Pitchers at Midseason: This year’s top earners (so far)

Another way to look at the pitching pool is to see what the top earners are earning, and just how much they cost on auction day.

The ratio of cost to earnings in this group reverses. The Top 20 players cost $313 and earn $596.

The biggest earner, Max Scherzer, was the third most costly pitcher, while Clayton Kershaw, also on this list was the most costly by a lot, but the big differences are the guys nobody expected so see here. Jason Vargas, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Ivan Nova!?!?!? No bigger surprise comes in at No. 20 on the list, Chase Anderson, who was not even bought by the experts on draft day.

Here’s the whole list of biggest 2017 earners so far (click to enlarge):

Screenshot 2017-07-05 17.04.07

Pitchers At the Halfway Point: The 20 Most Expensive 5×5 Pitchers

Through June second, the Top 20 most expensive pitchers are a mixed bag. Some, like Max Scherzer, shook off preseason injury worries, and is dominating right now, the best pitcher in either league in the first half.

Some, like Clayton Kershaw, who was bid up to $43 in the expert leagues because of his dominance and reliability, has reliably earned exactly that in the first half of play this year. So there.

But overall, this top group cost $521 in salary in the preseason and has thus far earned only $357, thanks to injuries and busts. Madison Bumgarner was the second priciest pitcher on auction day, and was effective in the few starts he made before he was shut down with a sprained shoulder following a dirt bike accident in mid April.

Ouch! Here’s a look at the Top 20 highest paid pitchers this year, and how they’re faring. You can click for a larger view.

Screenshot 2017-07-05 15.30.28

The New Home Run Reality

I’ve been operating under a few well known and mostly agreed upon facts.

  1. People love home runs.
  2. A slimmer taller strike zone, which better represents the rule book strike zone, is being called these days.
  3. Even without PEDs, athletes (and all of society) values strength more than ever.
  4. There are always PEDs, though they don’t seem to be widespread, but they’re certainly there.
  5. When home runs go up and strikeout rate goes up, too? Yes, hitters are swinging harder, making more mistakes, but also hitting more balls out of the park. There should be a Moore’s Law about this ratio. I’m going to work on it.

But the fact is, as Ben Lindbergh points out in this Ringer piece, based on research by the estimable Mitchel Lichtman, it seems the ball is juiced.

Lindbergh is extremely diplomatic about this assertion.

Maybe because Lichtman’s interesting testing (certified game-used balls bought on Ebay) is based on a small sample size, and subject to all kind of aging and sample treatment issues that are especially important in a small sample.

So, it’s fair so posit that Lichtman’s numbers aren’t perfect.

But, when you go through all that Lindbergh goes through quite methodically to present the case, it’s hard not to conclude that the ball is likely juiced. And that a small difference, seven feet in distance, could account for the insane increase in homers the last few years.

Which doesn’t mean that the MLB poohbahs decided to juice the ball, because as Lindbergh points out, if that’s what they did they did it in the most obvious way. Which, with crazy child reverse logic, means they probably didn’t do that on purpose, because they would not want their fingerprints on the manipulation. Right?

But they might have not cared, too, though they deny it, and have presented scientific evidence from their own labs that Lindbergh was given access to some months back that the balls are not juiced. We’ll let Alex Jones, the performance artist, weigh in here.

The most interesting part of the story for me was Lindbergh’s recitation of some Craig Wright-reported historical info about the transition from the dead ball to live ball in 1919 to 1921. The wool changed! The bottom line is that the game is played and has been played in continually changing historical and social conditions. To expect gross stats to adhere to any simple benchmark was a childhood fantasy for most of us, and for anyone younger? It should be a goof.

So, I’m not 100 percent down with Lichtman and Lindbergh, I mean who knows for sure (none of us), but this is good work, and the discussion should continue. That’s how science works.

PS. Plus, I realize I didn’t include the most excellent stat to help explain that the home run rate is because the balls are different. Big home run hitters aren’t benefiting much. Top home run rates aren’t increasing. What is increasing is home runs from secondary hitters, whose deep fly balls are suddenly leaving the park. Assuming that’s true, I’m taking their word, let’s blame the ball.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Rotoman’s Perfect Pitching Staff 2017

I’ve been writing about how to put together the perfect pitching staff the last few years, both here and in the Fantasy Baseball Guide. The word “perfect” should be in quotes, this is a high-risk strategy this is going to fail until it works, but the idea is simple.

There are $1 starters and relievers who are out there who can help win you a pennant. But you have no idea who they are. If you did, everyone else would, too, and those $1 (or $3) pitchers would cost $8 or $10. So, you have to get lucky to have the perfect staff. You also have to plan.

Build your perfect staff with:

1 Ace

1 Closer

Lots and lots of cheap starters and closers in waiting. If you play in a league in which strikeouts count, try to buy strikeouts, though that is hard.

In Tout Wars Head 2 Head this year I devised a plan in which I would buy Runs, OBP, and Stolen Bases on the Hitting side, and ERA, WHIP and K/9 on the pitching side. The idea is to win these six categories each week and have a perfect season.

That probably isn’t going to happen. Even with lots of steals and on base guys, I’m sure there will be weeks I play against high powered HR oriented offenses that score more runs. I’m going to lose a few there.

But on the pitching side I put together a staff that could be perfect for my mission. My pitchers are:

strasshawClayton Kershaw
Stephen Strasburg
Rich Hill
Jose De Leon
Carter Capps
Grant Dayton
Kyle Barraclough
Sean Doolittle
Shawn Kelley

with Tyler Glasnow, Corey Knebel, Brett Cecil, Luke Weaver, and Hunter Strickland on reserve.

The goal is to get to the league minimum 900 innings exactly, with as high a K/9 as possible, and with ERA and Ratio falling into place behind.

In the American Dream League, an AL only 4×4 keeper league, which auctions on Sunday, I’m set up to put together a perfect staff a different way. I have as keepers:

Matt Shoemaker 1, Trevor Bauer 1, James Paxton 10, Sean Manaea 10 and Nate Jones 2.

If I’m able to add an ace and a closer I should have a powerhouse staff for less than $75.

The problem is that in a keeper league many of the best pitchers are already gone. Of the top starters, Sale, Darvish and Tanaka are being kept (so is Porcello), which leaves a lot of teams fighting over Kluber, Archer, Verlander, Carrasco, Quintana, and Hamels.

Quintana might be devalued because he’s so likely to be traded. But then he’s worth less because he might be dealt.

This is a league that often bids up top starters, so my path to perfection is not necessarily clear, but there may be a way to get there. I’ll find out Sunday.

The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017 Projections Update Is Here.

Actually, it was here a week ago, but a screwup on my part made it very hard to find.

If you would like the FBG projections and prices update, it is here. The password is the last name of the first player profiled on page 90 of the 2017 Fantasy Baseball Guide. It is case sensitive.

You do not have to sign up for Dropbox, or even sign in, to download the file.

You can track what changes I’ve made to the projections since March 15 here.

ASK ROTOMAN: Can the DJ Save My Life This Year?

Hey Rotoman!

I am new to a 14 team 6×6 roto. With the standard 5×5 categories plus OBP and K/9. I get to take 8 keepers into the next year. I am one of 3 new owners in this league who got to draft from the abandoned teams. I have DJ LeMahieu for $1, I can put him on contract before this year for a new salary of $6 as contracts add $5 every year. I want to know if I should keep him this year only and no contract for $1 or put him on a 2 or 3 year contract. A two year contract would put his last year of his contract at $11. I am worried that he could get moved out of Coors if Brenden Rodgers comes up next year.

Thanks for your help!
Stagesetting

Here’s the piece of information you need. Last year, LeMahieu went for $10 in Tout Wars mixed auction. That was coming off his breakout season. Now that he’s done it again, his price will go up some, but how much? And does it make it worth the risk of extending him?

First we look at his home road splits. He was great at home last year, and pretty good on the road. In 2015, he was fine at home and not quite so good, but not bad on the road either. That makes the trade talk less worrisome for me.

Still, he’s a guy whose main value is his outsized batting average. While he hit for more power last year, it wasn’t that much more. He could grow in that area, but he might not.

So, I wouldn’t extend him for two years, because that raises his cost too close to his draft day price.

I think you could justify not extending him at all, take the one-year benefit of his cheap price, and move on.

But I think extending him one year gets you the best of both worlds. He’s inexpensive at $6, likely to earn a profit, and maybe a nice profit if he can pull off a third straight career year. And if things go sour, as they sometimes do, you’re not on the line for that much.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

Ask Rotoman: Take Two and Get Ready for the Season

Dear Rotoman:

Question for you regarding a couple guys in a Rotisserie Keeper league. 

H=OBP, SLG, R, HR, RBI, SB   P=WHIP, ERA, QS, W, K, SV

10 team league, have two more spots to keep guys. Who would you go with?

Wade Davis-19th round

Billy Hamilton-21st round

Byron Buxton-10th

Joc Pederson-14th

Kevin Gausman-21st

Danny Duffy-19th

Javy Baez-18th

Already keeping

Stras, Thor, Bogaerts, C Seager, Sano. All good value.

Thanks, Rich

Dear Rich,

Mansa_MusaYou are Midas, you are Croesus, you are Gates. You are Tut, you are Mansa Musa, you are Mugabe. You are Buffett, you are Goldman, you are Sachs.

Of course, because you can only keep two of the seven you will be taking a hair cut. Let’s see how these guys are going. I look at Tout Wars, because it was recent and I know where it is. It’s a 15 team league, but that doesn’t really make a big difference in the draft order of major league regulars (though it does in the endgame).

Wade Davis (117), Billy Hamilton (86), Byron Buxton (147), Joc Pederson (161), Kevin Gausman (179), Danny Duffy (109), Javier Baez (113).

How many rounds up do you get?

Wade Davis (+8), Billy Hamilton (+13), Byron Buxton (-4), Joc Pederson (+2), Kevin Gausman (+3), Danny Duffy (+9), Javier Baez (+7).

This is pretty clear cut. Billy Hamilton is a great price. And you have to choose between a starter, Duffy, and a reliever, Davis. I think I’d take Duffy, because he’s going earlier and good starters are harder to find than relievers. But if you decide you need a reliever more than a starter at this point, that’s a fair way to go.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

Where to Find Rotoman!

pattonlogoI’m posting here at blog.askrotoman.com from time to time, but most days you can find me over at Pattonandco.com, where Alex Patton and a great group of contributors and visitors are talking about baseball, fantasy baseball and everything in between. All you need is a free registration to post.

Sign up for the Subscriber package and get access to my projections and Alex’s and Mike Fenger’s and my bid prices for 5×5 and 4×4 Rotisserie baseball, updated all spring training long!

We would love for you to subscribe, but we’re happy to grow the community of excellent baseball fans we’ve already got.

Maas No Maas: The Trouble With Trea Turner

Standup guy Howard Bender sitting down in Half Moon Bay.
Standup guy Howard Bender sitting down in Half Moon Bay.

Everybody’s buddy and fine fantasy baseball analyst, Howard Bender, had a piece in the NY Post this week warning about overestimating Turner this year, the way Carlos Correa was overestimated last year.

That’s good advice in general, and probably as it applies to Turner, but it raises the question of how do you draw the line on a young player with a spectacularly good partial season under his belt.

I looked at hitters who had an OPS+ of 130 or better in the year they lost their rookie status since 1980 (the Roto Era), who had 249 plate appearances or more. Sixty one hitters qualified.

Five of those seasons came in 2016. That would be Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz, Trea Turner, and the Ryans Shrimpf and Healy. One player, Kyle Schwarber, had a qualifying first season and didn’t play the next. That leaves us with 55 hitters in the pool.

What can we learn from them?

If we sort them from top to bottom based on first year OPS+:

kevinmaasrookiecardThe top 11 had an an OPS+ of 157 in year 1 and an OPS+ of 137 in year 2. Two of this group improved in year two, a man named Trout and another named Greenwell. Three had less than a 130 OPS in year 2: Luke Scott, posterboy Kevin Maas, and Miguel Sano. This group averaged 499 plate appearances.

The next 11 averaged  143 in year 1, and 109 in year 2. One of this cohort, Randy Milligan, improved. Seven had less than a 130 OPS+. Five has less than a 100 OPS+. This group averaged 442 plate appearances.

The middle 11 averaged 137 in year 1, and 116 in year 2. Kris Bryant was the only one to improve. Two were better than 130 in year 2. Only two had less than a 100 OPS+, both at 99, which is why the year 2 average went up for this group. This group averaged 349 plate appearances.

The fourth 11 average 133 in year 1, and 120 in year 2. Ryan Howard and Jason Bay improved. They were also the only two to have an OPS+ the next year better than 130. None of this group has an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 416 plate appearances.

The last quintile averaged 131 in year 1, and 113 in year 2. Josh Hamilton, John Kruk, Lonnie Smith, and Ryan Klesko all improved and had an OPS+ of better than 130. Four hitters had an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 343 plate appearances.

Another way to split these guys into groups would be by plate appearances.

The top quintile averaged 639 plate appearances, with a 151 OPS+ in year 1, and a 137 OPS+ in year 2.

The next group averaged 463 plate appearances, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, and a 136 in year 2.

The middle quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 138 in year 1, an 85 in year 2.

The fourth group averaged 337 PA, with a 135 in year 1, a 122 in year 2.

The last group averaged just 273 PA, with a 139 in year 1, a 116 in year 2.

All in all, 20 of the 55 players did better than 130 in OPS+ in year 2, 25 did better than 120 OPS+, 33 did better than 110, and 48 did better than 100. That leaves seven true busts, and 30 total who could be considered disappointing.

Eleven of the 20 players who topped 130 in OPS+ had more than 450 plate appearances. Only four of the next 20 players had 450 PA or more.

A final set of ranks, based on percentage of change from year 1 to year 2.

The top quintile averaged 428 plate appearances, posting a 138 OPS+ in year 1, and a 154 in year 2.

The next averaged 508 PA, with 142 in year 1, 131 in year 2.

The middle quintile averaged 415 PA, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, a 116 in year 2.

The fourth quintile averaged 352 PA, with a 137 OPS+ in year 1, and a 103 in year 2.

The bottom quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 153 OPS+ in year 1, and an 85 in year 2.

Comparing the top half sorted by percentage of change from year 1 to year 2, the top half had 487 plate appearances while the bottom half had 384. The average age of the top half was 23.4 years old, while the bottom half was 24.5. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bottom half hit more homers and stole more bases per plate appearance.

Plate appearances and high OPS+ are the best indicators of a repeat season of top performances for these players, but players of all types do repeat and get better.

So, what happens if we look at only those players with fewer than 450 PA in year 1? There are 37 of them.

Sort them into thirds, and we see that the top two thirds are younger than the bottom third. Older is definitely worse when you’re looking at partial seasons with a high OPS+ in your rookie year.  Or maybe it is better put, younger is definitely better.

So, what do we make of this year’s crop?

Corey Seager and Aledmys Diaz should be the most trusted, because they had the most at bats, but neither had a particularly high OPS+ last year, which is a bit of a warning sign. And Diaz is somewhat older, a reason to distrust.

MG_6917_Trea_TurnerTrea Turner had the best OPS+ last year, but only 324 plate appearances. Still he’s young, which is a positive sign.

Ryan Shrimpf just snuck onto the list at 130 OPS+. He’s 28 years old, very old, and only had six more PA than Turner. He’s neg all the way.

Finally, Ryon Healy is slightly old, with a 135 OPS+, and only 283 PA. Not as negative as Shrimpf, but not as positive as the other guys.

Bonus No. 1: Kyle Schwarber missed last year, but will be back this year after a powerful world series. He’s still young, but is coming off a 130 OPS+ in 2015. He’s a mixed bag until you see him swing.

Bonus No. 2: Gary Sanchez didn’t make the 250 PA cutoff, but in 229 PA last year he put up a monster 168  OPS+. Only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu did better in our 250+ PA cohort. On the other hand, if you look at the cohort of those who didn’t qualify, the only hitters who did better in year 1 were Frank Thomas and Phil Plantier. Both were 22 their rookie year. Thomas followed up his 177 OPS+ rookie year with a league leading 180 the next year, and then 177, 174, 212, 179, 178, 181 in the next six years. Plantier followed his 178 with a 90 and never topped the 122 he had in year 3.

Finally, what to do with all this? Although there is data here, this sort of study is really anecdotal. The sample is small, the results so various as to mock any absolute conclusions. But maybe you read the above and feel differently.

What I think it tells us is that there are players who post a super first season and then repeat. You can’t rule that out for these guys this season.

But as you would expect, extreme performance usually regresses to the mean, so you should not count on a repeat. And you should fear charging ahead taking anyone with such a small performance sample, because the possibility of sophomore slump is always there (except for Corey Seager, right?).

Which is pretty dull and which brings us to Howard’s comment about Trea Turner. He says, “Of course Turner is a great talent, but just doubling his total because he will get twice the at-bats this year is not the proper way to project.”

The trouble with Turner is that even if you regress back his stats you end up with ridiculous numbers. My projection, which doesn’t come close to doubling last year’s numbers is 18 homers, with 49 steals, a modest 93 runs and 68 RBI, with a .307 batting average. In 5×5, that’s worth $37. First-round value.

ZIPS chops more aggressively. It gives Turner 260 more plate appearances than last year and one more homer, three more steals, a .282 batting average and modest 77/66 runs and RBI split. But even that modest projection is worth $29, which is a Top 15 hitter.

Is my projection the median projection? Is ZIPS’? That’s the trouble with Turner. Right now I have him with an NL-only bid price of $27. That’s not going to get him, and paying more isn’t necessarily going to hurt the team that buys him.

So, what you do is you keep bidding. Certainly to $27, maybe to $30. This is a place to read the room. Once you’re at $30 you don’t really want him, but the risk of bidding up the guy who does really want him isn’t huge. I mean, you might end up with Trea Turner!

At that price, that could be trouble, but might not.

Here’s a link to the data, both that which I used and that which I didn’t.