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Fantasy Baseball – Roto vs. H2H

February 8, 2012 7 comments

By: Nate Douglas

We are mere days from those favorite four words in baseball: “pitchers and catchers report”. This means that fantasy baseball rankings and mock drafts are now in full force as fantasy baseball gurus begin prepping for their drafts and selecting their keepers for the upcoming season. There are two different styles of fantasy baseball: rotisserie (where fantasy players try to win as many categories over the course of a season as possible) and head-to-head points leagues (where a fantasy player tries to accrue more points in a one-week matchup than his opponent). Personally, I prefer H2H leagues over roto leagues, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, some background on the history of fantasy baseball which will play into my arguments.

In the late 1970s, aspiring Kansas writer Bill James turned the baseball world upside down when he started releasing his baseball abstracts, questioning a lot of the general wisdom in baseball from everything on how the game was played to evaluating talent. New statistics and formulas measuring success and failure in baseball became accurate barometers of player and team performance as the revolution took hold of first baseball fandom, then started to slowly permeate MLB clubs (as evidenced in the book Moneyball). In 1980, as a result of Bill James’ work, several guys got together at a restaurant in New York City, La Rotisserie Française and played the first game of what would come to be known as rotisserie baseball.

In this article, I’m going to commit fantasy baseball heresy for some, and explain why I believe H2H points leagues are the superior fantasy baseball experience over roto leagues. In order to get a feel for the arguments for roto leagues, I’ll be referring to an article by fantasy baseball Jedi, Ray Flowers of baseballguys.com, who recently wrote a piece about why he played in roto leagues and presented three points about why he disliked H2H leagues.

The basic premise for Ray’s reasoning is that the superior fantasy baseball format (in his case, roto) should best approximate the on-field product. In other words, fantasy baseball should operate as a mirror image of the game the best that it can. I completely agree with and accept this criterion, which is why I prefer H2H leagues. Ray says:

1) “Baseball is a 162-game marathon, as opposed to artificially contrived sessions of weekly matchups which turn the season into a sprint in H2H leagues.”

I agree, baseball is a marathon, but so are H2H leagues. Most H2H leagues still utilize all of the MLB games, just like roto leagues.  If a H2H league has one-week matchups (some leagues have two matchups per week, Mon.-Thur. and Fri.-Sun), that’s 28 possible matchups in a season, with 25 or 26 in the regular season and 2-3 in the playoffs. That hardly makes the season a “sprint”.

If we stay in this vein, however, roto leagues stray further away from the on-field game. MLB does not tabulate all the teams’ statistics at the end of the regular season and declare a winner. There’s the playoffs, and just like “real life”, owners in H2H leagues try to build a team that will give them a good enough record to make the playoffs, as well as succeed in the postseason.

2) “We all know that Albert Pujols will hit .300-30-100 (he’s on the cusp of doing it for the 11th straight season to start his career). However, we really have no idea when he will go deep, when he will produce hits, and when he will knock runners in. If you’re playing in a H2H match up what happens if Pujols hits .450 with three homers and 10 RBI? You’ll likely win that week. What happens though if he hits .150 with no homers and no RBI the following week? You would likely lose that week. Still, if Pujols followed this path, alternating greatness with putrid work, he’d end the year batting .300 with something like 39 homers and 130 RBI. That’s a phenomenal season, right? However, in H2H he’d be a killer to your club in those 13 weeks that he disappeared. Baseball is about consistency and working through the grind as much as anything. When you play H2H you remove that aspect of the game completely.”

Again, have to disagree with Mr. Flowers on this count as well. Correct, we don’t know when Pujols is going to go crazy one week and ice cold the next…well guess what, neither do the Angels! And if Pujols does not produce in a game, their chances of winning go down as well, just like in a H2H matchup. Of course it would hurt if Pujols disappeared for a week; that’s why you build an entire roster to get other players to contribute…just like the Angels. Remember the premise: The best fantasy format is the one that best mirrors the on-field product. I would not say H2H removes the element of consistency, rather it makes the owner try each week to field the best team possible; therefore, he has to pay more attention to slumps, injuries, pitcher/hitter matchups, ballparks, etc.  The H2H owner is always playing to win now. This is “working through the grind”, and H2H play hardly removes that. On the other hand, in roto leagues, Pujols goes through a slump, but no sweat: the roto owner can just sit back because he knows it’ll all even out in the end.  Less work is required from the roto owner.  If only MLB GM’s and managers could do that.  This makes roto the easier style of playing, and if that’s your bowl of chili, then go for it, but it definitely does not resemble the MLB game whatsoever.

Yes, there’s an element of luck to the H2H points style of play, hoping a stud doesn’t have a down week while a crummy player has an awesome one. But to quote Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, “That’s the way baseball go.” Before the last two World Series started, the majority of “experts” on the worldwide leader picked the Texas Rangers to beat the Giants and Cardinals.  Why?  Because the Rangers had a better overall team, better overall statistics, and didn’t sneak into the playoffs on the last day like the Giants and Cardinals did.  If Major League Baseball were a roto league, the Texas Rangers would be world champions the last two years, but that’s not how baseball ‘go’. There’s a luck-element in baseball, and like it or not, points leagues have to deal with it just like the MLB teams do.  Roto leagues for the most part don’t have to deal with the luck factor as much a H2H, and some roto players may be fine with that.  But remember what game we’re trying to imitate, therefore in this respect, roto baseball makes for a fogged up mirror in comparison to the on-field game.

3) “Would you ever draft Gavin Floyd over Dan Haren? That’s like saying you would prefer to cuddle up with Cate Blanchett over Brooklyn Decker? However, there are scenarios where you would end up starting Floyd over Haren simply because you’re looking at one week segments (there is no scenario in which Cate would be the choice over Brooklyn). What if Haren was facing the Yankees and Floyd was pitching in Seattle and Oakland – would you start Floyd because he was a two start pitcher on the road, where he has success, in two parks that favor the hurler? The answer is you might, and we’ve all made that decision at one point or another. However, does this make any sense? Of course it doesn’t.  We’re sometimes “forced” to go with an inferior pitcher merely because we need the starts to keep up with our opponent in the H2H format. In this instance we’re not rewarding the fantasy owner who rostered the players with the best skill, we’re merely rewarding those that were first to the waiver-wire to add a 2-start pitcher. There isn’t any skill in that.”

The scenario being presented here depends on the league rules and if you are actually faced with the either/or that Ray is proposing. If your league imposes strict game start limits, then yes, you might be faced with this decision of starting Gavin Floyd over ace Dan Haren. But roto leagues are faced with the same decision as well because there is a limit on games played per roster spot for the season (and most roto leagues have this restriction; if they didn’t, then the game is just about playing the most players, which is silly). Example, it’s the final week of the MLB regular season, and in your roto league you have two SP starts left before you fill your starting pitching’s starts quota for the season, and you’re faced with choosing between Gavin Floyd against the A’s and M’s, while Dan Haren faces the Yankees in New York.  A lot of people in both roto and H2H leagues would roll with Floyd over Haren.  And if a lot of roto players would chose Floyd over Haren during the last week of the season, the same logic could be applied to the middle of the season as well.  Ultimately, several times during the season, roto owners are faced with choosing between Brooklyn Decker and Cate Blanchett as well. Of course, this hypothetical does not mean that Haren would necessarily go out and blow it against the Yankees. On the contrary, he could throw a complete game while Floyd puts up a couple doozy starts. We really don’t know.  So nobody is being “forced” to use an inferior pitcher in a H2H league; roto leagues play the matchups as well. To have some more fun with Ray’s analogy, you could cuddle up to Brooklyn Decker, who, despite her Deckerness, might not have taken a shower in a month, while on the other hand Cate Blanchett is over there radiating, having just come out of some Elvish spa. You’d have to play that matchup as well.

Concerning Ray’s last point, rewarding the waiver wire pickups…again, there are no guarantees that this strategy would work. It could fail. And if the H2H league is a manly league, with say 12 teams and 25-man rosters, the pickings should be slim for streaming pitchers anyway.

Finally, I wanted to present my biggest issue with roto leagues. It comes down to stolen bases (and why do stolen bases have to be a category? Why not sacrifices? What about advancing 1st to 3rd on a single?). Here’s your token reminder about our premise—the better fantasy format is the one that best imitates the on-field game. The overvaluing of stolen bases in roto leagues dramatically changes the landscape of the players one would draft in a roto league as opposed to a H2H league. As a stat in itself, stolen bases are extremely overrated; they’re risky and have little influence on the outcome of an MLB game as we learned from the Bill James revolution. For example, a Michael Bourn could have six stolen bases in a game, and the Braves could not score one run (which, lest we forget, is what the game comes down to). On the other hand, Jay Bruce could hit just one home run, and the Reds would be beating the Braves and their base-stealing Bourn. Yet in roto leagues, home runs are valued just as much as stolen bases. Can someone argue that roto leagues best mirror the on-field product when this is the case? On the other hand (wait, you’ve got three hands there!), in standard points leagues, SB’s only give you 1 point, while HR’s give you 6 points—an accurate representation of the on-field game.

If all MLB players were put in a pool to be drafted, do you think any of the teams would use the roto stolen bases paradigm and take Hanley Ramirez over Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki or Roy Halladay? Heck no! Yet guys like Hanley Ramirez last year was often taken as the 2nd or 3rd pick overall in roto leagues, the primary reason being he steals bases. On the other hand, H2H points league owners would all take those other guys over the 2011 Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawfords of the world because they know they would produce more points (as would most big league executives if they could draft any player in MLB).

Over the last 20 years, we’ve learned that .OPS is the greatest contributing factor for MLB teams scoring runs (the object of the game), which is what H2H points leagues emphasize and reward the most. Most fantasy baseball services, however, when they do rankings and mock drafts, are doing them through the lens of roto leagues, therefore they have the overvaluation of steals in mind. This makes most of their rankings and mocks unhelpful for H2H players, which is why in my next article we’ll use some fantasy baseball format hermeneutics to interpret roto rankings and how H2H players should change their approach.

In summary, I believe that roto leagues are still stuck in the 80’s, and while roto leagues themselves would not be here today if it weren’t for Bill James, the roto leaguers obviously didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying.  Baseball has changed.  The game is about extra base hits, scoring and on base percentages.  Therefore, roto leagues need a Moneyball movement.  H2H leagues aren’t taking a cue from fantasy football points-style as Ray would argue. H2H is trying to copy the on-field product the best it can. It’s not perfect, it’s still improving, but H2H players view the MLB players in a more accurate way than roto players .It’s for all these reasons that I believe H2H fantasy baseball leagues best mirror the on-field product, making it a superior fantasy format than roto fantasy baseball.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for that last strike in the World Series  for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day when they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.  

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2012 Hall of Fame Ballot

January 4, 2012 1 comment

By: Aaron Booth

One of my favorite things in sports is a hot debate about an arbitrary topic. That’s why awards and college football rankings are so much fun. Those topics leave a lot to debate, the rules are vague, there’s no clearly defined relationship between component A and component B, the qualifications of the voters are often suspect, and at the end of it we, the fans, have dozens of things to complain about. The baseball Hall of Fame is just such a topic. Five hundred or so baseball writers with almost as many different perspectives and principles vote through a ballot of 20-30 players that had at least 10-year careers and have been retired for at least 5 years. They have almost no guidelines to work with, and even though it’s called the Hall of Fame, the voters really aren’t even measuring fame – they’re measuring greatness – kind of.

The voting method that is most obnoxious to me comes from a small group of voters who refuse to vote for a player on the first ballot. Their rationale? Joe DiMaggio wasn’t elected on the first ballot, current player X isn’t as good as DiMaggio, therefore, player X can’t get a first ballot vote. Thankfully these writers are in the minority. For one thing, their rationale is only sustainable provided the majority of voters do the right thing. Any player that fails to get 5% of the vote falls off the ballot, so if all the voters took this stance, no players would go to the HOF because they would all fall off the ballot after the first year. As if this wasn’t enough, these voters have still more egg on their faces. When they look back on all their HOF votes they will realize that they had no hand in electing the best players in the game. A long time voter that takes this stance had nothing to do with electing Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken or Ricky Henderson. They effectively voted against them because those players were elected on their first ballots. The legacy of these writers is that they are shackled by the mistakes of voters from 40 years ago. They embrace a position on principle even though the institution would die if all voters did the same. They vote against the greatest players in the game and only have a hand in electing the lesser HOFer’s, that is, they chose Gary Carter over George Brett.

Another type of voter that has emerged over the last few years is the guy that wants to manipulate the result. These guys were prevalent in the talk surrounding Roberto Alomar and are still present in the Barry Larkin discussion. These guys think Alomar and Larkin are worthy of being in the hall, but they are not worthy of being “first ballot” Hall of Famers. The HOF makes no distinction for how many elections a player went through for enshrinement; a player is either in or not. Yet these voters have created an arbitrary sub-honor called First Ballot HOFer, which they reserve for those players that meet their personal criteria. This voter, like the last voter, employs a method that is only sustainable provided they are in the minority.

Fortunately, these voters are in the minority. On the whole I think the writers do a good job of voting for HOF, better than any group of fans would do, and leaps and bounds better than a group of players and coaches.

For those who are not familiar with the process, a voter must be a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers Association. The voters receive a ballot and may vote for as many as 10 players, but they do not have to vote for any if they don’t want to. Players that receive 75% of the vote become Hall of Famers. Players that receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from future ballots.

The 2012 HOF ballot is exceptionally thin. The best new candidate is Bernie Williams. Williams should get enough votes to stay on the ballot for several. All the other new candidates will likely fall off, as will second year hold over Juan Gonzalez.

After the first year players and Gonzalez, there are thirteen other players on the ballot. I would not vote for Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, or Alan Trammell. These players get votes from a lot of respected voters, but I’m just not convinced. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but I haven’t been yet. Mattingly and Murphy had elite seasons – MVP seasons, but their periods of dominance were short and their overall careers were too short. I need more time on Walker. I am just not sure on him, and I’d rather be fully convinced than advocate a questionable candidate. On Trammell, I need to hear the narrative. I don’t think the numbers support him, but he was a shortstop, and I’m open to the idea that there is a case for him as a defender or as a leader, neither of which are reflected by the stats.

That leaves the guys I’m sure belong in the hall, plus Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire. Palmeiro and McGwire both had HOF careers and both have a legacy tainted by performance enhancing drugs. Fox baseball writer Ken Rosenthal once argued that he wasn’t voting for McGwire because McGwire refused to stand up for himself, and if he wouldn’t fight for himself why should he [Rosenthal] fight on his behalf. Perhaps Rosenthal has changed his mind, and if so, that’s fine too. In general I don’t get hung up on the PEDs. I would vote for both of these guys, though I don’t think they’ll be elected anytime soon, and I don’t really feel the need to fight for them. When the ballot is thin, I’ll vote for them. When the ballot is deep, I won’t.

That leaves seven guys I believe should be in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick summary of my seven HOFer’s in reverse order of importance:

Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog tends to get overlooked. He wasn’t really a vocal player, but he hit a lot of home runs and has a spotless reputation as far as PEDs are concerned.

Lee Smith: Smith bridges the gap between the original closers, (Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter) and the modern guys like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. That means he didn’t spend his whole career getting 2 and 3 inning saves like the first group, but he also didn’t spend his whole career getting bases empty, 1-inning saves like the modern guys, which means he didn’t compile 600 saves. He was the first to 400 saves, and as a kid I remember having the impression that he was one of the closers the league feared.

Jack Morris: Some voters have become passionate about Morris and I think he will ultimately be elected. Morris was the ace pitcher for 3 World Series champions and the star of one of the greatest postseason games I’ve ever seen – A 10-inning complete game shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Tim Raines: Raines spent his best years hidden in Montreal. By OPS+, Raines had 3 elite seasons and 8 other all-star level seasons. He’s 5th all-time in stolen bases, and he’s a darling candidate of the sabremetric crowd.

Edgar Martinez: For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Mariner fan and I love Edgar. That said, not only would I vote for Edgar, I believe he will ultimately be elected. Some voters penalize him for being a DH, but this is a dying trend. It is definitely an “old” argument: new voters don’t think this way, middle aged voters are open to change, and the old voters are retiring. By OPS+, Edgar had 13 all-star caliber seasons, 7 of which were truly elite. He’s 22nd all-time in on base percentage – 13th amongst modern era players (post 1920), and 34th all time in OPS (on base + slugging).

Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell has never been implicated for PED’s but he has been penalized by the voters for having giant arms in the steroid era. 13 of Bagwell’s 15 seasons were all-star level, and 8 of those were elite.

Barry Larkin: Larkin will get in this year. The only reason he’s not in now is because of the “he’s a hall of famer, just not a first ballot hall of famer” crowd.

Prediction: Larkin will go in alone. Morris finishes 2nd and is on the path of making it in his last year (2014). Bagwell, Edgar, and Raines, have big gains. The rest of the guys hang on, ranging from 10-40%. The only thing certain about their futures is that they will again be Hall of Fame candidates.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

Why Mark Buehrle Scares Me

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Nate Douglas

The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are currently underway, and just like eggnog is synonymous with Christmas, so are rumors with the Winter Meetings.  Among the rumors is the Texas Rangers’ pursuit of free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle.  If CJ Wilson signs with another team (which sounds likely), I still do not think signing Buehrle would be the best move for the Rangers.  Over the course of his career, Buehrle has only had one sub 3.50 ERA season, which was 6 years ago.  His highest K/9 rate was 6.05.  When over the course of a season a pitcher strikes out less batters than the average number of days a Kim Kardashian relationship lasts, you don’t miss many bats. His xFIP last year was 4.14, a plateau he has reached regularly, and it would not surprise me if he had an ERA in the 4.00s during the course of his next contract.  I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound like a $40 million pitcher.  The only argument I’ve heard in Buehrle’s favor was that he’s durable and can get you innings.  In response to this argument, I present you these stats (these averages were taken from 2005-2010):

 

Pitcher A: 189.2 IP, 4.39 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 139 K’s

Pitcher B: 213.6 IP, 3.94 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 117 K’s

 

Fairly similar numbers, Pitcher B obviously is a little better.  He’s Mark Buehrle.  Pitcher A is Kevin Millwood (who was in decline keep in mind), the Rangers’ last durable-gets-you-innings-pitcher.  That’s when the Rangers didn’t have any other starting pitchers to speak of.  Now, they have a rotation of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison with Scott Feldman as the long-man.  A sixth pitcher would be nice to create even more depth, and if a trade opportunity presents itself for somebody like John Danks or Matt Garza, the Rangers would do well to pick one of them up.  But they don’t need a pitcher like Buehrle, the Rangers already have a left-handed inning eater who doesn’t pile up many Ks—Matt Harrison. Instead, if the Rangers had to get a free agent pitcher, I’d rather they give a couple years to Roy Oswalt at a cheaper price with higher upside than pay $40 million for a lukewarm pitcher in decline.  The Texas Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions.  That kind of pedigree leads to Joe Nathan/Neftali Feliz-like acquisitions.  They are no longer the AL West pondscum from six years, which lead to Millwood-esque acquisitions, which is what Buehrle would be.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34. 

2011 MLB Postseason Awards

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Aaron Booth

I like getting through the baseball post season, taking a week off, and after that MLB gives us a slow trickle of season awards. Not every award leads to interesting discussion, but usually the season unfolds in such a way that we get at least one. This year we get two: AL MVP and NL Cy Young. Here are my thoughts on both.

Image

NL Cy Young

5. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

4. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

3. Cliff Lee, Phillies

2. Roy Halladay, Phillies

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Lee, Halladay and Kershaw were all very close in their final statistical lines. More often than not Cliff Lee finished 2nd or 3rd, while the other two regularly led the league in the important categories. As I looked at it, I noticed Halladay led most of the sabremetric categories, while Kershaw led most of the traditional categories. While I like sabremetric stats and tools, I am coming to realize they are intended to be predictive, which makes them useful for scouting and building a team (or a fantasy team), but they can also rely heavily on assumptions about expected norms and deviations from league average. The counting stats are, well just that, and the traditional rate stats are simple calculations of the counting stats. But the traditional stats are reflective of what actually did happen. I recognize that some of the counting stats, wins and losses especially, are not that helpful in evaluating a pitcher, but the innings, the strikeouts and walks, the hits, the ERA and WHIP, those things really happened. They don’t have to be normalized. They don’t have to be adjusted according the value of a run in the current run environment. There are a thousand hairs to split here – park effects, defense, quality of division, inter-league draw, but at the end of the day, Kershaw threw more innings, struck out more batters, allowed fewer runs and allowed fewer base runners. That’s good enough for me.

AL MVP

10. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees

8. Curtis Granderson, Yankees (Granderson had a good season; a surprising season, but he wasn’t really as good as the world believed back in August).

7. Michael Young, Rangers (fantastic season for a guy they wanted to dump back in March)

6. Robinson Cano, Yankees (Quietly the best Yankee – again)

5. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (He’s the new Manny Ramirez: his reputation is just too tarnished to win this award)

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (Fantastic statistical season for a non-contender)

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

1. Justin Verlander, Tigers

First of all, Verlander really did have a fantastic year. He led the AL in almost every category and he tied Jose Bautista for the AL lead in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 8.5. That WAR is the 5th best AL WAR (for pitchers) in the DH era. His 0.92 WHIP is the 2nd lowest in the DH era. He didn’t have the greatest season of all-time, but it was certainly an elite season, even amongst elite seasons.

The two main objections I get on my top three are 1) Jose Bautista actually had the best season of any AL hitter and 2) Pitchers should win MVP because the “have their own award” and they only play every 5th game.

On Bautista – he did have very good season, though he tailed off significantly over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, he played for perpetually .500 Blue Jays. Some of the statistical analysts have started leaning toward the idea that being on a contender shouldn’t matter. In a vacuum, that’s fine, but that model kind of sucks the fun out it. If baseball wants to do that, just make it a statistical contest and call it a day. That way there will be no debate; it will just be a numbers game and we will wait for the results like an election. Personally, I like the discussion and the argument, so I am just fine with the idea that an MVP should come from a contender. That’s not to say a great player from a non-contender can never be MVP. They can, but it should only happen in seasons when there’s not a strong candidate from a contending team.

On Verlander – The Cy Young Award is for pitchers. A hitter cannot win that award. The MVP, however, is not restricted to hitters. If it was the writers association would include a statement to that effect in instructions to the voters. The charge is to identify the most valuable player in the league. The more I have thought about this the more I suspect pitchers have been over looked in this award for a long time (maybe it should be officially defined as a hitter’s award).  Say it out loud: Could the Red Sox have contended without Ellsbury or Pedroia or Gonzalez? Yes. Could the Yankees contend without Robinson Cano? Yes. Could the Tigers have contended without Verlander? Not a chance.

On the surface the idea that a starting pitcher does not contribute to a team as much as an everyday player makes sense. I have swallowed this argument my whole life, but it’s really not as simple as that. When is an everyday player influencing the game? The answer is simple enough: when the player is batting and when the player is fielding. When a batter walks to the plate any number of things can happen, and whether the batter makes an out or reaches base that batter has influenced the game. Likewise, when the player is in the field, if he catches, throws or makes an error the player has influenced the game. So, a crude way to measure a players influence would be to add a players plate appearances (PA) to the total chances in the field (putouts+assists+errors=TC).  Let’s call this number Influential Moments (IM). Here are the IM’s of the hitters on my MVP ballot:

 

Not surprisingly, the first basemen have high TC’s, most of which are putouts on routine infield plays. Jose Bautista’s total was a bit lower, partly because he spent some time at DH, but also because he played a fair amount of third base – a position that produces the fewest TC.

Now that we know the hitter’s IM’s, we can turn our attention to the pitchers. When is the pitcher influencing the game? Again the answer is simple: when he faces a batter and when he fields (and when he bats in the NL). So, for the pitcher we add batters faced (BF) and TC to get their IM. Verlander faced 969 batters and had 237 total chances in the field, which comes to 1,206 IM’s. That’s a few more IM’s than the outfielders and utility types and a bit less than the middle infielders, but the point stands. Measured in IM’s, an elite starting pitcher has a similar number of opportunities to influence a game as a healthy, everyday player. The only difference is that the pitcher gets about 35 IM’s per game, while the position player gets about 7.75. This doesn’t necessarily close the case on whether a position player or a pitcher makes a greater contribution to a team, but it does cast some serious doubt on the assumption that hitters are by default more influential than starting pitchers over the course of a season.

Verlander had a truly special year. He led his team to the ALCS. The idea that pitchers don’t contribute as much as position players isn’t true. So, why shouldn’t Verlander win the AL MVP? He was certainly the most valuable.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

MLB Postseason Picks

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The Sports Smithy baseball Jedis submit their MLB Postseason picks.  You’ll notice a trend on who makes the World Series below.   We’ll come back and re-visit our picks after the World Series.

Deacon Blues

ALDS
Texas Rangers over Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games
Detroit Tigers over New York Yankees in 5 games

NLDS
Philadelphia Phillies over St. Louis Cardinals in 3 games
Milwaukee Brewers over Arizona Diamondbacks in 4 games

ALCS
Texas Rangers over Detroit Tigers in 6 games

NLCS
Philadelphia Phillies over Milwaukee Brewers in 5 games

World Series
Philadelphia Phillies over Texas Rangers in 5 games

World Series MVP: Roy Halladay

Aaron Booth

ALDS
Texas Rangers over Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games
New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers in 4 games

NLDS
Philadelphia Phillies over St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games
Milwaukee Brewers over Arizona Diamondbacks in 5 games

ALCS
Texas Rangers over New York Yankees in 6 games

NLCS
Philadelphia Phillies over Milwaukee Brewers in 5 games

World Series
Philadelphia Phillies over Texas Rangers in 5 games

World Series MVP: Raul Ibanez


Nate Douglas

ALDS
Texas Rangers over Tampa Bay Rays in 5 games
Detroit Tigers over New York Yankees in 4 games

NLDS
Philadelphia Phillies over St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games
Milwaukee Brewers over Arizona Diamondbacks in 3 games

ALCS
Texas Rangers over Detroit Tigers in 6 games

NLCS
Philadelphia Phillies over Milwaukee Brewers in 7 games

World Series
Texas Rangers over Philadelphia Phillies in 7 games

World Series MVP: Adrian Beltre

The Dynasty That Wasn’t

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Nate Douglas

In 2010, the San Francisco Giants cruised to victory in the World Series- it took just five games in what was an amazing yet surprising championship run.  Not much time had elapsed before the local writers started uttering the “d-word”- dynasty.  Not an entirely unreasonable thought.  The Giants had one of the best rotations locked down for the foreseeable future in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the promising Madison Bumgarner.  The bullpen was among the best in the majors.  They had young hitters, such as Buster Posey who was destined to be a star. Pablo Sandoval could mash if he could stay away from the buffet line and on the field.  Brandon Belt was raking in the minors and was a top 10 touted prospect going into the 2011 season.  As the season began, ticket and merchandise sales were up.  Showtime aired their “Hard Knocks” version for baseball entitled “The Franchise” featuring the San Francisco Giants.  In all of the promos, they showed a clip of Brian Wilson uttering the words, “Mark it down.  Repeat.”  Everything pointed towards a dynasty.

But as of this writing, the Giants were eliminated from the playoff race despite being in the creampuff division of the NL, and 8 games behind the new darling Diamondbacks.  The “dynasty” is not going to even make the playoffs just a year removed from their title.  What happened?   Did the pixie dust wear off?  Were the Giants so hamstrung by injuries this year that title retention was near impossible?  Was the term “dynasty” used a bit too freely?

 

The 2010 Giants were a team of self-proclaimed misfits.  It made a cute story.  But when general manager Brian Sabean assembled this team of misfits, he could not realistically believe they were a world championship contender, not to mention a dynasty, could he?  Not when his best outfielder was picked up off the waiver wire in August (Cody Ross),his spare part shortstop only played 72 games and hit 3 HR’s (Edgar Renteria), and his third baseman was so overweight that they had to play another spare in his place (Juan Uribe).  Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey were the only decent power hittesr on the team.  Not exactly a lineup that would strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.  Yet the stars aligned and the Giants handled the Phillies and Rangers with ease.  The misfits won.  But can a dynasty be constructed of misfits?  Dynasties require staying power.

 

Struggling to comprehend how the Giants won the World Series, I didn’t know if I should think of Brian Sabean as the luckiest man on earth or not.  Was he the guy that drafted and developed some talented pitchers?  Or was the real Brian Sabean the one who paid out one of the worst contracts in major league history to Barry Zito?  I believe I must go with the latter, due to his inactivity over the offseason between the 2010-11 seasons.  Sabean, in a move that showed how much confidence he had in Renteria and Uribe (or in a move that demonstrated how lucky he realized he had been), let them go and replaced them with Miguel Tejada (who would later in  the year be cut), and wished upon a star that Kung Fu Pandovol would drop some weight.  The Giants went into the offseason with some needs, and Sabean did not fill them.

 

San Francisco fans might attribute this year’s disappointing performance to injuries.  But championship contending teams with studly GMs can cope with injuries to an extent (not to mention dynasties).  The Texas Rangers this season had lost all-stars Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz for over a month each.  Neftali Feliz, Darren O’Day, Mike Napoli, Scott Feldman, Andres Blanco and Tanner Scheppers were all on the DL at one point.  There was a time where the Rangers led the majors with players on the DL for several weeks.  Despite these circumstances, and being in the toughest pitching division in the majors, the Rangers have survived and are on track to defend their ALCS crown because of their depth.  Depth leads to dynasties.  Top-heavy teams are grasping for wind.  These sorts of teams are easily affected by injuries and should be prepared to face them, because baseball happens.

 

This year, the Giants’ offense was so bad they couldn’t hit the sand if they fell off a camel.  Since June, Tim Lincecum started in 17 games.  The Giants won only 8 of them.  Lincecum had a 1.90 ERA during that stretch.  Some of the hitting woes can be attributed to Buster Posey’s absence, but that can’t be the sole missing piece.  He’s good, and he’s going to be great some day, but he’s not a game changer.  The Giants already had great pitching this year (including the surprisingly solid season from Ryan Vogelsong), and a solid bullpen.  But relying on those solely to carry you to the postseason will result you in missing the boat entirely more often than not.  The Giants need hitting in a really bad way, and could stand to upgrade at 2-3 OF spots, the middle infield and set Brandon Belt free.

 

All of this to say, the 2010 Giants’ story is still an amazing one.  They epitomized everything we love about baseball.  The story of the underdog, the team that came out of nowhere, the misfits, classy players, beautiful ballpark, and the fact that when October rolls around, anyone can win.  But a lot of work needs to be done for them to be considered a dynasty.  Lincecum was asked a couple days ago about their chances of someday returning to the World Series.  He simply replied, “I’m worried about us getting back there.”

 

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.  

The Sampler Platter: Texas A&M, Jim Thome, and the Dallas Cowboys

August 26, 2011 1 comment

By: Nate Douglas

He who gets embarrassed last…
If Texas A&M’s color wasn’t already maroon, it would be, as they were embarrassed after the events from a week ago.  After publicly claiming they wanted to join the SEC, they were rejected like Dwight Howard swatting a teardrop floater.  Longhorn fans got a good kick out of it, I’m sure.  But when all is said and done, Texas A&M will get the last laugh.

The “Big 12” is falling apart like the little piggy’s house of straw.  Nebraska and Colorado have already jumped ship, and nobody would put it past Missouri or Baylor to join them over the next year or so.  Texas, sporting their new $400 million Longhorn Network deal with ESPN, tightened its grip as the top dog in the conference.   Texas was already without a doubt a sexier school than A&M, and had a  significant edge in  recruiting.  So Texas A&M  finally said, “We don’t have to play with  them.  We  can go get some money and players elsewhere!” So  where  else, but the SEC (also known as the middle-  class man’s NFL)?  The SEC  has the largest major  network television deals and attracts the best    recruits.  Now that’s a peach cobbler that Texas  A&M would do well to  take a large piece of.  Yes,  A&M will most likely be eaten alive the first  few  years in the SEC.  But now Texas recruits have the  choice to chose  between the school with their own  television network (attractive) or a  school in the  best conference against the best teams with the  best  players (more attractive).  The decision just  got a lot harder.  Texas  A&M will eventually  become competitive in the SEC as they attract    more players.

Not many writers, however, are questioning the  Longhorn’s future in this story.  The Aggies will  inevitably join the SEC, few experts doubt that.    This leaves ESPN in a difficult spot, as their  product would become less valuable.  If Texas  A&M, and potentially Oklahoma, leave the party,  the Longhorns will have nobody to dance with, and  they will be the ones looking embarrassed with a  darker shade of maroon.

The Wrong Wardrobe
This year in baseball, we have witnessed two major career feats in Derek Jeter and Jim Thome.  Derek Jeter reached 3,000 hits, and Jim Thome slugged his 600th home run, both quite impressive and hall of fame worthy.  Jeter, however, undoubtedly benefited from more publicity, which is a shame, as Thome’s accomplishment is much more impressive.  Thome’s crime?  He doesn’t wear pinstripes.  Derek Jeter was the 28th player in MLB to reach 3,000 hits.  Jim Thome was just the 8th to crack the 600 home run threshold (including known steroid users such as McGwire and Sosa).  You would not have known this watching SportsCenter.  Instead, writers said Thome’s accomplishment is somewhat tainted by steroids.  Excuse me, but Jeter hits home runs, and line drives into the gaps and alleys  Steroids would be just as beneficial for his game.  But nobody would dare mention steroids when Jeter hit 3,000.  Now nobody thinks Jeter or Thome were shooting PEDs.  As far as we know, they’re as clean as the Downy teddy bear. The credit, however, should go where it’s due; Thome should get more airtime and accolades than Jeter.  It’s a shame the sports media, led by ESPN, would rather make the news than report it.

Easy Does It
I have a friendly exhortation for my Cowboy friends, most of whom not only aspire for the playoffs and Super Bowl this year, but think they are very achievable and realistic goals.  I just wanted to stay, “Woah, partner.  Let’s pull the reins in a little bit.”  Here’s why:

1) Jerry Jones has only won one playoff game in the last 15 years.  That’s a bad precedent to think would all of a sudden disappear.  The Cowboys haven’t proved anything, so it would be unreasonable to expect they would prove much this year.  The Dallas Mavericks had a much more consistent and successful track record over the last decade, yet few expected them to win the championship even after the first round of the playoffs this year.  To think the Cowboys will clean house when they can’t even regularly make the playoffs is over the top.

2) The Dallas Cowboys defense was the worst in Cowboy history last year.  That says a lot.  What says more is the fact that all of the same players are back.  There is no massive defensive team overhaul.  In fact, there was no massive team overhaul at all.  There were no major impact acquisitions during the offseason.  To think only swapping out the defensive coordinator will be the miracle cure is wishful thinking.

3) Having a “healthy” squad this year after last year’s injuries won’t make that much of a difference.  The Cowboys were in the doldrums before Tony Romo was hurt.  On the other hand, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers were bit by the injury bug worse than anyone, yet that didn’t faze them and they didn’t make excuses. Injuries will happen again this year, but the Cowboys are not well-equipped to deal with them.  Yes, Dez Bryant is a beast.  But with his injury history, one would not be surprised if he had to miss a few games, which would be devastating for the offense.  As it stands, the Cowboys don’t even know who their third receiver is, much less who the second would be if the terror of the NorthPark Mall got hurt.   The Cowboys have the star power that is not questioned.  But they’re top-heavy.

4) In order to make the playoffs, you have to be better than the other teams in your division.  The Eagles improved drastically and the Giants have the majority of a squad returning that won 10 games last year.  The Cowboys also have teams like the Packers, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Saints, and Bucs to compete with for the wild card.  I’m sorry, but I’m going with the field.

Not to be a gloomy cloud over the Dallas picnic, but Cowboy fans, please, let’s tamper expectations here.  Players may step up, and good coaching is was what this team needed.  But until that happens, you’re not helping your national reputation as fans when you publicly exude Super Bowl-bound confidence (but don’t worry, you’re still not as bad as Eagles fans).

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.