The stove is hot, people. HOT! And as Every Time I Die once said: I been gone a long time. Sorry about that. I finished the first term of my last year of graduate school. It was probably the hardest one, and it should be smooth sailing from here on out.
I’m also pretty proud of a research paper I just completed regarding the probability of future success of minor leagues. The results are robust and I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a school project, so I didn’t have time to make it nearly as complex as I would have hoped, but it’s something I plan to further investigate in the coming days, weeks, months, what-have-you.
Anyway, there is plenty of news flying around as well as plenty of analysis. I’ll do my best to recap, but surely I’ll miss some things:
- Jeremy Hellickson, Yasmani Tomas Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa to the Diamondbacks
- Nick Markakis and Shelby Miller to the Braves
- Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Rick Porcello, Pablo Sandoval and Wade Miley to the Red Sox
- Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Miguel Montero to the Cubs
- Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche and David Robertson to the White Sox
- Brandon Moss to the Indians
- Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene to the Tigers
- Andrew Heaney and Josh Rutledge to the Angels
- Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy and Juan Nicasio to the Dodgers
- Dee Gordon, Mat Latos and Dan Haren to the Marlins
- Adam Lind to the Brewers
- Ervin Santana to the Twins
- Michael Cuddyer to the Mets
- Didi Gregorius to the Yankees
- Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler to the Athletics
- A.J. Burnett to the Pirates
- Matt Kemp to the Padres
- Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ to the Mariners
- Jason Heyward to the Cardinals
- Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, Russell Martin and Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays
And I’m ignoring all the prospects involved as well. Marcus Semien, Austin Barnes, Jairo Diaz and others got shipped. I can only imagine a whole lot more action will be happening soon, as there still are teams with surpluses and deficits at all positions and some big-name free agents left on the market, including Max Scherzer and James Shields.
It is clear, however, that the Cubs and Blue Jays intend to more than simply contend. I would say the Marlins intend to as well, but I don’t even think they know what they’re doing, let alone we do. The White Sox are looking like a trendy sleeper with some key pitching additions (LaRoche is also an addition, but far from what I would call a “key” one), but they are far from a championship team.
But with so much more yet to happen, maybe it’s best to wait and see. There are obviously some ballpark and team-skill implications that will affect all these players’ projections, but I’ll get around to those in 2015.
I’ve finished my preliminary set of pitcher projections. I’ll share them but they’ll see some refining by the time March rolls around.
I’m also looking at how my projections fared last year. That will come in the next couple of days.
Keep your ear to the ground, people. Or to the stove. Never mind. Terrible idea. You’ll burn yourself. Just keep it to the ground.
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.
Rankings based on 10-team standard 5×5 rotisserie format.
Name – R / RBI / HR / SB / BA
- Mike Trout – 119 / 91 / 31 / 39 / .320
- Ryan Braun – 98 / 103 / 30 / 28 / .308
- Andrew McCutchen – 102 / 90 / 23 / 27 / .298
- Adam Jones – 97 / 91 / 32 / 15 / .283
- Jose Bautista – 101 / 96 / 37 / 6 / .276
- Carlos Gonzalez – 92 / 86 / 24 / 20 / .299
- Matt Holliday – 95 / 97 / 24 / 5 / .300
- Carlos Gomez – 95 / 69 / 24 / 39 / .268
- Alex Rios – 91 / 82 / 21 / 28 / .284
- Hunter Pence – 88 / 99 / 23 / 14 / .275
- Jay Bruce – 86 / 101 / 33 / 8 / .253
- Jacoby Ellsbury – 84 / 56 / 13 / 45 / .286
- Justin Upton – 95 / 77 / 24 / 15 / .270
- Josh Hamilton – 79 / 92 / 28 / 8 / .272
- Austin Jackson – 105 / 53 / 16 / 13 / .292
- Alex Gordon – 90 / 76 / 19 / 12 /.281
- Shane Victorino – 91 / 62 / 16 / 26 / .278
- Yoenis Cespedes – 78 / 87 / 26 / 12 / .265
- Michael Cuddyer – 86 / 84 / 21 / 10 / .271
- Giancarlo Stanton – 75 / 85 / 31 / 5 / .259
- Bryce Harper – 88 / 60 / 21 / 15 / .273
- Yasiel Puig – 91 / 73 / 19 / 16 / .256
- Carlos Beltran – 75 / 80 / 22 / 3 / .286
- Torii Hunter – 79 / 83 / 17 / 6 / .283
- Curtis Granderson – 81 / 63 / 32 / 15 / .250
- Jayson Werth – 68 / 62 / 23 / 13 / .298
- Starling Marte – 89 / 51 / 14 / 43 / .249
- Adam Eaton – 98 / 45 / 10 / 29 / .274
- Norichika Aoki – 87 / 47 / 11 / 25 / .289
- Matt Kemp – 70 / 68 / 20 / 13 / .294
- Jason Heyward – 82 / 65 / 25 / 11 / .263
- Melky Cabrera – 77 / 66 / 14 / 11 / .297
- Michael Bourn – 94 / 52 / 7 / 31 / .269
- Alfonso Soriano – 72 / 99 / 27 / 7 / .241
- Carl Crawford – 81 / 62 / 12 / 20 / .284
- Shin-Soo Choo – 77 / 66 / 17 / 19 / .272
- Nelson Cruz – 66 / 81 / 25 / 10 / .267
- Coco Crisp – 84 / 59 / 11 / 29 / .264
- Wil Myers – 82 / 86 / 17 / 8 / .258
- Nick Markakis – 83 / 75 / 13 / 1 / .281
- Khris Davis – 74 / 74 / 23 / 8 / .254
- Desmond Jennings – 87 / 51 / 14 / 26 / .255
- Rajai Davis – 68 / 44 / 8 / 47 / .267
- Billy Hamilton – 77 / 39 / 2 / 68 / .241
- Brett Gardner – 92 / 48 / 7 / 27 / .263
- Justin Ruggiano – 63 / 63 / 22 / 18 / .253
- Angel Pagan – 70 / 51 / 8 / 22 / .285
- Domonic Brown – 68 / 79 / 19 / 6 / .251
- Michael Brantley – 66 / 59 / 8 / 17 / .285
- B.J. Upton – 72 / 60 / 15 / 27 / .224
- Christian Yelich – 80 / 53 / 11 / 21 / .246
- Josh Reddick – 71 / 66 / 19 / 8 / .240
- Will Venable – 61 / 51 / 12 / 24 / .265
- Josh Willingham – 67 / 77 / 21 / 3 / .237
- Andre Ethier – 60 / 64 / 15 / 3 / .281
- Dayan Viciedo – 61 / 68 / 21 / 0 / .264
- Colby Rasmus – 75 / 63 / 19 / 4 / .244
- Corey Hart – 64 / 61 / 16 / 3 / .272
- Kole Calhoun – 61 / 65 / 16 / 5 / .269
- Gerardo Parra – 66 / 51 / 10 / 10 / .281
Thoughts, lots of ’em:
- Full disclosure: I have NO IDEA what to do for Billy Hamilton. I did a brief bit of research to see how a player’s stolen base trend changed throughout the minorsand into the majors, and for the most part, a player still attempts to steal at about the same frequency in the majors as he did in Triple-A. As for Hamilton’s on-base percentage, that’s the million-dollar question. He’s a game-changer, but I don’t know if he’s worth taking in the first five or six rounds, as I’ve clearly shown above.
- Ryan Braun, folks. He’s being drafted 17th on average in ESPN mock drafts right now, but I don’t see how he won’t be a top-10 or possibly top-5 fantasy player by year’s end. On their Fantasy Focus podcast, Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft argued about how many bases Braun will steal. My projection is lofty; Karabell is pretty negative about it, thinking closer to 15 swipes. Still, give him a mere 10 stolen bases and he’s still the game’s second-best outfielder. He’s a rich man’s Andrew McCutchen formerly on PEDs. So… not quite McCutchen, but you know.
- Speaking of PEDs, it’s weird to see Melky Cabrera’s name on that list, yeah? A look at his peripherals last year shows he may have suffered some bad luck beyond any PED regression (if such a thing exists), including a horrid AB/RBI rate that’s all but out of Melky’s hands. I’ll give it another season before writing him off completely; we tend to have too short of memories when it comes to players in fantasy. He was solid for two years, and I’ll take a two-year trend over one. Considering he’s being drafted 52nd overall, I guess this officially makes him a sleeper.
- CarGo is ranked uncharacteristically low, but my projection took the under on his games player. I maintain if he can play a full year, he’s actually a smidge better than Braun. If you’re cool with risk and can build a roster around the possibility that CarGo will be sidelined at any given moment, he’s worth the massive upside of staying healthy just once. Please, CarGo. For us.
- Speaking of guys with built-in injury risks: Ellsbury, Stanton, Harper, Granderson, Werth. If you want to construct a risky, huge-upside team, make these guys your five outfielders. Don’t forget the Grandy Man hit more than 40 home runs in 2012 and 2013, and Stanton can hit 40 home runs with his eyes closed. He’s, what, 24 years old? That’s insane.
- Touching on Harper again, I know he’s pretty low here. If he can play a full 162 or a close to it, he’s a 30/20 guy who will crack the top 10. I think the MVP talk can be put to rest before the season starts, though.
- Wait, guys — WHAT? Jose Bautista? Yeah, dude. He’s a monster and, like Granderson, he still has huge power. It never left, and he was on pace for big things last year before it got derailed. Take a leap of faith. One of these guys has to stay healthy this year, right?
- Puig will naturally be a topic of discussion all year. I paid careful attention to Puig’s projection; let me be very clear that I think this is his absolute floor. This is looking at huge regression in BAbip (batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB (home runs per fly ball). Honestly, he’s probably better than a .300-BAbip batter, and if the power and speed is real, this is a huge undervalue. I’m well aware that every other projection has him snugly in the top 30 or so players, so this is likely falling on deaf ears.
- I wrote about Cruz’s immense power potential that is perpetually muted by his inability to stay on the field. You know what’s super interesting? He’ll likely be used in some weird rotation with Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia all at left field and the designated hitter, with him seeing the lion’s share of at-bats at DH — all but removing his injury risk. Give him another 150 at-bats and he’ll gladly reward you with eight to 10 bombs. Now, to remove that PED risk, too.
- Khris “Krush” Davis is interesting because it’s hard to tell if his power is super-for-real or just regular for-real. Like Puig, I think this is more of a floor projection — and that’s saying a lot. The strikeouts might be a problem, but if you’re drafting him for his batting average, you’re not doing it right.
- Yelich at No. 51 was really interesting to me. He’s a sneaky speed guy with something like a 15-homer, 25-steal upside and a solid batting average, making him a must-draft outfielder. If only there were Marlins on base for him to knock in…
- Honorable mentions for cheap power Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse
Honorable mentions for cheap speed: Leonys Martin and Ben Revere. I actually like Martin a lot more than his lack of projection here indicates. He’s got pop, and a full season in the Texas Rangers’ outfield makes him 100-percent draftworthy.
- P.S. I don’t have much faith in Marlon Byrd. But take a chance on him if you want.
Let’s avoid all talk about who’s right or wrong in the Alex Rodriguez debacle, spectacle, three-ring circus, what-have-you. I liked the White Sox as sleepers to win Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka‘s services this winter. Now that A-Rod is suspended for 162 games, though, the New York Yankees will have something like $24 million in payroll freed up for 2014.
Although the Yankees were allegedly among two or three frontrunners in the bidding war for Tanaka, it appeared to me their payroll would pose a huge obstacle if they truly wanted to obey the luxury tax threshold. But Rodriguez’s suspension blows everything wide open, upgrading the Bronx Bombers’ status from Possible to Probable.
Updated Jan. 14, 2014: The Angels are a distant third to the Yankees and Dodgers, and with Los Angeles looking to extend pitcher Clayton Kershaw… well, the deal is as good as done. Although, in defense of the L.A. teams, Tanaka has mentioned he wants to play on the west coast.
As for the White Sox… get ’em next time, boys. Keep looking for those good deals. I tell you what, every high-profile international signing in the past three years has been a winner.
It is commonly accepted that each win a player provides in value (a “win above replacement,” for those just piecing two and two together) has a market value of about $5 million, although Lewie Pollis at SB Nation argues it is closer to $7 million. Even using the quick-and-easy (and lower) $5 million as a benchmark, the value (by means of WAR) of the 2013 performance of every notable international player in MLB exceeded the average annual value (AAV) of his contract:
Yu Darvish: 5.0 WAR ~ $25 million (AAV: $18.62 million)
Hisashi Iwakuma: 4.2 WAR ~ $21 million (AAV: $7 million)
Yasiel Puig: 4.0 WAR ~ $20 million (AAV: $6 million)
Hyun-jin Ryu: 3.1 WAR ~ $15.5 million (AAV: $6 million)
Leonys Martin: 2.7 WAR ~ $13.5 million (AAV: $4.1 million)
Yoenis Cespedes: 2.3 WAR ~ $11.5 million (AAV: $9 million)
Norichika Aoki: 1.7 WAR ~ $8.5 million (AAV: $1.65 million)
Let’s note here that the AAV for all the players listed above exceeded their actual 2013 salaries. For example, Martin made $3.25 million last year, and Ryu made $3.33 million. Thus, even Cespedes, with his disappointing production compared to 2012, still managed to be a boon for his team, and he should only improve from last year.
It’s a small sample size, but hey, the results seem pretty substantial so far in the post-Dice-K era. Don’t be surprised when my fantasy team has Jose Abreu, Alexander Guerrero and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez on it.
ESPN just reported that Jose Abreu, who recently defected from Cuban, has signed to the Chicago White Sox for six years, $68 million.
Everyone knew he would sign, and ultimately, where he signed matters only minimally in the context of fantasy baseball — playing for the Sox will hurt his value, but not a whole lot. What’s most important is the salary.
Let’s compare him to other Cuban players who have already made big splashes or recently defected:
Yoenis Cespedes – 4 years, $36 million ($9 mil/yr)
Yasiel Puig – 7 years, $42 million ($6 mil/yr)
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – 3 years, $12 million ($4 mil/yr) **almost signed for 6 years, $60 million
Abreu – 6 years, $68 million ($11.33 mil/yr)
With Cespedes making headlines in 2012 and Puig in 2013, teams are turning their attention to Cuba and elsewhere. Abreu’s price tag may be a bit inflated because of demand (and, perhaps, White Sox desperation in part), but his salary ought to reflect his ability.
And it will if the legends of his prowess with the bat are even remotely true. His relative obscurity could make him a fantasy steal, no matter which round you take him, considering he probably won’t go before the top 10, but could very well end the season there.
Remember the name.
I mentioned in an earlier post that a pitcher’s overall statistics matter less and less as we enter September. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada, deterring owners with his 4.49 ERA, could be a legitimate top-45 starter for the rest of the season, fueled by his 7.25 K/BB ratio after the All-Star Break. (He should already be owned in most leagues anyway, given his 1.20 WHIP and 8.2 K/9, but that’s not the point.) There will always be free-agent alternatives, even to supposed aces such as the struggling Adam Wainwright of St. Louis, that can help your team down the home stretch.
(Note: I would never drop Wainwright in any context, nor would I bench him. But if I had someone like who struggled all year, such as the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, I would consider benching him to stream someone such as Estrada. Again, I digress.)
Here are three sneaky late-season pitcher pick-ups, ranked from my favorite to least favorite.
Tyson Ross, SD (12.3% ESPN ownership)
Ross continues to chug along. His ESPN ownership has been cut in half because of two starts that, honestly, were not even that bad (12-1/3 IP, 5.83 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.8 K/9). His strikeout rate on the season stands at 8.6 K/9 across 96-1/3 innings, and although his sub-3.00 ERA won’t last forever, his 1.19 WHIP is good enough to help anyone down the stretch, and he’ll likely pick up another two or three wins along the way.
Brett Oberholtzer, HOU (4.5% ESPN ownership)
If you need help with WHIP and not strikeouts, take a chance on Oberholtzer. He plays for a terrible team, yes, but he’s already racked up four wins in six starts (nine appearances). Oberholtzer was never overly dominant in the minors, and he never made any top-100 prospect lists, but he refuses to walk batters, a trait I like in any pitcher. Again, his 5.6 K/9 is not the most appealing thing in the world, but limiting baserunners will help win ballgames no matter who you play for.
Danny Duffy, KC (19.3% ESPN ownership)
Duffy is the antithesis of Oberholtzer (which isn’t a bad thing). Once a rated prospect, Duffy dominated the minors until he debuted in 2011, when he promptly started to lose all control, seeing his BB/9 ratio balloon from less than three walks-per-nine to almost four and a half. But he’s back from Tommy John surgery, and he has recovered most of his minor-league strikeout rate that made him so effective (currently 9.5 K/9). His walk rate is still a point of concern, but his strikeouts and wins will be valuable, especially if he can continue to limit the damage.
If you’re still waiting for Sabathia or R.A. Dickey to come around, stop. I’d rather take a gamble on someone who likely won’t do any worse than a flailing name-brand starter but has the upside to be a stalwart addition to your rotation.
Bonus coverage: The Philadelphia Phillies recently signed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million deal. He was originally slated to sign a six-year, $50-million(ish) contract before concerns arose about the health of his elbow. There isn’t a ton of information about the guy, but consider Major League Baseball’s two most recent Cuban imports.
Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting last year and was signed on a four-year, $36 million deal ($9 million per year). Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig is a National League ROY candidate, and he signed a six-year, $36 million deal ($6 million) per year).
Although Gonzalez’s contract equates to only $4 million per year, his original contract would have been at least $8 million per year on average, in the ranks of Cespedes and Puig. Maybe it’s foolish to hop on the bandwagon based on this nugget of information alone, but considering a player’s salary is predicated upon expected performance value, I’m sold. I don’t know in which round I would draft him next year or how much I would pay for him in an auction draft, but I’d take a low-round flier on him and maybe gamble $6 or so. And if he rears his head in the MLB come mid-September, I’ll take a look.