The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Matt Garza”

National League Baseball Predictions – 2013

Since this is the second part of a two-part mini-series, I’ll dispense with a redundant introduction.  If you want to read Part 1, my American League Predictions, that initial introduction should suffice.

So, let’s get on with it.

National League

East

1)  Washington – Fields two of the most exciting players in the game (Strasburg and Harper).  Made the playoffs last year without breaking a sweat.  Could win a hundred games this year.  Harper will win the N.L. MVP award.  Strasburg averaged 11 K’s / 9 innings last year, and could win the Cy Young award this year.

2)  Atlanta – Two-thirds of their new outfield, the Brothers Upton, have been more disappointing than the latest unemployment numbers, and the third, Jason Heyward, has had his share of growing pains as well.  Still, no team in their division outside of Washington is obviously better.  87 wins.

3)  Philadelphia – Appears to be melting before us like a snowman in the March sun.  Older, residual talent, mostly of the pitching variety, will be sufficient to grind through an 84-win season.

4)  New York – A couple of young players, perhaps Ike Davis and Matt Harvey, will shine, but a sub-par outfield and overall lack of depth will ensure another sub-.500 season out in Queens.

5)  Florida – Is there anything left to root for down in Miami?  Fans should stay home in droves this year in protest of this sham of a franchise.

Central

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Cincinnati – Votto, Bruce and Choo (acquired from Cleveland) will produce oodles of offense, while Cueto and Latos will hold down a respectable staff.  92 wins should be sufficient to take this division.

2)  St. Louis – Yadier Molina might be in the first-half of a HOF career.  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are still fine players, but both are well past 30 years old.  Pitching staff appears adequate, if unspectacular = 86 wins.

3)  Milwaukee – “There once was a player named Ryan / For PED’s he kept sayin’ he’d not tried ’em / But his name it did appear / on a client’s list so clear / Makes you wonder how much more he’ll be denyin’.”  83 wins.

4)   Pittsburgh – Because the Cubs don’t have Andrew McCutchen.  Once again, a sub-.500 team.  77 wins.

5)  Chicago – Staff “ace” Matt Garza is a perennial tease.  New addition Edwin Jackson, now on his 8th team in eleven years, changes teams more often than a hooker changes her underwear.  But really, it’s always been about an afternoon in the sun at Wrigley, hasn’t it?

West

1)  Los Angeles – Manager Don Mattingly needs to drive this expensive new vehicle into first place, or upper management might be looking for a new driver next season.  With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, and Kemp, A-Gone, Hanley, Crawford and Ethier in the lineup, this team either wins the division, or heads will roll.  95 wins.

2)  San Francisco – Pencil them in as one of the two N.L. Wild Card teams this year, because nobody does it better. Tim Lincecum will look to rebound and join the highly capable Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in what should once again be a top-five N.L. pitching staff.  Catcher Buster Posey may be the best in the game.  87 wins.

3)  San Diego – Has apparently moved in the fences this year, which should help Alonso, Quentin, and Headley (one of baseball’s best kept secrets.)  But what the fences giveth, the fences will take away, namely an overly spacious park where fly-balls used to go to die.  But the pitching staff, led by the enigmatic Edinson Volquez, could suffer a bit as a result.   81 wins.

4)  Arizona – So what does Arizona know about Justin Upton that the Braves don’t know?  Martin Prado is a versatile player, and there should still be enough thump in the lineup to keep the score interesting.  The staff, with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, could be this team’s strength, if healthy.  79 wins.

5)  Colorado – Once upon a time, they were the toast of the American West, drawing over four million souls in their initial campaign.  Now, although a healthy Tulowitzki, along with Car-Go and Fowler should generate some runs, the pitching staff may be the worst in baseball.  Also, it’s time to tow the S.S. Helton out to sea so the Navy could use it for strafing runs.  71 wins.

So there you go, folks.  Your five N.L. playoff teams are probably Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, L.A., and San Fran.  I predict that the Nats will go on to defeat the Angels in a seven game World Series classic.

Or not.

2010 Baseball Season: Observations and Analysis

Yes, the 2010 Major League baseball season is only two weeks old, but it isn’t too early to share some observations about what has transpired between the foul lines up to this point.

There have been the usual surprisingly hot starts, and the annual April disappointments.  But the real question is, which of these trends are for real, and which are merely April aberrations?

So let’s see if we can read the tea leaves of early April, and draw some reasonable conclusions.

Since the Yankees won the World Series last season, why not begin with them?

Well, my friends, whether you love them or hate them, this year’s Yankees, who already have a 9-3 record, appear play-off bound once again.

The quartet of Pettitte, Jeter, Posada and Rivera show no signs of slowing down.  And don’t look now, but lead-off man Brett Gardner has seven stolen bases and a .333 batting average.  Meanwhile, C.C. Sabathia again looks like he’ll finish in the top five in Cy Young voting by season’s end.

First baseman Mark Teixeira is off to his usual slow start, but he’ll end up posting his typical, highly productive numbers.

One Yankee, however, appears to be in for a long, miserable year at Yankee Stadium.  Javier Vazquez has already been booed mercilessly this year at home, and unless he can quickly turn around his poor start, the Yankees may be forced to figure out a way to pitch him only on the road as early as Memorial Day.

I wrote about the possibility of this happening to Vazquez in “A Tale of Two Pitchers,” in my December 23, 2009 blog-post.

Across town, however, the Mets appear to be a team on which either the hitters will let the pitchers down, or the pitchers just won’t show up, on any particular night.  At this point, it appears reasonable to suggest that the Mets might be closer to the Nationals in the standings come September than they will be to either the Marlins or the Braves.

The good news, perhaps, is that the Mike Jacobs fiasco has apparently ended in Queens.  First base prospect Ike Davis is set to be called up to The Show as early as today.

On the other hand, Jason Bay, a player who I devoted an entire blog-post to, “Keeping the Wolves at Bay” (December 31, 2009), has been awful.  Bay has yet to hit a homer, has two RBI, and is “hitting” .222.  In Saturday night’s 20 inning win over the Cardinals, Bay went 0-7 with four strikeouts.

It won’t be long until Mets fans begin booing him mercilessly at Citi Field.

Here are several other random observations and conclusions I’ve drawn to date:

Matt Garza already needs to be considered the front-runner for the A.L. Cy Young award.  He is 3-0 with a nearly invisible 0.75 ERA.  Yes, he is for real, and yes, it wasn’t difficult to see this coming.  Although he won only eight games last season, his peripheral numbers were excellent.

As I’ve said before, a pitcher’s win total is the last thing you should look at when trying to predict future success.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, Pudge Rodriguez is apparently not quite finished playing baseball.  He is hitting .444 with a .639 slugging average, and his presence seems to be buoying the mostly young Nats, who are off to a respectable 6-6 start.

When Pudge retires, he should be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Vlad Guerrerro also isn’t quite done, enjoying something of a resurgence in Texas.  As I write this, he is batting about .378.  Truth be told, though, virtually all of his hits have been singles.  Don’t expect much of his old power to return, and his base-running skills have long since eroded.

But is Vlad Guerrerro, perhaps, the most under-appreciated Super Star this sport has ever seen?

Yes, Baltimore (2-11) and Houston (3-9) really are this bad.

Which brings me to…

Carlos Lee.  The man is toast.  He has had a nice run over the past decade, but he is less than a shadow of his old self.  In fact, he would have difficulty even casting a shadow in down-town Los Angeles these days.

Lee’s batting average is currently hovering around .100.  If played in the A.L., a manager might use a pitcher to DH for his spot in the lineup.

Carlos Lee’s slugging average is the lowest I’ve ever seen, .104.  Yes, it’s early in the year.  But let’s face it, only a team as bad as Houston would continue to play him on a regular basis.

And speaking of finished, another slow start would seem to indicate that Big Papa himself, David Ortiz, is all but done in Boston.  And don’t look for a second half surge like the one he displayed last season.

Don’t look now, but the Giants are a surprising 8-4.  Pitching, of course, is the main reason why they are playing so well.  All four front-line starters have contributed, with Barry Zito posting an early season 1.86 ERA, and Jonathon O. Sanchez showing excellent strikeout ability (17 K’s in 12 innings.)

The Dodgers young outfield duo of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are good, very good.  Both are slugging in excess of .600.

The top five players in the A.L. are Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, and Shin-Soo Choo.

Baseball’s best kept secret is Shin-Soo Choo, the Cleveland Indian’s outfielder from South Korea.  His current numbers:  .350 batting average, .500 on-base average, .725 slugging percentage.  Last season, he was a 20-20 man while sporting a .300 average, very good defense, and nice base-running skills.

Choo’s teammate, Grady Sizemore, garners far more publicity, but Choo is the more complete player.

Brian Matusz, the Orioles rookie pitcher, is poised to win the A.L. Rookie of the Year award.  At 2-0, he has both of Baltimore’s wins, and his ERA is a respectable 4.34.

Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward is a man-child who will easily win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award.  His line so far: .302, .423, .581, and he already has 15 RBI’s.

His teammate, Martin Prado, is off to an unbelievable start, hitting .426 with an astounding .500 on base average.  Even during the no-hitter that Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez tossed against the Braves on Saturday night, Prado managed to reach base twice on bases on balls.

Last year’s N.L. Rookie of the Year, Casey Mcgehee of the Brewers, appears not to have been a one-year wonder.  He is currently batting .400 with a .778 slugging percentage.

File this under – What a Difference a Year Makes.

Last season, Jason Marquis finished with a 15-13 record and an ERA of 4.04 while pitching for the Rockies.  This season, pitching for the Nationals, he is 0-3 with an ERA of 20.52.

Perhaps he should have stayed in that new-found pitcher’s paradise, Coor’s Field.

File this under – Give Credit Where Credit is Due.

I have been highly critical of Mets outfielder Jeff Francoer over the past year.  He doesn’t walk nearly enough, and he swings at just about anything not thrown over to first base on a pick-off move.  He has also been a lousy base-stealer.

Yet this season, lo and behold, “Frenchy,” as his admirer’s call him, is hitting .364 with an on-base average of .444 (suggesting new-found patience at the plate), and he threw out Cardinals base-runner Ryan Ludwick at the plate in tonight’s game.

Although I don’t expect these numbers to hold up over the course of the season, if he doubles his walk rate from a year ago, he’ll be a useful major league regular.

The Cubbies, meanwhile, are spinning their wheels already with a 5-7 record.  Let’s face it.  This is a very expensive, very mediocre team.  By mid-season, if not earlier, the Cubs should begin the process of dismantling their roster piece by piece.  This franchise desperately need an infusion of younger, cheaper players with upside.

How about the Red Sox, the team that I picked to win the 2010 World Series?

Well, a 4-8 start may very soon lead to much grumbling (if it hasn’t started already), that the BoSox off-season strategy of placing a new emphasis on pitching and defense seems to have backfired.

Yet the reality is that they have had a couple of key injuries (Ellsbury and Cameron), their starting pitching has been decent, and once V-Mart, Youkilis, Ellsbury and Pedroia all get hot as the year progresses,  I still think their offense will be fine.

With one caveat:  David Ortiz should be benched sooner than later.

Remember that last season, the Yankees began the year with a slew of injuries.  But by about the second weak of May, they began to click on all cylinders and never looked back.

The Red Sox can still do the same this season, although the Tampa Bay Rays should be making both the Red Sox and the Yankees nervous this season.

The Rays have gotten off to a 9-3 start, and they are a young, talented club.  If the Sox fall too far back early on, it will be much more difficult to catch two teams than it would be to catch only one.

Finally, congratulations to the Minnesota Twins on their beautiful new ball-park in downtown Minneapolis.  Remember, this was a franchise that nearly became extinct a few years ago when baseball was considering contraction.

Now, however,  watching the Twins begin the 2010 season with a 9-4 record, locking up catcher Joe Mauer to a long-term contract, and finally getting out of the Baggie Dome, the future of this franchise looks very bright indeed.

Next time:

Underrated / Overrated:  Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part 2

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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