The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Dodgers”

The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff: Or Was It?

Thomson hits the 'Shot Heard 'Round the World'

Image via Wikipedia

The recent death of former Giants star Bobby Thomson, who hit perhaps the most famous home run in baseball history on October 3, 1951, has rekindled controversy regarding What Bobby Knew and When Bobby Knew It.

Specifically, did Bobby Thomson, who hit the game-winning home run that put the Giants in the World Series vs. the Yankees, know what pitch was coming before he hit it out?

Wall Street Journal writer Joshua Prager reported, back in 2001, that the Giants had utilized an elaborate system of sign-stealing during the latter half of the 1951 season in a desperate bid to try to catch the league-leading Brooklyn Dodgers in the standings.

Prager wrote that his investigation, which included interviews with many surviving Giants players including Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Bobby Thomson himself, had uncovered irrefutable eyewitness testimony that the Giants had, in fact, cheated their way into the playoffs.

They had done so by setting up a powerful telescope in center field at the Polo Grounds focusing directly on the opposing team’s catcher.  The signs for pitch selection that he signaled to his pitcher were also being dutifully noted by the Giants player with the telescope.

Then an electronic device (ironically set up by an electrician who was a die-hard Dodgers fan), sent a buzz signal to the Giants bullpen to let them know what pitch would be delivered next.  The players in the bullpen would then – using body language which a batter could easily see – indicate to him what the next pitch would be. And so, despite a 13 ½ game deficit in the standings, the Giants won 16 games in a row to force a three-game playoff  with the Dodgers to decide the National League pennant.

The idea was reportedly hatched by Giants manager Leo Durocher.  Apparently, about half of the Giants players agreed to participate in this obviously illegal activity, and about half wanted no part of it.

Of course, the Big Question regarding Bobby Thomson’s miracle home run in is, “Was Bobby Thomson one of those players who agreed to cheat?  Did he know before he hit that homerun over the left field wall in the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951 that Ralph Branca was about to throw a fastball to him?”

If he knew, then the sheen of the Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff loses its luster.  Bobby Thomson, inevitably, becomes just another in a long line of cheaters inhabiting baseball history from its earliest days down to our present steroids controversy.

Or does it?

When Thomson was asked point blank by Prager if, in fact, he knew what pitch was about to be delivered by Branca, he at first demurred, stating ambiguously, “I’d have to say no more than yes.”  When pressed further by Prager, Thomson said, “I don’t like to think of something taking away from [it].”  He added, “It would take a little away from me in my mind if I felt I got help on that pitch.  My answer is no.  I was always proud of that swing.”

This is a truly remarkable answer.

Does he mean that he simply wants to believe he didn’t know what pitch was coming?  Does he mean that he absolutely, positively denies possessing that fore-knowledge?

His answer is “no”, but what, precisely, is he denying?

But his answer is instructive in that the way he framed his response raises a question first posited by the Ancient Greeks 2,400 years ago:  What is History?

The cynics and realists among us, shaped by an analytical, empirical Western world view, trace our ancestry back to the Greek historian Thucydides.  Thucydides, who wrote the first truly modern work of history – the History of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta – used exactly the same techniques that Joshua Prager employed over two millennia later; he interviewed witnesses, favored eye-witness accounts over hearsay, displayed skepticism in the face of improbable tales, and revealed a hard-nosed narrative seasoned with carefully sifted evidence.

In short, Thucydides wanted “just the facts.”

But baseball, as with the Greeks, has an ancient mythology that in a sense supersedes objective truth.  Baseball mythology has always been what we who love baseball need it to be, namely, a vehicle by which we reach outside our simple lives for the thing that allows us to be a part of a narrative both bigger than ourselves, yet entirely dependent on our unquestioning faith and loyalty.

This brings us to Herodotus.

Fifteen years older than Thucydides, Herodotus was regarded by the Roman Cicero as the Father of History (as a discipline.)

But Herodotus’ goal as a historian was not merely to record objective data, compile it into a book, and set it adrift into the banal Sea of Verification.  He sought out, to him, a greater, nobler quest.  Herodotus intended – in HIS History of the Peloponnesian War – to instruct his readers in the moral lessons of the war.  His history is a tale full of gossip, tall tales of the giant ants of India (bigger than a fox), heroes and villains, and uncorroborated anecdotes.

Herodotus tried to do something not all that different than what we Americans generally experienced in our public school classrooms’ history curriculums for most of the twentieth century.  Learning about American History was as much the story of what we needed to believe about ourselves as it was about what really occurred in our nation during the previous two centuries.

Thus, the Native-Americans were virtually nowhere to be found in our textbooks.  The Reconstruction Era, during which the Federal Government reneged on its original commitment to ensure equality for the “negro” race, was covered in about six minutes.  Charles Lindbergh’s pro-Nazi sympathies could not be allowed to cloud over his historic flight across the Atlantic.

Americans demand facts, but we need them to be couched in terms that do not shake our core belief in our country, our culture and ourselves.

The subset of Americans who call themselves Baseball Fans are no different.

Our Thucydides-selves want to know if Bobby Thomson was aware that a fastball was on its way.  We want to know what substances Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (Achilles, Hektor and Agamemnon) put into their bodies to conquer their competitors.  We want to know if Joe Jackson really did take that money after all.

But our Herodotus-selves need baseball to remain the pure mythical, morality tale that we collectively believe it has always been since at least the days of our halcyon youth.

Therefore, Satchel Paige told his infielders to go sit down as he proceeded to strike out the side.  Pee-Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson in a mid-western ballpark to signal to the crowd that Jackie was alright by him.  And an unholy asterisk pollutes the record-books next to the name Roger Maris.

It matters not if any of these anecdotes are literally true.  Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t.  What matters is our need to believe them.

Which brings us back to Bobby Thomson.

Did he know what pitch Ralph Branca was about to deliver in the single most important at-bat of either of their lives?

Thucydides would probably answer a definitive, clinical, “yes.”  And we would be left with the spiritual and emotional fallout that would inevitably occur.

Herodotus, however, might respond, “A miracle occurred today in upper Manhattan.  Robby Thomson hit a majestic homerun into the late afternoon sunshine, and the underdogs Giants, given up for dead just one month ago, have won the National League Pennant.  The Giants Win the Pennant!  The Giants Win the Pennant!

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 7 – The Los Angeles Dodgers

Sandy Koufax is the greatest pitcher in the history of the L.A. Dodgers.  I’m not even going to pretend that there is a reasonable argument here to the contrary.

But who is the second greatest pitcher in L.A. Dodgers history?

There are, of course, a number of ways to define “greatest” in this context.  Do we mean which  pitcher won the greatest number of games in his career with the Dodgers?  Are we going to use Cy Young awards, and / or the traditional annual leaders categories (wins / strikeouts / ERA titles) as our basis for comparison?

How utilizing using a more modern sabermetric approach such as WAR or Win Shares?  Also, do we emphasize long-term reliability over relatively short-term  greatness?

In part, these are some of the same criteria that are argued over when the decision regarding a certain retired player’s Hall of Fame worthiness comes to the fore.

In general, I’ve always believed that emphasizing  a player’s greatest years of accomplishment should weigh more heavily than long-term statistics that reward reliability.  Sometimes, long-term reliability is confused with greatness.  And greatness, I submit, is what we are after when sorting through our  Hall of Fame candidates.

Which brings me back to the original question.  Who is the second greatest L.A. Dodger pitcher of all time?

I’ve decided to analyze the three best  seasons of five different pitchers to attempt to answer this question.

The criteria I have settled upon are a mix of the traditional counting stats and some of the newer formulas:  wins-losses, ERA+, and WHIP.  The latter two categories will be averaged for the best three seasons. (Note: wins-losses will NOT necessarily be a particular pitcher’s best single season totals, but will be from that pitcher’s best ERA+ seasons.)

Now, let’s take a look at the pitchers.

Pitcher A:  53-30,  ERA+  137, WHIP – 1.082

Pitcher B:  47-42, ERA+  139, WHIP – 1.034

Pitcher C:  57-26, ERA+  156, WHIP – 1.088

Pitcher D:  49-30, ERA+  133, WHIP – 1.116

Pitcher E:  50-24, ERA+  157, WHIP – 0.961

It appears that the best pitcher on this list is Pitcher E who has by far the best WHIP, and just barely, the best ERA+.  His win-loss record is also impressive.  Pitcher E is, in fact, Hall of Famer Don Sutton who won 233 games as a Dodger, and 324 overall in his career.

Sutton, then, is one of those infrequent players who is  one of the best players on his team measured in Both career reliability AND peak-years greatness.

Pitcher C might be the second best pitcher on this list because, although he has only the fourth best WHIP, he has the most overall wins and  the second best ERA+.  Pitcher C is Orel Hershiser, who won the 1988 Cy Young Award.

Pitchers A and B are pretty comparable, and Pitcher D isn’t light-years behind the others.  In reverse order, Pitcher D is Fernando Valenzuela, the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1981 (remember Fernando Mania?!)  Pitcher B is Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, N.L. Cy Young recipient in 1962.

Pitcher A is, by far, the most likely to have been forgotten player on this list, despite three-year numbers comparable to two Hall of Famers and another pitcher who won a Cy Young award.

Pitcher A is Andy Messersmith.

Andy Messersmith’s Best Forgotten Season is 1975.

Andy Messersmith, from Toms River, N.J., was the first round pick of the California Angels in 1966.

Messersmith actually only pitched for the Dodgers for just three seasons (1973-75.)  Previous to his Dodgers years, he pitched for the Angels for five years beginning in 1968. Upon leaving the Dodgers after the ’75 season as one of baseball’s first free agents, he pitched for the Braves and, briefly, for the Yankees before returning to L.A. to finish his career in 1979 at the age of 33.

Although Messersmith had a good year for the Dodgers in 1973, his two-year stretch from ’74-’75 was truly remarkable.  His record was 39-20, averaging an amazing 307 innings per season.  His ERA’s for 1974 and 1975 were 2.59 and 2.29, respectively.  He started 79 games, completed 32 of them, and tossed 10 shutouts in that time frame. He also struck out over 200 batters in each of the two seasons.

In 1975, he led the National League in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings:  6.82.  Even more impressively, his career rate of 6.93 hits per nine innings is 5th best among all starting pitchers in the history of Major League baseball.

In ’74, he finished second in the Cy Young voting.  In ’75, he finished 5th.  Messersmith made the All-Star team in both seasons, and, for good measure, he also won the Gold Glove at his position in each year as well.

Messersmith’s 40 starts, 321 innings, 19 complete games and seven shutouts all dominated the Senior Circuit in 1975.  He also faced an N.L. high 1276 batters that season.

It’s no wonder, then, that although he hurled over 200 innings for the Braves in 1976 with an ERA of 3.04 and a WHIP of 1.158, he was considered one of baseball’s first free agent busts.  He won just eleven games for Atlanta despite his respectable peripheral numbers.  By 1977, the huge number of innings pitched in a few short years having taken their toll, Messersmith’s career was essentially over at the age of 31.

Andy Messersmith reunited with the Dodgers for just eleven more starts, finally retiring in 1979 with a career won-loss record of 130-99.  He finished with nearly as many complete games in his career (98) as losses (99.)

One of the half-dozen best pitchers in the history of the L.A. Dodgers, Andy Messersmith’s Best Forgotten Season in 1975 is one of the most impressive seasons any pitcher has produced in the last thirty-five years.

The question is, will we ever see another pitcher for the Dodgers, or anyone else for that matter, who will be such a work-horse for their team?

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 5 – The Phillies

Let’s begin with a trivia question.

How many Phillies pitchers have ever won a Cy Young Award?

O.K., so you got Steve Carlton (4).  Good.  Anyone else?

Let me give you another minute…

Give up?  How about John Denny in 1983. This is surely one of the Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons of all time.

Let’s talk about John Denny and the ’83 Phils.

In 1982, Steve Carlton won the last of his four career Cy Young Awards.  Apparently, his teammate John Denny was paying attention.  The ’83 Phils were a very good team, going 90-72 that season.  They beat the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S., but lost to the Orioles (remember when the Orioles were good?) in just five games in the World Series.  It was Denny’s first season with the Phillies.

Denny had previously won an ERA title pitching for the Cardinals in 1976, so he did have a history of effectiveness prior to coming over to Philadelphia.  But 1983 turned out to be the best season in his career.  At the age of 30, he posted a record of 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA.  The wins were the most in the N.L.  His ERA was second best.

He pitched 242 innings, had a WHIP of 1.162, fanned a career high 139 batters, and surrendered only nine home runs all year.  His 0.3 home runs per nine innings led the league.

Strangely, he made eight errors, the most of any N.L. pitcher.

Outside of 1983,  Denny was one of those pitchers who never enjoyed a great deal of run support in his career.  In ’76, for example, his record was just 11-9 in 30 starts despite winning the ERA title.  And in 1984, the year after he won his Cy Young, his record was just 7-7 in 22 starts.  His ERA in ’84 was 2.45.

In his 13 year career, Denny posted a modest record of 123-108.  He managed only seven seasons of 10 or more victories.

While some pitchers are just getting started at about age 30 (Dazzy Vance, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer), others hit a wall.  At age 33, just three years after winning his lone Cy Young Award, John Denny retired from baseball.

So who is the only other Phillies pitcher to win a Cy Young Award?

The answer (enjoy an extra one of your favorite beverages tonight on me if you got this one correct) is Steve (Bedrock) Bedrosian in 1987.

Other than to say that this was certainly the single most absurd Cy Young choice in the history of the award, I won’t spend too much time of Steve Bedrosian.  He won the award that year because The Save, the single most overrated stat baseball has ever developed, was just coming into vogue back then.

Bedrosian saved 40 games in ’87, the only time in his career that he would lead the league in saves, and the only time he would ever top 30 saves in a season.  The Phils were just 80-82 that year, so I guess having saved half of his teams wins impressed a great many voters that year.

But we’re not here to talk about Steve Bedrosian.

The (other) player on the1987 Phils who had one of this team’s Best Forgotten Seasons was Juan Samuel.

Sorry, Mets fans.  You can come up from under the table now.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, bringing up Juan Samuel’s name without warning to a Mets fan is akin to a soldier who suffers from PTSD suddenly hearing a car back-firing.

You see, on June 18, 1989 (exactly 21 years ago today), Juan Samuel was traded from the Phils to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell.  This obviously qualifies as one of the worst trades in team history.  Dykstra became an integral part of the Phillies for the next several years, helping lead them to the 1983 World Series.

Roger McDowell was a competent relief pitcher for the Mets 1986 World Championship team.

Juan Samuel was, uhm, Juan Samuel.

Adding insult to injury, Samuel only played on the Mets for the second half of ’89, posted a horrific .228 / .299. / .300 triple slash, then the Mets traded him away to the Dodgers.

So why am I including him here?  Because in 1987, Juan Samuel had one very impressive season.  Playing second base that year (in later years he would move to the outfield), he played in 160 games, leading the N.L. in plate appearances (726), at bats (655), and triples (15).  He also led the league in extra base hits with 80.

His power numbers represented career highs.  He hit 28 home runs and drove in an even 100.  He also scored 113 runs and had 35 stolen bases.  He had 329 total bases, and made the All-Star team.

He also struck out more times than anyone else in the league (162).  The player that Samuel most resembles is a young Alfonso Soriano, when Soriano played for the Yankees.

Samuel was one of those middle infielders who had good range, but who also made quite a few errors.  He led all second baseman in put outs with 374, and his range factor of 5.05 was 4th best in the league.  But his 18 errors were also the most of any second baseman in the N.L.

He led all second baseman in errors three times in four years, which is why by 1989, he had been moved to the outfield.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a feel for that position, either, so the Dodgers moved him back to second for a while in the early ’90’s.

Juan Samuel ended up having a respectable major league career, being named to three All-Star teams, twice leading his league in triples, and stealing almost 4oo bases.  He hit over 160 homers and 100 triples, and scored over 100 runs three times.

Just don’t ever say his name in front of a Mets fan without warning, or it could get real ugly.


Under the Radar, Part 4: Soldiering on in Chicago

This is the fourth installment of a periodic series I call “Under the Radar.”

In this series, I take a closer look at players who have enjoyed their fair share of success as major league baseball players, but who are not usually associated with baseball’s biggest stars, players such as Derek Jeter, A-Rod, or Albert Pujols.

These players have toiled, in effect, Under the Radar.

Yes, it is true that in their own baseball towns, they may enjoy a loyal, even affectionate fan-base.  They may even represent their team in the All-Star Game.  Yet somehow they manage to remain out of the gossip columns while being productive, though not flashy,  players for their respective teams.

In this edition of Under the Radar, I will take a closer look at a pair of first baseman who have soldiered on in Chicago for the past several years.

Specifically, I will be examining the careers of Derrek Lee of the Cubs, and Paul Konerko of the White Sox.

Once I began to take a closer look at the career statistics of these two players, it became strikingly clear how similar their respective careers have been.

To begin with, both players are 34-years old.  Both players bat and throw right-handed.  Both players made their professional debuts in the National League in 1997.  Therefore, they have each played thirteen seasons in the major leagues.

Both Derrek Lee and Paul Konerko are with their third major league organizations.  Lee began his career as a member of the Padres, played for the Marlins for six seasons, and is now about to enter his seventh season with the Cubs.

Konerko came up as a catcher in the Dodgers organization, played briefly with the Reds and has been a member of the White Sox since 1999.

Even many of their career statistics are strikingly similar:

Konerko has played in 1700 games.  Lee has played in 1681 games.

Konerko has logged 6893 plate appearances.  Lee has 6860.

Konerko has 1690 hits.  Lee has 1701 hits.

Konerko has 326 homers.  Lee has hit 293 home runs.

Konerko has compiled 2991 total bases.  Lee has 3016 total bases, a difference of a scant 25 bases spread out over 13 seasons.

Konerko has produced 1601 runs in his career (Runs + RBI’s – Homers.)

Lee has produced 1592 runs in his career.

And, in case you have forgotten, both players have one World Series Championship ring to their credit.  Lee won his while playing with the Marlins in 2003.  Konerko won his World Championship ring just a couple of years later in 2005.

But, as you would expect, there are some differences as well.  Beginning with the obvious, Derrek Lee is a black man playing in Chicago’s North End, a predominantly white, Central and Eastern European-leaning culture.

Paul Konerko is a white man who plays in Chicago’s predominantly black South-Side.

It should be noted here that both players have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive experiences in Chicago, despite the color of their skin, and the ballparks they play in.

As far as their baseball skills are concerned, Derrek Lee has been the better defensive player of the two.  Lee has three Gold Gloves to his credit; Konerko has none.  Konerko was, however, a defensive upgrade over Frank Thomas who became a full-time D.H. once Konerko arrived.

Lee has also been the better base-runner of the two.  Lee has stolen 101 bases in his career, although he has also been caught 44 times.  Meanwhile, Konerko has only attempted 10 stolen bases in his entire career!  But he has been successful eight times.

Lee also has 28 triples to Konerko’s seven.

Although both players have been significant run producers, Lee has been better at scoring runs, while Konerko has been a little better at driving runs in.

Specifically, Lee has scored 90 or more runs in seven different seasons, while driving in 90+ runs in five seasons.

Konerko, on the other hand, has topped 90 runs scored three times, but he has driven in 90 or more runs seven times, topping 100 RBI’s four times.

Konerko has played in three All-Star Games; Lee has played in two.

Lee has finished in the top 10 in N.L. MVP voting twice; Konerko has finished in his league’s top ten once.

In 2005, the year Konerko won his World Series ring with the White Sox, Lee enjoyed the best season of his career.  He led the N.L. in hits (199), doubles (50), home runs (46) slugging percentage (.662) and total bases (393.)

Konerko, on the other hand, has never led his league in any category in any season, except Grounding Into Double Plays (28 in 2003.)

Lee’s career OPS (On Base plus Slugging) is .873.

Konerko’s career OPS is .843.

Overall, then, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Derrek Lee has been a slightly better player than Paul Konerko over the past 13 seasons.

Are either of these players potential Hall of Fame candidates?  Probably not.  Although both have had very productive careers, the expectations  for Hall-of-Fame enshrinement tend to be greater for first basemen than for perhaps any other position.

After all, this is the position played by Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Willie McCovey, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Murray.

By the time each of them retires, Derrek Lee and Paul Konerko will probably finish their careers in the second tier of first basemen, a level that includes Will Clark, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez and Fred McGriff.

Finally, it is interesting to note, however, that if you look up both players’ career statistics at Baseball-Reference.Com, you will discover, historically speaking, whose careers both players most closely match.

To this point in his career, Derrek Lee’s career most closely matches that of Kent Hrbek, Fred McGriff, Tim Salmon… and Paul Konerko.

To this point in his career, Paul Konerko’s career most closely matches that of Kent Hrbek, Fred McGriff, Boog Powell… and Derrek Lee.

On either side of the Windy City, then, the people of Chicago have been treated to solid, consistent, and extremely similar careers by each team’s respective middle-of-the-order, run-producing first baseman contemporaneously.

Can any other baseball town in America count itself so lucky?

Strange Baseball Seasons and Careers

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that stuns me.  What is most surprising, however, is that even after all these years of studying baseball and looking at stats, there are still surprises lurking in the shadows of the ancient statistical tomes.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, either, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

Further, as the title of this blog-post states, statistical oddities may not reveal themselves until a player’s career has long since ended.  Conversely, though, some unlikely stats will pop up and demand your attention like an inebriated, embarrassing  guest at a dinner party.

This blog-post claims no pretensions that its writer has any real idea of just what a dinner-party actually looks like, so in the name of Frozen Dinners and improvisation, lets eschew any formal organizational structure in this blog-post from here on out, and just indulge our (my) fascination with statistical oddities, free-style, as it were.

To begin with, who do you think were the toughest pitchers to hit (using Hits Given Up per Nine Innings) of all- time?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.  Yes, of course, you remembered Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, let me save you some time:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:   David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, but oh, what beauty when they shined.  The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall, nor is Blyleven.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

Hitters, of course, are mainly supposed to hit.  But it’s O.K., even lauded in some circles, if a particular hitter draws an occasional Base-on-Balls, too.

One particular hitter that, occasionally, did draw a walk was former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin just might have been the worst regular, everyday offensive player in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

Defensively, by the way, he was pretty good, although he managed to win just one Gold Glove award in his entire career.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, was the Only year he made an All-Star team.

Well, did he hit lots of homers?  Nope, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs.  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!  He did improve later on in his career, but was never truly an asset on the base-paths.

In 1980, he led the A.L. in triples with 15, and in outs made with 532.

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Ladies and gentleman, am I missing something here?

To sum up, the weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t his career numbers, it’s that he ever had a career at all, and a long career at that.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Suffering from numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.  In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 75-90 range, give or take a few.

Somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in just under 400 plate appearances.  I am guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

This is one reason why some small-market teams continue to be unsuccessful.  When they do splurge on a free-agent, it’s usually the wrong guy.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent.

I’m absolutely positive there are many other players who have had strange, unlikely individual seasons and /or careers.  If you can think of others and would like to share them, by all means please do.  I’m not necessarily talking about One-Year Wonders; I already did a prior blog-post on that topic.

Now, let’s see what kind of strange, unlikely seasons we are in store for in 2010.  We know they’ll happen.  We just don’t know yet who they’ll happen to.

And once again, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I appreciate it.

Bill

Fantasy Baseball Player Ratings: The Pitchers

This is the final installment of my four-part Fantasy Baseball Preview.  In my previous post, I rated over 120 major league hitters by position, with accompanying commentary.  In this post, I will sort starting pitchers into four primary categories:  The Studs, The Near Studs, The Average Javiers, and The Cannon Fodder.  Pitchers in bold print are sleepers that I believe should be aggressively targeted.  Pitchers listed in italics are potential bust candidates.  At the end of this post, I will briefly discuss Relief Pitchers / Closers. 

I define Studs as pitchers who have already proven themselves to be true #1 staff aces that are Cy Young worthy contenders, pitchers you should consider drafting very early.  None of them are likely to be busts, unless the injury bug catches up to them.  Obviously, there aren’t that many of them.  Here they are:

1)  Tim Lincecum – Can he win a 3rd consecutive Cy Young?  Regardless, he is young and dominant.  His win total will actually go up this year.

2)  Roy Halladay – Future Hall-of-Famer could (will) absolutely dominate N.L. this season.

3)  Zach Greinke –  All that potential finally came together.  Not a fluke.

4)  Felix Hernandez – See Above, Greinke.

5)  C.C. Sabathia –  New York City pressure?  What pressure? The only sure thing in the Yanks rotation.

6)  Justin Verlander – As long as he keeps those walks under control, he’s fine.

7)  Dan Haren – I know, I know, he collapses in the 2nd half year after year.  But if finishing a season with a WHIP of 1.00 represents a collapse, I’ll take it.  And 223 K’s to 38 walks is simply amazing.

8)  Adam Wainwright – Even better in the second half last season, and still just 28-years old.  No reason to doubt he’s for real.  Only question is, will last year’s huge jump in innings pitched catch up to him?

9)  Chris Carpenter – When healthy, virtually no one is better.  But health will always remain an issue, especially for a 34-year old with a long injury history.

10)  Johan Santana –  Still has to be considered an ace until he proves otherwise.

11)  Cliff Lee – Ranking him #11 doesn’t mean he won’t win a Cy Young in Seattle this season.  In fact, he’s my choice to do just that.  Great park for him.  I’m estimating he’ll win 20 games in his contract season.

The Near Studs are pitchers who I think have a good chance to pitch well enough to garner at least some, perhaps a lot, of attention when voting for the Cy Young Award rolls around after this season ends.  These are, quite simply, the pitchers who will make or break your chances to win a Fantasy League Championship this season. All have exhibited some degree of excellence to this point, and all are young enough and (apparently) healthy enough to take a jump into the Stud category going into next season.

1)  Josh Johnson –  Has gone 22-6 since returning from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, averaging around 8 K’s per 9 innings.  Hasn’t turned 27 yet.  Could be in-line for a very big year.

2) Jon Lester –  A young, left-handed strikeout pitcher who hasn’t peaked yet.  Go get him, or you’ll kick yourself every time he tosses a dominant start.

3)  Josh Beckett –  The reason why I like Boston to win the A.L. East this season is their pitching depth which, despite the Vazquez signing in New York, is still better than the Yankees rotation.  Beckett has shown flashes of brilliance, has been used relatively conservatively over the years (he’s now almost 30), and is in his contract year.  Good year to grab him.

4)  Jake Peavy –  Pitched extremely well in a limited stint in Chicago at the end of last year, but he has an injury history, will now be pitching in a good hitter’s park, and will now have to cope with a DH every outing.  But even with those qualifiers, he will be a high quality pitcher.

5)  Matt Cain –  May become the best pitcher who never wins more than fifteen games, at least as long as he pitches in San Francisco.  Excellent young talent, but probably destined to always be a really good #2 pitcher.

6)  Cole Hamels –  2009 was a lost season for Hamels.  He simply threw too many hittable pitches for a guy with his stuff.  If his head is on straight this season, he will provide a nice counterpoint to his new staff-mate, Roy Halladay.  Still just 26-years old,too talented to be just an average pitcher.

7)  Tommy Hanson – Posted a 2.89 ERA in his first go-round in the N.L.  Strikes out nearly a batter per inning.  Composed, but not over-c0nfident.  Enjoy watching him grow into a true ace in the next couple of seasons.

8)  Clayton Kershaw –  Still very young (22) but has dominant stuff.  Very nice pitcher’s park, too.  Only downside, throws too many pitches to ever get to 7th or 8th inning.  If he learns to be more efficient, look out.

9)  Ricky Nolasco –  People will look at his 5.06 ERA from a year ago, and walk away.  That’s good news for the rest of us.  Cut about a run and a half from that ERA this season (which he will) and you have a 27-year old pitcher who K’s a batter an inning, has a good WHIP, and is about to bust out.

10)  Yovani Gallardo –  This 24-year old was used carefully by the Brewers last season, but still K’d 204 batters in just 185 innings.  Walks a few too many, but the league hit just .219 against him.  Could become a Stud as early as this season.

11)  Matt Garza –  Similar to Ricky Nolasco in that people will look at his won-lost record from a year ago and think he is a back-0f-the-rotation starter.  He’s much better than that.  League hit only .233 against him in ’09.  Could finish in top ten in Cy Young voting this season.

12)  Ubaldo Jimenez –  Although he calls Coors Field home, his fastball is so dominant, it really doesn’t matter where he pitches.  At age 26 posted a 1.23 WHIP, a .229 batting average against, and 198 K’s.  He’s a good one.

The Average Javiers are quite a mixed bag, and, of course, there are a lot of them.  Being an Average Javier doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a pitcher of relatively  low value.  In fact, a few pitchers in this category, like Javier Vazquez himself (for whom this category is named) will provide a reasonable amount of value per draft position.

In general, these are pitchers you will need to draft to round out your rotation who are either improving or are declining, but who either aren’t a complete waste of roster space, or haven’t yet proven themselves to be rated consistently higher than this category allows.  A few may improve over the course of the season to be rated as Near Studs, or perhaps even as Studs, going into next season.  But they still have a lot to prove.

1) Javier Vazquez  –  So let’s start with Javier himself.  I wrote an entire blog post about Javier entitled “A Tale of Two Pitchers.”  Javier enjoyed his finest season last year, at age 33, pitching for the Braves.  In another season, with a bit less competition, he might have won himself a Cy Young award.  So why rate him as an Average Himself?  Because although he has always had excellent control and a nice strikeout rate, his win totals and even, in several years, his ERA, seldom quite seem to match his peripheral numbers.  In other words, outside of a couple of seasons, he has never been much more, when all is said and done, than an average pitcher.  This has been especially true when he has pitched in the A.L., as he will again this season.  So draft him as a #3, and you will probably be content with his final numbers.

2)  Aroldis Chapman –  The Reds signed this Cuban defector to a six-year deal in January.  His birth-date is either 2/28/88, or 9/11/87, depending on which web-site you choose to believe.  But for all we know, he was born on 5/29/81, so he is either very young, or already over-the-hill.  He allegedly hit 102 MPH on the Radar Gun.  And he can perform open-heart surgery with nothing but a spoon.  Or something.  Anyway, know one has any idea what the Reds are going to get for their money, least of all, the Reds.  But it should be fun watching.  He may be an Ace, a Near Ace, Just Another Javier, or Cannon Fodder.  So I will allow him to settle into category #3, for now.

3) Scott Baker –  Here’s a guy we know much more about.  Baker is 28-years old, made 33 starts last year, and tossed 200 innings for the Twins.  His ERA was 4.37, which may not seem all that impressive until you remember that it was well over 7.00 at the end of May.  Which means, of course, he pitched excellent baseball over most of the final four months of last season.  Oh, yeah, and his WHIP was a very nice 1.19.  And now he will pitch his home games in what will probably be a park friendlier to pitchers.  There’s a lot to like here, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on calling him a Near Ace just yet.

4)  Roy Oswalt –  It saddens me to rate Oswalt in this category, because I think he had a chance to be a Hall-of-Famer.  But a declining strikeout rate, pitching for a bad team, and last year’s poor performance lead me to believe that, at age 32, his best days are behind him.

5)  A.J. Burnett –  Guess which three pitchers have the most second-half strikeouts over the past four years:  Sabathia, Javier Vazquez, and A.J. Burnett, all now pitching for the Yanks.  This was a very astute move by Brian Cashman to stack his rotation with guys who can get K’s during crunch time.  It also reflects his understanding that his Yanks team is usually below average defensively, something strike0ut pitchers don’t have to worry about.

But enough of Brian Cashman.  How about A.J. Burnett?  Well, Burnett, like Vazquez, will once again put up some nice strike0ut numbers, but unlike Vazquez, he will walk too many batters (97 last season) have a higher WHIP, and quite possibly get injured, to boot.  Burnett has occasional flashes of brilliance, but there is generally less than meets the eye here.  At age 33, he is good, but not great, and we have already seen his best.

6)  John Lackey –  If healthy (he has started each of the past two seasons on the D.L.), Lackey is a very solid #3 starter.  Now 31-years old, he has a significant amount of wear-and-tear on his right arm, but pitching for the Red Sox should continue to allow him to be a successful pitcher.  Expect 14-15 wins, about 190-200 innings pitched, and an ERA around 3.75.

7)  Ted Lilly –  Has been underrated for a few years now.  But at age 34, and coming off of shoulder surgery a few months ago, he is far from a sure thing.  Still, last season he demonstrated the best control of his career and recorded a very nice WHIP of 1.06.  Watch him carefully in Spring Training, and stay on top of the medical reports.

8)  Brett Anderson –  Unlike Lilly and Lackey, Anderson in very young (22).  His second half last season, during his rookie campaign, was very impressive.  But he is bound to go through some growing pains, still has a lot to learn, and pitches on a team that will give him little run support.  Also, he is not a huge strikeout pitcher.  Temper your enthusiasm with caution here.

9) Edwin Jackson –  I don’t enjoy writing this because I like this young pitcher, but I think he will be a bust this season.  He was over-worked in Detroit, and his second half numbers declined significantly compared to the first-half.  Now he will pitch in Arizona, one of the best hitter’s parks in the N.L.  Let someone else take the chance.

10)  Max Scherzer –  The pitcher Detroit received from Arizona in a swap of two young arms.  Scherzer, unlike Jackson, could enjoy his best season yet.  Even though he now has to face a DH instead of a pitcher, his high strikeout rate and relatively weak competition in the A.L. Central should allow him to enjoy a pretty successful season, if he improves his command of the strike zone.

11)  Chad Billingsley – By now, I should have been able to rate Billingsley as a Near Ace, but Manager Torre decided to conduct an experiment in human anatomy by allowing Billingsley to throw more pitches than anyone else in the known universe in the first half of last season.  After that, this young man’s arm was toast; you could see him physically laboring with every pitch through the late summer.  Maybe he’ll bounce back.  If he does, he’ll move up a notch on this rating scale.

12)  Wandy Rodriguez –  Guess how old he is?  Did you say somewhere in the 27-29 range.  Nope, he’s already 31-years old.  One fantasy baseball magazine claims the best is yet to come.  Nope, he’s as good as he’s ever going to get, and, on a bad Astros team, he might not be quite as good this coming season, considering he enjoyed almost all of his success at home last year.  A good pitcher, but not a blossoming Near Ace.

13)  Ben Sheets –  If truly healthy, which is what the A’s are banking on (at least until the All-Star break) he is actually a Near Ace, perhaps even an Ace.  But he didn’t throw a single pitch in anger (I love that phrase) last season, and, pitching for the A’s, he has his work cut out for him if he is to enjoy a successful season.  Take a late-round flier on him, and it could pay off.

14)  Kevin Millwood –  If nothing else, extremely durable.  Now in Baltimore, he enjoyed a fairly successful season last year with a 3.67 ERA in just under 200 innings while pitching his home games in a great hitter’s park.  But Millwood is now 35 and will be pitching in the toughest division in baseball, the A.L. East.  His K rate dipped to a career low last year.  Next year, he will rate as Cannon Fodder.  Steer clear.

15)  Francisco Liriano –  Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

16)  Scott Kazmir –  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, because he may already be washed up at the age of 26 (!)  In a curious way, Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach who allegedly convinced the Mets to trade Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, may have been right about Kazmir.  He didn’t think this guy’s arm would hold up for long, and it hasn’t.  That’s not to say that the Mets received any value in return, but at least Kazmir hasn’t won a Cy Young.

17)  The White Sox Pitching Staff (minus Peavey) – Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd are the Wonder Bread of the American League.  They all pitch to contact, they all keep their walk totals under control, they are not big-time strikeout pitchers, and none of them will ever win a Cy Young award.  Buehrle is the de facto ace, despite his 105 strikeouts last season, but Danks may have the most upward potential, a relative term, given his staff competition.

20)  Jorge De La Rosa –  Not a kid at 28-years old, but I want him on my team.  He averaged over a strike0ut per inning, and he has pitched very well in the second half each of the past two seasons.  If he starts out well this season, he could have a very nice year, and may end up as a Near Ace.

21)  Carlos Zambrano –  Although he is still just 28-years old, he has logged a huge workload on his right arm over the past several seasons.  Durability is now his primary issue.  If he can make 32 starts, he is still a quality pitcher, although he still walks too many batters.

22)  Brandon Webb – Up until Spring Training of last season, he was the most durable pitcher in baseball.  So, naturally, his arm breaks down.  Now, only time will tell what he is still capable of doing on the pitcher’s mound.

23)  Matt Latos –  I like this kid.  He can strike batters out, and he will pitch his home games in the best pitcher’s park in baseball.  Should produce nice value in about 20 starts this season.  Just don’t expect many wins.

24)  Joe Blanton –  Just signed a nice (for him) contract with the Phillies.  A dependable #3 starter with no upside.

25)  Randy Wolf – Ended up being the Dodgers ace last season, and now calls Milwaukee home.  At age 33, could be a bust for the Brew-Crew this year.  Miller Park will not be nearly as forgiving as Chavez Ravine was to his fly-balls.  No chance of matching last year’s 1.10 WHIP, or his .227 Batting Average Against.

26)  Ervin Santana – Was a Near Ace going into last season, but now is a borderline Average Javier.  Unimpressive strikeout rate following elbow surgery does not bode well for his future.  Still just 27, however, and pitched pretty well in 2nd half of last season.  Watch him in Spring Training.

27)  James Shields –  A once promising young pitcher, he is now nearly in Cannon Fodder territory due to a declining strikeout rate.  Look, you just aren’t going to finesse the A.L. East.  Three straight seasons of 215+ innings may have taken its toll.

28)  Jair Jurrjens –  Where do the Braves find these guys?  This 24-year old had an outstanding 2.60 ERA last season in only his second full year.  Not much of a strikeout pitcher, Jurrjens will have to continue having some luck with balls-in-play, and will need to continue to limit his walks to be successful.  Look for a little regression, but he won’t be a bust.

29)  Scott Feldman –  Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

30)  Dice-K – Pitched only 59 innings last season, and looked terrible while doing so.  But, at age 29, he has enjoyed significant success in his brief Major League career, and pitching for the Sox, if he is fully healthy, he should be at least a league-average pitcher, capable of winning 14-15 games.

31)  Rick Porcello – So young (21) should really still be pitching in Triple A, not because he isn’t talented but because the Tigers may do to him what they did to an also very young Jeremy Bonderman.  Porcello achieved surprising success last year, but a very low strikeout rate doesn’t bode well for him a second time around the league.  If you draft him based on last year’s 14-9 record, you will probably end up disappointed.

32)  Andy Pettitte – Is now a league-average pitcher, except in the play-offs, of course.  Now 38-years old, this (say it with me) crafty lefty should still win 12-14 games.

33)  Bronson Arroyo –  Has somehow managed to win 15 games each of the past two years, despite perfectly ordinary stuff.  His ERA after the All-Star break last year was 2.24, which is, of course, very strange.  His low K totals should be a red flag for prospective owners.

Cannon Fodder: Here they are folks.  Draft at your own extreme risk, or better yet, don’t draft them at all.

1)  Joel Pineiro –  No, it won’t happen again this season.  Just forget it.

2)  Jon Garland – Innings eater, nothing else.

3)  Derek Lowe – Just another aging veteran

4)  Mike Pelfrey –  Hey Mets fans.  No, he doesn’t have potential, unless you mean potential to get shelled.

5)  Gil Meche – Had a bit of a decent run back in April.

6)  Kevin Correia –  Who?

7)  Kyle Lohse – Nothing to see; keep moving.

8)  Brad Penny – Should be good for about eight wins.

9)  Glen Perkins – Gave up 120 hits in just 96 innings.

10)  Clayton Richard – Terrible Walks / Strikeouts ratio.  Home park may mask how bad he is.

11)  Ian Snell – Looked promising a couple of years ago, but has been dreadful past two seasons.

12)  Andy Sonnanstine –  Batters hit .311 against him.

13)  Chien-Ming Wang –  Lucky to have won 19 games in ’07.  At age 30, he is probably all but finished.  All peripheral numbers are poor.

14)  Jeff Suppan –  Yup, he’s still around.  League hit .309 against him in ’09.

15)  Brian Moehler –  Has a chance to lose 18 games if he gets enough starts.

16)  Jeff Niemann – Maybe not quite cannon fodder, but a low strikeout pitcher toiling in the A.L. East just isn’t going to find much long-term success.

17)  Brett Myers –  Year after year, he is a “dark-horse” or a sleeper.  Don’t bite.

18)  The Mets Pitching Staff (Other than Santana) –  They should collectively be known as the Wrecking Balls because of what they will do to the staff ERA.

19)  The Blue Jays Pitching Staff (With the possible exception of Ricky Romero) –  But even Romero posted a 1.52 WHIP.  See Above:  Mets.

20)  Ross Ohlendorf –  Has slight potential to climb up to Average Javier status, but not much.

21)  Carl Pavano – His comeback last year featured 235 hits surrendered in 199 innings (how did he last that many innings?)  ERA: 5.10.

22)  Justin Masterson –  Lots of people like him and hope he does well in Cleveland, but he is much better suited for bull-pen work.

23)  Manny Parra – 6.36 ERA last year.

24)  Micah Owings – Not a good one.

25)  John Lannan –  Has the occasional good outing, but 89 strikeouts in over 200 innings pitched is horrible (and he walked 68.)

26)  Kenshin Kawakami –  Undeserving of a place in the Braves rotation.

27)  Johnny Cueto – Has perhaps the greatest ability to move up a notch out of Cannon Fodder due to his youth (24) and his decent talent.  But has had two seasons in a row of ERA’s north of 4.00, and some arm problems.

28)  Doug Davis – A control, finesse lefty who walked 103 batters, and added 203 hits, in 203 innings.  Wow.

29)  Fausto Carmona –  The Indians may have the worst pitching in the A.L., and that’s saying a lot.

30)  Jose Contreras –  Approaching 40-years old, finished 6-13 last year.

31)  Aaron Cook – Somehow hasn’t been shelled all that often over the past few years.  Even managed 16 wins in ’08.  But hasn’t reached 100 strikeouts over the past three seasons, and that WHIP is steadily climbing.

32)  Zach Duke – The Pirates somehow end up with young pitchers who can’t strike anyone out.  Why is that?  Anyway, Duke has shown us his best stuff over the past few years, and his best stuff has resulted in 230 safe hits given up each of the past two seasons.

33)  Aaron Harang – Used to be underrated.  Not any longer.

34)  Nick Blackburn –  Gave up an astonishing 240 hits in ‘o9.

35)  Chad Gaudin –  Three straight seasons of ERA’s over 4.40.

I’m sure you will be able to think of other names I missed, but they aren’t going to make much difference one way or the other, are they?

Here’s a final list of pitchers that I didn’t list in any of the above categories because they just haven’t pitched enough for me the really get a handle on what they are capable of this year and on into the future.  A few of them may become Studs, or Near Studs, and the rest will be mid or back of the rotation kind of guys.  It might be another 3-5 years before we know for sure.  I’ll just list their names without comment:

1)  Clay Buchholz

2)  Chris Tillman

3)  Brian Matusz

4)  Trevor Cahill

5)  Wade Davis

6)  David Price

7)  Ryan Rowland-Smith

8)  Stephen Strasburg

9)  Madison Bumgarner

10)  Ricky Romero

As for Brandon Webb, we’ll just have to wait and see what he has on display this spring.  Obviously, he should be approached with extreme caution.

Finally, a word about Relief Pitchers / Closers. There are only three or four you can count on:  Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jon Papelbon, and Jon Broxton.  If you pay attention, you can get a good closer in the middle or even the later rounds.  I never draft a closer before the 8th round in my A.L. / N.L. mixed head-to-head, ten team points league.

This marks the end of my four-part series on Fantasy Baseball – 2010.  If you have any comments about my player rankings, or any of my other posts on this topic, please let me know. 

Future Posts: Under the Radar:  Part 3.

Then a commentary on Bud Selig’s new statue to himself.

After that, we shall see.  Thanks again for reading.

Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide: The Hitters

This is the third of four installments of my Fantasy Baseball Preview. I’ve already discussed at length my Rules for a Successful Fantasy Baseball Season, as well as my Fantasy Baseball Strategies and Tips  in my two prior posts.  In this third post on the subject, I will submit my player ratings for position players.

Players in bold print are sleepers that I believe should be aggressively targeted.  Players listed in italics are potential bust candidates.   Where I believe it to be useful, I will explain my reasoning for a particular player’s  rating with some degree of detailed analysis.

For the sake of brevity, and because most leagues appear to use a mixed league approach to Fantasy Baseball, I will list players from each league together, position by position.  If you play in an N.L. only or A.L. only format, obviously you can simply focus on the players in your preferred league as you scan the list.

A final note, my ratings are weighted less on what a player has already accomplished than on what he can, and I believe quite likely will, accomplish in 2010.  Therefore, some of my ratings may seem overly optimistic to some, and unreasonably harsh to others.  So be it.  I’m trying to win this year, not last year.  How about you?

Position Players:

First Base:  Deepest Position in the Major Leagues

1) Albert Pujols – Do we really understand what we are witnessing with this future Hall of Famer?  He is already one of the top dozen players of all time.  He will be the first player drafted in virtually every fantasy league.

2) Miguel Cabrera – According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

3) Ryan Howard – Just can’t ignore those homers and RBI’s.

4) Prince Fielder – Better average, fewer K’s, than Howard.  Turns 26 in May.

5) Mark Teixeira – Yanks line-up is still loaded.  Professional switch-hitter.  Enjoys hitting at the new Yankee Stadium.  First Round caliber pick.

6) Adrian Gonzalez –  Once he gets out of San Diego, his stock will rise.

7)  Mark Reynolds – Big strikeout totals scare people off, but qualifies at two positions, and is still learning his craft at 26 years of age.  Also offers good speed.

8)  Joey Votto – Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

9) Pablo Sandoval – Hits any pitch anywhere.  Kung Fu Panda is 23 years old and qualifies at two positions.  Downside:  Terrible supporting cast, pitcher’s park, and no speed.

10)  Kevin Youkilis –  Now at the peak of his value, much more valuable as a third baseman.  Still, gets on base, hits for solid power, and has been consistent.  Home park helps.

11)  Justin Morneau – Coming off of both wrist and back surgeries, and moving into a new park that may be less hitter friendly than the Metrodome.  Most of his value is tied up in his RBI’s.

12)  Adam Dunn – Remarkably consistent hitter.  A poor man’s Ralph Kiner.  Power, walks, runs scored, lots of strikeouts, no speed.  Still qualifies in OF.  In his contract year.

13)  Kendry Morales –  Call me a skeptic, but I want to see him do it again before I jump on this bandwagon.  Late bloomer failed to score 90 runs in breakout season.  Don’t reach too soon.

14)  Billy Butler – This 23-year old may never hit lots of homers, but he’s a pure hitter who finished strong last season.  You could do much worse.

15)  Lance Berkman – A 34-year old trapped in the body of an unhealthy 38-year old marshmallow.  Can still hit and draw some walks, but past his prime.

16)  Derrek Lee –  Seems like very nice guy.  If you’re still looking at him as your potential first baseman halfway through the draft, your strategy left a lot to be desired.

17)  Paul Konerko – Deserves to be listed side-by-side with his north-side compatriot, Derrek Lee.  Konerko doesn’t embarrass himself, plays in a nice hitter’s park, and is ready to take a nose-dive at age 34.  You don’t need him.

18)  Todd Helton –  You get batting average and on-base percentage, that’s it.

19) Carlos Pena – The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

20)  James Loney – Has somehow managed 90 RBI’s each of the past two seasons, showing how over-rated that stat really is.  Still just 25 years old, may someday reach twenty home runs, but plays in a pitcher’s park.

21)  Adam LaRoche – Now hitting in the middle of the lineup in Arizona, a nice hitter’s park, LaRoche could put up some surprising numbers this season, perhaps 90-100 RBI’s and a solid OPS.  Keep an eye on this situation.

There are other first basemen, of course, but no one that should greatly interest you.  Victor Martinez of the Red Sox, primarily a catcher, also qualifies at first base, but a wise fantasy manager will only use him there in an emergency.

Carlos Delgado, still unsigned, was last seen hobbling around a first base bag in the Winter League.  Chris Davis of Texas may be, despite an obscene strikeout rate, on the verge of a modest break-out season.

Second Base:  No Reason to Panic

1)  Chase UtleyAside from the fact that he is fabulous hitter in a great hitter’s park, he stole 23 bases in 23 attempts last season.  Solid first round pick.

2)  Ian Kinsler –  Somehow, this guy worries me.  He constantly gets himself injured, and his batting average, considering the nice hitter’s park he finds himself in, is unimpressive, as is his on-base percentage.  Still, this 27-year old enjoyed a 3o-30-30 season last year (Homers, Steals, and Doubles.)  Not as solid as Utley, but offers lots of offensive ability.

3)  Dustin Pedroia  –  This 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

4)  Aaron Hill –  Excellent run producer, but at age 28, let’s see him do it again.  Few walks, not much speed, and homer total way above anything he’s done before.  Still, easily a top five second baseman.

5)  Robinson Cano – This 27-year old should finish with the following numbers:  19 homers, 80 RBI’s, 187 hits, 90 runs, 4 steals, and few walks.  An aggressive young hitter who finished strong, but may already be nearing his ceiling.

6)  Brandon Phillips –  Ranks ahead of Brian Roberts primarily because he is four years younger, and offers a stronger power / speed combo.  Drives in runs, too.

7)  Brian Roberts –  Hits huge amounts of doubles, scores runs and steals bases.  He won’t disappoint you, but at age 32, he offers no upside, either.

8)  Ben Zobrist – Came out of nowhere last season.  Although he is a late-bloomer at age 28, his numbers may be for real, as evidenced by his 90+ walks, and has slugged over .500 two seasons in a row.  Qualifies at OF, too.

9)  Dan Uggla – Homers and RBI’s; next to nothing else.  May already be in decline phase at age 30.

10)  Jose Lopez – Kind of a strange, young 26-year old hitter.  Hits far better away from Safeco.  Knows how to drive in runs, but can’t score them.  Doesn’t steal bases, and practically never walks.  Yet may still offer good value.

11)  Asdrubal Cabrera –  This 24-year old qualifies at both second and short.  He can steal a base, score a run, and get a couple of hits.  Some upside, but not spectacular, and very little power.

12)  Martin Prado –  This 26-year finally seems to have won the second base job to himself in Atlanta.  Lots of doubles in a part-time role last season portend respectable power numbers to come, along with a .300 batting average.  Qualifies at three positions: first, second, and third base.

13)  Howie Kendrick – Now 26-years old, has been trying to land a starting job with the Angels for three years.  It appears he now has one.  Not a lot of speed or power, but should score some runs if he hits near the top of the order.

14)  Casey McGehee – Had a nice showing with the Brewers last season, and is now considered a sleeper in lots of Fantasy mags.  Don’t buy the hype.  There’s a reason he didn’t make it to the majors until he was almost 27 years old.

15)  Rickie Weeks –  Seems like we’ve been hearing how he is a can’t miss future star for about half a dozen years now.  Turns 27 this season.  Injured his wrist last year, 4th year in a row curtailed by injury.  Stay away!

There are actually quite a few nice options at second base, especially in the A.L.  If you play in an N.L. only league, Utley is worth his weight in gold.

Shortstop:  Now, it’s Time To Panic

1)  Hanley Ramirez – The second-best player in the major leagues.  Some owners were disappointed with his performance last season despite a .342, .410, .543 line.  Still only 26 years old.  Biggest power numbers are ahead of him.

2)  Troy Tulowitzki – Two of his three seasons have been outstanding, and he’s just 25.  Calls Coors Field home.  Hits for power, average, and has speed.  I’ll take him at the end of the first round, if he’s still available.

3)  Jose Reyes –  Do you feel lucky, punk?  Well, do ya?  Watch his wheels in Spring Training.  Don’t automatically assume a full recovery. But age (26) is on his side.

4)  Jimmy Rollins –  Should have played in the ’70’s, and that’s a compliment.  Still, he sported a shockingly low .296 on-base average last season.  You read that right.  But offers 20 homers and 30 steals at a week position.  Just beginning his decline phase, but isn’t all through yet.

5)  Derek Jeter –  First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

6)  Jason Bartlett –  A case can be made that he should rate higher on this list, but a break-out season at age 30 should temper one’s enthusiasm.  Although some regression should be expected (he won’t hit .320 again), he is a useful option.

7)  Yunel Escobar – Spends a lot of time in Bobby Cox’s doghouse, but hits quite effectively when he plays.  Walks almost as often as he strikes out, and is entering his age 27 season.  Could see 80 RBI’s and 90 runs scored this year.

8)  Stephen Drew –  Will always be as maddening to own as his brother, J.D.  At times, he will hit like an MVP candidate.  At other times, he will be the ghost of Rey Ordonez.  Basically hits well at home vs. right-handed pitching.  His career is at a cross-roads this, his age 27 season.

9)  Asdrubal Cabrera –  See Second Base Ratings for details

10)  Alcides Escobar – Played well enough to take job away from J.J. Hardy. Should continue to play well enough to keep it, but has no power.

11)  Rafael Furcal –  At age 32, won’t see 600 at bats again as he did last year.  The player Jose Reyes most fears becoming.

12)  Miguel Tejada –  Astros will be terrible this season, and he might be, too.  Gotta love those 19 walks, five steals, and 14 homers.  36-years OLD.

13)  Alexei Ramirez –  This 28-year old disappointed many of his owners who expected too much out of him last season.  Offers a complete package of mediocrity.

14)  Ryan Theriot –  Brett Butler without the power.  Just kidding, he actually slugged seven last season, one for every fan who enjoyed owning him.

15)  Fill in the blank –  It just gets uglier and uglier from here, folks.  Don’t do this to yourself.

Shortstop is chock full of potential pitfalls including age (Jeter, Furcal, Tejada and perhaps Rollins), injury (Reyes and Furcal, again) , and inconsistency (Drew, A. Ramirez, and maybe Bartlett.)  At least three or four owners will be sorely disappointed with the end results by their choices at this position.  Proceed with extreme caution.

Third Base:  Where We Can All Live Happily Ever After

1)  Evan Longoria –  Has the potential to lead the A.L. in homers and RBI’s.  Potential MVP candidate.  Hit a few rough patches last season, which just might make him available to fall into your lap.  Count your blessings.  This 24-year old is just getting started.  A decent bet to hit 500 homers in his career.

2)  A-Rod – Your were expecting, perhaps, David Wright?  The Human Soap Opera missed April recovering from hip surgery, but looked damn good in his return.  This 34-year old will be a big run producer once again, but his days as a base-stealer are nearing an end.

3)  Mark Reynolds – Is Adam Dunn with fewer walks and more steals.  See First Base Ratings for further comments.

4)  Ryan Zimmerman – May be the best overall third baseman in the N.L.  Nice power surge last season at age 24.  Will hit for power and average, but won’t steal many bases.

5) David Wright –  What a difference a year makes.  Exhibit A that there are no sure things in baseball.  Last season, he was among the first five players taken overall in most drafts.  Now he is just a top-five third baseman.  Has more to prove than perhaps any other player in the majors this year.  Will be interesting to see in which round he is drafted.

6)  Pablo Sandoval –  See First Base ratings.  Has more value at third base.

7)  Kevin Youkilis –  Yet another 1B / 3B qualifier.  See First Base ratings.

8)  Aramis Ramirez –  It’s a deep position that offers a guy who can hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs as only its 8th best player.

9)  Michael Young –  Power surge last season masks a player who, at age 33, is at the beginning of a slow decline.  But may still offer plenty of value as a mid-round pick.

10)  Gordon Beckham – ChiSox are apparently going to try to convert him into a second-baseman this season, which isn’t as much of a slam-dunk as it may seem.  Has huge potential as a power-hitting run producer, though.  Could be on his way to a string of some very fine seasons.  This 23-year old no longer qualifies at shortstop, as he did last season.

11)  Chone Figgins –  One of Seattle’s aggressive off-season acquisitions.  The Angels will realize how much they miss him this year.  But at age 32, isn’t going to get any better.  Still, he offers, hits, runs scored and steals.  Not your classic third baseman, but after him, this position begins to go downhill fast.

12)  Martin Prado –  See Second Base Ratings

13)  Jorge Cantu –  A definite bust candidate.  A classic example of what to expect from a player who bursts into the majors relatively late (age 27) with a big season.  Last season’s owners were disappointed.  This season’s owners will have only themselves to blame.

14)  Chipper Jones – At this point, listing him at all is as much a sentimental choice as a practical one.  You know he’ll get hurt again (and again.)  What we don’t quite know yet is if he’s about done as a hitter.  Do you really want to find out?

15)  Adrian Beltre –  Leaving an excellent pitcher’s park for an excellent hitter’s park, and having more support around him in the lineup may result in a modest resurgence of his career.  But eight homers, 44 RBI’s and 19 walks last season in over 450 at bats means he is far from a sure thing to produce solid, credible numbers.  Have a back-up plan.

16)  Casey Blake – Dodgers third baseman

17)  Mark DeRosa – Giants big off-season acquisition will ensure that Matt Cain still won’t get much run support from his offense.

There are, of course, other players I could list at this position, but I would take no pleasure away from such a task, so let’s leave it at that.  I do like this group of third basemen more than I have in years.  Most Fantasy owners should do pretty well at this position, providing their pick fits into some kind of coherent, overall plan.

Catcher:  Draft Early, or Draft Late

1)  Joe Mauer – Has already won three batting titles, as many as all other A.L. catchers in history have won combined.  His power finally showed up last season, too.  Given his edge over other catchers, a definite first round pick.

2)  Victor Martinez – You have to love the fact that the Red Sox will let him stay fresh by allowing him to play first base on a semi-regular basis.  A pure hitter who hit extremely well in his limited stint at Fenway last season.  Will be gone by middle of third round, perhaps sooner.

3)  Brian McCann – This 26-year old is already an established veteran of four MLB seasons.  Should continue to hit for power with a decent average, and has been durable.  No downside, except for, of course, the fact that he’s a catcher.

4)  Jorge Posada –  At 38-years old, I was tempted to affix a “bust” designation on him, but his skills haven’t shown any obvious signs of erosion.  Still a very productive hitter at a weak position.  Just keep his age in mind, and don’t draft too early; someone will.

5)  Miguel Montero –  Kurt Suzuki put up similar numbers last season, but Montero plays in a better hitter’s park, and his OPS was nearly a hundred points higher than Suzuki’s.  Montero will move up a notch or two in these rankings by season’s end.

6)  Kurt Suzuki –  He is just 26-year’s old, and has already had an 80 RBI season as a catcher.  But a surprisingly low OPS indicates there is some cause for concern here.  Plays on a team with no offense in a good pitcher’s park.  You will have to draft him a little too high for mediocre production.  Let someone else take a chance on him.

7)  Matt Wieters – I have him rated a little higher than most others because I would rather take a chance on his excellent upside, at a lower position in the Fantasy draft, than take an inferior talent higher simply based on last year’s numbers.  An obvious future All-Star.

8)  Russell Martin –  Some of that power has to come back, right?  He is still just 27-years old, and may experience a bit of a Renaissance this season.  Still a top-ten catcher, overall, with possibility of moving up a couple of notches.

9)  Ryan Doumit – Now you are entering dangerous territory.  If you haven’t drafted a catcher in a mixed league by now, you might as well wait until the mid-to-late rounds.  Doumit had a lost season, but deserves to start for someone.

10)  Mike Napoli – With departure of Figgins and Vladdy, more may be expected of players like Napoli to step up their game a notch.  At age 28, he may be ready to do so.  Playing time is all that prevents him from being rated higher on this list.

11)  Geovany Soto –  Could he really be as bad as he showed last season?  Could he really be as good as he showed in ’08?  We’ll see.

12)  Yadier Molina –  Lots of people seem to prefer his older brother, Benjie, because of those gaudy 20 homers.  Big deal.  Yadier is, by far, the better hitter, recording more walks than strikeouts, hitting for a solid average, and even stealing more bases.  Also, Yadier is only 27-years old with room to improve his numbers; Benjie is 35 and has clearly seen his best days.

12)  Benjie Molina –  The overrated of the Molina brothers.  See above.

13)  Chris Iannetta – Still just 26-years old, but how do you hit .228 for the season when you play half your games in Colorado?

14)  A.J. Pierzynski – .300 batting average masks little run-producing ability.  Now 33-years old, holds no interest for me.

This is where I get off the bus.  Take a look, if you desire, at all the kids on the Rangers.  One of them might eventually pan out.  And I guess there are worse catchers than John Baker, too.  But the rule of thumb here is, either use an early pick and draft a quality catcher, or just let the position slide to the mid-to-late rounds.  Guys will be available much later than you think.

Outfield – Where Hall-of-Famers Used to Play

1)  Ryan Braun – Should be the obvious choice.  If not, you’re not really paying attention.

2)  Justin Upton – No, not Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, etc.  Upton is the next great super-star at this position, as early as this season.

3)  Matt Holiday – A full season hitting 3-4 with Albert Pujols?  Every hitter’s dream.  Conservatively, 30-100-100-.300.

4)  Matt Kemp – Fantastic combo of power and speed, but hampered a bit playing half his games in Chavez Ravine.  Also has to hit regularly in PetCo and San Fran.  Still, easily worth a second round pick.

5)  Carl Crawford –  His first half last season was fantastic; his second half was below average.  Playing on the turf definitely takes its toll.  But at age 28, and in his contract year, he will be extra-motivated for that big pay-day.

6) Jacoby Ellsbury –  Entering his fourth season at age 26, look for him to turn his whole game up a notch.  He might not steal 70 again, but we haven’t seen his best total season yet.

7)  Grady Sizemore –  Rated this highly because of what he is capable of doing, if healthy.  At age 27, he is capable of enjoying his finest all-around season, even hitting in a weak line-up.

8)  Jason Bay – Mets overpaid, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive enough to serve as your #2 OF.  Just don’t go drafting him as your #1.

9)  Adam Jones –  Played extremely well the first couple of months of last season, then tailed off badly at the end.  But he is very talented, very young (24) and is part of a reviving franchise in Baltimore.  Stay-tuned.

10)  Nick Markakis –  Some of the luster may have worn off after a mediocre season last year.  But, still just 26-years old with three years experience under his belt, the best is yet to come.

11)  Andre Ethier –  Solid young power hitter.

12)  Adam Lind –  Broke out in a big way last season.  Look for a small overall decline in his numbers, but at age 26, he was not a complete fluke.

13)  Jayson Werth –  At age 30, we witnessed the best he has to offer last season, which is plenty good.  As with Lind, a slight decline is in order, but doesn’t project to be a bust.

14)  Manny Ramirez – Even at age 37, plenty capable of hitting 30+ homers and driving in 100+ runs, along with the usual sulking, goofing, and other immature, irresponsible behaviors.  Your circus, if you want it.

15)  Curtis Granderson – Inconsistent as hell last season, but multi-talented and still (29) young enough to have one of his best seasons.  Has power and speed, and will benefit from hitting in Yankee lineup in better hitter’s park.

16)  Bobby Abreu –  Just doesn’t seem to age, yet it has to happen some year.  Look for his steals to finally decline this year, but OBP should remain strong.  Draft as a borderline #2-#3 OF in mixed leagues.

17)  Hunter Pence –  The learning curve for Pence has been long, and a little slower than anticipated, but at age 27, he could be in line for his best all around season.  Too bad it’ll happen on one of the worst teams in the league.

18)  Andrew McCutchen –  This youngster is the real deal.  Future all-star may hit a few rough patches here and there, but stick with him and watch him finish as a top 20, perhaps a top 15, OF.

19)  Adam Dunn –  As unlikely as it seems, still qualifies at OF.  Given the depth at first base, it would make sense to draft him and stick him in your OF and consider him your backup first baseman in injury situation.  What you see is what you get from this 30-year old.

20)  Carlos Gonzalez –  May be the most exciting young outfielder in the game, and that’s saying a lot, considering the competition.   Has power and speed, can hit for average, and plays half his games at Coors.  Gotta love it.

21) Ichiro –  What do you call a player who hits .352, with yet another 200 hit season?  A Hall-of-Famer, but a mediocre fantasy baseball asset.  Now 36 years old, Ichiro’s stolen base totals are in decline, he doesn’t walk, and all those hits produced a surprisingly low 88 runs last season.  At best, he will hold his own.

22)  Torii Hunter –  Pretty reliable 34-year old who may begin to show some decline in his skills this season.  Draft as a #3, and you should be fine.

23)  Nate McLouth – Had an off-year, but age 28, should provide solid value as a #3 OF.  May score 100 runs, and go 20 – 20 (homers / steals.)

24)  Josh Hamilton –  Demonstrated too much ability in ’08 to rate lower than this, but I wouldn’t look for a return to his  ’08 numbers.  Too much can go wrong here.

25)  Raul Ibanez –  This 37-year old should, perhaps, rate higher on this list, considering he set a career high in slugging percentage last season.  But I don’t believe in “new” careers beginning at age 37.  If  I’m wrong, so be it.

26)  Shane Victorino – An important part of a well-balanced Phillie offense.  Provides runs, steals, and a decent average.  Draft as a #3.

27)  Carlos Lee –  Clearly in decline.  Drops in slugging, on-base, and runs scored should scare you off those Home Run / RBI totals.  Less here than meets the eye.

28)  Johnny Damon –  Still unsigned as I type this blog post.  Apparently super-agent Scott Boras blew this one.  But Johnny still has some life in the old tank, and will probably get signed in a week or two.

29)  Shin-Soo Choo – Was perhaps the most consistent hitter on the Indians for much of last season.  May be underrated.  Solid #3, at least.

30)  Michael Bourn – 60 steals are hard to ignore.  But needs to draw more walks to take his game to the next level.

31)  Brad Hawpe – Started off well last season, but declined badly in second half.  Still, finished with an OPS over .900.  Could provide solid late-round value.

32) Alfonso Soriano –  Has the been the most overrated player in baseball for several years now.

33)  Mike Cuddyer –  Probably won’t match last season’s career year numbers of 32-94-.520 slugging.  At age 31, in a new ball-park, play it very conservative.

34)  Jay Bruce –  Has the power to hit 40 homers, but might also hit .235.  Odds are, this 23-year old will provide some quality weeks for some lucky owner, but there is a lot of risk here.

35)  Jeff Francoeur –  Barely deserves a job as an everyday major league OF.  Do not draft!

Remember when the Outfield was where you would routinely go to find your biggest bats?  Not all that long ago there was Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, a young Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey, Jr., etc.  Maybe we are simply in a transition year or two here, and Upton, Kemp, Sizemore, etc. will one day also be household (or at least Fantasy Baseball household) names.

I could add a small sub-category regarding DH’s.  But since you can use any hitter you choose as your DH, I don’t see why you need to thumb through a separate category here.  I will conclude by saying that I think that David Ortiz is nearing the end of the line in terms of Fantasy usefulness, but I know some loyal Red Sox fan will shout otherwise.  So be it.  It’s your team.  Do what you want with it.  But when big guys decline, they tend to go down faster than the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Next Blog Post:  Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide:  The Pitchers

Fantasy Baseball Part II: Strategies and Tips

So let’s get right to the point.  There are a number of ways to win a fantasy baseball championship. But there are infinitely more ways to lose.  In fantasy baseball, as in war, the side that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins.

Thus, putting together a successful fantasy baseball season is less about who makes the most creative, clever decisions.  It is primarily about minimizing risks, and seizing obvious opportunities when they present themselves.

As I stated in my last post, I’ve been involved in a fantasy baseball league since the early ’90’s.  No, this doesn’t make me an expert, and I certainly don’t pretend to have a monopoly on fantasy baseball wisdom.  I can only share my own experiences that have allowed me to enjoy my fair share of success, but also, an impressive record of futility.

The strategies and tactics I’m going to share with you occur to me from time-to-time, but I don’t follow each and every one of them religiously.  There have been, however,  some self-imposed rules that I once considered inviolable that I have since discarded.

For example, for many years, Rule #1 was Never Draft Rockies Pitchers.  The thin mountain air of Coors Field meant high ERA’s and generally low strikeout totals for pitchers unlucky enough to call Coors home.

This season, for the first time, there are at least two or three pitchers on the Rockies that I would be happy to own.  Perhaps at the end of this season, if none of those pitchers live up to expectations, I’ll reinstate my old rule number #1.

So here, without further preamble, are some of my guidelines for the 2010 fantasy baseball season:

1)  Never draft a pitcher in the first round. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think any starting pitchers are worth drafting with your #1 pick.  In fact, if I have the 9th overall pick in our ten team league, and Tim Lincecum is still on the board, he would be very difficult to pass up.  But the reality is, pitchers are seldom as reliable and predictable as hitters, and you cannot afford to make a mistake with your first choice.

2)  Beware of career years outside the norm. Do you really believe Marco Scutaro will score 100 runs again?  Do you really believe Raul Ibanez will set yet another career high in slugging percentage at age 37?  How much are you willing to bet that Mike Cuddyer will match the 32 homers and 94 RBI’s he tallied last year?  All of these players are past 30 years old.  Buyer, beware.

3)  Ignore win totals. There is no strategy that will get you into more trouble than looking at a pitcher’s win total from one season and using this total to project the following season’s numbers.  For example, in 1976, Jerry Koosman finished the season with a record of 21-10, and he was runner-up to Randy Jones for the N.L. Cy Young award.

Now, if anyone other than Bill James had been playing fantasy baseball in the Spring of ’77, they would have drafted Koosman, largely based on his win-loss record, in perhaps the second round.  So what happened in 1977?  Did Koosman pitch poorly and finish with a losing record?

Well, no, and yes.  He actually pitched quite well, leading the league with 7.6 K’s per nine innings.  But the Mets as a team were terrible in ’77, offering Koosman no support at all, and he finished with a remarkably terrible record of 8-20.

That’s right, he lost 20 games the year after he won 20 games while pitching only slightly less effectively himself.  Pitchers are simply never a sure thing (see Rule #1.)

So how does one go about choosing pitchers to draft?  It’s not that hard, actually, and I have found year after year that I can begin the season with a mediocre looking staff only to have other owners in my league jealously eye-balling my rotation by the All-Star break. This brings us to item #4.

4)  Draft pitchers with high strike-out rates and low WHIPs. Dominance in the form of high K rates eventually reveals itself on the ball-field in the form of wins.  This does not contradict what I stated about how win totals aren’t important.  But if you start with wins as your base-line to project success, as opposed to high K rates and low WHIPs, you are far more likely to end up disappointed with the end results.

Let me illustrate this strategy using two examples of starting pitchers who will be drafted this spring:  Matt Garza and Scott Feldman.  Feldman, a 27 year old pitcher for the Rangers, finished last season with a promising record of 17-8 with a reasonably good WHIP of 1.28.

Garza, on the other hand, a 26 year old hurler with the Twins, finished the season with an 8-12 record despite an even slightly better WHIP of 1.26.  Who would you rather have, the 17 game winner, or the 8 game winner?

If you chose Feldman, the bigger winner, good luck to you.

Here’s why.  Feldman managed to strike out only 113 batters in just under 190 innings last season.  Garza K’d 189 in 203 innings.  That’s 76 more K’s for Garza in only about 13 more innings.  Fewer K’s mean more balls in play.  More balls in play lead eventually to many more hits, opportunities for errors by the defense, and bigger innings by the opposing offense.

Strikeout pitchers with reasonably low walk totals get themselves out of many more jams, with less damage done, than contact pitchers.  There are just far more opportunities for dominance by a strikeout pitcher than for a contact pitcher, and far more opportunities to fail for a contact pitcher, who, in Feldman’s case, also happens to pitch in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball.  Which leads me directly to item #5

5)  Draft the Ball-Park: Look, obviously, when you are talking about great players such as Albert Pujols or a pitcher like Roy Halladay, ball-park factors are largely incidental.  Put them on any of the planets in our Solar System, and they’ll find ways to succeed.  But for many of the mere mortals out there, the ballpark they call home for 81 games during the season can make a big difference in the level of success they achieve.

In general, I like to find talented young hitters who have shown ability but still haven’t had the right opportunity, put them in a hitter’s park like Philadelphia or Texas, and you have a recipe for success.  Two players who, going into last season, fit that description exactly were Nelson Cruz of Texas and the Phillies Jayson Werth.

Neither player had previously enjoyed a full-time job with their clubs, but both men had shown solid slugging abilities in part-time or platoon stints.  Each of them blossomed into extremely valuable commodities last season as they took advantage of playing regularly in hitter-friendly parks to amass impressive numbers.  (You can look up their numbers on your own; no need to reprint them here.)

For pitchers, this strategy works just as well, but in reverse, of course.  Find young arms that have shown some talent, check to see if they pitch in pitcher-friendly ball-parks, and you will probably find a diamond in the rough (the still very young Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers comes to mind.)

TIP Alert! About a half dozen of the best pitcher’s parks in the country are in both league’s Western Divisions.

6)  Beware of catchers: Look, there’s a reason why Bill James in his book, “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” ranks Darrell Porter as the 18th best catcher of all time.  There just haven’t been all that many great catchers, folks.  Currently, Mike Napoli (yes, Mike Napoli) of the Angels is a top five A.L. catcher.  And Chris Iannetta of Colorado, along with his .228 batting average (in Colorado, or God’s sake?) is top ten in the N.L.

This past season, one participant in our league decided to try to corner the market on catchers, thus garnering for himself a clear competitive edge at one position.  He drafted Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, and Geovani Soto.  Soto had been named N.L. Rookie of the Year the season before with the Cubs, and Martin (Dodgers), seemed to be among the leaders of a class of solid young N.L. catchers

For those of you who followed baseball at all last season, you know Soto was a disaster, and Martin appears to be following along the career track of Jason Kendall, and empty singles hitter with a little speed.

So, needless to say, that strategy backfired.  And why shouldn’t it?  Again,  there have been fewer than fifteen great catchers in the entire history of major league baseball.

Therefore, if you don’t end up with a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Joe Mauer (a sure first-rounder) don’t panic.  There are worse fates in fantasy baseball than to end up with Yadier Molina as your starting catcher.

7)  Avoid aging players in their decline: This is especially true at deep positions like first base.  Someone will certainly draft either Lance Berkman, age 34, or Derrek Lee, age 35, over Joey Votto, age 26 due to reputation and resume.  But neither of the two veterans offer anything like the potential upside offered by Votto.

At best, Berkman and Lee will accomplish something close to what they usually offer in their average seasons.  Votto hasn’t had anything like his best season yet.

It is not a foolish gamble to bet on a player like Votto whose OPS is already extremely impressive, who plays in a good hitters park and who can only get better.

TIP AlertAvoid with extreme prejudice!

Other players / positions who fit the aging, yet still productive bill are:  Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Chipper Jones and Michael Young at third base, Benjie Molina (catcher), Raul Ibanez, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Vlad Guerrerro (OF) and the following pitchers:  Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle and closers, Francisco Cordero, Bobby Jenks, and Fernando Rodney.

8)  Beware of Over-Hyped Rookies: (Especially Pitchers) Anyone out there remember all the hype surrounding young PHEENOM David Price last season?  The next Dwight Gooden, and all that?  To be fair, most people probably drafted Price rather conservatively last season, but even those people were almost certainly extremely disappointed with his final season totals:  10-7, 4.42 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, only 128 innings pitched.

Generally speaking, it takes most young talents a couple of years or so before they really begin demonstrating their can’t-miss talent on a regular basis.  King Felix Hernandez had been hyped to the extreme for about three years before it all came together for him last season.

Sure, there are some rookies who jump right into the Big Leagues hitting line drives all over the place (Ryan Braun), or fanning ten batters in a game (Tim Lincecum)  and never look back.  But they are few and far between, and if you build a fantasy strategy based in part on acquiring as much rookie talent as you can, you are taking an unnecessary gamble.

TIP Alert! Neither Stephen Strasburg nor Madison Bumgarner will win the Cy Young Award this season.

And finally,

Strategy #9) Draft Power at the corners: Whenever I’ve had a successful fantasy baseball season, it’s often been in part because I’ve had legitimate sluggers at first and third base.  It’s not difficult at all to draft power at first base, and if you don’t, you’re sunk.  Third base can be a little more tricky sometimes because this position isn’t always as deep as it appears to be this season.

There are lots of good hitters at third base, but not necessarily a lot of big sluggers at this position.  One player I know everyone will be watching closely is the Mets star David Wright.  Last season he hit an unbelievably low ten home runs.  That’s Mark Teahen terrritory, folks.

Everyone expects Wright to rebound in 2010, perhaps doubling his homer total to twenty, or even twenty-five.  And, if he does hit 20-25 homers, lots of people will think they’ve landed a bargain if they draft Wright in the fourth or fifth round.

But think of it this way.  Evan Longoria, A-Rod, and Mark Reynolds are almost certain to hit about twice as many homers as Wright, even if Wright doubles last season’s total.  Are you willing to concede that much run production at such an important offensive position if you don’t have to?

Moreover, several other third basemen will hit about the same amount of homers as Wright, but will be drafted much lower.  Sure, Wright also brings stolen bases to the table, but I’ve never found in my league that stolen bases win championships.  Power does.  A three-run homer trumps a double-steal any day.

Now What?

Once Draft Day finally arrives, I’m quite sure that I will do what everyone else does, adjust to the circumstances of the draft.  And every draft is different.  Like a general on a battlefield, once the shooting starts, you might as well roll the battle-plans around a half dozen cigars and drop them on the battlefield, for all the good they’ll do you.

Still, a general without a plan is more likely to freeze up in a key moment, a potentially decisive situation, precisely because he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been beforehand.  I hope the tips and strategies I’ve shared with you will offer you some tactical advantage over your adversaries in your 2010 fantasy baseball season.

If you have questions or comments about the strategies and tips I’ve shared, or would like to share some of your own, by all means, please let me know.

Next blog post:  A.L. / N.L. Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide


One-Year Wonders

How does it happen?  How does a player suddenly, unexpectedly, break out and have a huge season? And how come after having enjoyed that break-out season, they revert the following season to being the player they had been before?

Baseball history is littered with these strange, inexplicable seasons.  They appear like shooting stars streaking across a Milky Way sky, then burn up in the atmosphere, leaving little trace that they ever existed.

Fortunately, in baseball we have statistics.  For baseball fans, statistics are the life-blood of the sport.  These magic numbers unveil our heroes; they unmask the pretenders.  And the numbers themselves change and become iconic, as the simple number nine changes when we use it in the context of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

The number 61 (minus the damned asterisk) still belongs to Roger Maris.  The number 73, by contrast, does not belong to Barry Bonds, a pretender to the throne.

Joe DiMaggio will forever be linked more closely to the number 56 than he will even to his famous ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

But some numbers carry far less gravitas, signifying nothing more than a lucky aligning of the cosmos for some fortunate player.

These players are, in effect, lucky lottery winners, finding themselves holding the correct set of random numbers, numbers that for them will always represent their crowning achievement as major league baseball players.

So here is a list of eight such one-year wonders for us to examine more closely.  These players do not fit any discernible pattern.  Some had their one big season early in their careers as young men, others, much later as veterans in their 30’s.

I decided to comprise my list from players who have been active within the past twenty years to emphasize how quickly these players can, and have, been largely forgotten.

Here, then, in no particular order, is my list.  The first set of numbers following each players name represents his greatest season.  The second number represents an average season (based on a hypothetical 162 games played.) The greater the difference between these two sets of numbers, the more atypical their one-year wonder season really was.

1)  Exhibit A (as Rod Serling of Twilight Zone used to say) in our gallery of one-year wonders is one Richard Hidalgo, an outfielder for the Astros by trade, swinging for the fences ever since his arrival in the major leagues in 1997 at the tender age of 22.  He showed promise early, hitting .306 over his first 62 at bats.

Suddenly, in the year 2000, at the age of 25, he emerged as the second coming of Jimmie Foxx.  Here’s his line for that outstanding season:

44 homers, 122 RBI’s, 118 Runs scored, .314 BA, .391 On-Base, .636 Slugging, 1.028 OPS, plus 13 stolen bases.

Here’s what an average season would have looked like for Hidalgo, based on his final career numbers:

28 homers, 92  RBI’s,  87 Runs,  .269 BA, .345 On-Base,  .490 Slugging, .835 OPS, 8 steals.

Although the power numbers don’t look that bad, you see a huge difference in each of his percentages and averages across the board.  Most stunning might be the nearly 150 point difference in slugging percentage, not to mention the overall huge difference in OPS.

By age 30 in the year 2005, Hidalgo was finished in major league baseball.

Now, without accompanying commentary, here are the rest of our One-Year Wonders:

2) Rich Aurilia – SS – Giants  Year:  2001

206 Hits, 114 Runs , 37 homers, 97 RBI’s, .324, .369, .572, .941

155 Hits, 73 Runs , 18 homers, 74 RBI’s, .275, .328, .433, .762

3) Todd Hundley – C – Mets Year:  1996

140 Hits, 85 Runs , 41 homers, 112 RBI’s, .259, .356, .550, .906

117 Hits, 65 Runs , 27 homers, 79 RBI’s, .234, .320, .443, .763

4) Brady Anderson – OF – Baltimore Year: 1996

172 Hits, 117 Runs, 50 homers, 110 RBI’s, .297, .396, .637, 1.034

147 Hits, 94 Runs , 19 homers, 67 RBI’s, .256, .362, .425. .787

5) Paul Lo Duca – C – Dodgers: 2001

25 homer, 90 RBI’s, .320 BA, .374 On Base, .543 Slugging, .917 OPS

12 homers, 72 RBI’s, .286 BA, .337 On Base, .409 Slugging, .746 OPS

6)  Omar Daal – SP – Arizona Year: 1999

Win / Loss: 16-9,  ERA: 3.65,  IP: 214,  K’s: 148,  WHIP: 1.24

Win/ Loss: 8-10,  ERA: 4.55,  IP: 147,  K’s: 99,  WHIP: 1.41

7) Jose Lima – SP – Houston Year:  1999

Win / Loss: 21-10,  ERA: 3.58,  IP: 246,  K’s: 187, WHIP: 1.218

Win / Loss: 10-12,  ERA: 5.26,  IP: 183,  K’s: 114,  WHIP: 1.388

8)  Pat Hentgen – SP – Toronto: 1996

Win / Loss: 20-10,  ERA: 3.22,  IP: 265,  K’s: 177,  WHIP: 1.250

Win / Loss: 14-12,  ERA: 4.32,  IP: 217,  K’s: 135,  WHIP: 1.391

The most common characteristic that distinguishes a career year from a typical year for several of the hitters is the noticeable difference in Slugging Percentage, and in OPS.

In general, although drops in batting average and on-base percentage were also apparent, those two stats weren’t as significantly out of line compared to what the player accomplished throughout his career.

For example, Paul Lo Duca’s on-base percentage in his career year was 37 points higher than it was in his “normal” season.  But his slugging percentage was 134 points greater than normal in ’01 compared to his average year.

For Brady Anderson, those two categories (on-base percentage vs. slugging percentage) disclose an even larger discrepancy.  His on-base differential was 34 points, while his slugging percentage differential was an astonishing 212 points.

This means that although Anderson was reaching base a similar amount of times in each season, including his career season, he slugged the ball in ’96 like he’d never done before, and never would again.

Todd Hundley (107 points) Rich Aurilia (134 points) and Richard Hidalgo (146 points) each follow the pattern of one-season, out-of-kilter slugging percentages.

So why does it happen?

Many people will immediately jump to the conclusion that these players must have used steroids during their big seasons.  But if they enjoyed so much success on steroids, then why use them for only one season?

One-time steroid use does not fit the M.O. of the typical player on steroids.  Players like McGwire, Manny Ramirez, A-Rod, and others used these performance enhancing drugs for significant periods of time, often over many seasons, even if not in every season.

But let’s take a look at the pitchers and see what kinds of trends reveal themselves between their One -Year Wonder seasons and the rest of their careers.

Two things are immediately evident:

First, the pitchers tended to have higher strikeout rates in their career years.

Second, the pitchers tended to allow fewer runners to reach base in their career years, thus a lower ERA and more victories.

Well, there is nothing terribly enlightening about those details.  The question is, why were the pitchers able to strike out more batters and allow fewer batters to reach base than they did in a “normal” season?

Again, steroids, although not beyond the realm of possibility, seem unlikely considering the pitchers’ career trajectories.

Strikeouts for pitchers, like doubles and homers for hitters, show a commanding dominance over the opposition that can be accounted for in several ways.

A)  Adjustments: Pitchers who dominate, like hitters who dominate, have made some sort of mechanical adjustment that gave them a slight, but significant edge, over their opposition, and their opposition took a year or two to catch up with this adjustment.

B)  Quality of Opposition: Every at bat, every pitch thrown, is a man-to-man battle between two athletes.  In some seasons, a baseball player comes up against relatively weaker, less talented foes, giving himself a victorious edge often enough that this edge begins to reveal itself in statistics.

C)  Health: Very few players ever play their entire careers at or near 100 percent health.  Being healthy, for an athlete, is a relative term.  Many start out strong and sound, but are quickly worn down by the long grind of a baseball season, particularly those at the up-the-middle defensive positions.  So a One- Season Wonder could mean a rare look at what that particular player, completely healthy, was capable of doing.

D)  Luck: Sometimes nearly every ground ball ends up in a fielders glove for an easy out, or even a double play.  Conversely, sometimes these same grounders find there way an inch or two beyond a diving fielder’s mitt, driving in a key run.  For hitters, sometimes the wind is blowing out and a pop-fly becomes a three-run homer.  But sometimes the jet-stream knocks a line-drive down into an outfielder’s greedy glove.

The reality is that each of these four factors probably had something to do with these eight One-Year Wonder seasons.

All of this begs one last question:  How do we know if we’ve just witnessed a fluke season by a contemporary athlete rather than a hard-working player who has turned the corner and is now on his way to long-term super-stardom?

Take a look at two things:  the players age at the time of his big season, and his career accomplishments prior to his big season.  If a player just had his bust-out season at the age of 31, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see that kind of production from him again any-time soon.

Taking a player’s age into consideration is probably the single biggest predictor of a player’s likely future level of production.  There are freaks, of course, like Randy Johnson, who hit a high note at age 31, and sustain a level of dominance for a dozen more years.

But, fortunately for scouts and seagulls, there ain’t too many Randy Johnson’s.

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