The Gift of Our First African Baseball Player

Screenshot 2017-05-09 00.06.26Tyler Kepner tells a pretty good story about Gift Ngoepe (en-GO-epe), the first African to play in the major leagues. He’s a slick fielding infielder from South Africa who was promoted last week by the Pirates, who have nurtured him through their system for the past nine years. Nicely, the story suggests.

You should read the story, because it is a good story, because Ngoepe is charming, because his mother was a saint and so she suffered (and died), because he worked with Barry Larkin in Italy, because he’s a great fielder, apparently, (and a bad hitter, but off to a hot start with the bat in the majors).

And maybe because it’s helpful to hear some of the details of how some person got to that point. Kepner tells a good story. Even if you didn’t care about baseball you might like this one.

 

 

ANNOUNCING: Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Football Prospects 2014

Bolicks Football 2014 v3 cover 400wideThe iBook version of Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Football Prospects 2014 is available now. Click here to buy for $1.49.

The Kindle version is out now! You can buy it here for $1.49.

The pdf version is now live. Also $1.49.

[purchase_link id=”3198″ style=”button” color=”blue” text=”Purchase” direct=”true”]

(If you own the Fantasy Football Guide 2014, see below for how you can obtain a free version of Bolick’s Guide. It contains scores of profiles of

  • Quarterbacks
  • Running Backs
  • Wide Receivers
  • Tight Ends.

Read more…

Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball Prospects 2014 on sale at Google Play store, now!

bolickbaseball2014 coverJust released through the Google Play store, which serves up an Android mobile version, and files that can be read on eReaders and in web browsers, now discounted to just $2.28!

Okay, you already know about Tanaka, but do you want to know what JD Bolick thinks about Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, Noah Syndergaard and all the hot prospects slated to come up in the coming months? They’re all here, with fantasy implications highlighted.

Also available through Apple’s iBook store and for the Amazon Kindle.

Ask Rotoman: What price the good Polanco?

Dear Rotoman:

I want to pick up Gregory Polanco before someone else grabs him. If he comes up and is decent I can keep him for 1/3 espn auction value for 2015. (3 year average is calculated from $0 + $0 + ESPN estimated price.) to grab him I have to drop one of my outfielders, we start 5. Who should I drop or should I leave Polanco for someone else?

J. Ellsbury – not dropping
B. Harper – in DL spot

C. Blackmon
C. Yelich
S. Victorino
C. Crisp
J. Heyward – leaning towards dropping him due to slow start

Much appreciated!
“Keeper Heaven”

Dear KH:

First off, and everybody should listen up, if you’re going to ask a keeper question you should give prices. It’s really hard to properly weigh a situation without the facts.

I’m assuming that The Good Polanco at one-third his FAAB price is going to be a good deal next year. But how good? Without the prices of your other guys, I can only guess.

For instance, how does Polanco’s projected keeper price compare to Heyward’s? I happen to love Heyward’s potential, but he’s still a child in a game played by mostly men, and he has done little to deserve that love. But hey, Love never asks.

Heyward is off to a slow start, but he’s getting on base, even though his BA stinks. He’s running more, and successfully, and his power numbers are in line with batting leadoff. Depressed. Which is what he’s been doing, and which hurts roto players who expected big power.

What isn’t in line with his performance or future expectations is his runs scored. Those are down now, for no apparent reason, and should grow as we go along, as long as he bats leadoff for the Braves. And given everything else, his batting average should be in the .250 range, which would put his OBP above .350. The runs will come.

But how much did he cost you? I don’t know, which matters in so far as you might keep him next year (or play him this year). If the answer is negative on both counts, you don’t really care how much he bounces back. He’s your second reserve outfielder and he’s kind of costly. Polanco may not be any better this year, but he’ll be way cheaper. It doesn’t matter what either do now, it seems, what matters is next year.

I’ll remind you, I’m mind reading here, but if that’s the case I would try to trade Heyward. You may think he stinks, but my guess is if I was in your league I’d want him more than my fifth outfielder. I might not give you much, depending on his future price, but something is better than nothing.

And then, if I stopped being my Heyward-acquiring self, and I was you, I’d make a reasonable bid to acquire Polanco. You don’t need him. He’s probably not going to help you this year. He might help you next year, but that’s not a guarantee. The cheaper you can get him the more value he’ll have for you going forward. Which is a reason not to bid too aggressively.

And if you lose him? Then you still have Jason Heyward, unless you already traded him to me. Hmm, this is getting complicated. You can sort out the timing, here’s the takeaway.

Heyward is doing his team a favor leading off, but is far better suited to batting fifth, where he can beat the hide off the baseball. And let his BA go to hell. So maybe he’s not in line to earn the way he did a couple years ago.

Gregory Polanco emerged last year as a minor league fave. He’s killing it in Triple-A this year, with a 1.070 OPS. My usual thing about minor leaguers versus major leaguers is to point out that at Polanco’s age today Heyward had already hit 70 major league homers. So, the rule of thumb is, don’t overreach for prospects.

But Polanco is a real talent who makes better contact than Heyward, but doesn’t walk as much. More importantly, he may end up in an RBI role in Pittsburgh, which suits him (and probably helps your team more). And the Pirates have every reason to promote him once he gets past the Super Two date, probably in early June.

Assuming he’s reasonably cheap, that makes him a keen pickup. And I use the keen adjective enthusiastically.

Not placidly,
Rotoman

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: The Rich Get Richer

Rotoman:

6×6, 8-team head-to-head categories league.  I just got Jose Reyes back from the DL, so who should I drop from the following:

Jose Altuve ($23)
Chase Utley ($17)
Dee Gordon ($7)
George Springer ($10)

Thanks.
“Reyes of Light”

Dear RoL:

Oh, the agony of the shallow league. I’m not going to address 6×6 and Head to Head issues, since you don’t specify categories and H2H mostly ups the randomness of winning and losing rather than adding any strategic nuance.

The numbers in the parentheses above are what those players were going for in preseason auctions. Jose Reyes, by the way, went for $25 or so. So, the obvious answer would be to drop Gordon., but I can understand your reluctance. He’s already stolen 10 bases and while he isn’t going to continue to hit .365, if he hits .270 on the year he’s going to steal a lot of bases.

Jose Altuve is off to a solid start, making him one of the best second basemen in the game, so it’s hard to drop him, and Chase Utley is off to a monster start and has more power than Altuve, Gordon and Reyes, so you have to hold onto him.

Which leaves Springer as the odd man out. He was the surprise promotion last week, and there is a lot of excitement about him because he has a nice power/speed combo. There are also serious questions about his contact rate, and he’s struck out five times in 15 plate appearances already—on track with his Triple-A numbers, which could prove a problem.

One of the agonies of playing in a shallow league is deciding between excellent or exciting players. If Springer goes on to hit 15 homers this year, you may look back and wish you’d kept him rather than Dee Gordon, but at this point Springer’s risk of failure is high enough I think you have to go with the speedy middle infielder.

Sincerely,
Rotoman

 

Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball Prospects, Out on iBooks!

bolickbaseball2014 coverIt took a while, but Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball Prospects is now available on iBooks, for the iPhone and iPad.

Read more about the book at www.booknoise.net/Bolick or go directly to the iBook Store.

Introducing: Bolick’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball Prospects

bolickbaseball2014 coverJD Bolick has been writing rookie and draft analysis for the Baseball and Footaball Guides since shortly after the beginning.

He came to me this year and wanted to do a Rookie Guide for Fantasy Baseball Prospects that we might sell as an eBook and other formats.

We didn’t get this together until too late in March, and then it turned out that Apple and Amazon add their own delays, so we’re just appearing today.

You can find the eBook for Kindle here. You can Look Inside the book there and get a taste of it. There are also sample profiles at www.booknoise.com/Bolick

There will be an Apple version soon, I hope. They seem to take longer to approve. And I’m going to post a pdf version here, in case you don’t want to go through the big stores.

If you didn’t buy because of the price or any other reason, please let us know at askrotoman (at) gmail.com. If there is anything you would like to see added, send that to that email address, too.

I think we have a great first draft, hitting the stands too late. But you should be able to tell most of what you need to know by the preview Inside the Book at Amazon. We want to get your $3 next time.

Thanks.
Peter

PLAYING TIME: Seattle’s Shortstops

Screenshot 2014-03-13 08.41.57When the Mariners added Robinson Cano as a free agent this past winter, they forced one of their top prospects, Nick Franklin, from the position he seemed likely to hold onto for the foreseeable future. For all intents and purposes, this set up a battle for shortstop between the team’s top two middle infield prospects.

Brad Miller is the older of the two and had the better rookie season. He’s got a good eye, makes good contact and stepped up into the majors with only a small hit to his walk rate last year. He’s also played more shortstop than Franklin.

Franklin stumbled in the majors last year, hitting .225. He was able to draw walks in the majors, but his contact rate took a big hit and his batting average crashed. But even his minor league contact rates trailed Miller’s. Franklin has more power, however, he hit 12 homers last year, and might end up getting on base as much as Miller once he adjusts to big league pitching. The question is whether he’ll get the chance this year.

There are a few possibilities here and one could burn a lot of pixels over the backs and forths of the arguments, most of which end up with the logical conclusion that two bodies cannot exist in the same space. The bottom line is that last year Miller’s bat was ready, Franklin’s was not. Both are having strong springs, which makes this all clear as mud, but the course that makes more baseball sense is to give Miller—the older more established candidate—the job, send Franklin down for more seasoning, and see what happens.

If Franklin gets off to a hot start maybe there’s a trade to be had, or an injury will change all the conditions. If Miller stumbles, a team that has struggled to get prospects started on the road to their self realization as major league regulars (I’m not just blowing Smoak here), will have Franklin and Willie Bloomquist to fall back on.

That seems like the most likely way to get everyone in place to succeed.

ASK ROTOMAN: Is HBP A Skill?

Dear Rotoman:

Jose Abreu gets hit by a TON of pitches.  How much more valuable does that make him in a OBP-instead-of-Avg league?

“Abreuised”

Dear A:

José_Dariel_Abreu_on_March_9,_2013One thing we don’t know is how many pitches Jose Abreu will be hit by in the major leagues. In 2010-11 he was hit 21 times in Cuba, which ranked fourth in the league. Considering he led the league in hitting and slugging and tied for the most homers (with Yoenis Cespedes), fourth doesn’t seem like a lot.

But let’s look at what it means to be hit a lot by major league pitchers. Last year the leader in the category was Shin-Soo Choo, who was plunked 26 times, followed by Starling Marte (24) and  Shane Victorino (18).

But as a percentage of plate appearances Marte led all of baseball last year, getting hit in 4.2 percent. He made a hit in 25.2 percent of his plate appearances and walked in 4.4 percent, so getting hit by a pitch represents one seventh of his on base value.

This compares with the average batting title qualifier, who made a hit in 24.4 percent of his appearances, walked 8.5 percent of the time, and was hit by a pitch 0.8 percent of the time (or about one thirty-third of his on base value).

There are two ways to look at this.

One seventh is 14 percent, a small but measurable part of a player’s value. Let’s say a hitter was worth $20, $4 in each of the five cats. One seventh of $4 would reduce his value in OBP from $4 to $3.42, or $3. His total value would be $19, not $20, which seems small but represents a five percent decline.

The other way is to note that the average player is hit about one percent of the time. Someone who gets hit like Marte is hit about five time more often, so he gets five times more value than players who don’t get hit. For someone like Marte, who doesn’t walk that much, the HBP boosts his OBP up to the average level for a batting title qualifier.

Either way, it matters, but isn’t a game changer.

One final thought about those HBP. In discussing them above, I treated them as if the choice was between a HBP or an out, but clearly some HBP would lead to bases on balls, and some bases on balls for a regular player might become a HBP for a player who crowds the plate or tends to dive in on the delivery. That narrows the difference some, and reduces the expected value of our most prolific guys with a talent for getting hit (not hits).

ron-hunt-hitWe don’t know if Juan Abreu is going to be Starling Marte or Shin-Soo Choo. He probably won’t be Mark Trumbo, who had the most at bats with no HBP last year in the major leagues, and he could turn out to be Ron Hunt, who holds the modern record for most HPB in a season. That would be 50 in 1971, which represented 7.8 percent of his plate appearances!

That was 20 percent of his on base value that year. Let’s consider that the ceiling, at least until we get to see Abreu play regularly.

Painfully,
Rotoman

 

Billy Hamilton is a Problem.

Billy_Hamilton_2013First off, he’s the second major league ballplayer named Billy Hamilton. Guys with the same name give guys like me, who gamely but crudely run their databases as spreadsheets, fits. I hate you Alex Gonzalez, and you Alex Gonzalez, and I’m not forgetting you, Alex Gonzalez.

Differentiating is always a problem, though less so when they’ve played more than 100 years apart.

It is also a problem that the two Billy Hamilton’s profile similarly. Both are wicked fast and steal lots of bases. The 19th Century Billy Hamilton proved through a distinguished career that he was more than a one-trick pony. He hit the ball, too, and even made some noise with some homers. He was first player to lead off a game with a homer and then end it with a walkoff homer, in 1892. Only four players have done that since, and Ricky Henderson was not one of them, which surprises me.

It remains to be seen if the modern Billy Hamilton has enough bat to get his legs truly involved in the Reds’ offense, which is why I bring this up now. With a clear shot at a job with the Reds this year, following the departure of Shin-Soo Choo, we have to answer the serious question about how much he’s going to play, and what he’ll do while he’s out there. There’s no doubt that as a part-time player, a pinch hitter, pinch runner and defensive replacement, as he showed last September, he can steal a lot of bases. But can he be more than that?

Let’s start with defense. Hamilton reportedly spent last season adjusting to playing center field (he’d been a shortstop before that), the better to be ready for early promotion to the major leagues. While there have been questions about the routes he runs and his polish out there, there seems to be a rough consensus that his speedy legs will help him make up for whatever mistakes he makes, and that his gameness and dedication will help him learn to do things right eventually.

So, it sound like his defense will not prove a liability, or at least not enough of one at first to cost him playing time if he can contribute on offense.

What about his speed? There isn’t any need to belabor this. He’s shown remarkable speed throughout his rise through the minor leagues, which has led to staggering the first-Hamiltonian stolen base numbers. And more importantly for our purposes, he has not seen any decline in stolen base success rate as he’s advanced up the minor league chain.

Forgive me for saying the obvious, but all indications are he’ll steal plenty of bases while in the majors comparative to opportunities.

What sort of hitter will he be in the majors? There are a few moving parts here. Let’s look at them individually.

He has no power. Like many speedy hitters, he lays bat on ball and runs. That’s a simple formula for success if you make enough contact and hit the ball hard enough. But it is a thin line between hard enough and not.

Will he make contact? I don’t think we’re able to determine whether any player might find some way to improve. So Hamilton might, but his Contact rate last year in Triple-A was 77 percent, which might be good enough if he can sustain it in the majors for a .265 batting average. If he can hit the ball hard enough enough of the time.

The problem here is that even if he makes contact, if he can’t bust the ball out of the infield he’s not going to get on base enough to take advantage of his speed.

Will he walk? At the lower levels in the minors he walked a decent amount, which helped him get on base, but last year that number dropped to 6.9 percent, which isn’t terrible, but is likely to drop at the major league level unless he figures out how to improve.

And there is another problem. If he’s going to aggressively pursue contact as a hitter, he’s only going to get deep enough into the count if he’s either lighting things up and pitchers nibble, or if the pitcher has no control. The result is, whether he’s succeeding or failing, his walk rate should go down this year, putting upward pressure on hitting the ball hard (or soft) enough to get the slap hits that he’s going to need to succeed.

What about the strikeouts? One discouraging thing about Hamilton’s performances in the minors is a strikeout rate that has hovered around 18 percent. No, it didn’t get worse in Triple-A last year, which is good, but it is potentially problematic facing big league pitchers. If he doesn’t make solid enough contact early in the count he’s going to be vulnerable to falling behind. A similar player who never really succeeded in the majors, Joey Gathright, didn’t strike out nearly as much as Hamilton has in the minors. Again, history isn’t necessarily destiny, but he’s going to have to improve here not to flame.

Can he bunt? Scouting reports don’t reflect well on his abilities to bunt, and the Reds have said he’s going to work hard on that leading into this season. So he’s going to get plenty of practice. Given his rep as a hard worker, improvement is certainly possible, which will definitely help his chances.

So this all comes down to role and at bats. The player we see Hamilton compared to most is Vince Coleman, who was able to use the fast carpet in St. Louis to launch a career that lasted 13 years and led to 752 stolen bases. Coleman’s slash lines for his career were .264/.324/.345, which seems possible for Hamilton. Especially since Hamilton could become a plus defender. Coleman was able to play despite being a poor defender.

So let’s say that if Hamilton hits like Vince he’ll get 600 AB hitting .264. Based on what he did in Triple-A last year and similar players have done as major leaguers, this scenario of success should put him on 90 runs, a few homers, 48 RBI, 40 bases on balls, and 71 stolen bases.

That’s worth $33 in 5×5. It represents the high end of batting average possibilities, I think, and if he hits .265 he should play just about every day.

But let’s say he hits .240. Presumably that would mean he wouldn’t play everyday all year. He would lose his job or evolve into a platoon role. He would still run, stealing 32 bases (or maybe more because of more chances to pinch run). If his other qualitatives remained constant relative to chances, he would earn $16. I’d say this is the midrange of all the possibilities for Hamilton this year.

What if he hit .240 and led off most every day? $27 earnings, which isn’t bad, and this could happen.

The other possibility worth considering is what happens if he pulls a Dee Gordon on us. Three years ago the speedy Gordon was called up and impressed everyone by hitting .304 and stealing 24 bases in 233 plate appearances. He seemed poised to become a baseball and a fantasy baseball star. But in 2012 the hits did not drop the way they had in 2011, and he posted numbers quite a bit like the .240 scenario for Hamilton above. We expected Gordon to get another chance last year, but instead he floundered in Albuquerque, and while he stole 10 bases in 108 PA with the big club, he hit just .234 and nobody expects him to be a regular any longer.

So, what if Hamilton hits .193 and is sent back to the minors after two months? He’ll still earn $8 and steal 20 bases (maybe more if they keep him up as a pinch runner for a while).

The bottom line here is that there are plenty of reasons to think that Hamilton may not live up to the hype this year. In fact, that seems to be the dominant fantasy narrative heading into camp this year. And that’s good smart analysis.

But the other smart analysis notes that he doesn’t have to be that much of a hitter to hold the job in Cincinnati (not much competition at this point to displace him) if he plays decent defense, and if he gets at bats he will get on some, and then he will run and have fantasy value. In the Guide I put him at $13, which seemed fair given the odds that he might wash out early on, but taken in the context of the above scenarios, I’m bumping him to $17. That probably isn’t going to get him, even then, but that’s a fair risk.

And if you construct your team with lots of power and want to make a risky play to add speed, going an extra dollar or two on Hamilton would be an interesting play. A high-risk $20 bid could actually pay off handsomely, possibly.