March 2011

(Vid) Behind the Numbers: All Things New York Baseball

Behind the Numbers Season: All Things New York Baseball

Don’t use Bloomberg Sports Front Office 11 yet? Buy a copy and use the code Sienna for a discount.

Hosts: Robert Shaw and Wayne Parillo

Watch the entire episode, or use the links below to jump to the exact point you want:

The Yankees Episode
Guest: Tom Trudeau
Bloomberg Sports baseball analyst and former ESPN worker. Follow him at @Tom_Trudeau

The Mets Episode
Guest: Eno Sarris
Writer for fangraphs.com, Amazin’ Avenue, and Bloomberg Sports. Follow him at @EnoSarris

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More Behind the Numbers is available at the BloombergSports Youtube channel

The House that Jeter Built (Video)

This off-season Hank Steinbrenner seemed to go after his franchise star when he said that last season the Yankees were too busy building mansions, that they did not focus enough to be champions.  Well good news for Yankees management and fantasy managers alike, is the fact that the Captain’s mansion has been built.

Derek Jeter’s mansion measures at greater than 31,000 square feet with a half dozen car garage.  The house was built for $7.7 million, which would likely buy only a four bedroom apartment in Manhattan.  

If, indeed, Jeter was consumed by the development of his house last season, the good news is that the construction has been completed (video below).

 

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com 

Targeting Closers Of Tomorrow

By Tommy Rancel //

The production from relief pitchers is volatile in nature. In addition to the uncertainty of the position, there are also health concerns in some bullpens. Just this spring we’ve seen a few closers (Brad Lidge and Brian Wilson) go down with injury. With all things considered: injury, ineffectiveness, fatigue, it is wise to keep one eye on the future when building a bullpen.  That said, here are a few names to keep tabs on as we enter the 2011 season.

Jake McGee:

Among the top arms in the Rays’ system, McGee will complete the transformation from starter to reliever that began late last season. As a left-handed pitcher who can hit the high 90′s with his fastball, you can literally see the appeal of McGee as a late-inning option. While he struggled developing his secondary pitches as a starter, he can now focus on his fastball and slider as a reliever.

McGee pitched out of the Rays’ pen just eight times last season, but showed the strikeout stuff you want to see from a shutdown reliever. Bloomberg Sports’ projects him for 60 innings this season with nearly a strikeout per inning. If McGee’s stuff translates as expected, that number could be even higher. Tampa Bay will start the season with a closer-by-committee, although veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta are likely to get the early ninth inning opportunities. Meanwhile, if McGee can get batters out on both sides of the plate, he could find himself as Joe Maddon’s high-leverage relief ace of choice.

Jordan Walden:

Another former starter, Walden pitched exclusively in relief during the 2010 season. Surprisingly, his strikeout rate actually dipped as a reliever in the minors.  Upon his late-season promotion to the majors, his K-rate spiked. In 15.1 innings with the big league club, Walden punched out 23 batters. That translates to a K/9 of 13/5. Like most young pitchers, Walden struggles with control and command. That said, his fastball can touch the triple digits and his slider is a decent second option. The interesting thing to watch is his strikeout rate going forward. If he is getting swings and misses in bunches, the walks will become more tolerable.

Fernando Rodney will begin the season as the Angels’ closer; however after rumored interest in several high-profiled relievers this winter, Los Angeles does not seemed to be married to Rodney in the ninth. If Rodney struggles, set-up man Kevin Jepsen could get a look, but Walden has the goods to be the guy at some point this year.

Kenley Jansen:

Like the others named above, Jansen is also transitioning to the bullpen. However, he is a converted catcher and not starting pitcher. He spent the first four seasons of his professional career as a catcher in the Dodgers’ system and was behind the plate for the Netherlands during 2009 World Baseball Classic. Jansen began the transation to the mound during the 2009 season. With a high-90′s fastball and a really good slider, it did not take him long to shoot up through the system. In fact, he bypassed the Triple-A level altogether.

He made his big league debut in late June and was a key piece in the bullpen going forward. In 27 innings of work he allowed just two earned runs (0.67) and racked up a ridiculous 41 strikeouts. The K/9 near 14.0 and BB/9 near 5.0 show the same wild, yet effective, approach exhibited by Carlos Marmol with the Cubs.

Unlike the Rays and Angels, the Dodgers have a very good closer in Jonathan Broxton. On the other hand, Broxton fell out of favor with the club last season and briefly lost his job as closer. Los Angeles also has another very good arm in Hong-Chih Kuo to close should Broxton falter. Jansen faces more obstacles than Walden or McGee, but has similar potential to become a true relief ace with time.

Even if McGee, Walden, and Jansen don’t rack up double-digit saves, the potential for high strikeouts make them attractive options in deep leagues and those that count holds.

Kila Ka’aihue: Finally?

By Eriq Gardner //

Kila Ka’aihue is zooming up the charts as a potential breakout player for the 2011 season. In 46 spring training at-bats, the Royals first-baseman has hit .413/.449/.804 with 5 HRs and 2 SBs. Not only has Ka’aihue finally won a full-time job at the age of 26, but Royals manager Ned Yost has praised his defensive progress too, telling reporters that Ka’aihue should see more time at first-base than Billy Butler this season.
For the past few years, Ka’aihue has generated a lot of conversation in the scouting community.
On one hand, Ka’aihue has demonstrated the rare combination of elite power and excellent plate discipline. In the last three seasons in the minors, Ka’aihue has slugged a home run once every 19 at-bats and walked 206 times compared to just 152 strikeouts in 842 at-bats. 
These stats are very noteworthy. When his time at AA and AAA gets translated into a full-season 2011 MLB projection, the results raise eyebrows. Most services project 20 HRs in under 500 at-bats, presumably giving him a shot at 30 HRs with a healthy on-base percentage if he plays a full season in the bigs.
Will that happen?
Ka’aihue has his doubters, too.
Some point to the fact that he achieved those gaudy statistics in the minors at a relatively advanced age. Others have labeled him a “Quad-A Player,” too good for the minors and maybe not good enough for the majors, on the belief that the much-better breaking stuff of MLB pitchers will eventually bedevil Ka’aihue. Finally, a few point to results from Ka’aihue’s debut at the major-league level last season, which at first glance, don’t seem very promising.
We’re on the sunny side here.
Ka’aihue may have achieved enormous things in the minors at the age of 25, which is a little bit old, but still youthful enough it shouldn’t be dismissed. Other players have succeeded after proving themselves in the minors at advanced ages. Nelson Cruz, for one, didn’t hit it big in the majors until age 28. Plus, Ka’aihue was knocking them out of the park and showing his great plate discipline all the way back in 2004-05 at Single-A when he was just 19 years old. He’s been overdue for a call-up for some time now, so it can hardly be counted against him that he hasn’t gotten a real shot.
Some might suggest that 2010 was his opportunity to prove himself. Last year, he suffered a .217 AVG in 180 at-bats.
Look closer, however, and last season gives more reason for hope than otherwise. He struggled badly in his first 84 at-bats in August, as do most call-ups, but then had a pretty outstanding September when nobody was looking. In 84 September at-bats, Ka’aihue hit .274 with 6 HRs. His OPS was ninth among first basemen in baseball that month.
Ka’aihue still has plenty to prove, especially when pitchers learn his tendencies and shy away from giving him fast-balls down the plate. But all evidence so far suggests he’s not a free swinger. He’ll take the walk if necessary and make pitchers put them in the strike zone.
Ka’aihue finally gets his chance to shine now, worrying those who imagine the Hawaiian-born slugger will feel some pressure to perform quickly, after being forced to bide his time so long, especially with one of the game’s best prospects, Eric Hosmer, waiting in the wings. The fact that Ka’aihue plays on the Kansas City Royals, however, might turn out to be advantageous. The team won’t contend for the division this season and have no reason to start Hosmer’s arbitration eligibility clock early. Ka’aihue knows better than anybody the organization’s commitment to “patience.” 
He could very easily fulfill the potential of his minor league career and hot spring training. Ka’aihue has waited for this opportunity; it doesn’t mean fantasy competitors should be as unhurried when seeing him available in a league.

The Top 10 Hitting Prospects

By R.J. Anderson //

Last week, I looked at the Top 10 Pitching Prospects according to Front Office. This week, let’s focus on the Top 10 Hitting Prospects.

1. J.P. Arencibia
2. Freddie Freeman
3. Domonic Brown
4. Desmond Jennings
5. Yonder Alonso
6. Devin Mesoraco
7. Jesus Montero
8. Wil Myers
9. Wilin Rosario
10. Gary Sanchez

Freeman is the healthiest and most assured of a starting gig out of the rest of the options, as he figures to be the Braves’ Opening Day starter at first base. Brown suffered a broken hamate bone earlier in the spring and will miss a few weeks into the regular season. Brown was in line to become at least a part time player in the Phillies’ outfield, so look for him to be an intriguing in-season addition.

A similar thing can be written for Jennings, although his situation depends on his own health as well as his major league counterparts (namely Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon). An injury to an outfielder or infielder could leave Jennings on his way up thanks to the Rays’ flexibility with players like Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. Alonso has been described as pure trade bait despite working out in the outfield during the exhibition season. The Reds have a pretty good first baseman already who isn’t going anywhere else anytime soon, leaving Alonso’s value as minimal.

The list is loaded with backstops. Arencibia, Mesoraco, Montero, Myers, Rosario, and Sanchez all don the tools of ignorance. Of those, only Arencibia and Montero are likely to see time in the big leagues early on, although Mesoraco could very well reach the show by season’s end. Sanchez is probably the only one that you should remove from your draft boards, as he only turned 18 in December and isn’t a viable option outside of deep keeper leagues.

As is the case with all prospects, don’t build your team expecting them to live up to your wildest dreams. Instead, use them in complementary roles until they’ve proven otherwise. After all, not every season brings a Jason Heyward to the table.  

(Vid) Behind The Numbers – Cramming for The Draft

Behind the Numbers – Season 2: Cramming for the Draft When You Don’t Have Enough Time to Prepare

Behind The Numbers Season 2 tries out a new video format which includes pop-up information about the guests and subject matter.

Jonah Keri, New York Times National bestsell author of the Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First joins Behind the Numbers co-host Wayne Parillo and Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw for a pre-draft cram
session, helping out since Parillo is a new father and hasn’t exactly had time to prepare. Oh, and there is a special Front Office discount code for listeners.

Curtis Granderson: Siren Call or Smart Pick?

by Eno Sarris //

According to the Bloomberg Sports Front Office tool, Curtis Granderson is the fourth-best center fielder and ranks at about 47th overall – and yet his ADP is hovering around triple-digits. Seems like a moment rife for opportunity. Except there’s the recent news about his health. And his ongoing platoon issues. Let’s take a look at these and see if they threaten to completely reduce his value to rubble.

GrandoGrab.jpgFirst, it’s true that Granderson is not a great batter against lefties. His .215/.275/.347 line against lefties is much worse than his .287/.363/.528 line against righties. And that lacking lefty line has come in 859 plate appearances, so it’s somewhat reliable. He’s not great against lefties.

The thing is, he still takes at-bats against them. It only seems like he’s a platoon outfielder. Take a look at the chart below, and you’ll see that he actually took more at-bats against lefties than the average player last year. The Yankees know that, with his glove, he’s still valuable. And fantasy fans should know that he still hits 3-5 home runs a year against lefties, and, as the chart shows, GrandersonLefties.jpgisn’t sitting versus them. If you’ve got a good fourth outfielder in your daily-lineup fantasy league, fine, put him in instead of Granderson versus a lefty. But don’t discount Granderson too far for having a slight flaw.

Now Granderson is hurting from an oblique strain, but during the last spring training game, manager Joe Girardi said that his center fielder said that he would have played if it was the season. There’s still a week left before the season opens, but obliques are tricky. It’s hard to know exactly how much time, if any, Granderson will miss, and watching the news wire in the next couple days will hopefully help.

The injury news, along with his struggles against lefties, will surely depress Granderson further than his current ADP. On Yahoo, Delmon Young‘s ADP is 101.1, Nick Markakis‘ is 111.6, and Granderson’s is 112.5. I’d take the chance at power and speed over those two outfielders, even if the batting average is not always there. On ESPN, Granderson’s ADP is higher (87.7), and he might not be a good option over a healthy Corey Hart (93.4), but I’d certainly take him over Torii Hunter (116.4) and Juan Pierre (115.6), more one-dimensional players at this point in their careers.

Curtis Granderson is not perfect. But at some point, he’s a value. In mixed leagues, start looking at him once you approach double-digit rounds.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

Young Starters To Target Late In Fantasy Drafts

By Tommy Rancel //

Names like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez dominate the top tier of starting pitching in fantasy leagues. While getting a bonafide ace to anchor your rotation is important, filling the final few spots of your staff is also key, especially if you can find some gems in the later rounds. One way to find value late in the draft is targeting young, yet talented arms. Here are the top 5 projected youthful starters with an ADP of 150 or later.

Jaime Garcia
Madison Bumgarner
Jhoulys Chacin
James McDonald
Jeremy Hellickson

Garcia is the latest disciple of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. As a rookie, he finished with a 13-8 record and a ridiculous 2.70 ERA in 163.1 innings. Even with a strikeout to walk ratio of over 2.0 and a phenomenal groundball rate, he is not likely to produce another sub-3.00 ERA in 2010. That said, Bloomberg Sports’ projects him with another double-digit win season and a more than respectable ERA of 3.73.

Despite being just 21-years-old, Bumgarner will enter 2011 as a key member of the defending World Series Champions’ rotation. The young lefty went 7-6 in his first big league season with a nice round 3.00 ERA. He won’t provide you with a ton of strikeouts, but should top 10 wins with an ERA under 4.00.

Staying in the National League West, Jhoulys Chacin was a much better pitcher than his 9-11 record showed. The Rockies’ right-hander compiled a 3.28 ERA in his first full season while striking out more batters (138) than innings pitched (137.1). Like many other Colorado starters, Chacin’s ERA at home (3.98) was much higher than his road mark (2.44). Even with regression, he should still be an above-average starter who gets drafted after round 20.

James McDonald was stolen by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Dodgers in exchange for a handful of innings from Octavio Dotel. In 11 starts for the Pirates, he earned an ERA of 3.52 with a strong strikeout rate of 8.58. The Pirates may finish with another 90 losses, however, McDonald should provide solid numbers at the top of their rotation and value at the back end of fantasy ones.

Our lone American League representative is the most inexperienced member of the list. Jeremy Hellickson made just four starts for the Tampa Bay Rays late last season. That said, arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball goes into 2011 entrenched as the Rays’ fifth starter. Although his time with the club was brief, Hellickson showed his trademark control should easily transition to the big leagues. He’ll probably be limited to 175-185 innings, but Bloomberg Sports says those innings will be quality ones as his ERA projects to be under 4.0 (3.89).

Filling the front end of your rotation with the Halladay’s of the world is essential. But remember the Bumgarner types as you look for value from the SP4 and SP5 spots. All five of our pitchers have ADP’s in the triple-digits with the potential to provide double-digits in the win column.

Why Fly-Ball Pitchers May Be Better Bets Than Ground-Ball Pitchers

By Eriq Gardner //

One of the fundamentals in evaluating starting pitching is to focus on three key areas where pitchers hold a measure of control over their statistical production:
  1. The ability to retire batters via strikeouts
  2. The ability to limit base-runners by avoiding the issuance of walks
  3. The ability to limit home runs by keeping the ball on the ground

Pitchers who do a good job at these three things are commonly assumed to be very skilled. Pitchers who do these things well but don’t have a superb ERA to match are seen as unlucky.

Makes sense. However, we’re not quite certain that ground-ball pitchers are better fantasy baseball assets than fly-ball pitchers. Perhaps slightly more valuable, yes, but not as profitable. Confused? Read on…
We examined statistics from starting pitchers between 2006 and 2010 to get an idea what kind of production we could expect from starters who were elite at keeping the ball on the ground versus starters who were terrible at keeping the ball on the ground. We put the pitchers into four quartiles:
  • Pitchers with elite ground-ball skills (above 47 GB%) including stars like Felix Hernandez and Chris Carpenter and lesser ones like Paul Maholm and Aaron Cook.
  • Pitchers with above-average ground-ball skills (about 44.5%-47%) including stars like Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia and lesser ones like Joe Saunders and Jeff Suppan.
  • Pitchers with below-average ground-ball skills (about 40.5%-44.5%) including stars like Jake Peavy and Cole Hamels and lesser ones like Kevin Millwood and Kyle Lohse
  • Pitchers with terrible ground-ball skills (below 40.5%) including stars like Jered Weaver and Matt Cain and lesser ones like Jarrod Washburn and Oliver Perez.

Now, let’s look at each of the categories.

First up, here’s a look at ERA for each of these groups. You’ll notice that the ground-ball “elite” have a superior advantage over the rest of the field. It’s easy to understand why. Pitchers who don’t give up a lot of fly balls save themselves from the trouble of allowing many home runs, which tends to very unhealthy to a pitcher’s ERA. 
However, also notice that pitchers with “terrible” ground-ball rates perform better in ERA than pitchers with “below-average” and nearly as well as “above-average” ground-ball rates.
GBvsERA.png
It should be no surprise that the category of WINS tracks similarly. After all, there’s a pretty strong correlation to preventing runs and getting wins. Pitchers with “elite” ground-ball skills do best in wins, but perhaps surprisingly, pitchers with “terrible” ground-ball skills don’t do as badly as pitchers in the 25%-75% range.
GBvsW.png
So far, we’ve shown that elite ground-ball pitchers have the edge. Let’s now turn our attention to WHIP. Surprise! Pitchers with “terrible” ground-ball rates are the best of the bunch:
GBvsWHIP.png
Maybe non-HR fly balls are easy to field than ground balls and that’s why pitchers with terrible ground-ball rates have good WHIPs. 
Here’s another theory: These pitchers tend to pound the middle of the strike zone instead of nibbling near the bottom of the strike zone. As supporting evidence, we now present a look at how each of these four groups of pitchers perform in the STRIKEOUT category. As you’ll see below, pitchers with terrible ground ball rates typically get the most strikeouts:
GBvsKs.png
Obviously, ground-ball rate doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with strikeout rate. There are definitely pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez who do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground and getting strikeouts. But the norm tends to be that fly ball pitchers do better at inducing whiffs.
Add it up and we have two categories (ERA, W) favoring pitchers with elite ground-ball rates and two categories (WHIP, K) favoring pitchers with terrible ground-ball rates. Based on the fact that wins tend to be most scarce, the edge in overall fantasy value goes to pitchers with elite ground ball rates. But do fantasy folks overestimate that edge?
Many competitors tend to focus on the sexy stats of wins, strikeouts, and ERA and give short shrift to a category like WHIP. The pitchers commanding top prices in fantasy drafts do very well in those first three categories.
How about some fly ball pitchers? The top pitchers include Cliff Lee and Jered Weaver. As for the potentially longer list of draft day bargains, think Ted Lilly, Ricky Nolasco, Scott Baker, Javier Vazquez, and Aaron Harang. Each of these players are fly ball pitchers who project to have great WHIPs and strong strikeout rates. 
At very least, there’s a floor to their prospective value that makes them good bets to at least earn back their draft investment. 
The upside for more is also there. As demonstrated above, pitchers with terrible ground-ball rates don’t do as badly in ERA and wins as one might assume. Furthermore, each of these pitchers play home games in pitcher’s parks, which may dampen the number of home runs they give up and might, very possibly, make them just as valuable as elite pitchers going very early in drafts.

Oakland: A Bullpen In Flux

by Eno Sarris //

Since about a third of opening day closers lose their jobs to injury or poor play every year, it’s not the greatest position in which to invest heavily. Instead, waiting to the end of the draft and using the quantity-not-quality approach to supplement an elite closer can provide the best return on investment. Mix the risk in your closer portfolio, in other words. This spring, we’re seeing the merits of this approach already.

In Oakland, Andrew Bailey saw Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday, and though it’s just a right forearm strain, he is known to be slightly frail. The former starter and ROY had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and only managed 49 innings last year because of an intercostal strain and some elbow surgery to get rid of loose bodies in the joint. Add the current forearm strain in, and he is a substantial injury risk.

Fuentes.jpgThat is, perhaps, why the Athletics stocked up on bullpen talent last year despite having a strong bullpen in 2010. Brian Fuentes has managed to put up more than 20 saves in each of the last six years, but comes with some flaws of his own. He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher (33.5% career GB) who doesn’t do as well against righties as he does against similar-handed pitchers (11.34 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 versus lefties, 9.24 K/9, 4.16 BB/9 against righties).

Fellow new acquisition Grant Balfour will figure in the mix somehow if Bailey goes down for an extended period of time. Since he’s a righty, Balfour could contribute some saves as part of a platoon (10.10 K/9, 4.11 BB/9 versus righties). But Balfour, despite the unfortunate last name, is also pretty good against lefties (10.48 K/9, 4.51 BB/9), and if the team can stomach his occasional control blips, he might be the closer all by his lonesome.

Last year, five pitchers accrued saves for the Athletics, and Michael Wuertz was second to Bailey with six. If the 35-year old Fuentes declines further (he used to put up strikeout rates closer to ten than to eight) or the inconsistent Balfour can’t find the zone, Wuertz may again put up some saves. Either way, it’s likely that another half-dozen Oakland pitchers will accrue saves in 2011.

We all have to chase the save, and yet it’s the only stat that usually rewards a specific role on each team. Since pitchers are already more likely to get hurt than position players, and the closer role is so volatile on it’s own, it’s a good idea to spread your risk around as much as possible. Sure, get a stud closer early on, but then mitigate your risk late by taking fliers on pitchers like Fuentes and Balfour. If it doesn’t work out, you didn’t spend much on them, and then you can easily drop them for the next pitcher that starts accruing saves.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

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