August 2010

Save Opps: Hisanori Takahashi

By Eriq Gardner //

Somewhere out there in fantasyland, a team owner is going to lose his league by a couple of saves — maybe the result of Francisco Rodriguez losing his temper, assaulting the father of his girlfriend, suffering a torn ligament in his thumb, and hitting the injury shelf for the season.
Those who play fantasy baseball are accustomed to fickle closers and the sometimes-aggravating, sometimes-fun pursuit of saves. Few of us, though, could have ever imagined a scenario this bizarre. The xFIP formula doesn’t account for off-the-field commotion.
On the optimistic side, somewhere out there in fantasyland, a team owner will win his league by a couple of saves — perhaps the result of a new job opportunity for new Mets closer Hisanori Takahashi. On Monday, he notched his first save, and afterward, manager Jerry Manuel tagged him as “the guy” going forward. He pitched a perfect 1 2/3 innings on Wednesday, further solidifying his role.

Takahashi is being picked up in many leagues with tight saves races. Can he keep the job?

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The season has been a strange one for the Japanese import.
In April, the 35-year-old was an effective reliever in the middle of the Mets pen. Despite never having a particularly strong strikeout rate in Japan, Takahashi mastered American batters that month to the tune of 21 strikeouts in 14 innings. Credit an extremely odd pitch called the “shuuto” for Takahashi’s sudden emergence on the scene.
In late May, Takahashi was then switched into a starting pitching role. His first two starts were impressive. He shut out the fearsome New York Yankees. He then shut out the imposing Philadelphia Phillies. So far, so good.
In June, the wheels came off. He allowed six earned runs in four innings in the pitchers’ haven known as Petco Park against the San Diego Padres. He followed that up by allowing five earned runs in five innings to the Florida Marlins.

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Ever since then, he’s followed form by being at times fantastic, and other times atrocious. 
Truth be told, there are some statistics that support the idea that Takahashi can hold the closer gig for the rest of the season. As a starter, his ERA is 5.01 with 54 Ks in 64.2 innings. But as a reliever, his ERA is 2.68 with 42 Ks in 37 IP. He’s clearly been more effective in the latter role.
On the other hand, regardless of Takahashi’s skills, he’s proven himself a bit unstable — not a good quality for a closer — plus he’s 35 years old and pitching for a team that’s fairly close to being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Given the Mets’ place in the standings, the wise move for them to try Bobby Parnell out as closer. Parnell doesn’t have a “shuuto” pitch. Instead, he has a fastball that averages 96 MPH and has been known to reach near 100 MPH. Parnell is only 25 years old and is having a great season with 22 strikeouts to only 6 walks in 22 innings. He could easily be the Mets’ closer-of-the-future, a distinction that may mean something if the Mets are truly serious about voiding the rest of K-Rod’s contract.
For this reason, as a fantasy owner, we’d probably hang on to guys like Bobby Jenks or Jonathan Broxton — temporarily out of jobs as closers of the White Sox and Dodgers, respectively — before adding a newcomer like Takahashi. Then again, would it be shocking if Takahashi sticks these final weeks and leads some fantasy team to a championship? Of course not. In New York, clearly anything is possible.
For more on the closer carousel, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

(Video) Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures: Stock Report

By Bloomberg Sports // Ballpark Figures: Stock Report– Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw discuss the Bulls and Bears in fantasy baseball. Shaw tells us that while Francisco Rodriguez comes out a loser, his replacement Hisanori Takahashi is shooting up in value. Homer Bailey find game earlier this week may be a taste of better things to come. Ryan Raburn is a power bat in the Tigers lineup. Pat Burrell’s bat right now is fool’s gold. Plus, Jason Vargas is a former Mets farmhand in a groove for the Mariners. For more insight follow us at Twitter.com/bloombergsports.

Who in the World is David Pauley?


By R.J. Anderson //

Quick, who replaced Cliff Lee in the Seattle Mariners’ rotation? Nope, not Erik Bedard or Michael Pineda. Try David Pauley. Who? The 27-year-old righty sports a 3.31 ERA through his first 10 appearances this season. With the Mariners already holding two fantasy league sleepers in their rotation this season – Jason Vargas and Doug Fister - could Pauley be the next pitcher to benefit from Seattle’s pitcher-friendly home park and excellent defense? Maybe.

Pauley has bounced around since being drafted in the eighth round of the 2001 draft by the San Diego Padres. Three years later, San Diego traded him to the Boston Red Sox in the Dave Roberts deal, who then sent him to the Baltimore Orioles five years later. After reaching minor league free agency this past winter, Pauley inked with the Mariners, where he probably did not expect to join a rotation stacked with names like Felix Hernandez, Bedard, and Lee. Yet, here he is.

Pauley had only 28 major league innings entering this season, with mixed results. His ERA was awful, and still is, but his underlying peripherals suggested he wasn’t that bad. For instance, his FIP this season is 3.91, whereas his career mark is 4.18. Even with a fastball that sits below 90 (check the chart below, he really does not throw hard), Pauley manages to get a league-average amount of whiffs, thanks to heavy usage of his change-up.

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In 85 minor league innings this season, Pauley posted a 3.68 ERA. The last time he flashed an ERA over 4.50 in the minors came in 2006, during his first stint in Triple-A. Since then he’s posted ERAs of 4.33, 3.55, 4.37, and the aforementioned 3.68. Most projection systems have Pauley with a much higher ERA than league average, but that seems harsh considering his ability to get groundballs while pitching in front of a grade-A defense and in a park that restricts power.

That doesn’t mean Pauley is a must-get in your league. He’s hardly that, but he is owned in less than 1% of ESPN leagues. So if you’re in an AL-only or deep mixed league, Pauley is worth a shot.

For more on David Pauley and other potential pitcher pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

(Audio) Behind the Numbers w/ Dave Cameron

By Bloomberg Sports //*

Listen now! – (loads in new browser – 22 megs)

Behind the Numbers
Hosts: Rob Shaw and Wayne Parillo
Guest: Dave Cameron
About the Guest:
USSMariner.com co-founder, Fangraphs.com writer, and Wall Street Journal contributer.
Enjoy the podcast and make sure to follow him on twitter

Total Running Time: 21:08

Dave’s Wall Street Journal article we talk about during the podcast

High Level

  • Young Pitchers on the Hill & Better Coaching (1:01 – 5:46)
  • Defense, Baseball, and Situational Relievers (5:47 – 11:17)
  • What We Can Predict for Pitchers (12:11 – 16:21)
  • Adrian Beltre MVP, Hall of Famer, and SafeCo (18:04 – 20:24)
  • Fangraphs at SafeCo on September 4th (20:33 – 21:07)

Near Highlight a Minute

  • (1:01 – 2:04) Why it is NOT the Year of the Pitcher
  • (2:24 – 3:20) Are there a young rising stars on the hill?
  • (3:20 – 3:51) Why there are bigger, stronger pitchers on the mound
  • (3:56 – 4:40) Young pitchers & pin point control
  • (4:41 – 5:46) Minor League coaches & teaching wow to pitch
  • (5:47 – 6:46) How replacing managers is merely fluction bias
  • (6:54 – 8:30) Valuing situational relievers and using situational splits
  • (8:31 – 9:16) What it would take for a team to use only situational splits
  • (9:17 – 9:45) Educating the pitcher
  • (9:57 – 10:49) Defense and baseball – how Mariners have not failed
  • (10:50 – 11:17) Why all strategies succeed and fail
  • (11:32 – 12:10) Pitchers with ERAs under 3.00 and what it means
  • (12:11 – 14:07) Body types, pitching, and what we can predict
  • (14:08 – 15:21) How long is a pitcher’s shelf life?
  • (15:30 – 16:21) Strasburg v Kershaw
  • (16:27 – 17:44) Is Dave a journalist, blogger, or is it all just writing?
  • (18:04 – 18:54) Adrian Beltre for MVP and Hall of Famer?
  • (18:55 – 19:50) SafeCo and the right handed hitters mentality
  • (20:33 – 21:07) Doing an Event at SafeCo During September 4

Direct link to the conversation

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

The Value of Jorge de la Rosa

By Eriq Gardner //
This is the stage of the fantasy season where many competitors who compete in roto leagues become mindful of their innings caps. Some team owners have more innings left than others. For this reason, it’s often wise to look at a category like strikeouts in a different perspective.
You might have 850 strikeouts and your chief rival might only have 830. But don’t be certain you have the advantage. If that competitor of yours has more innings left to be pitched than you do, he can get more starts from his pitchers over the stretch run of the season and make up the gap.
One of the best ways to check your upside and downside in strikeouts is to treat it like a rate category. Take your team’s strikeout totals, multiply it by nine, and divide it by the number of innings accrued for your team to date. For a team with 850 strikeouts over 1000 innings, that translates to a K-per-9 rate of 7.65. Do the same for all your competitors. This will give you a better sense of how the standings in that category might move as some teams pitch more and other teams pitch less over the final six weeks.
If you find your team wanting, it may be time to look at options that will boost your team’s strikeout rate. With a dwindling number of innings, the goal becomes to maximize the efficiency of those innings.
Which brings us to Jorge de la Rosa, who despite an ugly ERA at 4.99 and a woeful WHIP at 1.48, offers something that few pitchers can claim to do at this point of a season: The potential to move the needle in the strikeout category.
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Let’s show it.
Pretend we’re in a six-team league and our team is in last place in strikeout rate. We’ve pitched 1000 innings with a 1400-inning maximum. The strikeout rates of all the teams are as follows:
  • Team A: 7.30 K/9
  • Team B: 7.28 K/9
  • Team C: 7.26 K/9
  • Team D: 7.24 K/9
  • Team E: 7.22 K/9
  • Our Team: 7.20 K/9

Jorge de la Rosa’s strikeout rate is 9.24 per nine innings this year. It was 9.39 last year. Bloomberg Sports projects a conservative 8.8 over 55 innings the rest of the year. 

We’ll take that projection.
If we use de la Rosa for 55 innings on the way to the maximum instead of an alternative pitcher with a 6.5 K rate, what does that do to the team’s overall strikeout rate? I’ll spare you the math, but the answer is that our team increases its season strikeout rate from 7.20 to 7.29. It would be enough to gain four points in this particular league. 
Some leagues might not have a strikeout category this tight. In those leagues, de la Rosa may make less of a difference. (On the other hand, his xFIP of 3.71 this season points to other ways he could be valuable overall.) 
Still, in making final roster decisions heading into the home stretch, it’s helpful to do a closer inspection of the state of the standings by considering that teams often sit on unequal ground. 
In leagues where active teams all chase a specific innings goal, the distinction between a counting category and a rate category is rather illusory. Innings is merely a denominator that gets wiped out after teams arrive at a similar endpoint. 
But along the way, because each team has its own pace, it’s useful to measure a team’s efficiency along that journey. Maximizing a team’s strikeout rate by using a pitcher like de la Rosa could translate into a big stretch run and a fantasy league title.
For more information on high strikeout pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Don’t Give Up On Jonathan Broxton

By Tommy Rancel //

Even before his days as the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jonathan Broxton was among the few relief aces in baseball. In 364.1 career innings of work, Broxton has a strikeout per nine innings rate (K/9) of 11.86, a walk per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 3.56, and a home run per nine innings rate (HR/9) of 0.52. Looking back in major league history, only Broxton and Billy Wagner have pitched more than 340 relief innings with a K/9 more than 11.5, a BB/9 less than 4.0, and a HR/9 less than 1.0.

In 2010, Broxton is doing more of the same. His K/9 is once again hovering around 11.0 (11.41). His BB/9 (3.42) and HR/9 (0.38) are actually less than his career levels. His 2.37 FIP (fielding independent pitching) is the fifth best among National League closers.

Everything is good, right? Wrong.

Just last week, Broxton was removed from his role as the Dodgers’ closer. His overall numbers look stellar, but in recent weeks things have not gone well for the 26-year-old. Since July 1, he has allowed 12 runs on 14 hits – including the only two home runs he has yielded all season. He gave up just eight runs in the first three months of the season. Add in Hong-Chih Kuo‘s impressive numbers (1.95 FIP), and you can’t really fault Joe Torre for making a move. That said, it is not time to jump ship on Broxton.

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Currently, Broxton owns a 3.42 ERA. That is a full run more than his FIP. That’s largely due to all the additional baserunners getting on with hits. In 46.1 innings this year, he has allowed 44 hits. He allowed 44 hits all of last year in 76 innings. The good news is that of the 44 hits given up in 2010, 34 of them have been singles.

A groundball pitcher (46.1% career groundball rate), Broxton’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .364 is absurdly high. His career BABIP is .325, while the league average is around .300. Even with a career number that is regularly above the league norm, a .364 BABIP is just ridiculous for a guy with Broxton’s stuff.

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Speaking of stuff, it seems Broxton’s dominating combo of mid-90s fastball and high-80s slider has been less effective of late. Before July 1, his fastball registered a strike 67.4% of the time; the slider 78.1%. Since then, his strike percentage on the heater is down to 60.5%, and the slider to 67.3%.

If the Dodgers are continuing to use Broxton, they must feel he is healthy. His velocity readings have also remained steady through his struggles. With that said, Broxton’s troubles seem like an easy fix from the outside looking in. Whether it be something mechanical or mental, or maybe just a bounceback in luck, the big righty should rebound at some point. Keep him rostered as a high-strikeout setup man, and hope he wins his closer job back soon.

For more on Jonathan Broxton and his historic rates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

(Video) Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines

By Bloomberg Sports //
*
Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines
*– Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw discuss the headlines from the weekend on the dismond. Shaw discusses Yankees killer Bryan Bullington, Twins hurler Kevin Slowey, who was removed from a no-hitter seven innings deep. Shaw also comments on the closer situations in Baltimore and Los Angeles, as well as the latest injury to Rich Harden. For more fantasy insight visit us at BloombergSports.com.

How to Replace Chipper Jones

By R.J. Anderson //

With Chipper Jones slated to miss the rest of the season, the big question is how fantasy owners and the Atlanta Braves can replace the future Hall of Famer.

Let’s begin with Atlanta. Jones’ injury further complicates an infield depth chart already stretched thin by Martin Prado’s presence on the disabled list since early August. All-Star reserve Omar Infante’s attention is focused on replacing Prado, leaving Brooks Conrad at third base. The 30-year-old has an interesting back story. A former eighth-round pick of the Houston Astros, Conrad made his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics in 2008 after qualifying for minor league free agency. He joined the Braves’ system before the 2009 season. In 128 plate appearances this season he’s hit .241/.315/.500, including a memorable grand slam to complete a comeback against the Cincinnati Reds.

If you’re an owner in a deep league, Conrad has the benefit of playing time, and has shown some power, socking seven homers with an impressive .259 Isolated Slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) to date. Here are two other options to consider in deep fantasy leagues:

Chris Johnson

The Astros’ shining star this season, 25 year old Johnson is hitting .360 with 34 RBI in just 190 plate appearances. He’s owned in only 83% of ESPN leagues, suggesting he might be available in yours. It’s unreasonable to expect this level of performance to continue, as Johnson’s BABIP is well over .400, and his minor performance over five seasons was a mediocre .277/.315/.429. That’s probably closer to reality than his 2010 to date, but it is worth noting that Johnson was hitting .329/.362/.570 in Triple-A this season before getting the call.

Danny Valencia

Minnesota’s newest attempt at finding a solid hot corner holder since the Corey Koskie days is hitting .329 with a .375 on-base percentage. He’s owned in only 3% of ESPN leagues, yet over the last 30 days. Valencia is hitting .322/.361/.444, which dwarfs Evan Longoria’s .235/.336/.382 and Michael Young’s .257/.314/.477 offerings. That’s not to say Valencia is on their level, just that his performance over the last 30 days should have incited at least some interest.

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Valencia is the better option if all things are equal, but Johnson playing in the weakest pitching division in the league should be given some thought too. If you’re looking for power rather than batting average help, Conrad’s your best bet.

For more on Danny Valencia and other potential pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

Josh Thole’s On-Base Parade Hits New York

By Tommy Rancel //

The New York Mets are headed toward the end of another disappointing season. With that in mind, the next month and a half should be more about the future than the present. One player who could benefit from this shift is catcher Josh Thole.

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With a successful call-up in 2009 (.321/.356/.396 in 59 plate appearances) under his belt, and Rod Barajas’ injury, the young catcher has been receiving more playing time at the major league level – mostly as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher. As a fantasy player, he can help your team in batting average, and if your league counts the category, on-base percentage – two boosts you don’t normally expect from the catcher position.

Although he lacks power, Thole has shown the ability to get on base at every level. In six minor league seasons, he owns an on-base percentage of .378. In 48 major league games, he’s been on base more than 39% of the time.

After hitting .321 in his first 17 games last season, he is hitting .324 in 31 games this year. True to his contact-hitting label, the 23-year-old is making contact on 94.3% of the swings he takes. To put that in perspective, only two major leaguers who qualify for the batting title have a contact rate higher than Thole (Marco Scutaro and Juan Pierre).

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Of course, when any player hits for a high average in such a small sample size, there is a chance it could be due to luck or random fluctuation. To help us look into that, we can check Thole’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Currently, his BABIP of .362 is well above the MLB average of .298. On the other hand, Thole has always had an above-average BABIP. In his minor league career, his BABIP is .326 – including a .359 mark last season.

Despite the high BABIP, the percentage of line drives hit by Thole is relatively normal. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for a hit, a high LD% would contribute to a flukishly high BABIP. In Thole’s case a 20.7% LD rate could be sustainable. In a bit of a surprise, the catcher has seen a decent number of hits come via the ground ball. Without great speed, this is one area where we might see some regression.

In addition to the average, Thole is walking 13.9% of the time – while striking out just 13.2% of the time. He is swinging at less than one-fifth of pitches out of the strike zone, and has whiffed on just 2% of his swings.

With good plate discipline, and the ability to slap the ball around the yard, Thole is a nice backup plan for any fantasy owner. Although he is only playing two or three times a week now, his playing time could increase as the Mets fall further out of contention. Despite the lack of power, his high OBP and AVG would be a welcomed addition to NL-only or deep mixed league squads.

For more on Josh Thole and other potential rookie pickups check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

(Video) Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities

By Bloomberg Sports //

Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines– Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw discuss some sleepers in fantasy baseball. Shaw points to outfielders Dexter Fowler and Felix Pie as legitimate fantasy options. Rockies outfielder Fowler offers fantasy managers plenty of speed and runs. Pie offers the Orioles some pop as well as speed and a respectable batting average. Michele’s Steal is Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals. On the very day that she predicts big things form him, he pops two home runs against the Marlins. For more fantasy insight, visit us at Bloombergsports.com.

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