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Being Jeff Luhnow Is Not Easy PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 24 May 2014 00:00

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff Luhnow during his years running the draft and the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals. While I admire him greatly and would love to have his current position as a major league general manager (After all, who wouldn’t? Isn’t the desire to be a GM why we play this game?), Luhnow’s challenge is unenviable.

As everyone reading this probably knows, the Houston Astros team Jeff inherited prior to the 2012 season was a non-contender. In fact, it was the worst in the game in 2011. Perhaps even more painful was that it appeared that little of any impact help was on its way through the farm system.

Luhnow’s bold strategy was to blow up the Astros, flipping most of the best veteran major league talent for prospects. A string of last-place finishes meant a gaggle of number one draft picks ensued as well.

Because of the string of futility, the GM was given some rope by a number of frustrated Astros fans. Though respectability is still ahead, top prospect George Springer has reached the bigs with many others expected to come up behind soon.

Since the Astros had pretty much hit bottom and Luhnow inherited the mess, he may not have felt as much personal angst over making the tough decision to rebuild. There, I said it!

Rebuild.

I have played fantasy baseball for…a long time now…and have never given up. In the case of a re-draft league, that is hardly a noteworthy comment. However, in the case of a keeper league such as the Xperts Fantasy League, it is another matter entirely.

2014 marks my 10th year in the XFL and I have yet to admit defeat by pulling a Luhnow – dumping my top contributors in return for younger, cheaper future keepers – until now.

You don’t need to look at the calendar to realize we haven’t even yet hit Memorial Day. As you well know, as we pass the holiday marking the opening of summer, it is the customary time to take stock of one’s team.

Instead, I am already pretty much done dealing. It happened all within a 48-hour period. Before getting into the details, a bit of background, though.

If I graphed my history in the 15-team XFL, it would track pretty closely to a traditional bell curve. A couple of early 10th place finishes were left behind, as I enjoyed four years of serious contention in 2008-2011. Going for a title, I dumped a number of my prospects, but unfortunately, my best placement was a very close third.

The last two years, I skidded to eighth and then 14th. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, my pitching anchors, Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright, were getting too expensive to keep, requiring almost $60 of my $260, and the next generation was weak in comparison.

Though I was in last place in mid-May 2014, I wasn’t overly concerned. Certainly, I was not in a hurry to take action, but my competitors felt otherwise.

It seems like each year, the XFL dumpers make their moves earlier and earlier.

By the time I made the difficult decision to join in, here are some of the players to have changed teams in a gaggle of trades in the few days heading into last weekend:

Veterans – Ian Kinsler, Pablo Sandoval, Prince Fielder, Adam Jones, Joe Nathan, Troy Tulowitzki, Brett Gardner.

Prospects – Alex Meyer, Marcus Stroman, Garin Cecchini, Dominic Smith, Gregory Polanco, Miguel Gonzalez.

Watching all this unfold, I knew in my heart that I had to jump into the fray and do it quickly. The pump had been primed and it was my turn to drink. Contenders were analyzing the moves made by their peers and several felt they needed to respond.

The final spark was an innocuous inquiry from 2011 and 2012 league champion Don Drooker. Donald’s Dux already took me on a trade in which I received Josh Hamilton for Starlin Castro and wanted more. In this case, it was speed in the name of Ben Revere. Knowing my interest in the Cardinals, he offered St. Louis pitching prospect Alex Reyes, still cutting his teeth in Low-A.

Revere, whom I had purchased for $15 in the November draft, was not part of my future plans. Yet, he wasn’t going to bring enough in trade to improve my long-term health, so I went bold. I asked Drook what it would take to get Matt Harvey.

I had decided my best approach was to acquire a handful of top players, some of the very best. I already had eight prospects on my 40-man roster, but none of them were name brands. I now preferred quality over quantity.

In the meantime, another contender, Lawr Michaels, approached me – get this – asking for Revere, among others. Who could have guessed that the Phils’ outfielder would be in such demand?

Drooker balked at making Harvey available, not a surprising initial reaction. I told him that I was looking at another bigger deal that included Revere, which was absolutely true.

The next day, I contacted the Dux again, specifically teeing up Verlander. Don again declined, referencing the Tigers’ ace’s last four starts. In my final attempt before moving on, I tossed out Wainwright for his consideration.

That did the trick. Drooker offered Harvey and Reyes for Wainwright and Revere. To make this work, however, I had to extract Revere from what had grown to a 10-player deal with Michaels.

Having one Tommy John rehabber in Harvey lined up, I decided to target two more from Lawr – Matt Moore and Miguel Sano. Lawr wanted Kenley Jansen and preferred Mark Teixeira over Nick Swisher. He was willing to exclude Revere.

I let Drooker know I accepted his offer and did the same with Michaels.

It will take another six years of $3 per year salary escalation for Harvey (and Moore) to reach the current keeper price for Wainwright (and Verlander). That gives me a lot of runway to make hay with my two new young aces.

While this was all going on, I had a third deal still percolating. One by-product of being in last place is to own the first spot in the monthly free agent draft. Since I am now playing for next year, that first pick isn’t that important to me. To a contender, however, the selection had real value.

Defending champ Trace Wood was the eager buyer. It took an on-base leader in Asdrubal Cabrera ($14) to couple with my first pick in June to shake loose the top middle infield prospect in baseball, Oakland’s Addison Russell. Fortunately, Wood did not target Revere.

Russell, though not sidelined with Tommy John like my other three acquisitions, has been out all season to date due to a hamstring injury. As a result, he isn’t likely to get a real chance in the bigs until 2015. That is just fine with me, however, so I made the deal. I also received a fourth-round pick in our supplemental draft next spring.

In summary, I added four well-known names in Moore, Harvey, Sano and Russell and gave up Wainwright, Jansen, Teixeira and Cabrera. I shed about $50 of salary and with keeper prices, should have all four new players for the next five or six years for sure.

To say I am delighted is an understatement. Once others started to move, I got into the action and moved strongly and swiftly – and I may not be done yet, after all. Once Hamilton is back, his power would help a contender, as would Verlander’s strikeouts.

The message to you is don’t hesitate. If you have to break down and pull a Luhnow, get on with it. When you are ready to move, be as decisive in trading as you are in drafting your initial roster and acquiring free agents. Determine your targets and go out and get them!

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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.

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 May 2014 16:35
 
Small Miscues Can Add Up PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 17 May 2014 00:00

This week’s message is a simple one. Perhaps it is too elementary for many. Yet it is one that can be taken for granted. I have been playing a long time and re-learned it the hard way this past week.

Pay attention!

With spring in the air and related outside projects awaiting, visitors in the house and a full weekend of Mother’s Day-related activities planned, there were plenty of potential distractions around.

As a result, I did not watch daily transactions as closely as usual. OK, really I skipped a couple of days, figuring I would catch up on Sunday night before weekly transactions are due.

The result was sort of like what I received earlier in life after cramming for exams at the last minute – much less in return than desired.

In the particular league in question, mid-week transactions are allowed when a player is deactivated due to injury, sent to the minor leagues or released. The same applies if a player comes off the disabled list.

Because I was not paying full attention to roster moves in Major League Baseball, I did not notice that the San Diego Padres activated third baseman Chase Headley off the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. His first day back, San Diego’s number five hitter launched a home run and drove in three. Also important in an on-base percentage league like this one, Headley also drew two free passes.

To help put that performance into perspective, in his 76 plate appearances prior to injury, Headley had just 13 hits and six walks.

The player in my lineup while Headley was on the disabled list was Jeff Bianchi. Not only did Milwaukee’s reserve third baseman did not play last Saturday, he had just two at-bats the entire week. During his too-long stint on my roster of two week’s duration, Bianchi contributed no home runs, no RBI, no steals, two runs scored and an on-base percentage of .167.

Despite Aramis Ramirez having been placed on the disabled list, I dropped Bianchi – though it was a day too late. With Mark Reynolds able to shift to the hot corner and Lyle Overbay available to play first, Bianchi should remain nailed to the Brewers bench for the foreseeable future. If only I had seen that coming.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a flyer on then-just promoted outfielder Randal Grichuk of St. Louis. After seven strikeouts in 21 at-bats and a .182 OBP, the right-handed hitter was returned to Triple-A for more seasoning.

With that transaction effective on Friday, I thought I was ready. I actually had two outfielders potentially available, with one on my bench and another available to bring off the disabled list.

My backfill choice for the dropped Grichuk was Logan Schafer, again of Milwaukee. I thought that at-bats could be had given Ryan Braun’s oblique injury. During the weekend, Schafer had one hit in five at-bats with an RBI.

The other choice would have been the right one – the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. I had been worried after Young was struck in the face by a ball during batting practice at the start of the week. The outfielder went six days without starting, but when he did on Sunday, a significant result ensued. EY went 3-for-6 with two runs scored and two stolen bases.

Like in the case with Headley’s return, I missed Young’s big day – due to a basic lack of attention on my part.

Perhaps I could have shaken off those mistakes more easily had I not made two other blunders this past week in another league. There, I picked up Ryan Vogelsong and Jordan Lyles, only to leave them on the bench in favor of Tim Lincecum and Alfredo Simon.

The two starters were torched for nine earned runs in just seven innings while Vogelsong and Lyles yielded just five earned runs in 21 1/3 frames - and added 15 strikeouts to boot.

Sure, the long summer is still ahead. These miscues will not make or break my season. Yet they were potential moves entirely under my control, but were missed. Especially with a team not in contention and struggling to become relevant, these kinds of small cuts in aggregate can eventually become fatal wounds.

The bottom line message is simple – pay attention each and every day all season long.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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.

 

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 May 2014 08:11
 
Time for Fantasy to Become Family-Friendly PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 10 May 2014 00:00
With a title like that, you may be wondering if I am proposing a way for fantasy players to spend less time on their favorite hobby and more with their spouses and children. While I do agree that balance in everything is important, including for this, it is not my message this week.

Generally speaking, one objective of fantasy baseball is to emulate the real game as much as possible. I am here to suggest that be extended to an area in which Major League Baseball leads all sports – special consideration for time away for personal matters.

Specifically, I am talking about paternity and bereavement leaves.

First, MLB implemented a process to allow players up to seven days of bereavement leave. Dealing with all the necessary affairs following the loss of a close loved one should be more important than any job.

Next to be introduced was up to three days of paternity leave, which was agreed to by players and ownership as part of Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement implemented in late 2011.

A very important part of these leaves was to allow their teams to replace the temporarily inactive player on their 25-man active roster. That way, a club is less disadvantaged competitively and perhaps the affected player can feel less guilty about leaving his teammates while dealing with his personal affairs.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets it. Donald Sterling is not the only Neanderthal currently in professional sports. At the start of this season, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was ripped by talk radio jocks Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason after taking paternity leave to be with his wife as their new child was delivered.

Esiason had to backpedal quickly after saying on air, "Quite frankly, I would've said, 'C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day.' "

Hopefully, you are agreeing, but you may also be asking yourself how this relates to fantasy. Stay with me, here.

It is a constitutional matter, or at least it could be.

MLB has also instituted a seven-day concussion disabled list, another leading-edge policy designed to ensure affected players are given adequate time and attention to getting healthy.

Because it is a type of "disabled list," wording to cover the concussion DL is already built into many fantasy league constitutions. That provides guidance for how injured players can be replaced on rosters while disabled.

That is usually not the case for paternity and bereavement leaves, however.

My view is that if a league allows DLed players to be reserved, it should also allow players on these special leaves to be substituted without penalty.

Unfortunately, the default answer from some commissioners is only slightly more satisfying than Esiason's reaction. If it is not specifically mentioned in the constitution, they say, there is nothing that can be done.

This is exactly what happened to me last week, at least initially.

On Monday, the weekly transaction day, the Padres announced second baseman Jedd Gyorko had been granted paternity leave. Coincidentally, that same day, I had planned to release reserve Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney because of another roster addition.

Instead, I proposed that like the Padres, I should be allowed to replace Gyorko while on leave without having to release a player. I had Barney ready to plug in. The non-release point is especially important in this league, one in which there are only four reserve spots.

Because my league's stat site did not recognize Gyorko's status, my first stop was the league SWAT. After not getting a positive answer, I took my case to the league governing board. The initial take there was negative, too, until one member remembered that such an exception had been made in the past.

Now, here is the message for you. The league leaders forgot to update the constitution the first time. Therefore, I could not find any precedent to guide me.

The good news is that they recognized this and have resolved to update the document going forward.

The maneuver did not help my bottom line, nor did it hurt.

While Gyorko was out, Barney went 2-for-8 (.250). However, I lost two days of Gyorko being active upon his return from leave. League rules indicate a mid-week transaction is not effective until the next day, plus I forgot to initiate the move the first day possible. In doing so, I missed 2-for-7 (.286) results from Gyorko.

Despite the fact I ended up releasing Barney anyway, there was always the chance that another player could have been injured during the week, in which case, I might have been able to plug him in elsewhere. Maintaining as much roster flexibility as possible is important, especially in a single-league format.

In closing, my recommendation is to understand ahead of time how your leagues handle paternity and bereavement leaves. File the information away and use it to your advantage if possible.

And, as always, for the benefit of all, make sure your league rules are kept current.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 16-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.

Last Updated on Monday, 12 May 2014 03:12
 
First Month Mendoza All-Stars PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 03 May 2014 00:00

This week, a reader asked the following:

“I've been noticing all the hitters that are hitting in the .100s this year and it seems like there are a whole lot of them. What got me to thinking about this was Tuesday night I was tuned in briefly to the Cubs/Reds game in Cincinnati and Darwin Barney was hitting .108. I know that it is still somewhat early in the year and as a result numbers can change in a hurry but it still seems to me that there's a whole lot of them so far in 2014. What do you think?”

I was tipped off to an interesting article that ran about 10 days ago at Grantland.com. The author suggests batting averages are indeed trending lower, with three primary reasons suspected.

  1. Rising strikeout totals
  2. Increase in defensive shifts
  3. Analytics-driven personnel decision making

To be honest, I never got into these reasons in depth. I remained stuck on the base assertion that batting averages are lower. Given the incomplete data presented in the article, it is impossible for me to tell.

The author compared the 2014 partial month of April MLB batting average of .248 versus full seasons under .250. That seems apples to oranges. Then he only showed the partial seasons through April 21 that were .242 or under. Why .242?

Why did he not list all years up to and including .248 to put the 2014 results into proper context? I was left wondering exactly how many more partial Aprils were between .242 and this year's .248. My guess is there were so many it would weaken the article’s story line. It would also be nice to see how many more partial Aprils were up to say .252, still very close to this year's .248.

It feels to me like the data was cherry-picked to set up his story.

As a result, I went back to the original question of how many hitters are under the Mendoza Line.

First of all, due to the rebirth of Emilio Bonifacio in Chicago, Barney is now a reserve, so he isn’t getting enough at-bats to rank among the league qualifiers. Among MLB players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting titles, however, 18 were batting under .200 as April turned to May.

The group includes some surprising names, including Curtis Granderson, Carlos Santana, Jedd Gyorko, Pablo Sandoval, Brett Lawrie, David Freese and Colby Rasmus.

Again, context is really important, so I also checked the first month of the 2013 season. 16 hitters logged sub-Mendoza Line batting averages last April. I have no idea whether 18 versus 16 is significant, but I did notice one interesting thing.

While the 2014 names cover the gamut from “A” to “Z,” Aaron Hicks to Zack Cozart, three stand out because they also made the same list last April. That would seem to make them interesting buy-low candidates.


April BA R SB HR RBI
Seas. BA R SB HR RBI
Pedro Alvarez 2014 .172 13 2 6 14







2013 .180 10 0 4 11
2013 .233 70 2 36 100














Aaron Hicks 2014 .188 7 2 1 7







2013 .113 8 3 0 8
2013 .192 54 9 8 27














Mike Moustakas 2014 .149 7 0 4 12







2013 .195 5 1 1 5
2013 .233 42 2 12 42
Over the five subsequent months of play following April 2013, Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez raised his batting average 53 points by the end of last season. Of course, his prolific power production, including a National League-best 36 home runs, made his .233 batting average more tolerable. That also makes acquiring Alvarez this season a more expensive proposition. Still, focusing on the batting average drain might work with some owners.

As a rookie last season, Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks did not get out of the gates well. In fact, the former top prospect’s .113 mark was dead last in the Majors in April 2013. As a result, the fact he added 79 points the rest of the way still did not enable the switch-hitter to reach the Mendoza Line. One small point worth noting is nine stolen bases in 81 games last summer, and three this April. But before you target Hicks, ensure his collision with the outfield wall on a Scott Van Slyke triple Thursday night is not serious.

If you are like me, you are getting weary of hearing Mike Moustakas is nearing a breakout. Though still only 25, Moose is in his fourth season in the bigs. Of perhaps even more consolation than his 38 points of batting average improvement post-April last season is that the Royals’ third baseman is on pace for career bests in home runs and RBI. Still, it would take some guts to acquire a .149 hitter.

But then again, as they say, “no guts, no glory.”

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 May 2014 10:03
 
Would You Rather Have Eric Young or Billy Hamilton? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 26 April 2014 00:00

Terry Collins isn’t losing it, though I can understand why some may think so.

As I arrived at the Citi Field press box each day for the just-completed four-game series in which the New York Mets entertained the St. Louis Cardinals, there at the top of Collins’ lineup was “22 E. Young, Jr.” To the left was EY’s season batting average, which on Thursday’s card was a mediocre .222.

What is Collins thinking, you might ask? Insanity is defined as trying the same action repeatedly while expecting a different result.

So what if Young can switch hit? What good is a base stealer who cannot buy a base hit? Why in the heck does he deserve to be atop any lineup?

The deficiency with the information presented on the Mets lineup card is the same as we have been dealing with in fantasy baseball for several decades. Of course, I am referring to the excessive focus on batting average at the expense of a more important and relevant measure, on-base percentage.

I will not go off into an impassioned argument here as to why your league should leave behind BA and adopt OBP. It is not because I don’t feel strongly about it, because I do. The reason is that I already know you are going to come around eventually. It is only a matter of time.

In the case of Mr. Young, the difference between the two measures is almost certainly why Collins keeps playing him every day – that and the injury to Juan Lagares, perhaps. Through his first 88 plate appearances of the season, Young has 12 walks to go with 17 hits. That adds 117 points to his current .224 batting average for an OBP of .341.

I am especially attuned to Young’s doings for another reason. He is a member of my National League Tout Wars squad. In fact, Young is my team’s second-best on-base man in the early going. He follows a really dark horse in Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett at .348, a player that cost me just $3 on draft day.

Speaking of draft day, as we walked into the fishbowl at the Sirius/XM studios in Manhattan on March 22nd, one of the players for whom I most anticipated watching the bidding was Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton. Fame had preceded the speedster’s arrival in the major leagues, and it was justified.

After all, the 23-year-old did lead five different leagues in steals in the last four years. Hamilton paced all professional players with 101 steals in 2011 and his 155 in 2012 set a new single-season record at all levels. Following his call-up last September, the Mississippi native whet our appetites by leading the NL with 13 steals in 14 attempts (Young was second with 12).

Bidding expectations had also preceded NL Tout. Not only did each of we Tout warriors have access to our favored projections, we had also scrutinized other industry leagues that had preceded us. Hamilton had gone for $26 in CBS and $28 in LABR in drafts held before Tout.

While I wanted a stolen base anchor for my squad, I knew the price for Hamilton would be beyond my comfort level. Sure enough, he went for $22, though it was a comparative bargain. While that price was lower than the other industry leagues, I did not feel badly about missing out.

Though punting stolen bases can be done, that was not my plan coming in. It was to acquire a number of 10-15 steal players that would allow me to be competitive in the category. However, later in the draft, when bidding on Young abruptly ended with my $9 offer, I was delighted to get him. To me, Young is capable of leading the league in stolen bases and would be a far less liability in an OBP league than in a standard batting average format.

The 28-year-old lacks the shiny newness of Hamilton, and being a known quantity does not appeal to some. Young’s career OBP of .324 was satisfactory, but to be honest, what I found most interesting was his 38 steals in just 91 games after joining Collins’ Mets from Colorado last June.

It wasn’t just me. The main reason most fantasy owners bought either player in 2014 is basically a draw at this point. Their respective stolen base totals are very good - 10 for Young and nine for Hamilton. They trail just NL leader Dee Gordon, who has 12.

We are currently only about one-seventh of the way through the 2014 season, but so far, Young is out-pacing Hamilton in every other aspect of performance, however. While the Reds’ speedster has 17 hits like Young, one big difference is that the Reds star has drawn just three free passes in his first 77 plate appearances.

The resulting OBP gap between the two is a whopping 75 points.

That alone is of significant value, but there is a side benefit, as well. In what is hardly a news flash, being on base more often leads to more runs being scored. In fact, Young has doubled Hamilton’s total in the runs category to date this season.

Player Price BA OBP Runs Steals
Hamilton $22 0.230 0.266 9 9
Young $9 0.224 0.341 18 10

This gulf between the two may or may not hold for the remainder of the season, but consider this illustration in the broader scope. If you are in an OBP league, do not let the category get away from you. With enough balanced but perhaps a bit under-the-radar players like Eric Young on your roster, you can reap a potential advantage in OBP and runs as well as steals.

If you don’t believe me, ask Terry Collins.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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.

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 April 2014 10:27
 
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