Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Dave on Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Hunt for Value - Part I: The Story of a Few Undervalued, Underutilized, and Underappreciated Relievers

At this time of year, everyone wants them and everyone's talking about them: Middle relievers. With the deadline fast approaching, the best of the best are trying to shore up weaknesses in preparation for a stretch run. Chances are, if you're a division leader, your starting pitching and position players are pretty good - a team will have tremendous difficulty becoming a strong contender with a serious deficiency in either of the former. It's also likely that you have a relief ace - someone to finish off the other team after your starter has exited. After your starter has left, before your closer enters is a gray area, of sorts. Most teams would love the benefit of effective set-up men, but it's not necessarily a luxury they can afford. The Marlins, the Mets, the Reds, the Cubs, the Giants, the Rangers, and the Athletics are all without effective middle relief. They're all in contention and they're all looking to help bridge the gap between their closer and their starters (or, in the Giants' case, looking to not fall off a precipice in the 7th inning).

Because of the desire for the group of players, I went to task to find some middle relievers that were undervalued and underutilized - but certainly not ineffective. The difficulty is - if you're an effective pitcher, you tend to get many innings and/or you tend to progress through the minors. Finding an underappreciated, effective reliever is not too dissimilar from finding a needle in a haystack or a diamond in the rough. So, without further ado, the unvailing of the Chad Bradford Wanna-bes:

Bobby Seay: Perusing Seay's (pronounced "see") major league record, one wouldn't quite use the words "awe-inspiring." Looking at his minor league record (and this year, as well), however, one doesn't get the impression that Seay is the ugly duckling Tampa Bay treats him like. In fact, here are his aggregate statistics for his last 71.2 innings for the Durham Bulls (Tampa's AAA affiliate):

IP   H/9  BB/9 HR/9 K/9  ERA
71.2 8.04 2.91 0.63 9.80 3.03

There is little to suggest that Seay would be a bad major-league reliever if given the chance. His K-rate is very above-average, his HR-rate is very good, his hits are adequate and his walks are a bit high. Overall, it would seem that Seay would make a fine middle reliever - even on a contender. At 26, Seay is hardly a prospect at this point - he will never become a southpaw of Billy Wagner or Eddie Guardado's caliber. He does have a decent shot at becoming a reliever on par with Steve Kline, however.

So why hasn't it happened thus far for Seay? Part of the problem, it would seem, would be the manner in which the Rays are using him. Looking at his splits over the last three years, Seay has faced an abnormal number of lefties. In those encounters, Seay has been roasted to the tune of .306/.391/.528. Keep in mind, this is a southpaw facing lefties - and he's still getting torched. Luckily for Seay, he's inept against the right (pun intended) hitters. The league is mostly right-handed, with very few lineups sporting more than 3 lefties. If the D-Rays and Piniella used him more effectively and carefully, Seay could be a very effective reliever.

My guess, however, is that Seay isn't this bad against lefties nor this good (.200/.275/.400) against righties. My guess is that he's an above-average reliever, given his minor stellar performance in AAA. We'll never know until he gets more innings, however. See, if Seay gets more innings, the D-Rays may start to see in Seay the secret seed of success. I couldn't help myself. Tune in tomorrow for Part II, in what's shaping up to be a three or four part series. Don't worry, I'm saving the best reliever for last.

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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, July 19, 2004

A Published Writer

As part of my summer this year, I'm interning one day a week at a weekly neighborhood paper in New York called the Resident. The paper has a circulation of about 200,000 to various parts of Manhattan. This week, I asked them if I could write the sports article on the allure and popularity of fantasy baseball.

Well, they said yes, and I got to write about 800 words on fantasy baseball. So I'm going to be a published sports writer in a paper besides ones that are run by me. While I'm sure this piece will be edited somewhat before it is printed next week, I thought I would share it with all of you out in blogland. It's nothing groundbreaking, but I had fun with it. Also, the style is more my newswriting style than my blog writing style; it might seem a little bit different. Anyway, without further ado, here it is:

Being the General Manager
The Allure of Fantasy Baseball
By Benjamin Kabak

David Metz, a life-long Red Sox fan, follows baseball with a passion. Oftentimes, he is skeptical of the way the game’s general managers approach their jobs, and as a Red Sox fan, he has seen his fair share of blown chances.

“I watch day in and day out general managers squander their possessions,” Metz said. “They misuse their money, and a lot of them are really clueless.”

To better understand how these general managers do their jobs and sometimes fail at them, Metz—and millions of other baseball fans like him—has turned to fantasy baseball. “I get to be my own general manager. That’s the best part for me.,” Metz said. “I control all player moves and trades. I decide who I add to my team. If I lose, it’s my fault.”

Gary Scott, a four-year fantasy veteran, echoed Metz’s sentiments. Fantasy baseball is a way for him to test his mettle against those who are actual in control of the big league clubs. “I like to think that I know the game extremely well and that I have a good eye for future talent. This gives me the ability to measure just how good I really am compared to all the other armchair managers out there,” he said.

For some fans, having that shot at being the general manager is enough to drive them to fantasy baseball. But there’s more to the recent explosion in the popularity of fantasy baseball than this.

Fantasy baseball can be a competitive way to keep up friendships. “There aren’t that many outlets for competition once you are out of school sports or intramurals,” Dan Brassem, a former college baseball player and two-team fantasy manager said. “Fantasy baseball gives you another reason to watch the game, and it gives you a reason for more camaraderie.”

For others, it’s the fascination with statistics in baseball. “I think baseball more than any other sport by far is a statistical sport,” Russ Salzberg, the sports anchor for the channel 9 news, said. “For some reason, baseball has always been the game of make-believe.”

In a way, fantasy baseball has been popular for decades. Strat-O-Matic Baseball first hit the scene in the 1950s, and recent books about the prevalent use of statistics in baseball have really highlighted the importance of numbers in the game. “It’s fun to look at statistics,” Salzberg said. “I can really see the lure of the people to fantasy baseball.”

While a new love affair with statistics has led many fans to explore the inner workings of the game, the explosive growth of the Internet has made a fantasy baseball boom possible. “I do think the Internet is responsible,” Salzberg said. “I think the Internet makes everything more popular. It has a glaring effect on all sports. Every stat and piece of information about any player is right at the tips of your fingers.”

Before the Internet statistics were tallied by hand in a tedious process that involved collecting box scores from numerous sources. But now, Internet sites maintain leagues for free or for very minimal fee. Currently, Yahoo Sports hosts the most popular fantasy baseball leagues around. With approximately 400,000 leagues, the Internet portal hosts around 4 million teams free of charge. ESPN, the popular sports network, is the runner-up in the fantasy world because they charge for their leagues. With a smattering of other, less comprehensive fantasy options available, most fans opt for Yahoo’s inclusive package which updates league totals as the games are being played.

Without these sites, fantasy baseball would still just be a game reserved for only the most devoted of stat heads. “I bet probably 95 percent, if they had to score it themselves, wouldn’t do it,” Brassem said. “It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago, the participants had to keep score themselves. It would be way, way, way too difficult to do that everyday.”

As fantasy baseball has become an integral part of the rebirth of baseball, more and more fantasy owners face a daily predicament. Do they root for their fantasy players of their favorite teams? The answer, it seems, is a mix of both.

“I’m fantasy fan first,” Brassem said. “There are always one or two guys in my league who grew up as Mets or Yankees fans and put too much stake into the home team.”

Metz had a different take on the game. “The extreme emotions are reserved for the hometown teams,” he said. “In fantasy baseball, there’s no so such thing as a comeback in the bottom of the ninth because there are no actual games, just results. I’m not going to be happy when [Yankees’ pitcher] Javier Vazquez shuts out the Red Sox, but I certainly won’t be too sad either.”

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