A commentary about sports, media, and interpersonal relationships encountered throughout everyday life.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shin-Soo Choo: 2009's Rick Ankiel?

Okay, wipe the coffee you just spit out off your monitor...

If you're asking yourself who's Shin-Soo Choo, then you're in dire-straights before the season even begins.  Choo, a former starting pitcher in the Seattle Mariner's farm system, converted to outfielder after a copious amount of arm problems in the minors and has thrived since his trade to Cleveland.

What I found most interesting about Choo's extended call-up in 2008 (361 plate-appearances), was the fact that his OPS (.924) topped Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Carlos Lee, and Josh Hamilton, just to name a few.  Does this mean Choo's going to top these guys?  No!  Of course that's not the case, but 2008 may be an indicator that a breakout is on the horizon for Choo in 2009.

Looking back to 2007, there was another converted-outfielder who put up a high-OPS (.863)in limited plate-appearances.  His name:  Rick Ankiel.  In 2008, Ankiel continued more-of-the-same in his PA's with a .843 OPS.  Ankiel, like Choo, played in a hitter's park and eventually found himself in the middle of the line-up with Albert Pujols somewhere nearby.

Taking a look at Choo's projected points/plate-appearance (formula offered here), he's expected to do much better than some "names" who will be drafted before him:

Bill James:  .842 pts/pa
CBS Sports:   .841 pts/pa
MARCEL:  .875 pts/pa

For Bill James, Choo should be expected to outperform the likes of Jermaine Dye (.83), Andre Ethier (.82), Nick Swisher (.81), Hideki Matsui (.80), Vernon Wells (.80), and Johnny Damon (80) in a points-based fantasy baseball league.  Now, I like the comparables here, BUT the oddball in this equation has to be Andre Ethier.  Like Choo, he's a younger (27) and in everyone's favorite "breakout" age.  Due to the fact that Ethier is guaranteed much more playing time, I would elevate him a bit out of the group of mediocrity where Bill James places him.

Moving on to CBS Sports, Choo's fantasy output (.841) is similar to those of Alex Rios (.841) and Torii Hunter (.841), two guys who will be drafted light-years before anyone even considers giving Choo the time of day.  

MARCEL provides the most favorable points/plate-appearance projection for Choo (.87); placing him in the top-20 OVERALL.  That's right.  Choo denied Chase Utley a finish in the Top-20 (Utley was 21... not bad).

Of all the players Choo weighs in above, one thing is for certain: your outfield CAN be built late.  In a draft where you're more concerned with position eligibility, be sure to have post it with "Shin-Soo Choo" written on it somewhere in your notes.  He has the potential to hit 20-25 home runs for Cleveland in 2009 while maintaining a ~.300 BA.

That all said, don't rely on him as a guaranteed 3rd outfielder in your league.  Draft him as a high-end 4th and watch what happens.  I'm not saying he's going to be the next Carlos Quentin, but you could definitely do a lot worse than having the 2009 version of Rick Ankiel at your disposal.

(Side-note:  If you believe in the "Age-27" Breakout Theory... then Choo's also turning 27 this season.  Enjoy.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Castigated Outfielders

Now that the Bill James-enhanced Fantasy Baseball Prep Chapter has finally come to a close, I've been shifting through CBS Sports and Marcel projections over the past few days to really key in on the "popular" choices for breakout players and potential slumping players for the 2009 season.

While I continue working through this, however, I wanted to write a bit about someone who's name I've seen brought up quite a bit on the message boards and who I didn't really mentioned in my outfield prep post.  Again, it's worth mentioning that an "average" outfielder has a Fantasy Points / Plate Appearance of 0.81 pts/pa.

The Nationals' Elijah Dukes had a problem getting opportunities in 2008.  This has to do with a number of issues: first, he has a horrible attitude (best example came against the Mets at mid-season when he felt Mike Pelfrey was throwing at him...), second, he has a problem with consistency, and third, he has enough off-field issues to last multiple seasons.

So why the hype?  Why are owners, in the cold of January, hyping someone who may not even be a regular for the Nationals in 2009?

Bill James: 0.89 pts/pa
CBS Sports: 0.83 pts/pa
Marcel: 0.82 pts/pa

I guess that about sums it up...

While Dukes isn't head-and-shoulders above average, he has shown the potential to be if given the at-bats.  Two years ago, while working for WFUV as a Yankees' beat reporter, I bumped into Dukes, then a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Now, I've seen some big baseball players, but Dukes is one of the biggest guys on the field.  If talent were determined by the shier size of a player, Dukes would be among the tops in the game.  However, for some reason, he's yet to "put it all together" (you've heard this so many times before... but I truly believe it when it comes to a guy with, seemingly, all the tools, like Dukes).

So, who should you look to rank Dukes ahead of, if given the ABs?

Marcel projects Dukes' .82 pts/pa ahead of Hunter Pence (.81), Eric Byrnes (.80), Mike Cameron (.79), and Shane Victorino (.79) -- most of whom will be drafted in points leagues (especially if strikeouts are of a minimal penalty).

For CBS Sports, Dukes barely edges Vernon Wells (.82), while also placing ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury (.81), Johnny Damon (.81), and Hunter Pence (again).

Bill James provides the most liberal, abstruse projections with Dukes' .89 pts/pa topping those of Bobby Abreu (.88), Nate McLouth (.87), Curtis Granderson (.86), Magglio Ordonez (.85), and Pat Burrell (.84), just to name a few (of the guys who will DEFINITELY be drafted before Dukes).

When all is said and done, the most you can do (at this point, anyway) is wait and see what happens in Spring Training for the Nats.  As of now, they're rolling into the season with Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns, and Dukes... while also being rumored to have interest in free agent Adam Dunn and the Yankees' Xavier Nady.  Now, I was never adroit to numbers games, but I don't think you're going to have very much sucess fitting upwards of 7 major leaguers in 3 outfield spots.

To conclude, there's a bit too many pieces to this puzzle to derail my circumspect approach to a player like Dukes.  I know a lot of fantasy participants out there love him, and it's not hard to see why... but until Adam Dunn signs with another team, the Yankees trade Nady to the Mariners/Pirates, Josh Willingham converts back to catcher, and Wily Mo Pena retires... I'm going to remain an innocent bystander even with the risk of being burned by Elijah Dukes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Outfield

Far and away, the outfield portion of this series is the most mind-boggling.  Each day, before sitting down to write my latest post, I take a look at the spread sheet to see what names pop out at me as "strange."  Not "strange" in the fact that it's unfathomable that a players be ranked so highly, but "strange" that I didn't think of this without the guidance of stats and numbers.

Today, however, "strange" refers to the former.

For this reason, I'm going to analyze this position the same way I did for catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop before pointing out a few outliers that found their way(s) "in."

Starting with our first statistical category, points-per-opportunity (see introductory chapter for a rundown of statistics and formulas), Ryan Braun (2.92 pts/opp.) reigns supreme.  In fact, Braun tops every statistical category I've created for the purposes of this blog series.  It's safe to say that Bill James has crowned Braun as the "cream of the crop" in 2009.

Behind Braun, filling out the top-three, are Alfonso Soriano (2.77) and Marcus Thames (2.76).  I can't say I'm too surprised with the top-three.  Soriano rakes when healthy... but that's been a bit of a problem for him recently (many Cubs' fans know about his "hopping" problem in the outfield).  Thames, on the other hand, is projected to hit only 22 more singles than home runs in limited at-bats.  He's not quite up to the rate of a Glennallen Hill, but he's probably the closest the Majors have to offer.

The bottom three of the 120 ranked outfielders for this research produce two familiar names: Brian Giles (1.99) and Ichiro (2.05).  These two players are the typical examples of fantasy bats you'd expect to find at the bottom of a pts/opp. category.  One is an aging "power" bat (yeah, remember way back when?) and the other's a singles-hitting-base-stealer.  Don't be too concerned about Ichiro being ranked this low.  Remember that most of his opportunity is made by stealing bases and scoring runs, two things that are risky and that he has very little control over.

The median for this category is our favorite fluctuating fellow: Aubrey Huff (2.39 pts/opp.).  Huff was a "surprise" to most fantasy owners last year as he put up his typical "Devil Ray" numbers from almost 3-years ago.  Bill James projects similar numbers for 2009: 23 HRs, 80 RBI, 70 R, and a .280 BA.  

Notable "below-average" sluggers identified are Delmon Young (2.32), Nick Swisher (2.31), and Josh Willingham (2.31).  Of these three, I think it's important to note that this may be Delmon Young's last chance to live up to the "next Ken Griffey Jr." billing we were all promised back in 2005-06.  I know that I can't be the only one who was fed up with hearing about him and Lastings "the next Willie Mays" Milledge (2.43).

When thinking of Willie... the LAST word that comes to mind is "average," which is what Milledge (.81) represents when moving to our next category, points-per-plate-appearance.

[I hope you all enjoyed the above sentence.  In the biz, that's what we call a beautiful transition.  I'm gonna just read it one more time before moving on...]

The top-five of our OPS translator deliver four familiar names and one not-so-familiar name.  The four players whom you've undoubtedly heard about before are Ryan Braun (1.05 pts/pa), Matt Holiday (.96), Josh Hamilton (.95), Carlos Beltran (.949), and Manny Ramirez (.94).

Our out-of-nowhere member of the top-five is the EXTREMELY streaky Nelson Cruz (.967), who, along with Chris Davis, carried the Texas Rangers down the stretch of the 2008 MLB season.  Cruz is an interesting option in fantasy leagues this year.  Like fellow Quadruple-A member, Dallas McPherson, Cruz has been touted as too good for Triple-A... but not disciplined/good enough for the Majors.  

However, Rangers' mangaer Ron Washington said that Nelson Cruz would bat clean-up for the Rangers if they added no offense in the off-season.  The Rangers' added nothing offensively so far this season, so (barring a random signing of Manny Ramirez or something) one would expect Washington to make good on his commitment.  Cruz, 28, is in the prime of his offensive career and will be batting consistently behind Josh Hamilton in 2009.  

That's too much to ignore.

Combine this with Bill James' projected 28 home runs, 84 RBI, and 18 stolen bases and you have the foundation for what may FINALLY qualify as Cruz's "break-out" season.  That all said, please don't go ahead and draft this guy as your #1 outfielder.  You'll be laughed at.  Seriously, laughed at.  I would rank him as a low-two, high-three... but please be sure to draft a serviceable back-up for protection if he struggles throughout April and May.  

However, if Cruz does for your fantasy team what he did for mine during the fantasy play-offs last year, you'll be more than pleased you took the risk on this potential late-bloomer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Shortstop

Shortstop is an interesting position this year. Last year was the first time that I could ever remember three shortstops being hands-down 1st round picks, including the A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra days of yesteryear. The three aforementioned shortstops, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins are still projected as early picks, but Jimmy Rollins’ “welcome back to Earth” 2008 has knocked him out of the 1st and, probably, second rounds of most fantasy drafts.

Before taking off, remember to take a look at my introductory post for a chart of the breakdown of points in this league. From there you can find links to my previous 2009 looks at catcher, first base, second base, and third base.

Taking a look at our points-per-opportunity statistic as an indicator of Fantasy Baseball Slugging-Percentage, we find our “average” shortstop to be Rafael Furcal (2.21 pts/opp.). Though in 2008, Furcal started off like a man possessed, a back injury (originally diagnosed as a trip to the 15-day DL) cost him a majority of his season. I’m not surprised to see Furcal sitting in this spot when looking at his declining home run and stolen base totals. Combine that with his injury history and new, unmotivating, fat contract and I’m ready to put Raffy on my “Buyer Beware” list in 2009.

Flanking Furcal as “average” slugging shortstops are Troy Tulowitzki (2.26) and Bobby Crosby (2.17). Tulowitzki is an interesting case for a couple reasons. Last year, as we all know, Tulo’s quad and lacerations forced him out for a majority of the first half of the season. He was hyped to be the next 25 HR shortstop and delivered nothing but mediocrity when he DID play. However, let’s look beyond the sour taste Tulo left in our mouths in 2008 and look back to much happier times in 2007. Anyone who selected the Rockies then-rookie in the later rounds of the draft noticed the youngster’s rather slow start. After the All-Star break, however, something changed in Tulo, as he played more like a cagey vet than a bumbling rookie.

Fast-forward to 2008, and we saw the same approach from Tulowitzki, a slow start once he received regular playing time. I’m not going to go ahead and crown this guy the next Eric Chavez, but I think he’s slow start may be more to blame for his less-than-desirable numbers once he became healthy in 2008.

Now, enough about Tulo and Slugging-%, let’s move on to points-per-plate-appearance, where Maicer Izturis’ .73 pts/pa marks the middle-ground. This is awesome for fantasy owners for a few reasons: (1) this is an indication of the large number of “above-average” shortstops in 2009, (2) shortstop is a position you can sit on, and (3) the difference between the highest pts/pa (Hanley Ramirez’s .98) and the average can be easily made up with another position (say, drafting a more productive OF over a SS early in the draft, thereby ignoring the position scarcity approach).

Topping our list are the Big-Three (or big two-and-a-half) of Hanley Ramirez (.98), Jose Reyes (.90), and Jimmy Rollins (.85), but there’s a name placing in the Top-5 that sticks out like a sore thumb… and no it’s not Troy Tulowitzki (.80).

Though I didn’t mention it before, the Angels’ Brandon Wood is as close as one can get to putting Richie Sexson circa 2003 at shortstop. He’s big, strong, and strikes out a ton. He topped the list of shortstops in the pts/opp. category and places 4th on the pts/pa statistic.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Wood, despite his lack of playing time, could be a deep sleeper for 2009. The Angels have a few players blocking the way for Wood with Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar. Last year, the injury bug took a severe bite out of the left-side of the Halo’s infield and forced the call-up of players like Brandon Wood.

Bill James doesn’t project anything astronomical (23 HRs, 26 doubles, 10 SBs), but he does project these numbers in about 200 fewer at-bats than a guy like JJ Hardy, who offers a similar output.

Now, I’m not saying to definitely draft a guy like Brandon Wood… but I am giving you an early warning: pay close attention to the Angels’ third base and shortstop situations going into spring training. Remember, this is a team that lost out on Mark Teixeira during the off-season… they’re going to need to do something to replace that offensive output. I have a feeling that, in this instance, “something” is going to be giving players like Brandon Wood and Mike Napoli a lot more ABs than they’re typically accustomed to.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Third Base

When looking over the field of third basemen in 2009 you have a large number of (close-to) sure things masking a, perhaps, even larger group of sleepers and deep-sleepers.  For anyone just joining in, feel free to read over my introductory post for the scoring break-down in a generic points-based fantasy baseball league as well as the subsequent posts centering on catchers, first basemen, and second basemen.

Obviously, the third base position takes a hit with the loss of Ryan Braun, who played zero games at the hot corner in 2008, from the 2009 eligibility roster.  However, with the loss of one player comes the advent of another, as Evan Longoria joins Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and Aramis Ramirez as the "powerhouses" of the position.  Aside from these four no-brainers, there are a smorgasbord of alternative options for teams looking to drafts batters for this power position later in their respective fantasy drafts.

Beginning with the points-per-opportunity (pts/opp.) slugging break-down, Chone Figgins (not surprisingly at 2.1 pts/opp.) and Twins probable third baseman, Brian Buscher (2.0) round out the bottom of the list with Texas' Chris Davis (2.9) taking the top-spot nearly a full-point higher.

Now, when I first crunched these numbers and saw the mashing potential of Chris Davis I got giddy, no lie.  I couldn't believe that this virtual rookie was ranked ahead of guys like A-Rod, D. Wright, and notorious mashers like Troy Glaus.  Combine the numbers with the Rangers' history of cultivating young, slugging position players (thanks in large part to Rudy Jaramillo) and I was sold that I found the sleeper of the year!

...that is... until I noticed everyone coming to the same conclusion.

So, there we have it.  Chris Davis is 2009's Josh Hamilton, someone who could be a sleeper, but, due to a huge amount of hype, won't be come fantasy-draft season.  If you remember back to last season, Hamilton was getting so much love from a variety of fantasy baseball sources that he was being insanely overvalued in drafts everywhere.  Obviously, the fantasy talking-heads earned their paychecks with this prediction, as Hamilton was a first-half fantasy MVP.

Just below Davis' 2.9 pts/opp. are Alex Rodriguez and Mark Reynolds who tie for second 2.67 pts/opp.  We all know A-Rod's deal, so it's silly to waste space talking about how great he is, so I want to shift my attention to Mark Reynolds.

Last year, Reynolds was about as all-or-nothing as someone not-named Jack Cust can get.  He batted a horrific .239 for the year, all the while knocking in 97 RBI with 28 long-balls.  The reason for this drastic difference was essentially strike-outs.  If Reynolds can just down on blindly hacking at anything thrown in the direction of home plate he's be an awesome option for 2009.  Bill James anticipates a .270 BA with a near-.350 OBP, which is a huge improvement from both categories in 2008.  However, before I decide to endorse Mark Reynolds in 2009, let's shift our attention from pts/opp. to points-per-plate-appearance (pts./pa), which (as you all know) is an indication of OPS in points-based fantasy leagues.

We return to a bit of normalcy in this category with Alex Rodriguez topping the position once again with a ridiculous 1.03 pts/pa.  However, our good friend, the unfortunately overhyped Chris Davis places second with a 1.02 pts/pa (also ridiculous).  Our "average" player(s) in this position are Edwin Encarnacion (.83), Alex Gordon (.82), and Scott Rolen (.81).  This should answer any break-out questions surrounding Encarnacion and Gordon.  Unless you're satisfied with an "average" player in a "power position," I'd let another owner take a risk on one of these young players in 2009.

Interestingly, Garrett Atkins (.80) falls BELOW average in 2009.  This might be a player to rank a bit lower on your draft list this season, especially with younger players like Davis (1.02), Reynolds (.93), and the Brewers' Mat Gamel (.85).

A few more notables who fell well below average in the points-per-plate appearance category were Joe Crede (.74), Mike Lowell (.76), Jorge Cantu (.77), Chone Figgins (.77), and Kevin Kouzmanof (.77).

It's important to remember not to overrate players based purely on name.  So far, of all the positions I've analyzed, there's a huge risk of this at the third base position.  Don't be the owner who's pointed and laughed at for thinking Mike Lowell deserves a spot on your roster... please.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Second Base

A new day, a new position. Let’s continue our trip around the diamond with a rather deep crop of second basemen. Again, just for clarification purposes, you can find the key for a generic points-based Fantasy Baseball league in the introductory post to this series.

If you missed out of my analysis of the players to key in on for both catchers and first basemen, you can follow the links provided or navigate the side bar.

All that said, let’s jump right into our Slugging% indicator (points-per-opportunity) and take a look at who may be stepping up as a masher in 2009. The range for this list starts with Aaron Miles (1.87) who just recently signed on with the Cubs as a starting second baseman (though I don’t think it will last, personally) and ends with Alexei Ramirez (2.60), who began his breakout year at the later part of the 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox. Though Ramirez will be Chicago’s starting Shortstop in 2009, he’ll maintain his second base eligibility from 2008… so be sure to take advantage of this on your draft boards.

For this statistic, 2.21 was the average for second basemen. Obviously the heavy hitters like Chase Utley (2.55), Ian Kinsler (2.53), and Dan Uggla (2.51) were all a good distance above the average. Why? Well, mainly because they’re making the most of their opportunities. Utley and Uggla both hit a ton of home runs (for second basemen, anyway) and Kinsler gives you a nice 25-25 option at a position that doesn’t offer that mixture all the time.

The average second baseman in this instance was Brian Roberts (2.21), exemplifying exactly what I was hinting with Kinsler. Roberts walks a good amount and hits a lot of singles. However, because he plays in a rather anemic Orioles line-up he doesn’t score a ton of runs. To make up for this, Roberts must steal a ton of bases to make the most of his opportunity. Dustin Pedroia (2.218) places right above Roberts. Pedroia, last season’s AL MVP, does have the benefit of hitting in a line-up that scores a ton of runs. However, Pedroia doesn’t walk, doesn’t steal; bases, and bats in a spot with minimal RBI opportunities. His singles, doubles, and run scoring potential all combine to provide your team with a serviceable, average slugging second baseman in points-based fantasy leagues.

When we make the shift from PTS/OPP. to PTS/PA (points-per-plate-appearance), we see a few familiar names topping the list with Utley (.93), Kinsler (.90), Ramirez (.85), and Dan Uggla (.849). At the bottom of this list, again, sits Aaron Miles, who’s probably not even drafting himself in his own fantasy league… so you should probably follow suit and do the same thing.

Our “average” group of players contains two annually overrated bats at this position and one generally underrated bate. Starting with the bad, Jeff Kent (.73) and Robinson Cano (.75) flank an underrated Kaz Matsui (.74). Again, as a veteran fantasy player, you know that Kent and Cano are going to go early. Whether it be the “consistency” of Kent of the “potential” of Cano, they’ll be over hyped going into 2009 Fantasy Baseball drafts. Kaz, on the other hand, will probably NOT be drafted in most leagues, despite the similar output you should expect from him.

While scanning this list, there’s a few things that jumped out at me. First is the Colorado second base situation. Last year, Jayson Nix sucked the morale and life out of the position with his “great defense” while fending off potential sleepers Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker. While Stewart has the greatest potential of the three, Bill James provides both he and Baker with identical pts/pa outputs at .817.

In the grand scheme of things, Baker and Stewart are both ranked ahead of annual fantasy starters (not to be confused with “fantasy stars”) Brian Roberts (.80), Brandon Phillips (.78), Howie Kendrick (.80), and Kelly Johnson (.81). Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of Kelly Johnson and Howie Kendrick’s injury-problems have broken my heart one-too-many times. But I am a big fan of both Brian Roberts and Brandon Phillips and was surprised to see the tandem of Stewart and Baker ranked ahead of them for 2009.

All this said, second base seems like a great position to sit on in 2009. Let your competition make uo your mind for you. If you’re forced into taking a risk on a Jeff Kent or Cano while filling out the rest of your roster with better players, make sure to grab Stewart, Baker, or both while the Rockies (hopefully) come to their senses and goes with one of these offensive threats as a regular in 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: First Base

Part Two of this multi-part mini-series brings us to First Base.  Again, for an introduction to this series, feel free to click here for a break down of the point system.  

Also, if you missed out on the rather telling "Fantasy Baseball Prep: Catchers" post from yesterday evening, feel free to either scroll down or follow the above link to the post's location.

To begin, I want to rehash the two statistical formulas that I am incorporating into my research this year:  points-per-opportunity (pts/opp) and points-per-plate-appearance (pts/pa).  Essentially the two categories boil down like this, pts/opp is the Slugging% for points-based fantasy baseball leagues and pts/pa represents the OPS for points-based fantasy leagues.

With that said, let's start with the slugging and make our way to the OPS.  The range of pts/opp. was pretty vast.  The low (1.54 pts/opp) was Daric Barton, who coincidently may have lost his job today with the A's signing of Jason Giambi to a 1-year contract.  The high (2.68) went to, you guessed it, Ryan Howard.  The average for first basemen was 2.31 points/opp.  

That places a few familiar a a few unfamiliar names at the average point position in this slugging category.  The first, a maybe-surprising / maybe-not, player is Derrek Lee (2.26), who's seen his overall production decline dramatically over the past two seasons.  Below Lee is Kevin Youkilis (2.25), who had a break-out season in 2008, and Ryan Garko (2.24), the Indians' over-hyped first baseman.

While Garko is where I would expect him to be, some may be surprised by the presence of Youkilis among the "below-average" points/oppertunity crowd.  To that I say, take a look at the numbers.  2.25 pts/opp. is not a bad total at all for someone... especially someone dubbed the "Greek God of Walks."  Think about it.  That means that for every walk Youkilis takes in 2009, he should be expect to (a) score a run, or (b) steal a base... then get caught stealing.  Obviously, option-A is a bit more likely to occur in a line-up as potent as that of the Red Sox.

Above Derrek Lee (our Mason-Dixon line for the purposes of this post) are two virtual unknowns: Kendry Morales (2.28) and John Bowker (2.34).  

The aforementioned Bowker may be a bit of a long shot.  Especially if the Giants sign Joe Crede and shift Pablo Sandoval from 3B to 1B in 2009.  Though Bowker is obviously capable of putting up respecitble points with the increase of opportunity, the Giants may opt for a discounted rate on Crede and give the 25 year-old more time in the minors.

Kendry Morales, on the other hand, is in line to be the Angels' starting first baseman in 2009.  When the Halo's traded Casey Kotchman for a virtual rent-a-player in Mark Teixeira, you had to think that L.A. had some-sort of "ace" up their sleeve.  In this case, the ace was Kendry Morales.  Now, don't get me wrong... the Angels would've loved to bring Teixeira back to to L.A., but Morales may provide a considerable more pop from the 3-spot than Casey Kotchman EVER did during his time with the Halo's.

Moving on from our first base mashers, let's take a look at a few OPS superstars for points-based fantasy baseball leagues.  The top-dog in the yard is everyone's favorite Cardinal, Albert Pujols (1.06).  I'm sorry.  But if you have a player who's averaging a point per plate appearance... you should thank your lucky stars on a night basis.  Pujols and Ryan Howard (1.00) are the only first basemen who top the 1-point threshold... which is absurd.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that if you can get your hands on one of these fantasy-monsters... pull the trigger and get in while the getting's good.

The average players in this category surround Adrian Gonzalez (.83).  Below Gonzalez are seriously, a bunch of fantasy scrubs.  The first two are Paul Konerko (.82) and Adam LaRoche (.81), both of whom, as everyone who's owned them know, are hugely overrated at this point in their careers.

To me, the best value in the Top-12 in the pts/pa category is Joey Votto (.91), who places above perennial All-Stars Justin Morneau (.86), Kevin Youkilis (.85), and Carlos Pena (.87).  Also, a bit above Votto is everyone's favorite vegan, Prince Fielder (.91) and new hundred-million-dollar-man, Mark Teixeira (.95).

To say the least, you could probably draft Votto 5 rounds (if not more) behind the majority of these first basemen.  If you're a Bill James supporter, look for Joey V. to bust it out in '09, and be a regular contributer for both the Reds and your fantasy baseball team.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Catchers

Using The Bill James Handbook as my primary resource, I calculated the point totals for each player in the Catcher position based on the table I posted earlier.  

In 2009, I feel like there's going to be a number of new catchers entering the forefront.  For the most part, these players are those who were once in a platoon or are rookies/second-year players who finally reached the bigs.  In order to gauge what their "point-potential" may be for 2009, I created two new categories: "points per opportunity" and "points per plate appearance."  

Essentially, points per opportunity (pts/opp.) is the number of points each player makes when doing something ASIDE from making an out.  This statistic divides the total number of points by the hits and walks of a given player.  For me, this statistic is the SLG% of a points-based fantasy league.  You're able to see who does the most when they connect.  The average PTS/OPP. in this instance was 2.22.

Benjie Molina (2.22), Kenji Johjima (2.23), Ramon Hernandez (2.23), and A.J. Pierzynski (2.21) are all examples of an average player using this statistic.

While Johjima wasn't a starting catcher in my fantasy league last year, I'm surprised to see players who were (Molina, Hernandez, and Pierzynski) lumped in the same group.  What does this tell us?  Not that Johjima is going to bounce back... rather, that 2009 may represent a changing of the guard at catcher.

This isn't totally surprising to me.  The average age of starters at the catcher position has increased every year (I know, that sounds logical and stupid), rather than staying the same.  The reason that I suggest that it's not as "stupid" as it seems is due to the fact that older catchers should be breaking down and younger catchers should be taking their spots.  A couple things prevent this from happening.  First, there are longer contracts being signed by catchers.  In the list above, Johjima, Hernandez, and Molina are all examples of this.  Let's also not forget players like Jorge Posada, who signed a lucrative deal last off-season, and Jason Varitek, who's about to do the same.  Second, catchers are losing their offensive ability before their defense ability.  Exemplifying this are Pudge Rodriguez, the aforementioned Benjie Molina, and Jason Kendell.

Moving to our second and, in my opinion, more-telling statistic, points-per-plate-appearance (PTS/PA) we take a look at the OPS of points-based leagues.  This statistic shows us the number of points each player should accrue each time they step to the plate.  To find this number, I divided the points total of each player by their at-bats (AB) and walks (BB).

The average, in this case, was .74 PTS/PA.  Jeff Clement, Chris Snyder, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were the three players who represented the "average" in this category.  Personally, I'm so happy about one of the names that this formula spit out.  If you're like me, you've considered Jarrod Saltalamacchia nothing but a long name and nothing else.  Year-after-year I see this guy drafted before the Ryan Doumit's and Chris Iannetta's of the league and can't help but scratch my head...  This statistic has justified what I've thought all along, "Salty's" nothing but an average player at this point in his career.

Toping this list is, not-surprisingly, Mike Napoli, who should get regular AB's for the Angels in 2009.  The problem with Napoli has never been his consistency at the plate... in fact, he's mashed whenever he's been healthy-enough to do so.  Bill James' projection reveals a .93 PTS/PA for Napoli.  To put that in perspective, the other players with a .93 PTS/PA are Manny Ramirez, Evan Longoria, and Chase Utley.  Household name much?

Of the top-tier of catchers, Brian McCann (.87) is the only player listed in the Top-5 (Russell Martin is #7, Victor Martinez is #14, and Jorge Posada is #13).  With this known, I would wait until Russell Martin is drafted to pick up McCann.  I say this because, I feel that people are beginning to sour on the injury issues surrounding Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada.  While both players bat in high-powered line-ups, I think their age and injury problems are enough to turn off a healthy portion of "informed" fantasy owners.

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Bill James Handbook

For Christmas this year, I made three requests: 

(1) Beyond Belief, by Josh Hamilton
(2) Coldplay's Viva la Vida
(3) Bill James' 2009 Bill James Handbook

As you can tell from the title of this post, I received only one of these gifts... and for that I am thankful.

Nothing against Josh Hamilton or Chris Martin and the guys of Coldplay, I'm sure their respective products are great (and Grammy-nominated in some cases), but Bill James' 2009 Handbook is a priceless necessity to my fantasy baseball preparation.

Now, I don't expect everyone to begin their fantasy prep at the beginning of January, but, in all honestly, I couldn't wait to dive into James' predictions and see what he's forecasting for a few batters in 2009.

Two days ago, I started my journey through pages and pages of statistics.  Who would be this year's Carlos Quentin?  Who would be this year's Robinson Cano?  Who did I forget about already?

To say the least, any free moment I had in the past few days as been devoted to sitting in an uncomfortable chair, hunching over my copy of The Bill James Handbook, and crunching numbers in search of a few diamonds in the rough.

Over the next few days, I'm going to remind you all of a few players you should re-familiarize yourself with in the months leading up to Spring Training.  Before, I do this, however, I want to give you an indication of the scoring system for my fantasy league.  This is seen below:

I'll throw of the pitching categories later on... but for now, I'm focusing strictly on the offensive side of the playing field.  The rundown of events will begin today with Catchers, followed by First basemen, Second, Third, Short, OF, and Utility.  Again, all my statistical projections will be derived from those of Bill James and his team, so stay tuned.