What did and didn’t work this year

A part of me feels like I need to provide some credentials if I’m dishing out fantasy advice. I’ve been waiting all year just to see if following my own advice would pay off. I played in four leagues, and the results are in:

1st place – 10-team roto, auction (League of Women Voters)
1st place – 10-team H2H roto, snake
2nd place – 10-team H2H points, snake
3rd place – 10-team H2H points, snake

The most important victory to me is the first one, in the League of Women Voters, a league in which a bunch of my dad’s friends have been playing for decades. I want to look back and 1) try to remember my exact draft strategy; 2) see how well I adhered to it; and 3) see where I went wrong.

I went into the draft knowing I would target a very specific and short list of players. This did not allow a lot of room for flexibility, although I did leave a couple of outfield spots open that I would fill on the fly. I can tell you right away I wish I was stricter on those last two outfield spots. I also did not target any specific category, although I did punt saves for the most part. Although I simultaneously led every offensive category except for stolen bases for most of the summer, it became obvious to me that I accidentally loaded up on batting average and undervalued steals.

What I did right:

  • $1 for Yan Gomes. I guaranteed Gomes would be a top-10 catcher with the chance to break the top 5; he finished No. 4 on ESPN’s player rater. (I also drafted Victor Martinez, and once he gained catcher eligibility, I dropped Gomes. It happened early in the season — too early for me to know better — but I wish I hadn’t.)
  • $16 for Jose Abreu. There’s no way I knew he’d be this good, but after snatching up Yoenis Cespedes off of free agency in the first week of 2012 and drafting Yasiel Puig to my bench in 2013, I pledged to gamble as much as $20, maybe more, on the MLB’s most recent Cuban import.
  • $13 for Martinez. I think he’s perpetually underrated, but I can tell you that not a single person in the world knew V-Mart would hit 30 home runs, let alone 20. I won’t pat my back on this one. I normally wouldn’t keep him, but I may have to in the off-chance he’s pulling a late-career Marlon Byrd on us (in terms of power, that is).
  • $1 for Corey Kluber. My love for Kluber is well-documented. I tempered my expectations and slotted him as my No. 32 starting pitcher, but I vastly underestimated his innings total (45 more innings than I projected), his wins (17 to 10) and, of course, his strikeouts (10.3 K/9 to 8.4 K/9). But I’m glad I took a conservative approach; the most important takeaway is that Kluber clearly exhibited the talent to be at least a middle-tier fantasy starter with upside. And boy, did everyone underestimate that upside.
  • $11 for Cole Hamels. I liked this play at the time, and I still do: I waited maybe a month to get a potential top-10 starter at about half-price. He’s a possible keeper next year ($14 on a $260 budget), but the Phillies’ inability to help him reach double-digit wins is troubling.
  • $2 for LaTroy Hawkins. He’s terrible, but at least I wasn’t the idiot who overspent on the perpetually inept Jim Johnson. How he lucked into more than 100 wins in two seasons is beyond me.

What I did wrong:

  • $51 for Miguel Cabrera. It was the most a player had ever gone for in the league, at least since the Rickey Henderson days. It was hard to predict such a massive drop-off in power — maybe 30 home runs was understandable, but only 25? — and I didn’t leave myself any room for savings. That is, I paid full price instead of looking for bargains, the latter of which was my game plan from the start.
  • $37 for Ryan Braun. An even worse bid, in hindsight, and another instance of paying full price instead of finding the bargain.
  • $10 for Everth Cabrera. Cabrera was a keeper, and he may have gone for more at auction. But wow, what a bust. Again, tough to see something like that coming, especially such a steep decline in on-base percentage.
  • $10 for Brad Miller. I made a bold prediction about Miller before the season started. I think the only thing more amazing than his plate discipline completely vanishing is how much owners in my league were willing to spend on a largely unknown quantity. I really thought I was being sneaky on this one, especially so late in the draft. This was a case in which I was too sold on a guy to budge and take a different name — especially when Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier were still on the board.
  • $12 for Shane Victorino. Was 2013 a flash in the pan or what? I don’t know if this guy’s legs will ever be the same again.

I’m excited to start preparing my projections for next year. I have made some revisions, tweaked some formulas… I’m looking forward to how the projections turn out.

And now I have a concrete idea in my head of how I should approach my ideal draft.

Blind résumé: thoughts on perceived value

Fantasy analysts say things like, “I know, I know, blind résumés are cliché,” and then proceed to do them anyway. So.

I know, I know, blind résumés are cliché. But this is important, I swear. This is an exercise in perceived versus actual value, and exploiting market inefficiencies.

Note: I wish I had written this a month and a half ago (June 21, to be exact), when I talked about it with my good friend/league enemy Rob. You’ll see why.

OK, here are the stat lines, as of Sept. 5:

Player A: 81 R, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB, .301/.351/.458/.808
Player B: 73 R, 13 HR, 60 RBI, 8 SB, .295/.382/.481/.864

If we are talking about players’ offensive skills from a traditional standpoint, you can argue that Player B is perhaps more valuable, given the comparable batting average, better on-base percentage and better isolated power (ISO). However, this is a fantasy baseball blog, and Player A is clearly the more valuable one as he leads all categories except stolen bases.

image

The screenshot is from a pre-trade deadline conversation I was having with Rob. And if you haven’t caught on by now, Player A is Melky Cabrera, and Player B is Yasiel Puig. I set the blind résumé deadline at Sept. 5, marking Cabrera’s last game prior to missing the rest of the season with a finger injury.

Referring back to the side note at the beginning: On June 21, ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Puig in his Top 10 and Cabrera outside his Top 50. At the time, the blind résumés would have looked more like this:

Cabrera: 47 R, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, .300/.345/.476/.821
Puig: 39 R, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 7 SB, .321/.411/.538/.949

Honestly, their stat lines were less similar than they are now. Anyway, the important part to note is Cockcroft’s updated ranking are always going-forward rankings — that is, Puig will be a Top-10 player going forward. And on June 21, Cockcroft thought Puig was the 8th-best fantasy option available (Cabrera, meanwhile, 65th or so) despite him going almost a month without clearing an outfield fence.

Things have changed, obviously. Cabrera was the better player in all categories since June 21 — in fact, his triple-slash rates are almost identical more than two months later, serving as a testament to his consistency — and his fantasy contributions have dwarfed those of Puig. Still, Cockcroft ranks Puig the No. 14 outfielder (40th overall) and Cabrera No. 20 outfielder (62nd overall). Elsewhere, CBS Sports’ Al Melchior still lists Puig as his No. 4 outfielder. (He has omitted Cabrera from his list given the news of his injury.) Michael Hurcomb, also of CBS Sports, lists Puig as his No. 4 outfielder and Cabrera at No. 15. (His list was last updated Aug. 12, but it’s not like Puig wasn’t already slumping.) Only one of the three CBS Sports analysts, Scott White, seems to have some sense, ranking Cabrera above Puig (Nos. 11 and 15, respectively).

Perhaps Puig is due to bounce back from a prolonged slump, which would justify his high ranking. But he had sported an abnormal BAbip (batting average on balls in play) all year; and while his 2013 BAbip was a monstrous .383, it would be wildly impressive for him to possess the hitting prowess to sustain one of the highest BAbips in MLB history. So, now, Puig owns a .353 BAbip, still well above the league average.

The question now: Is Puig a premium hitter, or has he been the beneficiary of a lot of good luck for a long time? ESPN’s hard-hit average data would be very beneficial right now, but alas, I don’t have access to it. Line drive rates can be used as a theoretical comparison, however, albeit not a pure substitute: line drives epitomize hard contact. And Puig has hit line drives only 14.3 percent of the time this year, as opposed to 19.1 percent of the time last year. (Mike Trout, who has seen his BAbip fall a comparable 31 points in BAbip from 2013, has seen his line drive rate drop an equally-comparable 4 percent.)

It will take a larger sample size — namely, the addition of the 2015 season — to determine whether Puig is closer to his 2013 line drive rate or his 2014 rate — and, thus, whether he is closer to his 2013 BAbip or his 2014 BAbip. For now, I would err on the side of caution and bank on the floor rather than the ceiling.

All of this slowly gets me back to my point: People have different perceptions of players’ values, and they often let other factors inhibit their judgments, even subconsciously. For example, people may still attribute Cabrera’s success to PEDs, a worry which seemed to be validated by his sub-optimal 2013 (during which he played through a herniated vertebrae, or something like that). Meanwhile, Puig is the next big thing, and people expect such from him. When you strip them of their names — from which their discrepancies in value stems, honestly — you uncover the market inefficiency lying within.

Not that I can say that I would have had the foresight to trade Puig for Cabrera on June 21 (mostly because I owned both), but if I was offered Puig for, say, Corey Dickerson, straight up, I would have pulled the trigger. Because at that point, it was all about name value and recognizing the true performance of each player without bias. Dickerson, having arguably a better season than Cabrera or Puig, is ranked Nos. 17, 25, 32 and 40 among all outfielders on the four expert lists I mentioned.

Moral of the story: Try not to let the name bias your projections. Exploit other owners’ misguided perceptions of value.

V-Mart, Abreu could join elite 30/.330 club

This morning, ESPN’s David Schoenfield mentioned that the Detroit Tigers’ Victor Martinez is baseball’s best hitter, leading all of Major League Baseball in wOBA (weighted on-base average) and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), which measures a player’s offensive contributions after controlling for park effects. It’s a shame he won’t earn many American League MVP votes — I wouldn’t be surprised if teammate and former MVP Miguel Cabrera blindly earned more — simply because he contributes little to no defensive value.

Still, V-Mart is batting .337 with 30 home runs, setting him up to be part of an elite club. It’s not a popular one, mostly because it doesn’t have a flashy name or fancy title, but it is still very much meaningful: The 30-HR, .330-BA Club.

There have been only 62 such seasons in the past 50 years. There are repeat offenders, however, so the club actually consists of only 37  hitters dating back to 1964.

And the names in this club are not nobodies. Cabrera. Albert Pujols. Todd Helton. Frank Thomas. Vladimir Guerrero. Chipper Jones. The list goes on. It’s a group of men that consists of seven Rookies of the Year and three Hall of Famers (and more to come) and has collected 31 MVP awards and 244 All-Star nods. The inclusion of Martinez and perhaps Chicago White Sox first baseman and Cuban rookie sensation Jose Abreu, who currently sits at 33 homers and a .317 average, would add another six All-Star berths and possibly another Rookie of the Year.

This is nothing more than a cool historical footnote. It doesn’t really feel like we are witnessing history because fans have witnessed 39 such seasons of 30/.330 since 2000, and Martinez’s teammate Cabrera has achieved the feat each of the past three years on his own. Still, when we discuss seasons of truly amazing hitting — commending not only a player’s power but also his incredible plate discipline and coverage — Martinez’ (and Abreu’s) names should be included in the conversation. And maybe it’s just me, but given Martinez’ age and career trajectory, his inclusion on the list will certainly be surprising — and impressive.

The comprehensive list (1964-2013), with number of times each player achieved 30/.330, is listed below.

5 times
Albert Pujols

4 times
Barry Bonds
Manny Ramirez
Todd Helton

3 times
Frank Thomas
Larry Walker
Miguel Cabrera
Mike Piazza
Vladimir Guerrero

2 times
Gary Sheffield
Jason Giambi

1 time
Adrian Beltre
Albert Belle
Alex Rodriguez
Billy Williams
Bret Boone
Carlos Delgado
Carlos Gonzalez
Chipper Jones
Dante Bichette
Dave Parker
David Ortiz
Derrek Lee
Don Mattingly
Ellis Burks
Fred Lynn
George Brett
Ivan Rodriguez
Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Kent
Josh Hamilton
Lance Berkman
Matt Holliday
Mo Vaughn
Moises Alou
Ryan Braun
Tim Salmon (Salmon is the only player on the list without an All-Star Game appearance. He achieved the feat in 1995, hitting .330 with 34 HR and a 1.024 OPS. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1993 alongside Piazza.)

Under-the-radar 2015 fantasy prospects

Another month without any published material has come and gone. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker earned himself American League Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month honors for August. Good thing I wrote my glowing endorsement for him on July 25. It will be interest to see how he’s ranked next year. Julio TeheranMichael Wacha, Sonny Gray and Tony Cingrani were touted prospects and drafted Nos. 29, 32, 41 and 44 on average in ESPN live drafts this year after pretty amazing 2013s. So, what now for Shoemaker? He was never a touted prospect; most fans still probably don’t know who he is, similar to how I anticipate Corey Kluber will get robbed of Cy Young votes this year simply because he isn’t a name-brand ace.

Alas, there will be doubts about Shoemaker’s ability to repeat his performance — his swinging strike and contact rates have tailed off a bit since I wrote about him a month ago, and he doesn’t occupy the strike zone enough for me to think the walk rate is sustainable — which could make him a 2015 draft day bargain. Starting pitching is deeper than ever, so it would not surprise me whatsoever to see Shoemaker make a variety of “just missed” lists, right outside the Top 60 pitchers or so, with an average draft positions of maybe 45th for starting pitchers.

If I had to run a quick-‘n’-dirty projection for next year right now, it would look something like:

Bearish: 180 IP, 11 W, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 K
Bullish: 200 IP, 13 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 189 K

FYI, those are both pretty darn good projections, good for what will probably be Top-30 in my 2015 rankings.

Anyway. ANYWAY.

Let’s get to what I really wanted to discuss: 2015 fantasy prospect sleepers. Many notable prospect lists are published prior to the start of each season, and a handful are updated as the season unfolds. Case in point, ESPN’s Keith Law published his updated Top 50 list about a month ago. Obviously, the list accounts for the triumphs — and tribulations — of current and now-former top prospects in whichever league(s) the player performed this season as of July 17.

Today’s scouting report has two faces: the qualitative, through which we award players a grade of 20 through 80 for their five tools; and the quantitative, through which we assess the progress of a player based on what he has actually accomplished.

It’s all good and well that prospect lists exist — especially updated ones. But, frankly, there isn’t room on the list for everyone, and the lists often span more than just players who are Major League-ready.

Thus, I occasionally look at Minor League leaderboards and try to find less-trendy fantasy prospects to scoop in the late rounds of a draft or spend a dollar on in the twilight of an auction. I create a list and periodically update it, tracking the player’s progress or lack thereof.

In alphabetical order, here are some players who, given playing time, could be impact players in 2015:

Steven Moya, DET OF | 40 Hit, 60 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
It wouldn’t surprise me if 99 percent of baseball fans outside of Michigan knew Moya was called up when the Tigers’ roster expanded. Absent from all major prospect lists, Moya belted 35 home run, swiped 16 bases and batted .276 in 133 games at Double-A Erie. Those are numbers that could get anyone all hot and bothered. It’s not a huge surprise to me why he wasn’t so highly touted: he combined for only 42 home runs and 16 stolen bases combined in his first four years in the minors. What’s overlooked, though, is he debuted when he was 17, and he has obviously made great strides as he fills out at the ripe age of 22. All that glimmers is not gold, however; Moya struck out in almost 30 percent of plate appearances while walking only 4 percent of the time. There’s a lot of potential for bust simply because he may never catch up to Major League pitching.

Looking forward: Moya is currently buried on the depth chart, as he was called up more for depth and reps than impact contributions. Still, right fielder Torii Hunter‘s contract expires this year, leaving Moya to compete with Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Ezequiel Carrera (whom I actually like as a speedy, Leonys Martin-type of outfielder). Davis is underrated and Martinez has reestablished himself as a credible starter, although it remains to be seen if he sustains it, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see Moya win a starting role over Carrera — or all of them, really. His plate discipline is problematic, though; even notorious free-swinger Pedro Alvarez had better discipline before his call-up. Still, not all prospects with poor hit tools are doomed to bust, but given his relatively unknown prospect status — he’s buried at No. 7 in the Tigers’ organizational depth, according to MLB.com — he could be a low-risk, high-reward (and also high-volatility) player in 2015.

Steven Souza, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
Souza is perhaps the most talented and enigmatic of the three players listed here, based strictly on 2014 performance and MLB.com’s scouting grades. Like Moya, Souza didn’t make any preseason or midseason top-prospect lists, despite hitting 18 home runs, stealing 26 bases and batting a whopping .350 across 407 Triple-A plate appearances. (In there defense, Souza was really, really bad prior to 2012, and was busted for PEDs in 2010.)

Again, if you live outside of New England and knew Souza was recently called up when rosters expanded: congratulations! All of Souza’s numbers — his speed, his power and especially his hit tool — correlate very poorly with how MLB.com evaluated him above. Even if the power and speed do somehow project to be average, his plate discipline is very evidently better than below-average: he struck out in 18.4 percent of plate appearances and walked in 12.8 percent of them. And he achieved this in Triple-A, not Double-A, where Moya flailed away. Future Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor allegedly has a 70-hit tool, yet posted strikeout and walk rates of 19.5 and 5.2 percent — not at all elite. Trust the statistics.

Looking forward: The only things standing between Souza and a starting role in 2015 is Denard Span‘s 2015 team option (who has performed well enough to earn it and then some) and the next guy on this list. Thus, Souza may be doomed to a fourth-outfielder role next year until Bryce Harper inevitably injures himself, so Souza’s heyday may not truly come until 2016. If he somehow assumes the first baseman role, it would be hard to rely on a guy who hits 15 home runs, steals 10 bases, bats .275. But if he eventually moves to the outfield where he belongs, or gets traded, his potential /.280/.340/.380 would be serviceable in fantasy leagues.

Michael Taylor, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 60 Run (MLB.com)
Shoot. I kind of forgot that Taylor and Souza are on the same Triple-A team battling for the same potential center-field opening that will, realistically speaking, not be vacated by Span next year. Taylor got a brief look earlier in the year and promptly hit a home run — but also struck out eight times in 22 trips to the plate. It’s difficult to ignore his 22 home runs, 34 stolen bases and .313 average at Double-A Harrisburg, and the 51 steals at Single-A Potomac last year add a nice touch. Like Moya, the hit tool as graded by MLB.com is probably accurate: Taylor struck out 130 times in 441 plate appearances (25 percent), but at least he walked more than the league average.

Looking forward: Taylor and Souza are theoretically competing with each other, which could make either of them offseason trade bait. Taylor, however, spent the majority of this year in Double-A, only recently getting promoted, so he may have a year of development ahead of him, despite being ahead of Souza on MLB.com’s organizational depth for the Nationals (Nos. 5 and 7). It’s also worth noting  that Souza is listed as third on the depth chart at first base, and Adam LaRoche is in the final year of his contract, so it’s possible that Taylor earns the fourth-outfielder role and Souza earns first base outright (or becomes the backup to Kevin Frandsen… yuck). Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore any potential 20/20 players, and he looks like another guy who could get there, albeit with a low batting average.

If I had to guess which of these three players will make the biggest impact in 2015, I would say Moya, who I think has the highest bust potential but also the highest ceiling. Souza is the safest and will make for an adequate, and perhaps enticing, replacement given the event of an injury in the Nationals’ outfield. Taylor has the same kind of boom-or-bust potential as Moya, albeit with a little less power and a little more speed.

 

Matt Shoemaker, pending fantasy star

How does one apologize for not writing for more than a month and a half? It’s hard, man. Maybe one does not apologize to one’s readers. Maybe one’s readers accepts that it is what it is.

You know what else is what it simply is? Matthew David Shoemaker, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s right-handed reliever-turned-starter.

Every baseball season often produces more questions than answers. Namely: Who is Matt Shoemaker? Where did he come from? Why am I writing about him if he’s not that good?

Let us rewind to 2012. A mysterious figure emerged from the mist of the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen to dazzle us– or maybe just me, given he never really received the recognition he deserved. Maybe he had a right to be ignored: he posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 30-1/3 relief innings. If you don’t know how this fairy tale ends, it goes something like: goes largely unnoticed in 2012, is drafted outside the top 75 pitchers on average in ESPN drafts in 2013, and eventually emerges as a borderline fantasy ace by the name of Hisashi Iwakuma.

There’s a lesson to be learned. Iwakuma’s horrid statistics as a reliever muddied his season numbers. In hindsight, a 3.15 ERA for the year is solid, but a 2.65 ERA is better, and that’s what Iwakuma posted strictly as a starter. Yet fantasy owners who opted only to scratch the surface saw mostly unsightly ratios.

The same fairy tale manifested itself in a different form in 2013 that would make the Brothers Grimm proud. The Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber emerged from the bullpen in May, albeit after only half a dozen innings, many more than that in 2012. Kluber’s season, however, began with aplomb — and by aplomb, I mean “a handful of horrible starts.” Starts horrible enough to sully his numbers for the year (3.95 ERA). But the peripherals were there at season’s end: 8.28 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.09 walks per nine, 3.12 xFIP. In case you haven’t kept track, Kluber has more or less assumed the role as Cleveland’s staff ace this year, posting a 2.95 ERA with more strikeouts than innings.

I will now shortsightedly assume, without any kind of research, that this kind of thing happens every year. Every year, there’s at least one player who emerges from the bullpen and becomes an ace. Sure, you have the Chris Sales and Adam Wainwrights of the baseball world, who make a gigantic, whale-sized spash, but you also have the Iwakumas and Klubers, who basically don’t make a splash at all and probably sit on the side of the pool with their feet dangling in and shirts still on.

So I’m calling it: Mr. Shoemaker will be 2015’s reincarnation of this fairy tale.

In keeping the trend alive, a look at Shoemaker’s stats tell you… well, in the way of anything positive, not much. He has somehow notched seven wins despite a 4.54 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, so that rules. Worse, his WHIP was, like, 1.42 before his most recent start. So, bad season stat line? Check.

Meanwhile, he has struck out 9.68, and walked only 1.87, hitters per nine innings. It would behoove me to point out that these numbers dwarf those posted by Kluber in 2013, during which Kluber existed primarily in a gelatinous state of Emerging Star. It would also behoove me to point out that a reader with a discerning eye would notice that Shoemaker has a still-lackluster 4.37 ERA and 1.28 WHIP as a starter, fitting the mold of “maybe his season numbers are ruined.” It would further behoove me to point out that he is suffering the misfortune of a .350 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which, if normalized to a more reasonable .320, would produce a 1.20 WHIP. A league-average .300 BABIP? A 1.14 WHIP. So, distorted stats as a starter? Check.

Perhaps the most important, and valid, question at this point is whether or not Shoemaker can sustain what he’s doing. Small sample size caveats abound here, but I think the results are still substantial, if not due for regression. For all pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings, Shoemaker ranks 11th in swinging strike percentage (11.9), one spot behind Stephen Strasburg, the MLB strikeout leader, and three spots ahead of his teammate Garrett Richards, who has done all kinds of breaking out this year. Shoemaker also ranks 9th in hitter contact allowed (73.5 percent), sandwiched between Gio Gonzalez and, yes, Richards. Thus, even given small sample size caveats, Shoemaker is among excellent company. The walk rate may suffer; it’s hard to say, and even harder still given that I’m on an airplane over central California with no internet. But, given the browser tabs I still have open, I can tell you that Shoemaker’s percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone, according to FanGraphs’ data, trails only Clayton Kershaw and Mets reliever Carlos Torres among the 10 names ahead of his on the swinging strike percentage list. That bodes well for projecting his control going forward. (PITCHf/x, however, portends another story, as his zone percentage trails six of the eight names ahead of his. But when the names you trail are Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka and Kershaw, I’d say you’re not doing so bad for yourself.) So, solid peripherals? Check.

It’s a makeshift and largely personal checklist, but so far, Shoemaker meets all my criteria for the gelantinous Emerging Star. Who knows how Shoemaker will fare during the season’s last two months, but I think he’s worth owning now despite his current stat line. As for 2015 and beyond, I like him — for now. I wouldn’t bother keeping him, as I think his value will be depressed heading into next year’s draft, so you can easily wait around for him in the late rounds, if not add him as free agency in the first couple of weeks of the season, just as many owners did with Iwakuma and Kluber the past two years.

I hesitate to say Shoemaker is a lock for success. If anything, this post is less about finding The Next Big Thing as it is finding a pitcher whose performance betrays his value. There are the Sonny Grays and Michael Wachas of the world, whose status as top prospects make them costly prospective adds. Then there are the Matt Shoemakers, whose obscurity and relative misfortune keep him out of the fantasy limelight — and, one would hope, on the clearance shelf, from which you can swipe him on the cheap.

A smorgasbord of fantasy baseball advice

Need a Streamer has been slow lately, to say the least. I’ve missed discussing a lot of player news and opportunities to provide good streaming picks. So I’m going to try something new, and maybe it’ll stick. It should be fairly explanatory. I hope it holds readers over until the end of this week, which is probably the busiest week for me in a long time.

Player to add that isn’t Gregory PolancoA.J. Pollock, ARI OF
He’s on the DL, so you’ve got time to pull the trigger. His batting average isn’t for real, but the 6 homers and 8 steals are nice, and he will more than likely join the small number of players who achieve double-digits in each category in a given year. I would expect a batting average closer to .265, but if you can punt average for counting stats in a deeper league, I would go for it.

Hitter to drop: Jay Bruce, CIN OF
Honorable mention goes to Brandon Phillips, Bruce’s teammate, but it is more fitting that the suggested replacement player can actually replace someone. Bruce is striking out about 5 percentage points more often than last year and almost 8 percentage points more than his career rate. Meanwhile, he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls, whereas about two-thirds of all of Bruce’s batted balls over his career have been put in the air. The sample size is quite large now, and I think there may be something wrong with the slugger. His ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) is a little bit deflated, but even if it returns to his career average, I still wouldn’t expect him to hit much more than 20 home runs, and that’s a serious problem for a guy who’s value lies solely in his power. Bruce is shaping up to be the next Curtis Granderson, and I have legitimate concerns about his current and future value.

Pitcher to add: Marcus Stroman, TOR
Stroman could quickly rise to the top as Toronto’s ace come 2015 if he lives up to his minor league numbers. So far, he has. I liked Stroman a lot as a prospect, as he averaged 10.6 strikeouts and only 2.4 walks per nine innings. He began the year in the bullpen and suffered a couple of brutal appearances in a row, so his two recent (and excellent) starts have improved his numbers to a still-shaky 5.40 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. But I think he’s a starter by trade, and his 13 strikeouts and two walks over 12 innings as a starter support such a claim. Your window to claim Stroman may stay open for a while, especially if other owners simply look at his misleading ERA and WHIP or, on ESPN, his average points, which stands at an underwhelming 3.3 per appearance. However, if he keeps flashing this kind of quality, you’ll start to run out of time.

Wednesday streamer, other than Stroman: Rubby De La Rosa, BOS
I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled about him, but everyone has caught on to Tyson Ross (although he’s still only 73-percent owned), so tomorrow’s options are slim. De La Rosa comes with K’s but also BB’s; however, he carries a 13-to-2 K/BB ratio into this start on the road, so perhaps he can continue to keep the command issues under control.

Prospect(s) to watch: Joc Pederson, LAD OF, and Mookie Betts, BOS 2B
Pederson and Betts will likely not be up any time soon, as they’re blocked by some pretty large figures at their respective positions. But given the hype surrounding a couple of 2014’s call-ups in George Springer and, most recently, Gregory Polanco, it’s good to know who the next impact players will be. Pederson is batting .327/.437/.615 with 16 home runs and 14 steals. Are you serious? I think he’s a bit too far to reach a 40/40 season, but 30/30 is probably at this point. It’s unfortunate the Dodgers are letting him rot in the minors beneath a pile of unmovable cash in their impacted outfield. Betts recently moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket; prior to this move, he stole 22 bases in 285 plate appearances while batting .346 with almost twice as many walks as strikeouts. He’s going to be really good, with astounding plate discipline, decent speed and a little bit of pop, too. If you hear Pederson’s and Bett’s names, or the names of their predecessors (Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Dustin Pedroia…), in next month’s trade talks, get ready to prospectively add, add, add.

Revisiting my bold preseason predictions

This just in, folks: Corey Kluber leads all MLB pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR). The great thing about running your own website is you have full discretion to toot your own horn when you please. As much as I find it tacky to do so, I made bold predictions for a reason: to see if my projections are actually worth a damn. I just wish I had time to make more; I should have started early in the offseason as I ran out of time the longer the academic year has worn on. (I’m a graduate student, so publishing to this website is not always the most optimal use of my time. According to societal expectations, at least — I think it’s a great use of my time!)

Anyway, let’s revisit my bold predictions to discuss a) their accuracy thus far, and b) why they have (or have not) been accurate. Here they are, in chronological order:

Tyson Ross will be a top-45 starting pitcher

Ross is ranked 31st of all starters, according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Instead of rehashing details, you can read the linked article to see why I glowed about Ross this offseason and have chosen him as a streamer several times already this year (before he gained more recognition and, consequently, more ownership). That he qualifies as a reliever in ESPN leagues is a huge plus as well. I readily admit it’s not insane for a random names to rank highly in the player rater; just check out the names around Ross’, including Alfredo Simon, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang and Collin McHugh. Unlike the names I mentioned, though, I think Ross has the natural ability to stay there, given his strikeout propensity that limit the damage done by walks (which, by the way, is a problem nowhere near as bad as Shelby Miller‘s — I guess six wins will mask his atrociously bad WHIP that will blow up in his face sooner rather than later.) Ross is still available in 21 percent of ESPN leagues, so if he’s out there, you should grab him. Just don’t expect him to keep winning as often in front of that terrible San Diego offense.

Brad Miller will be a top-5-to-7 shortstop

As terribly as this prediction has turned out — Miller is batting .151/.230/.247 with 3 HR and 3 SB — I do not regret making it. Miller has struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances, which is way, way worse than he ever was in Triple-A or even last year, when he struck out 17 percent of the time. It pains me deeply that The Triple Machine hasn’t hit a triple. Have I given up on him this year? Honestly, yes. His batting average on balls in play is grossly unlucky right now, but even regression to the mean won’t fix what his strikeout tendency has broken. But I still like him as a sleeper for next year, or even as a late bloomer this year. If he can demonstrate an improvement in his plate discipline as the year wears on, I will give him another chance. It upsets me, though, that he had such a hot spring. It fuels the fire of analysts who criticize spring training stats as unreliable. I agree, to an extent, but Miller’s spring stats were an extension of his 2013 season — albeit an extension inflated by some good luck. It’s worth emphasizing here that strikeouts really aren’t luck-based, so to say the his spring training was lucky is an ignorant dismissal.

Corey Kluber is this year’s Hisashi Iwakuma (aka big breakout candidate)

There’s one thing I, at least, can privately appreciate about my bold predictions: I abided by all of them in every single I’m in, unless someone happened to grab a pitcher before me. Ultimately, in four leagues, I grabbed Ross and Miller in four of them, and Kluber in three — and in the fourth one, I promptly traded Jayson Werth and Tyson Ross (who I drafted in the last round) for Norichika Aoki and Corey Kluber (this is a points league, so Aoki carries some value for his lack of K’s and contact approach). Did I win the trade? Who knows — I traded one guy I liked for another I liked more. Point is, I actually rolled with my bold predictions. Might as well eat my words, right? (Is that how that saying goes?)

I got Kluber in the equivalent of the last round in every draft and for $1 in my primary keeper auction league. Yes, I’m bragging. But, more importantly, this isn’t a revelation to me. I knew Kluber would be good based on last year’s peripherals, as did a host of other people on FanGraphs (namely, Carson Cistulli and the Corey Kluber Society). But a lot of people didn’t see it coming, which is crazy to me, and it makes me question what it really takes to become a paid professional “fantasy expert.” Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Kluber 58th of starting pitchers this preseason, which is better than I expected, but look at some of the names above him: Matt Garza? Justin Masterson? Zack Wheeler? For a guy who invests so much in seeing an improvement in skills, Wheeler has been, for his entire career, buying up billboards to plaster them with slogans such as I HAVE CONTROL ISSUES. Kluber is essentially the antithesis of Wheeler. And, yet, who has the smaller track record? Ridiculous… (In Eric Karabell’s defense, he said pitching is so deep this year that owners may not be able to draft Kluber, which was a roundabout way of indicating he liked him, at least somewhat, heading into draft day.)

Anyway, I’m clearly on a rant, and I need to get this train back on the rails. Kluber is somehow not 100-percent owned at this point — he’s 99.9-percent owned, but hey, at least I’m not lying — yet he’s striking out everyone and their mothers. I don’t know if he continues to strike out 10 per nine innings (10.28 K/9), but the percentage of swinging strikes he has produced has jumped 1.4 percent, placing in the top 1o in the category, behind Max Scherzer and ahead of Madison Bumgarner. This is all a long-winded way of saying he could, and perhaps should, be a 200-K guy this year. In that sense, maybe he’s not a buy-low guy, but his lack of name recognition and his .350 BABIP makes him a prime candidate to be exactly that. A handful of rankings have him in the 35-to-40 range; even then, I can give you a case to trade perhaps a dozen names ahead of him for Kluber, including Gio Gonzalez, Matt Cain and, yes, maybe even Justin Verlander (who, at this point, is still owned in most leagues simply because of name recognition and past performance; and while I understand the importance of past performance, do not let yourself be blinded by nostalgia).

Dan Haren will strike out fewer than 7 batters per nine innings

This one is random, but hey, it’s legit: Haren has only a 6.89 K/9 right now. You can read the linked post to find out way. I may rip him a little too hard — his control still makes him a fairly solid starter — but he’s more of a Kyle Lohse these days than, well, a Corey Kluber. Lohse is serviceable, but he’s not elite, and Haren should be able to net you an extra win or two along the way in front of a lethal Dodgers offense.

OK, that’s it. I’m 3-for-4 in my bold predictions so far this year, which is a pretty good day at the plate, so I’ll take it.

Also, the academic year is winding down, and once it winds down completely, Need a Streamer will ramp up with more content. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Player Rater Watch: Second Base, last 30 days

I think someone flipped the ESPN Player Rater upside-down for second basemen. It’s, how to say it… bizarre. Two, maybe three of the top 10 now were drafted as such on draft day. The rest are scattered all over. Maybe this is how it looked last year, but honestly, I don’t remember. However, I know enough about statistics and this beautiful sport to know that a lot of crazy stuff can happen in small sample sizes, and when it happens at the beginning of the season, the strangeness magnifies.

I don’t have high hopes for the current top 10, though. I think six of them have a chance to stay there, but as we know all too well, anything can happen.

Dee Gordon, LAD | #1 2B
I wrote a lengthy post about Gordon, but if you are lazy, here is the quickest of recaps: I project .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI and 57 SB for his remaining 118 (or so) games — that is, if his caliber of play enables him to stay in the lineup all year with Alexander Guerrero and his $28 million contract breathing down Gordon’s neck from Triple-A.

Brian Dozier, MIN | #2 2B
Man, did I ever underestimate this guy. It’s difficult when I player who never really hit for much power in the minors launches 18 long balls and swipes 14 bags to boot. It’s hard to give him credit for what he did, and I regressed his ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) given his lack of track record. It does make a bit of sense, though, if you remove the historical component: the dude is 27 years old, essentially entering his prime years. It doesn’t really matter, though; the fringe 20 HR, 20 SB candidate is now on pace for a 40-40 season. That won’t happen, but do I think there’s a legitimate chance he hits 25? Absolutely. And who can even say about the stolen bases. You have to think it’ll slow down, but will it? At one time, I essentially called Dozier a poor man’s Ian Desmond (I also called him Brian “Bull” Dozier, which I since regret) because of his 20-20 potential but at the expense of batting average. At this point, he’s going to be a 25-25 guy, and that plus a .240 batting average perhaps makes him more valuable than Desmond and his potential 21-19-.280. And yet, after all this talk, maybe we haven’t even touched upon the most impressive statistic: his walk rate of 15.7 percent (1oth among all qualified batters), which hedges against his poor batting average. Maybe it regresses, but it doesn’t matter — Dozier is for real.

Daniel Murphy, NYM | #3 2B
I’d rather just write An Ode to Murphy, as he has long been a man-crush of mine. I owned him in 2012, when he was still a fledgling 10-10 candidate with a solid batting average. In 2013, I owned him for a little while but dropped him before he stole all the bags in all the stadiums. Now, he’s doing it all again: hitting for a high average, stealing bases and lobbing a few over the fence. He may be at his all-time best, striking out less than he did in 2012 and 2013 and walking at a career-high rate. He has also been able to sustain the fly ball rate that fueled his homer binge last year, so a 15-20 season is not out of the question at this point. Oh, the leagues we could have conquered together, Daniel…

Emilio Bonifacio, CHC | #7 2B
Bonifacio had one good year, back in 2011. This year is looking a lot like that year. The first thing that pops out about that year, though: a .372 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a good deal above his career .336 rate. This year? A .398 BABIP. He’s batting .313 now, but that’s not as exorbitant as I would expect it to be. It has a long way to fall, and it’s only a matter of time until Bonifacio is no longer relevant in a 10-team league — that is, unless he maintains his high BABIP, which he has done before, but only on one occasion. I would sell high while the window is still open.

Anthony Rendon, WAS | #10 2B
At this point, he is what he is. I think you can expect this kind of production from here on out, which doesn’t make him an excellent second baseman, but you could certainly do worse.

Robinson Cano, SEA | #11 2B
I projected Bob Cano for 30 home runs, and I defended his plate production in a prior post. I can’t backtrack, and I won’t appear credible for recanting my statements. But I had run a projection on Cano back in March that factored in Safeco Field’s park factors, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty: 17 home runs. I kind of wish I stuck with it; it seemed ridiculous, especially for a home run hitter in the prime of his career. Even if he hit fewer at home, he could make up for the deficiency on the road. In his defense, his HR/FB rate is incredibly low, and that will regress; in that sense, he’s a buy-low candidate. But he’s hitting the fewest fly balls of his career, and as a Cano owner, I would feel fortunate to notch, say, 23 bombs. With that said, that means he’s still got 22 more home runs to hit, so if you succeed in buying low on him, it should pay dividends.

Dustin Pedroia, BOS | #12 2B
OK, I’m gonna say it: I’m afraid Pedroia may not reach 10 steals or 10 home runs. He simply does not hit as many fly balls as he used to, and given his HR/FB rate is right where it was last year, maybe this is the new norm, and last year wasn’t an anomaly. I would prospectively buy low on Pedroia, but I’d do it for cheap. Mark my words: Pedroia may no longer be a viable top-10 second baseman after this year.

Matt Carpenter, STL | #17 2B
Strikeouts are way up, and the BABIP is down. He has hit for high BABIPs the past two years, so it’s conceivable that his batting average rises a few ticks, but it’s the aforementioned strikeouts that are most concerning. He’s still on pace to record something like 100 runs, which is pretty awesome, so you can’t really drop him. But the RBI aren’t really there, and with not much power, speed or batting average ability, he’s starting to become a liability.

Jason Kipnis, CLE | #25 2B
Patience, young Padawan. Kipnis will come around. Don’t be surprised when he’s not near the top of the year-end Player Rater, though. That’s what injuries will do to a great player.

Need some streamers? T. Ross, Hutchison, Colon, Wood

I’ve been slacking on my streamer picks, so let’s cut straight to the chase.

Today, 5/15:
Tyson Ross, SD @ CIN
Mr. Ross is the real deal, my friends. He’s 10th of all pitchers in batters’ contact on pitches in the zone, sandwiched between the unfamiliar names of Jose Fernandez and Zack Greinke (and the players who precede him include Michael Wacha, Yordano Ventura, Julio Teheran and Max Scherzer). He doesn’t make batters chase pitches at an overwhelming rate, but they make contact on such pitches only half the time, which ranks Ross fourth only to Ervin Santana, Garrett Richards and Masahiro Tanaka. At 7.99 K/9, his K-rate should actually improve. You can really only bash him for his walk rate, but it’s no worse than Gio Gonzalez or Justin Verlander. I don’t care if it’s a road game; Ross should be owned in all leagues at this point.

Friday, 5/16:
Drew Hutchison, TOR @ TEX
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not totally sold on this matchup. Hutchison hasn’t been very impressive, but there are simply not many matchups worth exploiting on Friday. I like Hutchison for his strikeouts, and before his last start (during which he walked four), he had only walked five guys across 32-1/3 innings. His control escaped him, but if it comes back, he should be able to control a miserable Texas offense that ranks 26th of 30 teams in extra-base hits.

Saturday, 5/17:
Bartolo Colon, NYM @ WAS
Again, not crazy about this one, either. But Colon has been incredibly unlucky. The dude is walking fewer than a batter per nine innings (0.9 BB/9), so all the baserunners (and, consequently, earned runs) he has allowed are a largely a function of an elevated batting average on balls in play (BABIP). It’s hard to trust a guy who’s mired in a slump, but the luck should eventually turn in his favor. Who’s to say it won’t be this weekend? I’d take a chance. The Nationals don’t score a ton of runs, either. It’s not the best play, but it’s safer than most.

Sunday, 5/18:
Travis Wood, CHC vs. MIL
After a hot start, albeit a brief one, Wood has since collapsed in spectacular fashion, sporting a 4.91 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. So why would I ever vouch for this guy? Check out his home-road splits:

Split W L W-L% ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
Home 2 1 .667 2.39 4 26.1 22 7 2 4 32 0.987 10.9 8.00
Away 1 3 .250 8.02 4 21.1 31 19 2 11 12 1.969 5.1 1.09
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2014.

The splits are ridiculous. They speak for themselves, although I’ll highlight the ones that are most impressive. With that said, he’s starting at home. Enough said.

Good luck and happy streaming!

On Dee Gordon’s breakout, and what to expect rest-of-season

Let’s be honest: Did anyone see Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon‘s breakout coming? No. Not one person. It was fair to say he could hold his own, maybe fight off Cuban import Alexander Guerrero for a month or two. But Gordon, who hit .229 across 2012 and 2013, did not give really any indication that he’d be this valuable.

So I want to amend the question. Rather than did anyone see it coming, could anyone see it coming? Perhaps the answer is yes.

His first year in the majors was, by most measures, pretty successful. A 23-year-old Gordon batted .304 with 24 stolen bases in 56 games. It’s no wonder why people have hoped for Gordon to break out and have been wildly disappointed in his failure to do so. Leading up to 2014, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 11.6 to 19.8 percent, and his low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) relative to other speedsters coupled with an absolute lack of power made for poor batting and on-base rates.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Gordon has shaved his strikeout rate by 4.5 percent, a huge margin. Meanwhile, his BABIP is way up — at .378, I can tell you without looking that it’s one of the highest in Major League Baseball. Thing is, he’s a guy with enough speed and to make it work, especially if he keeps racking up hits on bunts and balls in the infield. When I say “make it work,” though, I simply mean he will maintain an above-average BABIP, maybe in the .325-.335 range, rather than stay lofted in the .370s.

Meanwhile, the steals… Oh, man, the steals. They are legit, people. It’s hard to believe that he’s stealing in almost half of his opportunities, but he is. I thought, maybe the guy is getting lucky with the number of stolen base opportunities relative to all other baserunners. According to Baseball Reference, the average baserunner has the next base available to him about 37 percent of the time. So Gordon must have, like, a rate north of 40 or even 50 percent, right? Nay, squire — Gordon has had an open base before him only 33 percent of the time.

I want to do two things, now: predict Gordon’s end-of-season stats, and predict his rest-of-season stats. Without further ado:

Revised end-of-season 2014 projection: .276/.316/.352, 82 R, 2 HR, 42 RBI, 81 SB (156 games)

That’s right, folks. This is the Billy Hamilton you were looking for. It’s important to note that I project him for 156 games, but there’s a possibility that if he falls into a deep funk, Guerrero could usurp Gordon’s role. Worse, Guerrero could do so before a slump even hits, given the $28 million the Dodgers are now watching waste away in Triple-A.

As much as it is important to see Gordon’s end-of-year stat line, it’s the rest-of-year stats that truly matter most, especially if you’re trying to decide whether to sell high on the guy or simply hang tight.

Rest-of-season projection: .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 57 SB (118 games)

Bottom line: he’s worth his weight in gold based solely on his steals. But a .261 batting average and .300 on-base percentage don’t bode especially well for his high runs tally as well as the frequency at which he will be able to steal bases. With almost a steal every other game, though, you’re nitpicking if you are complaining about a few percentage points of OBP affected his steals.

Although I just trivialized OBP, it is worth monitoring his decline, because it will happen — trust me. Dee Gordon is not a .322 hitter, let alone a .300 hitter. He may be able to luck his way to a nice batting average, though, with a few more bunt base-hits here and there.

Overall, though, he is still not a great hitter and doesn’t get on base as much as you’d like to make him much more than a one-category player. If you’ve already staked yourself to a massive lead in steals, I’d sell high — although when I say high, I mean really high. Fifty-seven swipes in a rotisserie league is incredibly valuable. My main roto league has 80 percent more home runs than steals — that is, a home run is worth about 55 percent of every steal. Now, that’s not to say Gordon is worth a guy who can hit 103 home runs, because 1) that’s impossible, 2) Gordon simply doesn’t contribute in many other categories other than maybe runs, and 3) he’s no guarantee to finish out the year at second base. But you could probably get a really solid, well-rounded top pick (read: top-50 player) for Gordon in a trade today — maybe better.

When it’s all said and done, I think Gordon could finish as high as top-30 on the ESPN Player Rater if he can last an entire season with Guerrero breathing down his neck. And I would hold on to him until I observe a sizable downward trend in his on-base abilities midseason.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.