BY ROB SHAW
Every season a different strategy has to be utilized in fantasy baseball drafts in order to appropriately take into account positional depth and player rankings. In general, a unique strategy can be utilized on a round-by-round basis. Here’s a breakdown of Bloomberg Sports recommended Fantasy Baseball Strategy 2012 Edition:
In the early rounds, the focus is finding the best available player while also taking into account the disparity between the best player and the next best option at each position. For example, there is a plateau in excellence for starting pitchers as Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw can all be claimed as the best of the bunch. On the other hand, Troy Tulowitzki stands alone amongst fellow shortstops.
If your fantasy league includes slugging percentage and on base percentage as statistical categories, there is no competition for Jose Bautista in the outfield while there are several stars at first base including Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto. The best strategy is to pick up the best talent at a position where there is a large enough disparity that when the next player is drafted from that position there is a decisive advantage in your favor.
In the early middle rounds, it’s not a bad idea to scoop up a fine hurler who has the potential to rank amongst the best. Players such as Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, and Danny Haren as well as Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg make sense in these rounds. These hurlers have the ability to dominate and enjoy a Cy Young caliber season thanks to their enormous upside.
Having two high potential and consistent hurlers is more valuable than having just one dominant ace. Therefore, by drafting where there is greater disparity in the early rounds with a focus on position players, then nabbing a couple of pitchers with sky high potential fantasy managers can enjoy the best of both worlds.
In the later middle rounds you can draft a closer and many of them. Closers are often overrated in fantasy leagues since they only contribute 70 innings, which means saves are all that matters. Second-tier closers still get the job done and players such as Joe Nathan could end up as bargains. In fact, rather than selecting a Jonathan Papelbon in the sixth or seventh round, you can grab a Gio Gonzalez or a Drew Stubbs, someone who will have a much greater impact on your fantasy team.
Then five rounds later go ahead and draft three closers in a row: Sergio Santos, Jason Motte, and Frank Francisco. Plus, usually about 10 closers become available on the waiver wire each season. In fact, all three of the pitchers just mentioned did not start the season as closers for their respective teams last season.
Finally, in the later rounds, it’s not a bad idea to focus on young talents with great potential as well as players with multiple position eligibility. This allows you to pick up some big time prospects while also enjoying depth. Consider top prospects such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. There is no telling if the precocious sluggers will develop into stars as soon as this season.
On the other hand, drafting veteran players such as Ryan Raburn and Daniel Murphy is also a key strategy in the later rounds since they cover multiple positions, providing depth to your fantasy teams. This way if a player on your team gets injured, a single bench player can fill multiple holes.
For more fantasy insight turn to BloombergSports.com.
By Eriq Gardner //
- Josh Johnson
- Dan Haren
- Brandon Phillips
- Billy Butler
- Carlos Marmol
- Nick Markakis
- Joel Hanrahan
- Sergio Romo
- Rafael Soriano
- Daniel Bard
Josh Johnson has a little bit of a reputation for being injury-prone, having a Tommy John surgery a few years back, and missing the last month of last season with shoulder inflammation, but he’s also pitched nearly 400 innings these past two seasons as one of the elite hurlers in the game.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Jered Weaver
Can it be considered a “good” surprise when a 16-game winner drops to 13 wins? In the case of Weaver, yes. Although his win total dropped, the righty was at his best in 2010. His strikeout rate was a career best 9.35 per nine innings, while his walk and home run rates dropped to career-low levels. He also made a career-high 34 starts and threw 224 innings. Once the owner of ace potential, Weaver has now reached ace status.
Biggest Bust: Scott Kazmir
Once upon a time, Kazmir had that ace status. Now, he’s more like a soft-tossing 35-year-old than a 26-year-old former foundation player. Making matters worse, he spent a total of 42 days on the DL with shoulder issues. When healthy, Kazmir made 28 starts going 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA in his first full season with the Angels. He struck out fewer than six batters per nine innings while walking nearly five per nine. Many cried foul when the Rays traded Kazmir last August, but it looks like Andrew Friedman made the deal just in time.
2011 Keeper Alert: Jered Weaver
It will be interesting to see if Weaver can maintain his high strikeout rate from this season. Even if it falls back to his career rate of 7.82 per nine, Weaver is one of the better pitchers in the American League. With nothing suggesting his 3.01 ERA was a product of luck, the 28-year-old appears to be entering the prime of his career.
2011 Regression Alert: Dan Haren
When the Angels acquired Haren, he was 7-8 with 4.60 ERA in 21 starts for Arizona. However, we informed you that Haren was due for some positive regression. With an above-average strikeout rate (9.0 K/9) and a minuscule walk rate (1.85 BB/9), the righty was getting some ridiculous bad luck on BABIP (.350) and home runs (1.47 HR/9). Although his Ks dropped (7.18 K/9) and his walks increased a bit (2.39 BB/9) as a member of the Angels, his home run rate was lowered to 0.77 per nine while his BABIP dropped to a manageable .286. The normalization of those two stats gave him a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts with the Angels. You can expect more of the same in 2011, even while others balk at his inflated overall numbers.
For more on Jered Weaver and the Angels pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
With Cliff Lee off the market, the Arizona Diamondbacks held one of the few aces (Dan Haren) left on the market. Instead of getting a king’s ransom in return, they settled for a ten (Joe Saunders), a five (Rafael Rodriguez), and a pair of wild cards (Patrick Corbin and a player to be named later). The Dan Haren trade is a blow to NL-only owners; however, to members of AL-only leagues…welcome to Christmas in July.
On the surface, Haren doesn’t look like a “significant” upgrade over Saunders. Both pitchers have sub-.500 win-loss records and near-matching ERAs around 4.60. That’s where the similarities end.
Unlike Saunders, Haren is actually better than his ERA suggests; much better. Despite the high ERA, Haren is striking out a batter per inning. His smooth 9.00 K/9 rate is a career high. Also unlike Saunders, Haren does not walk many batters. He’s handed out just 29 walks in 141 innings (1.85 BB/9), and owns a career walk rate below 2.0. According to those metrics, Haren has been a top-five pitcher in the NL. Where he has struggled in 2010 is home runs allowed, batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and strand rate.
It’s true that Haren deserves partial blame for his rather high home run rate. He has allowed nearly as many home runs (23) as walks (29). His home run per nine rate (HR/9) of 1.47 is a career worst and nearly half a homer higher than his career 1.07 rate. Outside of bad luck, Haren’s (former) home ball park is not helping matters either.
According to ESPN’s park factors, the 29-year-old is moving from a home ball park that ranks among the most generous in home runs per game to one that ranks near the bottom (22nd). Digging even deeper into park factors, Statcorner.com tells us Chase Field is extremely friendly to left-handed batters in terms of the long ball.
Looking at Haren’s splits for 2010, he is allowing more home runs to lefties (1.81 HR/9) than righties (1.22 HR/9). His home run rate at home (1.57 HR/9) is also higher his road rate (1.35). In fact, 17.1% of flyballs hit against Haren in Chase Field clear the wall. That number drops to 11.2% on the road. For his career, his HR/FB rate is 11.1%. It is not a guaranteed fix for the gopherball problems that have plagued Haren, but a move to Angels Stadium certainly won’t hurt.
In addition to the home run rate, Haren has been ridiculously unlucky on balls in play. His current BABIP of .350 is nearly 50 points higher than his career .304 level. This is odd given the rates in types of balls put in play against him (line drives, flyballs, groundballs) have not drastically changed.
His line drive rate (LD%) of 20.3% is nearly identical to his 20.0% career number. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for hits, it is strange that Haren’s BABIP has climbed so high. If Haren’s current BABIP regresses toward career levels, expect a significant drop in ERA.
Meanwhile, Haren’s strand rate has fallen to 70.9% from 2009’s 77% and his career 73.2%. Pitchers will often see more of the runners they put on base score as a result of a shaky bullpen. Arizona’s pen owns a stratospheric 6.50 ERA, the worst mark in the majors and a full run and a half higher than the next worst team. Better bullpen support could help Haren’s strand rate, and also his wins total, with fewer saves likely to be blown once he leaves the game (although the Angels rank a poor 25th in MLB themselves with a 4.50 bullpen ERA).
Normally, when a pitcher moves from the NL to AL, we worry about league adjustment. Haren made 102 starts for the Oakland Athletics. In those three years he went 43-34 with a 3.64 ERA. He also struck out 531 batters while walking just 153 in more than 600 innings of work.
If you’re in a mixed league, hold the line for all the reasons above. In NL-only leagues, I’m sorry. On the other hand, in a competitive AL-only format, you might as well break your free agent budget.
By Bloomberg Sports://
Man vs. Machine: Episode 5 — In a special from Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures, Mets legend Keith Hernandez sits down with Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw, to discuss the Fantasy Bulls and Bears for the second half of the season. In the fifth episode, the focus is on pitchers.
Today’s Position: Pitchers
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Dan Haren is one of the best pitchers in baseball. While his WHIP and ERA were up significantly in the first half, his underlying statistics tell a different story. His BABIP of .339 is well above average and should regress in the second half.
Don’t expect the 3.14 ERA of last season, when Haren posted an abnormally low .270 BABIP, but expect regression to the mean, which will help improve his WHIP and ERA from here on out.
Haren gave up more than his share of home runs in the first half. His career high in home runs allowed is 31, and batters have already hit 19 against him this year. Combined with the expected regression in BABIP, Haren should post excellent numbers during the second half and the Bloomberg Sports computer thinks he could be a steal.
Luke Gregerson is a different kind of bull. He hasn’t gotten unlucky (his BABIP is in fact extremely low for the season at .204 and should come up) but he is undervalued in fantasy leagues nonetheless.
His phenomenal 11.0 K/9 and 0.73 WHIP can really buoy your fantasy pitching staff, a point previously discussed by Eriq Gardner on the Bloomberg Sports Blog (http://mlblogsbloombergsports.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/pitchers74.jpgarchives/2010/03/true-value-of-great-relievers-unfinished.html).
Gregerson had a rough end to the first half of the season, but his overall numbers were fantastic and he could contribute greatly from an often overlooked spot – middle reliever. Gregerson could also get some occasional save opportunities in the second half which would increase his value even more; in keeper leagues, he’s a good bet as the Padres’ future closer and Heath Bell‘s heir apparent.
The Man (Keith Hernandez) says:
“I like Jair Jurrjens, who has missed most of the first half of the season for the Braves. He is a pitcher who has a fine track record; has always been successful. The Braves were wise to keep him out almost the entire first half. I look for Jurrjens to really give the Braves a boost and have a terrific second half.”
“I love Francisco Cordero. The Reds are a ball club that can hit and he will have a lot of save opportunities. He’s a veteran, his ERA has been in the fours, but it won’t be at the end of the season. I’m putting my money with Francisco Cordero.”
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the top pitchers in baseball. But the Bloomberg Sports computer doubts that he can continue to dominate at quite the same level. This makes him a sell-high candidate. His 8.0 K/9 leaves him just short of elite territory, while his .248 BABIP goes far in explaining his .197 batting average against and 2.20 ERA, which should regress in the second half.
Jimenez’s greatest value so far is in the wins category, where he leads the league with 15. Wins, however, are extremely difficult to predict, because they rely so much on run support and defensive support. The Bloomberg Sports computer only projects an 8-5 record for Jimenez in the second half of the season. That would still leave him with an astounding 23 wins for the year, but also far short of the 15 wins he compiled during the first half.
Matt Capps is another pitcher who has sterling statistics so far. After a rough season last year where he compiled a 5.80 ERA, he has that number down to 3.18. Combine that with a .358 BABIP in the first half (which should go down) and it might be somewhat puzzling that we have him as a bear for the second half.
Capps does not have an elite strikeout rate for a closer (7.4 K/9), which limits his value to some extent.
Saves depend a lot on the situation and are not directly under the player’s control. Bloomberg Sports sees Capps accruing only 12 more saves during the second half of the year, half of his first half tally.
Capps is another player who could find himself traded. If this happens, he could easily end up as a set-up on a contending team, in which case he could see even fewer saves. Sell high on Capps now before these questions catch up with him.
The Man (Kieth Hernandez) says:
“I’ll go with the Yankees Phil Hughes who got off to a fabulous start. He’s a curveball pitcher, but still very young. He’s still learning and this season is going to wear on him.”
“I’m [also] looking down at Florida with Leo Nunez, who has developed a new pitch, a change-up. He throws very hard, but has fallen in love with that change-up. This is one of the worst bullpens in baseball. I see the batters catching up with the change-up and giving Leo a lot of trouble.”
by Eno Sarris
Sometimes a player just can’t get any respect, despite consistent excellence. That might be the case with Arizona ace Dan Haren.
The good news is that over the last three years, he’s posted ERAs of 3.33 or lower, WHIPs of
1.21 or lower, microscopic walk rates of 1.8 per nine innings or lower, and a strikeout rate above 8 K/9 IP. FanGraphs’ Expected Fielding Independent Pitching stat (xFIP), which runs along a similar scale to ERA and isolates factors a pitcher can best control such as home run rate, walk rate and strikeout rate and adjusts for park effects, defense and other factors, shows Haren ranking 4th in MLB in 2009 (3.08) and 4th in 2008 (3.21). Consistency is part of Haren’s oeuvre.
Take a look at Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Baseball Kit and several other numbers jump out at you. Haren was better than 75% of starting pitchers in strikeouts, and also sported an elite WHIP. Toiling for the 70-92 Diamondbacks kept Haren from amassing an impressive number of wins (he settled for a still solid 14), but there’s room for hope there as well. The D-Backs’ 720 runs scored last year were average for the National League (8th out of 16) and with a few steps forward from youngsters Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, the team could add to that total – especially in a hitter-friendly park. In the end, though, those factors don’t matter all that much. If Haren nets another season with the 16th-ranked ERA, first-ranked WHIP, and sixth-ranked strikeout total in baseball, you’ll be happy.
Still, much has been made about Haren’s first half vs. second half splits; the Bloomberg Tool again shows us graphically what the naysayers are saying. You can see that Haren’s ERA rose as the season wore on in 2009. This is not a new development. Take a look at his career pre- and post-All Star splits: In 651 pre-All Star innings, Haren has a 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 7.45
K/9. In 575 post-All Star innings, he has 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and a
7.76 K/9. Those numbers include a mediocre career 4.58 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in August.
But that doesn’t mean you should draft Haren and trade him at the All Star break, or worse, pass on him entirely. The pre- and post-All-Star K rates were an early clue. But if you take ERA and WHIP out of the story and focus on underlying statistics, Haren is not really any different after the break, or even in his supposedly worst month of August.
To strip luck and other factors out of the equation, let’s return to Fielding Independent Pitching, the brainchild of baseball researcher Tom Tango. The expected version of FIP, xFIP, normalizes for home run rates given a pitcher’s ballpark and league situation. Listed on FanGraphs.com are Haren’s month-by-month xFIPs for his career: 3.82, 3.72, 3.73, 3.54, 3.37, 3.64. That’s right, over his career, Haren actually has his lowest monthly xFIP in August.
So why the ugly ‘regular’ stats? Since xFIP normalizes home run rate to a pitcher’s career average, it removes the effect of Haren’s biggest August problem – his 1.58 home runs per nine innings. His career home run rate is 1.03 home runs per 9 IP. You might argue that Haren tires late in the season and is more prone to the big fly, but there’s a fly in that ointment. Haren’s career home runs per 9 IP in September and October? 1.01. It simply doesn’t make any sense to say that Haren is tired in August but fine in September. For the more statistically inclined, there’s even a numbers-based argument against the importance of season splits like Haren’s here. Basically, they don’t exist.
But even those that don’t want to read about “r” values and other advanced statistical measures can see that it doesn’t make much sense to worry about one month. That’s doubly true when the underlying numbers don’t support the case for that one month being fundamentally worse than others.
Bloomberg Sports rates Haren as an elite starting pitcher, giving him a B-Rank of 29. That’s 5th among all starting pitchers, trailing only Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. Draft Haren with confidence, and don’t trade him unless you get a top-tier offer. Not even at the All Star break.
For more on why Dan Haren is good, and the horde of other starting pitchers that aren’t as good, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.