The second NFBC weekend is just a few days away, so let’s get right to work. Any grizzled NFBC veteran knows that a major component to constructing a quality team is to spot market inefficiencies and inaccuracies. The near ubiquity of roto information available today makes beating that market exceedingly difficult. There isn’t much dead money in the high stakes world. Those willing to plop down four to five figures have not only done their homework, but likely have a healthy obsession for the 5x5 craft or they wouldn’t be there in the first place. We’ve all heard the debate about exactly how much skill vs. luck is involved in finishing in the money. The reality that is often overlooked is that to the degree that everyone at the draft table has the same amount of knowledge, to that degree, winning your league approaches 100% luck. In this twitter universe, what knowledge can possibly escape the notice of our competitors? How can we gain an edge?
A similar problem presents itself to MLB teams as well. In response, they have developed proprietary information systems and keep a tight lid on the data. The Tampa Bay Rays outpace the competition in using such data. They know things that we don’t and they have a track record of success that the roto market at large has not identified in recent years, at least not on draft day. That makes Tampa a great place to start looking for market errors.
Brian Kenny has dubbed Jose Molina the “Babe Ruth of pitch framing.” It’s a fitting moniker since some have calculated that his adroit mitt movement saved 50 Runs in 2012. We don’t know exactly how that number was calculated. Some think it’s too high, but I think it’s much greater than most people realize. Of course, this is only one of a bag full of tactics the Rays have employed. They are the pioneers of defensive shifts and are acutely aware of all the defensive metrics. They also have one of the best scouting departments and know how to fix something that’s broken. They transformed a mediocre Kyle Farnsworth into an excellent stopper in 2011 and resurrected Fernando Rodney’s career to make him an elite closer in 2012.
Ben Zobrist logged 541 innings in right field and still finished 6th in UZR with 9.8 runs saved. In 408 innings at 2B he lost 3.5 runs. The addition of Kelly Johnson and Ryan Roberts to the fold portends that Zobrist is ticketed to see the bulk of his time in RF. Johnson posted a questionable -6.5 UZR at the keystone last year, but he saved 7.1 at the same position in 2010. He’s no spring chicken but he’s still only 31, so perhaps his hamstring ailment affected his range. He does have experience with Yunel Escobar, who saved 4.6 runs at SS with the Blue Jays, a marked improvement over the 9.1 runs lost by the shortstop committee employed by the Rays last year. They could also turn to Ryan Roberts, who saved 4.7 runs playing 2B. In that scenario, Johnson could see time in left field filling the void left by Desmond Jennings, who in turn moves over to center to replace BJ Upton. Upton lost the Rays 2.4 runs. If Johnson can do better than that in left, the Rays will be content. They also upgraded at first base from Carlos Pena’s 3.2 to James Loney’s 8.1. These collective upgrades in the infield join Evan Longoria, whose injuries caused him to slip in 2012, but he averaged 13.7 runs saved from 2008-2011. Good health should see a return to previous levels. All this paves the way for Alex Cobb’s 58.8 ground ball rate and the Indian formerly known as Fausto Carmona. When Roberto Hernandez peaked back in 2007 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, he had an effective sinker that induced a 64% ground ball rate. The Rays are trying to build a defense that is up to the task. This makes Hernandez a decent late flier in AL-only leagues. He’s not going to rack up the K’s, but for a song at the end, there are worse lotto tickets. Yes, his numbers have been ugly the last few years, but the same could have been said of Rodney when the Rays signed him.
On the flip side, James Shields will still be a decent pitcher, but he leaves the Rays for the Royals and will no longer have Molina framing his pitches. Nothing against Salvador Perez, but I’m staying away from Shields this year.
There is no question we have to do our homework with GB and FB rates, BABIP, FIP, xFIP, et. al. That merely lays the foundation. Then we have to move our eye to the possibilities that the market has not emphasized.