Your struggling team finally looks like they have put it all together. You are leading a week-long contest and are about to jump from 4th place to perhaps 2nd place. And then Sunday happens–your team goes a combined 4 for 31 (after a blistering 7 for 36 Saturday). And, to add insult to injury, you end up benching a struggling player (in this case Aaron Hill) on the day that he breaks out (3/4, 2B, HR, BB). Result? A 9-15 week and a trip back to 6th place (45-47-8 for the season).
That’s pretty much the word for my early season. My third, fourth, fifth, and sixth round picks have all gotten off to slow starts (Justin Upton, Victor Martinez, Aaron Hill, and Chone Figgins). I’m still for the most part patient with them, but its really beginning to cost me. I play in a league with only 22 man rosters, so its hard to dedicate a bench spot to a back-up catcher. Although, if Martinez doesn’t improve soon, I’ll have to.
For any fantasy player who makes their way here, let me recommend fangraphs; I track my team there. What’s nice about fangraphs is the plate discipline section–it will show you which of your players are getting unlucky and which are swinging themselves into bad luck. Consider it BABIP on roids. In my case, it suggests that Aaron Hill is merely getting unlucky (he’s still swinging at strikes at the same rate as previous seasons) and that Chone Figgins isn’t being aggressive enough (swinging at only 31% of all pitches against a lifetime 41%, and only swinging at 48.8% of strikes as opposed to a lifetime rate of 62.1%). It also suggests that Victor Martinez will be fine, since his line drive rate is over his career average (25.2% so far this season) and his BABIP is only .241 (his career BABIP is .311, so it should begin to return toward the mean). My only real concern thus far is with Upton–his contact rates are all slightly worse than last year. Here’s to hoping that’s an effect of our relatively small sample ize…
This is only my second season in fantasy baseball, and my first time in an 8 team league. Magnified by the small roster size and the unlimited transactions, free agency is a large part of the game. I could put together a pretty strong roster just out of the guys available in free agency. So, some of the players I took a risk on were a mistake (like the two shortstops, Cabrera and Escobar) since there are so many quality players available after the draft (I picked up Rafael Furcal and, after his injury, Stephen Drew). I will adjust my draft strategy accordingly next season–draft the sure commodities (especially dominant closers and starters) and keep a close eye on the “longshots” during the season’s opening weeks. A ten man team requires that you identify and draft sleepers; an eight man league allows you the benefit of acquiring sleepers after the draft.
I’m enjoying this season, though, and fantasy baseball continues to get me more involved with following the sport. I enjoy the sport, and am glad to have this prompting me to put more of my free time toward it.
Lunch break on a Friday, so I’ll throw up a few responses to the early Sox season. Its too soon for any real reflection, so these come more in the form of questions.
Are You Nervous About Big Papi?
I am, and not necessarily because of his low starting numbers. I am more concerned about his lashing out at the media following questions on his low starting numbers. That lash out speaks to me–it tells me that the normally easy-going, gregarious, and confident Papi is sensitive. Last year, of course, Papi was one of the best hitters in the league after June first. He was also one of the worst before then. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until June 1st this year.
Is That Josh Reddick I See?
So Cameron looks to be out for at least a week, if not three, and Ellsbury is still a bit dinged up. Bill Hall showed yesterday that center field is really not an option. It looks like the Sox will have to make a roster move with a call-up. Right now, Reddick, who was real hot in Spring Training, is struggling early–hitting only .137 (4 for 29). In my 2010 Sox Season Storylines, I mentioned that Reddick is likely to compete for Drew’s job after 2011, and I’m hoping, despite his slow AAA start, that he gets a chance to swing with the big club for a week or two.
Can Victor Martinez Catch?
I keep reminding myself that its very early. But I also questioned whether Martinez would be able to replace Varitek as the catcher for this staff. The early response seems to be “no”–but, of course, its way too early. Its early. Just keep telling myself that its early. Its early. Don’t compare their CERA from 2009 (which, by the way, is 5.22 vs 3.87)….
One more thing on Martinez–has anyone else noticed that, unlike Tek, he just can’t seem to keep his glove still? I want to start watching other big league catchers more closely to see if, like Martinez, they have difficulty offering an immobile target for pitchers.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with the rotation next week. Dice-K’s rehab starts in Pawtucket went very well (in 11 innings he hasn’t given up a run, walked only one, and struck out 5). I’d love to see the pitch count numbers on those games, given Dice-K’s efficiency problems. While I am a bit concerned to see he’s only struck out 5 in 11 innings against AAA competition, you have to wonder if he won’t get a shot in the rotation and send either Wakefield or Buchholz to the pen.
Well, so much for the lunch break. Enjoy the weekend.
So here’s how my fantasy draft went this season (an 8 person league). We have 14 offensive categories (R, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, SB, BB, K, TB, E, AVG, OBP, OFA) and 11 pitching categories (IP, W, SV, HR, BB, K, GIDP, HLD, ERA, WHIP, K/9).
- (7) Tim Lincecum SP
- (10) Pablo Sandoval 1B,3B
- (23) Justin Upton OF
- (26) Víctor Martínez C,1B
- (39) Aaron Hill 2B
- (42) Chone Figgins 3B
- (55) Andrew McCutchen OF
- (58) Adam Lind OF
- (71) Kendry Morales 1B
- (74) Matt Cain SP
- (87) Heath Bell RP
- (90) Everth Cabrera SS
- (103) Francisco Rodríguez RP
- (106) Billy Wagner RP
- (119) Max Scherzer SP
- (122) Nyjer Morgan OF
- (135) Brian Matusz SP
- (138) Garrett Jones 1B,OF
- (151) Daniel Bard RP
- (154) Casey McGehee 2B,3B
- (167) Luis Castillo 2B
- (170) David Ortiz 1B
Let me immediately say that I had to leave my draft after pick 106, so the rest of the draft was on auto-pick. I created a list before having to leave, but it must have run out of picks. I would never, never have drafted Ortiz or Castillo. They were immediately dropped for (eventually) closer David Aardsma and OF Jason Heyward (both went undrafted).
I was particularly excited to get Justin Upton in round 3 (were Lincecum gone, he might have been my first round pick) and Kendry Morales in round 9. Matt Cain in the 10th was also unexpected. Most of the teams in my league are geared toward starting pitching, so I decided to collect every closer I could (with Bard as my one set-up guy). Essentially, I know I won’t be competeing in cumulative stats such as Wins, IP, GIPD. But I should dominate rate stats such as ERA, WHIP, K/9 in addition to saves, HR, and BB. Given the high k/9 for my whole staff, I’ll even compete in gross K’s (given that Matusz and Scherzer are projected as +9 K/9 pitchers).
The only pick I regret–and I regretted it immediately–was the Aaron Hill pick. Dustin Pedroia was still on the board. Hill’s 100 / 100 season last year led me to pick him, but this team is built around scoring runs and stealing bases. I should have picked Pedroia–I think I was hesitant to pick two Red Sox in a row for fear of overvaluing the home team.
I picked Sandoval and Figgins high, but I thought both of them gave me great production at shallow positions. I knew Figgins would count as a 2B, so that’s nice depth for the bench. I also feel that SF will be much better this year, and thus think that Sandoval will have more RBI chances than a year ago.
I wrote earlier this season about my approach to shortstop. I dropped McGehee to grab Alcides Escobar, and then had to drop Escobar to grab a second basemen while waiting for Figgins’ eligibility to update. I have since dropped the 2B man (Rickie Weeks) to pick up the Dodgers’ Furcal, who’s hitting lead-off to start the season. That pretty much cements my roster for now, and I’ll try not to make any more changes until we get a larger sample-size of at-bats (around 100 or so). After that, I’ll revisit the Cabrera-Furcal-Escobar -(Scutaro?) shortstop question.
I had a losing week last week, going 9-13-3, but that was with my team hitting a combined .233 to open the season. Morales and Martinez hit a combined .227. Adam Hill (sigh) only managed to get 8 at-bats before missing time with an early injury. And, finally, had I started Garrett Jones for the first few games rather than Morales or McCutchen, then I would have won two more categories. So, I’m pretty happy with my depth of talent, and am looking forward to competing for the postseason in my second season of fantasy baseball.
So I am ready to jump right back into baseball. With Spring Training upon us, I’ve spent a few lunches looking at the Sox’s major off-season moves. The questions surrounding the Red Sox this season focus on whether this team has enough offensive firepower to win games. I decided to look at the changes one at a time to see how they break down.
Lowell Out, Beltre In
When I first heard about this move, I was less than pleased. Looking at the numbers, I’m still not happy. Beltre could be mediocre at best, and threatens to be an absolute disaster. Granted, his dismal 2009 numbers were impaired by serious injuries. But no one is sure he is completely recovered from those injuries. Even if he returns to “Seattle years” form, the Red Sox’s starting third baseman wouldn’t fit the patient, grinding line-up they have assembled. In the past ten seasons, Beltre walked 50 times only once; over the same span, Lowell has crossed 50 walks 5 times. Beltre’s career 162 game average BB:K ration is 46:104; he strikes out twice as often as he walks. Lowell’s? 56:83. Additionally, Lowell has near equal power (23 HR per 162 games vs. Beltre’s 24) and a much better career OBP (.343 vs .325).
Beltre was the quintessential one-year wonder, he has done nothing of significance since his “incredible” (“grumble, grumble”) 2006 campaign. His OPS+ since then? 93, 105, 112, 108, 88. Remember that an OPS+ of 100 represents an average, replacement level player.
I get that most feel Lowell has lost his defensive prowess since the hip injury and cannot be counted to play more than 120 games. But Red Sox fans should be weary that Adrian Beltre might turn into the next Edgar Renteria.
Bay Out, Cameron In
I admit that when I first heard Cameron was coming aboard, all I could hear was the whiff of his bat. But, looking closely at the numbers, replacing Bay with Cameron isn’t quite as devastating as I initially thought. Notice I said “quite as.”
Unlike Beltre, Cameron fits the Sox’s philosophy. He is a grinder whose 4.05 pitches/plate appearance tops Bay’s 3.95 (.10 might seem insignificant, but its not). Further, Cameron’s career 162 game average BB:K ratio is almost equal to Bay’s: 75 :156 to 86:157. I never realized how often Bay strikes out; adding Cameron to the line-up doesn’t really increase the number of K’s.
Unfortunately, Cameron’s career OBP% is .40 lower than Bay’s (a mediocre .340 versus Bay’s steadily productive .376) and he average 10 fewer home runs per 162 games (23 vs 33). As with Beltre, Cameron’s signing has been discussed in defensive terms, but he’ll need to make a whole pile of amazing plays (i.e., “there’s no way Jason Bay gets to that ball”) to begin to make up for the impending drop in outfield offensive production.
Scutaro In, Maybe?
Given the sorry shape of the shortstop position in Boston the past few seasons, there really isn’t anyone to whom Scutaro can compare. Though the young Jed Lowrie had an impressive rookie campaign (including 4.06 pitches/per plate appearance), I don’t think anyone considers him a candidate for a full-time position. But the reason I tag a “maybe” onto Scutaro is that he is coming off of the proverbial career season. I know this sounds ridiculously reductive and preposterous, but I think a Red Sox post-season berth can be directly tied to Scutaro walking at least 85 times next season. Yeah, I think its that simple–and that it could be a significant challenge.
Consider that last season was the first time in Scutaro’s 8 year career that he managed to walk more than 57 times, walking 90 times in 680 plate appearances. His career OBP coming into last season was .325. Last season? .379. Given that his batting average showed only a modest increase last season (up to .282 from a career average of .262), that means most of his offensive production came from patience at the plate. Scutaro never had an OPS+ over 100 in his career–he’s always been a below-average player. Now he’s being asked to repeat last season’s OPS+ of 111, 4.06 pitches/plate appearance performance.
Consider too that Scutaro hit 2nd all season for the Jay’s last year. A major part of his challenge will be to maintain the same plate discipline while hitting 7th, 8th or 9th in the order. He won’t be seeing as many good pitches lower in the order without the great bats surrounding him. I guess if Ellsbury struggles or if the top of the order suffers a key injury Scutaro could find his way higher in the order. But he better be ready to get his first at bat in the third inning some nights.
Of course, if the Sox do make the playoffs, it won’t be solely because of Scutaro’s patience at the plate. But I would be very surprised is Scutaro returned to pre-2009 form and the Red Sox still mustered enough offense to make the post-season.
And, unlike our other candidates, Scutaro is not an upgrade in the field. Throughout his career, his defensive numbers have been better at second base. So, on top of having to repeat incredible offensive spikes in production, he has the challenge of playing (slightly) out of position.
Victor Martinez In All Year
I think I have been a bit gloomy thus far, so I’ll end on a [slightly] positive note. The Red Sox will have Victor Martinez for an entire season. But Martinez is not a top of the line slugger, as much as he is a grinding, productive catcher (an OBP of .372 versus a SLUG of .465). Though his power number check in at just 21 HR per 162 games, he has grown more patient at the plate with every season, finishing last year with a 75:74 BB:K ratio and 4.05 pitches/per plate appearance (up from career averages of 67:79 and 3.80).
Over all, I think the Red Sox have taken a small step back offensively. How small a step will be in part up to David Ortiz, but I’ll leave that pondering for a future post. In concluding this one, I’ll say that the upcoming season is definitely going to be less about fireworks and more about sparks. Sparks grinding off the wheel.
I know Victor Martinez is a great player, and gives us depth at catcher, but I don’t see how this trade made us that much better if everyone stays healthy. Varitek, Lowell, and Youk have an OPS above their career average. LaRoche gave us insurance at first base. Given what Detriot gave up for Washburn (i.e., not much), I would have preferred the extra experienced starter.
Not that one game a sample size makes, but Buchholz isn’t having a great day today. I believe many people undervalue Jason Varitek’s ability to call a game. Few people grant to a catcher the kind of respect an offensive coordinator gets in football. But that’s what they are. Pitchers are quarterbacks. Some study film and come prepared (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning could win with me in the booth), others (say, Brett Favre) need someone to call the plays for them. Otherwise, they would chuck fastballs, err… deep posts… every play err… pitch. Mixed metaphors aside, catchers play an important, if non-quantifiable, role in pitching. And Varitek is the best in the business.
I commented on a post regarding this subject over on Statistician Magician a few weeks back. Here’s what I wrote over there:
Besides looking at the ho-hitters, look at what happened to the Red Sox pitching staff in 2006 when Varitek got hurt. He missed only the month of August that season. The Red Sox were 63 and 41 heading into that month. They went 9-21 in August without Varitek behind the plate. They recovered to go 14-14 after his return.
More pitching numbers from that season: in August without Varitek: BA .314, TB 548, OPS+ 131, and team ERA 5.81. The high’s from any other month: BA .282, TB 419, OPS+ 106, ERA 4.70.
The terrible swan-dive the team took in 2006 during Tek’s injury was why Epstein came to value Varitek to the extent that he does. In fairness, Wakefield was injured for that stretch as well. But that doesn’t explain why Schilling, Beckett, and Lester all had their worst months of the season in August. Lester pitched so poorly they sent him back down to the minors.
What I hope stands out is that, during his absence, the pitching staff stunk it up. Beckett and Schilling, great every other month that season, posted some of their worst totals in a Sox uniform.
I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate Martinez’s bat. I’m not saying I won’t. But I wonder (as I watch Clay struggle today) if sacrificing Varitek’s behind-the-plate magic (at least it sounds like voodoo to many fans of the contemporary statistical school) is worth the slight offensive upgrade Martinez provides.