Sunday, January 31, 2010

Elvis Andrus 2010

Elvis Andrus is a good example of the type of player I most like to have on my teams - low risk, high reward. Yes, that's right...low risk, high reward. What does a player have to do to qualify for that unlikely combination. Generally, they need to be VERY young - that's where the high reward comes from. Because of their youth, we simply don't know how much they might still improve...but it's likely to be a substantial amount. The low risk comes from a combination of having an established track record of performance (in this case, Andrus' 2009 season), not being at risk of losing playing time if they struggle, and not showing any particular reason to be worried about injury risk. Andrus qualifies on all counts, and a repeat of the 33 steals he managed in 2009, would make him a worthwhile pick in 2010 at his current Couchmanagers ADP of 107th, especially if you aren't able to get any of the big name stolen base specialists.

Friday, January 29, 2010

B.J. Upton 2010

It seems like each year, perception of B.J. Upton's fantasy baseball value swings wildly from drastically overrated to underrated, and then reverses itself the next season. I think he may be due for an upswing this year. His most recent ADP at had him ranked as the 104th player, just below hitters like Pence, Loney, Wieters, C. Jones, Y. Escobar and Soriano. Although his average was terrible (.241) last year, he has hit .300 in a full major league season. He's also hit 24 home runs in a season. And he's stolen over 40 bases each of the past two years. So we know the potential is there for a huge season, if he puts it all together. It may seem as though Upton has been around for ever, but he's still only 25 years old! Improvement can be expected, and it wouldn't surprise me if he becomes an elite player for fantasy baseball in 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Updates Including WCOFB

Notes on a few fantasy baseball odds and ends...

First of all, if you have any questions or topics you'd like me to address in future posts (including "what should I?" type questions), email me at the address listed at the bottom of the righthand sidebar.

The slow mock draft that I mentioned a couple of days ago is underway. I picked 10th out of 12. I was hoping that Prince Fielder would fall to me, but he went one pick earlier. I ended up with Ryan Howard at #10 and Joe Mauer at #15. The best potential alternatives would have been Miguel Cabrera instead of Howard, and Carl Crawford instead of Mauer.

I'm still waiting to see if a number of sites are going to launch baseball contests this year. One that has added some detail this week is the WCOFB. It's organized by the same folks who do the WCOFF. The main event will have a $1,600 entry fee, pay out league prizes, and a grand prize with value of $200,000. The one odd thing is that I can't find a mention of other prizes for the top overall finishers. If that's the case, you could potentially finish 2nd in your league and overall, and get only $2,500 back for your $1,600 entry fee. More realistically, someone WILL win their league and finish 2nd overall...and get back only $6,000, just like any other league winner.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

John Smoltz 2010

The Mets are reportedly interested in signing John Smoltz for the 2010 season. If they do, that might be the smartest thing they've done in the past year. Yes, Smoltz is a 42 year old pitcher who put up a 6.35 ERA in a half season of work last year. But if you look beyond the ugly ERA, Smoltz actually pitched pretty well, striking out 8.42 per nine innings and walking only 2.08. Much of that was accomplished in the American League, which makes it even more impressive. The only warning sign is that after many years of strong groundball rates (in the 44%-49% range), Smoltz was a mediocre 39.6% in 2009. That said, Smoltz' peripheral numbers are very similar to another popular sleeper this year: Ricky Nolasco. But Smoltz will go far later (if at all) in your draft. He isn't currently listed at, which means he's not going before pick #275. I suspect that he'll start getting picked a little earlier if he signs with a team, but he should remain a bargain.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NFBC Double Play (Online) Slow Mock Draft

The NFBC Double Play (formerly called NFBC Online) is a $350 contest with a $60K grand prize, as well as league prizes and additional prize for the other top overall finishers. If anyone is interested participating in a slow mock draft to practice for it, I've set one up at: Couch Managers. There are 12 hour time limits on picks. 12 teams will participate, and the draft will last 30 rounds. Assume standard 5*5 roto scoring, with a 700 IP minimum.

Francisco Liriano 2010

The good news for Francisco Liriano is that he's still only 26 years old. For some perspective, that's younger than J.A. Happ. He is also was nowhere near as bad as his 5.80 ERA last year indicated, as he struck out 8.03 batters per nine innings and walked 4.28. He's better than J.A. Happ too. The bad news is that, so far, he's just a shell of what he used to be. While his strikeout rate and walk rate have gotten worse, the greatest concern to me is that his groundball rate has gone from a fantastic 55.3% in 2006 to a very mediocre 40.2% last year. He simply isn't the same kind of pitcher he used to be, and it's likely that the changes in his pitches go well beyond a reduced velocity. All of that said, I think there's still a good chance that he slips far enough in drafts to make him a sleeper. If he pitches as well as last year, his ERA should be in the 4s with any kind of luck at all. And given his age, and the additional time since his surgery, there's certainly the possibility that he continues to improve. Just don't pick him too soon, particularly since there's a great deal of injury risk that comes with Liriano, as he was shut down with elbow problems towards the end of last year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Neftali Feliz 2010

The minor league statistics of Nefali Feliz suggested that the 21 year old might struggle with his control when he first reached the major leagues. That wasn't the case at all, as he struck out 39 and walked only 8 in 31 innings of relief. While Feliz would certainly be one of the Rangers' better starting pitchers, some expect them to continue handling him with extreme care, and put him in the bullpen to start 2010. While this would hurt his value in many leagues, it might actually help in other formats. As I discussed in the Joba Chamberlain profile, relievers with starting pitcher eligibility can be very valuable in formats that have just the right combination of roster restrictions and innings pitched limits. While Feliz had no major league starts in 2009, he may be categorized as a SP because of his 13 starts in the minors.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Joba Chamberlain 2010: Starter or Reliever?

According to most, Joba Chamberlain will be competing with Phil Hughes for a spot in the Yankees rotation in 2010. That alone makes valuing him a difficult proposition. His poor performance in 2009 adds another layer of complexity. Chamberlain is going to be a high risk, high reward pick this year, and whether he's a successful one will come down in large part to whether the Yankees choose to make him a starter or a reliever.

In 2008, pitching sometimes in relief and sometimes as a starter, Chamberlain struck out 10.58 batters per nine innings and walked 3.50. Combined with his 52.0% groundball rate, I was convinced he would be one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in 2009. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. He was worse in all area, as he struck out only 7.61 per nine innings and walked 4.35. His groundball rate was also substantially worse (42.9%). What happened? Is it possible that the move to full time starting, along with a dose of bad luck, could make the same guy who was so good in 2008 pitch so poorly in 2009?

Probably not. According to pitch/fx experts, Chamberlain appeared to have lost something off his fastball. In cases like this (a young pitcher losing some effectiveness), I think it's often a warning sign about major injury problems. On the other hand, it's also perfectly possible that the winter off will give his arm a chance to recover from whatever was ailing it. Whatever projection you use for Chamberlain this year, don't count it. Evaluate whether you can afford the risk of a totally lost season vs. whether you need the upside to be competitive. And keep in mind that for formats with an innings pitched limit combined with few roster spots for relief pitchers, Chamberlain may have some unique value as a relief pitcher who has starting pitcher eligibility.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fantasy Sports Trade Assocation (FSTA) Conference 2010

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) Business Conference is taking place next week in Las Vegas. Like many of you, I typically don't pay a lot of attention to it, since I won't be attending. However, this is the time of year when I'm eagerly waiting to see what new fantasy baseball contests will be launched, which contests will make changes to their rules, and what the prizes will be for the big contests. I've always wondered why most of the games launch so late. I would think a December launch would be a big advantage in getting publicity and signing players up before their money and time are committed elsewhere. I suspect that one of the reasons for the late launches is that many companies (especially newer ones) feel that they'll get the most publicity by launching at the FSTA show. Because of that, I'm hoping that we're going to see a bunch of announcements next week. If so, I'll be providing all the details here, and hope to be able to provide special deals, discounts, and bonuses for some of the sites as well.

Some of the questions that I hope to see answered in the next couple of weeks:
1. Will Rapiddraft launch a baseball game in 2010?
2. What will Fantasyworld's baseball game look like (assuming they have one)?
3. What will the prize pool for WCOFB look like, and will they be hurt by the fact that NFBC launched early and already has 210 signups for their main event?
4. Will any of Rotohog's partners offer prizes that make the game worth playing seriously?
5. Will ESPN up the prizes for its Baseball Challenge?
6. What other new games will appear out of the woodwork this year?

Check back here next week to see what I've been able to uncover!

Octavio Dotel 2010: Pittsburgh Pirates Closer

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Octavio Dotel to be their closer for 2010. It remains to be seen where Dotel will be picked in drafts, but I'm guessing that it will be low enough to make him a solid sleeper. The combination of being on a bad team, having had some problems when used as a closer in the past, and a terrible walk rate last season (BB/9: 5.20) should be enough to keep people from being too enthusiastic about him. The only one of those that I put any stock in is the walk rate. And since his strikeout rate remained excellent (K/9: 10.83), I'm willing to give Dotel the benefit of the doubt and assume that his walk rate should move back to a more typical (for him) level in the high 3s. The other concern is that he's an extreme flyball pitcher, with a career groundball rate of only 33.3%. That means that he is prone to giving up home runs. Overall, I'd view him as a very slightly inferior version of David Aardsma...very high strikeout rate, bad control, flyball pitcher, without a long record of closing success. Given the risks Dotel isn't someone you want to reach for in the draft (hint: neither is Aardsma), but if he falls far enough, he could make a big impact for your team.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Joel Pineiro 2010

Joel Pineiro was a different pitcher in 2009 than the rest of his career. That's a good thing. He went from a low strikeout pitcher with ok control and a pretty good groundball rate to a lower strikeout pitcher with GREAT control and a GREAT groundball rate. That transformation cut more than half a run from his xFIP. If he had improved in only one category, I would be questioning whether their was a real change in ability, or whether 2009 was a fluke. However, when there are substantial changes in all peripheral stats, it's a pretty good indication that something in his approach changed, or he started using a new pitch. I haven't done the Pitch/fx research to see if it backs that theory up, but I'd be very surprised if that isn't the case here. Given that, I think the best guess for Pineiro's 2010 season is more of the same. Maybe a little bit of regression to the mean in his walk rate and groundball rate, but not too much. In addition, his signing with the Angels means that he'll be suffering the effects of moving from the National League to the American League, which typically results in a lower strikeout rate. So overall, I expect Pineiro not to quite match his 2009 performance, but a walk rate below 2.0 and a groundball rate above 55% should still make him effective. Look for plenty of wins and a respectable (low 4s) ERA, but a mediocre WHIP and few strikeouts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Flaw Of Averages

I've added an ad with some suggested reading for Waiver Wire visitors. All of these are likely to be either entertaining or useful for fantasy baseball players. You can cycle through the full list of ten books using the up and down arrows that appear in the ad.

One book that I'd particularly recommend is The Flaw of Averages. I'm about halfway through it so far, and it's one of the more thought provoking books I've read in the past few years. If your education or job have had a heavy emphasis on statistical analysis, you may find a lot of the material in the book obvious. And if you're looking for something to spoon-feed you information about baseball, then it won't be for you. But I've found the book inspiring when it comes to thinking about various fantasy sports formats and how best to analyze them. It's already motivated me to write simulations to test out how to increase lineup variance in multiplayer daily fantasy contests and how much the results of certain game formats with playoffs rely on skill vs. luck.

J.A. Happ 2010

Quick quiz: how old do you think Phillies' breakout prospect J.A. Happ is? If you got the correct answer (27), you did a lot better than me. What kind of 'prospect' is 27 years old?!? I had assumed he was 22 or 23. A big deal was made over the Winter about whether the Phillies would trade Happ or keep him for 2010. Given that he's a 27 year old pitcher with one major league season under his belt, I'm not sure what the big deal was. If you look past the pretty 2.93 ERA, Happ was just ok in 2009, striking out 6.45 per nine innings and walking 3.04. His groundball rate was no help either at 38.4%. Happ is currently at #141 overall on The next three starting pitchers are Shields, Garza, and Baker. I'd rather take any of those guys than Happ.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grady Sizemore 2010

2009 was a disappointing season for Grady Sizemore. He was coming off of his best year (mainly due to 33 HR and 38 SB) and was being picked in the late first round of some drafts. In an injury plagued season, Sizemore put up only 18 HR and 13 SB, with an awful .248 batting average. Sizemore is still only 27 years old, so assuming he's healthy in 2010, he should bounce back well. I would expect something on the order of .275, 28 HR, 25 SB. That would make him a bit of a stretch as his current ADP of #23, but the same could be said of any of the outfielders available at that point in this year's drafts.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Josh Johnson 2010

Josh Johnson was excellent in 2009. Turning 26 years old in a couple of weeks, he's on the cusp of being an elite pitcher. If his performances regresses from it's 2009 levels, Johnson is just another good starting pitcher. If he maintains or improves upon it, he's a star. He struck out 8.22 batters per nine innings, walked 2.50, and had a 50.3% groundball rate. All three of those are very slightly better than what he did in 2008, but at his age the only one that I see regressing a bit is the groundball rate. To give you an idea of how good Johnson's peripherals are, one of the most comparable players is Brett Anderson. That may not sound like high praise, but I expect to get Anderson on almost all of my teams this year...I'm that high on him. Ok, I'll give you two more guys with similar peripherals - Carpenter and Wainwright. I would expect a similar performance from all four of these guys in 2010.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Carlos Lee 2010

Carlos Lee had a bizarre season in 2009, hitting .300 with 26 home runs and 35 doubles (in 610 at bats) yet still managing to score only 65 runs. That's quite an accomplishment...possibly only rivaled in baseball history by Brook Jacoby's remarkable 1987 season (.300, 32 HR, 69 RBI, 73 R). I usually ignore a player's ability to score runs when evaluating him for fantasy baseball, figuring that the spread from the best run scorers to the worst isn't that great. But Lee's performance last year was so extreme that I think it's worth at least asking the question - will he be able to score more in 2010? I suspect that the answer is "yes, but he'll still be below average". He's part of a bad offense, takes few walks, and isn't particularly fast anymore. That said, he clearly had some bad luck last year. Overall, Lee has been one of the more consistent performers in baseball over the past decade, but may be slightly overvalued based on where he's going in most drafts (ranked 62nd at Couchmanagers). At 33 years old, he simply doesn't have a lot of upside compared to lower ranked players such as Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Shin-Soo Choo.

Colby Lewis 2010: Great Control In Japan

Actually, Colby Lewis had great control pitching in Japan in 2009. For 2010, he'll be returning to the Texas Rangers. Assuming Lewis gets a spot in the Texas rotation (which I think is very likely), he should be successful against major leaguers. Last season he struck out 186 and walked an absurdly low 19 in 176.1 innings pitched. His 2008 statistics were very similar. While the competition isn't quite as tough in Japan (and he pitched in a league without DHs), I would still expect something along the lines of 7 strikeouts and 2 walks per nine innings. Lewis is a flyball pitcher (at least he was when he was in the majors before), so he's not going to be a star with those numbers, but he should be quite effective. It's hard to predict where he's going to go in drafts. Will his poor track record in the U.S. outweigh his strong performance in Japan? We won't know until we see how he fares in mock drafts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Carlos Quentin 2010: Draft Day Steal?

The honest truth is that I have no idea what to expect of Carlos Quentin in 2010. The good news is that he's only 27 years old, and that as bad as his injury plagued 2009 season was, he still was on pace for 30+ home runs if you project his at bats to a full season's worth. He also rarely strikes out compared to most sluggers, giving him added value in some daily contest formats. After going in the third or fourth round of drafts last year, he's ranked 114th by ADP at right now.

That said, there's plenty of bad news. First of all, he's never had 500 at bats in a season. So injuries may just be part of the package with him. Even in his terrific 2008 season, the low strikeout rate didn't lead to a particularly high batting average (.288) and his average in the majors other than that has been really poor. Quentin hits remarkably few doubles for a slugger. He also doesn't get a lot of walks or triples. Those characteristics may actually hurt him more in daily contests than in traditional leagues where those statistics don't count.

If he really falls below pick 100 in your draft, then I would classify Quentin as a draft day steal. But he's definitely a fairly high risk player. In general, I'm hesitant to consider a player's potential trade value when evaluating him, but I do think that a resurgent Quentin would be perceived differently than equivalent players. For example, if Quentin is hitting .300 with 18 home runs at the All-Star break, he could probably bring a lot more in return than if someone like Nolan Reimold does the same.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Looking for a VB.NET Lead Developer/Programmer

A lot of Waiver Wire readers seem to have technical backgrounds, so I thought it would be worth posting this here. The company I work for is looking for a VB.NET Lead Developer in Morristown, NJ or Washington, DC. The position will be responsible for leading a small development team coding financial services software applications using VB.NET. It will initially involve approximately 50-75% coding, and will have one direct report. If you (or someone you know) might be interested, send me an email at the address linked to at the very bottom of the sidebar on the right hand side of the screen.

Josh Hamilton 2010: Expect a Rebound

I'm expecting a major rebound for Josh Hamilton in 2010. It seems as though people are writing his fantastic 2008 season (.304 AVG, 32 HR, 9 SB) as a fluke right now, with Hamilton ranked 63rd by ADP at That's a pretty big fall from last year, when Hamilton was a late first round or early second round pick in many drafts. Hamilton is only 28 years old, so he should still be in his prime. His numbers were obviously hurt by injuries in 2009, so I'm willing to give him a partial free pass on his weak season. The problem with viewing his previous season as a fluke is that in roughly a half season in 2007 (298 AB), he was just as good, hitting .292 with 19 home runs. And despite his age, he had played in very few minor league games, so he was essentially learning on the job. If anything, I think Hamilton's career path is likely to follow that of a player a year or two younger than he is. In other words, I think there's a possibility that the best is yet to come for Hamilton. If he's available in the 4th or 5th round of a 12 team draft and you're looking for an outfielder, I wouldn't hesitate to take him.

David Price 2010: Redraft - No, Keeper - Yes

Last year, I warned people to temper their expectations for David Price. Based on his Minor League numbers, it was very unlikely that his performance was going to match the hype. I turned out to be correct, as Price was a very average pitcher in 2009, with a 7.15 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, and 41.5 GB%. I would expect about the same in 2010, although any young pitcher with such good stuff has the potential for sudden improvement. The key statistic to watch for Price early in the season is his walk rate. If he gets through the first 30-40 innings with improved control, then there's a good chance that he's taken the next step in his development. In the meantime, I think he's someone who would be worthwhile to draft in the middle rounds of a keeper league, but in redraft leagues there are going to be better options available when he's picked in your 2010 draft.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aroldis Chapman 2010: Fastest Pitch, Biggest Bust

My thoughts on Aroldis Chapman in 2010 (and beyond) can be summed up in four words: fastest pitch, biggest bust. Ok, technically neither of those are true, but here are the key facts about Chapman. He is a 22 year old Cuban who defected last year, and was just signed by the Cincinnati Reds for 5 years and $25 million (with an option for a sixth year at $5m). His fastball has been clocked as high as 102 MPH. Obviously the Reds (and other teams) were willing to pay for his upside. Now the bad news - according to Baseball Reference, in his last season in Cuba he walked 62 batters in 118.1 innings pitched. He also threw 14 wild pitched. That's really bad. Especially against less than Major League quality opposition. His strikeout rate doesn't make up for it. He struck out 130. That's excellent, but not really dominant enought to begin to make up for that lack of control. People like to point to Randy Johnson as a pitcher with similar skills and similar statistics early in his career. That's true, but I don't think you can expect every wild 22 year old to figure things out like Johnson did. Chapman's upside is probably worth the risk in a keeper league, but I don't expect him to have any impact at all in 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Roy Oswalt 2010

Roy Oswalt struggled with back problems in 2009, and put up the highest ERA of his career at 4.12. That ERA should depress his draft position. However, his peripheral statistics (K/9: 6.85, BB/9: 2.08, GB%: 43.3%) are virtually indistinguishable from any of his past five seasons. Oswalt has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the majors for years, and while the groundball rate dipped a little bit in 2009, it's still within the range of what he's done in the past. Rather than indicating a change in effectiveness, I would assume it was a minor fluke, and that his 2010 will be more or less in line with what he's always done.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vlad Guerrero 2010: Texas Rangers

Vlad Guerrero is a Texas Ranger for the 2010 season. That's good new for his owners, as a friendly home park should help cancel out the effects of again. Vlad will be 35 years old for the upcoming season, and he's definitely not the fantasy stud that he used to be. His speed is gone. While still solid, his batting average and home runs have shown a downward trend for several years now. Until last year, his peripheral stats gave reason for hope that he might bounce back to previous levels, but with an increasing strikeout rate and decreasing walk rate, it seems likely that the decline is permanent. Playing in Texas, he's an ok pick in the mid-to-late rounds, but he's definitely not someone you want to reach for.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Chat Room

As far as I know, nothing like this has really taken off in popularity yet. I'm not sure why. I've set up a fantasy baseball chat room...right here at The Waiver Wire. Right over there ----->>>>
On the right side of the screen. Give it a shot...leave a message, and if anyone else is around, talk about fantasy baseball!
If you've got a website of your own, you can use the same widget, either to set up your own 'chat room', or to share this one. I'd recommend the latter, so that together we can get a critical mass of people talking fantasy baseball...after all, a chat room isn't much use until there's someone to chat with. To share the Waiver Wire Fantasy Baseball Chat Room, click the [Embed Chatroom] button, and follow instructions.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rich Harden 2010

For years, I was a true believer that Rich Harden would eventually have a breakout season, and be one of the top pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, that becomes less likely with each passing year. Harden is still injury prone, and hasn't pitched 150 or more innings since 2004. His control was worse than ever last year, as he walked 4.28 batters per nine innings. And with the move to Texas, he's now pitching in a tougher league, in a bad park for flyball pitchers. That said, Harden still has one of the highest strikeout rates in baseball every year, and is still only 28 years old. As always, he'll be a high risk/high reward option for your fantasy team, and his draft position is likely to reflect the decreasing probability that he'll put it all together.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jon Lester 2010: Best Pitcher in AL?

I think it's probably finally time for me to admit it: yes, Jon Lester is better than Clay Buccholz, and probably will continue to be better. I was wrong. Actually, Lester is better than pretty much everyone. His peripheral numbers were very similar to Tim Lincecum...but in the much tougher American League. I think an argument could be made that he was the best pitcher in the AL last year, as he made a tremendous jump in strikeout rate (from 2008 K/9 of 6.50 to 2009 K/9 of 9.96), maintained his good control (BB/9: 2.83) and maintained his excellent groundball rate (47.7%). Normally, I'd be very wary of that huge jump in strikeout, and expect some regression. However, this article points out that on average, Lester's fastball was substantially faster in 2009 than in 2008, suggesting that the drastic increase may represent a real improvement that he can maintain in 2010.

Matt Garza 2010

A few years ago, Matt Garza was considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. While Garza has been a solid major league starter (quietly putting up ERAs in the 3s each year from 2007-2009), his performance has been unspectacular. At 26 years old, is there a chance that his performance eventually matches the hype? It's possible. Last year, Garza had his highest strikeout rate (K/9: 8.38). His control continued to be average though (BB/9: 3.50). If he can improve his control in 2010, while maintaining that strikeout rate, then he would potentially be one of the better pitchers in the American League. For now, he's an effective late round pick with some upside.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scott Kazmir 2010

Four times in five years, Scott Kazmir recorded strikeout rates of 9.81 per nine innings or higher. Then, in 2009, he struck out only 7.15 per nine innings. When a 25 year old pitcher has that kind of drop in strikeout rate, it's cause for concern...and often an indication of an underlying injury. While there's certainly a good chance that the Winter off will allow Kazmir to get over whatever his problems are, he's not someone you'll want to count on for very much in 2010. I think his current ADP (ranked 160th) seems about right. You'll be taking a gamble. If he returns to his pre-2009 level of performance, you'll be getting a bargain. If he pitches like he did in 2009, you will have taken him slightly too early. And if his arm falls off, you won't have wasted too high a pick on him. Whether you draft him or not should depend on the extent to which you need to 'swing for the fences' to have a successful season.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Matt Cain 2010: Overrated?

If there's one pitcher I'm not likely to end up with any of my teams in 2010, it's Matt Cain. He drastically outperformed his xFIP last year, putting up an exceptional 2.89 earned run average, and winning fourteen games. This is a pitcher with very average peripheral stats: 7.07 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 38.9% groundball rate. Unless those numbers improve, I would expect an earned run average around 4. Meanwhile, he's being picked in mock drafts shortly after studs like Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He does have a couple of things going for him. He's only 25 years old, despite being around forever. That means that real improvement is still fairly likely. And he's now substantially outperformed his xFIP for three straight years. Over the short term, xFIP is a far better predictor of ERA than ERA itself is. However, the longer the time period, the better a predictor ERA becomes, as it includes some of the more subtle skills that aren't reflected in xFIP. That said, I still don't see Cain as being worth a pick anywhere near where he's going in most drafts.

Josh Beckett 2010

Josh Beckett is one of the more consistent starting pitchers in baseball. In 2009, he had his usual excellent strikeout rate (K/9: 8.43), walk rate (BB/9: 2.33), and solid groundball rate (47.2%). I would expect more of the same in 2010, as those numbers were actually slightly inferior to Beckett's 2007 and 2008. Beckett is going 74th on average at I think that's pretty fair, but do feel that he's a substantially better pick than many of the pitchers going in the 20-30 picks after him. Guys like Tommy Hanson, Matt Cain, Cliff Lee, and Jered Weaver all have drawbacks - worse control, less track record, unfavorable leagues change, lower strikeout rate, worse groundball rate, etc. I'll discuss some of these guys in future posts. Most years, picks 80-120 are where I start looking to pick up undervalued starting pitchers, but as I've mentioned before this year looks a little bit different. It seems like picking up one stud starter (Lincecum or Halladay) in the 2nd round and then loading up on undervalued hitters in the middle rounds may be the way to go.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Addiction

For anyone wondering how extreme fantasy baseball addiction can get, here's a screenshot of a spreadsheet I've been working on for the past few weeks...

That may not seem so extreme, but this spreadsheet is designed to help me win a fantasy baseball contest whose inaugural season hasn't launched yet. In fact, the launch hasn't even been announced yet. Based on the site's football contest, I emailed customer services asking if they will run a 2010 baseball contest. Their response ("Yes, we are planning to.") was enough to get me started, based on some assumptions about what the format was likely to be when 'converted' to baseball.

That may seem crazy, but these large contests are almost always most profitable to play in their initial season. In general, the prizes are largest the first year, fewer people are competing, and those who are competing haven't spent as much time figuring out optimal strategies. As the various sites launch their games for 2010, I'll discuss many of them here. I'll particularly focus on those which I think will offer the best profit opportunities. Fantasy baseball is always fun, but I find it the most fun when I'm winning money at it.

Troy Tulowitzki 2010

On the surface, it looks like 2009 was either a breakout season for Troy Tulowitzki, or possibly a fluke. However, digging into the details a little further reveals that it was more of a gradual progression from his excellent 2007 season. An injury shortened 2008 appears to be the outlier in the progression of an excellent young player. With the exception of stolen bases, Tulowitzki's 2009 numbers show very slight improvements over 2007 in most areas. That's encouraging, and I think he can be expected to have a similar season in 2010. Given that he's still only 25, there's excellent upside as well. The only area that I'd be concerned about is his steals. He's always had a low success rate, and prior to last year's 20 steals, his previous career best was 7. It appears he was given the green light without really earning it. Hopefully, he won't have that taken away from him this season. I think a line of .295 with 25 home runs and 15 steals is fairly conservative, but the there's definitely potential for better.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Aaron Hill 2010

It's hard to know quite what to make of Aaron Hill's monster breakout season last year. He hit 36 home runs, after putting up a previous career high of 17. He did hit 10 less doubles than in his previous full season, so the jump in home runs wasn't quite as drastic as it appeared...but it was still pretty extreme. Hill's other numbers (batting average, walk rate, strikeout rate) all remained fairly close to their previous levels. Interestingly, his groundball rate rose...not what you'd expect in a player who suddenly hit a lot more home runs. Hill is only 27 years old, so that improves the chances that this was a genuine breakout. In addition, he still hit plenty of doubles (37 in 2009), which reduces the risk that the home run total was due to him getting 'lucky'. I'm not expecting him to hit 36 home runs again in 2010, but something in the 25-30 range seems likely. That would still make him very valuable as a 2nd baseman, and a good pick relatively early in drafts.

David Aardsma 2010: Seattle Mariners Closer

David Aardsma will be the Seattle Mariners closer in 2010. In 2009, he moved into the closer role and was very successful, saving 38 games and putting up a 2.52 earned run average. However, if you look a little more closely, there's definitely some risk here. Aardsma 4.29 batters per nine innings. That's already pretty marginal, without considering that at 28 years old, it's the best control he's ever shown in the major leagues. Then consider that his groundball rate was an atrocious 25.3%, and has always been pretty weak. Aardsma certainly has the potential and the strikeout rate needed to succeed as a closer, but if his walk rate rises to it's previous levels, there's a distinct possibility that one of the Mariners other relievers (hopefully Brandon League) will have the opportunity to close at some point this season.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Evan Longoria 2010

In my last post (about Joey Votto), I mentioned that there doesn't seem to be much dropoff from the hitters available in the late first round or early second round of most drafts, such as Evan Longoria, and the guys available in the middle rounds. While Longoria is an excellent baseball player, I stand by that statement. For fantasy purposes, Longoria's strength is that he hit 33 home runs last year and is young enough (24) that he should continue to improve. He steals a few bases, but not enough to have a huge impact on his value. His batting average is mediocre (.281 in 2009, .272 in 2008). While he certainly has the upside to become worthy of being a first rounder, he's not so good or so young at this point that I'd be excited having him as the best player on my team. There are a number of players who might be available at the same point in 2010 drafts who I'd prefer, including Tulowitzki, Howard, and Cabrera.

Joey Votto 2010

Last year, Joey Votto hit .322 with 25 home runs in just 469 at bats. I'm a little hesitant about his ability to repeat that kind of performance, because both the power and the batting average were substantially better than the Major League equivalents of his minor league numbers. At 26 years old, it's not clear whether Votto had a breakout season indicative of a new level of ability, or whether it was simply a career year. Votto's ADP at CouchManagers has him ranked 50th, which seems reasonable. It seems as though hitters are particularly hard to rank this year. I think a case could be made that for 2010, Votto isn't a lot worse than Evan Longoria (ranked 11th). On the other hand, a case could also be made that he isn't at all better than Shin-Soo Choo (ranked 85th). The relatively gradual decline in hitting talent from the early rounds to the middle rounds of drafts may make it worthwhile to pick the top pitchers earlier than most years, or to focus on players whose values benefit from position scarcity.

Nelson Cruz 2010

Last year at this time, Nelson Cruz was one of my favorite sleepers. After his excellent 2009 season, Cruz can no longer be considered a sleeper for 2010. Although has his average draft position ranked at a very modest #73, Cruz went at #45 in one recent experts mock draft.

In 2009, Cruz hit .260 with 33 home runs and 20 stolen bases. That was in only 462 at bats, so it would have been around 40 home runs and 25 steals if Cruz had played every day. In addition, his last two partial seasons at AAA have yielded batting averages of .352 and .342, so there is reason to think he can manage a .300 batting average in the Major Leagues.

Now, the bad news. Cruz is already 29 years old, so he's in his prime and unlikely to improve much (if at all). The Rangers have shown a tendency to mess with his playing time, so you can necessarily count on him getting 500+ at bats. Cruz doesn't hit a lot of doubles, which suggests his home run totals could be a little flukey, although at this point it does appear that may be a consistent pattern in his case. He also doesn't hit triples or walk much, which may have a real impact depending on your league format.

Taking all that into account, I think Cruz is still a very good value anywhere from about #50-#70 in a draft. Despite his success, he still seems to be underrated.