Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last Day For Draftbug Free $

Today is the last day that new accounts on Draftbug will be funded with 4,000 free player points, allowing entry in up to 4 of the $1 contests. Registration is free, and you can save the points until baseball season begins...or enter some of the baseball contests that we've already opened up. The $100 April Home Run Derby Freeroll also remains open, but 160 of the 200 spots have filled, so sign up as soon as you register. If you ever want to chat with me, I'm often logged into Draftbug and will respond to messages in the chat area when I see them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Opening Day 2009

I talk about this more in the narrative of the video I posted yesterday, but I think there are four or five players who really stand out based on Opening Day 2009 matchups if you're playing in daily contests. Particularly in heads up live drafts, you'll want to focus on getting these guys, and wait to pick players at other positions where the gap between #1 and #2 isn't likely to be as large. Keep in mind that in some cases, we don't know for sure who the opening day starters are going to be, so there's some guesswork involved.

In any case, the four guys who seem to have a clear advantage over others at their positions are:

1. Grady Sizemore
2. Victor Martinez
3. David Wright
4. Ian Kinsler

While I haven't actually set up my spreadsheet to do the calculations yet, they look like clear standouts, based on likely opposing pitchers, ballpark, and ability.

At most other positions there are at least two good options - Sabathia/Peavy, Pujols/Teixeira, Ramirez/Reyes, lots of relief pitchers. In an heads up, live draft contest if you can get all four of those you'll be in good shape.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Live Draft Video of Draftbug

The production quality sucks, my voice is annoying, and I need to train myself out of saying 'um', but this is still pretty cool. Video of a heads up Draftbug live draft, with my narrative explaining some strategy tips for Opening Day contests. We'll be putting together some more polished videos, but for anyone who hasn't tried the live drafts yet, this should be interesting. It's the first video I've posted, so hopefully it won't break the internet.

video

Opening Day 2009 And Beyond

I wanted to give people some idea what you can expect to see here at The Waiver Wire once the season begins. I know a lot of sites focus on draft preparation, and once Opening Day passes, they're more or less ready to move on to football, but as far as I'm concerned, the fun doesn't begin until the games start.

I'll be focusing a lot on what I'm best at - evaluating match-ups and the context of the games scheduled for the upcoming days and weeks. I'll discuss particularly bad starting pitchers who are expected to start. Many of those are spot starters, who we can't identify before the season begins, because they're in the bullpen, in the minor leagues, or haven't yet showed (through their statistics) that there's something wrong with their health, their mechanics, or their mental state.

I'll try to give you one or more hitters each day that I have favorable expectations for in that day's games, as well as a relief pitcher and a starting pitcher whenever possible. I'll also continue to provide strategy articles for daily transactions leagues of all sorts.

I probably will cut back on the player profiles that I've been doing in the offseason (except where I think a specific player has something particularly interesting for us to discuss), and I won't try to replace all the sites that do a great job of keeping you up to date on latest news.

If there are topics you'd like to see me cover as the 2009 regular season schedule progresses, feel free to suggest them in the comments here, or to send me an email.

Follow Up About Erik Bedard

Several commenters disagreed with my statement about reports on Erik Bedard not looking good so far. Those reports were from a commenter in the Rotojunkie forums. He's someone whose opinion I respect a lot and who follows the Mariners very closely. It's unclear whether the opinion was formed on his own, or something he heard from someone in the Mariners organization, but his exact words were "No one believes he can stay healthy, and his stuff isn't what it was two years ago (his fastball is still a little off his peak and his curve control isn't as devastating)". Given that he's coming off an injury and has a very low strikeout rate this Spring, I'm going to assume that there's truth in what he's saying.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Erik Bedard 2009

I've been touting Erik Bedard as a great sleeper for 2009 up until now. That was based on his having been the most dominant pitcher in baseball in 2007, and the hope that he'd be back to full health in time for the start of the season. That apparently isn't the case, as Bedard has struck out 7 batters and walked 9 in 11.1 innings pitched. Pitchers coming back from injuries are one of the situations that I've discussed before, where you SHOULD pay attention to statistics. And in this case, the stats agree with reports that say that Bedard hasn't looked good. If you can get him in the very late rounds of a draft, he still probably has enough upside to be a worthwhile pick anyway. But just be aware that if he doesn't turn things around in a hurry, you're likely to need to either drop him or stash him away on the bench, and hope he follows a similar recovery pattern to Francisco Liriano's 2008 season.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Winning Daily Fantasy Baseball Contests: Part I (The Basics)

For those who aren’t familiar with them, daily fantasy contests (such as those offered at Draftbug) allow you to pick a team and win (or lose) based on the results of that day’s games. They’re perfect for those who like fantasy sports, but don’t have the time to maintain their team throughout the season. They’re also a great (legal) alternative to sports betting. The most common format for daily fantasy contests are ‘salary cap’ contests, although some site also offer a ‘live draft’ format for those who like the feel of a traditional draft. This article will cover some of the basis strategies needed to succeed in these contests. Future articles in the series will look at some more advanced topics.

Look for bargains – This is kind of obvious, but the salary cap limitations in these contests means that you’re not usually going to be able to use an all-star type lineup. You’re going to need to search out some undervalued players and use them. One common source of these is players who will have an expanded role today due to an injury to another player.

Check the news – Check the news to make sure that you’re not using anybody in your lineup who won’t be playing today. Lineups in these contests typically lock in after starting lineups are announced, so ideally you should make sure that your players are actually in the lineup.

Understand the rules – This goes for any format of fantasy baseball – you should always know the rules thoroughly. In particularly, the scoring system vary in different daily contest formats, and you should make sure you’re selecting players who fare well in the scoring system your contest uses. A player like Jason Giambi is a pretty valuable if your system uses walks, but not so much otherwise.

Larger contests require more risks – In a two person contest you should just go with the best possible lineup. In a larger contest (say 100 people), where the prize payouts are typically very top heavy, you’re going to need to take some chances to have a shot at the top spot. Play for 1st place…not 10th.

Take opponents into account – When you evaluate players for your team, consider who their opponent is today. For pitchers, how strong is the opposing lineup? How strong is the opposing starting pitcher? For hitters, how strong are the opposing starting pitcher and bullpen?

Take park factors into account – Where is the game being played? Ideally you want pitchers to be in favorable pitchers’ parks and hitters in favorable hitters’ parks, although there are plenty of cases when other factors may override this.

If you run a blog or website and are interested in reprinting this article, please send me an email.

Fantasy Baseball Challenge

Some of you have already noticed that there's a new site on my link list. Draftbug Millionaire will track the progress of a small group of fantasy baseball enthusiasts trying to 'go pro' as fantasy players. We don't know what will happen, but it should be interesting to follow. Take a look...and send me an email if you're you'd like to be considered as a participant.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brett Gardner 2009

Brett Gardner is an interesting sleeper candidate for 2009. In 'real baseball', Gardner should be a solid, but not exciting player. Despite his struggles in his first look at the major leagues, I expect him to put high on base percentages (largely due to drawing a lot of walks) and stealing plenty of bases. He won't hit a lot of home runs. That same profile makes him an exciting fantasy prospect, perfect for a speculative late round pick. At this point, we don't even know how much playing time he's going to receive, since he'll be competing with Melky Cabrera for the Yankees center field role. But if he does get regular playing time, he should be good for anywhere from 30-50 stolen bases, making him valuable regardless of how little power he has. Gardner is a good pick near the end of drafts in all but the most shallow leagues.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring Training Statistics of Note

In this article, I wrote about some of the situations where Spring Training performance is actually pretty signficant.

Now that we're further into the exhibition season, I thought it would be useful to identify some of the pitchers whose performance to date is of interest.

Liriano - 21.1 IP, 19 K, 8 BB. No change in opinion based on this. I expect him to be good, but not quite as good as he used to be.

Hampton - 21 IP, 16 K, 3 BB. Good performance in Spring can come from facing especially weak lineups, but this is SO much better than I would have expected that it's noteworthy.

Verlander - 20.1 IP, 11 K, 14 BB. I don't care if he IS 'working on stuff'. This concerns me.

Harang - 19.2 IP, 10 K, 6 BB. Not extreme enough to mean much, but I was hoping to see him blow hitters away this Spring.

Carpenter - 19 IP, 10 K, 4 BB. Same as Harang.

A. Sanchez - 18.2 IP, 7 K, 9 BB. Not really what you want to see from a guy who has had health and control issues.

Carmona - 16 IP, 6 K, 7 BB. Don't be fooled by the 1.69 ERA.

Zambrano - 16 IP, 15 K, 3 BB. Well that's interesting. Maybe bump him up a bit, although he's always been so overrated (until this year), that the upside probably isn't what some people think it is.

Park - 15.2 IP, 18 K, 1 BB. Probably the correct choice for the Phillies #5 starter.

Zimmerman - 14.1, 20 K, 2 BB. Very impressive, but I'm not quite ready to buy into the level of hype he's getting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ian Stewart 2009

Earlier this preseason, I was asked which I liked better as a prospect: Ian Stewart or Brandon Wood. I answered that I prefer Wood, and it's not close. The more I look at Stewart's record, the closer it's getting. The recent news that Stewart may be used in some sort of utility role that would give him 2B eligibility in many leagues certainly helps his fantasy value. But there's a lot to like beyond that. This is a hitter who hasn't yet turned 24 and was able to hold his own in a half season in the major leagues last year. The power he showed in A ball in 2004 returned last year. He doesn't have a particularly high strikeout rate. Stewart definitely has the potential to be a nice sleeper in all but the shallowest leagues, and provides the kind of high risk/high reward value that you should be looking for in late round picks.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Baseball Betting - Daily Fantasy Sports Contests

I've talked about this before, but for those who are interested in profiting from their knowledge of baseball, daily fantasy sports contests offer a great alternative to online sports betting. Not only are the contests completely legal (and allow deposits by credit card), but they offer more interesting opportunities as well. Instead of being limited to a maximum of 15 major league games from which to choose, players can enter as many contests as they like, and use a variety of lineups in those contests. These contests are a great chance to win money using Sabermetric concepts to evaluate the impact of park factors, opposing pitchers and lineups, platoon differentials, home park advantage, fatigue, weather, and more. If you've ever thought about doing baseball betting, but hesitated to, try out Draftbug daily fantasy baseball contests. Registration is free, and those who sign up now can enter our free $100 'April Home Run Derby'. Also, until the end of March, we'll be giving all new accounts 4,000 player points, which can be used to enter $4 worth of real money contests.

Carlos Villanueva 2009

With Trevor Hoffman beginning to look doubtful for Opening Day 2009, the Brewers closer role is likely to be in the hands of either Carlos Villanueva or Seth McClung for a while. Villanueva was very effective last year, striking out 7.8 per nine innings and walking 2.5. He also had a groundball rate of 46.6%. If anything, he's likely to improve on those numbers (other than the groundball rate) this year, since he's only 25 years old, and will presumably be pitching strictly out of the bullpen. Last year he started nine games, and relieving generally improves performance slightly. While he's no match for Hoffman, Milwaukee will be in capable hands if they have to rely on Villanueva temporarily.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nick Adenhart 2009

I really don't understand why major league teams do this to themselves. Nick Adenhart is being considered for a spot in the Angles starting rotation in 2009. Why? In 145.1 innings pitched at AAA last year, he struck out 110 and walked 75. Making any kind of reasonable adjustment for the level of competition, when he faces major league batters...well, that's not good. And in fact, he did pitch 12 of the worst innings in major league history in the majors, striking out 4 and walking 13. Adenhart may be a fine pitcher some day, but the odds are strongly against being early this season. At 22 years old, he belongs in AAA.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jordan Zimmerman 2009

There seems to be a lot of buzz around Jordan Zimmerman the past few days. The release of Shawn Hill along with Zimmerman's excellent spring performance appear to have given him a role on the Nationals for 2009, and he may start the season as part of Washington's starting rotation. A lot of the buzz is being driven by Zimmerman's 16 strikeouts and 2 walks in 12.1 innings pitched. While that is excellent, good spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, since we can't easily determine the level of competition those were actually compiled against. At AA last year, Zimmerman was very good, but not dominant. At 22 years old, sudden improvement is certainly possible, but given a normal progression of his skills, he belongs at AAA this year. I'm all for bringing young pitchers up to the major league team as soon as they're ready, but Zimmerman may not be ready. I will say that he's a LOT closer to ready than Rick Porcello who I wrote about a few days ago.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Justin Verlander 2009

Although his earned run average was more than a full run worse last year than it had been either of the previous two year, my feeling at the end of last season was that Justin Verlander was the same pitcher he had always been. His strikeout rate of 7.1 per nine innings and his walk rate of 3.8 per nine innings were slightly worse than in 2007, but not out of line with his career averages at all. However, based on his Spring Training statistics so far, I'm beginning to wonder if there may be some more increasingly serious health issues for Verlander. In 15.1 innings pitched, he's struck out 7 batters and walked 12. While Spring Training statistics are notoriously unpredictable, I would prefer to avoid any unnecessary risks and steer clear of a situation like Verlander's until I see him begin to turn that ratio around.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hiroki Kuroda 2009

In a slight surprise (to me anyway) the Dodgers have announced that Hiroki Kuroda will be their opening day starting pitcher in 2009. While I like Kuroda a lot, this actually slightly reduces his value early in the season, as he's likely to be matched against opposing teams' ace starters the first few times through the rotations, while guys like Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw draw easier matchups. That said, Kuroda is an excellent pitcher, due to good control (2.1 BB/9 in 2008) and a high groundball rate (51.3%). With those strengths, his strikeout rate of 5.8 per nine innings is much more than adequate. At 34 years old, he's probably on the downside of his career, but should have a few good years left.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rick Porcello 2009

The Tigers are apparently considering moving 20 year old pitching prospect all the way from high A ball last season to the starting rotation of their major league team this year. In general, I'm all for early 'promotions' for talented minor leaguers, regardless of age or experience. But I want them to have dominated at whatever level they played at. That isn't the case here, and I think Detriot's management would be making a huge mistake by having Porcello completely skip AA and AAA in 2009. In 125 innings pitched, he only struck out 72 batters, and walked 33. Those are not impressive numbers, especially when adjusted for the low level of the competition. Rick Porcello may be a star someday, but right now he's not a major league pitcher. Unless you're in a keeper league, don't be fooled into thinking he's a potential sleeper. And if you're competing in daily contests like Draftbug or Snapdraft, then targetting Porcello's opponents is likely to be a productive strategy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Draftbug Fantasy Baseball Contests

The $100 freeroll at Draftbug is filling up quickly. 56 out of 200 spots have been filled since the contest opened Sunday night. The top 20 will receive cash prizes, with 1st place getting $24. Unlike our usual daily contests, in this one contestants will pick 10 hitters within a salary cap, and score a point for each home run their team hits in the month of April. Registration for the site and the contest are both free and just take a minute. We've also now listed some additional 'April Home Run Derby' contests, and will begin listing daily contests soon.

Q&A With David Bloom

I recently conducted a Q&A with David Bloom of Around The Majors. David's answers to my questions are in italics.

1. What do you think are the most compelling roster and position battles that will last until the final days of Spring Training, providing us with something to focus on until Opening Day?

I think the Reds left field position battle is worth following. The Reds have long time minor leaguer Chris Dickerson penciled in after a strong debut last season hitting .304/413/.608 in 122 plate appearances. The thing about Dickerson is that he consistently strikes out a lot and has never really achieved this type of production throughout his minor league career. However, the left handed hitting Dickerson could still achieve double digit home runs and stolen bases. Although Jacque Jones and Jerry Hairston are also in the mix for left field, it’s really only Jonny Gomes who seems to be Dickerson’s main competition. In Gomes, the former Tampa Bay Ray, he has demonstrated a few periods of success across his 5 year major league career, but has never been able to put it all together. In recent years the right handed batting outfielder has bounced between AAA Durham and the Rays big league club. His defense has never been good, and seems better suited for an American league team where he can DH. I am inclined to think this starts off as a platoon situation between Gomes and Dickerson. I expect Dickerson to get some starts in center as well, and depending on how Willy Taveras produces will determine if Dickerson stays in left field.

2. Which individual players that switched teams during the offseason do you think will benefit most from the change of scenery?

One player that comes to mind in the AL is Pat Burrell who signed with the Rays. He can be used in the DH role which better fits his defensive abilities at this point of his career. He is a slugger that can bat in the middle of the Rays lineup and make a lot of the hitters on the Rays better with the added protection in the batting order. In the National league, one player that comes to mind is Javier Vazquez of the Braves who is back in the National league where he has had a lot of success in the past. Vazquez, mainly a fly ball pitcher, pitched a lot better than his ERA indicates. His .308 BABIP seems to indicate he was unlucky in 2008, since his peripheral were strong with a 8.64 K/9 along with a decent WHIP.

3. Most people agree that Matt Wieters will be an impact fantasy (and real) baseball player as soon as he plays in the majors. Are there any other rookies that you expect to have a fantasy impact prior to September?

One player that seems to be on the fast track is one of my personal favorites in Jordan Schafer who I saw play in person last season playing against AA Carolina. For the second spring training in a row, he is tearing the cover off the ball. It seems Bobby Cox is in his corner, and it’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance to play center field on a regular basis. As well, we all know about David Price from the 2008 World Series. Eventually, he will be a fixture in the Rays pitching rotation for years to come. One other prospect who plays catcher like Wieters is Angel Salome of the Brewers. He missed some time last year due to a drug suspension, but hit an outstanding .360/.415/.559 in AA.

4. What team do you think is likely to surprise people this year...both in terms of team performance, and the viability of its players on fantasy rosters?

I am thinking the team that will surprise in 2009 is the Reds in the National League Central. Last year, we found out about pitcher Edinson Volquez as he came on the scene to be a top of the rotation pitcher. The Reds pitching is pretty solid and will be the key to the turn around. Aaron Harang is gearing up to have a comeback season and hopes to be in the conversation as the ace of the staff once again. Second year pitcher Johnny Cueto , along with Bronson Arroyo make up a solid middle of the rotation pitchers. Micah Owings who came over in the Adam Dunn trade has been impressive so far this spring, and could soon be known as the newest pitcher the Reds stole from another organization.

5. Are the people predicting 83-85 wins for the A's crazy, or is their progress rebuilding really that far along?

I am thinking Billy Beane has really done a fine job rebuilding this organization with his tear it down, build it up approach. He restocked the organization with young talent which also allowed them to make key deals for players such as Matt Holliday, who will still be a good player even though he is away from the thin air in Colorado. With the Angel taking a hit both on personnel and injuries, the AL West is there for the taking. The 83-85 wins are certainly achievable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scott Lewis 2009

Scott Lewis is currently considering a longshot to win the last spot in the Indians rotation for 2009. That's a shame, because he's a good pitcher. Lewis was successful in his only major league experience so far, striking out 15 and walking 6 in 24 innings of work (all as a starter). That's pretty close to what I'd expect from him on an ongoing basis. While his strikeout rates in the minor leagues suggest that he might be capable of a bit better, against the tougher competition in the majors, something between 6 and 7 per nine innings, with good control is a reasonable expectation. He only induced 36.5% groundballs in his major league work, but I would expect that to be very slightly higher going forward. Lewis isn't a star, and at 25 years old isn't that likely to develop into one. But he is a good, solid, major league quality starter.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Freeroll

The first fantasy baseball contest of the year is up at Draftbug. It's a $100 freeroll contest, limited to the first 200 people to enter. Select 10 players, and scoring is based on the number of home runs your players hit during the month of April. Registration is completely free, and just takes a minute. The top twenty people win cash prizes, with first place getting $24. We'll be listing additional real money and play money contests in the next week or so.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brett Anderson 2009

A lot can go wrong between AA and the Majors, but statistically, Oakland pitching prospect Brett Anderson has almost everything you'd want to see in a future star. He's 21 years old. His strikeout rates have been above one per inning at every stop in the minor leagues. His control has been good at all levels as well. And he's in an organization where getting an opportunity is never a problem for young players. The only negative I can see is that his minor league home run rates have been relatively high, which probably indicates that he's an extreme flyball pitcher. However, he's good enough other than that, that he should still be very effective. I expect him to excel this year in AAA, and probably to get a shot at the majors in September, or coming out of Spring Training in 2010.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Troy Percival 2009

Troy Percival is the favorite to be the Ray's closer when the season starts, assuming he remains healthy enough. That's not a good thing. The days when Percival was a dominant pitcher are long gone. In fact, the days when Percival was an adequate pitcher may be gone as well. While he did have a very respectable 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Percival's other numbers were terrible. He was already an extreme flyball pitcher, yet his groundball rate dropped sharply in 2008 to an incredible 23.0%. His control, which had previously been fairly good, left him and his walk rate rose to 5.4 per nine innings. While sample size can make any relief pitcher statistics less meaningful, Percival's age (39) makes it more likely that there's been a real change for the worse in his abilities. With pitchers like Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler on the team, there's really no reason for the Rays' to take the chance of using Percival as their closer again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Draftbug

Since I have a lot of new readers, its time to mention Draftbug again. Draftbug is my site. We're offering daily fantasy contests for real money or play money. Draft a team today, win tonight. Both 'salary cap' and 'live draft' formats are available. Registration is free. Best of all, anyone who registers by the end of March gets 4,000 'points' in their account, which allows entry in $4 worth of real money contests. And we've got a pair of $1 'freerolls' scheduled today, which gives you another chance to win money without making a deposit. We're currently running NBA and NHL contests, and sign-ups for some baseball contests and freerolls will be available sometime soon. Sign up today to get your free player points, even if you save them to use during baseball season!

Elijah Dukes 2009

Elijah Dukes is an interesting sleeper for 2009. In 276 at bats last year he hit 13 home runs and stole 13 bases. Projected to a full season, that looks like he has an outside shot at 30 homers and 30 steals. His minor league record fully supports the idea that he could continue to show that kind of power, although I'd expect his actual stolen base totals to be a little lower. The one question with Dukes at this point (other than whether he can stay healthy and out of trouble) is whether he'll ever be able to hit for high batting averages in the major leagues. At 24 years old, I wouldn't bet against him developing that ability. And if you're in a league that uses on base percentage instead of batting average (like the Yahoo league I've talked about previously), then he's likely to be a star. One thing working against Dukes this year will be the presence of Josh Willingham as a very capable 4th outfielder for the Nationals. That could potentially eat into Dukes' at bats. On the other hand, Dukes (like Ryan Spilborghs, who I profiled yesterday) is the type of player for whom projecting a strong half season of at bats into full season stats is appropriate. What I mean by that is that his half season of at bats were compiled in roughly half of a season...not stretched out evenly throughout the season. That's important, because it means that he likely wasn't benefiting from a particularly skewed distribution of righties versus lefties among opposing pitchers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ryan Spilborghs 2009

668 AB, 21 HR, 16 SB, .302 BA, 104 R, 109 RBI. Who is this fantasy baseball star? He looks like a 3rd or 4th rough pick at worst, roughtly equivalent to Nick Markakis. Right? Well, no actually. That's the major league career of Ryan Spilborghs. Yes, we cheated by giving him an awful lot of at bats. And yes, he's 29 years old and is just about ready to begin the decline phase of his career. But if he wins the Rockies starting center field job (as appears likely), he's going to be a terrific value. And even if he fails to win the everyday job, he'll be a great value in daily contests like Draftbug and Snapdraft, where you can verify his place in the lineup prior to the start of games each day. One thing to watch out for is that if he leads off, his RBI total will be much lower. In any case, Spilborghs looks like a great late round pick for most formats.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brandon Wood 2009

Few hitting prospects create as much disagreement about fans as Brandon Wood. His supporters point to his tremendous power (31 home runs in 395 minor league at bats last year), his age (24), potential for dual position eligibility (third base and short stop), and respectable minor league batting averages (between .270 and .321 in his primary level each year). His detractors believe that his tendency to strike out (147 in 545 total at bats in 2008) will prevent him from succeeding at the major league level. For 2009, there's also uncertainty about whether he'll spend the entire year in the majors. Based on his strong Spring Training so far (8 for 17 with only one strikeout), I think Wood will make the Angels opening day roster, and that he'll have some success. Don't expect a high batting average (.250 seems reasonable), but he should hit enough home runs to make up for that. Wood is a good late round pick in deep leagues, as he's a perfect fit for the high risk, high reward profile that you should be targeting near the end of most drafts.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ryan Ludwick 2009

It's hard to know what to make of Ryan Ludwick in 2009. A repeat of his 2008 would make him one of the better hitters in baseball, as he hit .299 with 37 home runs, and over 100 runs and RBIs. How likely is he to repeat that kind of performance? Not very. The good news first. He hit 40 doubles, which likely indicates that the home run total wasn't a fluke. Also, he put up a similar performance in 106 at bats in AAA in 2007. Unfortunately, everything else points to this being a career year, well out of line with his ability. Playing in the minors since 1999, Ludwick always had power, but never showed the ability to hit for average (especially once adjustments are made for level of competition). Ludwick is 30 years old, so it would be unusual for him to make a true leap in ability at this point in his career. He might exceed 30 home runs again, but it's likely to come with a much lower batting average...something in the vicinity of .250.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Scott Baker 2009

Scott Baker resembles a slightly inferior version of his teammate, Kevin Slowey. Baker is a solid control pitcher in his own right, but is just slightly inferior to Slowey in a few different ways. Probably the most important is that Baker is already 27 years old, so he's got a lot less time to develop than Slowey. While Baker did have the better strikeout rate (K/9: 7.7) in 2008, this was well above his career average, and I would expect it to be somewhat lower in 2009. Baker has good control too (BB/9: 2.3 in 2008) but not as good as Slowey. And like Slowey, he's an extreme flyball pitcher. If you're looking for a reasonably skilled pitcher to fill one of the last spots in your fantasy rotation, Baker is a good choice. Just recognize that he's got limitied upside.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Grant Balfour 2009

I wouldn't have thought it was possible for me to not be excited about a pitcher who struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings last year, but in Grant Balfour's case I'm not so sure. While the strikeout rate in 2008 was incredible, there are a number of strikes against him. He walked 4.1 batters per nine innings. That in itself would be acceptable for such an overpowering pitcher, but in his previous major league record, his control was substantially worse than that. His groundball rate was only 29.3%. That's not good. And I was surprised to discover that he's already 31 years old. That makes me a lot less optimistic that he's ever going to learn to consistently throw the ball over the plate.

Like Sports Betting...But Legal

Despite being a multi-billion dollar industry, online sports betting in the United States currently has an ambiguous legal status. Additionally, even if you overlook its unclear legality, it can be difficult getting money into (and out of) online sportsbooks. That’s a real shame, because having a piece of the action on a game you’re watching can really enhance the enjoyment of sporting events.

Luckily there’s a new alternative, which has all of the advantages of sports betting, without any of the drawbacks. Daily fantasy sports contests like Draftbug allow players to pick a team of players, and win (or lose) cash based on the statistical performance of those players that day. Fantasy sports are completely legal, deposits can be made by credit card, and payment or withdrawals by check. Unlike traditional fantasy sports, Draftbug doesn’t require a season long commitment. Picking a team takes about five minutes, and results are calculated the same day.

Draftbug is currently offering daily basketball and hockey contests. Baseball will be available on opening day (April 5th). Registration is free, and a promotion providing 4,000 player points (which allows entry in $4 of real money contests) has been extended until the end of March. If you sign up now, I'll also provide daily player ratings for the first month of the season. I used the same ratings (modified for the game format's scoring differences) win Rotohog's 2008 fantasy baseball contest against more than 40,000 other people.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Using Middle Relievers in Yahoo Leagues

As a follow up to the discussion about my Yahoo league, DT asked:

"Can you expand on this concept: 'and rotating middle relievers with good match-ups into my roster' Is this something you widely employ in roto leagues? What are some of the tips to employing it successfully? You don't draft any middle relievers, so are you just streaming? How much do you focus on their opponent? Since you would have to be picking up guys today for the game tomorrow, do you often get screwed by the guy then pitching today, making it less likely he will then pitch tomorrow? How much success have you had with this vs actually drafting good SPs? How reliant are you on subsequently picking up some good SPs for the long haul?"

I actually wrote an article at The Hardball Times this morning about Yahoo leagues where I discuss this in some detail, but here are the answers to DT's specific questions...

I employ it widely in leagues with similar format to Yahoo. Daily transactions are crucial. If rosters are very deep, it can still be useful, but probably needs to be implemented differently (with more MRs and more starting pitchers on the roster).

Here, I'll just be streaming middle relievers, so the strategy becomes tougher when a few other people in the same league are doing the same thing.

I focus a LOT on situational factors like opponents, parks, home field advantage, and more.

Most managers don't hesitate to use relievers two days in a row, so just avoid using someone who has already pitched back to back days and might have to go three days in a row.

The last time I made any effort in Yahoo leagues was 2004. I entered seven, used this strategy, and won all seven. I suspect that I couldn't have done this by simply drafting good starting pitchers and using them all season.

I'm not at all reliant on picking up good starting pitchers for the long haul. In fact, the key to using this strategy successfully is to recognize that only your best players are on your team for the 'long haul'. You're going to be dropping some pretty good players, and you need to be able to deal with the mental anguish of your opponents picking them up and getting good performance from some of them.

P.S. On a separate note...I'm still giving 4,000 player points ($4) at Draftbug and we've got a live draft basketball freeroll scheduled for tonight. Registration is free and takes less than a minute.

Kevin Slowey 2009

Kevin Slowey is one of the best control pitchers in the major leagues right now. Last season he struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings, while walking only 1.4. His only real weakness is that he's an extreme flyball pitcher. In 2008 he had a 36.1% groundball rate, and it was even worse in his major league starts in 2007. Slowey's minor league record was incredibly consistent (and in line with what he's done in the majors so far), and at 24 years old, Slowey has plenty of opportunity to improve. Slowey is a bargain in most fantasy league drafts in 2009, and his great control allows him to pitch deep in many of his starts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fantasy Sports Freerolls & Online Live Drafts

A few new announcements regarding my site Draftbug. For those of you who haven't tried it out yet, Draftbug is similar to Snapdraft and Fantasysportslive, with daily fantasy contests for real money or play money. It's a perfect way to make watching the day's games more exciting, without any longer term time commitment. And for those of you who are good at it, it's a great way to make some money.

We ended up continuing our February Draftbug promotion into March. Registration is free, and all new accounts are given 4,000 player points, which allows entry into $4 of real money contests. You can get a bankroll started with no initial deposit! I know that I had said we wouldn't be doing that past the end of February, and I promise this isn't like one of those furniture stores that have been 'going out of business' for the past twenty years. The decision to continue the promotion wasn't made until the night of March 1st.

We've just started running online live draft contests at Draftbug for the NBA and NHL. For those of you who enjoy drafting fantasy teams more than actually managing them for the season, these are perfect. You participate in an online 'snake draft', and win or lose depending on how your players do in that night's games. To encourage participation in these, we're even offering an NHL live draft freeroll today! The prize is small ($2), but how often do you get paid to do something really fun?

Ryan Dempster 2009

Ryan Dempster has been striking out lots of batters while putting up a good groundball rate for years in relief. However, his achilles heel was always his lack of control. Moved into the starting rotation last year, Dempster excelled. His control improved, and he ended up with a 2.96 ERA. Is he going to be able to repeat that? The short answer is 'no'. Even if he pitches just as well in 2009, Dempster is unlikely to allow as few home runs again. However, I do think it's possible that his control has actually improved (possibly due to the move into the rotation) and that Dempster might continue to be a very solid starting pitcher. While most pitchers do better as relievers, the one area where I can imagine some of them finding a starting role easier would be in reducing walks. I don't have any statistical evidence to back that up, but it makes sense to me, and I have really seen anything refuting it either. Control is also the one area where a pitcher of Dempster's age (31) is most likely to still be improving. An ERA in the mid-to-high 3s, with plenty of strikeouts seems like a reasonable projection for Dempster this season.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yahoo Draft Questions

I got a number of good comments and questions about the draft results I posted yesterday, so I thought I'd answer them in a post where more people would see it.

Adam: "Did you regret not pre-ranking all your players? I'm curious. I have opinions and feelings about each player - it seems to me to be a waste of time to go through the formality of pre-ranking."

Alex: In this case, I have no real regrets. But that doesn't mean I did the right thing. Maybe 5% of the time, you're going to have some kind of technical difficulties when you draft online, or you're going to get interrupted by an emergency of some sort. Pre-ranking can prevent those problems from being a draft disaster. To say that "its ok, because I didn't get burned this time" is the kind of results oriented thinking you should try to avoid. Also, if you're in a league that you view as 'must win' you should be doing something to quantify the relative value of each player, and once you do that, the rankings have more meaning than they do in a draft where you're justing 'winging it', as I did in this one.

Dave: "Alex, I'd be pretty happy with that. Maybe a little short on speed, but probably enough brute force to compensate in other categories. A real offensive juggernaut.

The string of Davis-Cruz-Napoli-Giambi seems like a fun group of players to own.

I think your pitching is fine. You were able to get strikeout potential at a low cost (Myers, Kershaw) and insure it with Dempster and Slowey. None of these pitchers are rockstars but 1-2 of them should come through with flying colors, and as you say, the rest can come off the waiver wire.

Phil Hughes is kind of an interesting pick. I hardly hear anything about him these days."

Alex: Couldn't have said it better myself. Hughes is likely to end up as the Yankees #6 pitcher. I think he's still an outstanding prospect. The truth is though, I rotate so many players onto my team during the season that I'll almost certainly drop him...possibly even if he makes the Yankees rotation.

JR Ewing: "Nice draft. How many teams were in this one? If it was 12 teams, some of those late pitchers you got were absolute thefts where you got them.

Not to nitpick a nice draft, but I thought the Mike Napoli pick was likely a reach. The OBP instead of BA helps him out and he'll out HR probably any C that was on the board at the time and give you a few steals. However, I don't know if the margin in those two categories between him and some other guys likely available is worth a 9th round pick. Also he won't contribute any more in the R+RBI than a lot of baseline catchers will.

Wasn't a "terrible" pick but I wonder if getting Sandoval a lot later made you think about who else was there for you in the 9th round."

Alex: Thanks. 12 teams. I actually like the Napoli pick for a few reasons. Obviously, using on base percentage is a huge advantage for him. Also, I've read several places that the Angels are aiming to get him 400+ at bats this year, even if it means using him as a DH sometimes. If that happens, he could hit 30 home runs and put up some nice RBI and runs totals as well. Ianetta had a already been picked, so there was a VERY large drop off at catcher if someone else took Napoli first.

DT: "No way dude. this might be the worst starting pitching I have ever seen. I would be very impressed if you were competitive in this league.
I do recognize that you won rotohog last year, and that def makes you the guru in my mind, but hey, I guess everyone can have a bad draft."

Alex: I would be SHOCKED if I'm not competitive in this league, and will be disappointed if I don't win. That doesn't necessarily mean I think I had a better draft than anyone else, but I think I have one of the top three or four teams, and better in-season management should put me over the top. These pitchers are probably better than you think (I'll profile several of them in the next few days) and rotating middle relievers with good match-ups into my roster should at least put me in the top half of most pitching categories. With my offense, that's probably all I should need.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First Yahoo Draft

I mentioned a while back that I'd be drafting a team last night. This is the league where I'm up against some pro and aspiring poker players. It's not quite standard Yahoo rules. Some of the modifications are that the roster configuration includes an extra first baseman, batting average has been replaced by on base percentage, and there's a 900 minimimum for innings pitched.

My basic strategy was to go for hitting early, unless any pitchers I liked dropped a lot further than expected. Usually when I use this strategy, I still end up picking two or three pitchers in the first ten rounds. Not yesterday. There was a pretty wide range of experience levels among the players in the league, and pitching was generally going a lot earlier than usual. I have a very, very, very offense heavy team. That may seem like a problem, but I'm generally able to compensate for weak pitching in Yahoo's format by rotating middle relievers with favorable matchups into the lineup slots of any starting pitchers who aren't pitching each day.

Throughout the season, I'll be providing some updates on how this team is doing. Here are my draft results from yesterday:

1. (12) Mark Teixeira
2. (13) Ian Kinsler
3. (36) Nick Markakis
4. (37) Manny Ramírez
5. (60) Brian Roberts
6. (61) Nate McLouth
7. (84) Chris Davis
8. (85) Nelson Cruz
9. (108) Mike Napoli
10. (109) Jason Giambi
11. (132) Ryan Dempster
12. (133) Chad Qualls
13. (156) Brian Wilson
14. (157) Heath Bell
15. (180) Kevin Slowey
16. (181) Brett Myers
17. (204) Pablo Sandoval
18. (205) Yunel Escobar
19. (228) Randy Winn
20. (229) Clayton Kershaw
21. (252) Kendry Morales
22. (253) Chris Dickerson
23. (276) Josh Willingham
24. (277) Hiroki Kuroda
25. (300) Rafael Pérez
26. (301) Phil Hughes
27. (324) Paul Maholm
28. (325) Ubaldo Jiménez

Monday, March 2, 2009

How Not To Prepare

Tonight is the draft for the league I mentioned a while back. It's a Yahoo 5*5 league. On base percentage replaces batting average. My opponents are people I barely know or don't know. The one thing they have in common is that they're really serious about poker. At least one (probably more) are professional poker players. One of the most important steps to prepare for any league that you're determined to win is to pre-rank ALL of the players. It'll help you make the right choice in the heat of the moment, and it will ensure that your draft isn't a disaster if you lose connectivity or are interrupted by an emergency. I haven't done it, and won't get to by tonight. We'll see if I end up regretting it. I'll post results of the draft in the next day or two. I have another draft coming up in a few weeks. That one will be against a group of professional sports bettors, and will be a Yahoo standard fantasy baseball format.

Curtis Granderson 2009

I have to admit, I don't really understand why so many fantasy players have a fascination with Curtis Granderson and his 'potential'. The man is going to be 28 years old in two weeks. The time for potential is past, and the time to perform is now. He's hit over .300 once (just barely). He's stolen over 12 bases just once. His career high in home runs is 23. His career high in RBIs is 74. Basically he's going to score a lot of runs and hit a lot of triples. For most full season leagues, those triples are worth the same as a single. I think his ranking in most draft is because he's an athletic guy who hasn't been in the majors for that long. People just assume that he's younger than he is, and that he's going to continue to improve. Don't count on it!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Horacio Ramirez 2009

According to sources, Horacio Ramirez will be given the Royals #4 starter role, leaving Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister to fight it out for the last spot in their rotation for 2009. Not that the others are much better, but I really wonder what Ramirez has ever done to deserve this free pass. In 656.2 major league innings, he's struck out 301 and walked 251. That's terrible. He does tend to keep the ball on the ground, with a very good (but not spectacular) groundball rate that usually is in the vicinity of 50%. However, even that comes with a question mark, as Ramirez has tended to allow more home runs than would be expected given his groundball rate. Ramirez is 29 years old, so that's another reason for the Royals not to give him a spot in the rotation - either of the players he'll be taking the spot from are younger, and presumably more likely to show some improvement. The silver lining in all of this is that we can take advantage of the Royals poor decision making, and look to target Ramirez' opponents in daily leagues such as Draftbug.