The April Leaders: The best and worst of April

I’m still working on getting the month report formatted properly, but this seems as good a time as any for some April Top 10s. This is for 5×5 BA for only leagues, thru April 30.

One thing to remember is that these prices are scaled to full season prices. If you wanted to judge them in terms of actual one-month production (or lack thereof) you would divide them by 6.25. So, Charlie Blackmon at this point has actually earned $43/6.25, or about $7.  That’s roughly what his end of year earnings would be if he stopped playing after Wednesday’s games.

More April Roto $ Reports will come out of the weekend.

TOP 10 APRIL HITTERS

Charlie Blackmon, Rockies, $43
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox, $39
Jose Abreu, White Sox, $37
Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers, $37
Mike Trout, Angels, $37
Justin Upton, Braves, $36
Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays, $36
Troy Tulowitski, Rockies, $36
Justin Morneau, Rockies, $35
Giancarlo Stanton, $35

BOTTOM 10 APRIL HITTERS

Freddy Galvis, Phillies, -$8
Moises Sierra, Blue Jays, -$7
Tim Federowicz, Dodgers, -$6
JP Arencibia, Rangers, -$6
Jeff Baker, Marlins, -$5
John Baker, Cubs, -$5
Cody Ross, Diamondbacks, -$5
Juan Perez, Giants, -$5
Shane Robinson, Cardinals, -$4
Charlie Culberson, Rockies, -$4

TOP 10 APRIL PITCHERS

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, $49
Johnny Cueto, Reds, $47
Tim Hudson, Giants, $42
Jose Fernandez, Marlins, $39
Jason Hammel, Cubs, $35
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers, $33
Julio Teheran, Braves, $33
Felix Hernandez, Mariners, $30
James Shields, Royals, $29
Scott Kazmir, Athletics, $29

BOTTOM 10 APRIL PITCHERS

Felipe Paulino, White Sox, -$46
Carlos Villanueva, Cubs, -$37
Tanner Scheppers, Rangers, -$30
Bronson Arroyo, Diamondbacks, -$27
Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles, -$27
Kevin Correia, Twins, -$26
Ricky Nolasco, Twins, -$25
Lucas Harrell, Astros, -$25
Mike Pelfrey, Twins, -$24
Ivan Nova, Yankees, -$24

ASK ROTOMAN: Wacha Flocka Cashner?

Hi Rotoman –

Can you explain how prices sometimes do not coordinate with projections? For example below are your projections for Cashner and Wacha:

Cashner: 10 W, 3.53 ERA, 149 K, 1.24 WHIP
Wacha: 9 W, 3.45 ERA, 173 K, 1.16 WHIP

Yet you have Cashner at $16 and Wacha at $8.

Could the difference be perceived risk?

“Wacha Flaka Cashner”

Dear WFC:
In the Fantasy Guide, the projections are a starting point. They’re based on past performance rates regressed toward the mean, with some manual adjustments, scaled to a rough estimate of playing time (which is also regressed). The Projections are my attempt to describe a player using numbers. I hope that they give a sense how hittable a guy is, what sort of control he has, does he hit for average, can he run, that sort of thing.

The Big Prices in the Guide are my attempt to fix a guy’s value against the market. The prices are meant to be advice on who to buy and who to not buy. Essentially, I try to set the price on guys I expect to do well a buck or two higher than their “market” price. And guys I have concerns about, I set a buck or two lower.

It is important to note that the Prices add up to the budget for a 12-team AL or NL league with $260 budget per team. The reason to budget this way is because it helps you track the spending during the auction. If guys are going for more than the bid prices, you know that there are going to be bargains later. If guys are going for less? A bubble is born.

Now, let’s fast forward to March 15. That’s the day I posted the updated projections and prices here, for purchasers of the Guide. The adjusted projections were:

Cashner: 184 IP, 3.54 ERA, 10 W, 149 K, 1.14 WHIP
Wacha: 172 IP, 3.77 ERA, 11 W, 163 K, 1.24 WHIP

Now here’s the interesting part. The price for Cashner in 5×5 is $16. The price for Wacha is $15. But if you translate the above to dollar values, Cashner’s line is worth about $17, while Wacha’s is worth $8.

What happened?

Two things. As we hurtled toward the baseball season I learned that the market for Wacha is red hot. People consistently have him valued higher than Shelby Miller, which I think is a little wacky. It turns out that he tends to be going in the $16-$18 range in startup auctions. If I kept him at my pessimistic $8 price, it would look like a massive overpay when he went for twice that on draft day. But it isn’t really. The low end of the market for Wacha is $16, and I don’t want him at that.

Cashner, on the other hand, is a guy I want at $16. I mean, I’d rather have him at $14, and that’s been his average price this preseason, ranging from $13 to $15, but if I have to go $16 I’m okay with that.

The other thing I did was tinker with the projections to better reflect my perceptions about these two.

Wacha was a fastball/changeup guy last year. That’s it. An excellent fastball, a tough change, and early success, but it’s really hard to sustain a high level of success over multiple times through the lineup with just two pitches. No matter how good they are. My pessimism derives from the limited arsenal and the good chance that as major league scouts and hitters get repeated looks at him, there is going to be some payback.

The reason why most everyone thinks I’m wrong is because Wacha has added a curveball, which he threw a fair amount in his first start this year, and a cutter, which he didn’t throw much. It’s early, the pitches are new, and so there’s a lot we know. If he adds them effectively, he will become every bit the ace he looked like late last year. My bet is there is going to be some adjusting and he’s going to have some rough starts. So I think he’ll allow more hits and runs. We’ll see.

Cashner, on the other hand, is older, more experienced, has a more traditional fastball/slider/change repertoire already in place. I like him being at least as good as he was last year, when he earned $17.

The final word is that this process is one that consists of information, generated by the players that play, the press that follows them and tells the world what happened, and the numbers that describe what they did. This information is distilled by analysts as it comes in and added to both the projection, something of a description of average talent levels, and the market, which filters it all through the lens of risk and reward, which leads to bid values.

The whole process stops, for a few seconds at least, the moment the auctioneer says Sold! And then it starts all over again.

 

Let Me Count The Ways.

Screenshot 2014-03-24 10.38.34 In my prep for Tout Wars this year, the biggest question was what sort of impact the switch to On Base Percentage from Batting Average was going to have.

After all, we have years of creating player values based on BA and some players change value quite a lot–up and down–with the change. Mike Gianella said he didn’t think prices would change much, while my research showed that players who walked a lot saw a big increase in value. Why wouldn’t prices go up? Especially since a player’s walk rate is relatively predictable compared to batting average.

I decided to price the top OBP guys a step lower than my calculated price for them using OBP, deciding to buy whoever I was able to buy under my listed price. The idea being that I would buy bargains, and if guys like Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen didn’t get the full bump up in price they logically should have, then they represented real bargains.

That is what happened.

THE STARS

Early in the draft, I just kept buying. Votto came out first. I had him on my sheet at $39, but he was the player with the biggest OBP value because of his incredible eye. I bid $38 and won him. We were off. ($paid/$budget)

Joey Votto, $38/$39. The premier OBP player. I couldn’t let him go to someone else for $37. I couldn’t. And maybe he’ll have a few more runners in scoring position, if the $22 Billy Hamilton proves a bargain.

Andrew McCutchen, $38/$40. The premier OBP outfielder. Remember, I considered these bid prices to be fairly conservative.

Hanley Ramirez, $30/$36. Big OBP boost, yet he went for his 5x5BA price. The big thing is he’s one of 10 good shortstops.

Troy Tulowitzki, $30/$36. I was ecstatic about adding the top two shortstops, both with no bump up of price for their good OBP skills. Each brings a certain amount of injury risk and a certain amount of ability to produce big numbers in limited playing time.

Madison Bumgarner, $25/$26. The pitching prices were pretty fair. My plan was to buy one ace or maybe two near aces. I did not want to get caught up buying midlevel guys. Buy a closer, and then round out the rotation and the reserve list with <$5 guys. I chose Bumgarner, though when Jordan Zimmermann went for $18 I regretted not taking him and Matt Cain, who went for $20. Those were the two best bargains by my lights. But that would have driven up my pitching budget a little. My goal was to spend as little on pitching as I could get away with, and use the extra dough for hitting.

Ryan Zimmerman, $24/$30. I was kicking myself for letting David Wright go at $29 (I had him at $33), but I decided I couldn’t buy them all. Still, that was an excellent price. But I also knew that after Wright and Zimmerman the NL third basemen are a motley group. Who is Chase Headley? How long can Aramis Ramirez last? Is Pablo Sandoval going to show up? Can Pedro Alvarez make enough contact? There are a few guys eligible at both second and third, like Martin Prado and Matt Carpenter, who are less dicey if not much more talented. And that’s it. The bidding on Zimmerman made it easy. He went for his BA price, but he’s a OBP contributor.

Martin Prado, $22/$23. At this point I didn’t need Martin Prado necessarily, but I did need a second baseman, and I liked that Prado qualified at both second and third. But I didn’t really think I was getting him. Usually the bidding moves quickly until it slows, and then it inches forward a few more dollars. In this case, there was a flurry and didn’t expect my bid to stand, but suddenly the room went quiet.

Yasmani Grandal, $10/$11. We really don’t know what Grandal can be, because of the injuries and drug suspensions, but we do know he’ll take a base on balls. Catcher is a position that drops off so suddenly that I prefer to not scrape the bottom of the barrel (though that works sometimes). I had identified Grandal as a guy with a strong OBP, which should be a plus even if he doesn’t play as much as I hope he does.

Ryan Doumit, $7/$9. He should play regularly, has some power, and was relatively inexpensive. Only a star in comparison to my scrubs.

Rafael Soriano, $13/$13. I never used to buy closers because I thought they were overpriced, which works out great if you’re able to pick off one of the closers that emerge early in the year. But if you miss out on that, not buying a closer means that if any other category becomes an issue, you’re suddenly tanking two, which is not a very comfortable position to be in. So last year I bought a closer, but Kyuji Fujikawa fell apart shortly after gaining the role. I’m hoping Soriano fares better. He’s certainly better established, though he struggled at times last year.

SCRUB HITTERS

Nate McLouth, $5/$11. His batting average hurts you in the BA game, but in OBP his value increases. He set a career high in steals last year, but is devalued because he’s getting older. I’m hoping for 450 at bats, with some homers. I’ve seen projections for 250 AB, but why sign him for two years if that’s the expectation? At this price, he fit my team.

Gregor Blanco, $2/$8. He doesn’t have much power, but he runs and he takes walks, so whatever his batting average he contributes. Like McLouth, he’s not a regular but should fill in regularly and put up 400 at bats or so.

Brian Bogusevic, $1/$1. He bats lefty, and could get a fair amount of play until Marcel Ozuna is called up. He has a little power and speed, and I certainly hope I can improve on him soon.

Derek Dietrich, $1/$4. Earlier last week I mocked him. He doesn’t have the contact skills to hit for a high average, but he does have some power and, more importantly, he seems to be ahead of Donovan Solano on the Marlins’ depth chart backing up Rafael Furcal. What I wasn’t aware of was that he took a ball in the face last week and suffered a fracture, which will have him wearing a plastic face guard for some time.

Kris Bryant, $1/R1. I’m not convinced he’s going to hit, at least not at first, but he was the blue chip third base prospect available in dollar days. There will be some guys available on waivers to replace him. The biggest issue is that I also took a minor league pitcher as Swingman, and with four reserve slots it will be a challenge to manage this productively.

SCRUB PITCHERS

Wily Peralta, $4/$5. Hard-throwing sinkerballer hasn’t put it together yet, which is why he was available for $4. At this part of the auction I was looking for arms that might get a fair number of innings with some potential to break out or surprise a little. If Peralta realizes a bit of his potential he’ll be a big plus for my team.

Tanner Roark, $3/$7. This was a tough situation. I really wanted Jenry Mejia, but I had no way to gauge the temperature of the room. I had Roark ranked similarly, which was high enough to expect half a year of solid pitching with questions about his role to start the season. He’s had a good spring, and I’m hoping to hit with all my lottery tickets.

Vic Black, $2/$2. A good young arm is the likely Closer in Waiting to Bobby Parnell. This was off plan, but seemed like a good bet despite his bad spring.

Jake Arrieta, $1/$4. My AL-only friends will tell you how long I’ve been waiting on Arrieta. He pitched pretty well once he landed in Chicago and the National League last year, but was cheap because there isn’t a clear rotation slot for him.

Edwin Jackson, $1/$2. His FIP has been below 4.00 forever, while the ERA bounced around. Not an elite strikeout guy, but good enough to earn some profits.

Freddy Garcia, $1/$1. There really isn’t much justification for this pick here, except that he pitched well in short spurts last year, especially in the NL, and has a shot at the rotation in Atlanta to start the season. But realistically he’s a placeholder, especially since he was released while I was writing this.

Paul Maholm, $1/$1. Another back of the rotation veteran starter, though he has the first third of an inning pitched for my team in relief, down under, and has delivered a 0.00 ERA. Obviously, I hope one of these three veterans comes through.

Andrew Heaney, $1/Res. High upside arm, will start the year in the minors. It’s going to be hard to hang onto him and Kris Bryant on reserve, as I try to improve me team, but after a good spring, he’s a fair shot at a callup in June. He’s got great stuff and could succeed immediately.

RESERVES

Arodys Vizcaino. Another great arm, he’s coming back from TJ two years ago and is almost ready.

Will Smith. I love his arm and he showed last year that he can pitch, at least out of the pen. Not sure about the role going forward, but he’ll throw lots of strikeouts and has the potential to push himself forward.

A.J. Cole. He was brilliant in Double-A last year, and it’s hard to see a clear line to the majors right now, but he’s a big mature-for-his-age talent.

Tyler Colvin. I circled Pedro Strop on my sheet, but when it was my turn I called Colvin. He’s really a bad player, but both times I’ve had him he’s been a big money maker. A bad player having a bad spring is not an inspiration, but rarely is a fourth round reserve an inspiration.

DO I LIKE MY TEAM?

It’s hard not to like all those stars, and while it wasn’t my plan to buy them all, I did go in aware that this might happen.

And I’m not unhappy with the outfielders. They are a serviceable lot considering the strength of my middle infield.

The challenge will be to convert the “undervalued” OBP into counting stats and at bats, plus improving the pitching staff. If one or two of these guys doesn’t end up pitching well, I’m going to have to find some value out there by trade or FAAB.

In other words, I have a valuable and solid foundation, but there is a lot of work to do to get the structure built.

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.

Updated Projections Now Updated

Projections have been updated and posted to the Top Secret Projections and Rotoman’s 5×5 Prices Download page, which requires a password.

Look at Rick Wilton’s injury report after the Albert Pujols profile in the Fantasy Baseball Guide.. The first word of his comment is the password.

If you can’t find the printed Guide, the online edition is available at thefantasysportsguide.com. Use the promocode rotoman2014 and save a buck.

I will include 4×4 prices in the last update, which will be posted on the 15th. These are the same ones I’ll be working on for the American Dream League auction, a 4×4 Roto league since 1981.

If you want more numbers, CBS, LABR and Tout draft prices, Alex Patton’s 4×4 bid prices, notes on batting order and rotation role, and MLB and BA prospect lists, you should check out software.askrotoman.com.

The software is surprisingly useful, but we also offer Excel and text versions if you prefer. All are useful.

ASK ROTOMAN: Your Prices Seem Low!

Dear Rotoman:

Your values for top players seem low. I am in an AL 4×4 12-team $260 keeper league. Its the keepers that inflate the value of the top players on draft day. Do you have a formula I can apply to your prices that takes into account how many players we are drafting and how many dollars are left (after keepers).

“Inflate Me”

Dear IM:

Yes! You are absolutely right. In a keeper league (4×4 or 5×5 doesn’t matter), where inexpensive players are carried over from one year to the next, you need to adjust the startup prices in the Guide or prices create yourself or you obtain elsewhere to account for these lower priced players.

For example, I allocate $3120 for 168 hitters and 108 pitchers in each 12-team AL and NL league, because that is what is going to be spent.

In your keeper league, however, you may have 50 hitter freezes and 20 pitcher freezes. What you need to figure out is how much money is going to be “saved” by your having these freezes.

To do this, list the players in your league who are going to be frozen. Then compare their keeper prices to the startup league prices from the Guide (or the updates). Total each column.

Let’s say the 70 keepers in your league are going to cost their teams $700 in keeper fees, but my price list says that they’re actually worth $1000. How is that going to affect your league’s prices in the auction?

1. To start we have $3120 in value.

2. In your league (after keepers) you’ll have $3120 minus $700 which equals $2420 in cash for buying the available players.

3. Based on the values in the Guide, this money is chasing $3120 minus $1000  in value, which equals $2120 total value in your auction.

4. Figure out an inflation rate by dividing the amount of cash you have by the amount of value ($2420/$2120) which equals 14 percent.

5. This extra money is available to be spent in your auction, which means that a player I gave a price of $35 might actually cost 14 percent more, or $40. (Multiply $35 * 1.14 = $40)

The important thing to recognize here is that teams that don’t take the inflation into account will stop bidding at $35 or $36, thinking they’re going over budget. The savvy player will know that a player’s par price is higher than that (in some leagues, depending on the keeper rules, it can be much much higher).

So, knowing your inflation rate is a big help while tracking your auction, but there are some confounding issues.

The 14 percent inflation is usually not distributed evenly. 

For one thing, the 14 percent increase in price of a $3 player doesn’t round up to $4, so what rounds down is distributed to more expensive players. This effect is echoed up the line, so that more money is distributed to more expensive players.

But it also makes strategic sense to manually allocate more bid money to more expensive players.

Would you rather pay $4 for a $3 player, or get the edge when budgeting of going to $41 on the player who rounds up to $40. The fact is that you might still get the same cheaper player and the more expensive one if your budget allocates the inflation money to the top group.

In which case the important number is not the 14 percent, but rather the $300 extra you have to pay the available player pool. Go through your list and bump the prices of top players you like the 14 percent, and then distribute the remaining money (which you didn’t give to those players who cost less than $12) to the players you fancy.

This is subjective, of course, so you’re going to want to be careful, but the effect of inflation is somewhat subjective, too. As an aggressive player you should make sure you err going after the players you value more than those you don’t. Your budgeting can help make those choices clearer in advance.

Another reason to allocate the money to more expensive players is because if you don’t spend on them early on, you may end up holding the bag in the end game by either not having spent all your money, or by being compelled to pour too much extra cash into the last available (and now wildly overpriced) talent.

It’s much more effective to spend an extra dollar on three or four expensive guys than to spend $5 on a $1 player at the end. Or leave $4 (or more) on the table, unspent.

The bottom line is that the proper tracking of inflation can give you a huge advantage over owners who either don’t think about it or try to wing it. Knowing whether owners are spending more or less than they should in the early rounds of the auction will help you decide whether to spend now or wait for bargains later.

Coldly,
Rotoman

ASK ROTOMAN: My League Is Using New Categories. Help!

Dear Rotoman,

My 5×5 Rotisserrie – 10 team NL-Only Yahoo League is switching categories this year:  New Categories are XBH, OBP and E, replacing HR, BA & SB to go with RBI and R for five categories.  In pitching we are keeping W, Sv, ERA & Whip and replacing K with K/BB.  How do I project what I will need in categories without a previous history of scoring?

“Categorically Insane”

Dear CI:

Wow. I’m a big fan of experimentation and innovation, and I love the fact that your league is jumping into it head first, but I’m sorry to inform you that you are uncorking an Albert Belle bat’s worth of complication with your changes (the least of which is projecting how much of any category you’re going to need to win). Here’s why:

Valuing stats is easy. Knowing how many you’ll need to win isn’t, but isn’t necessary unless your league doesn’t allow you to trade. And even then you’ll be better off knowing how much each player is worth than targeting category totals.

Your goal is to amass value, which means buying stats that others are undervaluing. Targeting category totals too often leads to teams overbidding to reach their goals.

Obviously, there is a point when too much is too much, when you have way more steals or saves than you can gain points for in roto scoring, but common sense should be enough to guide you there. In the meantime, collect value.

The problem for your league is that some of your changes are provocative and disrupt the way we usually play the game.

Not XBH, which is just like HR, only it rewards Doubles and Triples hitters. And not OBP, which is just like BA, but rewards guys who take a walk. But Errors? Hell yes.

Errors is a backward category. The lower the number, the better. The problem is that fielders make errors not only in proportion to how many they make, but by how much they play. The more they play, the more errors they make.

More playing time has long been a key strategy for 5×5 roto. You want to win the AB race, even though AB isn’t a category, because the more AB your team puts up the more Runs and RBI and HR it will accrue.

So, if we look at the top 15 NL shortstops last year in fewest Errors allowed (200 AB minimum), they averaged 621 innings played and 7 errors (84 innings per error), while the top 15 NL shortstop last year in Offensive contribution (not including steals, which you’re replacing), averaged 990 inning played and 12 errors (83 innings per error).

As you can see, there’s almost no difference in quality as a group, but the heavier offensive contributors play more and hurt more in your Error category.

While there are clear winners (Troy Tulowitzki, maybe Jose Iglesias) and losers (Jonathan Villar! Dee Gordon!), it isn’t clear to me how you go about choosing whether to roster Brandon Crawford, good defender but makes errors because he plays a lot and is a marginal offensive talent, or Daniel Descalso, who played much less, contributed less offensively, but hardly made half as many errors.

And since the player pool determines the value of players, every change to the pool has the potential to shift all the prices. Fascinating stuff. And good luck with it.

(SIDEBAR: To value the reverse category you would credit each player with Each Error He Didn’t Make. So, Starlin Castro made the most errors as a SS in the NL last year, with 22. Every other player Didn’t Make 22-the number of errors he did make.)

Converting from Strikeouts to Strikeouts Divided By Bases on Balls is a whole ‘nother matter. Here you’re switching from a quantitative stat that measures playing time almost as much as quality, there are many leagues that play with IP as their fifth 5×5 category rather than strikeouts. Put this together with ERA and WHIP, also qualitative stats, and you’re almost begging for teams to try pare their innings pitched to a minimum.

Remember that no starters earn Saves, and few closers rank highly in Wins, so you’re basically measuring pitchers on their quality innings. I’m a bit skeptical about this innovation being a good idea, but if you have a stringent minimum IP limit it might work.

Still, if you’re playing with real Yahoo rosters, guys who qualify as SP but work in relief are going to be gold.

To get back to your question. In standard roto leagues, a good benchmark for last place in the qualitative categories is the major league average. Players who do better than that are some roto help. In your somewhat smaller league the right number is going to be better. To figure out K/BB I recommend sorting last year’s stats based on different IP threshholds.

With a minimum IP of 40 last year, 22 of the Top 30 pitchers in K/BB were relievers.

 

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.

Ask Rotoman: Dynasty Reserve Round 1 Pick 1, Maikel Franco or Danny Salazar?

Dear Rotoman:

I’ve been playing in a dynasty league since it started in 2001.

Ed. Note: The writer goes on to describe the league rules, which are very complex and unusual, but the whole thing comes down to one fundamental question:

I’m in win-now mode and my main question is: who should be my No. 1 pick?

I have it down to Maikel Franco — the No. 26 prospect (the 25 ahead of him are all rostered) who also happens to be a 3B (unless they move him across the diamond) who would take over for Miguel Cabrera in 2015 at the hot corner, when Cabrera has only 1B eligibility, or…

Danny Salazar — who posted some obscene numbers last season over a brief 52 innings. Whomever I take, the other player will not be there at the No. 9 overall — my next pick.

Other available players include Khris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Josmil Pinto, Sonny Gray, Corey Kluber, Koji Uehara, Jim Henderson, John Lackey, Joc Pederson, Alex Wood, Arismendy Alcantara, Jose Quintana, Travis Wood, Garin Cecchini.

What say you?
“Classic Question”

Dear Classic,

For me it all comes down to the alternatives. While Salazar probably has a better shot of having a very nice and productive career, on your list of available players the only potentially transformative hitter is Franco. And while he’s hardly a sure thing, count me in the group that is dubious he’s going to put it all together, the Phillies did a great job with Domonic Brown, developing his rough skills. So there’s some reason to hope Franco will reach his potential.

And that’s enough for me to say take him. There is a chance there, while on the pitching side you have a bunch of pitchers who may be as good or nearly as good as Salazar. That gives you a shot at both a pitching and a hitting win you won’t have if you pass Franco by.

Potentially,
Rotoman

POSTSCRIPT: Which would have been the end of it, especially when the writer said that was exactly his opinion, but then he noticed that the Baseball Forecaster projected Danny Salazar to earn $21 this year.  Could he be, the writer asked, that good?

He could be. Last year Salazar’s fastball averaged 96 mph, and two years after Tommy John surgery he showed good control. In fact, he struck out better than 11 batters per nine in both minor league levels and in the majors, while walking 2.6 per nine in the majors. The only fly in the ointment? He allowed 1.2 homers per nine, not far out of line given the number of fly balls he allowed, but obviously a blemish.

The notable thing about Salazar’s major league run last August and September is that he pitched better, pretty much, than he had in any previous season in the minors. One of the best signs of a pitcher making progress is when he improves his K and BB rates as he faces tougher competition. So it isn’t at all unfair to project Salazar to be just as good next year, based on the skills he’s shown.

On the other hand, how indicative of quality is a short major league season? It’s probably worthwhile looking at other pitchers who put up limited innings (fewer than 75) in their debut season before they turned 25. Since 1973 I found 99 such players. What I wanted to see was how predictive the short season results were for the next season.

I first sorted by WHIP in the short season, then looked at the Top, Middle and Bottom thirds. The results show the classic regression to the mean:

Top: 3.70/1.24 ERA/WHIP  becomes 4.26/1.34
Middle: 4.62/1.42 becomes 5.00/1.49
Bottom: 5.77/1.67 becomes 4.56/1.41

But another way to look at it is to see how many pitchers in each group put up decent seasons the second year.

Top: 12 of 32
Middle: 1 of 23
Bottom: 2 of 21

As a group the top third didn’t collectively dominate the way they had their debut seasons, but talent definitely persisted and clustered.

Which doesn’t prove that Salazar will persist, but given his heater, his control, his ability to miss bats, he has a good chance to help the Indians this year. And he might even earn that $21. But absent a track record and insight into the way he might adjust once the hitters adjust to him, I think a much more modest bid limit is prudent.

In the Fantasy Guide I gave him a bid price of $8, and thought that was aggressive, but I’m going to bump that to $10. Given all the talk about him this spring, already, that probably isn’t going to get him. But it pushes a little more risk onto the guy who ends up rostering him.

And what I really hope for is the baseballHQ fans to get into a bidding war.

 

The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2014 Professional Edition Has Landed!

Cover_FBG2014_v32

The 15th annual is on its way to stores now. It includes profiles of more than 1,400 players, Picks and Pans or more than 300 players by an awe-inspiring roster of fantasy baseball talent, special profiles of this season’s Top 25 Rookie candidates, an excerpt from Larry Schechter’s new book, an NFBC-rules Mock Draft of top industry professionals, five Strategies of Champions pieces in which winners tell how they did it, and our§ information packed Draft At A Glance pages for each position, filled with tier notes, bid price lists and fast facts about last year’s profits and losses.