July 2010

Rangers Acquire Jorge Cantu

By Tommy Rancel //

Chris Davis just can’t win. After starting the season as the Texas Rangers’ first baseman, Davis lost his job to top prospect Justin Smoak. Once Smoak was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee, Davis once again became the Rangers’ starter. That has come to an end (again) with Thursday’s acquisition of Jorge Cantu for two minor league pitchers.

You can feel bad for Davis if you want, but the truth is the Rangers are justified in looking for an upgrade – even a marginal one. In 113 plate appearances, the 24-year-old was hitting just .188/.265/.267. After smashing 21 home runs in 113 games last season, Davis is homerless in 2010.

Jorge Cantu should not be confused with a savior at the position, but even in a down year he has been more productive than Davis. Spending most of his time at third base for the Marlins, Cantu hit .262/.310/.409 in 97 games.

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While he is new to the American League West, Cantu has had success in the AL before. As a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004-2005, he hit .289/.318/.507 with 30 home runs and 134 RBI. His peak for Tampa Bay came in 2005, when he hit 28 home runs and drove in a then-team record 117 runs. The next two years were not so productive for Cantu and by mid-2007, the D-Rays traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. After an uneventful half-season in Ohio, he returned to Florida, but this time with the Marlins

Cantu proved to be a solid pickup for Florida. In 2008 and 2009, he combined to hit .283/.336/.462 with 45 home runs and 195 RBI. As mentioned above, this year has been a bit of a downer, but he still has 10 home runs, 25 doubles, and 54 RBI.

One thing that may help Cantu in Texas is the ball park. According to statcorner.com, the Marlins’ Sun Life Stadium is a below-average home run park for right-handed batters. Meanwhile, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is much more homer-friendly to righties.

Cantu is worth a shot in all AL-only leagues. In a standard 12-team mixed league, Cantu is a borderline pickup, unless you’re in need of a quick fix at a corner infield spot.

For more on Jorge Cantu and his new team, the Texas Rangers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office

Happ in Houston

by Eno Sarris // 

J.A. Happ (pronounced ‘Jay’) is headed south as the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt deal. Should fantasy owners be interested in the player who is available in 62% of Yahoo leagues?

Judging solely based on ERA, the answer would be in the affirmative. Happ has a 1.73 ERA so far this year, put up a 2.93 ERA last year, and sports a 3.11 ERA for his career. Check, check and check, right? Not so fast – and judging from his availability, it seems most fantasy players these days are savvy to the limitations of ERA for predicting future ERA.

Looking at Happ’s underlying statistics, there are plenty of reasons to worry about him in Houston. Just a peek at his 2010 strikeout rate (5.28 K/9) and walk rate (7.04 BB/9) alone should send the proverbial shiver down the spine. Happ has had some trouble finding the strike zone all year, as he walked 4.1 per nine on his rehab stint too. Granted, he’s pitched only 15.1 innings this year.

Then again, this wildness is not typical of Happ’s career to date, and we also know that walk rates take a while to stabilize (550 batters faced). Happ’s career walk rate is 3.48 BB/9, which is about average (3.33 BB/9 is average this year). The problem is more his lack of a great strikeout rate (6.59 K/9 career, MLB average is 7.03 K/9 this year) or groundball rate (36.5% career, 44% is league average). This package adds up to a mediocre career xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, a number that strips out batted ball luck, home run luck and other factors, and produces a number on the ERA scale) of 4.65. Happ did put up a 9.2 K/9 in the minor leagues, but until he shows an improved number in that category in the major leagues, we’ll have to go with what we see.

Some analysts might talk about Happ’s move to Minute Maid Park as a reason to avoid the pitcher – and the park does boost home runs for lefties 6% and righties 18% – but that move will actually be a positive one for him. The Phillies’ home park boosts home runs 16% for lefties, and 22% for righties.

Really, given the fact that he’s got an average walk rate and below-average strikeout and groundball rates, there is limited upside for Happ, despite his pristine career ERA to date.
HappGrab.jpg You might even call the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools projection on the right (3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) a rosy scenario for his future. He’s best left on the wire in standard mixed leagues.

For more on other trade deadline movers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw discuss the available sleepers in fantasy baseball. Shaw’s Bets are Tampa Bay Rays middle infielder Reid Brignac, a former second round pick who can offer some pop, as well as Barry Enright, one of the few bright spots for Diamondbacks fans in this lost season. Michele’s Steal is Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin, who boasts some real power and is now playing on a regular basis.

Phillies Promote Domonic Brown to Major Leagues

By Tommy Rancel //

Following in the footsteps of Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton, Domonic Brown is the latest stud outfield prospect to get a call-up for an National League East team this season.

When Jayson Werth‘s name was recently tossed around in trade rumors, Brown was the one commonly expected to be his replacement in the Philadelphia lineup. With Shane Victorino hitting the disabled list, Brown no longer has to wait for a spot to open via trade.

A 20th-round pick in the 2006 draft, Brown shot up the prospect rankings. The 22-year-old started the 2009 season in the lower levels of the Phillies’ organization, but found himself in Double-A by season’s end. In a combined 454 plate appearances, he hit .299/.377/.504 with 44 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases.

Brown became a hot commodity. He was ranked the #15 prospect by Baseball America this off-season, and was rumored to be a trading chip for Roy Halladay. Credit Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. for not only landing Halladay, but managing to keep Brown in the process.

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Photo Credit: (Miles Kennedy/Phillies)

Brown started the 2010 season at the Double-A level where he continued to mash. In just over 270 PAs, he hit a ridiculous .318/.391/.602. His 15 home runs were one more than he hit in all of 2009. Clearly finished with that level, he was promoted to Triple-A. All he did there was hit .346/.390/.561 with five more bombs in 118 PAs.

Making his major league debut Wednesday night, Brown wasted no time with two hits and two RBI. Although Victorino could be back in as little as two weeks, Brown could force his way in the everyday lineup even if the Phillies hold on to Werth. For a team in need of some offensive firepower with Chase Utley out, Brown could easily replace a struggling Raul Ibanez in the Philadelphia lineup.

If he wasn’t snatched up in your league during the initial rush after his call-up, Brown is definitely worth a spot in mixed leagues, as well as NL-only formats. Act fast.

For more on Domonic Brown and the rest of the NL-East phenoms, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

Ryan Ludwick Should Be Owned in More Fantasy Leagues

by Eno Sarris //

Every once in a while, injury suppresses a player’s stats at a key point in the season and creates a waiver-wire sleeper. At least, that has to be the reason behind the fact that Ryan Ludwick is only owned in 68% of fantasy leagues right now.

Just look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs. They sum up how Ludwick looks, sitting out there on the waiver wire with ‘only’ 11 home runs and a passable batting average. Mediocre.
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But when Ludwick is in the lineup, he has been very good, a one-man argument for using rate stats over counting stats. His .279/.342/.482 batting line shows a player who can work the count and hit for power. If you pro-rated his current fantasy statistics out to a full year, you’d get 22 home runs and 84 RBI, useful even in mixed leagues, and the rate stats once again pass the sniff test.

Of course, Ludwick does have a perceived inability to hit left-handers, and judging from his career .772 OPS against left-handers, it’s tempting to sit him against all lefties, as his team often does. But he has only accrued 703 plate appearances against left-handers in his career, and righty/lefty splits have been shown to become significant at 2000 plate appearances. So even that flaw is not set in stone.  

We do all remember Ludwick’s 2008 season, when he smashed 37 home runs. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s not looking like that 2008 version these days that has fantasy owners moving on to younger batters with more perceived upside. It is true that Ludwick is 32, but that also means that his 2172 plate appearances to date are significant. In those PAs, Ludwick has shown an isolated slugging percentage (ISO, or slugging percentage minus batting average) of .219. He’s at .203 this season, right between David Wright and Josh Willingham on the NL leaderboard.

If you’re in one of the 32% of leagues where Ludwick isn’t owned, pick him up immediately.

For more on other fantasy All-Stars, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Is Jose Bautista’s 2010 Legit?


By R.J. Anderson //

Jose Bautista has been the biggest
surprise of any hitter in baseball this season. The 29-year-old’s
career has been anything but conventional. In 2004 he split time
between four of the worst teams in baseball (Devil Rays, Royals,
Orioles, and Pirates) and stuck with Pittsburgh until the 2008 season,
when he eventually wound up on the Blue Jays.

Entering this season, Bautista sported a career line
of .238/.329/.400 in 2,038 plate appearances. He’s hitting
.254/.364/.580 this season. A 4-for-4 explosion last night against
Baltimore hoisted his league-leading home run total to 30, with 75 RBI
for good measure. So where did this improvement come from, and is it
sustainable?

In cases where a player suddenly blows up, the easy
thing to do is peruse his underlying metrics and see which ones are
inflated. That’s a problem, though, because Bautista doesn’t appear to
be the usual blow-up candidate with fluky peripherals. His walk rate is
almost identical to last season, as is his strikeout rate, and his
BABIP is a career worst .233 – (vs. career BABIP of .273). The only
area which has seen change is his flyball rate, and by extension, his
power.

Bautista is hitting more flyballs than ever, 53.4%
(fourth-highest in MLB) vs. a career rate of 44.4%. Hitting that many
flyballs is an excellent way for a power hitter to smack more home
runs. But it’s bad for a player’s batting, average as most infield
flies are outs, and more than 70% of outfield flies are caught too.
Bautista’s 18.9% HR/FB rate is 6.8% higher than his career norm and
explains some of the newfound power, but not all of it.
HitTrackerOnline.com keeps count of home runs by batter and park. Below
are Bautista’s homers this season, pay close attention to the parks
column, which means Bautista isn’t just taking advantage of short
fences.

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One subtle factor that explains a large part of his
power streak is his sudden ability to hit right-handed pitching. For
his career, Bautista has hit .259/.358/.478 versus southpaws and
.230/.324/.401 versus righties. This season, Bautista is still hitting
lefties, but he has upped his game versus same-handed pitchers, batting
.243/.358/.558 through Monday. As is the case with his overall line,
nothing outside of the power sticks out in his line. He’s not getting
incredibly lucky with balls in play or walking a whole lot more than
usual.

That generally suggests a bona fide improvement. Even
still, it’s always important to consider the larger sample size.
Consider dealing Bautista if your leaguemates see him as a true
40-homer man.

For more information on Jose Bautista and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

What Can Coin Flips Teach Us about Managing a Fantasy Team?

By Eriq Gardner //

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Let’s talk about coin flips for a moment.
Imagine you have 100 coins in your hand and you dropped them on the ground. Let’s say 50 turned up “heads.” Now imagine you took those 50 coins that landed “heads” and dropped them again. Let’s say 25 turned up “heads” a second time. Now imagine dropping those 25. Let’s say 13 landed “heads.” Now image dropping those 13. Let’s say six coins landed “heads” a fourth time.
Imagine looking at those six coins. Do you think you’d see any unusual properties that would make them prone to landing on “heads”?
Of course not.
But when it comes to evaluating ballplayers, we tend to endow them with similar unusual properties.
Take Dan Haren, for example. 
As everyone knows, he’s “prone” to having bad second halves of the season. In his career, he’s got a 3.29 ERA before the All-Star Break and a 4.27 ERA afterwards. On this blog, Eno Sarris already covered how Haren’s peripheral stats in the second half aren’t to be feared. What will be overlooked by most is that Haren has always been a great first-half pitcher, yet didn’t live up to his reputation this year.
Do first-half/second-half splits mean anything? One regression study couldn’t find any predictive value in those splits.
In other words, Haren could very well be just like those coins that landed “heads” again and again and again and again.  In a large population, a small percentage will exhibit unusual behavior. 
For this reason, it’s not worthwhile to buy Haren’s teammate, Adam LaRoche, as a player sure to turn it on now. LaRoche has always been phenomenal throughout his career in the later stages of the season. His career OPS before the All Star Break? .776. His career OPS after the All Star Break? .905.
It doesn’t matter. 
If you flipped those six coins above that landed “heads” four times straight, maybe three would land “hands” a fifth time. But that also means three would land “tails.” A 50/50 proposition. That’s what you’re getting in betting that LaRoche will be a 900+OPS player from here on out.
Let’s move onto another Arizona Diamondback, Chad Qualls. Some might look at Qualls and see a great few months coming. He’s currently showing a 8.35 ERA, belying a 3.64 xFIP.
Might he be even better than that, due some great luck from all the horrible luck he’s had so far? Perhaps Qualls can get his closer gig back and become the best relief pitcher in baseball.
Back to the coins. Imagine those three special coins that landed “heads” five times straight. Are they due for “tails”? Nope. Still a 50/50 proposition. 
Betting that Qualls will outperform his underlying skills is the same as betting that those coins will turn up “tails.” Betting that Qualls is cursed is the same as betting those coins will turn up “heads.” Smart fantasy managing means not betting on hot streaks. It means finding a midpoint, and really reserving judgment on which way that coin will land.

For more insight to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

(Audio) BTN with Rany Jazayerli

By Bloomberg Sports //*

Listen now! – (loads in new browser – 32 megs)

Behind the Numbers
Hosts: Rob Shaw and Wayne Parillo
Guest: Rany Jazarerli
About the Guest:
He may be the world’s most famous dermatologist, though you probably know him better as the co-founder of Baseball Prospectus, from his website Ranyontheroyals.com or his weekly radio show. Either way enjoy the podcast and make sure to follow him on twitter

Total Running Time: 31:08

The High Level Look at What’s Inside

  • The KC Saber-mafia & Why Everyone Came out of KC (:48 – 3:40)
  • The State of a Royals Fan’s Mind (4:11 – 15:11)
  • The Path from Royals Fan to Baseball Prospectus (15:11 – 21:19)
  • Pitcher Abuse & Are Teams Too Cautious (21:20 – 28:09)
  • The Four or Five Man Rotation (28:10 – 29:57)

Eleven Lower Level Highlights

  • (0:48 – 1:38) The KC Saber-mafia
  • (3:00 – 3:50) Boston Globe influence and now Bill Simmons
  • (4:44 – 6:35) Low expectations of Royals Fans & why they glom onto hope
  • (7:01 – 10:42) Why peole are saying good things about the farm system
  • (10:54 – 14:10) Alex Gordon & Billy Butler
  • (15:23 – 16:40) Being ownerless & life with David Glass
  • (17:21 – 19:20) Right place, right time, and Baseball Prospectus
  • (20:00 – 21:19) Why to work for or be a Baseball Prospectus Intern
  • (21:20 – 23:10) Are teams now too cautious with pitchers?
  • (24:00 – 27:53) Nolan Ryan and why NOT to limit innings
  • (28:10 – 29:57) How a brave team needs to step forward and change to a four man rotation

Direct link to the conversation

More ways to get Behind the Numbers, talk to us, or just have a good time

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

(Video) Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures: Headlines

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Headlines — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw discuss the latest headlines coming out of Major League Baseball. Shaw offers insight on the Dan Haren trade, what the injury to Magglio Ordonez means for the Tigers, as well as the return of Victor Martinez and Brett Anderson from the disabled list.

Grab James Shields

By R.J. Anderson //

When it comes to wins, James Shields has always had tough luck. Despite an ERA of 4.01 over his first 118 starts (his career total entering this season), Shields had only won 43 games, and had 36. Part of that was because of blown wins by his bullpen. Baseball-Reference keeps track of the times a pitcher leaves a game in line for the win only to see his bullpen blow it. That happened eight times to Shields entering 2010.

This off-season, the Rays upgraded the bullpen, spending $7 million on new closer Rafael Soriano (2.71 FIP) and finding a hidden gem in new set-up man Joaquin Benoit (2.00 FIP). Shields figured to benefit from those moves. Yet he’s actually in the midst of the worst season of his career if you go solely by ERA (4.90), and still struggling in the win-loss department (8-9). Still, here are the two reasons why you should go out and acquire Shields or at least refuse to sell low.

1) The ERA is skewed.

By nearly every other pitching metric Shields is actually having one of, if not the best season of his career. FIP, which simply weighs walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed; xFIP – which adjusts for home run rates; and SIERA, which includes groundball rates, all suggest Shields is one of the league’s better pitchers this season. So why is his ERA so off? Well, in part, because of one really horrendous start. On June 11, Shields completed only 3.1 innings against the Florida Marlins, allowing 10 earned runs. Take that one start out of the equation and Shields’ ERA drops from 4.90 to 4.31. Which leads us to reason number two.

2) The home run rate isn’t sustainable.

There’s a point in a pitcher’s career when you can accept that maybe he does give up more home runs than the average starter. That point never occurs over the span of one season. Take the batted ball data from Shields’ pre-2010 career and compare it to this season. His home run per flyball rate is more than 3% higher. There is no reason to believe the same pitcher who has upped his strikeout rate is suddenly more hittable. Further, his home run per outfield flyball rate (as opposed to infield flies) is even higher.

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When in doubt, go with the larger sample size. And in this case, that sample size suggests Shields is going to be a worthwhile pickup in the second half.
 

For more information on James Shields and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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