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Archive for the tag “Joey Votto”

Soundtrack for Baseball: April, 2012

There are many different ways to summarize the first month of the year.  You can parse endless stats, compose paragraphs of the sweetest prose, or just make yet another damned list.

I decided to change things up around here.  You know, wake the neighbors, scandalize the community, turn the volume up to 11, things like that.

In other words, I have created a video-soundtrack, via Youtube, for what I very subjectively consider to be the most significant story-lines in baseball for the first month of the season.  I hope you enjoy it.  And, as it says on the back of the Rolling Stones L.P. “Let it Bleed,”  play it loud!

To begin with, let’s honor Robin Ventura’s Chicago White Sox, under whose steady hand the South-Siders are keeping their collective heads at or above .500.  More to the point, the White Sox currently enjoy the best run differential, +3, in their division.

So let’s celebrate with a rousing version of “Sweet Home Chicago,” brought to you by an unbelievable All-Star cast of blues musicians.  Guaranteed to get you up and rocking, even if you aren’t a White Sox fan.

On the other hand, Chicago still has to answer for the Cubs, who finished the month of April with an extremely dismal 8-15 record.  Sure, they have a few interesting players.  Starlin Castro is a star in the making, and my kids love Darwin Barney, but let’s face it, this is a team going nowhere.

The song I’ve decided to dedicate to the Cubs for their April performance is a classic of the 1970’s, a song that when I first heard it as a kid of around 8 years old, I was fascinated and mesmerized.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said (except in a negative sense) about the Cubbies so far this year.

So listen, if you will, to the most original Rock song ever, “The Night Chicago Died,” by a band called Paper Lace.

Are you still with me?  Good.  Now let’s turn to a player who may be the most underrated star in the game, Joey Votto.  Votto currently sports a .939 OPS and an OPS+ of a cool 158.  He also leads the N.L. in doubles with ten, and in walks with 20.

Did I say walks?  Perhaps he should show the rest of the league how to Walk This Way, as Run DMC does with Aerosmith, in one of my favorite Rock songs and videos.  Again, if you missed the original announcement, PLAY IT LOUD!

Poor Bobby Valentine.  Hasn’t Managed a Major League baseball team in years, then gets shanghaied into taking the helm of a Red Sox team more in need of a psychoanalyst than a manager.  He found out just how quickly the Red Sox fans, media and even the players could turn on someone who had the temerity to, you know, speak honestly and candidly, (if not very wisely) about, just perhaps, the lack of focus of one semi-star (Kevin Youkilis) player.

Boston currently sits in last place in the always tough A.L. East.  Although it’s not too late to turn this season around for a talented team like the Red Sox, one has to wonder if Bobby V. will still even be around at the end of the year to take credit if a turn-around does occur.  Bobby V. must be confused now, and thinking something along the lines of, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and the boys in The Clash just happened to be wondering the same thing back in 1982.  Here’s how that sounded.  (Incidentally, I was at the show at Shea Stadium where this live footage was shot.)

Speaking of managers who put their foot their foot in their mouth this past month, it’s hard to top Ozzie Guillen’s mega-stupid comment (in Miami, no less), that he admired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.  That’s a little like Mayor Bloomberg of New York City saying to a throng of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn that he kind of admired Adolf Hitler.

But Ozzie has made a career of allowing his mouth to function at 45 RPM’s while his brain spins around (when it functions at all) at about 33 RPM’s.  He likes to impress people, I guess, but not everyone is amused by a Big Shot.  Just ask Billy Joel.

On the other hand, the news out of Baltimore is positive for the first time in many years.  The Orioles finished April with a record of 14-9, just one game out of first place.  Manager Buck Showalter has his kids playing fundamentally sound baseball, outfielder Adam Jones is off to a strong start, catcher Matt Wieters is displaying the multiple skills scouts raved about a few years back, and the pitching is holding its own.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this could last the whole year?  Wouldn’t it be nice if they were in a weaker division, say, the A.L. Central?  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the Beach Boys about now?

If you don’t love this song, your U.S. citizenship will be revoked.  Please proceed to the line to the left marked, “Un-Americans.”  Thank you. Waterboarding begins at Noon.

Then there’s Albert Pujols, formerly the best player in the game.  Is it too soon to say that Sir Albert may never again be the best player in baseball?  How is it possible that he didn’t hit a single home run in April?  Is it the pressure of his huge new multi-year contract?  The change of leagues and ballparks?  Is age prematurely setting in?

The Angels and Albert Pujols himself must be wondering if somehow, he made a wrong turn somewhere out in the California desert, and left his talent behind in some long-forgotten hotel along the way.  ‘Cause, you know, the heat of the California wastelands can cause hallucinations and create mirages.  Perhaps that’s what happened.

If Albert’s nightmare season continues, the lyrics of “Hotel California” might come to seem benign by comparison.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Has there been a less fortunate pitcher in all of baseball over the past half-dozen years than Matt Cain of the Giants?  Through 207 career starts dating back to 2005, Cain has a career ERA of 3.33, an ERA+ of 125, and a 1.183 career WHIP.  Somehow, though, his career record stands at 70 wins and 74 losses.

This April, it was more of the same.  In four starts, he has recorded a 2.37 ERA, and has just one win to show for his efforts, and it took a complete game shutout to earn that win.

Matt Cain displays a stoic demeanor, but internally, he must be a “Man of Constant Sorrow.”  Wouldn’t you be?  Hot Damn, it’s the Soggy Bottom Boys!

Speaking of people who must be ready to stick forks in their eyes so they don’t have to watch what’s going on down on the field anymore, how would you like to be a Royals fan?  Not only are the Royals an A.L worst (tied with the Twins) 6-16, they have yet to win a game at home!  That’s right, folks, no Royals fan this year has yet witnessed their team triumph over the opposition on their home turf.  The Royals are 0-10 at home.

Now this was a team featuring a youth movement of talented young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, among others.  How did it all go so wrong?  It’s like washing your car, changing the oil, rotating the tires, then ending up with a Flat Tire.

What’s that like?  Just ask Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons.

Well, folks, there are an endless number of story-lines to choose from, but we don’t have time for them all.  I’d be interested to hear your story-line / songs that you would have added to this soundtrack.  I hope you enjoyed at least some of it.

Maybe we’ll do it again at the end of May.  Thanks again for reading, er, listening.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance: Stan Musial Award Winners

St. Louis Cardinals

Image via Wikipedia

Here are the official results from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance regarding the Most Valuable Players in both the A.L. and the N.L.  The award is called the Stan Musial Award.  Here is the official press release from the BBA:

 

HAMILTON, VOTTO TAKE HOME STAN MUSIAL AWARD
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance
concluded their award season today by naming the best player in each
league for 2010.  When all the votes were tallied, two men were
comfortably ahead.

Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, who hit 32 home runs and fashioned an OPS of 1.044 while leading the Rangers into the playoffs, won the award in the
American League.  Hamilton received sixteen first place votes and 261
points overall, which put him ahead of his nearest competitor, Detroit
first baseman Miguel Cabrera, by roughly 70 points.

In the National League, helping Cincinnati to an unexpected divisional
title paid off for first baseman Joey Votto.  After a season where he
cracked 37 home runs and posted a 1.024 OPS, Votto also received sixteen
first-place votes toward his total of 252 points.  He also denied St.
Louis first baseman Albert Pujols the chance to win back-to-back BBA
awards.  Pujols was selected as MVP by the BBA in 2009, but placed
second with 197 points in this year’s voting.

Winners of other Alliance awards also received votes in the Musial balloting.  In the American League, Walter Johnson winner Felix Hernandez received 21 points, while Goose Gossage selection
Rafael Soriano had a single mention.  On the senior circuit, Walter
Johnson winner Roy Halladay placed fourth in the voting with 101 points.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Josh Hamilton, Texas (16) 261
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit (4) 188
Robinson Cano, New York 158
Jose Bautista, Toronto (1) 146
Adrian Beltre, Boston 107
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay (1) 102
Paul Konerko, Chicago 65
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay 56
Joe Mauer, Minnesota 50
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland 44
Felix Hernandez, Seattle 21
Vladimir Guerrero, Texas 13
Justin Morneau, Minnesota 12
Delmon Young, Minnesota 10
Cliff Lee, Seattle/Texas 8
CC Sabathia, New York 8
Alex Rodriguez, New York 7
Clay Buchholz, Boston 4
Mark Teixeria, New York 3
Jon Lester, Boston 2
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle 2
Nick Swisher, New York 2
Jim Thome, Minnesota 2
Kevin Youkilis, Boston 2
Brett Gardner, New York 1
David Ortiz, Boston 1
Rafael Soriano, Tampa Bay 1

National League
Joey Votto, Cincinnati (16) 252
Albert Pujols, St. Louis (3) 197
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado (1) 118
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (1) 101
Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego 98
Troy Tulowitski, Colorado 98
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington 93
Matt Holliday, St. Louis 84
Aubrey Huff, San Francisco 32
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis 17
Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado 16
Josh Johnson, Florida 16
Dan Uggla, Florida 16
Jayson Werth, Philadelphia 16
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee 13
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee 10
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia 9
Martin Prado, Atlanta 7
Jason Heyward, Atlanta 6
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee 5
David Wright, New York 5
Adam Dunn, Washington 4
Kelly Johnson, Arizona 4
Andres Torres, San Francisco 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage
cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major
league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of
this writing, the organization consists of 233 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of
America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into
“chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted.
The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two
votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split
between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot.
Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting
or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated
on a 13-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point scale for first through tenth place. In
the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots.
Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis.  Those chapters that decided on
the group method are noted with an asterisk.

Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

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.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 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.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for 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.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about 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.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on 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.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP 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.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







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


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