BY ROB SHAW
When it comes to evaluating player performance and creating projections for the upcoming season, Bloomberg Sports takes several factors into account. Here’s a breakdown of four of the nine factors that allow Bloomberg Sports to offer the most accurate projections in fantasy sports while attracting more than 20 Major League teams to turn to the company for scouting and advanced analytical solutions.
The first factor to consider is ballpark. Over the last five years it seems like we have shifted back to the big ballparks that favor pitchers. That is certainly the case for Citi Field, PETCO Park, and Target Field. As a result, just about any Mets, Padres, or Twins hurler performs better at home than on the road.
On the other hand, there are power alleys in Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, and most definitely the Ballpark in Arlington. Fantasy managers want to invest in the pitchers from the large cavernous and the hitters in the bandboxes.
On that note, be wary of pitchers who thrived in pitcher’s parks such as Mat Latos and Heath Bell who now join more hitter-friendly confines and definitely invest in hitters such as Michael Cuddyer making the move from Target Field to Coors this season.
The next fantasy factor to keep in mind is durability. Fantasy managers expecting full seasons from Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, and Chipper Jones are playing against the odds. There are durable hitters out there such as Yadier Molina and Roy Halladay. Their durability is a fantasy asset since you know what to expect from them on a day-to-day basis.
Next, fantasy managers should consider the age of their players. Bloomberg Sports has found 26-31 to be the prime age for baseball players. A younger player should be approaching his peak, while older players are typically on the decline. It should not shock you that Ichiro, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are slowing down with age.
Finally, fantasy managers should consider the impact of a long-term deal. It is very rare that the player delivers shortly after signing such a deal. While we hate to question motivation, we have noticed that stars such as Jason Bay, John Lackey, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth were not nearly as productive after signing long-term deals compared to the season prior to the negotiation. On that note, Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols may not be as safe as you thought.
For all nine Fantasy Factors visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
There was once a time when drafting a Colorado Rockies pitcher in your fantasy league was nothing but trouble, but after we saw Ubaldo Jimenez not just tame the altitude, but dominate in it, fantasy managers are willing to invest in a Rockies hurler. One pitcher who is drawing a great deal of interest is Jhoulys Chacin.
The 24-year-old hurler was hurt last season by a lack of defensive and offensive support as his record was just 11-14 and more than 10% of runs scored against him were unearned. However, some of his struggles were self-inflicted. Chacin walked 87 batters and surrendered 20 home runs. Though he still managed a solid 3.62 ERA, he was flirting with danger despite the stellar .231 average against.
What makes Chacin so effective in Coors is that he keeps the ball on the ground. In fact, of all pitchers in the Majors last season with at least 100 innings pitched, Chacin ranked seventh with a 57% ground ball rate.
While Chacin is a solid pitcher the question is whether he will become a great pitcher. In order to do so he has to improve his control, which would result in a lower WHIP, better ERA, and a career-high in wins. At 24 years old, there is a great deal of upside for Chacin and it is fair to assume that he’ll take a step in the right direction this season.
Typically pitching in a pitcher’s park is more advantageous than a hitter’s bandbox. There is an argument to the contrary for Reds hurler Mat Latos who makes his way from San Diego’s PETCO Park to Cincinnati. The greatest liability in Latos statistics last season was the 9-14 record. Otherwise, the second-year hurler was stellar with a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
The idea here is that Latos could use a little run support. With Adrian Gonzalez having left the west coast for Boston last season, Latos had few batters to offer the run support needed for a winning record. That should not be an issue this season as he once again will have an MVP candidate manning first base with Joey Votto, plus the presence of Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce among others in the lineup.
Expect a rise in the ERA as the hitter-friendly ballpark can’t be ignored, but it will come with nearly 200 strikeouts and around 15 wins.
The Rays will compete once again in the AL East thanks to the fine young talent making up their starting rotation. While the Yankees and Red Sox acquire talent in trades and via free agency, the Rays secure their stars via drafts.
The next top prospect to follow the path of David Price and Jeremy Hellickson as prospects turned stars is rookie Matt Moore. In his first taste of the Big Leagues, Moore actually pitched more post-season innings than he did in the regular season. In 19.1 combined innings, Moore fanned 23 batters compared to just six walks.
In the minor leagues, Moore dominated while fanning batters at a shocking rate. The sunshine state southpaw surpassed 200 strikeouts in both seasons despite pitching 155 innings or fewer. Similar to Hellickson last season, Moore will likely make an immediate fantasy impact, though with more K’s. On the other hand, the Rays will likely play it safe and limit him to around 180 innings.
While most fantasy managers prefer proven commodities when it comes to fantasy drafts, there are very few hurlers with the upside of Moore’s, and yet you can likely nab him as late as the 10th round. For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Regression Alert: Jon Garland
Garland posted a terrible strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.56, even worse than his already lousy career rate of 1.61. Garland made up for that shortcoming with a very fortunate .267 batting average on balls in play (league average is around .300), yielding a shiny 3.47 ERA. He also won double-digit games for the ninth consecutive year, racking up a fantasy-friendly 14-12 record. That streak could be in danger if he signs with a non-Padres team and continues to pitch as he did this season. If he stays in San Diego, expect that very low ERA to increase; if he leaves, expect it to inflate by a run or more.
Biggest Bust: Kevin Correia
After a 2009 in which he completed 198 innings with 12 wins and a 3.91 ERA, many expected Correia to be a league-average pitcher at worst, and a fantasy asset. Instead, he pitched only 145 innings, racking up a 5.40 ERA. Because of the team’s quality, Correia’s still managed 10 wins, but his rotation status for 2011 is very much in doubt.
2011 Keeper Alert: Mat Latos
It’s hard to have a much better season than the 22-year-old Latos did. A 14-10 record and 2.92 ERA in 184.2 innings pitched for someone who never threw a pitch in Triple-A is quite the achievement. Latos averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Spell his name with one t (like dominant) and keep him for the conceivable future. San Diego has its new ace.
by Eno Sarris //
The science surrounding young pitchers has never been set in stone. It’s come a long way since Rany Jazayerli first debuted Pitcher Abuse Points in 1998. The “discovery” that there was such a thing as too many pitches for a young pitcher then led to some new ways of thinking about young pitchers, pitch counts, and innings limits. Tom Verducci furthered the research with his own findings, called the Verducci Effect, that young starters that jumped more than 30 innings from year to year were more likely to end up injured.
Of course it’s not really that easy to just slap the 30-inning-increase limit on a young starter, especially when a team is in contention and under to pressure to win now. Plus, more rigorous research has not found such a hard cap to be completely useful for all pitchers. All innings are not created equal. More advanced studies look into pitches per inning and what types of pitches are more responsible for arm stress than others. The soft cap that many use in baseball is about 125% of the previous year’s innings total, but that number is more of a general benchmark than one that has the power of multiple research findings behind it.
The case of Stephen Strasburg offers a teaching moment. The upside of a pitcher like Strasburg made him a mid-round fantasy pick with the potential to return early-round value…provided he could put together enough major league innings. That was up for debate as his innings limits were reported to be around 140 to 150 IP – but no hard cap was reported in the media. Then this weekend, Strasburg grabbed his elbow and called the trainer to the mound, and his owners joined Nationals fans in a collective gasp.
What Strasburg teaches us is not necessarily that young pitchers are more likely to hit the disabled list with elbow injuries. Rather, it’s
that young pitchers are less likely to amass critical innings in the latter half of the season. Whether from a cap or from injury, they are just more likely to have their rotation spot skipped late in the year, or to be shut down completely.
Consider all the pitchers that have had the shutdown rumor associated into their name so far this year. Jaime Garcia, Mat Latos, Jonathon Niese, Mike Leake, Mike Minor and Strasburg himself have all been the object of innings-limits speculation from their front offices and the media alike. All of these men are good young pitchers that are vital to their fantasy teams. Jeremy Hellickson dominated in his first four big league starts. For his efforts, he got sent back to A-ball. The best-case scenario for fantasy owners the rest of this season is that he get recalled for a few September innings of middle relief.
Garcia has 141.1 innings already, and his career high came in A-ball with 155 innings. He might be good for another 25 innings by that measure, but it’s complicated by his Tommy John surgery last year, and subsequent 33.2 innings pitched. His manager specifically said that the team was not going to limit its excellent young starter, but he also used 175 innings in his statement. With the Cards in the race (52% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus and their playoff odds), they’ll probably push the limit with Garcia.
Latos, on the other hand, is on a Padres team that is 95% likely to make the postseason, and they’ll need him in October. At 142.2 IP, he’s already well past last year’s 123 IP total and just a couple starts away from a soft cap situation. Since the Padres are far enough ahead, expect to see his starts skipped often down the stretch. Minor, on a Braves team with a 92% chance of making the playoffs, has already had his starts skipped. His 138.1 innings so far this year are well beyond the 110.2 innings he accumulated at Vanderbilt in 2009.
Leake and Niese are more likely to be shut down. Leake racked up 161 IP between Arizona State and the Arizona Fall League last year, but with his recent struggles the team demoted him to the bullpen at 138 innings anyway. The Mets have already openly contemplated shutting him down. They also have a 0.5% chance of making the playoffs, meaning there’s no point risking it with their young right-hander.
Innings caps are no reason to avoid young pitchers altogether, but they do represent another risk that isn’t inherent with veteran pitchers. Next year, when it comes time to decide between two pitchers of similar ilk, it’s worth giving the veteran a slight nudge forward if late-year innings will be crucial for your team. And if you reach the All-Star break with a hot hand like Strasburg or Leake in your fantasy rotation, start aggressively shopping him for a trade.
For more on Stephen Strasburg, Jaime Garcia, Mat Latos and other young pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.