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Tuesday 28th Mar 2017

Coming into the National League LABR and Tout Wars drafts this spring, I had decided that I would try to acquire one top prospect pitcher to hold among my reserves until his MLB debut. This is an approach relatively new for me, forced upon me by my very savvy peer owners stashing away the very best prospects long before their call-ups and long before I could get them.

In the NL this year, three young hurlers’ names were on my radar screen – all top 10 prospects in MLB and all close to the majors. One, St. Louis’ Alex Reyes, put himself at the back of the pack due to his suspension for the first 40 games of the season.

That left Tyler Glasnow of Pittsburgh and Lucas Giolito of Washington on my short list. Though both youngsters had their supporters, I expected greater bidding interest in the former, due to the perceived excellence of pitching coach Ray Searage and potentially earlier and greater opportunity with the Bucs.

To make a long story short, I executed my plan, ending up with Giolito in both leagues. I was delighted to get him, though it cost me $2 more ($6 vs. $4) in Tout, which drafted several weeks later this spring. I was content to hold onto Giolito the last three months despite him taking up a precious reserve spot, with hope for an inexpensive performance boost to my rosters whenever he would arrive.

A close friend who has enjoyed greater success in industry-level competition than I, and who happens to live in Nationals territory to boot, felt otherwise. In fact, he advised me as recently as 10 days ago that my keeping Giolito was a complete waste of roster space. With Giolito’s uneven performance at Double-A, a stable rotation in DC, and others ahead of him, my pal did not see Lucas in the bigs until September, likely in very limited relief duty.

The seemingly annual injury to Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg changed everything. Yet it did not evolve as I had expected, due to unfortunate timing and league rules that worked against my plans.

Even when the news surfaced that Strasburg’s upper back pain was more than a strain (including two dislocated ribs - ouch!), it was not clear if a disabled list trip would be required, and if so, it remained unclear who would replace him.

My best Sunday night assessment was that Triple-A hurler Austin Voth would receive the call. The 24-year-old was lined up to pitch on Tuesday (same as Strasburg and Giolito) and was carrying a 2.99 ERA to go with 75 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 81 1/3 innings for Syracuse.

Here is where it got tricky.

I only own Strasburg in LABR, as I was outbid for him this spring in Tout. However, LABR’s rules do not allow acquisition of minor league players. As of Sunday night, Voth had not been promoted. Therefore, he remained ineligible for weekly bidding.

So, I did all that I could, spending $34 (on a $1000 base) to acquire Voth in Tout. I have to admit that I was concerned when Strasburg’s Tout owner, another DC-area resident who often makes speculative prospect bids, passed on Voth entirely. My worthy competitor did not even make a $0 bid!

Mid-afternoon Monday, things got really interesting with the disclosure that Giolito would be promoted to make Strasburg’s Tuesday night start. Voth would just have to wait longer, it seems.

Of course, I was fine with that, and quickly moved to activate Giolito in both leagues.

In LABR, it was easy. With Strasburg moving to the DL, a roster spot was open for the call-up and I could make the change without incident. Without that injury, however, LABR rules would have required me to drop an active pitcher entirely to clear space for Giolito – a slightly more difficult decision, but one I surely would have made given his upside.

In Tout, I had to bench an active pitcher to make room, hardly a major issue. In all –only leagues, we invariably have no choice but to carry several borderline players on our rosters. In my case, Reds pitcher Dan Straily was the easy call to bench. Not only had he been bombed in his most recent two starts, yielding 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings, Straily had to face the best-hitting team in the game in the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.

Sure enough, Straily went on to be lit up by the Cubbies – to the tune of seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. I was relieved to have him out of my lineup – or so I thought. After Giolito’s rain-shortened MLB debut on Tuesday night, I checked the league stat site on Wednesday morning. (Only in the final month do I obsess over daily results in full-season leagues.)

To my dismay, I noticed Straily and his 17.17 ERA for the week was still active and Giolito among my reserves, where he had been all season to date. Checking the league transactions, I saw my moves were reflected – but with an effective date of one week in the future!

I had missed one very important fact. This Monday, there was an afternoon game between the Dodgers and Pirates. While it did not affect Straily or Giolito personally, league rules state that all transactions must be completed by the first pitch of Monday’s first game. In other words, I was a couple of hours late – and waited too long to bring my concern forward.

From there, discussion about the situation with league officials moved into interpretations of when exceptions are allowed, intention, and ultimately, integrity – generally unpleasant gray areas that could be avoided entirely with a more reasonable rule.

That is where we get to the lesson to be learned. Not only is this column (usually) about rules, but a common theme is encouragement for you to push to get them changed if they are not working for you.

I am going to take a dose of my own medicine and try this with Tout Wars. I am requesting in future years that weekly moves be allowed until the start of each team’s Monday game, rather than the first pitch of the first game.

In today’s world of instant information, doing it any other way seems really old school. A side benefit is removing potential ambiguity and need for exceptions.

In what is news to no one, the fantasy world has changed. I know that my approach has changed, too. I learn things setting daily lineups that I would use setting weekly lineups, too – but I don’t get serious about daily until late afternoon, when the best information becomes available.

In this particular example, the combination of the Nats’ roster announcement made on Monday afternoon and my digging into Straily’s matchups for the week formed a perfect match. Only the seemingly unrelated Dodgers-Bucs early start time and a rule that I firmly believe needs to be modernized got in the way.

Even if you have yet to run into a Monday activation issue like I did, consider whether you would prefer the flexibility of later deadlines or are content in continuing to do it the way it has always been done.

If you would like the former and your league constitution does not yet allow it, bring your case forward! If it will help, tell them I sent you!

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Jake Arrieta is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and the recognition was well-deserved. Last season, the Chicago Cubs star’s 22 wins, four complete games, three shutouts, 5.9 hits per nine innings and 0.4 home runs per nine were all best in the game.

Coming into Wednesday, through 14 starts in 2016, the 30-year-old has been even better - on pace to outperform his 2015 with an 11-1 record, a slightly lower ERA (1.74 vs. 1.77) while allowing fewer hits and long balls per nine.

Even Superman has his kryptonite, however. For Arrieta, it appears to be the Cubs’ long-time National League Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Game 3 of the 2015 NL Division Series, the Cardinals got to Arrieta for four runs in 5 2/3 innings, though a barrage of six Chicago home runs bailed him out.

This season, on May 25th at Busch Stadium, Chicago’s ace had his worst outing of 2016 to date, as he was charged with four earned runs in just five innings.

Just four weeks later, Arrieta would get another shot at St. Louis.

With the juggernaut Cubs looking a bit vulnerable after dropping the first two of their three-game home series against the Cards, manager Joe Maddon looked to his stopper Arrieta to avoid the sweep on Wednesday afternoon.

Once again, Superman showed his mortality.

Patient St. Louis hitters worked up Arrieta’s pitch count to 106 over the first five innings, again sending him to an early shower. The run tally on his ledger was just two, one earned, but that was enough to hang Arrieta with just his second loss of the season. Once the ace was out of the way, the Cardinals were able to have their way with the Chicago bullpen. St. Louis rolled to a 7-2 win and its first three-game sweep in the Windy City since May 1988.

In the bizarre world of statistics, Arrieta’s one earned run in five innings outing Wednesday maintained his season ERA at precisely 1.74. Without the irritation of facing St. Louis, however, his 2016 mark would be just 1.43.

That gap represents the difference from being the MLB ERA leader and being second to the man he unseated as the best pitcher in the Senior Circuit. Having earned the Cy Young Award in three of the prior four seasons, including 2013 and 2014. Clayton Kershaw is in the lead to secure number four here in 2016, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Award Predictor. His 1.57 ERA is currently the best there is.

The similarities between the two don’t end there.

For all of his individual recognition, Kershaw lacks the ultimate in team success, a World Series title. He hasn’t had to wait since 1908 like the Cubs, but the Dodgers star has definitely felt that level of frustration – again with the Cardinals at the root of his pain.

To date, exactly half of Kershaw’s post-season starts, five of ten, have come against St. Louis. The left-hander yielded an unbelievable 20 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings for a 6.14 ERA. Kershaw is still looking for his first playoff win over the Cardinals with four losses and a no-decision.

His regular season results versus the Birds are better – though certainly not Kershaw-esque. In 15 career regular-season starts facing St. Louis, Kershaw has four no-decisions and five losses against six wins. The 28-year-old’s ERA against the Birds is more than three-quarters of a run above his career average.

It may forever be a mystery as to why even superstar pitchers have less success against certain teams. But the reality is that in some cases, such as with Arrieta and Kershaw versus St. Louis, the situation is real.

When setting your daily lineups, if you discover this kind of history, don’t ignore the reality – embrace it!


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Recently, there has been a lot of concern expressed about the longer games in Major League Baseball this season. Radical and controversial “solutions” are being considered such as automatic intentional walks and raising the strike zone.

One area apparently not under pressure is regulating the explosive growth of instant replays. Like it or not, I think this has almost certainly been the biggest reason for games taking longer to complete.

The sheer numbers seem to support my contention. According to the database at Baseball Savant, there have already been 510 instant replays across the game in 2016 – with less than one-third of this season played through May 30 - 31.4 percent of all scheduled contests, to be exact.

The 510 count compares to 1360 replays all of last season and 1276 in 2014. Maintaining the current pace would lead to 1624 replays during the full 2016 season, or a whopping year-to-year increase of 19.6 percent.

I join those who are in favor of replay for the simple reason the umpires clearly need a lot of help getting plays right. The percentages of original calls overturned due to replay have been consistently between 45 and 50 percent.

Overturned rates range from 47.7 percent in 2014 to 49.2 percent last year to 45.7 so far in 2016. Rendering it specific, over the last 2 1/3 seasons, over 1500 calls initially made by umpires were wrong.

Obviously, not every one of them had a game outcome riding on the balance, but I consider the totals staggering.

The reason this subject is on my mind is a very odd occurrence that I witnessed during the St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers game on Tuesday night.

The umpiring crew, with the infamous Angel Hernandez behind the plate, did not distinguish itself. At one point in the contest, Hernandez lost track of the outs, rolling a baseball back toward the mound after the second out of the inning.

That isn’t the oddity, though.

In the eighth inning, facing the aptly-named Brewers right-hander David Goforth, Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko blasted a long, three-run home run. It turned a close 5-2 game into an 8-2 laugher.

Next, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent rookie outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker to the plate to pinch hit. The rookie slammed a long ball into the second deck, which on its way out, passed in front of the mesh section of the right-field foul pole at Miller Park.

Hazelbaker clearly saw what almost everyone else saw, which was that his blast was nothing more than a most impressive 452-foot foul ball. Yet first base umpire Will Little waved his index finger in a circle, sending the obviously-confused hitter around the bases.

Once back in the dugout, it was an odd scene, as the Cardinals standard player reception line was less enthusiastic than usual in congratulating Hazelbaker. Many seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Last as always was pitcher Carlos Martinez, who threw the customary cup of water in the hitter’s face (to cool him down, I guess).

I had my most-retweeted comment of the year when I wondered out loud at that instant if when the home run call was overturned, would Hazelbaker get to douse Martinez in return?

Predictably, once the headsets were brought onto the field and the mandatory umpire discussion with New York ensued, the home run call was overturned. The damper version of Hazelbaker was returned to home plate with another strike to his credit.

The outfielder then hit a chopper to short. With Hazelbaker demonstrating impressive speed, it looked as if he had just beaten Jonathan Villar’s throw to first in a bang-bang play. The call by Little was “out,” however.

What ensued was the second umpire review - in the same at-bat.

Consulting the video also resulted in Little’s second overturned call in a five-minute span. Upon review, Hazelbaker was placed at first with an infield single.

The whole escapade was odd and it was irritating, but ultimately, they got it right.

I don’t have an answer to the problem of longer games, but I don’t want to see instant replay curtailed. On Tuesday, the first reversal actually helped Milwaukee and the second one hurt them less in a game they would have lost handily, either way.

But that isn’t the point. Everyone’s goal should be to get as many calls correct as possible.

If it ever gets to two reviews per at-bat, however, then it will be past time to address the real underlying issue here – the quality of umpiring.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

An interesting situation developed early in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft last Thursday evening. Word had leaked out that a top-five talent, 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance prior to the draft. What to do about arguably the top hitting prospect in this class created a PR quandary for drafting clubs.

The water is muddy. It is important to understand that while many prospective draftees are tested, there is no punitive process in place. After all, they are still amateurs. In fact, the results are intended to remain confidential, but probably because negative test results are shared with clubs, the news was leaked by someone to reporter Jon Heyman.

In other words, the public was not even supposed to know about the failed test – yet no one seems to care about Perez’ rights. After all, he is apparently guilty.

As the first round evolved Thursday night, Perez’ name was not called and not called – until the St. Louis Cardinals chose him with the 23rd overall selection.

On the MLB Network broadcast, commentator Harold Reynolds immediately criticized the pick, saying it was sending “a bad message for baseball”. Fellow fantasy industry writer Ray Guilfoyle of faketeams.com agreed, tweeting “Harold is right. Cardinals sending bad message by taking Perez in first rd.”

No one seemed to notice that the financial difference between the slot values for the 23rd and fifth picks is roughly half. In other words, by the time he fell to the Cardinals. Perez potentially had already lost over $2.1 million in bonus money.

To me, that seems like enough of a penalty.

Since I could not engage with Reynolds, I started a dialogue with Guilfoyle instead.

Many commenters rightly asserted that had the Cardinals not selected Reyes, another team surely would have.

While I agree, my reply was different in that I approached it from the rules perspective.

After all, baseball is a game filled with these crazy unwritten rules. When does the score make it ok to steal a base or the situation right to retaliate for a hit batter, for example?

In this case, Reynolds and Guilfoyle established their own unwritten rule – an amateur who fails a PED test should not be eligible to be taken in the first round.

OK, if that is what you want, then make it clear. I suggested to Ray that MLB should have just suspended Perez from the first round, then. That way, the penalty would be understood by all.

Of course, the entire concept is absurd, since as already noted, MLB has no enforcement capability over amateurs.

When Guilfoyle noted that MLB could not suspend Perez, I countered with this:

“So, because there is no formal penalty, you want some kind of collusion by all 30 teams vs. the player?”

That question was not answered. At that point, Ray shifted the discussion from teams to players, asserting that “Players want to clean up the game.”

My reply was especially timely, since the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and ownership is currently being negotiated.

“If players want to clean up the game, then they have the power at the bargaining table to change the rules,” I tweeted.

Guilfoyle responded, “I am sure they will.”

Again, I disagreed. “Don't be so sure. Minor leaguers have not been a priority for the players union in the past. Why change now?”

Guilfoyle responded, “was thinking MLB not Milb”.

The conversation ended right there when I pointed out that the “MLB Drug Program is different from MiLB and is irrelevant here.”

It is important to understand that the drug program for minor leaguers is not the same as for MLB players in a number of aspects. The Players' Association seems content to push the harsher penalties on the younger players, who aren’t even yet members of the MLBPA (and most never will be), while taking an easier route themselves.

For example, Major Leaguers can get stoned every night of the week if they choose without penalty, but if a minor leaguer tests positive a second time for marijuana use, he is suspended for 50 games – even if in Colorado or another state where it is legal.

In this case, a 17-year-old made a mistake with a banned PED, but there is no mechanism to formally punish him. Expecting some mandatory and magical unwritten penalty process to sprout up, just to make MLB look good, is a completely impractical and ridiculous idea.

Ben Badler of Baseball America put it best when he tweeted this:

“The Cardinals should take the best player for their organization. Worrying about PR for MLB should not be a factor in the decision.”

So, back to my original point, which at its core is the same mantra I repeat over and over in this column in its regular context – fantasy baseball rules. That is, if you don’t like the rules (or they don’t exist), don’t just complain; fix them.

If MLB wants to address this, they could make a ruling to affect the behavior of their clubs, but I won’t be holding my breath. I also doubt the players’ union is going to make this particular situation a priority; however, I am not sure they should. Young Mr. Perez' likely loss of over $2 million due to his bad decision should be enough.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Any participant who has been involved in fantasy baseball for any considerable time is already familiar with the time-worn warning to not chase wins.

From a practical perspective, what is suggested is to avoid the temptation to pick up mediocre starting pitchers with the hopes of increasing win totals. The pitfall is the very likely hit on ERA and WHIP, essentially cratering two categories while taking a lower-odds shot to improve in one.

This advice is valid, but is not the only related pitfall.

When you have a pitching roster opening, and you do the right thing by resisting the urge to chase wins, what is left?

Adding a reliever who can at least help your ratios, right?

Proven setup men like Tony Watson of Pittsburgh, Tyler Clippard of Arizona and Kevin Siegrist of St. Louis are good enough that they were taken on draft day in NL-only leagues. Same for a number of closers-in-waiting – or at least those suspected to be.

The next tier down in relievers may be equally known, but carry risks. As such, they can become almost invisible on your roster while sucking life out of your ratios.

As you may guess, I speak from experience. Shut out of closers in the NL Tout Wars draft this spring, coupled with purposely taking an injured player in Zack Wheeler and a still-in-the minors prospect in Lucas Giolito, followed by the early loss of Tyson Ross to the DL, I needed several fill-ins.

Off to the waiver wire I went.

After a week of temporary insanity, chasing wins by adding Williams Perez of Atlanta, I came to my senses. I jettisoned Perez and went looking for known bullpen quantities.

The first reliever who caught my eye was Arquimedes Caminero from Pittsburgh, a player I had rostered in 2015 and from whom I received good results. Despite his rough spring in 2016, the Pirates took Caminero north as he is out of options, but the right-hander had continued to struggle in the early going. I went with the track record and added the reliever for $11 FAAB (on a $1000 base).

My second addition was Milwaukee’s former closer Jim Henderson ($10), now with the Mets. While neither Caminero nor Henderson appeared to be in their respective clubs’ closer hierarchy, they had enough of a track record that I felt OK with rostering them.

Heading into May, Caminero lugged a 5.40 ERA, 1.886 WHIP and an 11-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 2/3 innings. I knew he had to go.

I held onto Henderson, even as he quietly eroded my results each week in May. Only after I awoke from my coma and saw his month to date results – 5.40 ERA – did I give him the heave-ho this past weekend.

The temptation to chase wins came back over me – but only mildly. The subject was another pitcher who is less than he used to be in San Francisco’s Matt Cain. After seven starts that translated to a 7.84 ERA, the right-hander, still just 31 years of age, has crafted three consecutive outings that looked more like the Matt Cain of old. That says a lot since his last good season was 2012.

Still, looking ahead at the coming week’s schedule, I couldn’t get past the fact that Cain’s next outing was to be at Coors Field this Friday. To top it off, just last month, Cain was pounded by the Rockies there, to the tune of six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

I ended up making a tiny bid of $3, fully expecting to lose Cain – and being fine with that. The players I really wanted to add were two relievers in the closing hierarchy – though playing for two of the weakest teams in the NL. My acquisition was reliever Ross Ohlendorf of Cincinnati, as I was outbid on Tyler Thornburg of Milwaukee.

The other day, in NL LABR, I received a trade inquiry offering speed for pitching and went to look at my competitor’s roster to make an evaluation. To my amazement, there was Caminero in his active lineup, despite a 5.74 ERA and an amazingly-bloated WHIP of 2.106 here in 2016.

(Literally as I am typing this, Caminero made his first career plate appearance before hitting two batters within 11 pitches and being ejected late in a 12-1 blowout over Arizona on Tuesday evening.)

As I realized my fellow league owner was likely guilty of the same crime as me – ignoring Caminero’s drain on his pitching stats while focusing on his past successes – I decided to share my warning. After all, if the two of us did it in our high-visibility industry leagues, you may, too.

So go and check your rosters for those disposable players trying to suck the life out of your ratios. Get rid of them for more dependable alternatives, and if those players do not work, keep trying. Avoid roster complacency!

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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