June 2010

Time to give Gordon Beckham and Ian Stewart another chance?

By Eriq Gardner //
Not all fantasy baseball championships are determined by one’s prowess to evaluate player talent and pick winners. Sometimes, competitors suffer bad luck injuries and must demonstrate resiliency and an ability to manage assets when times get tough.
This week, owners of Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia were knocked hard when both superstars hit the injury shelf. It’s not the first time that high draft investments suffered this fate, but rarely do two top stars at a relatively thin position go down within days of each other.
Certainly, Utley/Pedroia owners will now be looking at the waiver wire to see who might be available. Some owners may contemplate making a trade to fill the gap.
One option might be to acquire Gordon Beckham or Ian Stewart. Both these players have been tremendous disappointments to their own owners this year. In some leagues, they’ve already been dropped and in other leagues, they might be available via trade for a lot less than draft day value.
But do they have any hope of rebound? 
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Gordon Beckham was fantastic in his rookie season. In just 378 at-bats, he hit .270 with 14 HR and 7 SB. This year, he’s hitting only .209 with just 2 HR and 4 SB.
Beckham is being less selective at the plate this season. His strikeout rate has risen from 17.2% to 20.1% and his walk rate has fallen from 9.5% to 7.1%. That’s largely due to the fact that he’s swinging at pitches outside the strike zone with greater frequency lately. Last year, he was swinging at 25% of pitches outside the zone. This year, it’s up to 31%.
Still, poor luck has also contributed to a miserable average. His line drive rate is roughly similar to last year, yet he’s hitting just .250 on balls hit into play. According to a calculation of Beckham’s xBABIP, it should be .303, offering hope we might see positive movement in Beckham’s batting average going forward.
Beckham’s lack of power is a likewise mix of lackluster skills as well as poor luck. On one hand, he’s hitting less flyballs and making more groundballs this season. On the other, his HR/FB rate stands at just 2.9%. The average player has a rate at about 10%. Beckham’s current HR/FB rate puts him in the category of powerless players like Alcides Escobar and Rajai Davis. With natural regression, we should also see better power numbers from Beckham going forward.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing in Beckham’s peripheral stats that indicate the type of 20/20 season that those who drafted him originally envisioned. But he’s shown the skills at the major league before and is young enough to make adjustments at the plate.
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Ian Stewart hit 25 HRs last year and contributed seven stolen bases. He only hit .228, but many hoped that the Rockies infielder’s free-swinging ways would abate with maturity.
So far, it hasn’t happened.
Stewart is striking out 31% of the time this year, which ranks him 9th worst among those who qualify for a batting title. Not that Stewart will be winning one anytime soon. 
This year, Stewart is hitting .248, which would represent a positive development for his fantasy value if he wasn’t aggravating owners by not living up to his power expectations. Stewart has just 9 HRs this season.
Unlike Beckham, poor luck doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in Stewart’s troubles. His BABIP is .316, so if regression is coming, his average might actually fall further. His HR/FB rate is 14.3%, off from his career rate of 16%, but still above league average.
Stewart, though, offers something that Beckham doesn’t — consistently good production in certain situations. As a left-handed batter, Stewart does well when facing right-handed pitching. Eight of his 9 HRs and all five of his steals this season have come against right-handers. If owners have enough roster room and can set their lineups daily, Stewart represents one part of a possible fantasy platoon.
It’s important to also note that both Beckham and Stewart have 3B eligibility on top of 2B eligibility. If either player does manage to turn around their season, this kind of positional flexibility could come in handy when Pedroia or Utley return from their injuries.
For more on options at the second-base position, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools

Jonathan Papelbon: Buy, Sell or Hold?

By Tommy Rancel //

Despite being one of the majors’ hottest teams, the Boston Red Sox have some concerns. With Josh Beckett and Jacoby Ellsbury already on the shelf, Boston recently lost former American League MVP Dustin Pedroia and star catcher Victor Martinez to the disabled list. In addition to those players, Clay Buchholz is also nursing an injury.

There is plenty to worry about in Boston with that group of players. But any potential concerns about the performance of closer Jonathan Papelbon are premature.

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Anytime a player struggles in a major media market his troubles become magnified. In two straight appearances in Colorado last week, the 29-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on six hits, yielded two three home runs, and blew two straight saves.

The Red Sox closer currently owns a 3.82 ERA in 31 appearances. Papelbon hasn’t posted an ERA over 2.65 in any of his previous five seasons. Outside of the expanded ERA, Papelbon is striking out fewer batters (7.64 strikeouts per nine innings) and walking more batters (3.31 walks per nine innings) than he ever has in a full season. To complete the trifecta, he is allowing home runs to leave the ballpark at a rate more than double his career level.

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It might seem like it’s time to explore moving Papelbon off your fantasy team. But that’s probably a bad move, especially while he’s at his lowest perceived value. Besides, a number of advanced metrics suggest he will rebound quite favorably.

As mentioned Papelbon’s K/9 has fallen from a career mark of 10.17 per 9 IP to 7.64 in 2010. This is odd for a few reasons. His velocity of 94.6 mph on his fastball is nearly identical to his 94.5 mph career number. In addition to the velocity, Papelbon is still getting a lot of swinging strikeouts. His swinging strike percentage of 11.5% is actually higher than his 11.0% from a season ago.

Papelbon is also getting hitters to chase out of the zone (35.6% O-Swing) more than he has in previous seasons (30.4% O-Swing career). He’s throwing more first-pitch strikes (67.2%) which means he is not falling behind hitters. All signs point to Papelbon’s strikeout rate increasing, if his core skills remain steady.

Papelbon’s biggest problem has been the long ball. He has surrendered more home runs this season (6) than in any other season in his career, and we haven’t even reached the All-Star break. We mentioned that his HR/9 of 1.64 was more than twice his career number (0.73). A big reason for that is his elevated home run-to-flyball rate of 12.2%. For his career, 7.1% of the flyballs hit against him have left the yard. In four of his five previous seasons, he maintained a HR/FB% of 7.5% or less.

More likely than not, Papelbon’s problems are related to pitch location issues. We may also be seeing some outliers due to small sample sizes. With the potential for positive regression in terms of strikeouts, and a correction in the disproportionate rate of home runs allowed, Papelbon should maintain plenty of value. If you own him, remain patient. If you don’t, this may be a good time to trade for Papelbon at a discount.

For more on Jonathan Papelbon and other Boston Red Sox, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Stock Report

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Stock Report — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw talk some fantasy baseball. Today they discuss the Bulls and the Bears.

The Prince’s Pop

By R.J. Anderson //

Over the last three seasons Prince Fielder has hit 130 home runs; or a home run for every 16.1 plate appearances. This season, though, Fielder has hit 15 homers in 340 trips to the plate; a jack per 22.7 plate appearances. Not only that, but Fielder’s .206 ISO would represent the lowest figure of his career since becoming a full-time player. ISO generally stabilizes after 350 plate appearances; with the season nearly halfway over, is it time to start getting concerned about Fielder’s lacking power?

The first thing most analysts will look for when examining a power loss is the percentage of home runs per fly balls hit. Fielder’s HR/FB% is currently a tick more than 17%. This is lower than expected when compared to his career figure of 20.1%. Even when one breaks Fielder’s rates down on a seasonal basis, it shows that this is a low rate of homers per balls in the air:

2006: 15.8%

2007: 23.9%

2008: 18.2%

2009: 23.1%

Fielder is hitting the same number of flyballs as his career rate and also the same number of groundballs. His batting average on balls in play is relatively steady too, meaning he’s not being robbed on screaming liners in the gap, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. Fielder’s just not having as many balls clear the wall as usual.

Given his big build and specific skill set, some would point to this as the beginning of the end for Fielder’s elite status. That seems overly pessimistic. Fielder is only 26 years old and while his belt is roughly the size of an asteroid belt, that doesn’t mean he’d suddenly lose power.

The popular comparison here would be Mo Vaughn. A barrel-chested, lefty-swinging first baseman with a belly and power who reached the majors at a later point in his career than Fielder, Vaughn enjoyed similar success. He hit at least 25 home runs in every season he recorded 450 or more plate appearances. It was in 2003 that injuries swamped Vaughn’s usefulness and he eventually retired, inconveniently early into his free agent contract with the Mets. But at the age of 26, Vaughn actually posted the best season of his career (to that point) with a slash line of .310/.408/.576. The big man could still hit, and did so into his early 30s.

Cecil Fielder is another popular comparison because, well, come on. Other than bloodlines, the pair don’t share too much in common. Besides, the elder Fielder also recorded the best season of his career as a 26-year-old, blasting 51 bombs for the Detroit Tigers. That suggests an early decline isn’t hereditary, nor is it a given based on his size. As this chart provided from FanGraphs shows, Prince is just having an unusual drop that the other two didn’t experience:

In the end, you should probably just keep Fielder on your roster, barring some unexpectedly massive trade offer. Expect some bounceback, because frankly there’s no reason not to.

For more on Prince Fielder and other power-hitting first basemen, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw recap the weekend in the fantasy baseball scene. Among the topic discussed is the newest curse for the Boston Red Sox.

For the Bloomberg Sports, fantasy tool visit BloombergSports.com.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Dose of Reality

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Dose of Reality — Find out what statistics Major League stars expect to produce in this week’s Ballpark Figures Dose of Reality. Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele talks some fantasy baseball with Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw before interviewing Yankees star first baseman Mark Teixeira, Mets rookie phenom Ike Davis, Dodgers speedster Rafael Furcal, and Dodgers star closer Jonathan Broxton. Hear the insight, then go ahead and pick the players up for your fantasy team at Facebook.com/battersboxgame.

Introducing: Bloomberg Sports Front Office Baseball for iPhone

By Jonah Keri //

Bloomberg Sports recently broke into mobile Web with its new iPhone app, Bloomberg Sports Front Office Mobile. The app takes the best features of Bloomberg Sports’ Web-based Front Office and offers them in easy-to-use, portable form.

The app’s main screen lets you choose from 1239 players. You can sort them in multiple ways, including by B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of every major league player), or by MLB team.

In the Overview section, you can see a player’s B-Rank, position rank and injury status. The stats section’s default display includes the five basic scoring categories for typical 5×5 leagues: HR, RBI, R, AVG and SB for hitters, W, S, ERA, WHIP and K for pitchers. Click on the arrow and you get access to a wide range of other stats, including sabermetric gauges such as batting average on balls in play, pitches per plate appearance and dozens more batting, pitching and fielding metrics across multiple seasons. The news section gives you all the latest on-field happenings and injury reports from MLB.com. You can also eyeball each player’s upcoming matchups, then make changes in seconds to get your best 23 guys in your lineup.

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Back to the home screen, you’ll find the My Teams tab, which gives you instant access to all the latest stats and happenings with the players who will decide your fantasy fate. Looking to upgrade your squad? The Watchlists tab lets you find the best replacements for your fantasy team in seconds, so you don’t have to wait to replace a season-long underachiever – sorry, Rich Harden – or a star now confined to the disabled list – ouch, Dustin Pedroia.

The app also lets you rank your own players, owned players, or players on the waiver wire by any combination of four categories, for those of you in 4×4 leagues or in 5×5 leagues where you’re looking to punt, say, saves and try to load up elsewhere.

The Performance tab lets you drill deeper. You can view performance over time using Bloomberg Sports’ trend charts, tapping and holding for stats (one finger) and changes (two fingers). Use the radar chart to compare a player’s multi-stat profile with league benchmarks. For every player, you’ll find the same visually-rich charts and displays seen in Bloomberg Sports Front Office’s Web version – including the spider chart, which lets you visualize how a player stacks up to the rest of the league in five categories, with a simple glance.You’ll also find trend lines, which tell you how your player has performed compared to league average, as well on a daily basis throughout the season.

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Available in the iTunes app store (www.itunes.com/appstore), the Bloomberg Sports Front Office Baseball 2010 app is free to download, providing access to these and other features for the top 10 hitters and pitchers in each league. Information for all MLB players, as well as watchlists and personalized team settings, can be purchase as an upgrade for $4.99. Existing subscribers to Bloomberg Sports fantasy baseball Web tools can access the full app for no extra charge by using your current login information.

Give it a spin.

(Audio) BTN with guest Rob Neyer (part 1 of 2)

By Bloomberg Sports //

Listen to the conversation now! – (loads in a new browser)

This is part 1 of a 2 part interview
Hosts: Wayne Parillo and Rob Shaw
Guest: Rob Neyer of ESPN and Rob Neyer Baseball

Total Running Time: 16:03

Topics

  • Growing up a Royals fan in the 70s
  • The Holy Grail of stats
  • When the competitive balance changed

Direct link to the conversation

More ways to get Behind the Numbers or talk to us

For more on the hottest fantasy baseball topics and trends, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Should You Sell High on Ubaldo Jimenez?

By Eriq Gardner //

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If the season ended today, Ubaldo Jimenez would win the Cy Young award easily on the strength of a 13-1 record, a 1.60 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and 95 strikeouts.
He’s been the top player in fantasy baseball this year. Yet there’s a creeping suspicion that he may be a little overvalued. 
Let’s examine the evidence:
  • He’s averaging about 7.99 strikeouts per 9 innings. That ranks him 26th among starters with at least 70 IP this season. He’s behind Colby Lewis, Ricky Romero, and Gavin Floyd, to name three pitchers with much less star power.
  • He’s averaging 3.03 walks per 9 innings. That ranks him 54th among starters with at least 70 IP. Among the pitchers walking batters at a lower rate are Brian Bannister, Kyle Kendrick, and once again, Gavin Floyd.
  • He’s averaging 0.34 home runs per 9 innings.That ranks him 6th among qualified starters. However, only 4.4% of his fly balls are going for home runs. His career rate is 7.6%, and he plays half his games at Coors Field. That’s very likely to regress.
  • His strand rate is 87.8%, meaning 87.8% of the runners he puts on base don’t score. That’s largely a function of fortuitous timing (pitching abnormally and probably unsustainably well with men on base), as well as unusually strong bullpen bullpen. That’s also the luckiest rate in the entire major leagues.

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Add it together, and Jimenez’s xFIP (a measure of ERA independent of various luck factors) is 3.64 — more than two whole runs higher than his real ERA. For the rest of the season, Bloomberg Sports projects Jimenez to produce 9 wins, a 3.39 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and 112 strikeouts.
People toss around the phrase, “regression,” but what does it really mean? If Jimenez’s peripheral stats indicate a great deal of luck, should owners sell him now?
It depends.
First, nobody should succumb to the “gambler’s fallacy,” or an expectation that Jimenez’s great luck thus far will be evened out by unusually poor luck upcoming. Regression only means that based on peripheral stats, one should expect an ERA at about 3.3-3.6 from this point to the end of the season — and not that he’ll end up at that result at season’s close. An ERA at this level is still phenomenal. Bloomberg Sports projects him as the third-best pitcher in baseball from this point forward.
Second, deciding whether to sell him “high” depends on context. 
If you own Jimenez, do you still need great pitching? If so, it’s going to be hard to do better than what he’ll give you. 
What’s the trade offer? The presumption that he’s a sell-high candidate because an owner can trade Jimenez for a comparable pitcher like Josh Johnson, plus get something extra, although in reality, it’s not a slam dunk that a Josh Johnson owner would make this deal.
That said, perhaps there’s still an opportunity to trade Jimenez for more than what he’s really worth, to an owner who needs a pitcher and is willing to exchange a batter. In the preseason, hardly anyone gave any thought whatsoever to drafting a pitcher with the #1 overall pick. But now that Jimenez sits atop fantasy player raters as the best in baseball, it’s perhaps conceivable that a pitching-starved team trades Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, or another top-notch batter for Jimenez. 
Lastly, owners shouldn’t be entirely sure that selling Jimenez now is the smart course of action, because there’s no guarantee that the Rockies’ ace really is lucky.
Sure, all the best sabermetric stats at the moment indicate he’s doing better than he really deserves, there’s always the chance that a player defies the odds for longer than a few games or a couple of months; they might even keep the good times going all season long.
For example, if I was making the case that Jimenez really isn’t quite as lucky as he seems, I’d point to the fact that his command improves when batters get on base. (His walk rate goes from 4.03 with the bases empty to 1.84 when he’s pitching from the stretch.) In turn, his xFIP in these situations drops nearly an entire run. This could partly explain why his strand rate is so tremendous. With men on base or in high leverage situations, Jimenez simply performs better. That’s probably not sustainable over the long haul, but it is possible.
Plus, peripheral stats do a good job of telling us general trends among the general population of players, but can often miss the mark when pinpointing individuals. What’s the expected batting average on balls hit in play on a pitcher whose average pitch velocity is at least 96 miles per hour? Hard to say, because there’s only been one pitcher this past decade whose reached those heights. Jimenez, of course.

So if you’re thinking about selling high on Jimenez, remember to consider context when making or fielding offers. Getting a big haul would be great. But don’t trade him just for the sake of trading him.

For more on Ubaldo Jimenez and other pitching aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Head-to-Head

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Head-to-Head — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw prepare fantasy managers for the upcoming Trade Deadline. Ben Nicholson-Smith, the head-writer and manager for MLBTradeRumors.com joins Rob and Michele via Skype to discuss which players may be on the move, what teams would be buying, which teams would be selling, and how it will all shake out.

For more insight when it comes to trades and rumors visit MLBTradeRumors.com. For your fantasy sports data analysis visit BloombergSports.com. Also, join in the fun with a brand new fantasy game at Facebook.com/battersboxgame.

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