Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who is Cory Luebke?

I recently received an email from a fellow owner in the ottoneu FanGraphs Experts League inquiring about this potential trade: I give up Neftali Feliz ($21), Kyle Farnsworth ($2) and Jason Bourgeois ($1) for Micheal Pineda ($15) and...Cory Luebke ($1). Attached to Luebke's name was this comment: "Arguably my most valuable keeper!!!"

My immediate reaction was, "Wait, who is Cory Luebke?" I know that Luebke is a pitcher on the Padres, but there was nothing that made me think, "Yeah, Pineda is solid, but my goodness, I can get a $1 Cory Luebke?!"

Sure enough, Luebke's raw numbers are fantastic this year - 2.91 ERA (with a 2.98 xFIP to match), over 9.5 K/9, under 2.5 BB/9.  Sure his BABIP (.254) and LOB (71.9%) are a bit low but a K:BB ratio of nearly 4:1 will make you feel much better about that.

But there are a couple concerns I see immediately: 1) Luebke's minor league numbers leave no suggestion that anything like this is possible and 2) those numbers are not purely starter numbers - he made 29 relief appearances this year as well. Is Luebke a a one-year phenomenon, a great reliever but only decent SP, a top-of-the-rotation kind of guy? And is he arguably the other owner's most valuable keeper?

Let's start with the relief vs. starter numbers. Luebke started the year as a reliever before being moved to the rotation back in June, and he was a very effective reliever - 2.96 xFIP, 9.92 K/9, 3.46 BB/9 as a relief pitcher. Moving to the rotation should force him to back off a little - he needed to mix in more pitches, he would have to pace himself, he would face guys 2-4 times a game instead of once. Clearly, his numbers would have to take a fall.

Well, 11 starts later, the opposite has happened. His BB/9 has improved to just 1.90 BB/9. His xFIP has barely faltered, rising to just 2.98. His K-rate has been the biggest drop off, falling all the way to a Lincecumian 9.36 - placing him 8th among qualified starters this year. His 4.93 K/BB ratio as a starter ranks 4th, with only Halladay, Haren and Greinke above him.

Looking closer at his pitches, it isn't surprising that the fall has been so limited (if you can call it a fall at all). As a RP, Luebke relied on a fastball and slider, with the fastball about 25 runs above league average and the slider around 6 above. As a point of comparison, Roy Halladay's best pitch is his cutter, which is about 18 runs above average this year, followed by his curve which clocks in around 13 and his splitter, which is just over 9. Luebke threw the four-seam fastball 56% of the time and the slider 34% of the time out of the pen. He also mixed in the occasional change (6.8%) and two-seamer (2.5%).

When he came to the rotation, you would expect Luebke to mix in his other pitches more, but the opposite happened. The four-seam fastball jumped to almost 70% of his selection, at the expense of his slider, which he dropped to 23%. The change and two-seamer remained just over 7% combined.

Just as importantly, his velocity hasn't taken a hit with the longer outings. As a RP, his fastball sat at 91.1; as a SP, it's at 91.5. His slider went from 82.7 to 83; the change from 83.2 to 84.8, and the two-seamer from 91.6 to 91.1. Basically, he is the same pitcher as a SP as he was in a relief role - same pitches, same velocities. He just uses his best pitch - the four-seamer - more often.

Having only made 11 starts, my next concern was that only really using two pitches as a starter will come back to bite him when a team sees him the second or third time. It certainly isn't definitive data, but on two separate occasions, he has made back-to-back starts against the same team. First, on July 7 and 16 he faced San Franciso, then on August 11 and 16 he faced the Mets. Here are the lines from those four starts:

7/7   6IP 2ER 8K 1BB 5H 1HR
7/16 7IP 2ER 5K 1BB 4H 1HR
8/11 5IP 2ER 8K 4BB 3H 0HR
8/16 6IP 1ER 5K 3BB 3H 0HR

And really...not much to see here. His K's dropped in each of the second starts, and for some reason the Mets draw endless walks against a guy who walks no one, but other than that - pure consistency.

So the transition to starter has gone a-ok, it seems. And there is nothing to suggest that it's a fluke, although there might be evidence for a drop in K-rate moving forward, as teams adjust. What about his minor league numbers?

Nothing in his track record suggests he had a top-of-the-rotation future. Kevin Goldstein ranked him #10 in the Padres system this year and said he's a "Fourth of fifth starter, but he's already there." Marc Hulet on FanGraphs was a bit more optimistic, ranking him #3 (although this was before the influx of Boston prospects in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez) and saying, "Luebke has the potential to be a solid No. 3 starter." Clearly neither saw this kind of a breakout.

And why should they? Luebke hasn't struck out over 9 per 9 IP since 2007 in A-ball (not counting 17.2 MLB innings in 2010). Since then his strike out rates have been mostly in the 6-7 range. Facing more advanced hitting in AA and AAA, Luebke posted solid FIPs (3.83 in AA in 2009, 2.84 in AA in 2010, and 3.91 in AAA in 2010), but nothing spectacular. His k-rates were very consistent - from 6.87 to 7.03 during those three stints in the high minors), but nothing like his MLB numbers. His walk rates were even better than they have been in the bigs, often under 2 per 9 and almost always under 3 per 9 throughout his minor league career.

Looking back, we see a decent prospect - an almost sure-thing ML starter but with a ceiling at #3 or lower and certainly no ace. Looking at 2011, we see an ace. But what about September and beyond?

As you would guess from his track record (and as hinted at by the second starts vs. NYM and SFG), ZiPS rest-of-season projection sees Luebke dropping his k-rate by a lot - all the way to 7.43, which is still pretty darn good. ZiPS also expects some normalization in his BABIP (up to .304), but even with these adjustments, the projected ROS FIP is 3.53 - not his sub-3.00 numbers so far, but still nothing to sneeze at.

My best guess is that, moving forward, that ZiPS projection is just about right on. He'll strike some guys out (although probably not at a top-ten rate moving forward), he'll keep his walks down (I actually think the 3.13 projected by ZiPS for the rest of the year may be high) and he will probably post ERA's above 3 but below 4 - and my guess is that with a little help from PETCO, it will be closer to 3 than 4.

So who is Cory Luebke? Well, he isn't the Cy Young candidate he has pitched like in these 11 starts, but he also isn't the back-of-the-rotation guy that most people projected. The Padres seem to have a #2 on their hands, and if you are considering him for fantasy, he is well-worth owning and keeping. His value will be hurt by a lack of wins with San Diego, but at $1 - I probably should grab him in this trade while I have the chance.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beating the Deadline: Prepping for Vote Offs

One of the unique rules in the ottoneu universe is the arbitration process. At the end of each season, every owner in each league has the right to vote for one player on each other team, and the player from each team with the most votes is booted from the team and enters the free agent pool. When the annual auction occurs, the team that previously owned that player gets a $5 discount on him. 

For example, last year, in the original ottoneu league, I picked up Jose Bautista early in the season for $1 hoping to ride his hot streak and then cut him or use him as a useful backup at 3B and OF. Instead, weak-hitting Jose Bautista became MVP-candidate Jose Bautista, and by the time the season ended, Bautista was widely considered a top 5-10 OF. 

Whether he was a one-hit-wonder a la Brady Anderson or a Raul Ibanez-style late bloomer was up for debate, but what was not up for debate was my fellow owners allowing me to keep Bautista for $3. His value was clearly far greater than that and, sure enough, Joey Bats was voted off my team. When the pre-season auction came around, bidding on Bautista went up past the $30 mark, another owner bid $35, I bid $36...and that was it. But, because Bautista was the guy voted off my team, I got a "hometown discount" and have him on my roster at $31, instead of $35. 

Pretty simple, right? But this actually creates an interesting strategic opportunity for ottoneu owners. With the season winding down (and the trade-season REALLY winding down), what is the best way to take advantage of this rule? I've basically seen three strategies:

1) Collect as many arbitration-worthy guys as possible. This is by far the most common move for owners falling out of contention. You are collecting guys who are under-priced and worth keeping - guys who are likely to get voted off are the cream of this crop. Since each team only loses one player to arbitration, not only does having, say, 5 of these guys mean that you get to keep 4, but it also increases the variability in the voting and makes it more likely that something odd happens. Last season, ottoneu founder Niv Shah had a number of guys worth voting off, which spread the votes thin and allowed Jhoulys Chacin to sneak away as his arbitration player. A number of other highly underpaid players slipped through and, while Niv is still in a rebuilding mode, having Chacin voted off was barely a blip for him (he re-signed Chacin for $8).

2) Trade away vote-off candidates to stock up for the current year. Less common, but quite effective when it works. Last year, I did just this, moving Shin-soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, both of whom were signed for under $10. Interestingly, I probably could have kept both of them with no risk, since Bautista eventually became an obvious arbitration candidate, but I needed help in other areas and at the time those guys a) had high value to other teams and b) were likely to be voted off anyway. The reinforcements I received helped me win the league.

3) Hold onto (or trade for) one obvious arbitration candidate in order to protect other guys on your team. This is maybe a version of #1 above, but a bit different. Rather than spreading your risk over a number of guys, this is about getting one guy who you are 100% sure will be voted off, and using him as a sacrificial lamb, protecting your other players. If you have Justin Verlander for $5 (and I am sure you do), he WILL get voted off. There may be some temptation to trade him since he is gone anyway, but holding him guarantees that your $15 Curtis Granderson is safe. 

I bring this up in part because I find myself in a strange position in the original ottoneu league right now. I am in 4th place, just outside the top three and within spitting distance of a second place finish. There seems to be consensus that my two most valuable trade chips are the aforementioned $31 Bautista and a $12 Jered Weaver. If I were willing to part with one of these two, the return would be huge.

Bautista, while easier to trade (he is a good deal at $31 but not an incredible deal), is also almost guaranteed to not be my arbitration player for a second straight year. Yes, he would go for more like $45 in auction next year (just a guess), but even if I paid him $45 (meaning the auction ends at $50), this would only represent a $12 increase in price vs. what I would otherwise have paid. If Weaver goes for $45, this is a $31 increase over the raise he would naturally receive.

Weaver, however, is not the guy I think should be voted off my team (for competitive reasons, I am going to keep my opinion quiet, although you can feel free to guess in the comments). As a matter of fact, I think he is, in some ways, the sacrificial lamb I mentioned in strategy three above. He will get voted off and protect at least one and maybe two players I think are more worthy of that particular honor.

So what strategy do I take? With about 3 days left before the trade deadline, do I move Weaver for the biggest haul I can get, possibly add a guy like Verlander, plus another piece or two that would put me over the top in 2011? Or do I hold him, let him get voted off and keep my more valuable players in place?

As of right now, I am leaning towards the latter. I think my team can get over the hump and into the money without reinforcements and I would rather protect my team a bit for 2012 if I can. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trade Recap: original ottoneu

A quick recap of a trade I made about a week ago in the original ottoneu league:

I moved Wilin Rosario (Catcher in AA with Colorado, .284 OBP, .437 SLG, 16 HR, 41 R this year) and Brett Jackson (OF in AAA with the Cubs, .384, .521, 4, 13 in just 20 games) for Nick Swisher.

Here was my thinking on the deal - I am currently in third place and in very tight races in all four offensive categories (OBP, SLG, HR, R) and was starting some weak OF lately (BJ Upton, Martin Prado, among others) while waiting on Allen Craig and Luke Scott to return. Scott is now done for the season and Craig keeps getting pushed back (not to mention there is no guarantee he gets playing time in St. Louis anyway). I put out feelers for outfielders and one of the opportunities that came up was to grab Swish.

Without a doubt, this makes me better this year, and I don't think the price was too high. I like Rosario more than I probably should based on his numbers, but he is still only 22 and has tremendous power for a catching prospect. His walk rate is way down this year and he clearly needs to work on his approach, but just a year ago he had an OPS of .894 in AA. However, I am feeling pretty good about my current starting catcher (Miguel Montero) who only costs me $2 more than Rosario ($4 for Rosario, $6 for Montero). Assuming Rosario develops, he won't have a real impact until 2013 at the earliest, at which point he will likely cost $7 while Montero will cost $10. No reason to sweat losing Rosario.

Jackson is a different story. As I said, I have been struggling to field a strong OF this year and while I have one stud bat locked up for next year (Bautista at $31 this year, $33 next), there are a lot of question marks behind him. Pence at $19 this year has been good, and I probably keep him at $21 in 2012. Matt Joyce and Marlon Byrd are cheap, but one has been fading and the other I am not sure I REALLY believe in. Martin Prado is struggling this year, Luke Scott is probably done, BJ Upton is terrible. It isn't pretty.

Jackson, meanwhile, is 23 and is killing AAA. And there is not a ton blocking him in the bigs - depending on how much you think of Tyler Colvin, I guess. Jackson is very interesting in traditional 5x5 leagues (31 steals, 12 HR across three levels last year, 17 and 14 in 87 games across two levels this year). But in ottoneu 4x4, steals have no value, so he takes a hit immediately thanks to that. And there are a couple other worrisome signs. The .521 SLG in AAA is impressive, but over nearly 130 AA games, he was more like a .450 SLG guy. Keep translating that up to the majors and you have an awfully good OF (particularly with 30 steal potential) but not a star in ottoneu by any means. Next year, I think the owner who took Jackson (West Coast Wellness) will be very happy with him - and will probably remain so for the next few years - but I think holding onto third (and taking a shot at second) was worth losing Jackson.

And there is one other piece - Swisher only costs $22 this year. He looks expendable in part due to his .438 SLG this year, which is hardly impressive, but look back at him the past five years. He had the brutal .332/.410 2008 season, but ignoring that for a moment, his OBPs are .372, .381, .371, .359 (plus a .377 clip this year). His SLGs are .493, .455, .498, .511.

Is it possible his power has fallen off for good (his ISO is the lowest it has been since he played 20 games in his first season in Oakland)? Sure, it is possible. He is about to turn 31 and that is a perfectly reasonable age for a guy to start to fall off. But I think there is more to it than that.

His HR/FB is the second lowest it has been since that 20 game stint and it seems that is driving most of the difference. Looking at ZiPS rest of season projections, the system sees him with singles and doubles in a similar range to past seasons (90 singles would be his second most ever, 29 doubles would be in the middle of the pack for his career), but only 22 HR, after 29 the past two years. A slight uptick in his HR/FB to career levels could mean all the difference.

And if you look at his plate discipline, he is more selective than he was last year - which one would expect to lead to better results. His Swing% is down a bit, partially due to seeing fewer strikes, and partially due to swinging less often. His numbers, in fact, are right in line with his career numbers.

So, you have a guy who, except for a bad 2008 (which was highly BABIP driven, which is why I felt okay ignoring it), has proven to be about a .375/.490 hitter with 25-30 HR power, and hitting in a lineup that should allow him to score plenty of runs. Even if we knock down those stats a bit - partially due to the decline in offense across the league, partially due to aging - you have a guy who seems likely to put up 20-25 HR, 80+ runs, .365 OBP and .470 SLG. And that is an outfielder I am likely willing to pay $24 for in 2012.

In total, this makes the deal the potential of Rosario and Jackson for 1.333 years of Swisher - and that feels like a win.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Original Ottoneu Team Update

As I did late last week with the Experts' League, today I am going to provide an update on where my team stands in the original ottoneu league.  Again, a screen grab of our standings over the past month will help:

Looking back to the start of July, right around when I was preparing for my month of craziness, I was sitting in fourth place, a nice cushion over fifth and only a couple points from the top. Very quickly I popped up to second and then spent most of the month fighting for second, before fading late in July and finding myself where I am now - solidly in the money, but with a serious uphill battle to claim a bigger share.

Right now, I think my team is in pretty solid shape and I am not sure there is a ton I can do to improve my chances for this year. I need my pitching to improve, and I could move some youngsters for an arm, but as long as my current guys stop imploding (see CJ Wilson, yesterday), I should be okay on that front. My Weaver, Wilson, Zimmermann, Beckett, Garza, Zambrano rotation seems to be okay, especially with a solid seven-man bullpen. And while my offense is my weak spot right now, I don't see any positions that need clear improvement.

My daily lineup:

C - Miguel Montero/David Ross
1B - Prince Fielder
2B - Chase Utley
SS - JJ Hardy
MI - Martin Prado
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
OF - Jose Bautista, Hunter Pence, Nick Swisher, Marlon Byrd, Matt Joyce
Util - Paul Konerko
Bench Guys Who Get Some Run - Garrett Jones (against righties, on occasion), Jason Kipnis (when Byrd or Joyce has a bad matchup and Prado moves to the OF), Scott Sizemore (same), Mark Ellis (only in Colorado and only on occasion), BJ Upton (to fill games in OF when other guys are not playing).

I could improve the OF (and just did actually - Swish was a recent add, and a trade recap post is coming soon), but really, my biggest issue is that I dug a hole for myself while Utley, Prado, Zimmerman, and others were hurt, and while playing Morneau before I added Prince. I should get a little boost when Allen Craig and (maybe) Luke Scott return from injuries - at the very least I get some valuable depth.

But all in all, I think I basically stand pat. I don't have a ton of tradable assets (four minor leaguers - Jaff Decker, Michael Choice, Travis Wood, Andy Oliver - and a few young MLB guys - Sizemore, Kipnis, Chris Nelson - but nothing crazy). I could move Prado, since I have such MI depth among my young guys - would be a bit risky, but nothing out of the question. But really, I think I am going to have to stick with the team I have. If anyone thinks I should be making a move, let me know what I should target.

Far more interesting than my team, though, is that of Overpaid Scrubs. The Scrubs, currently sitting in 5th and having lost ground the last week or so, started the season with little hope of placing, but with one hell of a farm system. Moustakas, Hosmer, Montero, Trout, and more.

Then, starting in Mid-May, this owner went on a buying binge, moving most of his prospects in an effort to fight his way back into contention. Here is a complete list of the trades he made:

-Jaime Garcia for Nelson Cruz
-Matt Moore, Justin Smoak, Brian Matusz, Jameson Taillon for Lincecum, Mike Morse, Joaquin Benoit, Miguel Cabrera
-Randall Delgado, Alexander Torres, Mike Trout, Carlos Martinez for David Price, Brian Wilson, Drew Stubbs
-Juan Nicasio for Brandon Philips
-Drew Stubbs, Nelson Cruz, Jeurys Familia for Verlander and Hamels
-Brent Lillibridge, Jesus Montero, Brandon Morrow, Mike Moustakas, Josh Collmenter for Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera
-Fernando Salas, Zach Stewart, Eric Hosmer, Dee Gordon for Ethier, Dunn, Ubaldo and Shin-Soo Choo

An awful lot of trades, and an awful lot of lost prospects. He went from being a team that was poised to be quite good in 2012 or 2013 to a team that is in a pure win-now mode. The aggressive trading has helped him climb from the cellar to the first division, but, as you can see from the graph above, he seems to have stagnated, and has not stagnated in first or second or even third, but in fifth.

So the question is, what does Overpaid Scrubs do? He still has a few prospects (Michael Montgomery, Jorge Vazquez, Nick Castellanos) and some cheap talent ($2 Laynce Nix, $2 Tyler Clippard, $3 Asdrubal Cabrera, among others) who he could move for overpriced rentals. On the other hand, he is way over the cap and has an awful lot of talent he could trade away to rebuild his farm system before the off-season (Lincecum, Miggy, Verlander, Latos, CarGo, Cano, Hamels, Ubaldo, Price, Choo and Ethier are all over $25, and considering his $722 in salary, he will be forced to cut most of these guys in the off-season anyway).

So what do you do? Is another arm or bat going to push him forward? Or should he cut his losses now? I am a bit biased in this - I would love to add one of his pitchers, maybe one of his OF, so seeing him sell seems ideal to me - but is that really the right move for him? 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fangraphs Experts League Update

Seeing as I started this blog in order to discuss my success (or lack thereof) facing off against the experts of the fantasy baseball world, I figured I should start my return to the blog with a review of where things stand for Amateur Hour - my team in the Fangraphs Experts League.

For starters, below is a graph depicting overall standings going back to June 1 - a couple weeks after my last post and about the time at which life started distracting me from baseball (click to enlarge):

The graph is a bit tough to read but if you go back to June 1, AH is in 5th - not particularly close to 4th, but, as you can see from the run made by Eno's Slaughter over the next week, certainly within striking distance of the top three. And then things go down. While the drop wasn't precipitous, it was constant. Over the next two months, my team slowly slipped in the standings, eventually losing almost 10 points and going from fifth-within-striking-distance-of-third to seventh-and-distantly-behind-sixth.

With just about two months left in the season, its time, for lack of a better phrase, to poop or get off the pot. I have a plethora of young talent I could move in deals - Hosmer, Montero, Moustakas, Teheran, Pomeranz, Machado, Lamb, Brown, and more - to get some rentals and try to make a run. But realistically, I am not sure I have the pieces in place now to make that run feasible.

My pitching is generally solid, but not great, and I am struggling in two categories that are going to be hard to make up ground in - Saves (which just aren't available in a league with 5 RP slots) and K's (where I face a huge climb to catch the teams ahead of me). And my offense is pretty abysmal: 11th in runs, 9th in SB and AVG. I am squarely in the middle of the pack (tied for 6th) in HR and 5th in RBI, but that isn't nearly enough.

But, again, with two months left, it isn't time to wait-and-see anymore. Looking towards next year, there are still some holes on my team that need filling. I need some MI help for sure - Utley at $12 in 2012 is a steal, but Freddy Sanchez and Maicer Izturis, while potentially keepable, cannot by 2/3rds of my starting MI. 3B may be a concern - Sandoval is keepable at $26, but do I WANT to keep him at that when I have Moustakas ready? Of course, I would have to be sure Moustakas was, in fact, ready. Hosmer at 1B seems fine, but what do I have for depth? Carlos Pena is showing power but little more, Helton is aging. And my OF behind Holliday is thin (Pence is probably too expensive to keep, Garrett Jones can only be used half the time, Rajai Davis is going to lose ABs, Vlad will lose his OF eligibility).

And then there is my rotation, which I was happy with most of the year (Halladay, Weaver, Marcum, Dempster, Hellickson, Jurrjens) which clearly has not netted me the stats I want/need. Feliz may be a keepable closer, but I have very little experience with saves or valuing closers (remember, I have mostly played original ottoneu the past few years, where saves aren't counted), so I am not sure what to do with him.

The leaves me looking to pick up young, cheap OF, MI and SP/RP help as I prepare for 2012. Guys I would like to target would be cheap RP who have a shot to become closers soon, but will provide value even if they don't get saves (Kenley Jansen?), SP who can contribute in 2012 but probably won't this year (Josh Johnson? Jacob Turner?), and prospects who are either close or who are up but not REALLY contributing right now (Belt? Trout?) and therefore might be available.

The other side of that equation is that I have to have pieces to offer up. Sadly, one of my biggest trade chips was taken away from me recently - With Arencibia and Montero ready to go, I had planned to trade Brian McCann basically since day one of the season. Instead, he is injured and I am stuck holding him at a 2012 price of $35 and potentially cutting him loose in the off-season.

My other big chips - Halladay and Holliday - are both potentially, keepable, I think. They are expensive, but not prohibitively so, and both are sure-fire production. Of course, if you want to get talent, you have to give up talent, so those two are on the market (for the right price).

Neftali Feliz is available - I like him and the guy clearly has talent, but as I mentioned above, I struggle to value saves and this has me reluctant to tie up $23 in Feliz for next season. This very well may provide an opportunity to an owner who is better at evaluating the value of saves to take advantage of me, but I am still comfortable moving him.

Sandoval is a chip I would expect to see some interest in. With Longoria, Wright and Zimmerman all performing below expectations, 3B has been a weak position this year and Panda is hitting .297 with 10 HR (and a couple steals) despite having played only 63 games thus far. Honestly, I think he is well-worth keeping at $26 next year but, again, you have to move talent to get talent, and I am content to go with Moustakas at 3B next year if need be.

The other guys I am shopping all have their flaws - Chipper is old and has been hurt, Helton doesn't provide much pop for a 1B, Garrett Jones is a platoon player at best, Rajai Davis is in a crowded outfield, etc. - but it may not take a ton to nab one of these guys (or they may be a good way to sweeten a deal for one of the big names mentioned above).

As negotiations get going (IF they get going - there have been almost no trades in this league all year), I will try to post updates here, as appropriate.

In the meantime, here is a screenshot of my roster as of today. Each of these guys will see a $2 salary bump (unless he has 0 MLB experience, in which case it is $1). My question for you - who should I plan to keep and who should I try to trade?

A similar update on my other team (including a run-down of a near-trade a couple weeks ago and an actual trade today) will be up sometime early next week.

It has been two months and two weeks since my last post...

But I promise there is a good reason (series of reasons?) for that. [NOTE: This is not about's an explanation.  Baseball posts return later today.]

Not long after writing my last post, I began a gauntlet of events that distracted me from not only the blog but baseball in general and much of my typical, everyday life. Memorial Day Weekend, I headed south for my bachelor party in New Orleans. Not long after that, I was heavily invested in my final finals of business school, then graduation in early June. Once graduation was complete, I spent two weeks packing up everything I own - about 3/4ths of it to go into storage, the rest to come with me.

About a month ago, towards the end of June, my then-fiancee and I got into our car and drove to Colorado Springs, spent about a week preparing and then got married in front of 125 friends and family at a gorgeous hotel in Manitou Springs, near the base of Pikes Peak. Then my now-wife and I boarded a plane for our honeymoon - four days in Paris, seven in Mauritius (and island off the coast of Madagascar - itself an island off the coast of Africa) in the Indian Ocean.

After the whirlwind of the wedding and the complete calm and quiet of the honeymoon, we flew back to Colorado, hopped in another car (a rental this time) and drove to Seattle - completing a six week period in which I graduated business school, got married, went on a honeymoon and moved across the country. Now I am in the middle of a three week period of getting unpacked and settled before starting a new job.

So...all of that is why posts suddenly dried up, not because I abandoned my blog. Expect an update on both of my Ottoneu teams later today. Should be interesting - one is in full-fledged sales mode, the other is looking to buy (and just made a purchase today!) for the stretch run.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Data on PickSix

A few weeks back, Ottoneu's new daily game was released, and it has quickly grown to over 200 users. Niv Shah sent me some data on the first 12 days of the game (points by position for every entry for each day, totaling 1,632 entries) and I took some time to breakdown some of the numbers.

For starters, I wanted to see if Niv succeeded in creating what he hoped to create - a high variance, daily game that would allow anyone to get involved by having a wide range of possible outcomes. Well, over those 12 days, the average score was 30.8 and the standard deviation was 17. This means, assuming a normal distribution of scores (which appears to be roughly true) that 95% of scores will be between -4 and 64 - but that there is definitely room for scores ranging higher or lower.

In fact, the lowest score seen in the first 12 days was -18.1 (largely driven by Huston Street imploding for -18.7 points, but still, .6 without your reliever is nothing to be proud of).

The highest was 108.7. Actually, in the first 12 days, only two people scored over 100 and both were on the first day. Both rode a combined 33.5 from Zobrist to that total, although one of them got 39.1 out of a single player as well - Lance Berkman.

Among individual players, the averages and ranges differ slightly by position.

Catchers averaged 4.8 points with a standard deviation of 7.3, and ranged from a low of -5 (basically, an 0-X from a position player gets you a score of -X) to a high of 31(courtesy of Victor Martinez on May 9.

Corner Infielders were the best position players on average (5.3) and also had a standard deviation of 7.3. the low here was again -5 and the high was the previously mentioned 39.1 from Berkman. By the way, that 39.1 on day one of Pick Six was the highest score by a single player over those first 12 days.

Middle Infielders were the worst position players (not a surprise) with an average of just 4.1, but again had a standard deviation of 7.3 - the variance has been rather steady. The low score for a MI was -6 and Zobrists 33.5 was the highest.

Outfielders were paced by the same 39.1 from Berkman as Corner Infielders, and were second best overall at 5.2. They also had slightly more variance (7.6) but the difference is basically meaningless. The low score was -6 as well.

Pitchers did not have quite as high variance - 3.9 for SP and 5.3 for RP, but something interesting is going on with RP, which I'll explore in a moment. SP averaged 7.9 points per entry - easily the most valuable position, but their low standard deviation suggests a limited upside - which proved to be true. The highest SP score was 16.5, a May 4 effort by C.J. Wilson. The lowest was -6.6 out of Ryan Dempster on April 28 - a start used by just one Pick Six user.

As I mentioned, there is something odd going on with RP. The average for relievers is just 3.4, lower than any other position, but this is LARGELY driven by RP not playing. Every other position you can find out before the game if the guy is playing or not - RP are a bit of a leap of faith. When you eliminate the 876 relievers who didn't enter games, the average jumps up to 7.4 - nearly in line with SP and above the position players. The standard deviation barely budges to 5.5.

A few other interesting notes:
Already covered the highest scores overall, but the worst position player scores were Dustin Pedroia on 5/4 and Brennan Boesch on 4/30, both with -6. I feel for the users who picked Pedroia, but Boesch? Sometimes you get what you deserve.

The correlations between total points and points from any given position range from .47 to .50 for position players, but are just .22 for SP and .34 for RP. I haven't explored this fully yet, but I believe this is a result of users picking position players who are facing bad pitchers - take 2-3 Indians when they face Kyle Davies as happened last night, and you are going to have a lot of success. I think a lot of people use that strategy (I will have to look that up somehow) and so when that pitcher really does struggle, you end up not only with a good score from your OF or MI or CI, but from all of them - leading to a high total score. Of course this also works the other way - that pitcher steps up, you are in trouble.

Interestingly, I have avoided this strategy, feeling that I didn't want to risk having a really bad day, just to take a shot at a great day - besides, no reason I can't have a great day picking players from multiple teams.

Well, it seems I was right. My average score since day one is 37.6 and my standard deviation is a bit lower than the overall, at 14.9, so I have had slightly less volatility than the average user. As I have solidified that strategy, the difference has become more stark - my standard deviation the last 10 days is just over 10 (note that I do not have overall data for the last ten days, so it may be that EVERYONE is getting less volatile).

So what does this all suggest? Well, if your goal is to play for the long-haul - have a high average and brag about your consistency - you probably want to diversify your lineup and go with safe RP. You can accept a missed night from your RP but not a Street-like collapse.

But if you are playing for glory and greatness - if your goal is to win a day and have everyone look up at you on the leader board for those 24 hours - make sure you find a RP who is likely to pitch that night (hasn't gone the past couple days) and take a risk on an offense going up against a pitcher likely to stink up the joint - it is probably your best bet for a big night.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Creation of ottoneu - Part I

This post is going to be a departure for me, something a bit different than my typical analysis of ottoneu leagues (which will return with another look at Pick Six next week). 

Anyone reading this blog knows about ottoneu as it exists today and likely plays in an ottoneu league. But the birth of the format, which has not been discussed much, will shed quite a bit of light on why ottoneu is what it is. Over the next few weeks or maybe months I am going to try to lay out the story of the creation of ottoneu, the trials of its infancy, its growth and eventually its unveiling. The primary characters of the stories will be Niv (who you know as the man behind ottoneu), Geoff (who you don't know at all but really, really should) and myself (me).

For the man behind ottoneu, Niv Shah, his love affair with baseball starts here and here (or at least takes a big jump forward there). But Niv doesn't even go to that game if I don't make him, and I don't make him if I hadn't been blown away a seemingly normal game on August 13, 1992.

This certainly pre-dates anything directly related to ottoneu, but provides some background on my baseball fandom - which would eventually help nurture Niv's baseball fandom, which made ottoneu possible, thanks to Geoff's stroke of genius. But you'll have to wait a bit to hear about that.


Every baseball fan has that moment - the one clear moment when they remember falling in love with the game. There are the stories from old timers ("I remember looking through a hole in the fence at the old stadium when Joe DiMaggio came to town and seeing him just tear a ball down the line"); the traditional stories ("Coming out of the concourse and seeing the gorgeous green field and smelling the dirt - it was a religious experience"); the dramatic stories ("Joe Carter. 1993. World Series Winner").

But my story - my baseball moment - is in many ways unremarkable. First of all, this was by no means my first game. I had been to a ton of Indians games over the years. I grew up a huge sports fans with parents who never really understood that passion, but were happy to feed it. I also have an uncle who is a sports fan and lived two doors down from me most of my youth but didn't have a son of his own. Plenty of opportunities to head to games.

But the first one I remember and remember clearly was apparently in 1992. I say apparently because my recollection is that I was about 7 or 8, which would put us in the late '80's, but assures me it was in 1992, when I was 10.

Finding the box score for the game was actually not that hard to do, because much of the night I remember accurately. I remember exactly who the starting pitchers were that night. And I remember that it was at night. And I remember I was not in school at the time.

I remember all this because on this particular evening I sat down to dinner with my family, probably around 5:30 and promptly began talking about that night's game. The Red Sox were in town and Roger Clemens was going to be on the mound. As a ten-year-old baseball fan, this was plenty of cause to go to the game.

Actually, as any baseball fan, this was cause to go to the game. In 1992, Clemens put up a 176 ERA+ and would finish 3rd in the Cy Young voting. He had won the Cy Young the year before.

Not that I cited any of this. What I cited in my well thought out argument for going to the game that night was that Clemens, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, one of the best of his generation, a once-in-a-lifetime talent that we had to see was going toe-to-toe that night with the electric, unbeatable, immortal...Charles Nagy.

Now, I don't want to go bashing Charles Nagy. Nagy may not have been Clemens, but it is worth noting that Nagy was a very solid pitcher in his career. From 1991-1999, Nagy put up more than 200 innings six times. He had an ERA+ over 130 three times and was over 100 four more.

But to a ten-year-old Indians fan, what mattered is that he was our ACE. He was only 25 and with Sandy Alomar, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Paul Sorrento, Kenny Lofton, and Jim Thome, he was part of a core offering hope for a team that hadn't had success in 38 years.

And so I wanted to go see what our ace could do against THE ace. In retrospect, it seems kind of silly. No one, even in 1992, was clamoring for a showdown between Nagy and Clemens.

But I was.

My parents relented (this is how I know I was not in school - never would have happened on a school night) and we went down to old Municipal Stadium. At this point in Indians history, we were still in the era of wandering up to the box office and getting whatever tickets you wanted because NO one went to those games. So we showed up no earlier than ten to seven, and probably even closer to opening pitch, and bought tickets. Directly behind home plate.

This is, again, where my recollection and reality don't seem perfectly aligned. I remember two aces - two giants of the pitching world - going head-to-head, matching each other pitch-for-pitch. I remember a pitcher's duel unlike any other.

And that was half right. Both pitchers went 8 innings. Both pitchers K'd 9. Clemens threw 121 pitches, 77 for strikes. Nagy found the zone with 86 of 138 pitches.

But that is where the pitcher's duel ends. Nagy and Clemens gave up 8 hits each and Nagy walked 3 (Clemens only walked 1). And Nagy gave up 4 ER to Clemens' 2. Nagy happened to bunch his walks in the bottom of the 5th (walked two and then intentionally walked Wade Boggs to load the bases with two outs) and the Sox made him pay with back-to-back-to-back singles, driving in all four runs over the course of three hitters. Clemens gave one back in the bottom of that inning on a sac fly and Glenallen Hill (who used to CRUSH the ball) added a HR in the bottom of the 8th, but the four from the 5th held up and the Sox won.

Neither team was particularly good at that point. Actually, both teams were downright bad, a far cry from the Sox and Indians teams that would play until the wee hours of the night in a 1995 Division Series game, and continue to meet in the playoffs multiple times in the '90s and '00s. And the game, as you can see, was not that great a game. But it stuck with me.

I've had a lot of other baseball memories over the years, thanks in large part to the powerful Indians teams that grew out of that young team in '92. Manny Ramirez absolutely crushing a Dennis Eckersley pitch for a game winning grand slam comes to mind (mostly due to Eck clearly mouthing "wow" as he walked off the field). Tony Pena's walk-off in game one of the 1995 Division Series at some ungodly hour in the morning. Kenny Lofton coming around from second on a wild pitch (passed ball?) with Randy Johnson on the mound in the ALCS that year. Omar Vizquel whiffing on a suicide squeeze which somehow resulted in a huge run against the Orioles in the 1997 playoffs.

And, as with any Cleveland fan, not all of those memories are quite so sweet - Charles Nagy coming oh-so-close to fielding Edger Renteria's chopper in game 7 of the '97 World Series. Lofton holding at third against Boston in 2007. Everything that Jaret Wright did after teasing us in 1997.

But one August night in 1992, as a ten-year-old, I went to a decrepit old stadium to see a legend match up with a completely league average pitcher, saw a pretty typical Major League game between two rotten teams far out of the playoff chase, and fell in love with the game.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Original Ottoneu: Trade Recap

After completing my first FanGraphs Experts League trade last week, I followed it up with my first in-season trade of the year in the original ottoneu league. As the other owners in this league can tell you, I LOVE to trade and I am always active in the trade market, either as a buyer or seller. The fact that I have already made one trade and am in talks for one to two more is a surprise to no one.

But this is a somewhat odd trade for me to have made. Around the time I posted this, I began to explore the possibility of parting ways with Chad Billingsley. I actually think he is quite valuable in the 4x4 format and at $28, I do not think he is overpriced for his production, but I received some feedback before and during the season suggesting that most of the other owners would not have paid him that much and that his market value is actually below what I am paying him.With my team falling to last in the standings, he was one of the players I expected to sell before the year was out.

I went through the standings to see who was in a position to compete but struggling with their SP and sent out feeler emails to a few owners, and got a bite. Actually, and this becomes important, I got exactly one bite. Most of the responses I received were tepid at best, ranging from "I'm pretty lukewarm on him" to "Oh no, I hate Billingsley." (To be fair, the latter stemmed from anti-Dodger sentiment more than anything else).

But one owner expressed interest. Over the next couple weeks, talks went slowly and my team bounced around between 12th and 10th. I knew that the other owner was exploring some other deals, including one for Cliff Lee from an owner who I knew was entering full-on sales mode. We started to settle on a deal that would include either Jordan Zimmermann ($5) or Zach Britton ($3) along with a couple prospects. I couldn't get him to bite on sending me Brandon  Belt, but names like Archer, Choice, Segura, Machado, and Arodys Vizcaino were tossed around.

And then something odd happened. His team began to drop, falling from the top 5, while my team started to climb. By the beginning of the week, he and I were bouncing between 7th and 8th, and over the next couple days, I climbed as high as 3rd (for about an hour). But we kept talking and settled on a deal that would send him Billingsley and some cash for Zimmermann, Choice ($1) and Archer ($3).

My situation had changed. On Wednesday, I was in 4th when my hand was forced - the owner I was dealing with proposed the trade and gave me until 5:30 p.m. that evening or he was pulling the deal. I could have called his bluff, but I knew he could get Lee (for a higher price) or 1-2 other pitchers, and this deal really would be off the table.

Looking to the future, I think I got good value here. Zimmermann should develop into a solid starter (I think the k-rate will come back as he continues to recover from surgery), I really like what Choice brings to the table, and I think Archer could be a decent contributor - although I kind of hope he ends up in a relief role, where I think he will have more value for me.

From a 2011 perspective, I think it is clear he got more value. In evaluating this, I'll assume no 2011 value from the prospects: Choice is nowhere near the bigs and Archer seems unlikely to contribute this year either. But even so, I don't think the spread is huge. The rest of season ZiPS projection for Billingsley is 166 IP, 8.46 K/9, .6 HR/9, 3.42 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. For Zimmerman, 82 IP (by far the biggest gap), 7.13 K/9, .88 HR/9, 3.84 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. Clearly Billingsley is the better pitcher, or projects to be, but Zimmermann is younger and much cheaper. Plus, I have strengthened my farm system to the point that I may be able to make another deal for a SP.

So the conundrum I was left with was whether to take a forward looking trade that would likely leave me needing to make another deal to get back to a solid rotation for 2011 when I was pushing up towards the money.

And this is where the fact that I got absolutely no other interest in Billingsley factors in. If this other owner made his deals and settled into a rotation he liked, I had no market to move Billingsley later in the year. In the end, I decided the value I expect (hope?) to get from Zimmermann would be enough to keep me afloat until I can figure out something else, and that I had to jump at the pure value of this deal before it disappeared.

It is not every day that you see a team in 4th move a front-line starter to a team in 8th for an unproven youngster and prospects, but I think in this case it was the right move for me. As always, would love to know what you think!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Trade Recap

Sunday evening I completed my first trade of the year in the FanGraphs Experts League. I'll deliver my evaluation here, but what I am really looking for is your feedback - was this a good trade for me to make?

As always, we need to start with some context. In this case, the only real context you need is that the only 3B eligible player on my roster as of right now is Pablo Sandoval who is obviously not going to be of much use to me for a while. I scoured the waiver wire and found pretty sparse options - Brandon Inge, Jamey Carroll, Jorge Cantu, Aaron Miles...Jack Hannahan (who I may actually start an auction on at some point) was probably my best choice, based on current performance.

Unimpressed, I turned to the trade market and found VERY few teams sitting with backup 3B. Injuries to Longoria and Zimmerman surely had something to do with that. I identified basically four candidates - Dyersville Nine had Chipper Jones riding the pine; Eno's Slaughter had Placido Polanco potentially available; and Andy Behrens had David Freese and Chase Headley on the bench.

I spoke with Eno Sarris late in the process re: his roster (he also has Martin Prado, who is 3B eligible) but he confirmed that only Polanco is available and Polanco as a daily 3B is pretty unattractive. Behrens didn't want to talk about David Freese (who subsequently got hurt himself) and asked about $1 OF/MI options for Headley. The only real option I had there was to move Orlando Cabrera or Chris Carter...and Behrens wasn't interested in either.

That left me with just Chipper. I talked to Andy Andres and he inquired on Asdrubal Cabrera. I have Cabrera signed at $6 and he is CLEARLY outperforming that value to date. The .263 BA is not world-beating, but 5 HR and 2 steals looks awfully good from a SS. As an Indians fan, I would love to believe that this start is legit and that Cabrera is about to become a hell of a value at $6, and a player I would be able to hold onto for years. Instead, I think it's just a power surge. Realistic season expectations from Cabrera moving forward? .280 avg, 7 HR, 10 SB. He'll score some runs batting second in a pretty good lineup, but I just don't think Cabrera is going to become a 15 HR, 15 SB guy.

Andy offered to sweeten the deal and gave me a few choices - Dexter Fowler ($12) or Denard Span ($11) to help with speed, Maicer Izturis ($2), Clint Barmes, Jason Bartlett, Alex Gonzalez or Jose Iglesias (all $1) to fill MI now that I am short a Cabrera, or a couple pitchers, who I wasn't at all interested in.

Looking at my roster, I decided I didn't need to pay for Span or Fowler. I am behind on SB and runs, but just got back Rajai Davis, and my OF is reasonably full - Holliday, Pence, Vlad, Davis, Julio Borbon, Alex Rios, Garrett Jones, Carlos Lee and the soon to return Domonic Brown. Lee and Jones have been helping at 1B and Util with Carlos Pena being a disaster, but I just added Todd Helton, which should ease that burden. Regardless, there is not a lot of room to play Span or Fowler.

Instead, I turned to the MI guys, and the one who jumped out at me was Izturis. Honestly, with playing time, I see no reason he can't match Asdrubal. Since 2007, he has played only 61 to 114 games each year, but when he plays, he hits for decent average, shows reasonable pop for a MI and steals bags.

In the end, I felt I had two options - Move Cabrera for Chipper plus on the guys listed above, or leave 3B empty until I can add a replacement level 3B and give up on the year. I am currently in 8th place and it is too early to sit it out, particularly with Brown back soon and Utley hopefully coming back before TOOOO long. So I made the move.

Now, since the deal was accepted, Izturis was scratched from an Angels game and may be headed to the DL, which is a shame. It changes the complexion of the deal for sure, but not to the point that I regret it. Assuming he gets back soon and plays most of the rest of the year, I think I am still better offer with him and Chipper than I was with my alternative. And if Maicer proves worth keeping, I would have him at $4 instead of Cabrera at $8 next year.

But, as I said, what I really want to know is what you think.  So...responses? Should I have made the trade? Should I have just stuck with a free agent?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

ottoneu PickSix Strategy

As many of you know, ottoneu just launched a new, daily game called Pick Six. Over the past couple weeks, I have been helping test the new game and basically been throwing together lineups daily. The details on the game are explained quite well by creator Niv Shah, so I won't bore you with repetition. Instead, I will try to offer some strategic insights. 

Here are 6 (naturally) things to think about when picking your Pick Six lineup:

1) Saves are actually quite high value (5 pts, about the same as a hit which is 5.6) and so a perfect inning to close a game earns you at least 10 points (5 for IP, 5 for save) plus 2 pts per K. BUT - holds are worth 4 pts. Which significantly closes the gap between, for example, Heath Bell and Mike Adams. It also means that there is some value in relievers who go more than one inning, which closers almost never do. The point is, don't just jump at the best closer you can afford (or the closer playing the weakest opponent) - there are some very good values out there among non-closing-relievers.

2) Watch the weather forecasts. Well...maybe not...but be aware that a rain out can crush your chances of performing well. With 6 positions all expected to, on average, produce the same value, a rain out costs you about 17% of your points for the day. Take two guys from one team (and this will be tempting when, for example, the Yankees face some terrible 5th starter) and lose that game to rain and you are going to have a pretty awful night. This doesn't mean you should check the weather maps before picking your team (the whole point of Pick Six is that it should be quick and fun and easy), but if you live in Chicago (like me) and know that it is raining (like I did yesterday) and decide to take Tulo (like I did yesterday)...that just isn't smart.

3) Remember that your SP do not get credit for wins. Scared to take Kershaw cause he is facing off against Lincecum? Don't worry about it - the stats he should rack up facing the Giants lineup will be quite nice and even if Timmy throws a perfect game, it doesn't impact you at all (other than the fact that you didn't pick him on the night he threw a perfect game).

4) Beware the platoon. Since lineups lock when the first game of the day starts, you need to be careful about guys who are not everyday players. This is particularly important with catchers who take at least a day off every week. Picking a guy who ends up riding the pine for the night costs you the same 17% as a rain out. 

5) When filling out lineups, think about value guys first. Know you can get an OF you love with a great match-up for $5? Grab him before filling in the other spots. If you can lock in a couple discounted players early (say at CI and OF), when you turn to MI and realize the match-ups aren't great and you have to spend big on Cano or Tulo, you can afford it.

6) The leaderboard shows usernames, and there are a few to keep an eye out for:
  • nivshah (@ottoneu) - created and programmed the game
  • dooberfig - responsible for the birth of ottoneu six years ago and behind a lot of the math involved in valuing players in Pick Six
  • chy924 (@chadyoung) - me, purporting to be an expert, probably not actually an expert
If you happen to see that you beat any of us...well...we have been playing this game for like two weeks now and so we probably deserved to be mocked. So bring it on. We can take it. Right, Niv?

Happy picking!

Friday, April 22, 2011

When to Buy

When I wrote the other day about when to start a fire sale, commenter Zach asked about the flip side of that coin - when to become a buyer. This, I think, is a much more difficult question to answer, as a lot of it depends on what "matters" to you in fantasy baseball, but I am going to try to lay out some criteria just the same.

To start, as with any good model, we need to lay out some assumptions. In this case, I am going to assume that your league is like the original ottoneu league (prizes for the top three finishers) and that you are like me (finishing in the money and bragging rights are your main objectives, but you place a serious premium on finishing first, beyond just the additional cash). I am also quite content to finish dead last if it means putting me in a better position for the following season, and I am similarly happy to doom myself to a dead last finish next year in order to win this year - not everyone will make these trade offs, so you may need to adjust the criteria accordingly.

With that said, here are my three criteria for determining if you should buy.

1) You can't win the league with what you have. It's this first criteria that some people (read: I) tend to ignore.

In 2007, I basically ran away with the original ottoneu league. I led more or less wire-to-wire and had a double-digit lead most of the time. But on August 7, 2007, I made not one but two trades. In total, I added Pat Burrell, Jonathon Broxton, and Brandon Webb in exchange for Ian Snell, Carlos Villanueva, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Murton. Broxton, Burrell and Webb were all way to expensive to keep, at the time, so this was purely a win-now set of moves.

It happens that in this situation I had fortune on my side. In hindsight, we all know that what I gave up amounts doesn't amount to anything, really. Dempster would be nice to have, but the rest of those guys really have not been missed at all. But imagine Murton turned into the high OBP, solid OF I expected? Or that Snell didn't fall off a cliff or that Gomez developed... I potentially would be out an awful lot of cheap talent and all I would have to show for it was a title and a check that I would have won even without the trades.

Cheap, young talent is the lifeblood of a successful ottoneu team - don't give it up to secure a victory that was, barring something unforeseen, already secure. You have to be realistic, but when deciding to buy, make sure you are buying something of value - if you can win with what you have, don't mortgage the future.

2) The chance to win is in front of you. When this happens, jump at it. MLB teams rarely get a shot to win a World Series (Yankees and Red Sox notwithstanding) which is why, when the chance arrives, very few prospects are untouchable. In the immortal words of Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game," and you don't pass up that chance to win.

I am currently sitting 4th in the FanGraphs Experts League and have a pretty talented farm system (Hosmer, Montero, Moustakas, Teheran, Lamb). My expectation is that 2012 is my year, since those guys should be producing, and I will still have an inexpensive rotation (Hellickson, Weaver, and Marcum are all cheap enough to keep) and some potential value pieces on offense (Utley, Domonic Brown, Arencibia, etc.). But let's say we roll into June or July or August and I have a shot to win right now. Maybe the lineup I have can't cut it but if I gut my farm system to add a couple pieces, I can take the league. My stance is that I HAVE to go for it. Yes, I am dooming my team to failure in 2012, but I will fail just as badly if Hosmer turns out to be a AAAA guy, Lamb doesn't develop and Hellickson blows out his arm. Why go into 2012 on a gamble if I can make a much safer bet on 2011?

3) There are sellers out there. There is an odd clash between buyers and sellers in ottoneu leagues - the earlier you buy, the better (you give up future value either way, but the difference between four months of an all-star and two months of that same player is huge), and conversely, the later you sell, the better (you maximize the time you have to see if your team can turn it around and compete).

Looking at this from an economic standpoint, to entice a team to sell earlier than they want, you have to compensate them for the option value they would have if they had sold later. Effectively, what this means is that there are ALWAYS sellers, as long as you offer a high enough price.

This is where things come down to personal choice. I believe in buying aggressively when you buy, and if you have to give up one more prospect or a better pair of prospects or something to get a deal done in April or May instead of July or August, you are probably better off paying that price.

But I know that a lot of other owners feel differently - in their minds, it seems, if you are not 100% sure you can win, you should wait to make the trade. The problem I see with this is that the value you need doesn't change, but I think the TOTAL price you have to pay goes up. Yes, you can probably get Albert Pujols for less on July 15 than on May 1. But five months of Pujols is far more valuable and to get the same value on July 15, you probably need to trade for Pujols and another star-level bat. So if you need those five months of value to win the league, your choices are to pay a premium to get Pujols ASAP or pay for Pujols and, for example, Braun, in a couple months. But my guess is that Braun and Pujols on July 15 will cost you more than Pujols alone on May 1 (as long as Pujols owner is willing to sell him on May 1).

Finally, ONLY get that player from an owner who has shown a willingness to sell (even if they are hesitant). If you have to talk an owner who is not considering selling into selling, you will overpay. But, as soon as you get the sense that an owner is ready to move present pieces for future ones...jump on it.

That was all a bit complicated, so let me boil it down to this: if you are a player or two away from winning, you should get that player as early as you possibly can. The longer you wait, the less value you get per trade, the more trades you have to make and the higher the total cost.

So where does that leave you, an owner who thinks you might be a buyer, today? Think realistically about your team - can your team as currently constructed "win" (with win being defined as whatever you want - first place, top three, competitive all year, etc.)? If yes, don't waste future talent for unneeded pieces. If not, consider whether you can win AT ALL. If not, again, don't waste your time buying and chasing an impossible dream. If yes, look around at the market - are there sellers out there? At least people who could reasonably be talked into selling? If no, then hold off - don't go crazy overpaying to convince someone to sell. But if there are is an owner who shows a willingness, however slight, to sell off pieces, consider that a door left ajar and find your way in. You'll get a better return from one big trade today than from needing to make two or three trades in August.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The First Trade

Early this morning, Eno Sarris and Andy Behrens completed the first ever trade in the ottoneu FanGraphs Experts League. It wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but still worth taking a look at, particularly because it nearly included yours truly.

Eno's Slaughter (bet you can guess which guy owns that team) sent Aaron Harang (priced at $1) to Andy Behrens (nothing like eponymous fantasy owners) in exchange for Placido Polanco (also $1).

At first glance, this deal seems to pretty clearly favor Andy - Harang, particularly pitching in Petco, is an awfully valuable piece. He won't anchor your staff (and he may not provide many wins) but he will perform well, help your rates and, if the first three weeks of the year are a signal, help out in K's as well. Even if you can't use him every time out, 15 starts in Petco, a couple in Dodger stadium, a couple at AT&T park and a few more non-division road games in pitcher's parks is a solid contribution.

Polanco, on the other hand, is hardly a world-beater at 2B. He has 2 HR so far this year, but had only 6 last year and has seen double digits just once since 2004. He hasn't broken 7 steals since 2003, although he should provide good average.

So you've got a high-upside SP swapped for a middling MI.

But there is some context to consider. First, looking at Eno's team, he has a number of starters ahead of Harang (Josh Johnson, Mat Latos, Ricky Romero, Jaime Garcia, John Danks, Wandy Rodriguez) and a couple guys (Erik Bedard, Derek Holland) who could provide value as well. Suddenly, losing Harang doesn't seem like a big deal. On the other side, Eno has been abysmal when it comes to batting average and his MI to date has been okay at best (Prado has been fine at 2B, but Andrus is hitting under .240 and Ryan Raburn has been just brutal). And he has no other MI on his roster.

Andy has Cano and Uggla at 2B and MI, meaning Polanco has no shot to crack his lineup. So he gave up a pure bench piece and added a nice part to a rotation that has struggled a bit (Liriano, Gallardo, Ervin Santana, Max Scherzer and Chad Billingsley make up his top five).

All in all, this seems like a perfect win-win trade - both teams gave up a relatively unimportant piece and got one with the potential to help out.

But, as I mentioned at the beginning, I ALMOST played a role in this deal. Prior to finalizing the deal with Andy, Eno and I were discussing a deal that would send Matt Laporta ($2) to my team for Alcides Escobar ($5). From my perspective, this would have been a big help - Escobar is one of five decent-to-solid MI on my team (Asdrubal Cabrera, Orlando Cabrera, Orlando Hudson and Freddy Sanchez are the others) not counting Chase Utley. But my 1B and Util situations are ugly (Carlos Pena and Jim Thome) and I could use OF reinforcements as well.

But, from Eno's perspective, Alcides is $4 more than Polanco and Laporta is probably of more use to him than Harang. I could argue that Alcides has more upside and will provide much more speed, but I am not sure I would disagree with Eno's decision, regardless.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When to Sell

Three days ago I sent this tweet:
how early is too early for a firesale? my team in original  is REALLY struggling...
Today, @ottoneu sent this:
When does it make sense to start thinking about building for next season rather than going trying to win now?
Between us we have heard back from two people - a fellow original ottoneu owner told me it's never too early (although he just wants me to start selling so he can start buying) and an owner who has a sale already underway. Not a ton of help yet, so I figured I would take a close look at two things:

  1. What criteria should an ottoneu team meet to qualify for a firesale?
  2. Does my team in the original ottoneu meet those criteria?
Luckily, my team in the FanGraphs Experts League is definitely not in firesale mode - a few solid days have put me in 5th place (I'll try to have a recap of that league in full next week) - but my original ottoneu team is a disaster so far.

Looking at what qualifies you for a firesale, the first (and most obvious) criteria is that your team can't be in the top 5-6 spots when you start the firesale. For example, Gerbils on Speed in original ottoneu came into the season already with one eye on 2012, although he did hope to succeed in 2011. That team currently sits in first place and the owner is now feeling a bit of a pinch - he doesn't want to hold his pricey stars (Lincecum at $58, Hanley at $57, Miggy at $52 and more) and finish out of the money (4th). But he also doesn't want to sell off those guys when he has a shot to win. 

This can actually be a rather difficult position to be in. When you feel confident your team can't keep up its current performance, you want to think about trading away unkeepable pieces. But, then again the WORST thing you can do is quit on a team that has a shot to win a championship. 

I found myself in this position in 2009, and sold later than I wanted. The result was a partial rebuild - good enough to build up a team for 2010, but not a team that could win. Had I not landed Jose Bautista in an early-season auction, I likely would have found myself just as in-between in 2010.

So, now that we have established you can't sell if you are in the first division, the next question is what makes a team placed 7th - 12th a candidate for a firesale, and the criteria I would focus on here, particularly this early in the season, is that you can't be riding a significant number of unlucky streaks. If you have a few bats and a couple arms that are all facing some bad luck (odd batted ball numbers, BABIPs way out of line, etc.) it can throw things off a lot. If you have a few guys who are performing below expectation and you have good reason to think they will bounce back in the coming weeks, selling now could cost you a shot to climb back into contention.

For example, in the Experts League, I am struggling in SB, but two of the guys I bought for SB potential - Julio Borbon and Rajai Davis - have really underperformed. Borbon yet to steal a base and Davis is on the DL. But there is no reason to think at least one of these guys won't provide me a boost on the base paths. Even if that team were not top five, I would hate to sell when the team hasn't had a full chance to perform as it can.

The final criteria to qualify for a firesale is that you shouldn't be waiting on a boost in talent that can be expected shortly. If you are struggling on offense but have a couple top bats in AAA that are due up soon, you might want to see what they can do. If you have Johan Santana or another injured pitcher due back soon, don't forget that you have 100 ace-level innings and overstate the trouble your pitching is having in the early going.

That leaves us three criteria on which to judge whether you are ready to start a firesale:
  1. You are outside the top 6
  2. You have had average-to-good luck
  3. You don't have a performance booster coming in shortly
With that, let me apply these criteria to my team in original ottoneu. The first is a breeze - even if you want to argue that in mid-April, top 6 is too strict a criteria to apply, the Freeport Pretzels are in 12th place, 1.5 out of 11th and 8.5 out of 10th. And this is a 4x4 league, so points are at a greater premium than in traditional 5x5 leagues.

As for the second, without diving too deep, I tried to divide my offense and pitching into categories of over vs. under performing. Let's start with the offense and begin with guys performing as expected:
  • Miguel Tejada (.308 OBP/.429 SLG, 1 HR, 4 R)*
  • Marlon Byrd (.351/.436, 0, 10)
  • B.J. Upton (.346/.457, 2, 8)
You can argue that Upton is overachieving, but I think this is a reasonable line from him. As for the over-performers:
  • Miguel Montero (.511/.711, 2, 8)
  • Paul Konerko (.407/.529, 3, 8)
  • Jose Bautista (.510/.595, 3, 9)
  • Ryan Zimmerman (.487/.536, 1, 5)
Zimmerman and Konerko you can argue with (Konerko cause he may actually be close to that good, Zimmerman cause he has been hurt so his counting stats are low), but I don't think Bautista will continue to get on base 51% of the time, nor do I think Montero will slug over .700 all year. Finally, the guys who are not meeting expectations:
  • Martin Prado (.276/.411, 1, 7)
  • Luke Scott (.357/.304, 0, 3)
  • Hunter Pence (.344/.429, 1, 3)
  • Justin Morneau (.269/.327, 0, 4)
  • Jim Thome (.294/.367, 1, 4)
  • Raul Ibanez (.304/.333, 1, 9)
So this is the longest list so far, but there are some real concerns here. Morneau may still be feeling the impact of his concussion, Thome may have finally remembered how old he is, Ibanez may be done. Pence may not be under-performing, to be honest. So while I think these guys have been below expectations, I am not sure they are as far below as Montero and Bautista are above. Finally, let's take a look at the "wild-cards" I have been using - guys who I wasn't sure what to expect from but was hoping to get real value from:
  • Brad Emaus (.294/.200, 0, 2)
  • Matt Joyce (.342/.378, 0, 3)
  • J.J. Hardy (.294/.400, 0, 4)
  • Brent Morel (.244/.296, 0, 6)
Not one of these guys has done what I hoped and my concern is that I have no reason to believe they WILL do what I hoped in the future. Joyce is the most likely to turn it around (he may have actually already started that process), but the others may be a lost cause.

All in all, I think the offense meets the second critera - I don't think I have had particularly bad luck. Yes, I do think I have been unlucky in that the guys I needed to break out have basically all flopped, but I don't see any reason to think that a simple turn in luck/regression to the mean/return to averages will result in a big climb on offense.

Next, let's turn to the pitchers. The guys performing as expected:
  • C.J. Wilson (3.72 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 0.00 HR/9, 12 K in 19.1 IP)
  • Heath Bell (1.50, 1.00, 0.00, 2 in 6)
Short list, eh? Both guys will give up HR at some point, and Bell will get more K's eventually, but in terms of overall value, these guys are what we thought they were. The list of over-achievers in my pitching staff is equally short:
  • Jered Weaver (1.30, .78, 0.65, 31 in 27.2)
  • Josh Beckett (2.08, .92, 0.00, 14 in 13)
Not much to say here. Weaver is legit but can't keep THAT up. Beckett may have bounced back, but the chance of injury and his track record from 2010 make me awfully nervous. As for the long list of guys who have under-performed to date:
  • Chad Billingsley (7.71, 1.71, 1.29, 13 in 14)
  • Carlos Zambrano (6.11, 1.59, 1.53, 13 in 17.2)
  • Matt Garza (6.27, 1.71, 0.00, 25 in 18.2)
  • Clay Buchholz (6.60, 1.73, 3, 8 in 15)
  • Takashi Saito (9.00, 2.50, 9.00, 3 in 2)
  • Matt Thornton (7.71, 3.21, 1.93, 3 in 4.2)
  • Rafael Soriano (7.71, 1.50, 0.00, 4 in 4.2)
  • Rafael Betancourt (4.05, 1.05, 2.70, 7, 6.2)
If it weren't for Betancourt (who would belong in the "as expected" list if not for the 2.70 HR/9) the ERA's here would all be above 6 and the WHIPs all above 1.5. That is actually good news as every single one of these guys is basically 100% guaranteed to improve. The problem is I don't know that these guys can bounce back enough. Zambrano is a bit of a wildcard, Garza has actually pitched incredibly well and been very unlucky, but he isn't going to strike out almost 1.5 guys an inning the rest of the way. And relievers are always a crap shoot.

That said, overall, my pitching has some hope. I feel good about the ability for my pitching to pitch as expected the rest of the way. The issue is that I never expected to have a top 3 staff - I thought I would have the 5th or 6th best staff and that would be enough to keep a good offense in the money. But unless they turn around FAST, I will end up with five months of a top 6 staff which, when averaged with a dead last pitching staff is probably not enough to get into the top 3 overall.

As for the second criteria as a whole - I think my pitching can rebound, but not sure how much. I think my offense kind of is what it is. And combined, that is not a team I expected to climb into the money.

Finally, let's look at the third criteria: the presence of guys who could provide a spark but haven't played yet:
  • Chase Utley
  • Scott Sizemore
  • Chris Carter
  • Brandon Allen
A couple things to note here - first, there are no pitchers. Other than the Indians rushing Pomeranz or the Tigers bringing up Andy Oliver, I have no pitching help coming, unless I make some trades or find a gem on the FA market. Utley is clearly the biggest piece here, but really, I am not sure I see anything to write home about. All in all, I think I will get a nice boost at MI, but not nice enough to overcome my shortcomings elsewhere.  

Having said that, I think there is a big caveat to this: I have, based on two weeks of stats, more or less written off Emaus, Joyce, Hardy, and Morel, assumed Ibanez to be done, Morneau to be still concussed, Thome to be done, Prado to have fallen off for the year, etc. And those are some drastic assumptions to make just two weeks in. If those guys return to form or produce like I think they can, suddenly Utley and maybe a bump from Carter or Allen goes a long long way. Honestly, that is not far from the roster I ended last season with, minus a couple SP who I could get via trade if I need to. And I won the league last year.

Based on that, I think my best bet is to hold on a couple weeks, at least, and see where I am then - and to reconsider each of the three criteria above. Of course someone could blow me away with an offer. There are some guys I really like (Hosmer, Moustakas, Trout, Teheran, Turner, among others) and the right package including some guys like that could convince me that now is the right time to sell.

*Stats as of the start of 4/16

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Use RP in a 4x4 League

In a comment on a previous post, Brian asked about RP usage in ottoneu 4x4 leagues. I started to break down the strategy I used in past seasons and decided I needed more space than a simple comment, hence this post.

Before diving in, here is a quick primer on the RP context of ottoneu 4x4: As with all ottoneu leagues, you have five RP and five SP slots, and you are scored on ERA, WHIP, HR/9 and K. You are allowed 1250-1500 innings pitched over the season.

Brian's comment suggested relievers are overpriced and that he was better off investing in starting pitching - he even goes so far as to leave two RP slots open on his team. Interestingly, this is completely counter to what I had done in the past - making sure I had 5 very good RP to fill my RP slots AND finding a couple guys who were relieving by qualified at SP, allowing me to start 7 RP on a daily basis.

So who is right? Well, I don't have much detail on how Brian came to his conclusion, but I can at least walk you through my rationale and let you decide if it makes sense. And Brian, please feel free to post any counter-points you have - if I can do something to improve my team in the original ottoneu, I will be happy to try it out!

The first assumption I have been working with is that, when wins and saves don't count, RP are better on an inning-by-inning basis than starters. But I never really tested this assumption, so I devised a simple comparison based on 2010 stats. Using all "qualified" relievers and starters on the FanGraphs leader boards, I came up with the following numbers (SD= standard deviation):

Stat   SP Avg   RP Avg   SP SD   RP SD
ERA     3.78   3.47   .76   1.14
WHIP   1.28   1.27   .13   .22
HR/9   .89   .81   .29   .44
K/9   7.0   8.1   1.45   2.15

Hardly a detailed analysis (covers 91 starters and 134 relievers) but this seems to verify my initial assumption that RP are, in fact, better per inning. But it also shows that they are more volatile. This all seems pretty straight forward, actually.

For a more specific example, let's take a look at a Player A/Player B comparison (credited to Joe Posnanski, who is, for my money, the best sports writer out there today):

Player A: 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .56 HR/9, 8.79 K/9
Player B: 3.34 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .56 HR/9, 8.49 K/9

Incredibly similar across the board in the ottoneu 4x4 stats. If you were offered 50 innings from one of these guys or 50 from the other, you really couldn't go wrong - B gets you .2 fewer runs, 1.7 fewer hits and walks, and one fewer K. Not much to write home about.

Well, you might imagine that since I am comparing RP and SP, I picked a RP and a SP're right! Player A is one of the top earning pitchers in ottoneu - Justin Verlander. He is tied with Cliff Lee for the 5th highest paid player in 4x4 leagues at $33 on average and he has cost as much as $44. Player B is the immortal Kyle Farnsworth. He is going for, on average, $2 with a max of $3.

Again, this seems to confirm that RP put up better stats per inning than SP (no one would deny that Verlander is a better starter than Farnsy is a reliever, right?). Of course when comparing value over a season, you can't just look on a per-inning-basis. Looking at those same sets of pitchers, the starters threw 199 innings on average last year and the relievers threw 63. This means that you get roughly three times as many innings from a starter as a reliever.

Well, even if you expect Verlander to net you 4x as many innings, he gets paid 16.5 times more than Farnsworth. You need to calculate in some kind of a risk premium on RP, due to the higher volatility, and that brings down Farnsworth's salary. You could also say he is less likely to repeat his numbers. But 16.5 times more salary is a lot.

If you don't like Farnsworth, the highest paid reliever is Carlos Marmol at $12.60 on average. That is just over 1/3rd of what Verlander gets paid, in 2010 Marmol had a 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .12 HR/9 and 15.99 K/9 - undeniably better than Verlander on a per-inning basis.

So what does that tell me? RP are an undervalued commodity. For $32.40, on average, you can have Marmol, Heath Bell and Joakim Soria. Those three should almost definitely have better stats than Verlander in similar total IP (213.1 last year compared to Verlander's 224.1). Last year Santiago Casilla had an ERA under 2 and more than a K/IP and my guess is you can have him for $1 right now if you want him.

The hard part with relievers is figuring out who to go after, due to the high volatility, but if you hit the right guys, you can put together a complete bullpen for the price of a single ace starter that well outperforms that starter.

To do this, first and foremost, I say you pay the premium for star relievers who are sure things. Heath Bell falls into this camp. So does Mariano Rivera. Hong-Chih Kuo should be in here, too. Soria as well. Feliz and Marmol probably belong. Beyond that it gets tougher, but the prices drop a lot, too.

Next, scour the waiver wire for cheap relievers that are performing well are have historical peripherals that suggest great ability. RP are volatile in part due to small sample sizes on a yearly basis, so a guy who regularly has a good K/9, decent BB/9 and is putting up a good year may be a good bet. And for $1, you really can't go wrong.

Finally, keep in mind that a lot of relievers will put up ERA's below about 3.50 (68 of the 134 from the stats above which is more than the total number of RP slots in an ottoneu league), while very few SP will (31 of the 91). If you can start your share of those RP - which is actually almost 6, rather than just 5 - you are going to help your numbers. Finding guys who qualify at SP but act as relievers can be a big boost - Sean Marshall was a huge value for me last year, as was J.P. Howell a few years back.

Think about it this way: if everyone in your league starts 5 RP from among that set of 68, there will be 8 RP with sub-3.50 ERA's remaining. Assume your pitchers are 100% average in sum, and you max out your IP. Now assume that instead of just 5 of those relievers, you find 2-3 who qualify at SP and start them as well. Over the course of the season, here are your potential final stats based on the number of relievers you use:


Note that in some cases, your WHIP would go down by .01 - it actually drops by about .003, which could make a difference. But comparing Brian's 3 RP plan to my 7 RP plan, you shave .05 off your ERA, .01 off your HR/9 and add 34 K's.

All of this does rely on your ability to identify the right RP, which is a more difficult task than identifying the right SP, I think, but even factoring that in, you can really improve your pitching stats by taking advantage of what appears to be a market inefficiency.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Biggest Surprises on my Teams (Original ottoneu Edition)

Continuing on the theme started yesterday, I'm turning my attention to the surprises on my original ottoneu team. I haven't covered this team yet on this blog, so there is a bit of a lack of context here, which I will try to provide where possible. Reminder that this league is 4x4 (OBP, SLG, HR, R; ERA, WHIP, K, HR/9).

Positive Surprises
Miguel Montero - After years of holding Montero at a low price, refusing to move him for rent-a-players and basically sticking to the theory that I have a long-term starting catcher locked up, I would LOVE to claim that there is nothing surprising going on here - but a .500+ OBP I think has to count as a surprise. I mean, sure I thought he would be at .450, but .515?

That said, this is probably about as scary a positive surprise as you can have. Montero is absolutely raking right now, but his BABIP is almost .500 too (.478), his BB% is almost 4% higher than his career numbers and his K% is almost 7% lower. His LD% and HR/FB are through the roof as well. All of which suggests that he could crash and crash hard. My hope is that his increased LD% is not completely artificial - same with the BB% and K%. Even with marginal improvements in each of those areas, Montero may finally make the leap to the upper echelon of catchers. A return to his career averages would have been a solid season, but maybe he can set his sights a bit higher, looking at his 2009 season (16 HR, 68 R, .355 OBP, .478 SLG) gives a signal of what he is capable of - maybe 2011 can match that?

Context: Montero and Jake Fox are the only catcher qualified players on my roster. Wilin Rosario is already raking for Colorado in AA, so maybe there is a chance he sees some time in the bigs late this summer, but I will need a catcher to spell Montero before too long. Regardless, Montero at $8 and Rosario at $5 or $6 in 2012 will be a solid combo, and Montero should do what I need in 2011 as well.

Josh Beckett - Still sad I haven't gotten full use of him this year, as I have been scared to start him, but the line speaks for itself: 13 IP, 14 Ks, 5 BBs, 0 HR allowed, 2.08 ERA, .92 WHIP. And actually the underlying numbers suggest this isn't a total fluke. Beckett's xFIP is 3.19 - not 2.08 but not bad either. His walk rate is actually a bit high for him, and his k-rate, while a little high, is not far off what we'd expect. His BABIP is quite low and his LOB% is a bit high, so some regression is to be expected, but I don't see much reason to think he can't keep up his xFIP and have an ERA to match.

Context: At $11, Beckett is a potentially incredible value for me, and a guy I basically picked up on a whim. I have cap space in this league ($18 to be precise) so spending $11 on Beckett is no sweat and if he blew up, I could pretty easily cut him. He isn't a SP I 100% rely on - Weaver, Billingsley, C.J. Wilson are all above him on my pre-season depth chart, with Cly Buchholz, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza close at hand. My issue is that my depth got destroyed just before the season started - I traded Dan Haren just to have Adam Wainwright go down, suddenly shifting my pitching from a huge strength to a big weakness.

B.J. Upton -First and foremost, I felt from the moment I bid $9 on him at auction, that this was a huge mistake. Upton really doesn't bring much more than potential to the table in the 4x4 format. But so far he has earned his keep, with a couple HR and a .425/.571 batting line. The glaring concern here has to be the .400 BABIP, which is sure to come way way down. His batted ball stats don't offer any clear indications of what may have changed - he has a few more FB and a few fewer GB, with a slight bump in HR/FB - so this is likely a case of a guy who is just finding spots on the field to place the ball at the moment.

That said, so far he is controlling the strike zone better than he has in the past and even a moderate improvement here would help a lot as a guy with his power potential (remember, he did have a 24 HR season in the bigs not that long ago) and speed can do some damage as long as he is putting the ball in play. Upton won't turn 27 until August, so he is also on the right side of the age equation to show improvement. His numbers will come back down, but I think he can easily earn his $9 this year with a return to a high OBP, even if the power doesn't re-materialize.

Context: Like Beckett, Upton is not a guy I was counting on. Bautista and Pence are my top two, with a group of guys I like (Luke Scott, Raul Ibanez, Marlon Byrd) expected to fill out my lineup. My real hope was to have a youth movement in my OF with Matt Joyce, Brandon Allen and Chris Carter all playing key roles, but Joyce has struggled in the early going, Carter is getting a bit more AAA seasoning and the Diamondbacks have decided to bury Brandon Allen instead of, you know, playing the guy who has absolutely crushed AAA pitching and still profiles as a very good ML bat. I'll have more on Luke Scott shortly, but suffice it to say, I would be in a lot more trouble than I am if Upton weren't producing.

Negative Surprises
Luke Scott - The Orioles have too many OF and Luke Scott has been playing too poorly to justify time in that OF and now a guy who was a major piece of an off-season trade (Verlander and Fred Lewis for Scott and Brett Lawrie) has basically no value to me, which is just terrific. The .375 OBP looks nice, but he has shown no power and has played in only 5 games, netting 16 PAs. That is such a small sample size (not that these aren't all small sample sizes, since it is now April 12) that it isn't worth reading much into any changes in his profile. Instead, my real concern is just playing time - if he gets it, he will bounce back, I would think (at least I have no reason to think he won't), but I am not sure he will get it. Hopefully he is over his groin injury and will get back into the swing of things.  We will see...

Context: I gave you the OF update above, but it's worth noting that the Verlander deal is not as terrible as it looks. I was going to have to cut Verlander (his price was way too high and at the time I had a stacked rotation) and was extremely happy to get a solid OF and a good prospect in return. Lawrie I turned into Garza, as well.

Almost My Entire Bullpen - Thank you Heath Bell for allowing me to use the word almost. Without getting into details, let's just say that Rafael Betancourt (3 HR/9), Matt Thornton (2.73 WHIP), Rafael Soriano (9.82 ERA), and Takashi Saito (DL) have all been pretty much disastrous. And I kept three of those guys (all except Betancourt) from the previous season.  I am not yet ready to give up on all of these guys (although I likely won't stick too long with Betancourt or Saito) but this is getting me back to a theory I ran with a couple years ago, which is that RP in a 4x4 format (no saves) are almost never worth keeping. Of course, I would have put Soriano, Thornton and Bell all in the worth keeping camp (and they may still be worth keeping), but I think I need to be more discerning about my relief pitchers. I am sure there will be some solid middle relief types out there on the FA market, so I should be able to salvage my pen reasonably quickly, but...yikes...not a good start.

Chad Billingsley - Basically everything looks bad about Billingsley right now. His K-rate is down, his BB-rate is up, his xFIP is way too high. His BABIP is about where it should be so that isn't inflating his numbers, although he does have an awfully low LOB% which should increase and help a bit moving forward. His velocities look fine, too. Basically, I am just banking on the fact that his second start, which is what is truly blowing up his numbers (his first wasn't great, but wasn't terrible either) was in Coors. He became my #2 when I lost Wainwright and traded Haren, and my expectations from him are much higher as a #2 than as a #4.  He is on the mound today at SF so, like Dempster last night, I am looking for a bounceback.  Hopefully his manager recognizes when he starts to really labor and takes him out before he implodes (Yeah, that's right Mike Quade, I'm talking to you).

Conclusions: My OF is kind of a mess due to under-performance by players (Scott, Joyce) and teams (Oakland sending down Carter, Arizona sending down Allen), and my bullpen may be completely shot, but there is some hope here. A bounce back year from Beckett is looking more and more likely, and my worst SP to date is Billingsley, who I imagine will be fine before too long.  I will say that I have learned a major lesson about counting on teams to do what you'd expect - I have Carter, Allen, Scott Sizemore, and Chris Nelson all rotting on my bench, and I am not sure what to do with any of them.

Next Steps: Identify RP options. Consider trading for an OF or SP. Hope and pray that Ryan Zimmerman and Chase Utley get back soon.