Sunday, April 29, 2012

Picture of the Week: 4/28/12

Phil Humber's perfect game actually came at the tail end of LAST week, but it's never too early to relive the celebration of an event so rare as a perfect game!  Here's a shot of Humber being interviewed while his teammates play a congratulatory prank, juxtaposed with what the interviewing camera saw.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Aries Rams: In-Depth Analysis

Aries Rams

A quick look at the depth chart shows that Aries has a lot of depth at RF and C, and floating depth at 1B and 3B.  The "floating" aspect has to do with ever-changing positional eligibility: their top-ranked slugger Miguel Cabrera started the season as a first baseman, but after starting all 17 of his appearances at 3B this year he now has eligibility across the diamond.  This is good because moving Miggy (once a nickname reserved for Miguel Tejada) opens up a spot at 1B for Mark Teixeira.  But it's also complicated (I won't say bad) because it would supplant incumbent 3B Adrian Beltre.  

In a setting that has anything at all to do with defense, the choice seems clear to do what the Tigers didn't: confine Cabrera to the DH spot and keep the better fielders on the field.  For fantasy purposes however, that might not be the best option.  Teixeira's a historically slow starter and Beltre has already missed a couple of games due to injury.  What's more, neither of those two top-30 ranked players finds themselves within the top 50 point scorers in batting.

Aries's surprising top scorer is someone who didn't even begin the season on their roster: Corey Hart, who's doing his best to replace the Brewers' former star slugger who left to join Cabrera on the Tigers.  Hart started the season an astonishing 5th on the Aries depth chart in RF behind Hunter Pence, Jay Bruce, Michael Cuddyer, and Andre Ethier.  Ethier and Cuddyer join Hart and fantasy "tentpole" Cabrera in the coveted top-50 category, along with star-on-the-rise Shorstop Starlin Castro of the Cubs.  Speaking of the Cubs, we were all set to watch them take on the Phillies tonight on MLB Network, but the long-anticipated major league debut of #2 Prospect Bryce Harper for the Nationals will apparently take programming precedence.  Perhaps I'll have to revamp my proposed schedule after just one day...

RF is not the Rams' only strong position: 3 of the top 5 ranked Catchers were born under the Aries constellation.  Interestingly enough, all 3 of these stars have missed significant time due to injuries in recent years: Carlos Santana and Buster Posey were involved in brutal home plate collisions, and Joe Mauer's body just happens to be tied together with string.

After Felix Hernandez - one of the rare first round pick worthy pitchers, someone around whom you can build a whole team - the pitching staff looks pretty thin: King Felix (baseball's 4th best current nickname according to Jerry Crasnick) is ranked in the top 30, while the next best pitcher on the team (AL ROY Jeremy Hellickson, who was incidentally born on Felix's first birthday) didn't even crack the top 160.  Chris Sale became eligible as an SP not a moment too soon, and his pleasantly surprising success in the rotation could help bolster this staff.

Injuries haven't hit this team too hard, unless they happen to be building a roster in a fantasy league that differentiates between corner outfield positions, because Michael Morse hasn't yet played in a game all season.  Kyle Farnsworth is a bit of a wild card given all his years not closing, but his return will be welcome, as Axford and Valverde haven't exactly been on point.  Also, Jeremy Guthrie just went on the DL this morning, but I'm too lazy to redo my graphic.

I don't know if it's the Aries tendency to be competitive and impulsive that caused Posey and Santana to throw caution to the wind while defending home plate against that one extra run.  Has Felix Hernandez blossomed into one of the best young pitchers in the game due to the "prophetic" nature imbued in Aries signs?  Maybe the fact that many Aries "lack in social graces" explains Miguel Cabrera's domestic/alcohol troubles.  And I wonder if it's a coincidence that Cabrera won Player of the Week honors for the first week of the season, smack-dab in the middle of his sign.  Of that helped Beltre and Ethier hit home runs on their birthdays.  I guess only the stars will know...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts About Baseball 2012 Schedule

Pop quiz, astrology buff: If your birthday falls on Opening Day of the baseball season, what's your astrological sign?  Give up?  It's Aries, the Ram, which is coincidentally (or not) also the first astrological sign of the Zodiac.  That means that roughly half the MLB players on the "Aries Rams" Fantasy Roster (so to speak) should have celebrated their birthday since the start of the season.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could analyze their statistical performances to compare with last year's to determine their fantasy value? Well, we can, but more on that later.

Last night, I watched MLB Network's broadcast of the Sox Rivalry: the Red variety from Boston roundly trounced the White variety from the south side of Chicago 10-3.  This game is notable because it features Phil Humber (whose name everyone will soon know to pronounce with a silent "H") in his first start after pitching a no-hitter last week.  It's also notable because this game happened concurrently to the Red Sox' announcement that Carl Crawford has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow and will be shut down for at least 3 months.

This is bad news for the Red Sox, who recently tried to bolster their outfield with a trade for struggling Cubs CF Marlon Byrd.  Less practically, it's bad news for fantasy owners who were counting on 2012's 59th ranked player for a bounceback year.  And altogether fantastically, it's bad news for the purely theoretical Leo Lions, for whom Crawford represents the third-highest ranked player on the team (behind Crawford's teammate Dustin Pedroia and their Yankee rival Alex Rodriguez).

The only reason I'm paying such close attention to this game is, quite frankly, that it was on TV.  While this might seem an arbitrary reason to care about a particular matchup on a particular day, I had the idea that using the tried and tested method of following the broadcast schedule might be a good way to further narrow down the scope of this blog, since it's naive to think an amateur enthusiast such as myself could adequately cover the enitrety of the sport I love so well.

I say "further" narrow the scope, because I've recently performed some soul-searching and determined that of all 30 major league teams, I'm only really personally connected (through friends and relatives and whatnot) to about half of them.  And it's to those 15 teams I will limit my in-depth analysis, of which a correspondingly in-depth post will occur roughly once weekly.  To those 15 - the identities of which will be revealed during their special week - add another 6, representing the astrological signs that celebrate their birthdays during the baseball season (or post-season), and I've got myself a nice little schedule to keep myself occupied through the rest of the season.

This week's team will be the aforementioned Aries Rams, who have their very own fantasy baseball team this year.  Actually, this "week" (week ending 4/28) is retroactive to the week we're currently in, which encompasses the week after Aries transitioned into Taurus.  Expect this post sometime over the weekend.

Next week's team was selected in conjunction with some programming (television and cultural) that is taking place at the end of this week.  For those of you not up on your snacking news, Wednesday 4/26 was National Pretzel Day!  For those of you who can't see which team this is pointing to, tonight's episode of Undercover Boss (CBS, 8pm) features the CEO of Philly Pretzel Factory going undercover in his regional snack shop.  Then on Saturday 4/28, MLB Network is broadcasting a game featuring (you guessed it) the Philadelphia Phillies!

So that's what's coming up next week, for those of who could care less about the fantasy baseball ramifications of different players' astrological signs.  But if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole of the stars, stay tuned for my next post!

Monday, April 23, 2012


The week-ending Saturday 4/21 featured the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park in Boston, and also the opening of All-Star Voting (on Friday 4/20).  Seems a little early to me, considering the season started less than a month ago, even taking into account the early start in Japan.  I know the All-Star Game is essentially a popularity contest, but popularity among athletes has a tendency to rise and fall with their statistical performance, and I think you need a little more time than 3+ weeks to judge who deserves to be honored with a midsummer trip to Kansas City to represent their teams/leagues.

Monday, April 16, 2012


This cake, based on the Miami Marlins' new park, features a working roof and 3,600 Swarovski crystals making up the logo.  This is the same team (albeit with a new name) that came under a lot of flack a couple years ago when their leaked financial reports revealed that they weren't putting quite as much of their revenue-sharing dollars towards their team's payroll as the commissioner would have liked...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Relievers turned Starter

When compiling my 40-man roster project, I used's fantasy baseball positional eligibility as of opening day to sort the players.  I thought this would be a better estimation of the roles people would actually play on their teams during 2012 as opposed to just a summary of where they played in 2011.  But as I checked the eligibility requirements (which I admittedly should have done before embarking on this pursuit) I learned that those two factors will be one and the same until players have spent at least 10 days at their 2012 positions.  As of now, a player is eligible for any position at which he played at least 20 games in 2011.  Thus new position changes - Miguel Cabrera to 3B from 1B, Yonder Alonso to 1B from LF, Marco Scutaro to 2B from SS, etc. - have not yet taken effect.

But perhaps the most telling discrepancies I'm noticing now have to do with which reliever-eligible pitchers will be spending 2012 in the starting rotations.  Most fantasy leagues have several "P" spots, into which owners can slot either type of pitcher, so these changes generally shouldn't have too much impact on how people manage their teams.  But seeing as it will take these starters 10 starts (or roughly 50 days) to be properly recognized, I thought I'd give a shout to a pitching staff made of some of the more notable ones.

Neftali Feliz, TEX - After saving 72 games over the previous two regular seasons (plus 7 more in the playoffs during that span), he's going to have to work on commanding his secondary pitches.  As a closer he was basically fastball/slider, throwing his changeup only 2.6% of the time, but he's already started to reverse that trend: in his one start this year (a 7-inning scoreless gem) he pulled the string on 23% of his pitches.

Daniel Bard, BOS - Bard acted as a setup man for his previous three seasons, but a Boston pitching staff rife with injuries and uncertainty forced him to make the transition to the rotation at age 27.  He can reach 100mph, but to make it as a starter, you have to know how to pitch rather than just throw hard.  Bard was knocked around by Toronto in his first start of the year, but he might just be keeping with the slow starting tradition of his team.

Chris Sale, CHW - I think it was always assumed that Sale would end up in the White Sox rotation, but he was called on to cut his teeth in the bullpen last year.  According to scouting reports, the 6'6" lefty still pitches on adrenaline like a reliever rather than establishing all of his pitches early, but he's got a win in his first start this year and has a commanding presence on the mound.

Jeff Samardzija, CHC - Across the city of Chicago, another setup man who had a dominant season pitching in the 7th and the 8th innings last year will try to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings this year.  The Sports Illustrated scout who covers the Cubs this year thinks Samardzija's better suited for the bullpen, but if he can maintain the performance from his first two starts (both wins) for the rest of the season, he'll enjoy proving that scout wrong.

For the fifth starter spot, we have three guys who relieved primarily in the majors but who haven't had enough time to really establish themselves as relievers.  Felix Doubront will fill in as the Red Sox's fifth starter after starting 3 out of 23 games in his two-year major league career.  Hector Noesi, who came over to Seattle from the Yankees in the trade for Michael Pineda has 2 starts in 30 appearances in his only season last year.  Rookie Joel Carreno cracked the Blue Jays rotation after throwing 15.2 innings in relief last year, but he was primarily a starter in his 6 minor league seasons.

On the other side of the equation, Brett Myers of the Astros will make the transition from the team's number 1 starter to its closer this year, returning to the role he filled with the Phillies in 2007 when he compiled 21 saves, the only ones of his career.  A similar shift occurred in Texas's other team, where Alexi Ogando moves back to the bullpen to join Mike Adams in setting up Joe Nathan, after spending 2011 as a pretty effective starter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Opening Day Rosters

A Major League Roster is a living, breathing thing.  Roles are constantly shifting, players are being moved between the active roster, the disabled list, and the minor leagues.  With these changes happening daily across all 30 teams, only the stalwart folks in the Commissioner's Office (and to a lesser extent the hard workers at MLB Advanced Media, L.P.) can truly keep up with it all.

But a team's Opening Day Roster has an air of somewhat more permanence to it.  It serves as a snapshot that encapsulates all the tireless work put in by the front offices of each team during the winter months to get their squads ready for the long-awaited and much-heralded start of the season.  These are the rosters that are approximated in videogames, fantasy baseball projections, and pre-season predictions everywhere. Which is why I've spent the better part of the last week analyzing each team's roster, as it appeared on each team's official website as of 4/6/12 (the day after each team had played at least one game).

I offer here an example of all the hard work I did (although I didn't consider it work) in the form of a 40-man roster especially close to my heart, that of the Oakland Athletics.  The roster first, then some explanation to follow:

First, let's go through the columns.  Rank is from's Fantasy Baseball page, also from 4/6.  Prospect (the name is cut off to save room) refers to's Prospect Watch page, captured slightly earlier than 4/6, but these numbers are less mutable.  Player's positions are listed based on their fantasy eligibility according to's system.  (In the cases where a batter has eligibility for multiple positions, the one at which the player logged more innings is listed.  Any pitcher with starter eligibility is listed as such.)

If the name in the Team column is in italics, the player didn't have enough at bats (100) or innings pitched (20.0) to qualify for relevance.  SWP stands for Small World Points, named for the now-defunct site where I first saw this system implemented, nearly 10 years ago.  This system of fantasy scoring reduces each player's performance to a single number taking into account a broad range of statistical categories, and then calculates the player's average point output per game (SWP/G).

The next three columns are the same as the previous three except with statistics from the minor leagues (all levels) or foreign leagues (I think Japan and Cuba are the only ones that come into play here).  The most informative thing to do with this column is to compare a player's minor league points per game with their major league points per game to see how likely they are to maintain that level of performance in the majors.

Now a word about the color-coding system.  Any player whose position column is highlighted green is listed as a rookie.  According to MLB's 2012 Prospect Watch,
To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
This column shows an approximation, because while AB and IP is easy enough to figure out, I don't feel the need to scrub through every young player's game log and transaction history.  If a player's name is highlighted in yellow, that player was acquired during the off-season.  For a deeper look into these players, please see my previous two posts.

A player's Bat/Throw column indicates his status on the various roster types.  No fill means the player is on the active roster, aka 25-man roster.  These are the players who suit up every day and who you can expect to see in games.  A blue highlight means the player is on the expanded roster and can be called up to the majors at any time.  (Each major leaguer has three "option years" during which they can be sent up and down between the minors and the active roster without going through waivers, where they can be claimed by any of the other 30 clubs.)

A red highlight means that the player is on the 15-day disabled list.  These players remain on the 40-man roster, but are ineligible to play until they've served their time and gotten all healed.  An orange highlight indicates a player on the 60-day disabled list, which means they are not on the 40-man roster.  Last but not least, if a player's swp column is shaded gray, that player missed all of 2011 and the stats are from 2010.

The A's have a lot of yellow on their 2012 roster - trading away all your highest profile talent should net a fair amount in return, after all.  Add to that a couple uncharacteristic free agent signings (not to mention re-signings, which don't have a color associated with them) and you've got a team that looks very different from its 2011 version.  Looking at the blue-highlighted players, it's interesting to see that 2 of the A's top 5 starting pitchers (both included on MLB's list of top 100 prospects) aren't on the active roster.  Billy Beane is subsisting on four starters for as long as humanly possible before deciding which top prospect to officially anoint with a rotation spot.

In the What a Difference a Week Makes category, Daric Barton has already been reinstated from the DL and Brandon Allen has been designated for assignment, all but assuring that the main prize in last year's trade of Brad Ziegler will be plucked off the waiver wire by some other team willing to take a shot on a promising slugger whose best seasons came in the minors.  Also, get ready to see Joey Devine transferred from the 15-day to the 60-day DL following the recent announcement that he will be undergoing his second Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in four years.  This will put the A's in uncontested second place for most uses of the 60-day DL behind only the Boston Red Sox with a whopping five players out for two months or more.

So now you all know what I've been doing with my time during the start of the season.  You might see some rosters for select other teams up here, depending on how newsworthy these next few weeks prove.  But now that I've learned how to make ESPN's fantasy baseball system compute real-time swp - which is so much easier than keeping track of 20 different statistical categories - there's a whole new world of analytics open to me in 2012.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NL All-Acquired Team 2012

To pick off where I left off, the sum total of the fantasy rankings of the NL All-Acquired team's projected lineup comes out to 3078.  That's nearly 460 points lower (i.e. better) than the AL team, despite the fact that the AL gained the number 2 ranked player overall.  In examining this roster, it'll be fun to keep in mind whether a team built around a few great players is better poised to win than a more well-rounded club.

The best impact bat on this squad is easily Jose Reyes, who signed as a free agent with the new look Miami Marlins.  He is set to score a lot of runs batting atop a lineup that also features Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton.  Behind him in my projected lineup are two of Reyes's former teammates with the Mets: Angel Pagan and Carlos Beltran, in CF and RF respectively.  Pagan will hit leadoff for the Giants, but is ideally suited to bat second since he makes a lot of contact (he puts 78% of balls in play, nearly 10 points higher than the MLB average) and he won't be blocked on the basepaths by the speedy Reyes.  Beltran is slated to hit second in the Cardinals lineup despite showing a resurgence of his power stroke last season - 11.2% of his hits went for extra bases - but I guess rookie manager Mike Matheny likes how Beltran's line drive swing fits in front of Holliday, Berkman, and Freese.

The next highest-ranking hitter is Brewers new cleanup hitter, Aramis Ramirez.  The Sports Illustrated scout thinks he's too far past his prime to protect Ryan Braun in the lineup... but if you've got enough testosterone in your system, who needs protection?  The versatile Michael Cuddyer will play 1B for this team, even though he'll start in RF for the Rockies.  the next best 1B on the roster - Yonder Alonso, the NL West's "Rookie to Watch" after being traded to the Padres from the Reds - is ranked almost 100 places lower.  Melky Cabrera will bat 6th, in the "second leadoff" spot, but Cuddyer's former teammate and new division-mate Jason Kubel will be ready to step in if the Melk Man's uncharacteristically strong 2011 season turns out to be a fluke.  A pair of Cuddyer's new teammates (and former teammates on the Moneyball-era A's) Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez round out the lineup.

The top pitcher on this roster was the main prize the Reds got for trading Alonso: Mat Latos.  He has shown good stuff in San Diego, but who knows how the transition from the league's most extreme pitcher's park to one that strongly favors hitters will impact his production.  The next two hurlers on the staff were supposed to be members of the A's Big Three - and indeed they suffered much the same fate as their predecessors.  Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez both made All-Star teams playing in Oakland, but at least they netted Billy Beane three rotation-ready starters and a top catching prospect in trades.  It's interesting that 2 of the top 5 starters on the NL team came from the A's, and 3 of the top 10 starters on the AL team came to the A's.

A.J. Burnett would have made the starting rotation if he hadn't taken a foul bunt off his eye early in camp.  Instead his new teammate on the Pirates, Erik Bedard, will take his place.  Travis Wood is ranked fairly high for someone who was just reassigned to minor league camp - I think a professional veteran lefty like Mark Buehrle would contribute more to this staff.  The bullpen is a big strength for this club with Jonathan Papelbon moving 300 miles down the I-84 from Boston to Philadelphia, and Heath Bell moving 2,600 miles east on the I-10 from San Diego to Miami.  Their average rank of 77 is a big reason why the NL club has supremacy in the rankings: the AL's two relief pitchers average out to 119.

So there you have it: All-Acquired teams for each league in 2012.  I didn't purchase the newest version of MLB: The Show, so I can't set up a simulation like I did last year.  But it will be interesting to keep these depth charts in mind as the season progresses to see how the top players are adapting to their new surroundings.