Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Arc of Frodo

As the lowest-rated World Series in history (and one of the most boring in recent memory) draws towards its inevitable conclusion, it's time to turn our thoughts away from the baseball diamond for a spell, and focus on some more exciting real-world pastimes. LEGO The Lord of the Rings - the latest videogame installment in the popular partnership between Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, TT Games, and the LEGO Group - doesn't hit shelves until November 13, but the brick and... brick sets have been out since May, which has given us fans plenty of time to get excited about once again controlling our favorite Middle Earthlings in an interactive entertainment setting.

Way back before the above-mentioned sets were even released, I wrote about the impending possibility of a LEGO LOTR videogame, and wondered whether it would be based solely on the movies, or more directly on the source material. That question has firmly been answered: it's the former, which is undoubtedly the easier, more recognizable, and more marketable choice, and I have no problem with that. And as the books and the movies (and thus the LEGO game) follow pretty much the same timeline, I'd like to pictorially examine the progression of the lead character (or at least the lead Hobbit) Frodo Baggins over the course of said timeline.

9/21/3001 (year 1401 of the Shire Reckoning)
We first meet Frodo on the eve of his Uncle Bilbo's 111th birthday party. At this point he's 33 years old, which is the "coming of age" year for Hobbits. He's wearing just a regular party shirt and has the boyish smile of youth. In both the movies and the LEGO sets, they make a big deal of him reading a book when we first see him, and maybe it was just for the sight gag of seeing a tiny Hobbit-sized minifig next to a giant tome nearly his own height. It is at this time that he takes over ownership of Bag End and comes into possession of the Ring.

One of the most confusing timeline jumps in the movies comes between the night of Bilbo's disappearance after his party and when Gandalf returns to Hobbiton to warn Frodo of his imminent danger. In the books, 17 years pass between those two points, and Frodo is now 50 - the same age as Bilbo when he undertook his big adventure in The Hobbit. Ostensibly the same amount of time passes in the movies, but it's tough to pick up with the absence of explanation or timestamps, and given that Frodo doesn't appear to age at all during that time (the Ring gives its owner unnaturally long life). He wears this outfit (the addition of a jacket and dark green cloak) from when he sets out with his three Hobbit companions, through Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, and up to the gates of Lorien.

When the Fellowship takes refuge in the Elven city of Lothlorien, they are all given special Elven cloaks that help conceal them from unfriendly eyes. It's hard to see in this picture, but Frodo is now wearing this slightly different-colored cloak, and his encounter with the Mirror of Galadriel has given his face a sterner, more focused look. He wears this outfit during the battle of Amon Hen, while wandering through Emyn Muil (where he and Sam first encounter Smeagol/Gollum), their ensuing passage through the Dead Marshes, and his first encounter with Faramir.

I'm taking my cue from the movies for this costume change (hence the actual action figure inspired by the movies), since from the time we see Frodo and Sam are taken by Faramir in Ithilien, neither of them are seen with their jackets on for the remainder of the journey. I guess the southern portions of Middle Earth start to get hot with the first onset of spring. This is his costume when Gollum guides the Hobbits up the pass of Cirith Ungol and into Shelob's Lair. Just a quick word about a major inconsistency between the books and the movies at this point - it's both nonsensical (plotwise) and extremely out of character to add the "Parting of Sam and Frodo" vignette to an already crowded 200-minute third film. Gollum's plan to deliver the Hobbits to a frighteningly murderous giant spider is already evil and deceptive enough without adding a lesser deception involving framing Sam for eating their remaining food supply. It adds unnecessary time and complications to a part of the film that has to move the story along quickly and it makes no sense based on everything we've seen Sam and Frodo go through at this point. This is a scene worthy only of the extended edition DVD that should have been cut from the theatrical version. I sincerely hope it's not included in the upcoming videogame.

After Sam rescues Frodo from the Orcs of Cirith Ungol, they set out for Mount Doom disguised as orcs themselves. They trek across the plain of Gorgoroth for 11 days before they reach their destination, whereupon at the very Cracks of Doom, as Frodo is about to fulfill his mission, his mind is overtaken by the Ring and he claims it as his own. The shirt should be a shade of white rather than green, but this is the crazed look that Frodo would have had on his face as he exclaimed, "The Ring is mine!" It's only due to Gollum's fearsome attack and fortunate loss of balance does the Ring end up being destroyed.

So this is the progression through which Frodo goes over the course of the three movies. I don't know if players of the game will get a different minifig version of him for each one of these costume changes or if we'll just have to use our imagination. But rest assured come 11/13, I'll have a full report. Until then, I guess I'll watch the Tigers try to start an improbable comeback tonight. It would be disappointing (yet altogether fitting) if Justin Verlander only managed one start against the Giants in the Fall Classic after shutting down the A's and the Yankees. At least he gets to go home to Kate Upton after they lose - I wonder if she makes him put on the Randy Johnson moustache so she can angrily tear it off his face...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fantasy Points = Real Life Wins /boggle

Hey everybody, the World Series starts today! The San Francisco Giants are coming off the momentum of having completed their postseason's second improbable three-game winning streak in the face of elimination while the Detroit Tigers have enjoyed six full days of inactivity while they waited for their Fall Classic opponent to be decided. I wonder who has the momentum going into this one? But Game 1 starter Barry Zito has his work cut out for him, since there's one very important game-changer that the Giants don't have: Justin Verlander.

But enough about what's happening in the actual world of baseball, let's talk more about the fantasy point system I've been using to evaluate players all season. It is indeed the same system I've been using for the last decade, but has now become infinitely easier to calculate thanks to ESPN's fully-customizable fantasy baseball program. I've mentioned those guys so many times that they should seriously be sponsoring this site by now... maybe my chances would be better if I used their standard scoring instead of my own system. But this is what I'm used to, and furthermore, I'm setting out to prove that the aggregate point totals of all the players on a team pretty accurately reflects that team's wins. First, here's how the point system shakes out:

I know baseball is a game of 3's, but this fantasy point system is essentially based on 5's. Batters get 5 points each for runs scored and driven in. Then we move to the basic building blocks of run production: Total Bases. Each one is worth 5 points: 5 for a single, 10 for a double, 15 for a triple, 20 for a home run. The progression makes sense - the more bases you reach per hit, not only do you put yourself in a better position to score, but the more potential runs you stand to drive in. Scoring position also plays a part in why steals are worth so many points - if you successfully steal a base, you at least put yourself in scoring position, whereas if you are caught, you erase yourself as a baserunner in a nonessential play. You lose a point every time you have a hitless at-bat, with an extra point lost for a strikeout (because in that situation you can't even advance the runner). A walk is worth three-fifths of a base hit, which is somewhat of a compromise, considering it puts you on base, but gives you very little chance of driving in a run in turn.

I'll be the first to admit that win-loss percentage is overvalued in this system, but in fantasy you want to make sure you're drafting the top pitchers on each team, which in terms of starters, are generally the ones in the position to rack up the most wins. The measure of the top relievers on each team is generally saves, hence the big point value there. Hey, I'm not saying it's a perfect system. Keeping with the motif of 5, each pitcher gains 5 points for each out pitched (which works out to 15 per inning) but loses 5 points for each baserunner allowed (via either a hit or walk). In another three-fifths compromise, a strikeout gains a pitcher an extra 3 points, which essentially makes each batter struck out worth 8 total points. Each run allowed costs a pitcher 10, because allowing runs is how a pitcher loses games after all.

Normally this point system is used to evaluate players personally, but for this experiment, I ran the combined stats of each team through the program to see how total points scored (both batting and pitching combined) corresponds with how many games that team won. However, I didn't use the exact same formula when calculating the team statistics - or, rather, I did and then I quickly realized where I went wrong and made some adjustments. The first adjustment was for batters: sure runs are important (scoring them is, after all, how you win games), but that's no reason to count them twice - i.e. for both runs scored and runs driven in. And while I don't think it's fair to exclude unearned runs as if they don't count, I removed RBI from the scoring. For pitchers, it doesn't make sense to include in the scoring system the very statistic you're trying to test for, so I removed wins and losses. There is also no reason a team should be rewarded for winning a close game, so saves had to go as well. This next chart contains the new points for each team in terms of both batting (BPts) and pitching (PPts). The most important column for our purposes are the last two: total points (TPts) and points divided by total team wins (TPts/W). Check out the results:

Lots of numbers, I know, but here's an overview of the important stuff we learned to look for in math class:

  • BPts range from 13,787 (NYY) to 9,668 (HOU) with an average of 11,692. This number speaks volumes about the Yankees' offense, as their park ranked just 17th in terms of ESPN's park factors. The median is 11,803 (the average between KCR and TOR) - just slightly higher than the mean.
  • PPts range from 12,354 (TBR) to 5,507 (COL) - a much larger spread. I guess the effects of the humidor in Denver are finally wearing off as we're starting to return to the batting/pitching discrepancies of the pre-2002 days. The average team scored 9,424 PPts, with the median at 9,657 (between PIT and CHW).
  • TPts range from 24,105 (WAS) to 17,153 (HOU). Notice, much to my delight, that the highest point total corresponds to the team with the most wins and vice versa for the team with the fewest wins. In the old system (including all the stats) the Astros were still on the bottom, but the Yankees had the top spot. These two teams also occupy the top and bottom spots respectively in terms of points per game. The average is 21,116 and the median is 21,583 (ARI and LAD).

Now for the new and exciting category: TPts/W, which shows how many points each team scores per win. The first thing we notice is that the team with the fewest wins (55) has the most TPts/W (HOU with 311.873). However, BAL has the fewest TPts/W with 229.204 and they managed 6 fewer wins than the top squad (WAS with 98). This anomaly kind of makes sense, considering this was a team that was not expected to play well. Plus, they vastly outperformed their run differential - based on their runs scored vs. runs allowed, they should have managed only 82 wins. It might be the case that fantasy points have a better correlation with a team's expected performance than their actual performance, but that's a question for a different day.

Not that there isn't a decisive pattern emerging already as it stands: teams with the six lowest TPts/W all won at least 90 games, while the teams with the six highest TPts/W all won fewer than 70 games. It seems that teams that win more games use their points more efficiently in that it takes fewer of them to get a W. However, there's a lot more work to be done: the average of all 30 teams is 263.117 TPts/W, and the 3 teams closest to that figure won 88 (STL, 261.136), 73 (TOR, 265.110), and 90 (TBR, 265.378) games, respectively. So there's clearly not a precise correlation. However, that analysis will have to wait, as we've just had a sighting of the Justin Verlander we've come to expect in the playoffs in San Francisco. Let's watch some World Series!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2013 Free Agents

It's been a week and a weekend since the 2012 playoffs started with the inaugural Wild Card Games, and a whole lot has happened since then. We saw 20 out of a possible 20 Division Series games, and now four games into the Championship Serieses, the Giants and Cardinals are in a dead heat, while the Tigers don't appear to be losing any momentum (especially since the Yankees will be welcomed to Detroit tonight by Justin Verlander). While there is decidedly still a lot of playoff baseball left to be played in the next two weeks, I'm going to leave coverage of those games in more capable hands and look ahead to what excitement this offseason might bring.

The most newsworthy proceedings that occur during the Hot Stove season has to be the filing and signing of free agents. Everybody loves to see high-profile players jump over to new teams, and free agency is the perfect stage on which to display that spectacle, what with the tense negotiations, multi-million dollar contracts, and the press conferences with the new jerseys awkwardly worn over suit jackets. And then of course there is the always exhilarating potential surprise appearance of the Mystery Team.

I'm so excited about this year's free agent class that I've been keeping track of them throughout the season - along with many other things in my extensive Baseball Database work-in-progress. I last updated this document with stats and info through the All-Star Break (7/9/12), and while teams are free to negotiate and sign contract extensions with their own impending free agents at any point during the year, I thought a lineup made of the best potential free agents as of the Midsummer Classic would help put this offseason's complete list in a little perspective:

Just a few short words about this preliminary list (because the real analysis will come later) - notice that four of these 18 players ended the season on different teams than the ones they were on at the All-Star Break. This should give you some insight into the types of players GMs like to move at the Trade Deadline - it makes sense to try to get something in return for the dudes whose commitment to the team is coming to an end. Now let's see what happened to those four players as well as the rest of the rest of the top free agents of 2013.

For this lineup, I've included two more columns: one that details the type of contract the player has just completed and one describing the monetary value linked to said contract. But before we run the numbers, you should notice three players missing from the previous list who were re-signed to extensions before the end of the season. Edwin Encarnacion got his 3yr, $30mm deal to remain Toronto's 1B/DH on the last day of the All-Star break, Cole Hamels signed a 6yr, $144mm deal just before the trade deadline to keep Philadelphia's monster rotation intact, and in September Texas brought Colby Lewis back for next year, despite the fact that he missed the entire second half of the season with forearm issues.

It's uncertain what the All-Star Game MVP will make in his first year
of free agency after being suspended for 50 games to end the 2012 season.
Now to the money column. Five players are coming off arbitration-eligible years, and are thus hitting free agency for the first time. For those of you not well-versed in the nuances of baseball's financial system, salary arbitration is a way to ensure that young players are paid somewhat close to market rate for their services before hitting the open market. I'm not going to get into the details here, as I'm planning another post that will feature a lineup consisting of the offseason's top arb-eligible players. And, yes, it will contain an explanation of the "Super 2" status, which is why Melky Cabrera and Brandon League (above) enjoyed four years of arbitration before free agency instead of the customary three.

Despite his issues with over-caffeination this season, Hamilton still
promises to be the most sought-after free agent this winter.
Only two players (Josh Hamilton and Kyle Lohse) were signed to their most recent contracts by the teams that still employ them. Both have been given the green light to test the free agent market, which all but guarantees that their clubs won't make any offers during the period where teams can exclusively negotiate with their free-agents-to-be. Four players are just now reaching the ends of long-term extensions they signed with teams OTHER than the ones they suit(ed) up for in 2012. Nick Swisher signed a 5yr deal with the Athletics, but has since played for both the White Sox and the Yankees (who were kind enough to pick up his option for 2012). Zack Greinke only spent two years of the four year deal with the team that signed him (Kansas City) before moving to Milwaukee and then Anaheim. Ryan Dempster signed with the Cubs four years ago and then proceeded to pick up his own player option for '12 rather than become a free agent last year - a decision that I'm sure Theo Epstein appreciates, since he was able to flip the pitcher to the Rangers for a couple prospects at the deadline. And Marco Scutaro is finishing up the deal he signed with the Red Sox only after having played for two different teams since then.

While Swisher's deal+opt has the most total money attached to it, the highest-paid player on this list in terms of average annual value (or AAV) is superstar DH David Ortiz (his 1yr deal pays him more than $14.5mm). Big Papi was set to become a free agent last offseason, but he stayed with the Red Sox by accepting their offer of arbitration (there's that term again - I would mention something about a team's ability to offer arbitration to an impending free agent in my aforementioned future post, but they're in the process of changing this rule anyway). Dempster is a close second with an AAV of $13mm+, while Hamilton's $12mm AAV is third. After his monster season, I would expect him to earn much more than that over a multi-year deal, despite the slow finish.

First year Yankee jitters? Apparently no one told Kuroda about them!
Four players were brought in (or brought back, as the case may be) on 1yr deals, including the two big-name pitchers who replaced the two pitchers from the All-Star break list who were signed to extensions. Hiroki Kuroda adapted well to the pressure-packed environment of Yankees baseball, but I have it on good authority that he would prefer to pitch on the west coast. Edwin Jackson was passable for the Nationals, but the journeyman appears likely to be headed for his seventh team in six years. Jonathan Broxton's fantasy value took a hit when he traded his save opportunities with the Royals for hold opportunities in front of Aroldis Chapman with the Reds, but I'd say he's pretty successfully reestablished himself as a dominant reliever. And the fact that Eric Chavez has started a playoff game for the Yankees says more about the utter un-clutchitude of A-Rod than it does about Chokey's prowess on the field - although he did churn out a surprising 12 HR as one of the main players in New York's DH rotation.

Looking ahead, I'd say that Michael Bourn and A.J. Pierzynski are good bets to re-sign - as the Braves look to remain perennial contenders, I think they'd be loath to part with their marquee top-of-the-order table setter, and I don't think any other team would want Pierzynski. Swisher (who replaced Encarnacion after becoming eligible at 1B from all that work he got subbing for Mark Teixeira) is basically a lock to return - free agency for the Yankees is basically just a period of renegotiation. After his October meltdown(s) expect Jose Valverde to be in a similar position to Broxton going into last off-season. Greinke got off to a shaky start to his time in southern California, but he had a solid finish and the Angels certainly don't balk at the big free agent deal. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back and let Dan Haren walk rather than pick up his $15.5mm option - I would be surprised if they kept both pitchers around for 2013.

Your fans are all praying for a speedy recovery
and to see you back on the mound in 2013!
There's a couple of honorable mentions I feel like I should... mention. Shane Victorino will hit the market with the Dodgers, and it's a good bet he'll return. I don't see Ichiro on the Yankees as anything more than a rental since Brett Gardner will likely be returning to the Bronx Bombers next year. Carlos Pena will likely try to bring his sub-Mendoza line average to a team other than the Rays. Mariano Rivera is a lock to return to the Yankees if he deems himself able to pitch. And then there are a couple of A's pitchers coming off no end of uncertainty: Brandon McCarthy has been making good progress in his recovery from a brutal line drive to the head, while Bartolo Colon has yet to prove he can survive in the majors with just the hormones that his 40-year-old body can produce on its own. I'd say incentive-laden deals are in store for these two, the former back with the A's, the latter with a young club desperate for some veteran leadership (see the pre-2012 A's...).

This year's free agent class lacks the star power of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, CC Sabathia (although see above regarding Yankee free agents), C.J. Wilson et al. But there are some very solid players out there who have the potential to make some new teams very happy. I'll be following all these free agents and more as soon as they're allowed to file on the day after the World Series. Until then, keep watching the games and try not to be too disappointed at the dearth of interesting teams left out there...

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Number One Seeds: Analysis

Well, the bad news is that one quarter of the teams that made it to the big final year-end tournament have been eliminated, among them my first and third priorities of teams I'd like to have seen win the World Series. The good news however, is that all four division series made it Game 5, providing fans with a full 20 out of 20 potential first-round games! If anyone knows somebody who works at the Elias Sports Bureau, go ahead and ask them when the last time was that this happened.

As it turns out, the top seeded teams in each league (the ones with the distinct pleasure of facing the winners of the first inaugural Wild Card Games) are now on the brink of elimination, just like everybody else. I won't go into detail on their respective opponents, because I've already done write-ups on the Wild Card teams, but here's an in-depth look into the playoff lineups of the teams who led their leagues in wins this year:

The Nationals won the most regular season games of any team (just edging out the freshly-eliminated Reds by one), but 15 of those wins came behind the arm of Stephen Strasburg (1,861 points / 66.5 ppg) who will not appear in Washington's playoff run due to a controversial decision by GM Mike Rizzo. No one can know if Strasburg would have gotten shelled any less than Jordan Zimmermann or Edwin Jackson (his technical replacement, Ross Detwiler, actually pitched quite well facing elimination) had he taken the hill in his playoff debut, but unless the Nats can continue their run into October, the decision to sit the organization's best pitcher for the city's first playoff berth in 79 years will surely haunt the franchise for many years to come.

3B stalwart Ryan Zimmerman played well despite battling injuries - a theme the Nats will have to get used to for the next 7 years, since he doesn't become a free agent until 2019. But the real stories this year revolve around the impressive debut of Bryce Harper (if you don't count his performance in the playoffs) and the breakout success of Ian Desmond (my pick of him in the 20th round really solidified my fantasy team). Jayson Werth missed a lot of time with a broken wrist, but he really took ownership of that leadoff role upon his return, from which spot in the lineup he hit the key walk-off HR that forced today's Game 5.

A couple of ex-Athletics form the battery of today's game: Gio Gonzalez was sent over in the offseason trade that netted the A's both SP Tommy Milone and C Derek Norris (along with SP Brad Peacock, but we don't like to talk about his 2012 season in AAA). The remaining guaranteed year+OPT on Kurt Suzuki's 3*-yr extension he signed with the A's prior to 2011 was transferred to the Nationals in a waiver-wire deal in early August. The Nats' bullpen got a late boost with the return of closer Drew Storen from the devastating elbow injury that forced him to the 60-day DL.

The Yankees will have to play a day game following a (late, due to 13-innings) night game this afternoon to decide who advances to the ALCS. That news does not bode well for the aging squad, who were already feeling sore and banged-up to begin with. Case in point: manager Joe Girardi wasn't able to get his best offensive players on the field the last two games because he had to use the DH slot to rest first A-Rod and then Jeter. At least he found a spot for Game 3 hero Raul Ibanez in today's lineup - even if it's at the expense of quarter-of-a-million dollar man Alex Rodriguez (which means that the Yanks will start another ex-Athletic at 3B: none other than Eric "Chokey" Chavez!).

Andy Pettitte pitching for New York in 1997 (L) and 2012 (R)
As further proof that the Yankees are stuck in 1997, just look at their Game 2 starter: 40-year-old Andy Pettitte, who the Yanks lured out of "retirement" for the second time this year. I like Pettitte as a pitcher, but I can't say I approve of the Yankees' relationship with him, treating what should be his retirement years as if he's in their own personal farm system. But if the man wants to play, let him play, I guess. I think Hiroki Kuroda is a more effective pitcher at this point in his career, and we'll see what happens to both of them when they hit free agency after this season.

The Bronx Bombers also failed to get younger when they traded for Ichiro Suzuki in a deadline deal. The 38-year-old outfielder can still swing the bat (he hit .322 in 67 games since heading east) and plays a better defensive LF than Brett Gardner's last fill-in (Ibanez). Robinson Cano put up another offensive season for the ages while Curtis Granderson quietly surpassed 40 HR for the second straight year and CC Sabathia led the pitching staff as only a 6'7" 290lb giant of a lefty can. Rafael Soriano didn't miss a beat taking over the closer role after Mariano Rivera went down with a freak batting practice injury. I hope the Yankees re-sign him next year (is there really any doubt?) because he deserves a better end to his career than a torn ACL sustained while shagging fly balls.

So those are the top seeded teams in the game right now, each playing to stay alive in games today. I'm glad I was able to pull myself out of an A's-loss-related funk long enough to get these out while both these teams are still in contention. Before I sink back in, I have two grievances with the Athletics' performance in the ALDS to get off my chest.

1) Where in the name of all that is holy were Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter?
These two power righties hit 32 home runs between them and spent significant time at the No. 2, No. 4 (Gomes) and No. 5 (Carter) spots in the batting order, all high profile offensive positions, and yet only one of them got as much as a single plate appearance in the division series - during the 8th inning of the Game 5 blowout. I know their platoon splits dictate that they should play primarily against lefty pitchers, but the A's faced Phil Coke three times in close/late situations, and yet the only pinch hitter Bob Melvin could muster was... his backup catcher. Carter is under team control for at least another 5 years, but Gomes - who was a huge part of the A's' magical season, providing excellent energy and always being the first out of the dugout after a walk-off win (unless he was responsible for the win himself) - becomes a free agent after the World Series. I would love to see him return, but if it were me, I don't know if I'd want to re-sign with an organization that showed me absolutely no love when the games mattered most.

2) How come no yellow jerseys?
When the A's clinched the AL West title against the Rangers last week, they were wearing their sweet alternate throwback yellow jerseys that they unveiled last year, and yet they didn't show up for even one game in the ALDS. HOW'S A TEAM SUPPOSED TO FIND SOME LUCK IN BORING HOME WHITES!?!?

That is all. Now I can finally put this disappointing finish to the season behind me. Who's ready for Free Agent season!?!?

Monday, October 8, 2012

NLDS CIN vs. SFG Analysis

Woah there, Cincinnati, slow down! We don't want TWO out of the four division serieses to be over before they started. The Reds have taken the first two from the 2010 World Series champion Giants; and just when I was about to voice my outrage at the new format that puts the BETTER-seeded team on the road for the pivotal first two games of a best of five series - a format that put the A's at a HUGE disadvantage this weekend (in hindsight they might have been better off pulling an "Olympic Badminton" and throwing one of those last three games against Texas, taking their chances with Baltimore in the Wild Card round, knowing that they'd get to start the next series with the Yankees at home... but I digress). Playing in the Bay Area didn't bother the Reds, who are traveling home today in a great position.

C: Ryan Hanigan vs. Buster Posey
Hanigan, who profiles more as a backup than a starter, was supposed to give way to Devin Mesoraco, Baseball America's #16 ranked prospect. But the catcher of the future only managed 54 games so the Reds had to make do. Posey meanwhile could be heading for an NL MVP award to put on the mantle next to his ROY from two years ago. His amazing season, in which he won the batting title* and led the league in OPS+, is even more impressive since it came on the heels of a brutal career-threatening leg injury sustained in a home plate collision.

1B: Joey Votto vs. Brandon Belt
Votto is one of the most fearsome hitters in the game right now, and he's been rewarded for his greatness with a couple of contract extensions that run through 2024. He didn't put up fearsome power totals this year, as he missed a bunch of time getting arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee (although he still managed to lead the league in BB and OBP), but he's back at full strength and ready to contribute in the playoffs. Belt can... play left field in a pinch? That's all I've got.

2B: Brandon Phillips vs. Marco Scutaro
Phillips is another Red to get a long-term extension, so the right side of Cincinnati's infield is set for at least another six years. Scutaro actually produced similar value in terms of fantasy points in his season he split with the Rockies and Giants, but he did it with base hits and plate discipline as opposed to power and speed. "Dat Dude" has the talent set more suited to change the outcome of a game.

3B: Scott Rolen vs. Pablo Sandoval
I haven't been following the Reds very closely this season, but one of the few stories I did catch wind of was Todd Frazier's emergence as a solid rookie 3B. Why then did he give way to oft-injured veteran Scott Rolen for the playoffs? The world may never know. In the meantime, Sandoval has had his share of injuries himself in what is becoming an unpleasant trend for the Kung Fu Panda. When healthy though, I'd rather have his bat in the lineup.

SS: Zack Cozart vs. Brandon Crawford
Crawford is your stereotypical one dimensional all-field-no-hit player, while the rookie Cozart is a much rarer two dimensional all-field-some-power player. According to Baseball Reference, both players contributed 2.0 dWAR (with the glove) and 0.9 oWAR (with the bat) despite the fact that Cozart out-homered Crawford 15 to 4. Neither player excels at getting on base (.304 OBP for Crawford, .288 for Cozart) and they both strike out far too much (Cozart K'd 113 times, Crawford 95), but you all know how chicks dig the long ball.

LF: Ryan Ludwick vs. Gregor Blanco
Remember when Ludwick had that breakout 2008 season with 37 long balls and a .966 OPS? Well this year he put up his highest totals in those categories since then (26 and .877 respectively). He's even been batting cleanup in front of All-Star Jay Bruce. Blanco was a non-roster invitee who's only playing this position because his teammate (and the guy who actually led the NL in AVG) made some poor career choices and got himself suspended.

Jay Bruce Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a two run double scoring Joey Votto #19 and Chris Heisey #28  in the eighth inning of Game Two of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on October 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California.CF: Drew Stubbs vs. Angel Pagan
Despite 14 HR and 30 SB, Stubbs had an incredibly disappointing season, embodied by a .277 OBP. Pagan has provided an invaluable spark at the top of the order after coming over from the Mets in an offseason trade. Despite getting on base .061 points more effectively than Stubbs, Pagan actually stole one fewer base... but that's only because he finished his at-bat on third base a league-leading 15 times.

RF: Jay Bruce vs. Hunter Pence
Pence was involved in his second high-profile trade deadline deal in as many years. But unlike last year when he carried the Phillies on his back to the tune of a .324 AVG, .954 OPS, and 2.2 WAR, this year he rode the Giants' coattails into the playoffs with a .219 AVG, .671 OPS, and 0.1 WAR. Bruce on the other hand has developed into the middle of the order pure power threat we expected, with his second straight season of 30+ HR, but an AVG in the .250s. He'll be a part of this Reds team almost as long as Phillips and Votto.

SP1: Johnny Cueto vs. Matt Cain
How about Johnny Cueto finally coming into his own for a full season this year: 19 wins (3 more than Cain), 2.78 ERA (.01 lower than Cain), and a league-leading 33 starts. I certainly appreciated his performance after drafting him to my fantasy team in the 14th round. But Cueto threw only 8 pitches before being forced to exit game 1 with back spasms. His uncertainty for the rest of the series coupled with the magic of Cain's perfect game this year settles the score for this matchup.

SP2: Bronson Arroyo vs. Madison Bumgarner
cain NLDS Preview: SF Giants With Advantage Over RedsThe game in which these two faced off against each other already happened, but if I were doing projections, I would never have expected 7 shutout innings from Arroyo against 4.1 innings with 4 ER for Bumgarner. Overall though Maddy is a more talented pitcher with a significantly higher upside.

SP3: Homer Bailey vs. Ryan Vogelsong
The penultimate start of the best season of Bailey's career was a no-hitter, the seventh of the year. Vogelsong has done his best to prove that his comeback last season after four years out of the majors was no fluke. At 26 years old I think Bailey has more potential than the 34-year-old Vogelsong, but for one game I don't think the difference is too great.

SP4: Mat Latos vs. Tim Lincecum/Barry Zito
Game 4 starters haven't been announced yet, so we don't know if Latos will return on 3 days rest after coming to Cueto's rescue with 4 IP of relief in game 1. Likewise we don't know if Bruce Bochy will trot out the veteran Zito or pull two-time Cy Young winner Lincecum out of the bullpen, where he was relegated after an uncharacteristically pedestrian season. Whoever his opponent is, Latos's bounceback after a disastrous April (right after I dropped him from my fantasy roster) gives him the clear upper hand.

RP: Aroldis Chapman vs. Sergio Romo
We've all heard the stories about the 105 mph fastballs, the somersaults off the mound, the time off in September due to shoulder fatigue, but one thing is for sure: Aroldis Chapman is one of the most dominant left-handed relievers to play the game of baseball ever. Romo might have similarly impressive facial hair, but Brian Wilson he ain't - and even if The Beard weren't injured, there's no way he'd compete with the Cuban Missile.

As with the A's-Tigers series, this one is all but in the books. It's nearly impossible to come back from such a deficit, even heading into home-field advantage. But I wouldn't count out even these Lincecum-less Giants until the last pitch. Because as a baseball great once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

ALDS OAK vs. DET Analysis

Well, the Oakland Athletics' tremendous unexpected season is now on the verge of coming to an end. Even going back home, it's nearly impossible to come back from a two-game deficit and win three in a row, especially knowing that Justin "I bribe every home plate umpire in the league" Verlander is gonna pitch in the last game. Might as well see how these two ALDS teams stack up, because I might not get another chance to...

If you compare the overall total points scored of these two teams, things look a little bleak for the A's. But then when you see that the A's won six more games in a much more competitive decision, and you see that there's more magic at work here than the numbers can express. Let's see how that magic descends position by position.

C: Derek Norris vs. Alex Avila
Avila was an All-Star last year, but his OPS is down .159 points and his HR totals have dropped by more than half. But I'd still take him over a rookie who barely cracked the Mendoza line this season.

1B: Brandon Moss vs. Prince Fielder
Brandon Moss - Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
Moss has been one of the great feel-good stories of the year, finally making some noise in the majors after being a well-regarded prospect since 2005. Three teams and an open batting stance later, he is a big reason why the A's led the majors in home runs after the All-Star break. But it's hard to top Fielder (below) who's cleared 30 HR in six straight seasons and who just signed for $214mm over nine years, regardless of how loose-fitting his jersey is.

2B: Cliff Pennington vs. Omar Infante
Infante was originally developed by the Tigers, but found his way back into the fold after spending some time with the Braves and Marlins. He doesn't have a lot of pop in his bat, but he's the kind of guy who profiles as a No. 2 hitter. What Pennington brings to the table is SS-caliber defense - that's where he played until the midseason acquisition of Stephen Drew - cuz he's certainly not turning many heads with a .215 AVG.

3B: Josh Donaldson vs. Miguel Cabrera
Donaldson is a converted C who was moved to 3B in a hurry prior to the start of the season due to a freak workout injury to projected starter Scott Sizemore. He spent most of the year in AAA, but he elevated his game, and when he came back down the stretch, he came up with some big hits. As for Cabrera, two words: Triple Crown.

SS: Stephen Drew vs. Jhonny Peralta
Drew played an abbreviated season after recovering from a gnarly ankle injury he sustained last year with the Diamondbacks, but his raw skills were never in doubt. Peralta is known more for the nontradition spelling of his first name than for anything outstanding on the field.

LF: Yoenis Cespedes vs. Quintin Berry
Two rookies here, one known for his amazing success on the basepaths (Berry was 21 for 21 in SBs this year) and one known for this YouTube video showcasing his awesome talents. Despite a rash of unfortunate injuries, Cespedes has impressed in every aspect of his game and might have gotten some serious Rookie of the Year consideration were it not for that 21-year-old who plays in Anaheim.

CF: Coco Crisp vs. Austin Jackson
An amazing contact hitter, Jackson's fantasy numbers were certainly impressive - .300 AVG, 103 R scored, a league-leading 12 triples. But he doesn't bring to the table nearly what Crisp does in terms of defense or danger on the basepaths. And had Crisp not been bitten by the injury bug, I don't doubt his season would have been just as impressive if not more so.

RF: Josh Reddick vs. Andy Dirks/Avisail Garcia
Reddick was acquired from the Red Sox in the offseason in a trade for closer Andrew Bailey, and it's been no question which team got the better of that deal, at least in 2012. The wiry Reddick brings 30 HR power, Gold Glove-quality defense in RF (he led the league with 14 OF assists), and great taste in which professional wrestler to cheer for. Meanwhile, Jim Leyland can't even find an outfielder solid enough to play against both lefties and righties.

SP1: Jarrod Parker vs. Justin Verlander
Changeup artist Parker has put together an amazing rookie performance after coming over from Arizona, leading the team with 13 wins. But how can you compete with Verlander, the reigning Cy Young award winner, especially when he has every umpire in the league in his pocket, handing out called strike three's like so many flyers on a street corner. I hope he and his stupid double butt-chin never gets to hang out with Kate Upton in that damn dumb perfect game club.

SP2: Tommy Milone vs. Doug Fister
Is there an echo in here? Crafty lefty Milone also put together an amazing rookie performance, and also led the team with 13 wins. Fister is 6'8" and has a name that probably got him some flak as an adolescent, as soon as his schoolmates got mature enough to understand the possibilities.

SP3: Brett Anderson vs. Anibal Sanchez
Anderson looked like he had recovered really well from his Tommy John surgery for his six starts this year, until he sustained an oblique injury just from throwing a pitch. If he's ready and available, he's one of the nastiest lefties in the game right now. Sanchez pitched poorly at first after coming over from the Marlins in a trade, but has righted the ship and has gotten back to the pitcher we knew he could be.

SP4: A.J. Griffin vs. Max Scherzer
Another rookie, Griffin actually led the A's in points per game among starters A's pitchers with at least 10 games started. But it's hard to match up against the pitcher who struck out the second most batters in the league, no matter how badly he hurt his ankle in the Tigers' division-winning celebration.

RP: Grant Balfour vs. Jose Valverde
Valverde is a completely different pitcher than the one who was 49 for 49 in save opportunities in 2011, but he still brings the same theatricality and flare to the mound. Balfour is one of the most fiery pitchers in the game right now, sacrificing pure rage for theatricality. He started and finished the year as Oakland's closer, giving way to Ryan Cook in the midsummer months, but his role is set in stone now after appearing in five games in a row to close out the season.

The A's have their work cut out for them, but as we've seen seven times before, this is not an impossible hole out from which to crawl. But the A's won an improbable three games in a row to take the AL West on the last day of the season, so they can DO IT AGAIN, DAMMIT! It's been a season full of remarkable comebacks (14 walk-off wins to lead the league), so why should the trend stop now? LET'S GO A'S! WOOO!

Friday, October 5, 2012

2012 (Inaugural) AL Wild Card Preview

What a surprising collapse for the Texas Rangers, am I right? To hold first place in their division EVERY DAY of the season except for two days in April and 1 day in October... and then to have to settle for a Wild Card spot. But that's what happens when you don't take a magical team like the Oakland A's seriously enough, which is a lesson the Tigers will learn starting tomorrow. Meanwhile, to continue into the traditional playoffs, the Rangers have to face an equally surprising (but for the opposite reason) Baltimore Orioles team, who has defied all odds and earned a spot in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game. Let's take a look at this matchup:

C: Matt Wieters (3.2) vs. Mike Napoli (1.4)
Power hitting catchers are rare commodities indeed, and we've got two of the best facing off against each other in this matchup (Napoli has slugged 24 HR to Wieters's 23). But power hitting catchers that can also contribute on defense (Wieters has thrown out 39% of potential base stealers  as opposed to Napoli's 21%)? That is truly a special player.

1B: Mark Reynolds (-0.1) vs. Mitch Moreland (0.2)
Reynolds moved over to 1B after his defense at 3B was too much for the O's to stomach, so a lot of his negative defensive WAR has been negated by that position switch. And he didn't lead the league in strikeouts for the first time in five years! Meanwhile Moreland split time at 1B with Michael Young when one of Texas's bigger hitters needed some time at DH.

2B: Robert Andino (0.0) vs. Ian Kinsler (2.0)
Baltimore has nothing but replacement level folks to trot out here, whereas Kinsler is a two-time 30/30 player who came one HR short of his fourth 20/20 season.

3B: Manny Machado (1.5) vs. Adrian Beltre (6.6)
Machado making his debut and helping his team reach the playoffs for the first time in 15 years is a great story... but Beltre is straight up a great player. It's unclear whether he'll play at 3B in this game, ceding the hot corner to Michael Young in the last few contests of the regular season. But he will be sure to make a difference in this game, whether it's with his bat or his glove or both.

SS: J.J. Hardy (3.0) vs. Elvis Andrus (3.4)
Power hitting shortstops with soft hands in the field are almost as rare as power hitting catchers who can throw out baserunners, but Baltimore has one of each! But unfortunately for the Orioles, power does not a complete hitter make. Despite the lack of pop in his bat, Andrus has a higher OPS than Hardy by nearly .060 points, and that coupled with what he brings on the basepaths (21 steals in 31 attempts vs. 0 steals in 0 attempts) gives Andrus the edge.

LF: Nate McLouth (0.8) vs. David Murphy (3.2)
Murphy spent a lot of time on the bench when Josh Hamilton's fragile body prevents him from playing in CF. But McLouth spent a lot of time languishing in Pittsburgh putting up -0.5 WAR. He's been a great table setter since coming over to the Orioles and his intangibles are through the roof, but there's no question who puts up the better production.

CF: Adam Jones (3.4) vs. Josh Hamilton (3.3)

Conventional wisdom would say to pick Hamilton here because of his monster offensive numbers, but given his recent performance I'm not so sure. After a crazy start to the season, he hit only one HR over the crucial final two weeks of the season, and while neither of these players are exactly assets on defense, Jones didn't drop a routine fly ball that very opened the door to costing his team the division title. Then there's durability, which doesn't come into play much for a one-game playoff, but Jones played all 162 games, whereas Hamilton missed games because he had too much caffeine - what does he think this is Marcy Playground circa 1997?

RF: Chris Davis (1.3) vs. Nelson Cruz (0.1)
Ask the Rangers how they feel about that trade that sent Davis and SP Tommy Hunter to the O's for RP Koji Uehara now that Davis has erupted with 33 HR on the year and a 1.057 OPS in the season's final months, and you'll likely hear some wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in response. Cruz still puts up good power numbers, but he's completely fallen apart defensively - not that Davis is a stud in the field, but at least he can play three different positions with moderate competency.

DH: Jim Thome (-0.1) vs. Michael Young (-2.4)
Thome is the second starting Oriole to have spent time with a Pennsylvania team before heading south to help Baltimore with its playoff push. He's a hitting legend and sure Hall of Famer, but clearly on his way out and it's questionable how much he can contribute at age 41. Young got absolutely no love in terms of baseball reference WAR, both offensively (-1.0) and defensively (-2.1, again not sure how the math works out), definitely a far cry from the guy who led the league in hits last year. But there is something to be said for a veteran who can step in and play any infield position when called upon to do so.

SP: Joe Saunders (0.7) vs. Yu Darvish (4.0)
Darvish technically qualifies as a rookie, despite five dominant seasons in the Japanese league (76-21 record (.731 win pct), 1.72 ERA, 0.890 WHIP). He racked up a lot of innings overseas, but the rigors of the longer MLB season might have been getting to him towards the end there. Saunders has pitched decently for the Birds after being acquired in late August from the D-Backs (3-3, 3.63 ERA, 1.276 WHIP), but not as strongly as say Wei-Yin Chen (another import from the Japanese leagues) or Chris Tillman (who was used in the last game of the season two days ago). Maybe Showalter tabbed the lefty because he's had the most postseason experience of any starter on his staff (with the Angels in 08-09 and with the D-Backs last year) but whatever the reasoning, the talent level looks a little skewed in one direction.

RP: Jim Johnson (1.3) vs. Joe Nathan (1.9)
In Johnson's first year as a closer he did not disappoint, leading the league with 51 saves, a 2.49 ERA, and a 1.019 WHIP - but only 5.4 K/9IP. Nathan returned to form in his first full season after missing all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery (37 saves, 2.80 ERA, 1.057 WHIP, 10.9 K/9). As much as the concept of a pitch-to-contact closer worries me, I don't think there's a big difference between these two as far as who I'd rather have closing down a big game.

2012 (Inaugural) NL Wild Card Round Preview

What an incredible end of the 2012 regular season, especially for us A's fans! I tell you what, if you're only gonna be in first place for one day in the entire season, the last day is the right day to pick! This great comeback story featuring a roster full of rookies and castoffs is one for the ages, and I'm looking forward to seeing the boys in green and gold take on the Tigers in a rematch of the 2006 ALCS. We'll see if they can build on this improbable run to the division title and surpass the success of the famed Moneyball season.

But before we enter that chapter, we still have a whole round of playoffs to get through! I use the term "round" lightly, because a one-game playoff seems pretty scant for fans who are used to kicking off the playoffs with a best of five series. The new format is essentially adding a tiebreaker game to each league to determine the wild card spots. The funny thing is that in the AL, this one game matchup between the Rangers and the Orioles would have happened even in the old format, because they both finished the season with the same record! In the NL, however, the Cardinals have a chance to make their seven fewer wins than the Braves completely disappear in one game. Let's see how their two lineups stack up.

A quick word about my chart, as usual: The rank column represents where that player stands in relation to the other batters or pitchers on his team. I've written enough about swp that you all should be pretty familiar with it by now. Also, since the above chart includes swp, I've included each player's WAR next to their names below. And for those fantasy-relevant players (i.e. owned in more than 40% of ESPN leagues) I've included the player's astrological sign, just for kicks. We'll see if any patterns develop among playoff teams. Now let's get to the position-by-position rankings I love so well...

C: Brian McCann (0.6) vs. Yadier Molina (6.7)
I don't know if McCann is still considered an elite catcher, but he sure didn't have an elite season this year. He still has some pop in his bat (20 HR), but his 2012 OPS was more than .125 points off his career average. We'll see how the Braves approach his $12.5m option going into the offseason. The Cardinals on the other hand won't have to worry about Yadier Molina's contract option until 2018, and they couldn't be happier with how the 29-year-old defensive wiz has been progressing at the plate as well. This one is the no-brainerest decision of this whole endeavor.

1B: Freddie Freeman (2.1) vs. Allen Craig (2.2)
I can tell you right now, we're looking at a push. Freeman has delivered on the promise he showed when the Braves made him the second rookie in as many years to start the season at a key offensive position in 2011. When Craig was finally given a starting role - after recovering from knee surgery, battling back from a hamstring strain, and thanks to an injury to Lance Berkman - he picked up right where he left off from his 3 HR performance in last year's World Series. I was tempted to give the edge to Craig because he put up comparable totals in less playing time, but I think what they bring to the table is about equal.

2B: Dan Uggla (2.7) vs. Daniel Descalso (-0.2)
Despite Uggla's highly-publicized benching in September, he still brings infinitely more to the plate than Descalso, who's a backup utility infielder on most teams.

3B: Chipper Jones (2.6) vs. David Freese (3.6)
These two players put up very similar fantasy production in two very different stages of their careers. Freese is just now entering his prime (2012 was his first season playing in more than 100 games) while Jones is famously retiring after this season. Their rate stats are almost identical, but I'm going to have to give the edge to Freese here due to his upside and his ability to stay on the field (Jones made two trips to the DL15 with a meniscus tear and a calf bruise). Plus, being a postseason hero last year is enough to push him over the edge.

SS: Andrelton Simmons (2.8) vs. Pete Kozma (1.1)
Both of these SS's are backup plans for their respective clubs: the Cardinals re-signed veteran Rafael Furcal for this season, and the Braves hoped that rookie Tyler Pastornicky could shoulder the starting SS role. Kozma appears more polished with the bat (.952 OPS in his 26 games) while Simmons is a rock star in the field (2.4 WAR with his glove alone), but they're both very much works in progress.

LF: Martin Prado (5.4) vs. Matt Holliday (3.8)
Let me make this clear: WAR takes defense into account, and defense is NOT Matt Holliday's strong suit. Offensively, he's got the clear advantage with 4.4 oWAR to Prado's 3.2 - it's the difference between a middle of the order power bat and a prototypical No. 2 hitter. But Prado's defensive versatility (he played every non-battery position except the other two outfield spots) give him the edge in the advanced metrics. But there's no question who I'd rather have at the plate in a key situation.

CF: Michael Bourn (6.0) vs. Jon Jay (3.2)
Talk about the prototypical leadoff hitter... and you'd be talking about Michael Bourn. Great speed (that more often than not also translates into good outfield defense at a key position - his WAR is pretty evenly split between offense and defense), pretty good plate discipline, and the willingness to attempt a steal in any situation (he was caught stealing a league leading 13 times, against 42 successful tries). Jay had the leadoff role thrust upon him with Furcal's injury, and he responded fairly well, keeping his average right around his career .300 mark. But it's clear who's more of a difference-maker at the top of the order.

RF: Jason Heyward (5.5) vs. Carlos Beltran (3.6)
Like Prado, Heyward's WAR is also skewed because of defense, but here's the thing: he's got a slight edge on Beltran even considering only oWAR (3.2 to 3.0, although Beltran is also listed as having -0.0 dWAR, so it looks like baseball reference's calculations break down slightly on this one). After losing out to Buster Posey in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting (I mean, the first-year catcher did lead his team to a World Championship), Heyward rebounded from a 2011 sophomore slump with a 20/20 season. Beltran is doing his best Lance Berkman comeback-with-the-Cardinals impression with his first 30 HR season in five years.
ADVANTAGE: BRAVES (but it's close)

SP: Kris Medlen (4.4) vs. Kyle Lohse (3.9)
Which strategy for nursing a pitcher back to health following a major surgery do you support? Trotting him out to the mound every five days to start, and then shutting him down when he reaches his prescribed innings limit? Or pitching him out of the bullpen for the first four months of the season, then moving him to the rotation when the games count, leaving him well short of any potential innings limit by the time the playoffs role around? The Nationals followed the first strategy with Stephen Strasburg, and now he's unavailable for the postseason. Meanwhile the Braves followed the second strategy with Kris Medlen, and now he's scheduled to pitch in the Wild Card Game. Not only that, but despite Strasburg's electric stuff, Medlen actually outperformed the phenom by a whole 1.7 WAR. So we'll see whose strategy wins out.

Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse has been the Cardinals' most consistent starter all season. He led the league in starts (he tallied as many as his age, 33) and win pct. (16-3, .842), and beat his career low ERA by more than half a point. He is coming into a contract year and the Cardinals have hinted that they're going to let him test the market, so any team signing him should beware of Adrian-Beltre-in-2004-itis. I thought rookie manager Mike Matheny might have gone with playoff veteran Adam Wainwright or even the newly-returned Chris Carpenter for this game, but he chose to go with the stats here. But if you want to talk about stats: in Medlen's 12 starts since joining the rotation he's gone 9-0 with 112.7 swp/g. He's on track to become a household name, and it might start with a win in the first ever Wild Card Game.

RP: Craig Kimbrel (3.2) vs. Jason Motte (1.4)
Last year's Rookie of the Year might be on his way to becoming this year's Cy Young winner. Never mind that the last reliever to win the award was Eric Gagne back in 2003 (who had some choice words to say about Adrian Beltre circa 2004, and they didn't have anything to do with his dropoff in production following a big free agent deal). Never mind that Gio Gonzalez won 21 games and that R.A. Dickey turned in a magical season even while allegedly pitching with a torn right abdominal for most of the year. Kimbrel has had one of the all-time most absolutely dominant seasons out of the bullpen. Don't get me wrong, Jason Motte is nothing to sneeze at, but this is a guy who wasn't even the official "Closer" during last year's playoff run.

I know from doing a bunch of these that position-by-position previews amount to a hill of beans when predicting who's going to win an actual matchup, but it's fun nevertheless to be able to say a little bit about all the pieces that make a roster work. This promises to be a great game, and I hope everyone tunes in at 5:07pm ET to see which of these great teams advances to the next round!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Star Wolf Appraises my Fantasy Football Team

I know this is first and foremost a baseball blog, and there is obviously no shortage of baseball to blog about, as there are still 2 out of 3 AL division winners to be determined. But there is something that I have to get off my chest.

As I may have mentioned, I have joined the ranks of the thousands upon thousands of Americans who enjoy fantasy football for the first time this season. In my preparations for the season, I read some articles by Matthew "The Talented Mr. Roto" Berry, and in one of which he admonished fantasy players not to be "that guy" - the kind of guy who gloats and roots for players to get injured and won't shut up about his team. Because, in the words of TMR, "Nobody wants to hear about your fantasy team."

However, after the three Chicago Bears on my squad put up an astonishing 45 points to overcome a 38-point deficit heading into MNF, which gave my team - the Cajun Outlaw Rat Bastards - a 4-0 record to start my rookie fantasy football season, the immortal words of Wolf O'Donnell, leader of the famed Star Wolf team of space mercenaries, came to my mind: