, Snapdraft, and Draftbug, as you'll have the opportunity to track how his strikeout rate is, and avoid him if it doesn't bounce back above 9.0.

Cameron Maybin 2009

Cameron Maybin has been considered one of the top prospects in baseball for several years. While I think he will ultimately be a successful major league player, I'm not sold on him as a future star (or an immediate contributor). Last year he spent the bulk of the season at AA, and managed only a .277 batting average, while striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. I know he went 16 for 32 in a short major league trial, but if you adjust his AA performance for the level of competition, it certainly looks like he's going to have trouble making contact in the majors. He also didn't show really exceptional power (13 HRs in 390 at bats) although that is likely to develop over time as he will be only 22 years old on opening day. One final strike against Maybin is that while he has stolen plenty of bases, he's also been caught fairly often. Nothing out of the ordinary, but assuming it's harder to steal successfully in the majors, he may be caught often enough not to be given a green light very often. On the whole, Maybin is a player I think isn't ready to be a major fantasy contributor in 2009, and who I would steer clear of for now.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andy Pettitte 2009

There hasn't been a lot of news regarding teams interested in Andy Pettitte this offseason. The assumption seems to be that he will probably sign with the Yankees, with a slight chance of Houston instead. Given how effective he still was in 2008, I would have expected other teams to make more of an attempt to lure him away. While his strikeout rate has declined some since his prime (6.9 BB/9 in 2008, 5.9 in 2007), his control is still good (2.4 BB/9 in 2008) and he does a good job of inducing groundballs (51.5%). Obviously, a move to the National League would make those numbers look even better. If he does sign with the Yankees, they're going to have a really scary rotation.

Jonathan Sanchez 2009

Early in the 2008 season I advised my brother in law to trade for Jonathan Sanchez. The advice worked out great as Sanchez struck out 8.8 per nine innings, walked 4.2, and had a 41.1% groundball rate. Solid numbers for a cheap starting pitcher. The only problem is that most people are a little more results oriented than me, and I suspect weren't that happy with Sanchez 5.01 ERA. That's life (and fantasy baseball). Sometimes you do the right thing, and don't get the results you want. The silver lining is that Sanchez should once again be cheap in 2009. He's at an ideal age for a pitcher (26). Young enough to have plenty of time to improve, old enough to be past the period when risk of arm injury is greatest. The Giants weak offense will ensure that Sanchez doesn't win a ton of games, but he should provide value (and a substantially better ERA) even if he isn't able to improve on his shaky control. If he can lower his walk rate at all, he may begin to have value even in leagues like Rotohog and Snap Draft.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Matt Lindstrom 2009

Because Florida doesn't have any strong alternative to take over as closer, many experts consider Matt Lindstrom a good value in the late rounds of drafts. Certainly a closer who is going around the 19th round of drafts can't be too terrible a pick, but there is definitely reason for some concern. In 2007, Lindstrom was excellent, striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings and walking 2.9 to go along with a good groundball rate (47.4%). Unfortunately, Lindstrom took a major step backward in 2008, striking out only 6.8 per nine innings and walking 4.1. In a starting pitcher, that kind of change would likely indicate arm trouble. Because of the limited number of innings they pitch, reliever statistics are generally going to have more variance, and we can't really draw any conclusions from Lindstrom's decline. Maybe he was hurt. Maybe he just wasn't as good as his 2007 season suggested. Either way, I think there's a good reason that he's going as low as he is in 2008 drafts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ubaldo Jimenez 2009

I'm not quite sure what to make of Ubaldo Jimenez. His strikeout rate (7.7 K/9 in 2008) and ability to induce groundballs (54.4%) ensure that he'll be effective even if he's unable to improve on his high walk rate (4.6 BB/9). The question is, how much of a chance does he have to improve and become a really top starting pitcher? He's got a few things going for him. Firstly, he's young. Jimenez will turn 25 in a few days, so there's time for improvement. He also throws very hard (94.0 MPH average fastball), which suggests that he may actually be able to improve on his already good strikeout rate. On the negative side, Jimenez has never had good control, even in the lower minor leagues. This isn't a case of a young guy trying to nibble at the corners of the plate when faced with tougher competition. Something in his mechanics or approach is causing the bad control, and it may be tough to 'cure'.

Bartolo Colon 2009

Bartolo Colon has reportedly been signed to a one year agreement by the Chicago White Sox. I've never been a big fan of Colon, probably because I felt that he wasn't worthy of the Cy Young award that he won. However, I think that this is a good signing. If he can stay healthy, Colon actually isn't a much a different pitcher than he was when he won the award. In 2008 he struck out 6.0 batters per nine innings, walked 2.2, and had a 40% groundball rate. All of those numbers are well within the range of what Colon has done in the rest of his career, and combined they make him an average to very slightly above average starting pitcher going into 2009.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alexei Ramirez 2009

A lot of people seem to be high on Alexei Ramirez in 2009, especially given the weak options available after the top few middle infielders. He certainly put up very acceptable numbers in 2008, but I think he's much more likely to be a disappointment in 2009 than a bargain. He provides a decent combination of power and speed (for his position), and doesn't strike out that much despite the fact that he basically swings at everything. Because of that, there's been some speculation that 'his upside would be Vlad Guerrero'. Actually, Guerrero would be way, way past Ramirez's upside. The problem is, Ramirez is already 27 years old. He's not a young kid with years of improvement ahead of him. If he takes even a smalls step backwards from last year's performance, he's not even really a prospect - just a utility infielder.

Fausto Carmona 2009

I've seen a few people speculate that Fausto Carmona is a good bounce back candidate in 2009. I don't think so. To be fair, I've always thought he was overrated. At his very, very best, he's similar to Derek Lowe - average strikeout rate and control, absurdly high groundball rate. Unfortunately, he's only achieved that for one short season, and 2008 was a disaster for Carmona. He started off ok in April, but from May to September he was truly awful, with 44 strikeouts and 45 walks in 86 innings pitched. Most of that was compiled after he returned from an extended stay on the disabled list with a hip injury, so it doesn't appear that health was a factor. Carmona is young enough (just turned 25) that he still has a chance to be better than ever, but until he shows some improvement, I think he's only worth a pick in the last few rounds of a very deep draft. I'd MUCH rather gamble on a guy like Clay Buccholz (who I wrote about yesterday), who has more upside and actually pitched significantly better last season.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Big News -

You may have noticed that the link to is gone and there's now a logo that links to a site called Draft Bug. Draft Bug is my new site, and has one day fantasy sports contests just like Drafthero. In fact, it uses the same 'engine' and offers participation in the same contests. It's my own "skin" for the same games. If you haven't already registered for Drafthero, then you're eligible to sign up on Draft Bug . We're currently offering NFL playoff contests and NBA contests. NHL hockey is coming soon, and of course MLB opening day is on April 5th. Draft Bug has both real money and play money contests, and you can register and easily deposit money via credit card in a minute or two. I'd love to get feedback on the site and what we can do to make it even better!

Clay Buchholz 2009

Clay Buchholz is an almost perfect fit for my strategy for the last few rounds of fantasy baseball drafts. His 6.75 ERA and questions about whether he'll be in Boston's rotation to start the season will make him go very late in most drafts. That said, he's got tremendous upside. The awful ERA from last season does a good job of hiding the fact that he still struck out almost a batter per inning. If he can improve his control in 2009, he'll go back to being a very effective pitcher. In fact, if he repeats his 47.7% groundball rate, he stands a chance of being effective even with poor control. He's 24 years old, so there's lots of time for improvement. And other teams are trying to trade for him, which could give him a spot in a rotation and have the added bonus of removing him from a terrible pitchers' park. Overall, Buchholz is a great low risk/high reward player, and a great late round draft pick. If he gets a spot in a rotation (whether in Boston or elsewhere), I'd consider him one of the very best fantasy sleepers for 2009.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jo-Jo Reyes 2009

The good news for Jo-Jo Reyes is that he's only 24 years old, he improved substantially from 2007 to 2008, and that he avoided being part of a rumored trade to the American League for Javier Vazquez.

The bad news is that he's not a very good pitcher, and he's got a girl's name.

The improvement he made last season was substantial, and in all areas. His K/9 went from 4.6 to 5.9. His BB/9 dropped from 5.1 to 3.9. And his groundball rate increased from 44.8% to an excellent 48.8%. Instead of being a great target for daily match-ups, he's now just a very mediocre major leaguer. His control remains weak, and his minor league numbers don't suggest any particular reason for optimism. On the other hand, young pitchers can improve rapidly, and his skills already appear to be trending in the right direction.

Anthony Reyes 2009

Anthony Reyes is a pretty good example of how things can go wrong for a young pitching prospect, even without major arm problems. In 2005 (at age 23), he struck out 9.5 and walk 2.4 per nine innings at AAA, and looked like a sure thing to be an excellent major league pitcher. However, four years later, he's still a borderline major legaue talent, and it appears that his skills have gradually declined. After being traded last season, he put up an extremely weak 4.1/3.3 K/BB/9 in Cleveland in 34 innings. Hopefully the elbow problems that eventually ended his season were something that can be fixed by rest. In any case, at age 27, it's now clear that Reyes will never be a star, but he should have a chance to start the season as a member of the extremely weak Cleveland rotation in 2009. Keep an eye on his K/9 ratio in late April to determine whether the elbow is still bothering him. If it's down near 4.0, then he probably has surgery in his future. If it's up around 6.0 then he's probably ok, and capable of being a moderately effective pitcher.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Name The Player

189.2 innings pitched, 245 strikeouts, 52 walks. Who is this fantasy beast?!?! A healthy Rich Harden? Randy Johnson in his prime? No...Takashi Saito's major league career numbers! I realize it's cheating to compare numbers compiled as a reliever, but it's still pretty impressive. The Red Sox have apparently continued their offseason trend of signing high risk/high reward players to cheap, incentive laden contracts, and signed Saito to a one year deal. When healthy, Saito will be one of the top middle relievers in baseball in 2009. The main fantasy impact of this signing in many formats will be a slight reduction in value for Jonathan Papelbon, as Boston will have another great option to close games when Papelbon has pitched the previous day or two.

Kenshin Kawakami 2009

The second major Japanese player to sign this offseason, Kenshin Kawakami, will apparently be part of the Atlanta Braves rotation in 2009. Kawakami is very similar to Koji Uehara, and should also be an effective major leaguer, although his control isn't quite as exceptional. He may make up for that with a slightly superior strikeout rate. I would expect him to put up something like a 6.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and groundball rate around 40%. Not a star, but a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher. He'll be helped by pitching in a favorable park in the National League, and may end up with a very similar ERA to Uehara. One concern with both is that most Japanese pitchers haven't aged especially well, likely because of the inconsistent usage patterns they face when pitching in the Japanese professional leagues.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Francisco Liriano 2009

In 2006, Francisco Liriano struck out 144 and walked 32 in just 121 innings pitched. He had a 55.3% groundball rate. A repeat of that performance would make him the best pitcher in baseball in 2009. Unfortunately, Liriano missed all of 2007 after undergoing arm surgery. He made it back to the majors in April 2008, and was awful, before being sent down to the minors. Upon returning later in the season, he pitched very well (although far from his 2006 standards) and this performance is somewhat masked in his total statistics by the results of his April pitching. Once he made it back to the majors, he struck out 60 and walked 19 in 65.2 innings. One cause for concern is that his groundball rate was down to a very mediocre 41.6%. What should we expect in 2009? My best guess is that Liriano will be excellent, but not quite as good a pre-surgery. A strikeout per inning with good control seems reasonable. What I'm less sure about is his ground ball rate. Will it return to where it was in 2006? I have no idea, but for now am going to assume not. A slight increase to 44% or so seems like a reasonable guesstimate until we see how he's throwing early in the season.

Edinson Volquez 2009

Edinson Volquez had an outstanding season in 2008. He struck out 9.5 per nine innings, walked 4.3, and had a 46.3% groundball rate. If he can improve on any of those numbers in 2009, then he'll be one of the elite starting pitchers. Even if he can't, he'll be very good, although he is hurt quite a lot by his home park. Volquez is a great illustration of why you should pay more attention to how a young pitcher is doing now, rather than putting too much stock in past performance. In 2005 and 2006 he was so bad that he was a worthy target for match-ups in daily transaction leagues (combined 26 strikeouts and 27 walked in 46 innings). However, he showed substantial improvement in 2007, before a true breakout in 2008. Strikeout rates in particular are a sensitive enough indicator that even a sample as small as 20 or 30 innings can give you a good idea of a change in skill for an inexperienced player.

Rich Harden 2009

Rich Harden is one of the elite pitchers in baseball. He's particularly valuable in games where you don't have to worry about injuries, like Rotohog or Fantasy Sports Live. Last year, he improved on his already outstanding strikeout rate to 11.4 K/9 (in the AL) and then an incredible 12.1 after being traded to the NL. In fact, his strikeout rate has improved every year since 2004. His control remains mediocre (3.9 combined BB/9 in 2008), and if he could ever improve on that he'd likely be the best pitcher in baseball. Another concern is his incredible low groundball rate in 2008 (combined 30.0% pre and post trade). Earlier in his career he averaged a very respectable 44%. In 2007 that dropped to 38.7%. It can be tough knowing how to evaluate a trend like this. Is it a real trend, or just variance? Because groundball rates tend to be relatively stable, and given the size of the drop, I'm going to assume there's been a real change in his approach. The increase in strikeout rate makes me think that's even more likely. In cases like this, I tend to project a number somewhere in the middle of the my best guess is that his 'true' groundball rate is something like 36%. There just aren't many pitchers consistently down near 30%, and I'll assume that number was a little fluky unless Harden repeats it in 2009.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Justin Upton 2009

All you need to know about Justin Upton is that in 2007 he excelled at AA at 19 years old, and in 2008 he held is own in the Major Leagues at 20 years old. Upton is a future star. He's also an excellent player to illustrate the difference in how I look at promising young hitters and promising young pitchers. My posts on David Price generated a lot of discussion because I'm taking a 'wait and see' approach on Price. That won't be the case with Upton. I consider it virtually certain that he'll improve dramatically over the next few years, and very likely that he'll take a big step forward this season. That said, while a fast start for Price would convince me that he's already improved and would change my 2009 projections for him, a fast start by Upton wouldn't really have much impact on my already high expectations. In short, I think hitters are easier to project into the future, but pitchers are easier to evaluate true skill level in the present.

Jose Reyes 2009

Last season Jose Reyes rebounded from a somewhat subpar 2007 to post excellent numbers, more or less matching his 2006 performance. In traditional formats, he is considered a top five draft pick by most people.

I mentioned in the John Maine post this morning that Citi Field is likely to play as an extreme pitcher's park. In particular it is almost certainly going to depress home runs by a substantial amount. It may partially compensate for that by increasing the number of triples hit, due to the large playing field, the odd configuration of the outfield wall, and the outfield deck overhang. So the one Mets hitter who I would not necessarily avoid in 2009 is Jose Reyes. The key to what the park is likely to do to his value is in how your league scoring works. In most daily contest leagues (and also in Rotohog), a triple is worth only slightly less than a home run, so Reyes won't be hurt at all by the park. However, in traditional 5X5 and especially 4X4 leagues, he's going to take a slight hit in value...although still far less than the other Mets' stars.

John Maine 2009

John Maine had arthrscopic surgery at the end of last season, but is expected to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training in 2009. His 2008 season was slightly disappointing as he only managed 140 innings pitched, and took a small step backwards from his 2007 performance. He struck out 7.8 per nine innings and walked 4.3 per nine innings, both worse than the previous year, although his groundball rate did rise slightly to 40.6%. I would expect something like a K/9 of 8.0 and a BB/9 of 4.0 from Maine this year. He does have one thing going for him though, as do all of the Mets pitchers. I had previously talked about Citi Field and speculated that it is likely to play as a slight to moderate pitchers' park. An interview of Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker by Eric Simon of Amazin Avenue has convinced me that it will be an extreme pitchers' park, possibily the worst home run park in baseball. The corresponding increase in other hits (especially triples) will not come close to compensating for the lost home runs, except possibly for a triples machine like Jose Reyes. Be very wary of Mets hitters in 2009 and look for reasons to use Mets pitchers on your team.

On an unrelated note, one of my readers correctly criticized me for crediting Rotoworld for some of the news reports I've mentioned. He (or she) was right. That was very lazy of me, since Rotoworld was only the place where I read the news, not the original source of the report. I have the perfect solution. From now on, I'll be even lazier, and not report the source at all. I will simply say 'according to reports' if it comes from a trusted source, 'according to rumors' if it's not from a trusted sourced, and 'allegedly' if I'm skeptical of it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are Pitchers Really Harder To Project?

An anonymous commenter on my David Price post had this to say:

You are totally nuts dude. look at his age and experience, coupled with his strikeout totals. No doubt this kid is a k per inning guy when he gets some time under his belt.

He may be right about Price's long term potential, but my post was really focused on how good Price is right now.

The common wisdom seems to be that future pitching performance is harder to predict than future hitting performance. In one sense that's true, but in some ways it's completely wrong.

What is true is that long term improvement is harder to forecast. The vast majority of 20 year old hitters will be substantially better five years in the future than they are now. The same really can't be said of pitchers. Some will suffer major injuries. Others will have more subtle problems with arm strength, mechanics, or other aspects of pitching that reduce their effectiveness. Many will never be better than they are at 20, although some will also reach their full potential later than almost any hitter. So in that sense, the common wisdom is correct. Pitchers' long term development is much harder to predict.

The good news is that in many cases we don't actually NEED to forecast development in pitchers. We can simply recognize changes in true ability faster than others. When a 21 year old hitter with a career average of .250 hits .320 in April, I have no idea if the change is permanent or simply short term variance. However, when a 21 year old pitcher with career ratios of 5.0 for strikeouts and 4.0 for walks completes the first month of the season with a ratio of 35/8 in 31 innings, I can be nearly certain that he's become a much better pitcher than he used to be. If I'm lucky, he'll have suffered enough bad luck to keep his ERA high, obscuring his true talent level, and allowing me to get a bargain.

So getting back to my anonymous friend...while he may be right about Price, we really have no idea. And rather than guess about the development of a young pitcher, I'd rather wait and see. Once (if) he becomes a "k per inning guy" it will be apparent within about five starts...and at that point Price is likely to be slightly undervalued in most leagues.

Tim Redding 2009

The Mets reportedly made an offer to Tim Redding yesterday. As a Mets fan, the prospect of Redding in the rotation in 2009 doesn't exactly have me jumping for joy. Last season he had a K/9 of 5.9 and a BB/9 of 3.2, while maintaining a 39.8% groundball rate. Very mediocre. And that was his best season since 2003. At 30 years old, it seems more likely to be an outlier than a true new talent level. Although in fairness to Redding, it was also his first full season as a starter in the majors since 2003. If he can repeat his 2008 performance, Redding is an adequate fifth starter. If he regresses to his 2004-2007 level, then he's the type of player you should be targeting when selecting hitters in daily formats. Especially when he goes on the road to some of the better hitters' parks.

John Smoltz 2009

Rotoworld is reporting that John Smoltz (rehabbing from major surgery) will be signing an incentive heavy contract with the Boston Red Sox. Smoltz will probably miss the first six to eight weeks of the season, so that cuts into his value in full season leagues. In his last full season (2007) Smoltz struck out 9.0 per nine innings and walked only 2.1 with a 44.7% groundball rate. He was even better in 2008 before he got hurt. He's unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2009 at 42 years old, coming off surgery, and going to a tougher league. He definitely could still be an effective pitcher though, and could end up being a bargain if people are scared off by the risk. He also may be an intriguing option in daily contest formats like Snap Draft and FSL, particularly when he pitches on the road (in pitchers' parks) against bad teams.

Trevor Hoffman (Part II)

According to Rotoworld, it now appears that Trevor Hoffman is more likely to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers for 2009 than with the Dodgers. This makes a lot of sense, as the Brewers actually need a closer (unlike the Dodgers). It also probably gives Hoffman a little extra value in full season leagues, as there will be less of a threat for him to lose the closer role if he struggles at any point during the season.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Trevor Hoffman 2009

It seems like a lot of people have written Trevor Hoffman off because of his age (41), lack of a team, and the fact that his ERA was much higher in 2008 than previous years. I think they're making a big mistake. Hoffman is likely to sign with a team, and judging by the reports of the Dodgers making him a one year $4.5m offer, he may get a chance to close ahead of Jonathan Broxton. On one hand, this is a shame...Broxton is ready to be a top notch closer. On the other hand, Hoffman should still be able to get the job done. In fact, despite the higher ERA, he had his best season since 2004 in ALL of the major component statistics, as he struck out 9.9 per nine innings, walked only 1.8, and had a 39.0% ground ball rate. He seems to be improving with age, and may be a bargain in most leagues on draft day.


Now is as good a time as any to mention that I'm looking for someone to partner with on some high stakes leagues in 2009. If you might be interested, send me an email, and we can discuss it in detail. For those who don't know, the main accomplishment on my fantasy baseball 'resume' is winning the 2008 Rotohog Baseball global contest.

Koji Uehara 2009

It was reported yesterday that Koji Uehara will be a member of the Baltimore Orioles rotation in 2009. Uehara will be an effective major league pitcher, although certainly not a star. His main asset is excellent control. At one point in his career, for seven straight years he walked between 21 and 24 batters per year, while pitching anywhere from 131 to 207.1 innings per year. He does allow a lot of home runs though, and his strikeout rates in recents years haven't been exceptional when adjusted for the slightly lower level of competition in Japan. Pitching in the American League, I'd expect his number to be something like K/9: 6.0, BB/9: 2.0, GB%: 40%. The main risk with Uehara is that health issues could keep him from pitching effectively, as he's missed time during the past two years, while being moved from the rotation to the bullpen and back to the rotation.

Carl Pavano 2009

The Cleveland Indians signed Carl Pavano yesterday. The plan is apparently for Pavano to be their #4 starter in 2009. That doesn't say much for the bottom of their rotation. The last time Pavano pitched 100 innings was in 2005. The last time he made it to 101 innings was 2004, which was also the last time his K/9 reached 5.0. Not only is Pavano a huge injury risk, but whether he can still pitch effectively even when healthy is still an open question. In limited action (34.1 innings) Pavano struck out 15 and walked 10. Not exactly encouraging, although he pitched slightly better in his 19 minor league innings. His groundball rate (which had always been much higher in the past) also dropped to 40.5%. The thing that makes signing Pavano seem like a really bad idea though isn't the's the limited upside. Even in 2004, when many people were calling Pavano a star, his strikeout rate was only 5.9. So at best, he'll just be adequate. And with Pavano turning 33 years old tomorrow, I wouldn't count on things working out that well.

Brandon Lyon 2009

At the moment, Brandon Lyon doesn't have a team. Without knowing where he'll end up, we can't be sure how his role and his home park will affect his value. However, the Cardinals aren't confident in any of their options at closer and are considering signing Lyon. Although I don't think he'd be their best option at closer, this certainly isn't an awful idea. Lyon isn't necessarily BETTER than Jason Motte or Chris Perez, but at least he has a different skill set. While both of them should strike out more than nine batters per game, they're wild. Lyon will have a far lower strikeout rate, but will also have better control. Personally, I think he's not well suited to be a closer because of the low K/9, but he could still be an asset to the team. Because of his large jump in ERA, many people thought of Lyon's 2008 as a bad season. However, his component stats actually improved from 2007 as his K/9 went from 5.1 to 6.4 and his BB/9 dropped from 2.8 to 1.9. Whatever the role, Lyon should pitch fairly effectively again in 2009.

Rotoguru and WaiverSharks

One terrific site I haven't mentioned yet is RotoGuru. Not only does Dave Hall post his thoughts on a variety of fantasy games (many of which he's had great success at), but the site has active message boards on many fantasy topics, and provides some really useful 'tools' to help evaluate daily and weekly match-ups for games like Rotohog and TSN. If you stop by Rotoguru, please remind Dave that as far as I'm concerned he still owes me $1,000 for passing me in the 2007 Rotohog Baseball Top 10 on the final day of the season.

Another site to check out is WaiverSharks, where Scott focuses on sleepers and prospects. Even if you do your own evaluation of players, sites like WaiverShark can be a terrific source of ideas.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Snapdraft Strategy: Make Picks Late

This is actually a strategy for any of the daily contest games - including Snapdraft, FantasySportsLive, and Fanduel. There are at least three reasons to make (or review) your picks as late as possible:

1. Take advantage of late breaking news. If there's an injury or other late breaking news, you can target players who will benefit from it, and avoid those who will be harmed.

2. Make sure your players in the lineup. In particular, you can check lineups for early games. That alone is reason to slightly favor players (especially catchers and others who get frequent off days) in the earliest set of games.

3. Check the weather. Weather forecasts have a tendency to shift dramatically throughout the day. Sometimes a game that looks to have decent weather in the morning forecast will become a clear rainout risk by game time.

For more tips on Snapdraft strategy, visit Snapdraft Strategy

Armando Galarraga 2009

One of my readers commented on my post on Mike Pelfrey that he's a similar pitcher to Armando Galarraga. I don't completely agree that they'll put up similar stats, but they are probably about equally good pitchers. Galarraga has a slightly better K/BB ratio (6.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9) and is doing it in the tougher league. Pelfrey makes up for that by doing a better job of keeping the ball on the ground - Galarraga had a 43.5% groundball rate last season...not bad, but significantly worse than Pelfrey. I would expect Galarraga to be solid again in 2009, although he may be drafted higher than he deserves based on his very lucky 3.73 ERA in 2008. He's also young enough that there could be substantial (and rapid) improvement in his future. As with any young pitcher, the best early indicator of an improving skill set is the K/9 rate.

Jonathan Broxton 2009

What should be expected from Jonathan Broxton in 2009? With the departure of Takashi Saito, Broxton will close for the Dodgers for the full season. In fact, I would expect a performance very similar to what Saito has provided over the past few years. Broxton's component statistics are similar to Saito's in most regards, although his control may be very slightly worse. That said, he's younger, which means there's more room for improvement, but also more chance that he'd be pulled from the closer role if he struggles at all. As with any player 'risky' player (and I'm using the term loosely in Broxton's case) his value is slightly higher in a format where you can turn over your whole roster at any time than it is in a traditional draft league format, where you'd be stuck with him in the somewhat unlikely event that he doesn't hold down the closer role.

Milton Bradley 2009

Milton Bradley has had two straight standout seasons. Although his .321 batting average from 2008 may be unsustainable (largely because he won't have a .388 ba/babip again), Bradley's 2008 was otherwise very much in line with what he had done the previous year. The quality of his 2007 performance was obscured by a lack of at bats, and to a lesser degree by unfavorable home parks. That wasn't a problem in Texas last year, and it won't be for the Cubs this year. If Bradley is healthy (always a big if for him), he should excel again. Like many injury prone players, Bradley may be a better bet in games like Rotohog and Snap Draft, where you won't be stuck with him if he gets hurt or isn't in the lineup at times.

Pat Burrell 2009

For a guy who seems so streaky during the season, it's amazing how similar Pat Burrell's statistics have been each of the past four years. There isn't a single statistic that appears wildly out of line in any one year. That said, Burrell (who was traded to Tampa Bay this week) is likely to see a small drop off this year, as he will be hitting in a less favorable park, and is likely to see more tough pitchers in the AL East. Also, at 32 years old, he's beginning to enter the part of his career when a small decline in performance is somewhat likely each year. Expect a low batting average, and generally more of the same from Pat Burrell in 2009.

Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove

Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove is doing a count down of the top 150 fantasy baseball players for 2009. He's currently up (or down?) to #91, so there's plenty of time to follow along.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mike Pelfrey 2009

Mike Pelfrey has always been pretty good at keeping the ball on the ground, with a career average right around a 49% groundball rate. Unfortunately, until 2008, he wasn't very good at striking batters out or avoiding walking them. In 2008 his control took a step forward, as he walked 'only' 2.9 per nine innings. With a 5.0 K/9 rate, and his ability to avoid flyballs (and hence homeruns), that's good enough control to be effective. The question of course is whether that improvement was a true change in ability, or merely random variance. In general, when a player shows a large change in one of their component rate stats that is consistent with what would be expected at their age, I'm a believer that it's for real. So improving control in young players, or decreasing strikeout rates in old players, I generally believe are a lot more likely to be repeated than other changes. If that's the case, Pelfrey should be a solid (but not spectacular) member of the Mets rotation in 2009.

Matt Harrison 2009

Rotoprofessor recently made the 'crazy prediction' (his words, but I agree) that Matt Harrison would be in the top nine in American League Cy Young voting in 2009. I will be absolutely, completely shocked if that happens. I'll be somewhat surprised if Harrison remains in the Texas rotation for the whole season. In 2008 in the majors he struck out 4.3 per nine innings while walking 3.2. His groundball rate was 40.1%. None of those are good numbers. In addition, there's little in his minor league record to suggest that 2008 was a fluke. While some of the minor league numbers look better on the surface, they really aren't once you make some allowance for the much weaker competition.

More Good Blogs

Two more good blogs to report on...

Rotoprofessor has lots of interesting material, including the intriguing news that the Cardinals may not be comfortable with their more obvious options at closer, and would consider using Chris Carpenter there.

Jon at Advanced Fantasy Baseball just wrote a great article on what you should be thinking about in keeper leagues...something I know very little about.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Scott Kazmir 2009

I've seen a few people express the opinion that Scott Kazmir is overrated. I'm not sure what that's based on. In fact, I'd say that if anything he's underrated. Kazmir is consistently putting up K/9 rates of 10.0 or higher, while pitching in the tougher league. His control is bad (BB/9 of 4.2 in 2008), but he's also only 24 years old, despite the fact that it seems like he's been pitching forever. Another weakness in 2008 was an extreme tendency to allow flyballs (30.8% groundball rate), but that may have been a fluke, as his groundball rates in the past have generally been over 40%. I expect Kazmir to be one of the top pitchers in the American League in 2009. As a Mets fan, I'm still bitter about the one-for-one Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade. Since the day the trade happened I've considered it the stupidest trade in the history of major league baseball. Other trades may have worked out slightly worse, but none were as hard to justify.

David Price 2009

Most people consider David Price the top pitching prospect in baseball. His late season performance with Tampa Bay has people believing that he's going to be a superstar in 2009. I doubt that. I do think he'll be a solid major league starter right away, and he could be a star eventually, but his strikeout rates weren't quite high enough at any level of the minor leagues to convince me that he's ready to dominate in the majors in 2009. As he moved up from A to AA to AAA to the AL, he maintained a strikeout rate around one per inning. That's excellent, and his ability to keep it up as the competition got tougher is certainly a good sign. At the same time, his inability to achieve a higher rate in the lower minor leagues suggests to me that at this point, his 'true ability' is probably something like 7.0 K/9 in the majors, and I'd expect about a 3.0 or 3.5 BB/9...very solid, but not yet a star.

David Robertson 2009

In 30.1 innings pitched for the Yankees, David Robertson struck out 36 batters and walked 15. Yes, he's wild. But his talent for striking batters out is so good that he'll be an effective pitcher, even if his control never improves. As a 23 year old who still qualifies as a rookie, there's a chance he'll develop to be one of the top relievers in the game. His minor league strikeout rates were absurdly high...completely in line with what he did in the majors. John Sickels recently rated Robertson as the Yankees 14th best prospect. Either the Yankees have a great minor league system, Sickels doesn't like relievers, or Sickels really doesn't like short pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano 2009

If you want to find the person in any fantasy baseball draft who has the opposite philosphy from me when it comes to evaluating pitchers, just see who drafts Carlos Zambrano this year. I've always considered Zambrano slightly overrated, and the past two years he's showed an alarming decline in his strikeout rate from 8.9 in 2006 to 6.3 in 2008. Until he turns that around, I'm assuming that his arm is damaged goods, and that he not only won't pitch well but is at high risk of a major arm injury. Coupled with that high risk of not performing to expectations is the fact that he's generally drafted ahead of guys like Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw, who is already his equal and has a much higher upside. Then consider the very unfavorable park that Zambrano plays in. All in all, not a very enticing combination.

Matt Wieters 2009

Not only is Matt Wieters considered one of the top prospects in baseball, but he's being included in discussions of the top catchers in baseball, despite the fact that he hasn't yet played above AA ball. Make no mistake - Wieters is a terrific hitter, and could potentially equal the on base percentage of a player like Joe Mauer, while putting up a lot more home runs. That said, I think he's being drafted too high in some mock drafts. It's true that by letting Ramon Hernandez go, Baltimore has opened a spot for Wieters in their lineup. But I would still expect them to limit his playing time...and if he happens to slump, they're likely to send him down to the minors temporarily. Young players always have less margin for erro to remain in the everyday lineup than those who are already established. Also, I believe that part of Wieters' fantasy appeal is a perception that he's fast for a set of projections has him with 7 steals. I'm not sure where that came from though...he only stole 2 bases in the minors last year (and was caught twice). Wieters in 2009 is actually a guy I like more for the daily contests like Snapdraft, Drafthero, and FantasySportsLive (and for Rotohog) than for traditional leagues where you'll be stuck with him on your bench on his days off or if he's sent down to the minors.

Clayton Kershaw 2009

Clayton Kershaw was considered by most to be the top pitching prospect in baseball going into 2008, and he didn't disappoint. In 107.2 innings pitched, he struck out 100 batters and walked 52, while maintaining a 48% groundball rate. That's already a very adequate pitcher (very similar to a pre-2008 Carlos Zambrano), and with Kershaw being only 20 years old, the sky is the limit. Factoring in his favorable home park, only makes him that much more of a prospect for sustained success. If he can improve his control (which I think is likely) and remain healthy, then Kershaw has a shot at becoming one of the elite pitchers in baseball in 2009 and beyond.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Joba Chamberlain 2009

Wow. It didn't really hit home just how good Joba Chamberlain is until I looked at his stats while preparing to write this post. In 2008 he struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings, while walking 3.6. His groundball rate was a superb 52.0%. Even if the strikeout rate and groundball rate drop a little, he's still a terrific pitcher. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a pitcher with a similar combination of strikeout rate and groundball rate. Sabathia is close (and more than makes up for it with his control) and Webb is close (and compensates with an even higher groundball rate), but the closest equivalent is probably A.J. Burnett who just falls a little short on his strikeout rate, and who I think is VERY underrated. In fact, the more I look at the Yankees 2009 rotation, the more impressed I am.

FIP vs. xFIP

One reader asked about this, and since I refer to xFIP from time to time, it's worth explaining. Less than ten years ago, a man named Voros McCracken made a startling discovery...pitchers had almost no control over what happened to balls in play. Greg Maddux was no better at "preventing hits" or "inducing weak contact" than anyone else. While his ideas have been debated and refined greatly since then, his original observation remains (in my opinion) the single most useful discovery in the history of baseball least for fantasy players. You can do a better job predicting a pitcher's future ERA by looking at past K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 rates than by looking at past ERA. Ten years ago, nobody realized how important that was. McCracken's original formula for "DIPS" (Defense Independent Pitching Stats) was a little cumbersome to calculate, so Tom Tango came up with FIP...a simple formula that approximated DIPS and allowed easy calculation of what a pitcher's ERA should have been.

FIP = (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2)

One of the refinements to the original DIPS theory was the discovery that (to a large degree) pitcher's didn't even control the home run rate they allowed, other than their ability to impact the rate of groundballs vs. flyballs. xFIP was a statistic that replaced the home run rate in FIP with a 'normalized' value that assumed that all pitchers allow the same number of home runs per flyball.

It's worth mentioning that while these formulas are excellent predictors of the future, they remain oversimplified models that don't incorporate everything we know about predicting pitcher success. The pitcher does have SOME control over what happens to various types of balls in other words, their is a small degree of 'skill' in this area...but it's so small that for most practical purposes we can do fine if we ignore it.

Gavin Floyd 2009

After pitching pretty well in 2007 (K/9: 6.0, BB/9: 2.3), Gaving Floyd took a step backwards in 2008 (despite increasing his strikeout rate to 6.4), as his walk rate rose to 3.1. Given the control problems he had earlier in his career, it seems like that his 2008 performance is more indicative of his true ability. Coupled with Floyd's flyball tendencies (41.2% groundball rate in 2008), he's a very mediocre pitcher who is going to be overrated going into 2009 by anyone who doesn't understand that component stats (such as strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate) are much better predictors of future ERA than past ERA is. It's also worth noting that Floyd is one of the few pitchers so bad at holding runners on base that he can be expected to always allow a few more runs than his other statistics would suggest...In 2008 he allowed 37 steals, with only 5 runners caught stealing.

Fantasy Game Day

Kelly at Fantasy Game Day has a lot of great material, including a slow mock draft that he's participating in, where he goes into great detail explaining his thinking as he makes each pick. He's currently up to the 4th round, so there's plenty of time to catch up and follow along as his draft progresses.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Randy Wolf 2009

At the same time that Oliver Perez is getting a lot of interest despite his demands for $70 million over five years, Randy Wolf is being described as 'ballsy' (by Rotoworld) for asking for $30 million over three years. By today's standards, that's chump change, and Wolf is actually a pretty good pitcher...very likely better than Perez. His control is better (3.3 walks per nine innings in 2008), and he allows slightly fewer flyballs (38% ground ball rate in 2008). His strikeout rate isn't even that much worse than Perez', as he struck out 7.6 per game in 2008 and 8.0 per game the previous season. Wolf is going to be a bargain as long as he can stay reasonably healthy.

Oliver Perez 2009

Oliver Perez is supposedly asking teams for a five year contract worth $70 million. That a number of teams are considering offering him something close to this just blows my mind. Going into 2009, this is a guy who hasn't had any xFIP below 4.65 since 2004. He combines wildness (4.8 BB/9 in 2008) with extreme flyball tendencies (between 30.1% and 35.7% every year since 2004). He doesn't even have an absurdly high strikeout rate anymore...he hasn't broken 9.0 for a season since 2004. Put him in a better hitters' park, and this could be a real disaster. Either way, someone is going to be very, very disappointed in a year or two. I'm not saying Oliver Perez is a bad pitcher, but he certainly isn't a very good one.

Madison Bumgarner 2009

Who? If you haven't been following the lower minor leagues, then you probably haven't heard of Madison Bumgarner...yet. He's only 19 years old, and pitched at in A ball in the San Francisco Giants system. His performance in 2008 was dominating. 164 strikeouts and only 21 walks in 141.2 innings pitched. He also allowed only 3 home runs, which could indicate that he keeps the ball on the ground...or could just indicate that he was a whole lot better than the batters he was facing. It's always hard to project such young players facing weak competition, but Bumgarner obviously bears close watching as he moves through the minor leagues. I'd expect him to put up excellent numbers again in 2009, probably beginning the season at AA. Keep an eye on whether his strikeout rate remains well above one per innings for a clue as to whether he's a future star.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Draft Hero...Fantasy Football Freeroll

For those who are new to the blog, I've been posting this each week...Draft Hero is essentially running fantasy football (and basketball) freeroll contests. Use promotional code 'zoobird' (no quote) when you register at Draft Hero and they're giving new players 4,000 player points, which allows you to enter in $4 worth of real money contests. They run daily/weekly fantasy contests with both salary cap and live draft formats available.

Johnny Cueto 2009

What should we expect from Johnny Cueto in 2009? The answer is...there is no answer. He's the first player I've reviewed where I'm just not sure what to expect. Overall his numbers in 2008 were decent, but not great. 8.0 strikouts per nine innings, 3.4 walks per nine innings, and a 38.6% groundball rate. He's still only 22 years olds, so there's lots of potential for breakthrough improvement. On the other hand, he threw a lot of pitches last year, and that always raises the concern for injuries in young pitchers. He's good enough that he could be an asset with the right match-up in games like Rotohog, Fantasy Sports Live, and Snapdraft...except his home park will ensure that his match-ups are rarely favorable enough to warrant using him in those games. His strikeout and walk rates by month don't help us much either...his worst months by far were June and September. Maybe the weak September shows that he was wearing down at the end of the season...but is that cause for optimism (he'll bounce back now that he's had the offseason to rest) or concern (all that wear on his young arm could cause injuries). Cueto definitely has the potential for a breakout season. He's a player worth watching in the pre-season and in April. If his K/9 rate makes it above 9 and his BB/9 goes below 3, then strongly consider using him. Until then, he's only worth taking in the late rounds of drafts, and probably not worth using in most daily contest games.

Brian Fuentes 2009

Now that Brian Fuentes has been signed to close for the Angels in 2009, the Shields vs. Arredondo argument can be put to rest. They'll both be used to set up Fuentes, who should be an able replacement for Francisco Rodriguez. Fuentes had arguably the best year of his career in 2008, strikout out 12.4 batters per nine innings, while walking only 3.3. He does allow too many flyballs (32.6% groundball rate), but if he repeats those numbers he stands a good chance of outperforming K-Rod this year. Even if he reverts to something more in line with the rest of his career (say 10.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9), he'll be excellent. While the league change may cause some to expect a drop off in performance, I don't think that will be the case for two reasons. First of all, he'll escape from Coors Field, to a more favorable home park. And second of all, changing leagues has much less impact on relievers than on starters, since they rarely get to pitch to other pitchers anyway.

Chris Perez 2009

As of today, Chris Perez is the Cardinals closer for 2009. However, there's a good chance that the Cardinals will end up signing a proven closer such as Trevor Hoffman or Takashi Saito between now and opening day. Would they be making a mistake to pass up the opportunity to sign a free agent, and let Perez keep the job?

The short answer is 'yes'. Perez simply doesn't have the control to be consistently successful at this point in his career. He walked 22 batters in 41.2 innings (while strikout out 42), and his minor league numbers suggest that his control may actually be a little worse than that. In addition, he allows a lot of flyballs (38.7% groundball rate). He is only 23 years old, so there's plenty of time for improvement, but at this point in Perez' career, St. Louis shouldn't be relying too heavily on him. If they do allow him to remain as their closer going into the season, keep an eye on the rest of their bullpen to see who might replace Perez when he falters.