Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An In-Depth Look Into the A's Rotation

For A's fans coming into the 2008 season, there was not much optimism. After the trades of Swisher and Haren, the season was supposed to be sacrificed for the future. The few hopes for A's fans came from Rich Harden healthy enough to start the season (once again), Eric Chavez supposed good recovery and quick return, and Justin Duchscherer joining the rotation. If you told these same fans that Harden and Duchscherer would go on the DL early and Chavy would be nowhere near returning, (he's currently on the 60 day DL) they would be sure the team was struggling mightily.

However this is not the case as the A's sit at 17-10, giving them the best record in the AL. Their offense could be called at best "sufficient" since it has been around the league average in hitting and it not the reason for the team's success. Rather the A's dominance has come from their rather dominant pitching, which currently owns a league-best 3.14 era. So if the pitching has not come from Harden, Duchscherer, or projected "ace" Joe Blanton, (4.07 era thus far) who has came through?

Names I'll throw out now are Andrew Brown (15 IP 0.00 ERA) Santiago Casilla (13.1 IP 0.00 ERA) Dana Eveland (29 IP 2.48 ERA) Chad Gaudin (30 IP 3.00 ERA) and Greg Smith (25 IP 2.88 ERA). I will take a closer look at these five players in the upcoming days and determine if they are legitimate MLB pitchers or just "fakers" pretending to be for the month of April.

I'm not going to discuss these pitchers tonight, but rather the method I will be using to evaluate them. It was proven that pitchers have little control over balls in play, and only control strikeouts, walks, home runs, and to a lesser extent extra-basehits and flyball/groundball ratio. (for a nice, short paragraph explaining what I'm saying, click here) Keeping that in mind, to evaluate the pitchers I will only look at BB%, K%, HR/FB%, FB/GB%, and stats like FIP that are luck-independent pitching statistics by definition.

So maybe tomorrow or sometime in the next few days look forward to my analysis. Since a few of the pitchers are rookies (Smith and Eveland) and almost all have limited major league experience, minor league stats will be necessary

Lastly I should note that Harden, Duchscherer, Joey Devine, and Keith Foulke have a combined 1.70 ERA in 37.1 innings, which definitely factors into the 3.14 team ERA, although none pitched enough innings individually to be included. Also Blanton's 4.07 ERA was achieved over 48.2 IP, and his inning-eating ability has definitely helped the team. I was not taking a shot at him earlier, he just hasn't exceeded expectations.



Sunday, April 27, 2008

Closer's Songs - What They Enter To

Ever since Yankees closer Sparky Lyle entered games to "Pomp and Circumstance" most closers choose a song they enter games to. For Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner it's "Enter Sandman", for Trevor Hoffman it's "Hells Bells", and for Eric Gagne it's "Welcome To the Jungle". Frankly, in my opinion, these songs suck.

If I were the closer for an MLB team I would enter into the aptly named "Closing Time" by Semisonic. It starts out slow and mysteriously enough to give fans the feeling of anticipation. Then you would burst out of the bullpen right as the edgy chorus begins. The scene would be perfect; perhaps even better with some sparks or fireworks or something else of the sort.

Lyrics to Closing Time can be found here.

Anyway I've given up my dream of becoming a professional baseball player, so my new dream is for a MLB closer to decide to make "Closing Time" their entering song after viewing my blog.

If anyone has a suggestion of a song they think would make a good closer song, or wants to share their favorite current closer's song, feel free to post it as a comment.



Friday, April 25, 2008

The Little Known Rule of Service Time

I'm always amazed at how many people can enjoy baseball without knowing a rule as important as service time. The rule almost single-handedly is the reason baseball has parity without a salary cap. Compared to revenue sharing, the service time rule does a lot more for small-market teams to help them be competitive.

Service time basically allows a team to keep a player for 6 years before they can become a free-agent. Not only does the team get to keep the player, but they get to keep him for a low salary as well. For the first 3 years of non free agent eligibility, the team can pay the player the league minimum regardless of player performance. However after 3 years, the player is eligible for arbitration, a process started in 1973.

Arbitration is a process in which the player and the team both submit a proposed salary to an arbiter, who then decides which salary is more fair based on the relative salaries of other players with similar experience and statistics. Whew. That's a long sentence, re-read it if you have to. Salaries awarded in arbitration are usually very team favored, although Ryan Howard was awarded a ridiculous 10 mil when he beat the Phillies in arbitration this year. In 2006 Alfonso Soriano was awarded 10 mil, and this year K-Rod lost in arbitration but gets a cool 10 mil as well, he was pushing for 12.5 million. So far no one has broken the 10 million mark in arbitration, but obviously it’s bound to happen sometime soon though probably not in the next 2 years.

As you can see from the chart (which i got from Dave Studeman's article on arbitration at the Hardball Times) the average player receives a relatively low salary from arbitration, although like the Earth's temperature, the salaries are rapidly increasing.

Hanley Ramirez will enter arbitration this offseason, and if he gets awarded 10 million in the process, that's ridiculous for the Marlins considering that is half their whole team's salary! (its $ 21,811,500) The awardings in arbitration must be capped somewhere because any higher than 10 million and were talking free agent money. Give those small market teams a break.
After those 3 arbitration years, a player is finally ready to head into free-agency. If you think about it, a player has his salary artificially deflated for his first 6 years in the majors. After those 6 years, what player wouldn't let loose and just take the highest offer. People are always yelling, "Players are so greedy, why wouldn't they take a lower offer and stay with a team that's be so good to them!?!" The reason is they have worked their ass off for the past 6 years and now, finally, they can enjoy the fruits of their success. Doesn't sound so greedy when you think about it from that perspective does it?
The last thing I'm going to take about is long-term contracts before a player is free agent eligible. Why would a team do this when they can just have a nice low 1-year contract with the player. Signing them long-term is risky since, well most of these younger players can be unproven, and any player is always just one injury away from a derailed career. Then the team is stuck with that contract for the next 2-3-4-5-6 years, however long it is. The reason is for the team to be able to keep the player on a relatively low contract for the first one or two years of their free agent eligibility. So when the Rockies sign Troy Tulowitzki to a 6 year 31 mil contract, and you say "5 million a year for such a talented young player!" Understand that the Rockies are playing Tulowitzki more than they have to for the next 5 years, while saving themselves some cash during the first 2 years of his free agent eligibility while he's under contract.
That's it! I hope you now know more about the rules of MLB, maybe I'll make a few more posts like these. I did write one earlier on players to be named later if you missed it click on the link. The service time of every major leaguer can conveniently be found at Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Enjoy the season!


Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Next Billy Beane

Today I was watching the Mets-Brewers game and something seemingly insignificant caught my attention. The Brewers sent up Hernan Iribarren to the plate, it was his first major league at bat, and the first pitch Hernan sees he smacks up the middle for a single. Almost comically, Mets pitcher Carlos Muniz abruptly picked off poor Hernan Iribarren at first base. The announcers and everyone watching were all laughing "Haha, that sucks!" however I realized the deep implications of the pick-off.

At that moment, Hernan's career as a baseball player was ruined but also simultaneously a different and exciting was destined. He will one day become the GM of a baseball team and be very very successful. Why is this? Simply because the exact same thing happened to Billy Beane as a player. On page 49 of the infamous book Moneyball by Michael Lewis it is stated, "Billy got his first big league hit off Jerry Koosman─who immediately picked him off first base. It was funny; it was also sad." Billy went on to have a terrible career, which led to him choosing the path of baseball executive over player.

I'm not sure if anybody else has been picked off first base on their first major league hit, I don't feel like finding out. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened to a few others, but not more than 2 or 3.

Anyway, if this Hernan Iribarren guy becomes the next Billy Beane, you can call me God. Of course that wouldn't happen until around 10-15 years or so, and we'll all forget by then, but I'm making my prediction nevertheless.



Fun With Batting Average Download

Yesterday Derek Carty made available for download a spreadsheet function that allows you to adjust the At bats, contact rate, HR/FB%, FB%, and BABIP of a hitter to determine what their batting average should be. Hopefully you know that certain meters such as contact rate and BABIP are better indicators of a player's future batting average than batting average itself.

This tool can prove very useful, especially in the beginning of the season, in showing whether a players performance is due more to skill or luck. Click here to see the article and at the bottom Carty has the link to click for download.

You can either play around typing in fake numbers, which is actually useful because it allows you to see which indicating stats have a greater affect on batting average than others. Or, you can type in a player's real contact rate, HR/FB%, etc. to determine what his batting average should be, and compare it to his current actual one. Those stats can be found at Fangraphs, or The Hardball Times.



Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rich Harden Goes On the DL

I'm sure you've heard that before. The injury (biceps tendinitis) is minor, and he should be back in the minimum (15 days) time, but don't expect this to be his last trip to the DL this season. He's phenomenal enough when he plays that's its worth it to keep him, but expect every start to possibly be his last. If he goes around 3-4 weeks of great pitching, consider trading him before he gets hurt again, which is an inevitable.



P.S. Sorry for the lack of updating, very busy right now, and by busy I don't mean lazy, I do mean busy. Starting April 18 I will be posting 3-4-5 times a week again. So I'll forewarn all of my "regulars" you don't have to check everyday for the next week. But after that, I see some clouds on the horizon which means I'll be raining (possibly typhooning) the good info. That's possibly the corniest joke but perhaps you cracked a smirk.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Moving Away From 5X5

Most of the leagues I participate in are actually not your standard 5 X 5 roto leagues. My ideal scoring system would be a rotisserie regular season with a H2H playoffs, but since that's not offered on Yahoo, I opt for H2H because it honestly is much more exciting. I also make sure there is a high minimum innings pitched (discussed in a recent article) and if there isn't, I make sure to take advantage of it. Still those are not the two things I find most annoying about "standard" leagues.

I hate the 5 hitting categories. They tell you nothing of how your team performed. If you see this stat line,

1/4H/AB 1R 0HR 1RBI 0SB .250 AVG

you know absolutely nothing about the game! Perhaps the player got a a double for his hit, maybe he walked in the 3rd and got the run and later got the rbi on a sac fly. This completely changes how well the player played.

There is no easy way to fix this, but one stat that is a great addition is total bases. Total bases are basically slugging percentage without dividing the slugging by at bats. The simple formula is:

(Singles * 1) + (Doubles * 2) + (Triples * 3) + (Homeruns * 4) = TB

Now at least players who hit doubles do get extra value instead of just the higher chance of getting an rbi or run for their hit. Also, as simple as total bases is, players ranked highly by more advanced statistics tend to be ranked similarly by their amount of total bases.

You can't have a 6X5 so now you must add another pitching category. My favorites are either K/BB or holds. I'd opt with holds because it just adds another interesting dimension to the relief pitcher market, and relievers are becoming more valued in MLB baseball every year.

Total bases isn't perfect, yet since fantasy baseball still remains discouragingly tied to traditional statistics, it will suffice for current seasons. I do hope however that in the coming seasons the large fantasy baseball providers will allow you to choose more advanced statistics. For now, we wait.



Thursday, April 3, 2008

To Sit, Or Not To Sit

To sit, or not to sit... I will answer that question.

Once the baseball season begins, one of the most frustrating things from a fantasy standpoint is deciding who starts or sits for the current day.

When it comes to hitters, I have much less to think about than the average fantasy player. That's because most people have around 2-4 bench hitters. I have 1 to 2 tops on my teams. This is because bench hitter's serve no purpose except keeping your fantasy bench warm I guess. If you followed my draft strategy (obviously in the archives now) which was to go hitter heavy, your lineup should not consist of anyone close to the backup level. This means that my 1 or 2 bench guys are good but still significantly worse than anyone in my all-star lineup, thus pitching matchups (meaning who the batter is facing that night) are less decisive than their difference in skill. Basically, I go with the same hitting lineup everyday with the exception of a weaker player facing a Johan Santana.

In order to save yourself some unwanted frustration, decide right now what players you will sit in what situations. For example, tell yourself you will sit your bottom 3 pitchers against the top 5 offenses, no exceptions allowed. (we will talk about exceptions later) This lets you avoid all crazy "what if" situations that will be running through you head the next day.

Exceptions time. Please note an acceptable exception cannot be, "I just have one of those feelings Dave Bush will shut down the Phillies today, he always pitches great on 3rd Wednesdays of the month when the humidity is 58 percent." Those types of things shouldn't be taken into account if you have a life. My exceptions are very easy and logical. . .

There are two main exceptions actually, the first being changed expectations. For instance if you were lucky enough to draft...ehrm... Dan Haren last year, perhaps in the beginning of the season you were a little wary of starting him against dominant teams. However after a great first couple of months, its safe to say your expectations for him have changed, thus your start/sit rules for him must change as well. I think you can understand how that would work this year without me having to give an example.

The other exception occurs in Head-to-Head leagues under specific conditions. Let's say your pitching has been good for the past week and you are dominating wins and K's, and are barely winning in ERA and WHIP. The day is Sunday, and you have Dustin McGowan starting against the Pirates, and your opponent has no starters starting. Normally you would start Dustin "Sideburns" McGowan against the lowly Pirates, but since this situation is special you do not. Pitching him would risk you losing Era and Whip,while virtually having no upside, except for confidence from dominance, which really doesn't help you unless your the kind who likes to brag. Just keep McGowan on the bench, nothing to sophisticated going on here.

Basically, don't decide on some weird gut emotion you have to start or sit one of your lesser pitchers against a dominant offense, rather make firm preset rules and stick to them unless one of the exception situations apply.

In the meantime, enjoy the season and make sure to not be that one asshole in every league that doesn't follow.



Update: If you visit your Yahoo league today, you'll see this message across the top of your league page:

Matchup Ratings: All players now have 5-star ratings and a detailed note from the experts at Inside Edge, a leading professional scouting service. View these ratings on your team page Research tab, or in the News & Expert Advice section.

I checked the "5-Star Rating" for my players, and found it very arbitrary. I tried to find the "detailed note" to see what their ratings were based on and couldn't find them. Right now I don't think the rating system should be taken into account.

Update 2: This has nothing to do with the Yahoo update above, but this is just a note I forgot to include in the article. It has been proven, although I don't have the exact percentages and such, it was proven that players coming off a bad game or start have a higher chance of doing bad their next game or start. This means that if one of your pitchers has had a 9 Era over their past 2 starts, do not think they "are due" for a good game. Players are naturally streaky, so ride out those hot streaks and try to limit their cold ones. No player is ever due for anything, just keep that in mind.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Min/Max Innings Pitched Limits

Almost every league you will be in this year will have a poorly set minimum innings pitched limit, which you the savvy player can take fair advantage of.

If the minimum innings pitched limit in your league is set too low (esp in H2H leagues) my strategy is to draft one elite pitcher in round 3, 4, or 5, and then one more pitcher in either rounds 8, 9, or 10. After that, your done with Sp and from there just draft the best middle relievers (Broxton, Betancourt, Pena, Okajima, Bell, plus a few others). Your pitching staff will only be comprised of those 2 Sp's and Mr's. It will look something like Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, and then any combination of at least 2-3 of the middle relievers I listed above. Your era and whip will be sick. Your welcome.

A limit I consider low is anywhere from no minimum up to about 20 a week. With the strategy mentioned above, you should definitely win era and whip most weeks while most likely losing wins, k's, and saves. If your league has a stat like k:bb, or k/9 , this strategy works even better because you'll most likely take that as well. Since you've made a small investment on pitching, your hitting should be good enough to net you at least 3 categories a week. If you take 4 of them, good job, you've won that week.

In a league where the min is set relatively high (Notice how I said relatively high instead of too high. That is because I believe in high minimum innings pitched limits) you should value pitchers more in your draft. If you've read my other articles on drafting strategy, you'll know I don't value pitching very high. In fact, in most of my leagues my first pitcher taken was Rich Hill somewhere in the low double-digit rounds. So when I say "I will value pitching more," that does not mean take Santana or Peavy. It just means be more aware that you must actually build a staff of quality pitchers. Rich Hill might still be my first pitcher taken, but I'll make sure to take guys like Ian Snell, McGowan, Shields, Vazquez, Cain, Lilly, Billingsley, and Wainwright in the following rounds.

Personally, I feel maximum innings pitched limits are unnecessary. Pitching is already devalued in leagues, so why devalue it more by placing a max limit? There are so many pitchers, that if you force teams to only play 2-3, you'll end up in a league with Zack Greinke and Jeff Francis on the f/a market. Stupid.

I will admit there is a purpose to max innings pitched limits, and that is to prevent people from "streaming" pitchers. For those who don't know, streaming involves adding pitchers that are pitching that day and then dropping them the next day for whoever is pitching then. The skill of the pitcher doesn't matter because the strategy is to just to compile as many wins and k's as possible, while bombing Era and Whip. This strategy lets you almost split the pitching categories without having to invest in pitching at all. In order to prevent streaming in your league either place a moves limit, or simply make a "gentleman's agreement" with the people in your league not to stream. Problem solved! Once again there is no reason for a max innings limit so forget about them.

If you can tell by what I've said so far, I feel a good min innings limit is anywhere from 35-50. The higher the limit, the more you should value pitching.

Also, just because you've already had your draft doesn't mean this doesn't apply to you. If you check your settings and see your league has a 15 min innings pitched limit and you own Beckett, Verlander, Haren, and King Felix, then go trade 2 or 3 of them to bolster your hitting knowing that your pitching will hold its own.

Don't forget to leave your comments!