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Articles of Configuration


Will Jeter Follow the Wizard’s Path? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:00

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has vowed to return to his old self in 2014 after a lost 2013. At age 39, Captain Clutch was unable to perform this summer due to lingering pain and soreness in his left ankle fractured last fall.

jeter

Jeter appeared in just 17 games this season, batting a paltry .190. Observers noted his declining mobility in the field as well.

Though Jeter is resolved to come back as good as before, at some point, even he will have to give in to advancing age. The only question is when and how gracefully it will occur.

As any car guy or gal knows, old, worn clutches eventually begin to slip and have to be replaced.

I was asked recently if I thought this was the end for Jeter. My reply was “No.” Like his long-time teammate Mariano Rivera, who could have walked away after his 2012 knee surgery but did not, my guess is that Jeter wants to leave the game as a player on his own terms.

Given that, what should we – and the Yankees - expect from a 40-year-old shortstop in 2014? And what are the alternatives?

The 2013 stream of fill-ins for Jeter have almost been as ineffective as he. Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan are among those who have been tried.

From these shortstops this season, the Yanks have received scant production - an aggregate line of .229/.289/.316/.605. The batting average and OPS are both 26th across the 30 MLB clubs' shortstop positions.

Along with Jeter’s status, one of the most pressing questions for next year’s Bombers is the fate of free-agent-to-be manager Joe Girardi. While Joe, a former teammate, has been one of Jeter’s biggest backers, how might things change if a new sheriff rides into the Big Apple?

That possibility reminds me of the situation in St. Louis back in 1996, as the Cardinals’ then-future Hall-of-Fame shortstop was nearing the end of his playing days.

41-year-old Ozzie Smith was coming off an injury-plagued 1995, during which he could answer the bell for just 44 contests and batted an embarrassing, career-worst .199. His Cardinals had long been a shell of their 1980’s greatness, missing the post-season for eight consecutive years.

Yet there was renewed hope in the Gateway City. A new ownership group led by Bill DeWitt, Jr. was in place and willing to invest. An up-and-coming general manager in Walt Jocketty lured his friend and former Oakland co-worker Tony La Russa to take the on-field reigns of the Cardinals.

Smith did not want to retire with the bitter taste of 1995 as his MLB finale, so he committed himself to getting his body ready to play again in 1996. The Wizard soon learned he would face a challenge for his job, however.

Jocketty engineered a trade with the Giants in December 1995, bringing in shortstop Royce Clayton. The 24-year-old was not acquired to be an understudy. Clayton had already put in over 3 ½ major league seasons as San Francisco’s starting shortstop.

Smith’s interpretation of La Russa’s plan for the skipper’s first spring training with St. Louis was to include an open competition between the two shortstops. It did not play out that way. Despite Ozzie having a better spring at the plate, the future Hall of Fame manager did not declare a firm winner.

As 1996 progressed, Clayton played regularly at Smith’s expense. The former went on to make 531 regular-season plate appearances plus 30 more in the postseason, while the latter had less than half, at just 261 and 14, respectively. Still, when called upon, Ozzie produced, with a bounce-back line of .282/.358/.370. The 41-year-old’s .728 OPS was his second-best showing since St. Louis’ last postseason year of 1987.

Smith deeply resented his treatment by La Russa. Though he retired at season’s end, Ozzie held a grudge that remains to this day. That included the Wizard’s refusal to be around the Cardinals for the duration of the manager’s stay in St. Louis – 15 long years.

No one should blame Yankees general manager Brian Cashman if he tries to address his club’s post-Jeter shortstop needs before the Captain decides to remove his cleats for the last time. After all, 2013 proved to be a disaster for the position. With the Yankees having been so close to making the postseason, who knows if having a healthy, productive shortstop might not have been the difference-maker.

No matter how it plays out going forward, here is hoping Jeter’s exit from the game is far smoother than the one taken by his Hall of Fame predecessor Smith.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 September 2013 22:04
 
With Gold Glove Including Defensive Metrics, Will Fantasy Follow? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00

Since its 1957 inception, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award has been a welcome addition to Major League Baseball’s annual recognition process, while also being a source of controversy at times. Those considered to be the best defensive players by position by league are selected annually via a vote of MLB managers and coaches.

Despite this seemingly-knowledgeable voting constituency, there have been a number of questionable winners over the years. Perhaps most notable was the selection of Rafael Palmeiro following a season in which he was almost exclusively a designated hitter.

In fact, the difficulty of separating hitting from defense has been perhaps the award's greatest challenge over time. It has seemed that to win a Gold Glove, one must also have a good season with the bat, and if not, the chance of winning the top defensive award is dramatically decreased.

Recognizing that a lack of readily-available defensive metrics may be one reason offense is being overly considered, Rawlings and the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) established a partnership. The idea was to bring in an impartial party to adjust the existing process rather than scrap it entirely.

A committee of seven sabermetric experts was convened to study the issue and developed what they call the SABR Defensive Index, or SDI. At its essence, the SDI is expressed by the number of runs a fielder "saves" his team.

By definition, the construction of the SDI is complicated, however, as it takes into account information from a number of sources - from batted ball, location-based data (70 percent weighting) and from play-by-play accounts (30 percent). The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended built by SABR member Chris Dial. The two metrics from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.

What these fielding metrics capture include a fielder's range, throwing arm, sure-handedness, ability to turn double plays, ability to convert bunts into outs, scoops of throws in the dirt as well as the number of "excellent" and "poor" fielding plays.

For outfielders, the ability to prevent runners from taking an extra base is rated. For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/caught stealing are also included. A pitcher’s ability to control the running game by holding runners on base is also measured.

In terms of Gold Glove Award weighting, the SDI will be worth 30 total "votes.” That represents approximately 25 percent of the scoring, which will be added to the traditional votes from the managers and coaches.

SDI results will also be provided up front to help the voters. A statistical resource guide will accompany the Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches. Whether or not they actually use it remains to be seen.

The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners will be announced on October 29 – the first time we will see if including sabermetric defensive stats leads to a better set of winners.

The SDI will also be used in comparing players across positions to help determine the updated Rawlings Platinum Glove Award, for the single best Gold Glove Award winner.

At this point, the Platinum Glove Award voting process has not yet been announced, but the online fan vote will continue once the Gold Glove Award winners are revealed. As such, the SDI will be shared with the general public, as well. That could go a long way toward potentially increasing its acceptance by a broader cross-section of baseball observers.

In the bigger picture, perhaps if defensive metrics can be more standardized and are embraced by the baseball community as a whole over time, fantasy baseball could also incorporate a defensive component.

The SDI potentially represents a step in that direction, and for that reason, I hope it is successful.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 September 2013 13:16
 
Even if NL Races are Over, Your Leagues are Not PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 14 September 2013 00:00

With less than three weeks to go in the 2013 Major League Baseball regular season, the addition of the second Wild Card is helping to keep the American League especially exciting.

As I write this, six AL clubs are within 2 ½ games of one of the Wild Card berths – Texas, Tampa Bay, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City. Given that, there is no reason to suspect anything other than a race down to the wire.

That is not the case in the National League, however. In the Senior Circuit, the battles are pretty much over. The only exception is which of the three contending Central Division teams will win the division, with the other two the likely wild cards.

Yes, Washington is technically still in it, but eight games out with 16 to go, it is grim. coolstandings.com gives the Nats just a 2.7 percent chance of bumping off one of the NL Central squads to make the postseason.

In terms of true mathematical elimination, over half of the NL squads, eight of 15, have nothing for which to play except 2014. Over in the Junior Circuit, only five teams are already justified looking ahead to next year.

Couple these dynamics with September MLB roster expansion from the normal 25 to a theoretical maximum of 40, and fantasy managers’ challenges of assessing playing time changes become even greater. In some cases, attention on baseball is waning. The competition with football leagues that are still in their very early stages currently offer greater hope for owners.

In the final month, MLB teams typically add from six to 10 reinforcements from the minor leagues. Any and all of these players can be active on any given day. As a result, an MLB team that is out of the hunt may not only give starts to unproven prospects over tired regulars, the manager may pull more double-switches, too.

A handful of clubs have even gone to a temporary six-man rotation. This gives them the opportunity to observe more youngsters while managing pitch counts and can be done before formally having to commit to 2014 roles.

Considering all these variables, I asked several of my National League Tout Wars friends and competitors the following questions.

“Given the lack of close races in the NL, do you see any potential impact on your NL fantasy teams and how you manage them? Do you feel the lack of competitive races is a positive or a negative for your chances and why?”

Kind enough to reply all the way from Italy, where he was on vacation, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz cut right to the bone.

“I don't see much impact on my team,” Hertz said. “I just need guys to get healthy and that's looking less and less likely.”

Hertz is currently in sixth place, 12 ½ points out of the lead and just two points ahead of yours truly. The losses of Domonic Brown, Yonder Alonso, Marcell Ozuna and Starling Marte have shackled his offense.

USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner is tied for third, 6 ½ points out. Among the points Steve makes is that despite the expanded rosters, viable alternatives are few.

“In this case, I think it’s helped my team,” said Gardner. “I’ve needed to pick up several hitters off the waiver wire lately to fill holes created by injuries and trades. The guys I’ve plugged into my lineup (Donnie Murphy, Caleb Gindl, Andrew Brown, Justin Turner) are on non-contenders and may not have gotten much of a chance to play if their teams had been involved in the playoff chase."

“The one area where it could impact my team is if the Mets decide that they don’t have any reason to activate David Wright off the disabled list. I could really use his bat, even if it’s only for the last week or 10 days."

“From a pitching standpoint, the jury’s still out … but I like the fact that I have a staff that doesn’t have to worry about innings limits (Wainwright, Samardzija, Medlen, Arroyo, E. Jackson)."

“Overall, I don’t think it changes the way I manage my team, mostly because I don’t really have any alternatives to the players currently in my starting lineup,” Steve concluded.

Knotted with Gardner in the NL Tout standings is our own Lord Zola. He offers an excellent reminder about the potential of tied Wild Card races requiring a regular-season Game 163 to break ties. Now is the time to check your constitution to verify these games are included in your league scoring and act accordingly.

“When you're fighting and scrapping for points, any possible edge is a good thing,” notes Todd. “However in a league as deep as NL Tout Wars, the ability to manage your team to take advantage of the situation is limited by a four-man reserve list that may or may not have a player on one of the teams in contention."

“Teams in contention are more likely to continue to start their best players so that would provide the peace of mind your fantasy team is getting maximum at-bats. Maybe in a mixed league this would aid in decision-making at the fringes, but in NL Tout, you're going to have the player active regardless."

“On the flip-side, the star players on playoff teams with their spot locked may get more rest, but again in NL Tout, they're going to play anyway."

“One possible repercussion is with injured players. If you own Carlos Gonzalez and need the reserve spot, you can feel pretty confident in dropping him since there is very little chance he returns this season. On the other hand, I am carrying Allen Craig on my NL Tout reserve since the Cardinals will no doubt want to get him some at-bats to either secure a playoff spot or to get the rust off for the playoffs. At present, there is no one available for pick-up that I would use, but if there was, I'd have a tough decision to make if I needed that fourth reserve spot."

“Not to tip my hand, but I have kept an eye on the free agent list each week looking to see if there is a player from a team with a chance to play a 163rd game available. This may seem like a needle in a haystack, but a few years back, I was able to jump into the money in a National Fantasy Baseball Championship league on Rick Porcello's seventh strikeout in game 163. The caveat in Tout Wars is the rule that requires you to activate all free agent acquisitions following the week you win them,” Zola concluded.

In my own case, I am just hoping and praying my players will continue to be written onto their clubs’ lineup cards each day.

One complicating matter that is front and center right now is my glut of players on non-contending teams. Those competing for one of the five likely NL playoff clubs fill just four of my 23 active roster spots.

As a result, I feel vulnerable, but as the others noted, viable alternatives to play are few and far between. For draft day next season, I will need to make sure I am not so singularly focused on acquiring bargains that I draft a roster filled with players from non-contenders.

Special thanks to Phil, Steve and Todd for contributing to this article. Remember to check out their respective writings at BaseballHQ, USA TODAY and right here at Mastersball.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 September 2013 08:59
 
Three simple words can make all the difference PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 07 September 2013 00:00

“I called him.”

Three words constituted the most succinct and beautiful comeback I can recall in a fantasy context in a number of years.

The setting was this. In a keeper league, the declaration deadline was rapidly approaching. As is often the case, some owners had too many quality keeper candidates while others were lacking.

The commissioner, also one of the league participants, was initially among the “have-nots.” I was one of the “haves,” but I'm not a part of this story.

It turns out two of the “have nots” both approached one of the “haves,” inquiring about a trade. When the deal was announced as having been consummated - with the commish as the winner - the other “have not” owner squealed.

First, he stated flatly that he would have offered more advantageous trade terms – if only his e-mails had been answered.

The complainer went on to publicly accuse the commish and the seller of collusion before asking in a most frustrated manner, “What kind of magic did you pull?”

The aforementioned three-word answer signaled an immediate end of discussion.

By the timing of this article, you probably surmised that the context is football, but in reality, the fantasy sport involved does not matter.

It also is irrelevant that the subject is a keeper pick. It could just as easily have been a straight trade at any point during a season - or even afterwards, if it would fit the league format.

To some, this may seem like a visit from “Captain Obvious,” but I feel it is worthy of magnification.

In this world in which e-mails, texting and even Twitter are commonly used for trade negotiations, we can often forget how much more efficient a simple phone call can be.

Personally, I realize that I have gotten lazy in this area. In a recent trade negotiation, I counted 17 e-mails from me to the other owner over a multi-day period, with a roughly equal total heading the other direction.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if a five-minute discussion instead would have gotten the job done.

In a long story that I will not tell its entirety here since it is not baseball-related, just this past week I had another reinforcement of the importance of direct communication.

I was trying to acquire a desirable automobile for sale online. I was not the first to make an offer for the car, but I was ultimately the winner.

The reason why was trust. The seller had become jaded by tire-kickers with talks of big plans but not following through.

In this case, I took the time to call the seller. I told him a bit about myself and why this particular model of car has personal significance.

Others had stuck to online communications, which may be more precise, but certainly less personal.

When the other potential buyers learned the car had been sold, several were angry with the seller. They told him they would have been willing to pay more.

To the seller, getting the last dollar was less important than sending the vehicle to a good new home in a painless transaction. I offered both.

Though I am unsure exactly how the seller communicated with the losing bidders, my guess is that he simply said something very much like,

“He called me.”

In your trade situations, it will usually be to your advantage to do the same.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 September 2013 08:57
 
Making a Trade that Could Not be Made PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:00

I understand how boring it can be to read about others’ teams, but it only makes sense to try to ground lessons in real-life situations. That remains my quest here in Articles of Configuration.

Last time, I shared the reasons why my league mates in National League Tout Wars were disinterested in acquiring starting pitching. Unfortunately, that is what I had to offer.

The lesson to be learned is that in single league formats, the longer the season goes on, the greater value is placed on hitting. So if you do take advantage of pitching bargains on draft day, make sure you make your moves to balance your roster sooner rather than later.

I admitted that one hope, albeit remote, was that by polling my peers for my article, I might be able to open trade dialogue.

It actually worked in two cases. Though only one trade was eventually executed, I felt like I ended up in a far better place than where I had been previously.

The message here is a simple one. It often takes time and persistence to make a deal, but if you keep at it and both sides can see benefit, you can end up with success.

The door opening in this situation was a simple case of clarification. In my initial league-wide e-mail offering of eight starting pitchers for trade, I did not make it clear I would consider moving more than one of them. My prospective trade partner, Mike Gianella, could not tell and was too busy to ask – until my poll.

Another lesson learned. No matter how clear you think you are in your communications, you probably aren’t. Read and re-read and go overboard in explaining. As the old line goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Despite being in the upper half of the league in most hitting categories and in the bottom half in pitching, the latter is what I had to trade. The reason was that I had acquired a number of injured pitchers at bargain prices (usually $1 and a week of no stats) after they had been cashed in by their original owners for FAAB rebates.

Looking ahead to roster expansion in September, I could see a number of my current disabled list pitchers returning. They include names like Jason Grilli, Wandy Rodriguez, Ross Detwiler and James McDonald. Roy Halladay just was activated this past week. While all will likely not make it back this season, even if one or two come through, I would need roster room for them.

My goal was to trade a couple of my incumbent starters for a front-line offensive player. Ideally, it would be a strong performer in batting average, a category in which I was weak but had opportunity to pick up points.

While I do not have a realistic chance of winning the league, my revised goal is to add at least 10 points in the final month and finish in the top five.

As the dialogue began, Gianella was cautious. He seemed to want me to be the first to declare players’ names. As I scanned his roster of hitters, my eye kept returning to the oft-injured Dodgers star, Hanley Ramirez. While I probably could have taken a safer route by going after Hanley’s teammate, Adrian Gonzalez, for example, I decided to go for it.

At this point of the season, taking a little extra risk seemed like a good idea.

After several back and forths that carried across multiple days, Gianella was ready to name names. I assumed he would want my top strikeout arms, Francisco Liriano and Homer Bailey.

Though the wait was painful, Mike did a smart thing to enable the trade. Instead of demanding two names only, he identified four of my starters that would work for him. He didn’t give me carte blanche, however. Mike defined four combinations he would accept.

Three of them included Liriano. After looking at Liriano’s career track record, I worried that his September results could tail off. Bailey and Kyle Lohse were two others named, along with Jorge De La Rosa. The Rockies starter has the built-in risk that goes with his home park to go with a WHIP that is higher than I’d like.

After a bit of thought, I decided on Liriano and De La Rosa for Ramirez.

Before we could close the deal, a complication ensued. Rather than panic, it required a bit of time to understand and solve.

During the multi-day period of our dialogue, the weekly free agent deadline came and went. Gianella had dropped his only potential backfill for Hanley, meaning I had to sweeten the deal a bit so his roster could remain legal.

I had the ideal sacrifice in Miami’s Ed Lucas, a regular who qualifies at first, second and third, but who had been dragging down my batting average (.216 while active on my roster). In a way, it was a double benefit getting Hanley in and Lucas out.

In executing the trade, I needed to fill a couple of pitching spots. Due to the same time crunch, I had only one viable option – the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta, who had perplexed the Cardinals over seven innings during the prior weekend. I would have also had to activate Trevor Cahill, who was hammered in his first start off the DL.

Instead, Mike came to my aid by throwing in Colorado’s Matt Belisle to tide my pitching over for the week.

Here is another example of potential learning. Both of us had come far so far in the trade talks that we were motivated to work out the two throw-ins rather than scuttle the entire deal.

As it turned out, both hurlers were two-start pitchers the first week – and they pitched on the first day they changed teams. Sellers’ remorse immediately set in for me as Liriano threw seven shutout innings while fanning 13 Padres. That same night, De La Rosa went 6 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs on six baserunners. Both starters collected wins.

On the other hand, Hanley went 1-for-9 in his first two contests on my roster. After that, I decided to stop analyzing day-to-day results, reminding myself I am in this for the long haul - or at least the final month.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 September 2013 07:03
 
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