Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fantasy Baseball 2010!

So with the first Spring Training game less than a week away, it's time to start getting serious about Fantasy Baseball! I've already joined a league: the same group in which I finished just inches away from last place in 2009. But it's a new service (sure, I'll send a plug to ESPN's FREE Fantasy games) with a new layout and new statistical categories, so I'll have a chance to start somewhat fresh.

I've already performed in-depth analysis of last year's stats, including breaking all the top players down by position. I'm currently working on draft strategies that will help me make the most of my roster spots. For example, the pool of top-ranked players in such offensively-light positions such as catcher or shortstop is significantly shallower than positions such as first base. When you're drafting, do you use a higher pick to snag one of the top guys in a lower-depth position, banking on the fact that you can usually get decent production from a middle of the road first baseman? Or do you just write off catchers and middle infielders as a wash (except for the power players like Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, and Hanley Ramirez) and spend your top picks on the best of the best - first basemen like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder who are just one of a very deep field of talent at their position, but who are guaranteed to put up stronger numbers than any other player?

And to top if all off, how should you distribute picks between hitters and pitchers?

Most of these calculations have to be done on draft day itself, because everything changes due to who's available and what position you're in. But we do the diligence to keep as little as possible up to ... CHANCE.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


* MANNY RAMIREZ will not return to the Dodgers in 2011!
Everyone is freaking out about a comment made by Manny Ramirez (remember, guys, this is Manny Ramirez we're talking about here) this Monday that he likely will not return to play left field for the Dodgers after this season. The organization responded with as quick a "no comment" as possible, his teammates wrote it all off as a joke, while rational baseball people with knowledge of the situation just rolled their eyes and wondered why everyone's making such a big deal about a passing comment from one of the game's best-established goofballs. And what's more, a comment that's pretty sure to be accurate. Consider the facts:

Ramirez will be two months away from turning 39 by opening day 2011. He already requires periodic rest for his aching legs and back. Who knows if he'll be able to man left field regularly and the Dodgers, a National League team, won't be able to give him at-bats in the DH spot. It might just make perfect sense for an American League team with deep pockets to pick up Manny for his bat without having to worry about his suspect defense or durability.

Ballplaying abilities aside, this next season will be the last in Manny's contract, which means if the Dodgers want to retain his services for another year, they'll have to embark on another epic negotiation session with Manny's agent Scott Boras. Lest we forget the 2008-09 offseason in which the Ramirez/Boras petulance-fest resulted in a late arrival to Spring Training due to months of holding out and trying to leverage Frank McCourt and Ned Colletti with stories of fictional interest from other teams. Manny eventually got a one year contract in excess of $20 million with a player option for a second year at pretty much the same price... and that was when he was about to turn 37. If you think Boras is gonna be any more forgiving next year, or that the Dodgers brass are at all looking forward to dealing with him again, you're got another thing comin' on both counts.

Unless Manny wants to both take a massive pay cut and call off his dog of an agent before next off-season, I'd say there's a pretty good chance he's right about it being his last year in Dodger Blue.

* JUSTIN DUCHSCHERER is more machine now than man!

Remember Just Duchscherer? Really good reliever with Oakland for three years in the mid-2000's. In 2008 they converted him to a starter, and he responded with an All-Star season, despite only making 22 starts due to injury. He missed all of 2009 with problems with his elbow, hip, and clinical depression.

As an A's fan, it was great to see him take the hill when he was healthy, but because he was so prone to injury, it just wasn't worth it to keep him on the roster (or on the DL more often than not). So when he became a free agent after the 2009 season, I was kind of excited to see another team deal with his troubles. Then imagine my chagrin when Oakland signed Duky to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

Everything seemed to be going fine until about a week ago when he felt pain in his lower back. He went under the knife to relieve the pain, and now there's no set timetable for his return. At least there's a slew of 20-somethings ready to take his place.

* Hey, check it out, JOHNNY DAMON signed with the Tigers!

The Detroit Tigers have a new left fielder and he's someone I just recently wrote about. What does this mean for the team that came just one game short of making the playoffs in 2009?

Magglio Ordonez is cemented in right field because of the mammoth contract he "earned" by reaching a certain number of plate appearances last year. Former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson (acquired in a three team deal with the Diamondbacks) will man center field. Damon will take left, pushing out the contingent of Ryan Raburn and Clete Thomas who were previously penciled in to the spot. Damon's at the point in his career where he would benefit from some time at DH, especially in Comerica Park's spacious outfield, but manager Jim Leyland is strangely obsessed with trotting Carlos Guillen out there game after game.

Will Damon's acquisition be enough to edge the Tigers past the Twins for a spot in this year's big Fall tournament? It's probably a wash considering they lost Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, but the chips will fall where they may.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Can't Believe He's Still a Free Agent Profiles: Johnny Damon

Johnny David Damon was born on November 5, 1973 (Scorpio) in Fort Riley, KS, an army base about 50 miles west of Topeka. After shuttling around the world army-brat style for most of his childhood, his family eventually settled in the Orlando area, where he attended Dr. Phillips High School. (Other notable baseball grads: White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.) He was drafted in the first round (35th overall pick) by the Kansas City Royals in 1992 at age 18.

He blew through the minor leagues in just four years, swinging a quick stick (.318 average), displaying good patience at the plate (212 walks to 194 strikeouts; .401 OBP), and flashing a lot of speed on the basepaths (152 SB, 48 CS). He didn't hit for a great deal of power, amassing just 31 HR over the four seasons, but showed an ability for finding the gap, collecting 44 triples.

On August 12, 1995, after 111 games at AA Wichita, he skipped AAA entirely and broke into the majors as Kansas City's starting center fielder. For the next five years with the Royals, Damon would shuffle around all three outfield positions. In '96 he played about 60% of his games in center and the rest in right. In '97 he played almost evenly everywhere. In '98 he played center regularly with a smattering of games in right. In '99 he played left field pretty much exclusively. In '00 he spent equal time in center and left with a handful of games as DH.

Despite inconsistency regarding his defensive positioning, Damon's offense was extremely solid during his stay in KC. It took him a couple of years to get his sea legs, during which time his average hovered around the .270 mark. Then in '98 he started hitting for some power, in '99 his average and stolen base totals started climbing. His career arguably peaked in 2000, when he set (still applicable) career highs with a .327 avg, an .877 OPS, 214 hits, 136 runs, and 46 steals (he also led the league in the last two categories).

In 2001, at the height of his market value and coming into the final year of a contract in which he was owed $7.1 million, Damon was traded to the Oakland Athletics as part of a three team blockbuster trade. Billy Beane's A's were the clear winners here: Oakland also received Mark Ellis (who is still their starting second baseman) and starting pitcher Cory Lidle (who tragically passed away after the 2006 season). Kansas City got future Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa, washed up catcher A.J. Hinch, and marginally useful veteran reliever Roberto Hernandez. Tampa Bay received only promising outfielder Ben Grieve, who never really panned out.

Damon didn't perform at all well in his contract year, playing center and left field in spacious Oakland Coliseum. He hit just .256 with 9 HR and 27 SB. Granted, he was playing for a team that sent its runners less frequently than any other in the game, and the unfriendly dimensions of the A's's home ballpark may help explain the dropoff in his other offensive stats. Damon did, however, knock the cover off the ball in the 2001 AL Division Series against the Yankees, hitting at a .409 clip with 2 steals over five games.

Maybe it was this impressive performance against the rival Yankees rather than his disappointing 2001 season that netted Damon a pretty decent free agency payoff: 4 years and $32 million from the Boston Red Sox. For those four years, Boston top brass entrusted Damon with center field full time, despite evidence that he might have been better suited to a corner spot. Nevertheless, he more than earned his paycheck in the batter's box, scoring a ton of runs hitting leadoff for a legendarily powerful lineup. He even developed a power stroke at the expense of some of his speed - in 2004, he hit 20 home runs, drove in 94 runs, but stole only 19 bases (as opposed to 30 and 31 the two previous years).

2004 also saw the introduction of Damon's caveman-esque long hair and shaggy beard. His new 'do was a morale booster during Boston's historical curse-breaking run, in which they rallied from a near impossible deficit to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since Babe Ruth became left Boston 84 years ago.

In 2005, Damon again struggled during his contract year, hitting only 10 home runs and not improving on his low SB totals (18). Despite his lost power, Damon signed a mammoth 4-year, $52 million contract with the Yankees, where he was forced to shave his trademark beard. Red Sox Nation promptly spurned the turncoat Damon, who went on to hit a career-high 24 homers while slowly transitioning from center field to left.

In '07 and '08, Damon shied away from the longball (12 and 17) choosing to concentrate on getting on base and subsequently stealing them (27 and 29). But just as it appeared that Damon's big Boston-era bat was on the decline, he switched up his game again in 2009, tying his career-high 24 homers, but stealing only 12 bases.

At age 36, Damon and his superagent Scott Boras appear to have fallen into the Greedy Trap of holding out for a contract with too much money and too many years. He still has a very useful set of skills for a major leaguer, but no team seems willing to commit on a deal, the end of which would see them paying top dollar for a 39 or 40-year-old left field/DH type with limited defensive capabilities.

The Tigers have expressed interest. The Braves have expressed interest. We'll just have to wait and see what the market says.

Below is a graphical representation of Johnny Damon's career measured by swp/time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


So today is Babe Ruth's birthday. The Great Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. George Herman.

This day seems a fine time for me to expound on an opinion of mine: that Babe Ruth is the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball (so far).

The argument over the greatest baseball player of all time always reminds me of the argument over the best rock 'n roll guitarist of all time - you can narrow the field to a top five or ten, and talk about the individual merits of each, but Jimi Hendrix will always have an unnatural edge over all competitors. There's just something intangible about how he plays and what he plays that can't be described except by saying that he exudes greatness.

Some say that he was a one-sided player. He hit a ton of home runs and got on base like he couldn't help it, but he didn't run the bases well with any consistency, and he never made any noise with his glove while playing one of the least-demanding positions on the field. These are definitely points against him, but before we condemn Ruth for his beer belly and lack of defensive reflexes, let's remember two things: 1) that Ruth spent the first five seasons of his career as a pitcher (a damn good pitcher, no less), and 2) just how dominant he was at the one aspect of offense at which he excelled.

First, let's look at his pitching. Granted, in the early part of the 20th century, baseball was a very different game for pitchers. He had two seasons as Boston's ace pitcher, 1916 and '17. Over those two seasons he was 1st & 7th in ERA (1.75 and 2.01, respectively), 3rd & 2nd in wins (23 and 24), and 3rd & 2nd in innings pitched (323.2 and 326.1). In '16 he led the league with 9 shutouts and 41 games started (he completed 23 of them). In '17, he allowed a few more runs (6 shutouts, tied for 5th in the league), but he completed a league leading 35 games out of 38 starts.

Remember, it was a very different game for pitchers back then, but think about that: Ruth left the game for a reliever only three times the entire season. Most starting pitchers nowadays don't even complete three games all season. Ruth also came in as a reliever himself six times over those two seasons, finishing five games. Now, it was a very different game for hitters too back then, but check out this incredible feat: over those two ace-caliber seasons, comprising over 1600 batters faced, Babe Ruth allowed exactly two home runs. TWO HOME RUNS! That's three fewer home runs than he hit in those two seasons combined, in less than 300 plate appearances.

1918 and 1919 saw his slow conversion into an outfielder, because Boston wanted his bat in the lineup more frequently. In those two years, Ruth led the league in home runs: the first year with 11, the second year with 29, a then-major league record. He would set another major league record the next year with 54, then again the following year with 59. He would eventually get that record up to 60, then we all know what happened with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and Billy Crystal.

For the next ten years after his 59 HR record-setting 1921, Ruth would lead the league in the category all but two years. He led the league in OPS all but one of those years, his injury-shortened 1925. He would routinely draw 130 to 140 walks, topping out at 170 in 1923. Not even Barry Bonds - despite all those seasons when he drew thousands of walks - comes close in the career OPS rankings. (The records on intentional walks from way back then are spotty at best, so we don't know how many times Ruth was given a true free pass to first base, but my guess is that it's probably nowhere close to the 120 IBBs given to Bonds in his historic 2004 season.)

Not only did the Babe completely revolutionize the way hitters approach the game of baseball, he embodied the spirit of the American baseball player, nay, the ideal American in general. He guzzled beer, scarfed down hot dogs, and gave generously to charity. I guess that stuff shouldn't figure in when we're discussing whether he's the greatest baseball player of all time. But then again, if baseball is a microcosm of life, shouldn't one's life choices also reflect on his status as a professional baseball player? Maybe not. But I'll always be in awe of the Babe's tremendous baseball skills and his winning personality.

Happy Birthday, Bambino.