Articles of Configuration

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 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.

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 and 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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 April 2014 10:27
Getting Through the Early Valleys PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 19 April 2014 00:00

Anyone who is serious about fantasy baseball knows that barely three weeks into any baseball season is far too soon to be agonizing over league standings. And, after all, if you are reading this column at Mastersball, you are almost surely among that population.

We have all heard that ideally, we would be best served to wait until Memorial Day to see how our teams are doing. That way, we can be protected from ourselves overreacting too soon by making short-sighted drops or maybe even pulling the trigger on an early-season trade.

In one of my local leagues, I won last season. It wasn’t because of my draft, which was good, but not great. I don’t think I made a trade all season long. All I had to do was keep my eyes open and work the waiver wire. My frustrated peer owners, also limited by a one-man disabled list, were often guilty of having very short attention spans and being overanxious.

Among the players I snared off the waiver wire last year were Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford, to name just a few. This season, I just put in my first claim – for Prince Fielder. Do we really believe that Fielder is going to finish with a .164 average and one home run every three weeks?

Of course, here in the real world, we cannot afford to sit back for two months without looking at the standings. We need to constantly evaluate needs, whether the league has daily, weekly or monthly free agent acquisitions.

There is a reason I said all that.

In the two leagues for which I care about the results the most, as of this Thursday, I was sitting in last place in each. Yes, it was only April 17th, but still, it hurts.

Making matters worse is the diversity of the formats. One is a 15-man keeper league, the other a redraft. One has 40-man major and minor league rosters, the other a National League-only population. One has monthly free agent acquisitions by reverse standings order, the other has weekly FAAB. One is the Xperts Fantasy League, XFL. The other is National League Tout Wars. I do not think I have a common player across both leagues.

Not checking live results from Thursday evening, I went to bed depressed. Understanding all the things I said above did not make me feel better. At least, I had made the decision to write about it here – for the therapeutic value if nothing else.

Much to my surprise, the new day Friday brought a major change - for one of my clubs. I am sure I have had days in the past with a bigger swing in the standings, but I don’t recall when.

My XFL roster picked up a whopping 18.5 points on Thursday, vaulting me from 15th place all the way up to sixth. The vast majority of improvement came from pitching. The confluence of various team’s rotations aligned such that I had three starters going the same night and all three delivered.

Two are aces, expected to perform, in Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander. The other is an up-and-comer, but likely pitching over his potential, in Kyle Gibson. The three combined for 21 strikeouts and one earned run over 23 frames. Each added a win.

In his one inning of work, Kenley Jansen allowed as many runs as the three starters combined. Even so, the Dodgers closer contributed a save.

These aren’t my only pitchers, obviously, but it is only natural to expect some erosion in the standings over the next four days until they throw again. Yet I feel like April 17 is going to be my XFL low-water mark for the season.

On the other hand, Thursday was another day of desperation in Tout. With no innings thrown, I lost two pitching points. The offense was pretty much non-existent, too. Given I had a .208 average for the evening with one run scored and one RBI, it is surprising I did not lose more ground. Then again, I was already in last place in runs, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage.

When you learn my team’s home run and RBI leader is Jimmy Rollins, you know why I am in trouble. To top it off, with Tout having moved to on-base percentage from batting average for 2014, the same hitters not producing power have also been dragging my OBP deep into the league’s cellar.

I spent $108 on five hitters that have logged the following OBP’s to date: .210, .222, .261, .271 and .286, respectively. That is really painful.

Even including their dismal 2014 starts, the career on-base marks of the same five are: .352, .348, .332, .349 and .339.

In other words, these are quality players. I bought them with an expectation they can and will perform. I still believe that. I cannot and will not let three bad weeks trump years of collective performance while destroying my confidence and shattering my dreams.

The names are not important to my main message to not get discouraged early and stay the course. (Yet I will include them because I know you will be curious otherwise. They are Allen Craig, Chase Headley, Carl Crawford, Jason Heyward and Curtis Granderson.) 

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 April 2014 07:57
Will the Sherpa again find his way? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 12 April 2014 00:00

In 2014, due to the early major league games in Australia, a decision was made by the Tout Wars governing board to move the National League draft to the leadoff spot for the three-draft weekend. That was on Saturday morning, March 22nd. I was among the participants.

Once that draft was completed, the mixed league was next up. Able to relax a bit after a very hectic four or five hours, it was a great pleasure for me to catch up with friends and colleagues, many of whom I see in person just a couple of times each year. We discussed and debated a number of topics, including ideas for potential rules changes that may be the subject of a future column.

During the second of two breaks during the mixed league festivities, word from the draft room was that the Fantasy Sherpa, Scott Swanay, was in serious trouble. While the others at the table had $20-$30 remaining, Swanay still held nearly $100. Clearly, there were no longer enough quality players remaining on the board for him to secure full value for his remaining money.

As a group of us were discussing this, our own Lord Zola pointed out the only partial solution to a very bad situation would be for Swanay to use his remaining bankroll to purchase a player out for the season.

You might be asking yourself why that would help.

Tout has a very interesting rule that essentially provides an insurance policy against a season-ending injury. Any player’s original full purchase price can be reclaimed in FAAB dollars once he is placed on the disabled list.

Originally, this rule only applied to players “out for the season.” However, that is a nebulous term and if fact, conditions can change. Later, it was changed to the 60-day disabled list. That was not fool-proof, either, as clubs cannot use the 60-day DL unless their 40-man roster is full. So a player clearly out for the year might still not be eligible for FAAB reclaim.

The current rule drops the FAAB reclaim amount to 50 percent following the All-Star break.

One of the SiriusXM producers was within earshot of our hallway conversation. He liked the FAAB reclaim idea so much that he took it into the on-air hosts immediately. As coincidence would have it, Swanay was being interviewed at the time.

Whether or not it was his plan coming into that break, as the draft concluded, Scott spent $61 on Brandon Beachy. Of course, the Braves right-hander underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and will not return until 2015.

Swanay readily admitted that he simply stuck with his too-low values too long without adapting to the table conditions.

Again, the Beachy purchase was no better than making the best of a bad situation. I could find no one who felt that the value of $1 of in-season FAAB is worth as much as $1 at the draft table.

If you are skeptical, look at it this way. If you were given $360 for the season and could deploy it in any way you would like, wouldn’t you be far more likely to spend more than $260 on draft day, not less?

Of course, you would.

The uncertainties of the free agent market add considerable risk to in-season buying.

Further, in a mixed league, the interleague trade deadline, a key source of in-season talent in mono leagues, is irrelevant. Instead, Swanay’s best hope may be that a squad of Jose Fernandezes emerge from the minor leagues in a hurry. Of course, he also has to identify them and outbid the rest of the league in the process.

The Vickrey system used in Tout could be Swanay’s friend. The approach helps stretch FAAB dollars to the maximum by lowering the winning bid for any large acquisition to $1 more than the second-highest bid. That could allow Swanay to bid more aggressively.

This raises a potential competitive balance issue. Is it fair to the rest of the league for one owner to hold 60 percent more FAAB than anyone else? (Actually, the gap is greater for part of the league because those owners who finish below a pre-defined point threshold each season are docked FAAB the next year.)

One could argue that everyone at the draft table received a benefit in the lower prices achieved, given that Swanay did not utilize his full stipend. Then again, did others recognize that and were the benefits spread evenly on draft day? I don’t know how I could measure that.

Another potential twist is that Tout allows trading of FAAB. In the process of trying to improve his team, Swanay could clearly affect others’ ability to acquire available players based on how he uses his money – either through his own bidding or by giving “the hammer” to another.

After a lot of thought about this matter from these and other angles, my take is that because this situation sits within the current league rules, it should be allowed to continue down whatever path it follows.

Others feel differently – that the entire process represents a loophole that should be closed by a rules change. Though it seems unlikely that anyone would actually implement such a bidding approach purposely, that isn’t the point. They ask why this escape hatch should be allowed?

Another line of thinking is that in an industry showcase league such as Tout, such a rule should not be required. A precedent has already been established that if participants do not demonstrate sufficient playing proficiency, they may not be asked back. After all, this situation is based on a mistake, not an intent to circumvent the rules.

As much as I almost always advocate constitutional changes to clarify any gray situations, I tend to come down on the side of letting this play out before making any decisions. In this case, it is not a rules issue, per se.

I could, however, be convinced to get behind lowering the FAAB reclaim percentage to something less than 100 percent. That has always seemed too rich for my tastes – an opinion I held long before the Sherpa took his wrong turn.

In reality, Swanay may be doomed no matter how this plays out. The prevailing wisdom is that his year is likely ruined based on starting with a $200 team. If, however, he is able to salvage his season somehow, the collateral damage to the remainder of the league could lead to discord among its members.

To that end, post-draft I asked several of the other mixed Tout participants their view of the FAAB imbalance. One mixed league warrior was especially succinct. “If I wasn’t so happy with the team I drafted, then yes, I would definitely be concerned about it,” he said.

History would tend to suggest that well before the season concludes, at least 10 of the league participants are going to feel a lot less confident about their rosters than they did on draft weekend. Rightly or wrongly, how many of them perceive that FAAB bids lost to Swanay will be a negative contributor to their title chances?

Clearly, Swanay has no choice. His only recourse is to compete like hell and not worry about anyone else. We will all be watching how this season plays out.

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.
Last Updated on Saturday, 12 April 2014 08:25
Don’t Bite on Bonifacio PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 05 April 2014 00:00

In the opening days of the 2014 season, the baseball world has been ablaze over the superhuman feats of Chicago Cubs infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio. There is a lot to talk about.

The 28-year-old collected a modern-day record nine hits in 12 at-bats through the Cubs’ first two contests. Bonifacio followed up with two more hits in game three, becoming the first major leaguer ever with 11 hits in his first three games with a new team and just the third by any player to open a season since 1900. Bonifacio reached base just once in four plate appearances on Friday.

As is always the case, events occurring at the start of any season draw unusual levels of attention – whether for unpleasant reasons like say, B.J. Upton’s 1-for-16 start with nine strikeouts – or an extraordinary one, like Bonifacio is enjoying. Let’s face it, a few good (or bad) games in June or July might receive passing notice at best, but because it is April, the magnifying lenses are out.

Now on his sixth major league roster in his eight big league seasons after being cast aside by the Royals earlier this year, the switch-hitting Bonifacio was an afterthought at best to fantasy players in 2014. Taken late in most NL-only fantasy drafts for his speed alone, he was probably completely passed over in any respectable mixed league.

Perhaps to some, that is what contributes to his early allure. After all, Bonfacio’s career line coming into this season was a pedestrian .262/.322/.340/.662.  My simple question is this: Where do you think he will end up?

In my recollection of Bonifacio’s checkered past, this fast start song is a very familiar tune.

Having drafted Bonifacio previously, I have been sucked in by his good-looking sprints out of the blocks before. While I could rightfully be accused of a minor case of cherry-picking data in what follows, the major thought should not be lost.

Bonifacio is a fast starter, but much less so a strong finisher. The only exception might be his career year in 2011 while he was with the Marlins (.296/.360/.393/.753 with 40 stolen bases).

Look at these opening numbers from Bonifacio’s recent campaigns. They begin with 2009, the first year he began a season in the bigs (2013 is left out because it does not fit the storyline while 2010 was omitted because the Dominican native was injured and opened on the disabled list). I chose either his first four or five games of each season to illustrate his slash line high-water marks.

Bonifacio’s Fast Starts – first games of the season

Games At-bats Hits Steals BA OBP SLG OPS
2014 4 19 11 4 0.579 0.619 0.684 1.303
2012 5 19 8 4 0.421 0.500 0.421 0.921
2011 4 15 7 0 0.400 0.400 0.467 0.867
2009 5 24 14 4 0.583 0.600 0.833 1.433

The moral of the story? Do not fall for the early-April headlines. We are not talking about a Jose Fernandez discovery here. This is Emilio Bonifacio, for Pete’s sake.

After all, chances are good that by the time you could acquire him as a free agent and actually get him into your active lineup, he would cool down - and that would be that. Save your energies and FAAB for potential true difference-makers.


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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 April 2014 08:28
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