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Baseball 2012: Oddities and Conclusions, and Odd Conclusions

It’s never too early to draw specious conclusions from incomplete data.  Politicians do it all the time.  Therefore, not holding myself to a higher standard than those fine fellows, here’s what we’ve learned from this year’s baseball statistics thus far in 2012:

1)  Albert Pujols is actually 44-years old, and should be put out to pasture.  Seriously, I think it would be a bit premature to predict that Sir Albert will win this year’s A.L. MVP trophy.  Through nine games he has 40 plate appearances, no home runs, and 12 total bases.  It may take him the better part of a full year to adjust to the A.L., and even when he does, he still won’t automatically be the best player in the league.

2)  Break up the Mets!  They are off to a 6-3 start, including a pair of wins against the Phillies this past weekend.  Now just 0.5 games back of the Nats for first place in the N.L. East, and with baseball expanding to two Wild Card teams this year, it’s time to start printing up playoff tickets, isn’t it?

Well, no, it’s not.  The Mets Run Differential stands at exactly 0, meaning that this is essentially a .500 team, which is the best most of us Mets fans could hope for at the beginning of the year.

3)  The Pirates have the best pitching staff since the Braves when Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Neagle were hanging around.  The Pirates four primary starting pitchers: Correia, Bedard, Karstens, and McDonald all have ERA’s under 4.00, and the Pirates have given up fewer runs (22) than any other team in the N.L.

Conclusion:  Although the Pirates offense is awful, their pitching is good enough to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the N.L. this year, ensuring many low-scoring (especially at home) but competitive ball games.

4)  You can have your Verlander, Kershaw, Lee, Hamels, King Felix, etc., but for my money, the one pitcher who continues to be completely unreal (and a future Hall of Famer) is the Phillies Roy Halladay.  At 2-0, and having given up just one earned run in 15 innings this year, Halladay has a real chance to reach 200 career wins before he loses his 100th ball game.  His career record currently stands at 190-92, and he just seems to keep getting better with age.

Did you know that Halladay has increased his strikeout totals for each of the past seven years?  That he has walked over 40 batters in a season just once in the past nine years?  That he has never lost more than 11 games in any of his 13 full seasons?  He’s as good as they come, folks, so enjoy him while you can.

5)  Matt Kemp is staking his claim as the best player in the National League.  He should have won the N.L. MVP award last season, leading the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored, OPS+, total bases, and WAR.  He also stole 40 bases in 51 attempts, and plays above average defense in center field.  This year, with the Dodgers off to a 9-1 start, thanks in large part to Kemp’s torrid start, there’s every reason to believe he’ll win his first MVP award.

6) The A.L. East is the most mediocre division in baseball.  No team currently has more than five wins, nor fewer than four.  Only 1.5 games separates last place Boston from first place Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays.  Realistically, it is possible that no one in this division will win more than 95 games, and it is conceivable that four of these five teams might still be separated by as little as 1.5 games going into the final week of the season.

A look at the current run differentials in this division, where Toronto’s +12 is currently the best, suggests that there are no great teams in this division, just several good ones.

7)  David Wright will be the first player in baseball history to hit .500 this year, while posting an OPS+ well in excess of a KaZillion.  On his way to cementing his status as the best position player in Mets history (if you overlook a little thing called defense), Wright appears to enjoy the newly reconfigured Citi Field dimensions.  Most encouragingly, Wright has struck out just twice in his first 26 plate appearances this year.  Yup, he’s Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Paul McCartney and Brad Pitt, all rolled up in one perfect guy.  Let’s Go Mets!

8)  In the apparent pre-season bet between Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen to see which of them could throw their managerial job away first, Bobby V. appears to have the inside edge so far.  Yes, Guillen committed the worst possible sin in Miami by lauding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but, hey, he gets language confused, you know?  What he MEANT was the Castro was a brain-eating zombie who devours small children on whats left of the playgrounds in Havana.  It was the MEDIA who got him all confused, see?  ANYONE could have made that mistake, right?

Meanwhile, Bobby V. today managed to insult Kevin Youkilis in what was an apparent effort to “fire him up.”  Oh.  And then he apologized to Youk for saying what he said to fire him up.  Look, it is readily apparent that Boston, as a franchise, is still suffering from what they used to call shell-shock from last September.  Putting Bobby V. at the helm of a franchise suffering collectively from P.T.S.D. is like putting serial killer Ted Bundy in a rape-hotline call center (oh wait, he really did have that job.)

Prediction:  Both managers are fired before the season ends, Bobby V. getting thrown overboard first.

9)  Tommy Hanson will never pitch a complete game shutout in his career.  I’m not saying he’s not a good enough pitcher to do so.  Hanson’s a very good pitcher, but he is one of the least efficient pitchers in baseball, regularly going to 2-2 counts on virtually every batter he faces.  That’s not how you pitch deep into ball games.  In fact, Hanson has completed just one of his 79 career starts.  Maybe he’ll eventually learn to pitch to contact more frequently, but until he does so, he’ll always be a fine six-inning pitcher.

10)  Brett Lawrie will be an All-Star for the next twenty years.  Yes, he only has 211 career plate appearances, but here’s his 162 game average so far:  31 home runs, 100 RBI, 93 runs scored, 25 steals, a .911 OPS, and an OPS+ of 142 (the same as Mike Piazza.)  Waive the ten-years of MLB service requirement rule and put the kid in Cooperstown right now so he can enjoy the honor while he’s still young.

I’m sure you’ve drawn lots of early season conclusions of your own.  So please feel free to share them with me, and I’ll publish the best ones in my next post.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Pitchers

Tommy Hanson

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The following pitchers are among the players I will target on Draft Day.  The value they will accrue during the course of the season should exceed their relative Draft Day position and / or cost.

Some of these pitchers were a disappointment last season; others were injured.  Pitchers, even more so than hitters, fluctuate dramatically from year to year as far as their production is concerned.  And that’s why your opportunities to discover the pitchers who will be “sleepers” in 2011 are plentiful.

In no particular order, then, here are your fantasy baseball “sleeper” pitchers for 2011:

Brandon Morrow – Blue Jays: There is a damn good chance that Morrow will lead the A.L. in strikeouts this year.  He struck out 178 batters in only 145 innings last year.  Although he might not reach 200 innings pitched this year, he is capable of striking out 200+ batters in 180 innings.  He struck out 17 batters in an August game against Tampa Bay last season, and he is capable of that kind of dominating performance every time he takes the mound.  His ERA was high last year (4.49), but he has just about learned how to pitch.  At 26-years old, he is ready to take the next step forward.

Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks:  He pitched better than his 9-10 record indicates.  On Draft Day, some of your fellow owners will focus too much on his win-loss record, but that’s how you find your bargains.  Wins tend to be a fickle category.  Case in point:  Kennedy posted a 1.55 ERA in five September starts last year, along with a 0.93 WHIP.  But he was not credited with a single win to reward his performance.  Like Morrow, Kennedy is 26-years old.  Take him in the mid-rounds and reap the benefits.

Max Scherzer – Tigers: Yet another 26-year old future ace.  Scherzer was inconsistent last season, pitching better at home than on the road.  But he improved dramatically as the season went along.  Over his final 15 starts, he posted a 1.14 WHIP and averaged about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  He throws hard, and if Morrow doesn’t end up leading the A.L. in strikeouts, Scherzer could.  Detroit figures to improve on its .500 record last season, and so, too, should the 12-11 Scherzer.

Francisco Liriano – Twins:  The 27-year old Liriano is now almost three years removed from Tommy John surgery.  His performance last year was solid:  14-10, 191 innings, 201 strikeouts.  But he is capable of doing even better than that.  Could very well land on someone’s fantasy team as a #3 or #4 starter, but is likely to pitch as well as many #1 or #2 starters.  He should break 200 innings this year to go along with 200+ strikeouts and a declining ERA of around 3.25.  What’s not to like?

Tommy Hanson – Braves:  Some observers might believe that Hanson had a somewhat disappointing season last year, as indicated by his 10-11 record.  But few pitchers in baseball were victimized by poor run support and a faulty bullpen as much as Hanson was last year.  Admittedly, he did get pounded in a few of his starts.  But after July 1st, he posted an ERA of 2.40.  You’ve got to love those young pitchers who finish strong.  At just 24 year of age, Hanson is even younger than many of the others on this list.  He is growing into a future ace.  The fifteen wins he should have enjoyed last season are a nice starting place for what you can conservatively expect from Hanson this year, along with about 200 strikeouts and an ERA somewhere between 3.00-3.50.

James McDonald – Pirates:  No, that’s not a typo.  There really is a Pirates pitcher on this list.  So how does a pitcher who was just 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA pitching for one of the very worst teams in baseball qualify as a sleeper?  Because he has averaged a little under a strikeout per inning so far in his brief Major League career, fanning 122 batters over his last 135 innings pitched.  At 26-years old, this former Dodgers prospect is finally receiving an opportunity to display his stuff at the Big League level.  You will be able to land him late in your draft, but he could end up paying dividends at a bargain-basement price.

Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies:  Don’t worry; I don’t know how it’s pronounced either.  What I do know is that, in 21 starts last season, this 23-year old struck out 138 batters in 137 innings, and posted a very impressive 3.21 ERA while calling Coors Field home.  His 61 walks in 137 innings could be cause for some concern, but his raw talent should not be overlooked.  If you find that he is overlooked during your Draft, by all means, grab him.

Jeremy Hellickson – Rays:  Other than perhaps David Price, Hellickson is the most talented pitcher to come out of Tampa Bay’s remarkable farm-system over the past few years. He most certainly has future ace stuff, as his incredible Major League debut revealed last year.  His most impressive stat, just eight walks allowed in his first 36 innings pitched.  He also struck out 33 batters, and averaged over nine K’s per nine innings in Triple A last year.  By 2012, Price and Hellickson could very well be the best 1-2 punch in Major League baseball.

Shawn Marcum – Brewers: At 29-years old, Marcum may be a little older than you think.  But that certainly doesn’t mean his career isn’t trending in the right direction.  Pitching in baseball’s toughest division last year with Toronto, he posted a 1.15 WHIP in 195 innings pitched, along with a respectable 3.64 ERA.  Keep in mind that despite Marcum’s 13-8 overall record last year, he was 12-2 when NOT pitching against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Tampa Bay.  This year, in the N.L. Central, he should thrive.

Brett Anderson – A’s: Some Fantasy Baseball owners will be scared off by Anderson’s elbow problems last year.  While not trying to downplay the injury, the talent here outweighs the risk, assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training.  Only 23-years old, Anderson already has nearly 300 effective innings pitched under his belt as a Major League starter.  A mid-round pick here could pay-off nicely for you in 2011.

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