Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Harsh Reality of Fantasy Ranks

Photo from Sporting News, via Twitter
Yesterday afternoon, the baseball community saw something nobody ever wants to see: a pitcher getting struck in the face with a line drive. The pitcher was Aroldis Chapman, star closer for the Cincinnati Reds, and everyone involved in the sport is (or should be) sending their thoughts and prayers to him and his friends/family. Word is that the Cuban fireballer will need facial surgery that will keep him out of action for 6-8 weeks, on top of any concussion-related concerns, and I'm sure he's getting the best medical care Bob Castellini's money can buy.

But what happens next is part of the harsh reality of baseball as a business (and the reason why we have depth charts), since someone has to close for the Reds for the next two months. Manager Bryan Price and GM Walt Jocketty still have a week and a half to make that decision, in which they will evaluate their options, both internal and external (I'm looking at you, Kevin Gregg). But another group of people, somewhat further removed from the game itself and with considerably less at stake in the matter, will be doing their own evaluations of Cincinnati's bullpen prospects. This group of course are the people who compile fantasy baseball rankings.
In my last sounding of's rankings (the weekend of 3/15, for my fantasy draft) Chapman ranked 56th overall - fourth among relief pitchers - and was designated by ESPN's fantasy staff as part of the "Cream of the Crop" at his position. Since his freak injury, the once and future closer's stock has fallen by a factor of more than 2, all the way to 117. Interestingly enough, this still makes him Cincinnati's highest-ranked reliever, as 2/3 of a season from Chapman is preferable to a full campaign from any of his prospective replacements. Assuming the Reds stay in-house, the most viable of these options looks to be 2013 rookie J.J. Hoover - acquired from the Braves for Juan Francisco in 2012 - who jumped in the rankings as much as Chapman fell: 55 spots, from 516 to 461. Two of the Reds' other three ranked relievers don't figure to play into the closer competition - Sean Marshall will remain the lefty specialist when he's ready to play regularly, while Sam LeCure will be relegated to middle relief work. But an interesting name to keep in mind is Jonathan Broxton, who recently rose more than 100 spots in the rankings. True it was from 731 to 628, but the big right hander has closed as recently as 2012, and if his surgically repaired right forearm is fully healed, he could be a prime candidate to return to that role.

While the process of transforming projected games missed into lost spots in the rankings may seem dehumanizing, remember that every crisis is also an opportunity. While I'm sure no one in the Reds bullpen has any positive feelings about this unfortunate injury befalling their leader, I'm also sure that one (or more) of them will jump at the chance to excel in his place. So here's hoping that Aroldis Champan's fractures heal quickly, the metal plate they're putting in his head holds steady, and that he doesn't have any residual effects from the minor concussion he sustained. And until that happens, here's hoping that another future star emerges from Cincinnati's relief corps.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Babe: Puig In The City

More on this later, but I need to reference an image from the web for my new fantasy team this year, so what better place to showcase that than on my blog! I know it's probably not the most original fantasy name this year, but I've gotta get some points for the picture, right?

UPDATE: The weekend before the first games of the MLB season has come and gone. Why is that date important? Because it's when my lone 2014 fantasy baseball team - Babe: Puig in the City - was drafted into being. I know fantasy guru Matthew Berry is fond of saying that no one wants to hear about your fantasy team, but I'm going to write about it anyway because a) I have a blog and b) I'm pretty happy about how things went. So please check out this graphical representation of my team's projected starting depth chart, headlined by (you guessed it) the Wild Horse himself, Yasiel Puig!

Well, technically the team is headlined by Paul Goldschmidt and Felix Hernandez, my first two picks, but Puig is the spiritual leader. This is only my second fantasy team with a name based on a particular player - my fantasy football entry last year, Keepin Up w the Kaeperdashians, finished last in my division after I didn't pick up Colin Kaepernick - so I figured I could only do better by reaching slightly for the team's namesake in the top of the third round. Well, technically it wasn't a reach, as both and ESPN have Puig ranked within the top 10 outfielders, and he was the ninth player at his position taken in our draft. But it felt like a reach to me, spending such a high pick on someone with less than 400 MLB at-bats to his credit. There are concerns about his full season projectability, what with his questionable plate discipline and all-out, no-brakes style of play. But no one can deny the upside presented by his electrifying rookie season, and if he does end up batting leadoff, hopefully the Dodgers brass will emphasize on base percentage in his continuing development.

The other two starting outfielders I drafted (plus one more on the bench) also show tremendous upside, while, coincidentally, all being projected as their teams' leadoff hitters. Jason Heyward has already fulfilled his 20-20 potential in the past, but has had trouble staying on the field due to injuries. Billy Hamilton has dazzled the minor leagues with his speed over the past four years, but there are questions about whether he will be able to get on base enough to steal the bases necessary to make him valuable. Heyward's CF eligibility allowed me to grab Kole Calhoun as an insurance policy in case Hamilton falters (goffabid). Calhoun first caught my eye when a) I heard that he was the frontrunner to bat leadoff for the Angels and b) I saw that he was ranked nearly 100 spots better by MLB than by ESPN, while also being named in the positive side of the latter publication's sleeper/busts column.

Speaking of sleepers, check out this color-coded representation of my lineup in list format. The light blue in the T100 column (short for Top 100 Prospects, of which only Billy Hamilton is a member) represents sleeper status - just Calhoun and Doug Fister, whose stock should increase with a move to the NL. I wouldn't draft a potential bust, but if I did, that column would be shaded orange. But what I really want to highlight (no pun intended) is what's going on in the very first column. The number indicates the player's rank on 3/15/14, the day before our draft, while the color represents the player's positional status, as determined by the ESPN fantasy staff. Let's take a look:

A green highlight designates the "Cream of the Crop," for which there are an average of less than three players per position. Again, that's just my 2nd and 1st round picks: "King" Felix Hernandez and Paul "Muad-Dib" Goldschmidt, respectively. (Okay, I just made up that nickname, but Dune has been in the public consciousness lately.) Blue represents "Next Best Thing," a category in which only my SP2 Chris Sale belongs. Brown is "Steady As He Goes," a rather boring but dependable category that describes two of my infielders, Aaron Hill and Kyle Seager. But the color that holds the overwhelming majority on my team is purple, which asks the question "Where's the Ceiling?" (This is opposed by the question "Where's the Basement?" a question you can ask of none of my fantasy players.) I've already mentioned all three outfielders, but to that list we can add catcher Wilin Rosario, who jumped 34 points in MLB's rankings since the start of spring training to pass the likes of Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and Carlos Santana. There's also Giants 1B Brandon Belt, who is developing into a fine young hitter indeed, and two Cardinals 2013 rookie pitchers - Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha - who will occupy the closer and fifth starter spot for the defending NL champions in 2014.

As you can see, I've made mostly strong upside plays this year, hoping for breakout seasons from those poised for them. And for the most part, I'm very optimistic about my choices, as my extensive research and super reliable gut feelings give me good reason to believe that enough of my choices have a good probability of panning out in my favor. The only regret I have is passing over A's phenom Sonny Gray in the 15th round, opting instead to fill my shortstop slot with Asdrubal Cabrera. Now, all the ranking systems that I've seen have Cabrera ranked better than Gray - he even projects to earn more points in my Astrology league - but something about the move made me instantly remorseful. This feeling was augmented upon reading what might be Matthew Berry's final fantasy baseball related Love/Hate column, which was released slightly too late for me to make use of it in my draft. I still hope Sonny Gray has a great season; he needs to after the announcement that Oakland's projected opening day starter Jarrod Parker will be out for the year. But I can only hope that A. Cabrera does even better in his contract year!

And here's also hoping that everybody in the major leagues stays healthy, plays to the best of their abilities, and has a great time doing it, while also putting on an entertaining show for the fans, all season long. Because the bottom line is, it's almost time for another baseball season. And whether you follow the action at the ballpark, in the newspapers, or through the digital lens of your fantasy team, there's no greater way to spend the warm-weather half of the year.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Clock King presents: A Math Problem

Watch This Clip, from my Batman: TAS Video Power Hour, just from 59:02 and pay attention to the lines:

"Not that it matters anymore," the Clock King gloats over Hamilton Hill in. The two of them are balanced on the nearly-level hour hand of Gotham City's largest clock tower. The mayor is in a supine position with his arms and legs tied behind him.

"Now that you have an appointment to keep, at three-fifteen precisely. With the Grim Reaper! (maniacal laugh)"

Temple Fugate's nefariously clever plan might be gruesomely effective - (from earlier in the episode) "At three fifteen on the dot those hands will come together and you'll be crushed like an insect" - depending on how the clock was constructed, and of course what type of insect you're talking about. It's of course a reference to when, years ago, haggard efficiency expert Temple Fugate lost a court case that sent him into financial ruin, caused when disaster struck after young lawyer Hamilton Hill told him to break out of his routine by taking his coffee break fifteen minutes later than usual... at 3:15pm.

But, ironically enough, what "the creep with the clocks" - as he is first referred to by Batman - is wrong about, is THE TIME when those two hands would come together. By 3:15, the hour hand would have already moved about a quarter of the way between 3 and 4, still quite far from the imposing minute hand of doom. Can anybody tell me what time Mayor Hill's untimely demise ACTUALLY WOULD HAVE OCCURRED, had Batman not heroically saved the day? No seriously, I don't know the answer. I never was able to grasp the practical applications of trigonometry.

Additional Episode Note: The Clock King made a second appearance in this Season 2 episode Time Out of Joint. In this go-round, he has a disgustingly too overpowered weapon that lets him slow down time. (It's unclear as to whether it allows him to turn back time... or TURN BACK TAIOME as Cher would sing.) Either way, it was from a time towards the end of the original run of the series when the episodes got a little more fantastical, but there are also some of my all-time favorites on the third DVD collection. Not to do any corporate shout-outs in this innocent primarily sports and entertainment blog, but as Google already knows, there are a lot of YouTube users who would love to see this show available on NetFlix. Or maybe at the very least on Amazon Prime? I mean you can buy it on Amazon regular. I just think making any kind of Batman more widely available is a good thing for our culture in general.

The Shakespeare reference in the title clearly implies
that our villain has run out of things to smoke...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thoughts About NL Central Lineups

Well, here they are, 2014 projected lineups the final five teams. I can't believe it's already time to wave goodbye to this series, seeing as we're still three weeks away from faux-pening day in Australia, which leaves plenty of time for Spring Training ups and downs to throw my predictions into disarray. Not one or two, but three playoff teams came out of this division, so it's a fittingly powerful way to go out. Let's start with the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals:

New acquisition Peter Bourjos will likely push John Jay out of center field and might very well push Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot, since I don't know who else would bat second. Plus I'd rather have him there anyway, a lefty doubles machine in front of the big power hitters like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. GM John Mozeliak brought in some new faces for the middle infield: convicted cheater Jhonny Peralta will take on the full-time shortstop job after playing some left field for the Tigers in last year's postseason, while Mark Ellis will provide backup at second base for MLB's #58 prospect Kolten Wong. Even after his strong performance last year, Michael Wacha isn't taking his spot in the rotation for granted, which is wise with swingman Joe Kelly hanging around and pornography enthusiast Carlos Martinez potentially able to start in the near future. Overall this is a very strong team with very few weaknesses that only looks to get better in the future (exhibit A: #3 prospect Oscar Taveras on the 40 man roster).

After the Pirates had their first winning season in 20 years, they didn't do too much to improve the team during the off-season. But with a superstar like Andrew McCutchen anchoring the lineup and strong talented up-and-comers like Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole working their way towards stardom, you don't necessarily have to do too much. Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata will try to replace departed midseason acquisitions Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd, although Chris McGuinness and Andrew Lambo are potential left-handed platoon partners. According to MLB's player rankings, Edinson Volquez has the inside track on the fifth starter spot, although he'll have competition (what else is new?) from 2013 rookie Jeff Locke (who would likely have much better chances if he hadn't flamed out down the stretch last year), swingman Jeanmar Gomez, and youngster Brandon Cumpton.

However few moves Pittsburgh made to improve the lineup, Cincinnati made fewer. Which means they're counting on big injury comebacks from Johnny Cueto in the rotation and Ryan Ludwick in the outfield. The Reds are also betting big on #37 prospect Billy Hamilton to get on base enough in the leadoff spot to make use of his blazing speed. It's a lot of pressure to put on a 23-year-old, but if you steal 155 bases in the minors, people are going to have some expectations. Unlike Michael Wacha, after filling in for Cueto for the brunt of last season, Tony Cingrani can look forward to a full year starting every fifth day. Like the other teams in this division, Cincinnati has a pretty strong swingman/long reliever in Alfredo Simon, but in my lineup I put the guys who are most likely to get a lot of appearances setting up rather than the ones who might rack up more points throwing lower leverage innings.

The biggest question surrounding the Brewers is how Ryan Braun will perform after his yearlong suspension from baseball. The next biggest question for Milwaukee is who will play first base. Juan Francisco is the best option on the roster, but NRI's Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay likely have a better shot of holding down the job. Speaking of holding down the job, this could be the first season in almost a decade that Rickie Weeks doesn't start at second base, although he might platoon with Scooter Gennett against lefties. New acquisition Matt Garza might get the chance to start on opening day, but he's pretty similar statistically to Marco Estrada and Kyle Lohse. Meanwhile, Yovani Gallardo's stock has really fallen since his days as the team's ace just a few years ago. This is another deep bullpen thanks to the acquisitions of former closer Francisco Rodriguez and lefty Will Smith. And if anything should happen to any of their starters, Tom Gorzelanny, Tyler Thornburg, and Alfredo Figaro can all start in a pinch.

I really wasn't sure who would bat leadoff for the Cubs. Junior Lake would stole some bases in the minors and I recently saw that he was listed as a Topps 2014 "Power Player" so he's as good a choice as any I guess. If/when non-roster invitee Emilio Bonifacio makes the team, he could see some time at the top of the order as well, as he can play just about anywhere and is much more accomplished offensively than Darwin Barney. Chicago has the distinction of likely having not one but two rotation spots up for competition during the spring. Hammel and Arrieta are the frontrunners, but they brought in James McDonald to provide competition and former Rangers prospect Justin Grimm pitched very well after coming over in the trade for Matt Garza. The Cubs are also the only team in the division to bring in a new closer in Jose Veras, not that a) Kevin Gregg will be such a tough act to follow or b) there will be a surplus of leads to save. Them's those lovable losers for ya.

So those are my predictions that I made to the best of my ability with the not insignificant amount of information I gathered for the purpose, and I'm sticking to them, whether I like it or not, cuz they're on the Internet now. That is, until someone gets hurt or one of the few remaining important free agents get signed. So there's nothing left to do now but watch the spring games and see how things shape up before opening day.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts About AL Central Lineups

Two more divisions to go! This one features the most GIF-worthy pitcher in baseball: the AL Central.

The biggest change in the Tigers lineup from last year is the absence of power hitting first baseman Prince Fielder, who was traded to the Rangers for power hitting second baseman Ian Kinsler (left). Texas's former leadoff hitter will likely vacate his familiar spot in the lineup for a more traditional power position in the middle of the order, as I don't see Austin Jackson or Torii Hunter moving anywhere. This move also allows for a couple key players to return to familiar defensive positions: Miguel Cabrera can shift back across the diamond to first base and top prospect Nick Castellanos can go back to third base. With Castellanos (pronounced "Cast-eh-YAN-os, according to Grapefruit League announcers) vacating left field, GM Dave Dombrowski brought Rajai Davis to Detroit to platoon with Andy Dirks. (Editor's Note: Dirks, the lefty, will likely get more playing time, but I put Davis in the projected lineup because I like to highlight new acquisitions.) Speaking of lefties, Drew Smyly, who excelled in the bullpen last year, will have the unenviable task to try and replace Doug Fister (traded to Washington) in the rotation. Also, I normally like to include a lefty in the projected bullpen, but I just don't trust Phil Coke to produce over a full season, although perhaps having an All-Star closer on the roster will remove some of the pressure.

Cleveland's lineup has some of the more interesting questions I've come across so far, the biggest surrounding Carlos Santana. Based on my points system, Santana was the highest scoring catcher last year, but the emergence of Yan Gomes behind the plate and the inconsistencies of Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, have gotten the Indians seriously considering moving Santana to the hot corner. But if that happens, would Ryan Raburn be the full-time DH? I know you never like to see a 28-year-old athletic guy like Santana become a full-time DH, but I would rather see Mike Aviles at third if Chisenhall struggles. This should be a prime storyline to watch throughout the spring. Based on MLB's rankings, Carlos Carrasco looks like the front runner to win Cleveland's fifth starter spot, but they also brought in former starters Aaron Harang and Shaun Marcum on minor league contracts to provide competition. They also signed former closer John Axford to try to return to his All-Star form he achieved with Milwaukee.

Anyone who read Rob Neyer back when he was in charge of ESPN's Sweetspot blog knows the frustration that comes with following the Royals, but it looks very likely that that frustration might be coming to an end very soon. The core players Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez look like they're all reaching their prime together and new acquisitions Nori Aoki and Omar Infante will bolster the top and bottom of Kansas City's lineup, respectively. Jason Vargas wasn't heralded as a top flight pitching acquisition, but he does add depth to a rotation headlined by workhorse James Shields and that has top prospect Yordano Ventura on the way. The deep bullpen, led by the AL's top closer Greg Holland, could include Wade Davis, who seriously disappointed in his brief time as a starter last year, provided Danny Duffy can hold down the fifth starter spot. Look at this club as a sleeper Wild Card contender.

What is it with AL Central and All-Star catchers vacating their positions? The $23 million question for the Twins is whether Joe Mauer can hit like a first baseman after signing a huge contract as a catcher. The $2.75 million question, namely when rookie Josmil Pinto will be ready to take over as the new backstop of the future. Minnesota was willing to bet that it's not until at least part way through 2014, as they signed Kurt Suzuki as a stopgap for the above sum. Expect a spring competition for starting DH between Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello, and even Aaron Hicks, who could push Alex Presley to left and Josh Willingham to DH if he wins a starting spot like he did last year. Upgrades to a laughably bad rotation came in the form of Ricky Nolasco (who wasn't even a #1 starter with the Marlins) and Phil Hughes (for whom they're desperately hoping that a change of scenery is the answer).

The White Sox made a couple of big moves that significantly changed the face of their last place lineup from last year. The first was the signing of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, which pushes Paul Konerko, the face of the franchise for the last 15 years, into a bench role. I guess not everyone can ride off into the sunset as gracefully as Todd Helton. The other move brought in a new leadoff hitter and third baseman, both former Diamondbacks prospects. Rookie 3B Matt Davidson transfers his prospect status to Chicago (he was MVP of the Futures Game last year) while CF Adam Eaton (not to be confused with the former Padres pitcher) had his two potential breakout years spoiled due to injury. If (goffabid) he goes down again, Alejandro De Aza could shift back to center: right now he's projected to platoon with Dayan Viciedo in left field in order to give former Tigers prospect Avisail Garcia a shot in right. The second above mentioned move also sent LHP Hector Santiago to the Angels, which opens up a spot in the rotation for Erik Johnson (not to be confused with the "Cliffs of Dover" guitarist).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thoughts About NL East Lineups

Alright, past the halfway point! Let's go ahead and jump right into the lineups:

The utter lack of yellow in this lineup highlights Braves GM Frank Wren's "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. The only major league acquisition liable to get significant playing time is Ryan Doumit, the third catcher on the roster (or second, if you count Evan Gattis as primarily an outfielder) with Wren instead opting to dole out long term extensions to no fewer than four of his key organizational building blocks - Freddie Freeman (right) got eight years, Andrelton Simmons seven, Julio Teheran six, and Craig Kimbrel four. And why should he tinker too much with a roster that won 96 games last year and could possibly improve on that number with full seasons from Jason Heyward and Brandon Beachy, and with B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla embodying the lyric from the Damn Yankees song Heart: "We gotta get better, cuz we can't get woise." Sometimes regression towards the mean can be a good thing.

The team's most glaring lack (although it might not be a statistically significant lack) is a prototypical leadoff hitter. B.J. Upton has led off in the past, but he's not going to bat anywhere but 8th until he can improve on that .557 OPS from last year. Andrelton Simmons has flashed 20-steal speed in the minors, but an OBP under .300 (.296) is not gonna cut it at the top of the order. You'd like to have Jason Heyward's left-handed bat in a more traditional power position, but I don't see many other options for manager Fredi Gonzalez in this spot. Even at age 23, Alex Wood has shown that he has little left to prove in the minors and should have every opportunity to lock down the fifth starter spot. But if he struggles come mid-May, the Braves should have Gavin Floyd back from Tommy John surgery and ready to contribute, plus there's non-roster invitee Freddy Garcia to provide additional depth.

Unlike the Braves, the Nationals disappointed in the season after they decided to shut down their best pitcher for their first postseason appearance in more than 30 years. But like Atlanta, Washington didn't make any significant changes to their lineup. Their biggest offensive acquisition was bringing in Nate McLouth from across the beltway to ride the bench and provide insurance in case Bryce Harper can't keep his face away from those pesky outfield walls. The pitching staff was another story, as a pair of trades brought in big time SP4 upgrade Doug Fister and former Oakland fan favorite Jerry Blevins, who will get most of the bullpen work against lefties, joining former closers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in setting up current closer Rafael Soriano. I think Tanner Roark's strong end to 2013 will make him the front runner for the ever elusive fifth starter spot, but don't count out left-hander Ross Detwiler who has more experience in the position.

I went back and forth for a while about New York's first base situation: the alternative to what's presented above is to have Ike Davis - the poster child for "struggled mightily" in 2013 - at first, with Lucas Duda shifting to left field, and one of the Youngs (Chris or Eric) returning to a the fourth outfielder role they experienced before coming to the Mets (with Oakland and Colorado, respectively). My gut tells me though that if Davis has any kind of a strong spring - he's off to a good start with this sweet shot in his spring debut - the Mets will trade him (maybe to the Pirates?) rather than risk another demotion-worthy slow start. But I have been wrong before. Again, the fifth starter spot is a bit of a mess - I gave the nod to Jenrry Mejia because of his strong showing in five starts last year, but it could just as easily go to swingman Carlos Torres or minor league invitees Jeremy Hefner, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or John Lannan. Likewise for spots in the bullpen, with such established veterans as Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth signed to minor league deals with invites to big league camp. Let the spring competition begin!

It's always a bit of a letdown for me when a free agent signs with a team he's played for in the past, but the Phillies needed a right-handed bat to break up all those lefties, so GM Ruben Amaro Jr. (left) brought back Marlon Byrd after the breakout year that never came when he was with Philadelphia. He also signed a right-handed starter to supplement their two lefty aces, although A.J. Burnett will likely slot in after both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the rotation, at least as soon as the latter recovers from his biceps issue. Unlike most teams, it appears that Philly's rotation is pretty much set, barring a surge from Cuban star Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The same cannot be said for the bullpen - remember when Mike Adams was their second-highest paid reliever? Cuz it's happening now. It could be a longer bridge than the Ben Franklin to get from this team's starters to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

If it looks like the 2013 statistics from some of the key Marlins players are missing, that's because converting second baseman Rafael Furcal missed the entire year due to injury and world traveller Casey McGehee spent last season in Japan, where he parlayed his 28 home runs and 891 OPS into a major league contract. (Fun fact: his replacement at 3B for the Rakuten Golden Eagles will be former Yankees 3B Kevin Youkilis, who will hope to make a similar stateside comeback in 2015.) Miami certainly has some youthful promise in the lineup, with 2013 top-100 prospects Christian Yelich (age 22) and Marcell Ozuna (23) lined up for regular spots. The rotation is just as young with the average age clocking in just above or just below 24, depending on whether the fifth starter spot goes to 27-year-old Tom Koehler or 29-year-old Kevin Slowey. My advice to Marlins fans: get used to the divisional basement for the foreseeable future.