Saturday, September 27, 2014

California Glove: 6 sporting events in 3 cities in 7 days

I'm going to lead off this post with the following: 
1) Full disclosure: this was my mom's idea
2) Since the readership of this blog is limited, many of you will have heard much of this already.

Deal with it.

Every year, a group of guys from work go to a different NFL city to go to a game and do some outdoors / touristy things in the surrounding area for a long weekend.  In previous years, that led them to places like Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, and Denver.  This year, the choice was San Francisco, notable because of the weather, the quality NFL team, and the other activities that would present themselves in that area -- in particular, other sporting events.  The Bay Area sports two baseball teams, two NFL teams, and a handful of college football teams, all of whom play at around the same time in the year.  As it turned out, the weekend of September 12th featured a Giants series, a Stanford football game, and the home opener for the new 49ers stadium.  Costly, but awesome.

As it turns out, I have a friend who lives in LA who I had not seen in a while, and it seemed like a trip to California would be a good opportunity to make a pit stop a short flight away to visit her.  However, since the trip to San Fran was from Thursday to Monday, I would have to force her to take multiple days off work mid-week to roll out the red carpet for my awesomeness.  That didn't seem very nice, so I thought about what I could do to burn a couple days in the middle of the week so I could get to LA by Friday and put less strain on her schedule.

At that point, it became obvious that this was a superb opportunity to not only do some touristy things in the area, but also take a big bite out of the list of MLB stadiums I need to visit.  I had already gone to 8 (PHI, PIT, BOS, WAS, BAL, ATL, CHC, MIA), and had recently decided that I had a life goal to see all 30 teams at home (I wouldn't bother with re-visiting if they built a new stadium, unless it was super-special-awesome).  As there are a total of 4 teams in California (after the Giants) and four days between Monday and Thursday, this was a prime opportunity.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the schedule wasn't totally kind, but I was able to find games Tuesday in Oakland, Wednesday in San Diego, and Thursday in Anaheim (as it turned out, the following Monday would have been a Dodgers game, but we live and learn).  That ended up with a total of 6 professional / big-time-collegiate games live in the span of 7 days.  In the spirit of the trip,  my parents gave me the book "I Don't Care If We Never Get Back" about two recent graduates who went to games at all 30 baseball stadiums in 30 days.  I read the first couple chapters before leaving for the trip, but I promised myself that I'd find a way to finish it before I returned, in some kind of poetic fashion.  Anyway, here is the story of my substantially-less-stressful edition of that trip concept.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Frameshmania 2014 Draft Review!

Hey, look up there!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  No, it's Josh Gordon getting high.

Too soon?

Anyway, for the nth year in a row, I have to do a review of the draft results for my family fantasy football league, Frameshmania.  This year is the first year we've had the whole cast of characters repeat, and that should give us some opportunities to forge rivalries and develop meaningful matchup statistics for me to feed you at the end of the season.  

OK, for the format: you'll see everyone's team, I'll rate each team's positions (NOT ranked, just a number to compare teams -- there could be repeats, and no one is rated below a 4 on anything).  Then I'll take an overall rank based on a composite of those ratings.

Let's go to work. (Apologies in advance for weird formatting, copying from Excel is a bummer).

QBColin Kaepernick
RBEddie Lacy
RBMontee Ball
RB/WRRoddy White
WRDemaryius Thomas
WRRandall Cobb
TERob Gronkowski
D/STBengals D/ST
KSteven Hauschka
BenchVictor Cruz
BenchRobert Griffin III
BenchTrent Richardson
BenchLamar Miller
BenchFred Jackson
BenchCarlos Hyde
BenchJordan Reed
Those who were in the room at the time know that all I could say after about the 8th round was “I hate my team”.  I took Kaep and RGIII in the middle rounds when guys like Brady and Wilson fell until much later, I don’t have any good players behind Lacy and Ball, and even my stud-receiver collection doesn’t stand up that well against other groups when you really look at it.  The team relies on a lot of guys who have injury or consistency concerns, and that just doesn’t inspire much confidence.

QB Matt Ryan
RB Zac Stacy
RB Giovani Bernard
RB/WR C.J. Spiller
WR Calvin Johnson
WR Pierre Garcon
TE Jimmy Graham
D/ST 49ers D/ST
K Mason Crosby
Bench Percy Harvin
Bench Shane Vereen
Bench Marques Colston
Bench Pierre Thomas
Bench Danny Woodhead
Bench Riley Cooper
Bench LeGarrette Blount
QB 3
RB 5
WR 9
TE 10
With the 7th pick, as most of the league zigged with RBs, Laurie was forced to zag with Megatron and Graham as her top picks, which obviously loaded up those positions, but her need to fill up on running backs caused her to wait a little too long at QB.  She ended up as one of only two teams with a single quarterback, and Matt Ryan just doesn’t have the stability or upside to be left on an island like that in an 8-team league.  She has some depth at RB, but I don’t feel confident enough in the Stacy/Bernard/Spiller trio to rank the group highly.

QB Peyton Manning
RB Matt Forte
RB Andre Ellington
RB/WR Rashad Jennings
WR Andre Johnson
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
TE Julius Thomas
D/ST Broncos D/ST
K Adam Vinatieri
Bench T.Y. Hilton
Bench Eric Decker
Bench Knowshon Moreno
Bench Cecil Shorts
Bench Devonta Freeman
Bench Justin Hunter
Bench Jay Cutler
QB 9
RB 7
WR 6
TE 9
Phil noted during the draft that his mostly-nonexistent plan was uprooted when Peyton fell to him in the middle of the second round, and his slight reach for Julius Thomas soon after prevented him from having top-level RB / WR starters.  I like the Ellington / Jennings picks behind Forte, though, considering draft position, so the roster as a whole doesn’t look as bare as one might think from a team that took QB and TE early.  Teams that take those positions early are likely to look worse than they perform, though, so I have this squad pretty “up there” and poised for a repeat championship.

QB Cam Newton
RB Arian Foster
RB Doug Martin
RB/WR Alfred Morris
WR Jordy Nelson
WR DeSean Jackson
TE Kyle Rudolph
D/ST Panthers D/ST
K Justin Tucker
Bench Jeremy Maclin
Bench Chris Johnson
Bench Michael Floyd
Bench Bishop Sankey
Bench Shonn Greene
Bench Sammy Watkins
Bench Khiry Robinson
QB 4
RB 8
WR 5
TE 5
Jon-Michael didn’t draft his own team and finished in last place last year, and he was rewarded with the last pick this year.  He loaded up on running backs early to compensate for his missing the top guys, netting three top-15 guys at the position.  Leaving Cam as his only quarterback is a risk considering the injury and receiving corps concerns, so we’ll see how that goes, but there’s a big chance Jon-Michael looks really smart or really dumb as a result.  I thought he was a steal this year until he had the rib injury, and now I’m not so sure.  I think there’s some upside at receiver but not much in terms of proven performers , so I could be wrong on my rank there.

QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Marshawn Lynch
RB Le'Veon Bell
RB/WR Emmanuel Sanders
WR Antonio Brown
WR Vincent Jackson
TE Dennis Pitta
D/ST Seahawks D/ST
K Dan Bailey
Bench Nick Foles
Bench Ryan Mathews
Bench Ray Rice
Bench Wes Welker
Bench Kendall Wright
Bench Brandin Cooks
Bench Terrance West
QB 10
RB 8
WR 6
TE 5
Kyle didn’t follow his usual grab-dem-RBs strategy, instead grabbing A-Rod as the first QB off the board, and also taking two solid receivers.  However, having Mathews and Rice on the bench is pretty solid in this climate, so there isn’t too dramatic a drop-off when the byes hit.  I initially wasn’t a huge fan of the receivers, but having the Sanders/Welker combo with the upside of Cooks is pretty solid, so I moved him up to a tie with Jesse.

QB Matthew Stafford
RB Jamaal Charles
RB DeMarco Murray
RB/WR Reggie Bush
WR Brandon Marshall
WR Larry Fitzgerald
TE Jason Witten
D/ST Cardinals D/ST
K Phil Dawson
Bench Russell Wilson
Bench Toby Gerhart
Bench Reggie Wayne
Bench Julian Edelman
Bench Darren Sproles
Bench Terrance Williams
Bench Anquan Boldin
QB 7
RB 10
WR 6
TE 6
Jesse got maybe the steal of the draft in Russell Wilson in the last few rounds, which is great insurance for the potentially-erratic Stafford.  I’m obviously a fan of the RB group headed by Charles and Murray but with Bush and Gerhart as solid depth.  This roster is chock full of aging possession receivers (I count 4, plus one moderately-aged one in Edelman), so I just don’t see much upside in that group.  I think this roster is pretty bust-proof, but might lack the “oomph” to get over that 7-6 hump that Jesse hasn’t summited.

QB Drew Brees
RB Adrian Peterson
RB Ben Tate
RB/WR Frank Gore
WR Julio Jones
WR Alshon Jeffery
TE Greg Olsen
D/ST Rams D/ST
K Stephen Gostkowski
Bench Keenan Allen
Bench Torrey Smith
Bench Steven Jackson
Bench Mike Wallace
Bench Golden Tate
Bench Jeremy Hill
Bench Philip Rivers
QB 9
RB 6
WR 10
TE 5

Matt had his SIXTH CONSECUTIVE top-2 pick in this league, and made it count.  He benefited from Alshon Jeffery falling a bit, and that gave him a ridiculous set of five receivers where the worst is the #1 receiver in what should be a vastly improved offense.  The running backs behind Peterson have some serious question marks, but, oh wait, is that Drew Brees?  Crap.  I hate liking this team.

QB Andrew Luck
RB LeSean McCoy
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
RB/WR Michael Crabtree
WR Dez Bryant
WR A.J. Green
TE Jordan Cameron
D/ST Chiefs D/ST
K Nick Novak
Bench Vernon Davis
Bench Joique Bell
Bench Stevan Ridley
Bench Tom Brady
Bench DeAngelo Williams
Bench DeAndre Hopkins
Bench Tony Romo
QB 7
RB 5
WR 8
TE 7
Emily went a little out of her way to grab her team’s namesake in Andrew Luck, but picking up Brady AND Romo late was a great (if overzealous) performance.  Her top 3 receivers are awesome but a lack of depth could be a problem, and speaking of a lack of depth, that RB group behind McCoy is very suspect.  She also grabbed two top-7 tight ends, which should serve her pretty well considering both players’ inconsistency last year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Football! Again!

I’ve done a few different formats for preseason predictions in the past, and this time around, I’m going to kill some amount of birds with some smaller amount of stones and put real football and fantasy football predictions into one place.  I’ll start with fantasy stuff, including how I did with last year’s picks.  This is going to be long-winded, so let’s just get to it. 

Last year I only listed guys that I liked for the season, so let’s see how that went.

Peyton Manning – Well, that turned out awesome.
Matthew Stafford – I feel like I have kind of a “thing” for him, and he did me pretty well until the last few weeks, at which point he tanked my fantasy team in the championship.
Tony Romo – I definitely have a “thing” for Romo.  He just never finishes outside the top 10 if he’s healthy, and he proved that last year.
Eli Manning – Well, that turned out awesome, for my Eagles fandom, at least.  Poetic with Peyton’s season though. 


David Wilson – I wasn’t actually high on him, it was more of a circumstantial thing based on the way my mock drafts were going, and he ended up having a career-ending injury.  I didn’t actually end up owning him so I don’t feel too bad about this one.
Reggie Bush – I didn’t end up owning Bush either, and although Joique Bell took a lot of looks away from him, he had a pretty good per-game output.
Lesean McCoy – I love this man.
Jamaal Charles – I really like this man.
Matt Forte – That whole Bears team had a strong season, with Forte establishing himself as one of the high-floor options at the top of the draft..
Chris Ivory – I noted at the end of my blurb about him that “injury / Jets-ness could ruin it”, and that pretty much sums it up.  Had some moments, but never really got going, and now Chris Johnson is overshadowing him.
Fred Jackson – This was a huge win, with Spiller not being hurt but just not being as explosive as last season, and Jackson continued to defy age.
Lamar Miller – Womp.  That Dolphins offense was brutal for most of the year thanks to an offensive offensive line, and with some added talent there and a new Eagles-South system, I am pretty high on them this year.
Stevan Ridley – He was brutal, no two ways about it.
Maurice Jones-Drew – The offense as a whole was terrible, but I can’t dodge this one.
Ryan Mathews – He was somewhat undervalued last year and delivered a top-15 season.  He might have the same outcome this year.
Daryl Richardson – Now at the back end of the Jets’ roster.  You tell me.


Steve Smith – This was another one of those players where the draft situation dictated my interest, so I don’t feel terribly, but he was pretty useless.  Except in the fatherhood department, apparently.
Miles Austin – Yeah, not so much.  Spoiler alert: I’m falling into the same guy-opposite-Dez trap this season.
Torrey Smith – He barely scored any touchdowns, but had a whole lot of targets and yards in a Ravens offense that massively disappointed.  You’ll hear from him again soon.
TY Hilton – He had a breakout season, although it’s hard to say how that will translate to this coming season because there was so much ineptitude in the running game and so many injuries in the passing game.
Greg Jennings – Last year: “He can’t be THAT useless, right?”  Yep, he sure can.
Mike Wallace – This was another only-if-the-situation-arises guy, and all of those guys bombed.  However, as I said before, I think a bounce-back is coming.
Reggie Wayne – I was on my way to being WAY right about him before he tore his ACL. 
Danny Amendola – I guess I underestimated the value of Brady’s trust, and overestimated the value of a guy who is hurt for half the year.
Antonio Brown – If only I actually ended up drafting him.  Just watch him play and you know he’s a stud.
Larry Fitzgerald – Well, the Cardinals’ offense had a nice rebound, but Fitz ceded a lot of the action to Michael Floyd.
Andre Johnson – Considering how much the team as a whole flamed out, this worked out pretty well.
Jordy Nelson– Liked him last year, love him this year.
Dwayne Bowe – I have a problem.  And I said the same thing last year!  And I’ve already drafted him this year!
Pierre Garcon – Leading the league in receptions?  Sounds solid to me.
Kenny Stills – Didn’t have consistent week-to-week production, but was certainly useful for a guy drafted as late as he was.


Jermichael Finley – Man, two guys with what currently looks like career-ending injuries?  Bummer.
Kyle Rudolph – The passing game for the Vikings wasn’t great in general, but Rudolph didn’t have the TD production he had the year before.
Jordan Cameron – He faded a bit down the stretch, but this was obviously a win.
Brandon Pettigrew – Don’t even.
Ed Dickson – Tried to sneak this one by with Dennis Pitta’s injury, but he ended up ceding looks to an over-the-hill Dallas Clark.


OK, now we’ve taken a look back.  I feel like I did pretty well for the most part, with some of those guys that failed suffering brutal injuries that we weren’t in a position to anticipate.  Now let’s look to the future.  I’ll give my predictions for each team’s record, and one positive or negative fantasy player opinion for each team.  Let’s see how that goes.

NFC East
(10-6) Eagles (Low on Zach Ertz – too many mouths to feed, Celek’s not dead yet)
(8-8) Cowboys (High on Terrance Williams – see Austin, Miles)
(7-9) Giants (High on Rashad Jennings – had a nice late ’13 and Giants run a lot)
(7-9) Redskins (Low on Desean Jackson – not “the guy”, goes back to boom / bust)

NFC South
(11-5) Saints (High on Drew Brees – I know, but he’s a guaranteed 5000/40, take him 1st)
(8-8) Buccaneers (High on Doug Martin in the late 2nd; new coach, more receiving threats)
(8-8) Falcons (High on Roddy White – came on strong late last year, now has fresh start)
(6-10) Panthers (High on Cam Newton – terrible offseason, but he’s going way late)

NFC North
(11-5) Packers (High on Randall Cobb – pace for 100 catches last year, now healthy)
(9-7) Bears (High on Jay Cutler – Trestman clearly “gets” him, another year of comfort)
(7-9) Lions (Low on Matthew Stafford – just not sure he’s that good, Megatron-dependent)
(7-9) Vikings (High on Adrian Peterson – would take him 1st; offense around him improved)

NFC West
(13-3) Seahawks (High on Russell Wilson – Harvin expands offense, rushing raises floor)
(10-6) 49ers (High on Colin Kaepernick – Crabtree healthy, more weapons, worse defense)
(8-8) Cardinals (Low on Larry Fitzgerald – getting up there, Floyd emerging)
(5-11) Rams (Low on Zac Stacy – no passing threats, Benny Cunningham getting looks)

AFC East
(12-4) Patriots (Low on Julian Edelman – other weapons healthy / more experienced)
(8-8) Dolphins (High on Mike Wallace – more creative offensive scheme, bounce-back year)
(6-10) Jets (High on Eric Decker – Geno’s not awful, and Decker was useful with Tebow)
(4-12) Bills (Low on Sammy Watkins – Rookie receiver, questionable QB, bad team)

AFC South
(10-6) Colts (High on Reggie Wayne – looks good after surgery, Luck trusts him)
(7-9) Titans (High on Jake Locker – was solid when healthy last year, underrated receivers)
(7-9) Texans (High on Texans D – won’t be as much of a pick-6 frenzy, plus Clowney/Cushing)
(5-11) Jaguars (High on Marquise Lee – really late option, but talented with little competition)

AFC North
(10-6) Bengals (High on Andy Dalton – 5th in ‘13, drafted 15th in ‘14; too many weapons to fail)
(9-7) Ravens (High on Torrey Smith – see above; too much involvement for low TD total)
(6-10) Steelers (Low on Le’Veon Bell – Blount involved, not explosive enough if job is split)
(4-12) Browns (High on Miles Austin – so sue me)

AFC West
(11-5) Broncos (Low on Peyton Manning – Welker out, Ball unproven; not ‘till late 2nd)
(10-6) Chargers (Low on Keenan Allen – had a lot of lucky TD games, lots of WR injuries in ’13)
(8-8) Chiefs (High on Travis Kelce – Smith likes short passing, has to throw to someone)
(4-12) Raiders (Low on Maurice Jones-Drew – this team’s just awful)

NFC Playoffs
Eagles def. 49ers
Packers def. Bears

Saints def. Packers
Seahawks def. Eagles

Seahawks def. Saints

AFC Playoffs
Chargers def. Bengals
Colts def. Ravens

Patriots def. Colts
Chargers def. Broncos

Patriots def. Chargers

Super Bowl
Patriots def. Seahawks

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Emptiest of Batting Averages

I was listening to the Jonah Keri Podcast on Grantland recently, and he had Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb on the show.  Gelb talked about all the sad things that Phillies fans are already tired of discussing, but he did make a statement that I found particularly poignant.  He described Ben Revere’s season as something to the effect of “the emptiest batting average ever.”  By empty, he means that while Revere is hitting above .300, an impressive feat in this offense-starved MLB landscape, he does so with almost no walks or extra-base hits.   His value at the plate is almost entirely in the form of singles.  This comment got me thinking: Just how empty is his batting average?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Phillies and The Worst Players in the League

Particularly savvy baseball fans may be aware that the Phillies are terrible this year.  That same sample of people don’t need to be told any stats or anything to confirm this, and people who were not previously aware of this can probably just take my word for it.  In fact, the Phillies have been pretty bad for a few years now.  OK, some of you might argue that they were at least average the last two seasons, but consider that while the team finished a non-terrible 81-81 and 73-89 in the last two seasons, they did so with the 2nd and 3rd highest payrolls in the league in those seasons.  And this year, they’re on pace for about 70 wins with again the 3rd highest payroll in the league.  That’s about $2.3 million per win since ’12, and when you consider that the five teams worse than the Phillies this season have an average salary $85 million less than them, it’s pretty tough to watch.

The poster boy for this burgeoning era of ineptitude has been Ryan Howard, whose 5-year, $125 million contract started in 2012.  I was reading an article by Jeff Sullivan about how bad Howard has been in that time, and the most impactful point was that Howard has accrued -0.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the last three years.  That’s right, he has been on par with that AAA guy you just bring up from the minors when your starter tweaks a hammy.  But this got me thinking – how bad is that really?  Are there other players that have been this useless in that span of time?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chase Utley as a Non-Phillie

Now don't get too dramatic here, this isn't about the possibility of Chase Utley getting traded away from the Phillies in the coming weeks.  Not to say that I'm not considering it, but that's something that I'm not quite mentally prepared for, so I will not cross that bridge until we come to it.

No, this post is more of a hypothetical spawned from a frequently occurring but rarely acted upon thought that I have had during Utley's career in Philly.  I'm not alone in thinking to myself, "Man, he sure does hit a lot of home runs into short right / right-center field," and I've heard it referred to as "Utley's Corner" at times.  What isn't really discussed as much is how well-suited that stroke is to the ballpark that Utley plays half his games in, Citizens Bank Park.  That scoreboard wall that extends from the right field foul pole nearly to center field is awfully easy to get to at times, and Utley certainly knows how to make that happen.  That and the fact that he almost exclusively pulls the ball when he gets a good piece of one.

Here's a cursory Photoshop effort in overlaying images of his home runs since 2006 (they weren't all at Citizens Bank Park, but I threw on the dimensions just to give an idea):

Friday, July 18, 2014

Playing the Stock Market in the Second Half

I'm no Mad Money guy, but I am sufficiently well versed in fantasy sports to know the concept behind buying low and selling high.  The way to success in any series of investments is to acquire undervalued assets at below-market prices and sell off overvalued ones at above-market prices.  Or something like that.  The problem with all that is how to figure out which items with high value really deserve that, and which ones are a mirage, and vice versa.
Since it's the MLB All-Star Break, it's high time to take a look at the upcoming "second-half" and see which players might be in a position to fall off their current torrid pace, and which ones might have a little bit of a renaissance after a down few months.  Let's take a look at four players who might see their quality-of-play shift for the rest of the season.

George Springer
In just about half a season since he got called up for the Astros, Springer has put up some nice counting stats, as another copy of that half-year would give him 38 homers, 88 runs, 100 RBI, and 10 steals for a full season.  That actually compares kind of favorably to the 2013 versions of Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, and Edwin Encarnacion.  Sounds good, right?
Here's the problem: Springer's striking out about 1/3 of the time, and that rate has risen to about 37% in July, while his walk rate has fallen.  Since 2007 (why yes, that IS a random year I picked in a dropdown), players who have a similar strikeout and walk profile usually post about a .225 average.  Even more concerning is that over the last three months, his line drive rate has fallen (21% to 15% to 9%) and his ground ball rate has risen (33% to 41% to 68%).  Combine all that with a likely-unsustainable 27% rate of conversion of fly balls into homers and it all seems to add up to a plummeting batting average.  Considering he's already as low as .238 for the season, we could be looking at something closer to .210 or .220 for the rest of the year, and I would imagine it's pretty hard to support those counting stats with that average.

Brian McCann
OK, full disclosure, I drafted and still own McCann in both of my fantasy leagues.  His .239 average and career-lows in both on-base and slugging percentage are not appreciated.  He is suffering a low .245 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but increased defensive shifts put a much lower ceiling on that number to begin with.  
McCann's preseason supporters (hi there) argued that his pull-heavy swing would allow him to hit a lot of homers to the short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium, but if anything he's seen a downturn in homer production.  However, I was surprised to discover that while his homer rate at home looks pretty close to his career marks (which are therefore somewhat low since he played somewhere else in every other year), he has turned a ridiculously-low 4% of his fly balls on the road into homers.  If that misfortune balances out a bit in the second half, he could see just enough of an uptick in power output to get his full-season results to approximate his usual performance.

Anibal Sanchez
Last year’s ERA leader is still putting up a similarly impressive 3.04 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, with a paltry .207 batting average against him.  However, I’m not bullish on his success continuing, as he’s inducing swinging strikes (a strong indicator of pitcher skill) 1/3 less frequently this season, and that drop perfectly matches with a decline in strikeout rate that puts him about a strikeout per inning below his career average.
More alarming than that are degradations in the stats that sabermetricians often use to assess a player’s luck (or lack thereof).  He has allowed the lowest rate of home runs per fly ball allowed among qualified starters, and considering he has allowed more fly balls this year, if that regresses, it could mean serious trouble.  He has also allowed the seventh-lowest BABIP among starters, which is about 50 points below his career average, but while he should probably have some of that luck go the other way, if he maintains his uncharacteristically high weak-contact rate (about 1/3 more this year than in the past), he won’t give up too much in that regard.

Phil Hughes
Really Phil Hughes?  Anyone who’s paid any attention to the Yankees in recent seasons knows that this isn’t really a guy anyone expects much of, but this year he’s really turned some kind of corner.  Despite a pedestrian 3.92 ERA, he’s actually 7th in the league in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a stat that’s scaled like ERA but focuses mostly on the things that the pitcher has the most control of, like strikeouts, walks, and home runs.  That’s above guys like Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg, and Yu Darvish.  So if he’s pitching that well, why isn’t the ERA better? 

Well, a lot of the difference between his actual results and his defense-independent stats comes from a BABIP that is 40 points above his career norm.  However, behind that batted-ball misfortune, there’s a lot to like: a walk rate that is the best in the league, a career-low home run rate (which was a bit of a bugaboo in the past), and a career-high ground ball rate.  It seems like he’s gotten some of this done by switching from using a slider about 1/5 of the time to using a cutter, which he seems to be able to command well enough that he’s throwing the highest rate of pitches in the strike zone of his career.  That’s the kind of change that is a little more solid and predictive, so I feel pretty good endorsing a player that I would have felt pretty bad about complimenting in years past.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not Another Fantasy Baseball Draft Review

All right, I swear this is the last self-serving post for a while.  This is just a better way to broadcast things like this to the people I really want to read it.  And maybe we'll share some opinions, laughs, and airborne bacteria along the way.

So here's the deal: a few friends from college and friends of friends get together for an 8-team fantasy baseball auction.  Thanks to the suggestion of one of the more fervent participants **smiles sheepishly** the standard Yahoo! rosters were extended by almost 1/3 to 30 players per team, but with no change in the overall budget allotted to each team.  This made for an interesting re-calibration process that some players (and Yahoo! computer programs) took a little bit of time to realize.  With an auction format, that extension of rosters also gave us a solid 3 hours of hemming and hawing and cursing your internet connection (or the guy who missed the draft entirely and is on autodraft).

Here are the results of that arduous expedition.

Remember '08?  Sigh. (Me)

(4) OF Bryce Harper $28 (127) C Wilin Rosario $5
(18) SS Hanley Ramírez $28 (129) C Brian McCann $6
(20) OF Carlos Gómez $31 (137) SP Doug Fister $4
(21) 1B,3B Edwin Encarnación $28 (145) RP Bobby Parnell $1
(25) SP Adam Wainwright $26 (146) SP Sonny Gray $3
(41) SP Madison Bumgarner $21 (149) 1B Matt Adams $2
(54) 1B Adrián González $13 (151) OF Nelson Cruz $3
(75) SP Homer Bailey $10 (153) OF Norichika Aoki $1
(87) 1B,OF Mark Trumbo $8 (161) SS J.J. Hardy $2
(94) 2B José Altuve $10 (166) RP Steve Cishek $4
(106) OF Jayson Werth $6 (172) RP Jim Henderson $2
(110) OF Domonic Brown $3 (176) SP Jon Lester $3
(116) RP Sergio Romo $2 (185) SP,RP Tyson Ross $1
(119) SS Everth Cabrera $3 (192) SP Zack Wheeler $3
(122) OF Austin Jackson $2 (199) 2B,3B Anthony Rendón $1

After seeing the first two players (Cabrera, Trout) go for just a hair under their projected $60 price tags, I made the decision that I'd limit my bids to right around $30 so I could fill in a more balanced roster.  I went for positions that I felt were shallow relative to the number of roster spots (3B, OF), and fulfilled my strategy of getting two top-tier pitchers at a manageable $49 (other similar teams got Fernandez/Price for 44 and Lee/Sale for 43).  Getting McCann and Rosario for a combined $11 and four non-terrible closers for $9 total allowed me to throw my weight around a little at the back end of the draft, getting pitchers and bench position players I wanted when others tried to bid for them (Jon Lester aside -- stupid internet connection).  
Strengths: SS, 3B, OF, SP, RP
Weaknesses: 2B, MI

Cain't Win (Evan)

(19) SP Cliff Lee $23 (99) 3B Josh Donaldson $7
(35) OF José Bautista $18 (111) 1B,OF Michael Cuddyer $4
(40) SP Chris Sale $20 (113) 2B Aaron Hill $4
(42) C,1B Buster Posey $23 (117) SP Hyun-jin Ryu $3
(43) 1B Albert Pujols $15 (130) SS Asdrubal Cabrera $1
(47) OF Shin-Soo Choo $19 (138) RP Casey Janssen $3
(51) 1B Eric Hosmer $13 (140) RP Addison Reed $3
(59) RP Koji Uehara $11 (144) SP Johnny Cueto $2
(60) OF Hunter Pence $17 (152) SP Francisco Liriano $2
(63) OF Yoenis Céspedes $12 (154) 3B Aramis Ramírez $1
(67) 1B David Ortiz $9 (170) 2B Howie Kendrick $1
(68) C,1B Joe Mauer $13 (174) 1B,OF Brandon Moss $2
(69) SP Matt Cain $11 (178) 3B,SS Xander Bogaerts $1
(79) OF Jason Heyward $10 (180) SP A.J. Burnett $2
(91) SP Mike Minor $7 (183) 3B Chase Headley $2

Evan was clearly going for a moneyball-esque strategy of stretching his budget by getting a bunch of second-tier guys that were going relatively cheaply.  This is evident in his purchasing the cheapest two-stud-starter collection in Lee and Sale and all five outfielders for between $10 and $19 (and all before the 80th nomination, so it's a quality group top-to-bottom).  He also took advantage of the two-catcher format, getting Posey and Mauer for $36 before anyone else took a catcher, at the cost of his non-1B infield positions (oh and by the way he took 6 1B-eligible players in his first 17 selections), for which he spent a total of $17 for 6 eligible players (although I think Donaldson and Hill will be fine for their price).
Strengths: C, 1B, OF, SP
Weaknesses: SS

Stanton Girls (Jon)

(13) OF Adam Jones $30 (126) RP Jonathan Papelbon $3
(22) OF Giancarlo Stanton $30 (131) 2B,3B,OF Martín Prado $1
(29) SP José Fernández $25 (155) 3B Nolan Arenado $1
(32) SP David Price $19 (163) 2B,3B,SS Jurickson Profar $1
(33) OF Yasiel Puig $22 (171) C Matt Wieters $1
(36) SP Justin Verlander $19 (179) 3B Todd Frazier $1
(46) SS Jean Segura $19 (186) 1B,OF Chris Carter $1
(56) RP Kenley Jansen $14 (193) RP Nate Jones $1
(76) OF Wil Myers $16 (205) SP Taijuan Walker $1
(85) OF Matt Kemp $16 (210) 2B,SS Brad Miller $1
(88) C,1B Carlos Santana $11 (214) RP Rex Brothers $1
(93) 3B Manny Machado $5 (218) RP Tommy Hunter $1
(97) 1B Anthony Rizzo $7 (221) OF Josh Reddick $1
(98) SP Matt Moore $6 (224) RP Drew Smyly $1
(100) SP,RP Michael Wacha $4 (227) RP Neftali Feliz $1

Jon went in a little heavier on early players than the previous teams, as you can see by the fact that he filled in his last 14 roster spots with $1 players (AND HE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH ANDRELTON SIMMONS AND KYLE SEAGER TOO IF IT WEREN'T FOR YOU MEDDLING VOGELS!!!).  The outfield is elite, although it cost a total of $114 with Myers and Kemp filling out the back end for $16 apiece.  This is another team with a weak infield, though, as a total of $34 was spent on the 6 infield roster spots (including the corner/middle infielder slots).  Behind Kenley Jansen, he grabbed 5 projected closer-eligible players for a total of $7, which seems like a pretty good way to use those $1 picks at the end.
Strengths: OF, SP, RP
Weaknesses: 1B, 2B, 3B

At the Wright Price (Andrew)

(1) 3B Miguel Cabrera $50 (123) RP Jason Grilli $2
(5) OF Andrew McCutchen $36 (125) OF Coco Crisp $2
(9) 1B Freddie Freeman $25 (132) C,OF Evan Gattis $1
(17) 1B Prince Fielder $28 (136) OF Alfonso Soriano $2
(38) SS Ian Desmond $20 (148) SP Hiroki Kuroda $3
(39) OF Justin Upton $19 (156) RP Jim Johnson $3
(62) 2B Ian Kinsler $13 (162) 1B,2B Daniel Murphy $2
(78) SS Elvis Andrus $10 (164) C Jason Castro $1
(83) OF Josh Hamilton $8 (182) RP Huston Street $2
(86) 3B Pedro Álvarez $10 (187) SP Dan Haren $1
(102) 2B Brandon Phillips $5 (190) SP Matt Garza $2
(104) SP Julio Teherán $5 (194) SP Patrick Corbin $1
(108) RP Rafael Soriano $1 (200) SP C.J. Wilson $2
(118) SS Starlin Castro $2 (201) RP José Veras $1
(120) SP Danny Salazar $2 (206) SP Ervin Santana $1

Pitching was clearly not the emphasis for this squad, as the whole group of 8 cost a total of $17, or $2 less than Verlander and Price each went to the previous team.  That savings shows in the excellent infield of Cabrera, Freeman, Fielder, Desmond, Kinsler, and Andrus, all of whom cost more than Jon's second-most-expensive infielder.  Catcher wasn't a priority here either, as Gattis and Castro went for $1 a pop, and he was able to get a pretty good collection of closers when you realize it cost him $9 for 5 guys.  It'll be interesting to see if that dominant infield can make up for what looks like some deficits elsewhere.
Strengths: 1B, 3B, SS
Weaknesses: SP, C

Bond's Giant Head (Joey)

(3) 1B Chris Davis $36 (188) SP Lance Lynn $1
(6) 3B Adrián Béltre $29 (195) OF Eric Young $1
(10) SP Clayton Kershaw $35 (202) OF Marlon Byrd $1
(16) SP Yu Darvish $33 (207) 2B,3B,OF Kelly Johnson $1
(26) SP Félix Hernández $31 (211) OF Will Venable $1
(27) OF Álex Ríos $17 (215) C A.J. Pierzynski $1
(44) SS José Reyes $20 (219) OF Nate McLouth $1
(45) RP Craig Kimbrel $17 (222) OF Torii Hunter $1
(52) RP Aroldis Chapman $15 (225) 2B Brian Dozier $1
(101) 1B Billy Butler $3 (228) SP Ubaldo Jiménez $1
(103) RP Joe Nathan $4 (230) 1B Ryan Howard $1
(115) SP Jeff Samardzija $2 (232) OF B.J. Upton $1
(165) 1B Mike Napoli $1 (234) 1B,3B Chris Johnson $1
(173) C Wilson Ramos $1 (236) 3B,SS José Iglesias $1
(181) SP CC Sabathia $1 (238) OF Alejandro De Aza $1

If Joey doesn't win the pitching categories in 15 of 22 regular-season weeks, this season is a failure.  He spent $99 on Kershaw/Darvish/Felix and $36 on Kimbrel/Chapman/Nathan (although obviously Chapman's injury makes that a losing investment from the getgo), which pretty much forced him into lower-quality options elsewhere.  He decided to do what he could to get some kind of quality, so he ended up spending $85 on three infielders, but that left a Kelly Johnson / Brian Dozier second-base position and a Wilson Ramos / AJ Pierzynski catcher position.  Oh, and how about a five-player outfield that's a $17 Alex Rios and four $1 picks?
Strengths: 1B, 3B, SP
Weaknesses: C, 2B, OF

tbd (Matt V)

(7) 1B Paul Goldschmidt $39 (133) OF Desmond Jennings $2
(23) SS Troy Tulowitzki $29 (134) C Salvador Pérez $1
(28) SP Stephen Strasburg $25 (139) SS Andrelton Simmons $2
(31) 3B Evan Longoria $24 (141) OF Brett Gardner $2
(34) 2B Jason Kipnis $25 (142) 2B Chase Utley $1
(49) OF Jay Bruce $21 (147) 3B Kyle Seager $2
(57) SP Anibal Sánchez $15 (150) C,1B Jonathan Lucroy $3
(71) OF Matt Holliday $15 (157) SP Jered Weaver $4
(84) SP Alex Cobb $7 (158) SP,RP Andrew Cashner $1
(90) OF Alex Gordon $8 (160) RP Grant Balfour $2
(92) RP Trevor Rosenthal $7 (168) RP Ernesto Frieri $2
(109) SP Shelby Miller $4 (169) SP Clay Buchholz $3
(114) OF Shane Victorino $4 (177) SP Justin Masterson $4
(121) 1B Brandon Belt $2 (189) 2B,SS Jed Lowrie $1
(124) SP Masahiro Tanaka $4 (196) OF Michael Brantley $1

Based on the last few teams, it seems like a lot of people tried to fill out either their outfield (Evan, Jon) or infield (Andrew, Joey, Matt) early on, with only Andrew and myself looking to have some degree of balance between the two.  Matt nabbed his four first-string infielders in his first five selections for a total of $117, but took 133 selections to get his five outfielders for a total of $50.  This is another low-cost catcher group in Perez and Lucroy, although they are both popular value options that could turn a nice profit.  He was able to sprinkle in some starting pitching throughout, getting basically one starter per tier, while he basically took Trevor Rosenthal early-ish and waited for relief pitching.
Strengths: 1B, 2B, 3B, SS
Weaknesses: OF, RP

Tiny Flying Drizzy (Nathan by way of Yahoo auto-draft)

(11) OF Jacoby Ellsbury $21 (77) SP Gerrit Cole $10
(12) OF Ryan Braun $31 (80) SP Mat Latos $8
(37) 2B Dustin Pedroia $20 (81) C Yadier Molina $10
(50) OF Starling Marte $13 (82) OF Curtis Granderson $8
(53) 3B Ryan Zimmerman $13 (96) OF Carlos Beltrán $7
(55) SP Zack Greinke $15 (135) SP,RP Tony Cingrani $1
(58) SP Hisashi Iwakuma $12 (143) 2B,3B Jedd Gyorko $1
(61) 1B,OF Allen Craig $15 (159) OF Leonys Martín $1
(64) SP Gio González $11 (167) SS Jimmy Rollins $1
(65) OF Billy Hamilton $12 (175) C Yan Gomes $1
(66) SP Kris Medlen $6 (197) 1B Víctor Martínez $1
(70) 2B,3B Matt Carpenter $12 (203) OF Ben Revere $1
(72) SP James Shields $8 (208) 1B Mark Teixeira $1
(73) RP Greg Holland $11 (212) SS Alexei Ramírez $1
(74) 3B Pablo Sandoval $7 (216) SS Jhonny Peralta $1

Nathan had a work engagement that ran long (sure...), so what started with "cutting it close" ended up with "F****** autopick" from everyone else.  As you might expect, a team drafted entirely by a computer doesn't really have too much of a discernable strategy.  It took a little longer for him to get going (just three selections in the first 40), but he really filled out his roster quickly after all of the studs were gone (17 selections in the next 60).  Nathan normally goes for top starting pitching early, but the computer just decided to take one closer (Holland) and all the second-and-third-tier pitchers (including an injured Kris Medlen, thanks to some leaguemates), taking seven starting pitchers in the span of 26 nominations.  There's a lot of speed in the outfield with Ellsbury, Marte, and Hamilton, so he should be able to dominate at least one offensive category, but he's basically punting saves so that's sort of a wash.  Oh, and Jimmy Rollins as his starting shortstop is a bit of a downer, coming from a Phillies fan.
Strengths: 2B, 3B, OF
Weaknesses: SS, RP

Blernsball (Matt S)

(2) OF Mike Trout $50 (198) SP Chris Archer $1
(8) 2B Robinson Canó $34 (204) OF Carl Crawford $1
(14) 1B Joey Votto $29 (209) SS Jonathan Villar $1
(15) OF Carlos González $34 (213) OF Dexter Fowler $1
(24) 3B David Wright $26 (217) RP John Axford $1
(30) SP Max Scherzer $25 (220) OF Adam Eaton $1
(48) SP Cole Hamels $14 (223) SP R.A. Dickey $1
(89) SP Jordan Zimmermann $7 (226) C Miguel Montero $1
(95) 2B,SS,OF Ben Zobrist $10 (229) C Jarrod Saltalamacchia $1
(105) RP Glen Perkins $5 (231) OF Kole Calhoun $1
(107) RP David Robertson $6 (233) 1B,OF Nick Swisher $1
(112) 2B,3B Brett Lawrie $2 (235) OF Christian Yelich $1
(128) 1B José Abreu $1 (237) SP,RP Alex Wood $1
(184) RP Fernando Rodney $1 (239) SP Brandon Beachy $1
(191) OF Michael Bourn $1 (240) SP Ian Kennedy $1

This Matt looked for quality across the board in the first 100 nominations, tying for the fewest selections out of that group with nine.  He grabbed two stud outfielders, a full starting infield, three starting pitchers, and two relief pitchers in his first 11 selections, which was a deviation from what most other teams did.  After that, though, he was pretty much out of money, also tying for the most $1 players with 18.  This is probably the weakest catcher group of the bunch, but other than that there really isn't much in the way of holes, although I'm personally not that impressed by the starting pitching selections, and the Hamels and Beachy injuries don't help.
Strengths: 1B, 2B, 3B, OF
Weaknesses: C, SP

So I would normally try to do some kind of projection to determine how I think everyone will do, but with baseball's category system it's just so tedious.  So I'm just gonna wing it.

8) Tiny Flying Drizzy -- Not a lot of top players + generally inactive owner = :(
7) At the Wright Price -- Depth in the infield won't overcome weak C / SP, not much depth in OF
6) Bond's Giant Head -- Marlon Byrd is your second outfielder?
5) Blernsball -- Underwhelming starting pitching, not much depth
4) Stanton Girls -- Good pitching, but good outfield doesn't make up for weak infield
3) tbd -- Like the pitching / infield, waiting on outfield didn't hurt too much
2) Remember '08? Sigh. -- Not great position player depth, but like balance and pitching
1) Cain't Win -- Great OF / C, deep pitching, weak but workable infield

Don't worry, I didn't pick myself to win... but that means I have a better chance to win now.