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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Saturday, April 03, 2004

Different Face, Same Results

Billy Wagner had been a fixture in Houston since he first broke into major leagues in 1995. He's in Philadelphia this year closing for the creatively named Phillies. This means Octavio Dotel is finally being given his well earned place as the Astro's closer. Over the last three years he has been nearly spotless.


Dotel
.........IP......W/L.....S.....ERA.....K/9IP.....Opp.Avg
2001....105.0....7-5.....2.....2.66....12.43.......205
2002.....97.1....6-4.....6.....1.85....10.91.......173
2003.....87.0....6-4.....4.....2.48....10.03.......172
--------------------------------------------------------
Career..499.2...30-23....28....3.62....10.57.......213


These aren't the kind of numbers that the average reliever can put together. They are something special. To some degree the Mets must regret trading Dotel away before the 2000 season as part of the Mike Hampton deal. Hampton was invaluable as he lead the Mets to the World Series, but you have to think that today the Mets wish that Dotel were still on the roster.

Wagner has always been a great pitcher. He's been one of the best closers for the last decade. John Smoltz and Eric Gagne are equally as amazing today but they can't yet match the longevity in the closer's role that Wagner has established. Billy Wagner is more comparable to old elite, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.


Wagner
.........IP......W/L.....S.....ERA.....K/9IP.....Opp.Avg
2001.....62.2....2-5.....39....2.73....11.35.......198
2002.....75.0....4-2.....35....2.52....10.56.......196
2003.....86.0....1-4.....44....1.78....10.99.......169
--------------------------------------------------------
Career..504.1...26-29....225...2.53....12.39.......186


What really strikes me strongly is the similarity between these two pitchers. Tons of strikeouts and a low opponent's average against combine to help create a low ERAs. So, while the Astros may have lost one of the best closers in the majors, they have had one waiting in the wings to take his place.

How about a comparison between Dotel and Hoffman? Surely Dotel can't be as effective today as Hoffman was during his three best consecutive season, 1997-1999?


Hoffman
.........IP......W/L.....S.....ERA.....K/9IP.....Opp.Avg
1997.....81.1....6-4.....37....2.66....12.28.......200
1998.....73.0....4-3.....53....1.48....10.60.......165
1999.....67.1....2-3.....40....2.14.....9.76.......197
--------------------------------------------------------
Career..710.0...45-44....352...2.78....10.24.......205


If saves aren't accounted for then Dotel was almost better the last three years than Hoffman was during his best three years. Trevor Hoffman has often been regarded as one of the best relievers in the history of the game. The Astros have a guy who has been out of the spotlight but has been producing seasons relatively equal to those that Hoffman produced during his prime. Now is Dotel's chance. This season could be the beginning of very bright future for him.


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Posted by Dave on Friday, April 02, 2004

Unequivocally - Milton Bradley, Not a Gamer

For those that haven't caught the news, Milton Bradley is going to be evicted by the Indians. A brief synopsis from many news sources: Milton was in a Spring Training game and failed to run out a pop-up that dropped for a single (which should have been a double). As a consequence, the manager for the Indians, Eric Wedge, removed Bradley from the game and told him that he needed to be on second base after the miscue. Milton responded with an undisclosed remark - but apparently a pretty rude remark. As a result of Milton's vicious retort, GM Mark Shapiro exclaimed that there's no place for Milton on the team. Rumor has it that he will be deported by Sunday.

A lot of interesting questions arise as a result of this fiasco: Who, of the potential suitors, has the most to gain from Bradley's services? Will he be traded at a discounted rate - that is, will the Indians get a fair trade? More importantly, should the Indians trade him at all?! "Surely," you think, "these actions cannot be tolerated." I'm not so sure I believe that, but that comes later. Let's run down a list of Bradley's admirers:

Dodgers: Granted, their park factor was woefully slanted towards pitchers (93, tied with Oakland's Coliseum), but their outfield production makes my esophagus tingle with bile. Their OF last year didn't even combine for an average OPS of .700 - now that's bad. They could REALLY use a CF who could both play some defense and put up some decent offensive numbers (Milton's OPS was a robust .922 last year, though he had some injuries - a recurrent problem).

A's: They also have problems with light-hitting outfielders. Though Jermaine Dye is back, the rest of their OF is comprised of Mark Kotsay (a fellow "5-tooler") and Bobby Kielty (still has some prospect luster, perhaps). Oakland would clearly benefit offensively from adding Bradley, and he's still arbitration-eligible for another two years. Therefore, they probably wouldn't be paying an absurd amount of money to keep him in the future (he only costs 1.73 million this season, following the .922 OPS campaign).

Rangers: They have the OF prospects (Nivar, Nix (he sure gets a lot of PR at Talking Baseball), and Mench) to replace Bradley, but do the Indians need any in return? Not at all - they have a talented and youthful group including Coco Crisp, Matt Lawton, Jody Gerut, Alex Escobar, and the highly-touted prospect, Grady Sizemore (I swear, he should be a slugger). The Rangers would likely love to have Bradley patrolling their OF in their offensively beneficial park, but they may not have the arms to trade for Bradley (if pitching is the Indians' demand).

Will the Indians get a fair trade? Yes and no. Normally in these kinds of situations, teams are scared off by the possibility of having their own clubhouse cancer. In Bradley's case, however, that doesn't seem to be the case. Shapiro revealed that there are at least four legitimate contenders for Bradley's services (the Pirates are probably also included). Still, the suitors are aware of his penchant for disturbing the peace and won't be willing to trade what they would normally for a dynamic CF posting .321/.421/.501 heading into his prime. But, there are still four people vying for his services. Therefore, the Indians should get what is "market value" for a troubled - but awfully talented - centerfielder.

Milton Bradley should be traded, but not because of his dugout indiscretions alone. I've always believed that baseball is a game of individuals and the game is played as such. Individual batters face individual pitchers. The only remote amount of teamwork there is on the field is when the defense combines forces to make outs. Even this act really isn't teamwork - there is a job to be done by the individual, and he must carry it out in order to prevent runs. Bradley is an extremely productive player and his quibbles with Wedge shouldn't blind the Indians from seeing that. I agree with Shapiro, the Indians should trade Bradley, but it is for reasons peripheral to his outburst.

Firstly, as I mentioned previously, the Indians have an abundance of outfield talent. As we all know, only three players can defend the vast sector of grass, so it makes little sense to keep more than three. Bradley can very easily be exchanged for different parts, leaving the Indians with better prospects for the future.

Secondly, Shapiro is right, for a young team still a few years from contention, Milton Bradley is the last kind of player they need. A young group of guys is very impressionable and these kinds of actions wouldn't bode well for the Indians down the line. They need to eliminate the source of the devisive behavior before it spreads to the rest of the team.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this team is still a few years away from contending. Brandon Phillips, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and the aforementioned OF, are still babies and have at least a few years until they reach their prime - probably longer. Bradley is playing well now, however. Bradley's presence doesn't give the team much benefit (certainly as far as playoff contention is concerned) if the rest of the team is horrible. Therefore, they should trade him and get the extra pitching necessary for a playoff run in 2007 or 2008.

In the end, Shapiro is justified in his actions. Bradley should get traded, the Indians are not the right fit for him right now - but that should've been apparent to the Indians' brass prior to this incident.


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Posted by Jon on Thursday, April 01, 2004

April Fools'?!

It's April First, our allotted annual chance to fool our friends, co-workers, and of course, our blog-readers. Throughout the baseball blogging community, parodic stories and clever quips will no doubt abound, referring to headlines of utter impossibility, like "Bavasi Makes Shrewd Move" and "Beane Claims Randall Simon Off Waivers." Some would certainly be believable: "Orosco un-retires in coup for Astros," or maybe, "Dodgers Bolster Offense, Complete Ausmus-for-Green Deal."

But do we really need to make this stuff up? The biggest surprises seem to be baseball actualities. For example: "Devil Rays sign GM Chuck LaMar through 2006." I'm sure any sane D-Ray fans wish this one was an April Fools prank...

Following are some other baseball actualities. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. It's the First of April, but these are no April Fools.

· Shawn Estes: Rockies' Ace. Estes slated as the Colorado' Opening Day starter. Could anything be more unbelievable after Estes' 2003 campaign as the Cubbies fifth starter? Following a season of such lowlights as a 5.73 ERA and a WHIP of 1.74, this man couldn't even eke out one Win Share and ended with a VORP of -20.3, dead last among pitchers. Amazingly, Estes is 4-1 with an ERA under 2.00 this spring. But Manager Clint Hurdle had best not be counting his chickens before they hatch. Last season, Estes allowed 4.89 walks and struck out 6.09 batters per nine innings. This spring? He's walking slightly fewer hitter (4.35 per nine), while at the same time missing noticeably fewer bats (4.35 strike outs per nine). I don't see a better pitcher. I see a lucky guy. Clint, don't be fooled! Baseball Prospectus 2004 credits Shawn's successes from 2000 to 2002 to the parks in which he played. At Pac Bell and Shea, he allowed fewer home runs. All that changed last season at Wrigley. So here's one baseball actuality that should be an April Fools' joke: Estes is being considered an ace. And in Colorado, watch his home runs allowed to soar to new heights. If anybody is really expecting an ace-type of year from Estes, he or she is in for a huge April Fools'. (As if i needed to prove that Estes was a poor pitcher...)

· Reds' Closer on team: "We had a good thing going." You might assume he followed that remark with a hearty "April Fools'!" of his own, but Denny Graves made this comment in total seriousness. Umm, pardon me Mr. Graves, but I'm trying to get my records straight. To which year were you referring? The 1995 team who last led the Reds to a playoff berth? He couldn't possibly be referring to the 2003 squad that, when projecting their Equivalent Runs Created and Equivalent runs allowed, should have enjoyed a 59-103 record...could he? The fact that Graves is on the trading block but doesn't want to leave could be an April Fools' joke unto itself.

· Brad Ausmus hitting over .400 (for real). Now, if somebody said that last phrase to you today, you'd just assume it was an April Fools' joke. Haha, very funny..."Haha, very funny...but don't pick on the guy with the flaccid bat!" Any other day and you'd wonder what kind of miracle steroids the listless Ausmus had come across. Heck, I know Spring Training stats mean nothing (remember Estes?), but even this hot spell catches me off-guard. For the record, Brad hit .229/.303/.291 last season with four home runs in 450 at-bats. This spring he's already accumulated almost a sixth of his total hits in 2003. But which is the biggest surprise, that Ausmus is hitting .444 this spring or that a Major League hitter can retain his starting job while posting a slugging percentage of .291--the worst in baseball, aside from Bill "the Brain" Bavasi's new pet, Ramon Santiago.

Oftentimes, and especially in baseball, truth is stranger than fiction.


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Posted by Ben K. on Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Lost in Translation

For baseball fans, nothing compares to Opening Day.

On Opening Day, Red Sox and Cubs think across the country think, “Maybe this year, we’ll break the curse.” On Opening Day, the Marlins fans coming out of the woodwork in South Florida think, “This is our team. We did what no other team could do last season and we can do it again. We beat the Yankees.” On Opening Day, fans of the 27 other teams know that the slate has been wiped clean. The low batting averages are erased; the high ERAs are gone; even the lackluster production numbers fade into the statistical past.

But Opening Day is more than just the start to another season. Opening Day is the beginning of spring. It’s the start of another year, a year that runs from the first week in April to the last weekend in October. It’s time to break out the short sleeve shirts and the score pads and the transistor radios, and it’s time to get back to baseball. Opening Day means that summer will be here soon, and warm, humid evenings listening to home runs and pennant hopes disappear into the night on just over the horizon. If only we can get through those cold months of April and May.

Opening Day though is more than just symbolism. Opening Day is just that: one day where everything starts up again. It’s a span of 24 hours that nowadays starts the night before with that one game on ESPN, the game that ushers in Opening Day. The Day itself is pure baseball, afternoon games the way it used to be and a few West Coast games. On Opening Day, you skip school and work to go the ballpark. I should know; I’ve done it twice. I’ve even traveled down to Baltimore just to catch Opening Day. And then when your team’s game — just one of 162, don’t forget — is over, you can go back home and watch the rest of the day’s action. That’s what Opening Day is all about. Baseball is back, and it just has to remind what makes it so great.

This year, in grand fashion, Major League Baseball has managed to ruin Opening Day and all that it stands for. By volunteering to send its flagship franchise (or is this the franchise that causes all of its problems?) to Japan to face the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Opening Day has turned into Opening Groggy Few Hours Before Dawn. Or if you’re like me, maybe you just didn’t go to sleep. But either way you spin it, Opening Day is not supposed to happen at 5 a.m. Eastern Time.

Opening Day is not about Japan and it’s not about, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman put it, “what’s best for the bottom line.” If Major League Baseball were truly looking out for their own interests, Opening Day would be about the fans going to the ballpark and watching the games. There shouldn’t be an unsold seat at any stadium for Opening Day. If Major League Baseball were truly out to improve its popularity right here in the United States, Opening Day would be about accessibility. It would be about games being on TV at 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. or 10 p.m. (All Times Eastern) In the spirit of Opening Day, it would be about all 30 teams playing for the first time within 24 hours of each other.

It gets worse though. The other day on Major League Baseball’s Web site, a headline read: “Opening Day turns into Opening Week.” This is no longer the baseball purist’s version of Opening Day. In its efforts to improve its marketing image, MLB is trying to be more like basketball or hockey where there is no one day where all the teams play for the first time. The NHL and the NBA have staggered Opening Days, but there’s no sense of the start of the season being an Event (with a capitol E). One day in October, the hockey and basketball seasons just happen. In baseball, it happens with a fanfare. Not this year.

This year, it happens with way too much media coverage despite the fact that nearly the entire country, 350 million potential baseball fans, are asleep and miss Opening Day. They miss the curiosity of seeing Alex Rodriguez make his Yankee debut. They miss the magic of baseball: the fact that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who are paying their entire team about what A-Rod makes in one year, can beat the Yankees, the mighty $184-million Yankees, on Opening Day.

Jason Giambi summed up the sentiments of baseball fans across the U.S. “It was like an in-between game. You could tell it was Opening Day; it was exciting. The crowd was great to play behind. But it was a little bit of a different Opening Day experience than everybody’s used to,” he said in an article in The New York Times.

Mike Mussina—and I won’t mince words, he was awful yesterday—said that jet lag was to blame for his lack of command. He was tired and achy from a really long plane flight. While the Devil Rays came out sharp, I’m sure none of them were thrilled to be playing a game 14 hours away from Spring Training. And can you really blame them? Opening Day, it seems, is now about pleasing the crowds in countries far from American ballparks where the action will be this entire summer. Opening Day is about marketing options and expanding the game past international borders.

To make matters worse, after Japan, the Yankees and Devil Rays return to Florida to play more Spring Training games. It’s almost as if Opening Day didn’t happen. If Opening Day isn’t going to mark the start of the season, there’s no point. It shouldn’t mark almost the end of Spring Training, but there are still two more exhibition games left.

Opening Day is about remembering that there are 161 games left. It’s about 30 teams and all of their fans remembering that. It’s about equality. It’s about the Devil Rays being in first place and the Yankees being in last place. But more than that, it’s about the other 15 teams in first place and the other 15 teams in last place. Opening Day should never be about one team (or two) being singled out at this point in the season. Opening Day is about equality. Every fan has a chance to walk away from the game saying, “We’re in first place.” And even if those dreams last just for a day, it’s still fun. Opening Day should not be about trips to Japan and games that count while jet lagged players slug it out to see who has more stamina.

Opening Day this year just didn’t quite have the right spirit. It wasn’t the rebirth of baseball that it’s supposed to be. The magic of Opening Day 2004 is gone. No matter what Major League Baseball says about the first full day of games on April 6, Opening Day has passed. There won’t be another one until 2005, and hopefully, Major League Baseball can regain that spirit, the spirit of Opening Day.

After yesterday’s game, a tired Mike Mussina said, “It didn’t feel like Opening Day to me.” You know what, Mike? I hear you. It didn’t feel like Opening Day to me either, and I can guarantee you, I’m not alone.


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Posted by Mike on Tuesday, March 30, 2004

How Much is a Cy Young Worth?

Eric Gagne won the NL Cy Young Award last year. He's had the two best relief seasons in the history of the game these last two years. Does this make him a first round pick in fantasy drafts? Does his dominance even make him a second or third round pick? I tend to think that it doesn't just because of the low number of innings that he will throw in relation to starting pitchers. Yesterday, Dave posted a transcript of a round-table session between the Talking Baseball writers after our own fantasy baseball draft. One of the questions asked was, "What was the worst pick of the draft?" My answer was Eric Gagne in the second round. Here's what one of the other managers said about that analysis:

"I feel like your views on RP completely slanted your bashing of Gagne as a pick. Compared to most other leagues, Gagne in the second round is a steal. Now just because you are disgusted with closers doesn't mean Gagne (or other closers selected early) is bad. Speaking of Gagne specifically, he had a magnificent ERA, WHIP, and K/9 (better than R. Johnson in fact, 137 K's), not to mention saves. I know this is kind of a long rant for Gagne, but I am very adamant about my opinion, and I didn't even pick him.

However, I will say that if I would have known all of your thoughts on this matter before the draft, I would not have taken Smoltz so early seeing how you probably would have let him slip more.

What this brings me to, is the reason that closers taken early seem like bad picks to you is due to the simple fact that many of you refuse to take them early on. I know that seems obvious, but what I am trying to say is that this does necessarily constitute a bad pick (esp. worst pick of the draft). I do not think you can fault a person for taking a closer early on, not to mention the best closer, if they don't know your intentions before.

In conclusion, a pick can be made bad through the decisions of the other league members, and not the individual decision at the time of the pick by the drafter, which is what I feel should be the basis of a truly good or bad pick. Also, if you take into account the fact that Gagne, Foulke, Smoltz, and Wagner were all gone after the first 4 rounds, I think that makes the Gagne pick a good one.

~Brandon"
For any of this to make sense I'll first explain why in general I think that closers aren't worth drafting. The primary deterant is the inclusion of holds as a statistic in our league. Holds are essentially "reliever saves." They are a completely different category that saves but their aquisition is not exclusive to a team's closer as are saves. Only one save can be dealt out per game but multiple holds can be given out. They're more common and as a result they are less valuable and easier to aquire. Why spend precious draft picks on closers when so many good relievers will be available in later rounds? There is a calculated risk in ignoring saves though, basically when I decide to do that I am saying that the benefit of an extra pick in each of the early, middle, and late rounds will make the rest of my team better overall that would the points I could get from saves. As for the intentions, I believe I was the only manager who did not select any closers at all.

Alright, Gagne does put together better numbers than every other relief pitcher in the major leagues. He is the best closer, period. There is no dispute about that, but there is a question of how much the best closer is really worth in relation to a higher tiered starting pitcher. Gagne's primary impact is only in two statistical areas, saves (obviously) and strikeouts. Gagne should get a large number of save opportunities again this year (because of LA's nonexistent offense and reasonably good pitching) and like last year he will close out almost all of those saves. It's a safe bet.

Gagne
.........IP.....SV.....K.....ERA.....WHIP
2002....82.1....52....114....1.97......86
2003....82.1....55....137....1.20......69
Here it comes. Gagne's ERA and WHIP look great on paper (not many pitchers sport a sub-1.00 WHIP let alone one of .69). The problem is that those numbers won't have much impact when thrown over just 82 innings. I combined some of Gagne's statistics with those of a pair of starting pitchers that were picked shortly afterwards to prove how little effect those 82 innings will have. Remember, these numbers aren't factored against an entire fantasy rotation, but just ONE starter (and likely the best one that a team could have after taking Gagne in the first few rounds).

First, Mike Mussina and Gagne. The new pitcher will be called, "Gagsina."

............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
Gagne......82.1....37....20.....11.....137....1.20......69
Mussina...214.2...192....40.....81.....195....3.40....1.08
---------------------------------------------------------
Gagsina...297.0...229....60.....92.....332....2.79......97
Second, Tim Hudson and Gagne. I'm not creative at all so the new pitcher's name is, "Gagson."

............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
Gagne......82.1....37....20.....11.....137....1.20......69
Hudson....240.0....197...61.....72.....162....2.70....1.07
----------------------------------------------------------
Gagson....322.1....234...81.....83.....299....2.32......98
If they perform at the exact same level as in 2003 (unlikely) then Gagne's 2003 combined with a great starter's 2003 effectively creates a super-pitcher. This isn't an anonymous super-pitcher, he actually has a name, Randy Johnson. Those numbers look a lot like some vintage Randy Johnson statistics. The kind that he accumulated before last year's injury-fest. Before 2003, Randy was putting together years like the following on a regular basis.

Randy Johnson
............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
2001......249.2...181....71.....69.....372....2.49....1.01
2002......260.0...125....71.....67.....334....2.32....1.03
Maybe the most surprising thing here is that Randy was arguably better than our mutant "Gagsina" or "Gagson." I guess more than proving my point this just reaffirms how dominant Randy was before last season. Too bad he's a huge injury risk now.

The conclusion I've come to is that the best possible closer (Gagne) and another very good starter combine to form one "excellent" pitcher. The problem is that two a of team's top four or five picks are going to have to be burned in order to build the stats that could be provided (to a marginally lesser degree) by a first or second round ace starter. A Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, or Mark Prior (unhurt) would all be superior picks to Gagne because they will provide more bang for the buck. Similar numbers can be gained with just one ace if he's one of the best or if a team decides to draft two top tier aces. For example, drafting Schilling and Hudson would produce a much greater benefit because the two of them could pitch a combined 450 innings.

How much better is Gagne than the other top-tier closers? I'm talking about John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner and Keith Foulke. If they're healthy they should all save 40+ games with great ERAs, WHIPs, and K-rates. How about taking a closer who isn't as desireable as these top-tier guys?

Guardado
.........IP.....SV.....K.....ERA.....WHIP
2002....67.2....45.....70....2.93....1.05
2003....65.1....41.....60....2.89......98
Guardado is a little less of an ERA god than some of the closers out there and he puts up fewer strikeouts but the difference is negligable because of his relative innings pitched. Honestly, as long as the ERA and WHIP are at or below the team average then a reliever is more than helping out. In our draft he went in the 8th round. Seven rounds of starters and position players who produce more numbers in more statistical categories went by before Guardado was taken. While he won't be confused with Gagne he is still an extremely effective and productive closer. Why not grab a few starters earlier and take every day Eddie long after the closer rush has begun?


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Posted by Dave on Monday, March 29, 2004

He's Making a List and Checking It Twice

On the eve of Opening Day (well, sort of, it's an ocean away and it's one game), I made my Wish List. It didn't concern my aspirations for the Red Sox or my dreams of demise for the Bronx Bombers. No, it was a 200-player long compilation of my overall rankings for each player in our fantasy baseball league. You see, last night was our fantasy baseball draft - one of my favorite nights of the year. One might even say it compares to the jubilation of Christmas (no, I'm not kidding). To think I could land a significant portion of Wish List wasn't the object - I knew players like Pujols and ARod would be gone early, and I knew that a vast majority of the players I wanted would be selected by other teams - I wanted to draft well at each position. To maximize the quality of each pick you have is the name of the game. I was reading a recent article over at Futility Infielder (check out those blogs if you haven't already, they're all fantastic), and he said he has been told by many that "no one cares about your fantasy team." Well, at the risk of boring you all, I'm going to launch into a discussion of our fantasy draft this year.

Our fantasy league is a little abnormal when compared to most. This year it was 6X6, utilizing the following categories:
Hitters: Runs, HRs, RBIs, AVG, OBP, SLG
Pitchers: Wins, K's, Holds, Saves, ERA, WHIP

Though you all should recognize most of those categories (11/12, to be precise), "holds" may elude you. Holds are a statistic for middle relievers. Generally, a reliever receives a hold if he enters the game in a save situation and leaves it with the save situation still intact. This always leads to problems, however. Players can earn holds for pitching to one batter and issuing a walk, for example. While this happens occasionally, it is far more common for good holders to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer. Examples of good holders last year were Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, Brandon Donnelly, and Paul Quantrill. What follows is the draft results for our fantasy league, followed by a round-table with the Talking Baseball writers. I am "The Metz Militia", Jon is "Huxtability," Mike is "Balco-holics," Ben is “Wild Fandangos.” An aside – one of the best parts about fantasy baseball is the diversity of hilarious team names. With respect to the draft list, keep in mind that the order “snaked.” That means that the last pick of the 1st round is the first pick of the 2nd round, etc.

For a view of our draft, click here. The image opens in a new window, and I do plan on referring to the results in this post.

Note that, prior to the draft, I Heart Boobs and I Heart Muff exchanged their first two picks. Now, it’s not so strange to see one team draft two closers in the first three rounds.

1. Did you guys have a particular draft strategy? Did you want to take specific positions earlier/later than most of your peers?

Dave: I never really have a draft strategy, I take the highest-rated player I have that's on the board. That excludes doubling up a position, usually, but I'll take two people at third if players are falling. I don't like taking relief early.
Mike: This year I decided to focus on power hitters and power pitchers in the early rounds and fill in the holes with the later rounds. Like last year, I did not draft any closers and will be pitching only holders with my relief spots. Hopefully I'll split the holds/saves points. The advantage is that I won’t be looking for closers in the middle rounds and can focus on hoarding other, more valuable players.
Jon: My strategy was kind of simple. I'm not sure whether it worked, but my focus from the top was my starting lineup for hitters. Basically, take the best player until my positions are filled, with one exception: I wanted an ace early to anchor my rotation. As a rule, I stayed away from relief pitching and non-elite starters for a while. This is because relievers are volatile, and there often is a run on starters who are taken before they should be. Decent relievers with good K rates were my priority for bullpen help, but I knew they'd be around in the later rounds. Or, I hoped...I waited until the 9th round for my first closer. I'm not looking to dominate in Saves. Most people are.
Jon: Additionally, my main offensive focus was OBP. Without a decent OBP, you wouldn’t be on my team. Dunn's OBP, you mention? It will skyrocket!
Ben: It's much more useful to pick up well-rounded hitters and score well in 5 offensive categories than it is to draft closers early who will only give you save points, and not much else.
Jon: Exactly, Ben. Although some pitchers will help with multiple categories.
Mike: Exactly, I tried to stay away from one-stat wonders. These are the guys who might hit 35 HRs but with a 240 AVG.

2. Who was the worst pick?

Ben: Dave, in your post, you gotta mention we were in the scoliosis room.
Dave: Hah, of course.
Because AOL Instant Messenger would not allow us to type lengthy responses, we had to move to a Yahoo! Chat room. Our method for choosing a chat room was to find the least-populated one (less people infringing on our discussion). We ended up in the Scoliosis room under the Health sub-category.
Jon: This is a tough one. I'll say Cliff Lee.
Note: Cliff Lee was the last pick overall, taken by me. He wrangled his way onto my fantasy team by putting up solid K/9 numbers for the Indians last season. Baseball Cube (also in the link bar) has his minor league stats as well (they’re equally impressive).
Dave: I'll have to go with Barry Zito in the third round. He was taken prior to Schmidt, Mussina, and Randy Johnson. I simply cannot condone that decision by Ben. Zito has exhibited that he's falling off recently - it's a major stretch to take him ahead of Mussina or Schmidt.
Jon: I agree, Dave
Jon: I knew there was something that irked me. That was it.
Mike: Gagne was the worst pick. Second round, #12 overall. He puts together great numbers but he doesn't pitch enough innings to warrant wasting a second round pick when aces like Tim Hudson and Curt Schilling are available. Not to mention the multi-stat valuable hitters like Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, and Vlad.
Ben: Of the first five rounds, I felt the worst pick while was Nomar. His poor second-half performance and his injuries are masked by his great first half. I was quite surprised to see him go before Vlad, Manny, Schilling, and Thome.
Jon: As a sidenote, after all of the Millwood talk on the blog, what do you think about his 8th round draft?
Mike: Taking a pitcher who will only throw 80 innings in the second round, no matter how good those innings are, just doesn't make sense.
Dave: I don't like Millwood in the 8th either. But, Zito and Gagne are worse picks, I would say.
Ben: Millwood's 8th round pick makes sense because he was picked after Wolf. There's no denying, Jon, that Randy Wolf is the ace of the Phillies staff and probably the best lefty in the NL.
Mike: Zito was the second worst pick maybe, yes.
Ben: You'll all be wanting to trade for Zito in a few weeks. I'm not worried.
Ben: Barry's been sharp in his spring starts, and he is only 26. He could easily turn it around.

An addition: Derek Jeter. Not only is Derek an inferior option to Edgar Renteria, but the 4th shortstop has no business being taken ahead of other scarce positions such as 3B (not a one, if you exclude ARod (who will qualify eventually), was taken yet). Also, Derek Jeter in the 2nd round of any draft is a bad idea.

Another addition: Jason Kendall. As Jon tells me repeatedly, this pick is entirely inexplicable. He hated the pick when he took him, and he hates the pick now. He probably felt the pressure to choose a catcher.

3. Who was the best pick?

Jon: Nick Johnson. I completely lost track of him. I would have taken him over Dunn, had I not been spaced out. What a great pickup. For runner-up, can I give a shout out to Matt Stairs? Although he shouldn't have been drafted at all, I love the guy, and I really appreciate somebody finding a spot for him on their team. But, Johnson in the 23rd round?! Unheard of!
Mike: If SB were a stat then I would say Carlos Beltran in the 3rd round. He should put together even better numbers this year in that KC lineup. Maybe Jason Giambi in the 7th round but he's a huge injury risk.
Dave: I can't not gush with joy over my draft. I felt I got a number of players that should not have fallen to me. My favorite on my team of underrated players is Jorge Posada. Javy Lopez and Piazza were both taken ahead of him, and he's arguably the better prospect for this coming season. Posada's advantage at his position rivals many others'.
Ben: The best pick was Dave's pick-up of Jason Giambi as the last pick in the 7th round. Remember, despite Giambi's drop in batting average, he put up amazing power numbers, and his OBP will be over .400.
Jon: Dave, you smarty...
Dave: I also loved Giambi, but I loved Posada more. Giambi's a great pick in the 7th round though, surely.
Mike: I will say Dave, I think your lineup is a little TOO risky.
Ben: I have to agree with you, Dave. I can't imagine why anyone would pick Piazza over Posada at this point in their respective careers. Granted Posada is 32 and older than people think, but he's just been getting better each year.
Jon: Yes, Posada was a great pick. I couldn't believe he fell. I guess with so many All-Stars on that Yankee team, some of us forgot about half of the team...

4. Whose team looks the best out of the box?

Ben: Not yours Dave. Sorry. Those injuries are going to harm you. Sheffield, Edmonds, Giambi, Nixon, Burnett, and even Santana are all risks at this point, and that's a big core of your team. No one team really looks that much better out of the box. From the looks of it, we have about four or five teams that should be fighting for the top spot. It's clear though that pitching is a premium this year. There's just not much out there.
Dave: Although I like my team a lot (and I mean A LOT), I'm going to defer to the Screwballers. Yacov really put a nice team together with very few holes. He's a little weak in the starting pitching department, but I would say most of the top teams are.
Mike: I like The Ralphie Treatment. Very balanced and no noticeably poor picks.
Jon: I won't go with my team, although I am infatuated already. Instead, I'm picking Ralphie. Some very good picks, too. Like Lee (not Clifford), Burnitz, and Milton.
Dave: Milton? Eric?
Jon: Milton = W's
Jon: Yeah, forget Milton.
Dave: Milton = Crappy pitcher. Nothing you will say will allow me to forget that.
Jon: Ralphie, with Beckett and Prior, already has a better rotation than I.
Ben: Burnitz will benefit from the air in Colorado, but Milton has been utterly unimpressive this spring.
Ben: And no pitcher has struggled more than Beckett. He has a lot to live up to, but he's young and potentially fragile. He threw a lot of pitches in short order in October.
Jon: He won't have to play him (Burnitz).
Mike: Schilling, Vazquez, Brown, Clemens... I'll take my rotation but I am a little worried about injuries.
Jon: You should be very happy with that rotation. Who watches a lot of the AL East? You do, Mike!

5. The debate always rages: Should relief be taken early? Is Gagne et al., worth it? What are the positive aspects of taking relief this early?

Jon: In my opinion, relief should not be taken early. It is inevitable that the closing studs will be taken too early for a one+ category player. On the other hand, if everybody is disregarding, nobody should be afraid to pick up the studs, once they've fallen a few rounds. There are always relievers waiting to be picked in the latter rounds.
Mike: I don't think relief should be taken until the rest of the team is essentially in place. I have no closers and I didn't take my first holder until the 14th round. They just don't provide enough stats to warrant an earlier pick when multistat players of great worth are still on the board.
Dave: I can't really condone taking relief this early. You're covering 3 categories if you're lucky (K's, SVs, and half of ERA and WHIP), and there are too many 4 or 5 category studs out there to justify relief.
Jon: And relief pitching, again, is so volatile. Consistency is best, which means drafting hitters earlier.
Ben: The positive aspect of taking relief early is utter domination in the save category. You can try to predict the hold men, but more often than not, it fails. It's easy to get saves from guys you wouldn't want on your real-life team. But in fantasy leagues you're willing to take a risk on Danys Baez or Braden Looper.
Ben: Also, Dave, to answer your comment, relief effects on ERA and WHIP are minimal. A closer may pitch 70 innings a year while your top-line starters will throw over 200.

A few other parting shots:

Not enough owners took advantage of the DL spot that is made available by Yahoo! I knew that it’s often difficult to fill that spot, and I drafted Burnett so that he would be available to me in June. I may have to drop him if my team becomes injury-riddled, but at least I have him for right now.

I was really heart-broken when Jon drafted Adam Dunn. I drafted K-Rod (not Felix (I’m sorry you can’t tell)) and Adam Eaton with the expectation that Dunn would fly under the other owners’ radars. He didn’t and I was stuck with Trot (still a potentially great option once he returns) instead of Dunn. Dunn, though he had an average near the Mendoza line last year, is poised for a breakthrough. His OBP last year was still a very respectable .354, and he still hit his fair share of HRs. In this league, where sluggers rule the offensive categories, Dunn could potentially be very valuable.

My least favorite pick was Jim Edmonds. I didn’t want to draft such a brittle outfielder, but he puts up solid stats (275/380/517 and 40 bombs last year) in limited time. He’ll also be hitting 2nd in an extremely potent Cardinal lineup.

Toward the end of the draft, you’re basically praying for the best from some of the players with the most talent. Generally, they also put that talent to little use. This is especially evident with selections such as Jesse Foppert and Juan Cruz. These pitchers have shown the capability to strike out batters at extremely high rates – a great sign for pitchers. The problem has been control, however. Because of faulty command, neither player has enjoyed success in The Bigs yet. With a miraculous critique of their technique, however, they could blossom into top-shelf starters.


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Posted by Jon on Sunday, March 28, 2004

Cruzing 'Round Town

Of all the teams in baseball, which one should have the best understanding of the importance of good, young starting pitching? The Florida Marlins, for one. Last season's World Series Champion Florida Marlins sure know the drill. Led by Josh Beckett in the playoffs and Dontrelle Willis in the middle of the season, the Marlins pushed to and through the playoffs, to the surprise of many. Following is a list of their starting rotation, each players 2003 age, and their 2003 salary and their 2003 Win Shares.

Dontrelle Willis, 21, $234,426, 14
Josh Beckett, 23, $1.725 million, 11
Mark Redman, 29, $2.15 million, 11
Brad Penny, 25, $1.875 million, 10
Carl Pavano, 27, $1.5 million, 9

A. J. Burnett, at age 26, was paid $2.5 million to sit on the bench with an injury after completing only 23 innings. Lets average out those numbers.

Average Marlins' Starter, 25, $1.5 million, 11 Win Shares

Which teams rotation was just about as young, a bit more expensive, but even better? Check out those Cubbies, a team I have written about frequently on these pages.

Mark Prior, 22, $1.45 million, 22
Kerry Wood, 26, $6.19 million, 18
Carlos Zambrano, 22, $340,000, 18
Matt Clement, 28, $4.0 million, 10
Shawn Estes, 30, $3.0 million, 0

Averaged out:
Average Cubs' Starter, 25.6, $3.0 million, 13.6 Win Shares

So the Cubbies rotation was just as young as the Marlins, more expensive, but also more productive. And if you cut out the horrible Shawn Estes and look solely at each teams top four starters, the difference becomes more drastic in terms of Win Shares. The Marlins average 11.5, the Cubs average 17. Cubbies win, theeeeee Cubbies win.

Which brings me directly to my point: Chicago should not have been so quick to trade Juan Cruz. Cruz dominated Triple-A (1.95 ERA, 8.3 K/9 in 2003). It was a bit premature of the Cubs to give up on their former top organizational prospect after a subpar season in the bigs at age 22.

              IP	BB/9	K/9	H/9

2001 (Sou.) 121.1 4.46 10.19 7.96
2001 (MLB) 44.2 3.43 7.86 8.06
2002 (MLB) 97.1 5.46 7.49 7.77
2003 (PCL) 50.2 1.94 8.29 6.53
2003 (MLB) 61.0 4.13 9.59 9.74
Career:
Minor Leagues 454 4.10 9.35 8.25
Major Leagues 202 4.63 8.24 8.47


It is no surprise to see Juan's K's drop by more than one per nine innings pitched, but the rest of his numbers have been relatively consistent in the transition from the minors to the majors. He has allowed a few more walks, and a few more hits, but the difference is not so alarming that it can’t be seen as part of the natural progression from the minors to the majors.

I'm beginning to wonder what the Cubs thought they had in this kid. As a 22 year old, he will require some time to develop, and he becomes a perfect fit to be the next pitcher to turn his career around with the Braves. At best, Cruz could match the numbers posted by Russ Ortiz this season (Ortiz allowed 4.32 BB/9, 6.32 K/9, and 7.50 H/9 last season), and Juan will only be 23. Many organizations would have jumped for joy at acquiring Juan Cruz.

With plenty of room to develop, the Cubs may have made a monster mistake. Not every pitching prospect can be effective in the majors in their early twenties. The Cubs have been spoiled by Prior (success at age 22), Wood (success at age 21), and Zambrano (success at age 22). Thier successes may have clouded their vision, causing impatience. Cruz could be a top-flight starting pitcher. Well may just have to wait a few years.


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