Spring Fantasy Pt. 2

As promised two weeks ago, here are the six guys (3 hitters, 3 pitchers) I would love to grab in the middle rounds of this years’ fantasy draft (picks 6-15). These are the rounds where championships are won. In my experience everyone gets at least three studs, one dud, and one injury in rounds 1-5. But the winners separate themselves with their picks after the top five. So be wise and do your research on the middle of the pack, not on the cream of the crop!

Hitters:

1) Pablo Sandoval: my Zimmerman fantasy has not been working out in any of the mock drafts I’ve done so far. As a result, I’ve found myself getting as far the 10th round without a third baseman. Almost every time Pablo has been there. This is a guy who was often drafted in the second round last year! We all know about his crappy year and his weight loss, and I am not alone in thinking this will be a nice bounce back year, but I’ve been able to pick up the Panda in rounds 8-10, which should turn a nice profit and prove to be a steal.

2) Drew Stubbs: here’s a great example of knowing your draft/league. I’ve seen Drew go as early as round five and as late as round 9. Some are wary of his propensity to strike out (and to end up in Dusty Baker’s doghouse) and others are salivating over his 30-30 potential. I think 25 home runs, 40+ stolen bases, and a better overall batting average are in line. I’m not a big steals guy, and when I draft for steals it almost always is for guys with power (bj upton over jose reyes, for example). As a result, I’ve been trying to get him in the 7th round, but have picked him in the 6th as well. Classic boutry fantasy pick.

3) David Ortiz: last year Big Papi hit 32 home runs, drove in 102 runs, and had an OPS of .899. His ADP (average draft position) has him going in the 12th or 13 rounds. Yes please. Ortiz is a cheap way to pick up power and if you can get him there you take it. Never really been a fan of Papi in fantasy, but his value is low right now and so I’m a buyer. Red Sox hitters will produce a lot of fantasy value this year!

Pitchers:

1) Yovani Gallardo: The Brewers added two studs this year in Greinke and Marcum but Gallardo is the best play on their staff in my estimation. Plus you can get him 2-3 rounds after Greinke is off the boards! My general strategy is to take 7-8 postion players with the top ten picks, so getting Gallardo as my number two guy in every draft (usually in the 7th or 8th rounds) is awesome. I expect him to be a top 10 pitcher this year.

2) Daniel Hudson: I’ve noticed his value creeping up as the spring has gone along. In my first mock I drafted him in round 17. Now I’m stoked if I can grab him at 13 or 14. That’s fine. I think this guy will be among the best 20 fantasy pitchers this year (a slightly better/more expensive version of what Clay Buchholz was for me last year). He’s nasty and he’s going to be my fourth starter!

3) Joel Hanrahan: Closers are a crapshoot. I usually try to get one guy I’m sure will be in the position all year and get a lot of saves (the last two years this was Brian Wilson, but he is not longer a secret…he’s going in rounds 4-6 which is mariano rivera territory and too rich for my blood). I try to fill my other two closer spots with someone from a team I think will get a lot of wins/save opportunities (Brian Fuentes was this for me when he closed for Anaheim), and then someone from a crappy team who will strike out a bunch of dudes. Last year this was Carlos Marmol, this year it is Joel Hanrahan. Hopefully he keeps the walks down and stays the stopper for the full season. You can get him later than 15 but I’ve taken him there just to be safe. Side note: Joe Nathan has also been going late (rounds 11-14), not a bad gamble there at all!

There you go. Who are your middle round gems?

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Kung Fu Fit

The Giants have quite a season to look forward to. As we all know, a championship repeat is near impossible in professional sports today. Too much changes from year to year. Teams lose guys to free agency, owners shuffle players to manage their budgets. Brian Sabean and Co. have done a great job of keeping our championship squad together. But it’s going to take much more than just having the same 9 guys on the field.

Luckily for us, we have guys on our squad like Pablo Sandoval. You may know him simply as “Kung Fu Panda”, or just Panda for short. We’ve all noticed that over the last 2 seasons, he’s put on a few (on top of what he already had). I was always amazed at how fast he could move for a guy of his stature. When he was slumping early last season, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking he needed to hit the gym. And after this season ended, even Bochy publicly spoke about his need to shed a few pounds last November. “He’s got to take responsibility for losing weight and getting in the condition he needs to be in,” Bochy said. “I don’t know what else our training staff could have done. We had his food brought to him. We educated Pablo and his family, but at some point you’ve got to do it yourself. He knows that now.” So what did Panda do? Exactly what he needed. And then some.

The Kung Fu Panda could now be known as the “Svelte Ninja Panda”, although that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue with the same gusto. He stepped up to the plate, and into the gym, losing a grand total of 38 pounds in just 3 months. His body fat percentage went from 30, to an impressive 19. Imagine how quickly Panda will be fielding those bunts to the 3rd base side this season! An issue he always shied away from, Panda is now speaking publicly about his weight loss goals. On January 28th, he posted “Check my Avatar Picture….i’m not thin or skinny, but i feel more Healthy…i feel different.” The photo is of him in a pool, shirt off, looking remarkably more fit than he ever has. “I’m not done,” he went on to say. “This is the beginning of my goal, I haven’t reached it yet.”

It’s going to take this kind of determination from ALL the Giants players to repeat this year. But with players like Kung Fu Panda setting the tone this preseason, guys won’t have to look far for inspiration. I can’t wait to see the starting 9 take the field come March 31st, and hopefully, Kung “Fit” Panda will be leading the way.

(-TS)

Remember This Guy?

ObsessiveGiantsCompulsive wrote a great article a week ago about the “Big 6” issues/questions facing the returning champs this spring. I would recommend that post if you are looking for a run down of what to watch for during the next month.

I think the Giants have all the right kinds of questions this spring: can so and so bounce back? how will the pitchers hold up this year? who will lock down left field? who will be last man in the bullpen? Interesting questions and important in their own right (especially in regards to the pitchers), but nothing earth shattering or riveting.

Look at some of the other playoff teams from last year and you will some major story lines: The Yankees and Jeter. The Yankees and The Rotation. The Rays and Rebuilding (and Manny). The Rangers and the Michael Young Fiasco. The Phillies and Cliff Lee. The Braves and the First Year After Bobby Cox.

The Giants? Well, Brian Wilson did some weird stuff, and there are too many guys for the outfield, and Tim Lincecum had a mustache for a day or two, and Pablo Sandoval lost of bunch of weight, and Mat Latos wrote some dumb stuff on a baseball, and Bochy made a speech, and how boring is this? Hey, wait, there are too many guys in the outfield?

I wrote a few weeks ago about Barry Zito and how now might be the best time to trade him (hello Yankees), but, ironically, this might be the year the Giants need Zito more than ever. Aaron Rowand is the other atrocious contract the Giants carry at this point, and while the length of Zito’s will always be the trump card, I think there is a compelling case to be made that Rowand has the worst contract in SF Giants’ history.

Which is why, in the big picture, Aaron Rowand is the biggest/most interesting story of the spring…mostly because he’s been such a non-story. Since when does a guy earning 10% of the payroll (the best paid position player on the team) become so invisible?

A quick examination of the outfield candidates reveals that he is the most unnecessary player on the roster. You want a leadoff hitter: Andres Torres. You want an excellent defensive center fielder: Andres Torres. You want some right-handed power: Pat Burrell (or Cody Ross). You want versatility and a nice late-inning replacement for defense: hello, Nate Schierholtz. You want a guy who can play multiple positions: hey there Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Nate Schierholtz, Mark DeRosa, and even Aubrey Huff! Right handed Pinch Hitter: again, Pat the Bat. There is no category I can think of where I would place Rowand at the top of the list.

Nothing I’m saying here is new, but I think the Rowand situation highlights how low-key things are around the Giants right now. Really, this should be a bigger story. I actually think Rowand could help a major league team out in an everyday role, but it’s just not the Giants. Has there ever been a more expensive 5th or 6th outfielder in ML history?

The Giants are paying Zito way too much money to be a 5th starter, but that’s still a legitimate role and he helps the team in a significant way. But the Giants are going to be paying Rowand a ludicrous sum to sit on the bench.

Bochy made a mildly controversial statement about there being no guaruntee that Torres starts the season as the CF, but come on, who’s kidding who here?

This spring everyone will say all the right things and it will be nice and politically correct and Rowand seems to be handling it well, But come May when he has 16 At-Bats and he’s buried on the end of the bench behind Burrell, Ross, DeRosa, Huff, et al. how nice will he be then?

I don’t have any good solutions (I could propose a few fantastical trade ideas), but I do think this will become a serious issue at some point. Last season it was easy to swallow in the name of “doing what’s best for the team,” but in the first half of 2011, before the pennant picture clears up, something will go down and it will probably be ugly. Even if Rowand is cool about it, how do you justify 20 million dollars rotting away in the corner of the dugout.

No idea how this ends up: could be a trade, could be the Giants’ swallowing a huge chunk of change, but my gut tells me it won’t end well.

(-SB)

Silly, Silly Mat Latos

Matt Latos, pitcher for the San Diego Padres, recently signed three baseballs with the words, “I hate SF!” These are powerful words coming from a dude that only has one full year in the Bigs under his belt.

As a devout Giants fan living in San Diego, I feel some pull to take responsibility for the divisive words of my fellow sun bronzed So Cal local (enjoy that mildly fabricated visual snapshot). I believe there are two ways to approach this bold, but immature statement:

1. Get Offended and Angry: Latos pitched pretty well against the Giants last year. Not dominant, but solid. With that said, Latos is far from a proven veteran. There are some guys who run their mouth and it is somewhat expected in the wonderful world of overpaid/immature athlete discourse. But those guys’ comments become an afterthought once they hit 40+ homers or win 20+ games the following year. Mat Latos is certainly not one of those guys (yet). In fact, he sandwiched his solid year by going 1-2 with a 6.20ERA in March/April and 1-5 with a 5.66 ERA in Sept/Oct. So, how could a guy with only one year of big league experience, who pitched terribly when it counted, say something like this? It is offensive, immature and will certainly create a heated rivalry in 2011.

2. Laugh Whilst Waving the WS Trophy: Maybe Latos was just trying to be funny? Even if he was, no Giants fan will give him that much credit, so we must continue to assume that he was trying to take an unwarranted jab. With that said, a Giants fan should be thrilled about his comments. Not only did he make himself look bad, he offered another opportunity to show off our World Series Trophy. What better way to offer a sterling rebuttal than to simply step to the trophy closet and begin to polish your hardware? I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard a fan’s recent response to Latos’ actions: “Lincecum should sign a ball that says ‘Who the (*&% is MattLatos’?”

Bottom line: Writing “I hate SF” isn’t intimidating…in fact, it might be showing some insecurity on the part of a team that collapsed in historical proportions down the stretch. Now, Latos can quiet his “haters” by pitching lights out next year (specifically against the Giants), but if he doesn’t he will realize the ceaseless brutality of a fan base that not only was offended, but has the pride of a championship banner to point to.

So was it something to get offended by, or to laugh at? Is there a third approach?

(-JH)

WAR on UZR

Baseball, more than any other sport, is a sport of statistics. Sure, football, hockey and basketball have stats, but no other sport thrives off of statistics as much as baseball. Part of the reason is the complex nature of how you judge whether or not a player is “good.” In hockey you’re good if you score goals, save goals and check hard. Football, if you can rush for a 1,000 yards or throw 300 yards a game. Basketball, if you score points. But, baseball is far more complex.

You have hitters that are also fielders and each of those halves of a player are judged completely differently and independently of one another. A player who hits 50 home runs and 150 RBI’s a year can absolutely suck on the field. A reliever can dominate against left-handed hitters, but righty’s can hit .400 off of him and he’ll still be considered valuable. Starting pitchers can dominate with strikeouts, or induce a ton of ground balls, and some even have the job of eating innings and minimizing damage, and you can find all 3 types on the same team and praised equally. This is why for as long as I’ve been alive, and longer than that, players’ statistics take center stage on TV, in the newspaper box scores, and in fantasy baseball. People constantly debate and argue whether a player is worth signing or trading for based on stats. “Why did we trade for him? He strikes out more than any other player! “ “Sure, but when he connects, he’ll hit it out of the park, plus he’s a constant Gold Glove First Baseman!”

This is part of the joy and fun of being a baseball fan, but a number of years ago some people started realizing that the basic statistics that had judged the worth and value of a baseball player were limited in scope. Almost all fielders were judged on offense, which is why you would constantly see things like Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI’s and, if the guy was fast, Stolen Bases. Pitchers were boiled down to Win/Loss record, Strikeouts, ERA and, if a closer, Saves and Save Opportunities. Over time though, scouts and people a lot smarter than I am started to realize how limiting these stats were. Sure RBI’s meant something, but what if you were a great hitter on a team with players who never got on base? What if you were such a great power hitter that you were always getting walked? What if your name was Matt Cain and the Giants of years past REFUSED to score runs when you pitched, and so you had an atrocious Win/Loss record? Could you still be considered a good player?

According to sabermetrics, yes you can be. The super short and condensed version is that sabermetrics is a whole variety of new (within the last 20 years, and really coming to the forefront the last 5-10 years) statistical analysis that evaluates a TON of different aspects of a player’s game, factoring in things like fielding range to how good a player is based on what stadiums they play in over the course of the season. So that’s a good thing right? How could you hate an even more statistical breakdown of baseball players?

Because it sucks. Most of the time.

“I just hated the finality of it, the concept that numbers could trump anything I was watching with my own two eyes. If numbers always prevailed, what was the point of watching baseball or having arguments about it? I longed for the old days when you could say things like, “I hate watching J.D. Drew — when is that contract going to end?” and there wasn’t some dude lurking behind me with Drew’s stellar OPS, VORP and WAR numbers saying, ‘Well, actually …'” Bill Simmons in a 2010 Baseball column on ESPN.com.

I’m a baseball traditionalist. I love viewing baseball through what may now be considered old fashion lenses. Maybe it’s because I hate change in general, but when I first heard the concept of sabermetrics and words like VORP, WAR, UZR, I blew it off, figuring it to be a stupid fad like Blu-Ray and American Idol.

Whoops.

Now baseball teams have people on their scouting staffs who sole job is to determine things like a players OPS and ERA + and figuring out how valuable that player will be to the organization. Like it or not, sabermetrics has changed how baseball players are viewed, how they are matched up with other players and how valuable a team finds them. So why don’t I like it? Beyond the fact that so many of the formulas seem so overly complicated that they makes no sense to me, I have two other issues with sabermetrics.

First, there are a number of categories that don’t matter. Take ERA + for instance. It’s essentially a way to judge a pitcher based on what ballpark he’s pitching in. This seems ridiculous as a pitcher can’t control where he pitches during a season, and in regards to his home stadium, how does it actually matter? If a pitcher is pitching badly in his home stadium, tough luck, if he’s only pitching well in your home stadium, not much you can do about that since he’ll have to pitch on the road. It’s a statistic for the sake of having a statistic. Win Expectancy is another one. The whole point of this stat is to say how likely it is your team will win based on what inning and what the score it. Do we really need a statistical formula to tell us that if the Giants are winning 9-0 in the 8th inning it’s 95% likely they will win? It’s another stat for the sake of having a stat and a lot of sabermetrics feel this way.

The other reason I don’t like sabermetrics is that, to me, they take the enjoyment out of baseball. Gone are the days that an informed fan can go to the game and say “I like that John Bowker. I think he’ll make a good outfielder” without someone saying “Why do you like him? Have you seen his WAR? His VORP is terrible!” I enjoy making decisions about a player based on what I see, based on what I feel he adds to the team, and it’s that value that there is no sabermetric to graph. The value of fan intuition, of fan judgement. Is it scientific? Not even close. Is it accurate? Not usually, but part of the fun of baseball is finding new favorite players, players who may add nothing to a team statistically, but for some reason you just can’t stop cheering for them. I don’t hate everything about sabermetrics, and there are some stats that I do enjoy, but the debates that rage around them have boiled baseball down to a game of ONLY statistics and nothing else. For as big of a role that stats play, baseball is far more than that. Stats are great, but never will they replace the joy I get just by watching someone like John Bowker and saying “I like that kid, stats be darned.”

Author’s Note: For more information on Sabermetrics visit the glossary section of Fangraphs or http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Sabermetrics or read this article by Bill Simmons.

(-NW)

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are not held by all the Monks. But, we believe in free speech and love debate, so comments and feedback are welcomed…just keep it civil!

Fat Albert

People don’t always earn the money they make. Here is an example. I work for Best Buy. I’d say I work my sorry carcass off. I put in 50 to 60 hours a week and come home drained. During the Super Bowl we ran an ad featuring Ozzy and Beiber. In that 30 second ad, those guys probably made more than I will make in 10 years COMBINED. Discouraging? Um, yep!

I have thought about this a lot during the last couple of weeks and the latest Albert Pujols contract talks have got me thinking about the money that players earn. Now I am well aware that they make this much because it is a percentage of the revenue and teams can afford to pay it. I’m also not here to whine about how much they make, but I think this contract negotiation could be huge for the trends of those salaries.

I don’t think there is any debate, or at least any sane debate, that Albert is the best player in baseball. If I’m running a team and could pick any guy for the next 5 to 7 years I would take him every time. I think the tricky part of Pujols’ contract extension is what to pay him.

Ok, obvious, but it’s still pretty tricky. Why? The Yankees have set a precedent over the last few years to way over pay players. Last year 4 out of the 5 top paid players were on the Yankees (A-rod, CC, Jeter, Teixeira). I would want Pujols over all of those guys and so would any team or GM.  Because of their enormous salaries, NO offer for Pujols should be below what A-Rod makes.  Fair or unfair, ridiculous or not, Pujols has earned that kind of money.

These contract talks are so interesting because St. Louis can’t afford to pay him 30MM over 10 years.  That is a third of their annual payroll. I’m not sure any team is going to be able to pay him that much. So, will he take less than that?  Will any team offer more?  I’m not sure they will. If they don’t, I believe salaries in baseball may have reached their cap.

This could have a serious ripple effect throughout baseball. And this becomes huge when the Giants try to sign the likes of Cain and Lincecum.  As the system is right now, they would have every right to ask for 20+ million because of the contracts given to Zito, Santana or Sabathia. However, the Pujols contract talks could play into this big time. Although salaries will remain exorbitant, perhaps this will help keep things in check for a while.

Or not. Now that I have written this into the web, St. Louis will probably offer him 35 million for 15 years.

(-JS)

Spring Fantasy

Pitchers and catchers report today, which means Spring Training is officially upon us. The monks will have plenty to say during the lead up to the season, but I have to get this off my chest: I don’t really like ST. I like going to ST. I’ve really enjoyed it both times I’ve gone. But for the most part ST news is a bunch of optimistic nonsense, ridiculous catastrophizing, and meaningless box scores. I find it to be mildly tortuous as we wait for the real thing to get started.

That being said, now that I live on the East Coast ST signals a change in seasons and the potential for warmer weather and that is most welcome. It also means that it’s time to get ready for fantasy baseball!!! I have some titles to defend this year, so the next couple of weeks will involve settling in to a strategy for late March drafts.

I haven’t spent too much time thinking about this, but I did sign up for my “winners” league today so here are my initial thoughts…5 guys I wouldn’t mind getting in the first 5 rounds:

1) Troy Tulowitski: The Giants fan in me hopes for two things…one, that I get the first pick in the draft so I can just pick Pujols and be done with it. Two, that Tulo pulls a hammy and plays the season at 60%, effectively ending the Rockies chances of winning the division. However, if I have picks 2-8 I almost certainly will take him first. If you’ve played against me you know I don’t put a lot of stock in the first round (I think if I win it’s because I choose well in rounds 6-14, not 1-5), so I often take guys that don’t make a ton of sense. (For example, I won last year taking Hanley with a 2nd over all and Prince Fielder with a 10th overall and neither of them really performed to the pick). All of that to say, I think Tulo will have a monster year, be worthy of a number 2 pick, and make an error on the last day of the season to give the Giants the division. To have him at SS (a REALLY thin position) would be huge.

2) Ryan Zimmerman: Ok, the days of grabbing Zim with a late second round (or later) pick are likely over, but he will be 2011’s Joey Votto (a guy picked in the 15-30 range who provides a top 5 season). If I got Tulo at, say, 4, I’ll be praying I can get Zim at 20 (might be a pipe dream).

3) Dustin Pedroia: I think Pedroia will be a great pick this year for two reasons: one, his stock will be slightly depressed (4th round hopefully) with the injury/recovery questions, and, two, I think he will have a monster year in Boston’s loaded lineup.

4) Jon Lester: Another potential pipe dream. Lester has been the backbone of my rotations the last two seasons, but I never had to draft him earlier than the 6th round. Those days are over. I refuse to draft pitchers until round 5 but I may have to bend that rule this year to get him.

5) Buster Posey: Round five still feels like a stretch for Buster, as much as I love him (I think he should go later to be honest). However, if I can pull off Posey/Tulo/Pedroia up the middle that will be huge!!!

I’ll weigh in later with my 5 guys I want in the mid-rounds, but that’s where I’m starting from this season (likely to change about 30 times in the next 3 days). Who are you willing to go all out for in the early rounds?

Baseball is here my friends!

(-SB)