Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Belated Look At ProFSL Auction

I'm excited to be participating in an "experts league" sponsored by the guys a ProfFSL which uses rather unconventional scoring. The key things to know are that OBP, total bases, and strikeouts are heavily rewarded, RBI and pitcher Wins are basically meaningless, while steals and saves are at less of a premium compared to conventional leagues. Lineups include only one catcher, three outfielders, and no corner or middle infield spot, while the pitching staff, like a real MLB team, has five starters and six relievers.  The auction was a couple weeks back, but it's never too late to post a few thoughts. First off, here's my team:

OF Carlos Gonzalez $46
2B Ian Kinsler $30
SP Stephen Strasburg $25
3B Pablo Sandoval $20
SP Zack Greinke $19
SP Madison Bumgarner $18
OF Carl Crawford $16
OF Jason Heyward $14
C Buster Posey $12
RP Neftali Feliz $11
1B Ryan Howard $7
RP Ryan Madson $5
C Wilson Ramos $4
RP Aroldis Chapman $3
SP Derek Holland $3
SP Jeremy Hellickson $3
RP Brandon League $3
RP David Robertson $3
RP Aaron Crow $1
SS Jed Lowrie $1
OF Adam Jones $1
1B James Loney $1

The scoring protocol heavily favors hitters. In 2011, the 30 highest scorers were all everyday players. But, with limited flexibility on the pitching side, I wanted to make sure I had a strong representation of high-strikeout guys. I opted to spend most of my pitching budget on Stephen Strasburg ($25), Zack Greinke ($19), and Madison Bumgarner ($18), breakout candidates who already have decent track records, but who came at a discount compared to premier Aces like Verlander ($41), Kershaw ($36), and Lincecum ($36). The announcement of Strasburg's innings limit was a bummer. But, assuming the Nats hold fast to it, I should be able to find a cheap waiver wire addition for the final month, which, combined with Strasburg's dominance, more than returns my $25 investment.

Relief pitching is very different in this league, compared to standard roto. While Craig Kimbrel did lead all relievers in points in 2011, only two other closers made the top ten (John Axford & Jonathan Papelbon), which also featured hard-throwing set-up men (David Robertson, Jonny Venters, etc.) and swingmen (Felipe Paulino, Cory Luebke, etc.). When the draft happened their was still a chance Neftali Feliz ($11), Aroldis Chapman ($3), and Aaron Crow ($1) would all end up in a major-league rotation. Only Feliz succeeded, but both Chapman and Crow pitched well and should be featured in major bullpen roles with an outside chance they join rotations midseason.

Many of the hitters I went for are among my favorites for 2012 in general. CarGo ($46) is my preseason pick for NL MVP. He's generally a slow starter, but I think his combination of high extra-base power, high percentage stealing, and improving K/BB rate makes him a decent fit for this league. I've always been a huge Panda ($20) fan and if he stays healthy I have no doubt he'll outperform Ryan Zimmerman ($29 and Brett Lawrie ($24) in this format. Kinsler ($30) was an unexpected investment. Second base is one of the most top-heavy positions in fantasy this year. Because of the value of power, runs, K/BB, and SB% in this league, Kinsler actually outscored Robinson Cano ($45) in 2011 and was second only to Dustin Pedroia ($40) at his position. Considering Kinsler's ballpark and lineup, he may still have a little upside, so I felt like $30 was a steal, perhaps my best pick-up of the auction.

Obviously, paying $18 for Carl Crawford and Ryan Howard, who both begin the season on the DL, is a calculated risk. After the auction I grabbed Justin Smoak and Austin Jackson off the waiver wire. Using them (and perhaps others) I will try to scrap together decent production at two positions while I wait for Crawford and Howard to come back healthy. If the make it back by May and are fairly productive, they could be the keys to a championship. If not, I'll have to be creative. If Wilson Ramos has the breakout season many are expecting, he could be my trade bait to upgrade elsewhere (or my insurance for Buster Posey).

In the first week of the season, I laid the smackdown and was the league's second-highest scorer. Austin Jackson got off to a hot starts, as did Panda and Kinsler, while Greinke, Strasburg, Holland, and Hellickson all logged quality starts. Probably can't expect that every week.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

2012 Predictions

Most of these are posted as part of the IIATMS preview a couple weeks ago, but for those who missed them:

World Series: Brewers over Rangers

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Giants
NL WC #1: Marlins
NL WC #2: Nationals
NLCS: Brewers over Giants

AL East: Rays
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL WC #1: Yankees
AL WC #2: Blue Jays
ALCS: Rangers over Rays

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, DET
NL MVP: Carlos Gonzalez, COL
AL CY: David Price, TB
NL CY: Madison Bumgarner, SFG
AL ROY: Jesus Montero, SEA
NL ROY: Starling Marte, PIT
AL MOY: John Farrell, TOR
NL MOY: Davey Johnson, WAS

Sunday, October 09, 2011

BBA Awards Ballot

AL Stan Musial Award:
1. Jose Bautista, TOR
2. Curtis Granderson, NYY
3. Miguel Cabrera, DET
4. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
5. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
6. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS
7. Evan Longoria, TB
8. Adrian Beltre, TEX
9. Robinson Cano, NYY
10. Ian Kinsler, TEX

NL Stan Musial Award:
1. Ryan Braun, MIL
2. Justin Upton, ARZ
3. Prince Fielder, MIL
4. Matt Kemp, LAD
5. Troy Tulowitzki, COL
6. Albert Pujols, STL
7. Jose Reyes, NYM
8. Andrew McCutchen, PIT
9. Joey Votto, CIN
10. Lance Berkman, STL

AL Walter Johnson Award:
1. Justin Verlander, DET
2. C. C. Sabathia, NYY
3. Dan Haren, LAA

NL Walter Johnson Award:
1. Roy Halladay, PHI
2. Cliff Lee, PHI
3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD

AL Goose Gossage Award:
1. Mariano Rivera, NYY
2. David Robertson, NYY
3. Jose Valverde, DET

NL Goose Gossage Award:
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2. Sergio Romo, SFG
3. Eric O'Flaherty, ATL

AL Willie Mays Award:
1. Alexi Ogando, TEX
2. Michael Pineda, SEA
3. Ivan Nova, NYY

NL Willie Mays Award:
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2. Freddie Freeman, ATL
3. Brandon Beachy, ATL

AL Connie Mack Award:
1. Joe Maddon, TB
2. Ron Washington, TEX
3. Jim Leyland, DET

NL Connie Mack Award:
1. Kirk Gibson, ARZ
2. Ron Roenicke, MIL
3. Charlie Manuel, PHI

Thursday, September 08, 2011

"Is WAR the new RBI?" Link Dump

I've had some requests from friends, old and new, to link to all the various places where my "Is WAR the new RBI?" post at IIATMS was constructively critiqued, lambasted, debated, and/or lionized.  Over at IIATMS, we are moving on and I won't be writing any more on the subject in the near future.  After all, the postseason is nearly upon us.  So, I'll post the link dump here.  After all, considering SPH hasn't been updated for six months, if you're here, this is probably the reason (traffic shot up just a touch this week).    Beware, I'm creating a timesuck.  If you plan to read all the digital ink spilled on this subject, especially in the comments and message boards, you better make yourself comfortable.  If you come across something else I should look at/add, let me know.

"Is WAR the new RBI"? - Hippeaux

"The Limits of WAR or Ben Zobrist Isn't Really a Superstar?" - Rob Neyer, SB Nation

"WAR is Not the New RBI (but It Has Its Own Flaws)" - William J., Yankee Analysts

"'WAR doesn't work'" - Tangotiger, Inside the Book

"What WAR is...what WAR is not" - Tangotiger

"In Defense of the Royal 'We'" - Hippeaux

"WAR is a good, imperfect, idea" - Brien, IIATMS

"Legitimacy" - Mark Smith, IIATMS

"UZR bias by FB%" - Tangotiger

"To Hippeaux" - Tangotiger

"A Critique of WAR" - Craig Calceterra, NBC Hardball Talk

"In Defense of WAR" - Bryan O'Connor, Replacement Level Baseball Blog

"Finally, a Stat Guy Challenges the Power of WAR" - The Big Lead

"Link: Is WAR the new RBI?" - ESPN SweetSpot Blog

"WAR Not All It's Cracked Up To Be?" - Rob Castellano, Amazin' Avenue

"Going to WAR over...assumptions vs. science" - jemanji, Seattle Sports Insider

"Should Defense by More Consistent than Offense?" - Sean Forman, Baseball Reference

"WAR Back in the News" - Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley

"WAR CRITIQUE" - Baseball Musings

Message Boards:

Baseball Think Factory

Pro Sports Daily

Sunday, June 26, 2011

BBA All-Star Ballot

American League:

C - Russell Martin, NYY
1B - Miguel Cabrera, DET
2B - Howie Kendrick, LAA
3B - Kevin Youkilis, BOS
SS - Alexei Ramirez, CWS
LF - Brett Gardner, NYY
CF - Curtis Granderson, NYY
RF - Jose Bautista, TOR
DH - David Ortiz, BOS

National League:

C - Miguel Montero, ARZ
1B - Prince Fielder, MIL
2B - Rickie Weeks, MIL
3B - Scott Rolen, CIN
SS - Jose Reyes, NYM
LF - Ryan Braun, MIL
CF - Matt Kemp, LAD
RF - Justin Upton, ARZ

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hippeaux is Taking His Talents to...the Yankees!?!

After four seasons covering MLB with my own proprietary blend of sabermetrics, soul, and baseball humanism, I'm abandoning the neon and black.  Generating traffic in the blogosphere is no easy feat and I'm proud of the extent to which the SPH has grown.  I'm thankful to all those who have read, commented, and corresponded with me.  My writing and analysis have improved by virtue of this outlet and your feedback.  I look forward to our continued discussion of all things baseball.  However, it will be aided by a new venue.

Jason Rosenberg and his staff at It's About The Money have been kind enough to welcome me onboard.  Without the responsibility for single-handedly keeping a site functional and up-to-date, I hope my posts will be more consistently inventive...though they will also be considerably less frequent (right now I'm aiming for a weekly schedule).

Yes, IIATMS is a Yankee-centric blog, complete with a Yankee Stadium masthead and a pseudo-pinstriped design, so I understand that those readers fond of my spiteful rants about Jeter, A-Rod, and the rest of the Evil Empire may be disappointed by the new digs.  Get over it.  IIATMS is about much more than just the Yankees these days.  In truth, as its title suggests, it always has been.  In recent weeks, Larry Behrendt's multi-part series on the 2011 payroll numbers has provided a variety of insights into the game's constantly evolving fiscal structure.  Josh Weinstock recently wrote an analysis of Phil Hughes' curveball which not only sets a high bar for sabermetric research, but also offers fascinating insight into the psychology of a young, struggling pitcher.  Brien Jackson attacks the conventional wisdom of "pitching to contact" through the specific example of Francisco Liriano.  Chip Buck expanded upon his observations by looking a contact rates.  And, as my first contribution to IIATMS, I added my two cents.  I love this stuff and I'm proud to be party to it.

The Sporting Hippeaux will remain up (if for no other reason, so I can access my own archives) and I may occasionally post a rant if I don't think it's appropriate to the tenor of my new home, but in all likelihood, this could be my final post.  It's been a blast.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tout Wars Mixed 2011, Part II: Going to the Well Early and Often

The Tout Wars auctions were held this March in the beautiful New York headquarters of MLB Advanced Media, atop the Chelsea Market, overlooking the Hudson River.  MLBAM is responsible for the maintenance of the wildly successful and, as well as contributing to the MLB Network, now in its third season.  Their offices are befittingly sleek and state-of-the-art, but not free of the tendency towards corny fanboyism which seems a requisite for the baseball-obsessed.  The decor tends towards red, white, and blue.  There's enough figurines and signed memorabilia to make an Applebee's manager envious.  The central conference room forgoes the corporate chic of sharp lines, plate glass, steel, and leather for corrugated pine and aluminum.  From the outside it looks a little like an inverted waffle cone.

Inside, on this particular morning, it was crowded.  Fifteen participants in the Mixed League auction were joined by an auctioneer, several Baseball HQ employees, and a variety of interested observers, including fantasy baseball celebs like Ron Shandler and Lawr Michaels.  As you might expect, there were nearly as many screens as people.  In addition to a 50-inch flatscreen which adorned the front of the conference room, on which the official results were being entered, each participant had a laptop, as well as, in many cases, a Blackberry.  The final minutes of draft preparation produced a clicking cacophony.  Several owners put the finishing touches on customized draft software which, from what I could tell, as the draft unfolded, automatically updated their pricing structures to compensate for increasing positional scarcities and cycles of inflation and deflation.  Fancy stuff.

Thirteen people were crowded around the table at the center of the room, amidst them a nest of adapters, ethernet cables, auxiliary mice, and power strips.  Against the far wall, two apparent luddites rested their elbows on the small table they shared and looked on, seemingly bemused.  Nando Di Fino of the Wall Street Journal and Gene McCaffrey of Wise Guy Baseball chose to manage their auctions using that classic technology, pen and paper.  Coincidently, they both also went with a classic strategy, familiar to most as "studs and scrubs."

Nando, a stubbly, gregarious, and newlywed twenty-something treated McCaffrey, a grizzled fantasy veteran whose work is frequently spoken of in the hushed tones of acolytes, with the appropriate reverence.  Afterwards he told me McCaffrey's presence was perhaps his favorite aspect of the day.  As the auction proceeded, a copy of Wise Guy Baseball 2011 circulated the outer rim of the room and was perused with considerable interest.  But, respect did not keep Nando from bidding aggressively on many of the same players as McCaffrey in the early going, as both were extremely active.  By the time the first break came around, five rounds into a twenty-nine round auction, both McCaffrey and Di Fino had spent more than $200, far more than anybody using a computer.  Here's what they had to show for it:

Nando Di Fino:

1B Mark Teixeira $37
3B Evan Longoria $36
OF Josh Hamilton $29
SP Felix Hernandez $28
2B Dan Uggla $27
SP Jered Weaver $18
SP Zack Greinke $18
2B Chase Utley $11

Gene McCaffrey:

1B Adrian Gonzalez $37
2B Robinson Cano $31
SP Cliff Lee $23
SP Josh Johnson $20
RP Brian Wilson $20
OF Colby Rasmus $16
SP Matt Cain $15
SP Chris Carpenter $14
C Matt Wieters $10

I'll touch on their specific choices a little later, but for now I'll merely observe that each netted at least two players who would likely be "first-rounders" if this were a standard snake draft.  Also, in a year when the conventional wisdom was to "wait on pitching," because frontline pitchers are more plentiful following the so-called "year of the pitcher," both team have at least a trio of Aces.

Di Fino says, "I wasn't crazy about players in the middle rounds.  I liked a lot of second/third round type players, than liked a lot of 14-20th round players.  I just didn't care for the players in between.  There were literally two sheets in the middle of my draft pack that had no highlighted names.  Just a bunch at the start and a bunch at the end."

Obviously, at an auction, you can't predict when players will come off the board quite as effectively as you can at a draft, but it is still true that the best players usually go early.  In Tout Wars Mixed, only one player went for $30 or more after the first break.  Five rounds later, nobody was willing to spend as much as $20 on any one player, as pretty much all the premium talent was gone.

McCaffrey argues that mixed league auctions don't abide by a consistent, "rational" pricing structure, because there are so many more or less replacement level players available at the bottom of the player pool.  The depth of the player pool doesn't mean, as many players believe, that you should save money because there will still be big-league regulars and mid-range talent available in the late rounds, but rather you should be willing to bid even higher on uncommon talent and consistent production, because several decent players will simply "fall to you" at the end of an auction.

As you can see, though the tenor of their explanations is different, their rationales are pretty similar.  Both McCaffrey and Di Fino sat quietly through much of the middle of the auction.  Though they had the fullest rosters after five rounds of nominations, both were still unfinished we the auction reached round 25.  The players which "fell to them," costing $1 apiece, looked like this:

Di Fino:

C Jeff Mathis
C Chris Snyder
1B Matt LaPorta
1B Justin Smoak
OF Jonny Gomes
SP Brandon Webb
RP Joel Peralta


C Josh Thole
1B/OF Garrett Jones
2B Freddy Sanchez
OF Seth Smith
SP Brandon Beachy

While you may not get excited about any of the above, all of the position players begin the season with guaranteed playing time and several, especially Smoak, LaPorta, Beachy, and Smith have considerable upside.  It's very hard to predict that Smith or Gomes, playing nearly everyday in good lineups and hitters parks, will be worth substantially less than Jason Kubel ($11), Bobby Abreu ($10), Raul Ibanez ($6), and Nate McClouth ($6).

Though their strategies were similar, the early returns are very different.  Nando was willing to roll the dice on injury-risks with high upside.  To be fair, it's way too early to judge any team accurately, but Nando's D.L. is damn full with Longoria, Hamilton, Greinke, Utley, Webb, and Manny Ramirez all shelved.  McCaffrey on the other hand has had some good luck.  His lynchpins, Cano and Gonzalez, have picked up right where they left off.  Pablo Sandoval has started strong, as has Carlos Quentin, following down years.  The routinely unexceptional Seth Smith has been on fire.  Alexi Ogando and Brandon Beachy both made their teams' rotations, somewhat unexpectedly.

Is he lucky or good?  I'd bet on the latter.

Coming Soon...Interview and Analysis with Scott Swanay, The Fantasy Sherpa.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Payoff Part Deux (Milwaukee Brewers)

In case it hasn't already become clear, you can expect to see a lot of Brewers coverage this season.  The Crew, who have been among my favorite franchises ever since Doug Melvin took over as GM, have an especially high Narrative Likability Factor in 2011.  As I discussed this offseason, with the free agency of Prince Fielder imminent, the Brewers are "going for it," as was clearly evidenced by the mortgaging of the farm system for the short-term services of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

One of the reasons to root for Milwaukee in 2011 is that, led by Melvin, the Brewers are among the franchises who have been "doing it right" according to the conventional wisdom regarding success in smaller markets.  The core of the team is homegrown.  With the exception of the ill-timed signing of Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee has avoided buying up free agents at a premium, instead extending young players from their own system at discount rates (Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, etc.) and handing out low-risk deals to veteran role players (Randy Wolf, Trevor Hoffman, Nyjer Morgan, etc.).

As a result, the Brewers not only have an impressive cast of talent, but they have an identity, as most of the core players have been together since they were minor-leaguers.  That identity isn't only good for clubhouse camaraderie, but is also appealing to the fan base, which has quietly become one of the most supportive in the National League.  Since Melvin took over in 2003, Brewers attendance has gone from 50% of capacity to over 80% of capacity, an increase of nearly 15,000 fans per game. 

As was revealed by the Opening Day payroll numbers released earlier this week, Melvin's strategy for building a contender in Milwaukee has emphasized commitments from ownership, as well as deft drafting and player development, timely acquisitions, and improved marketing.  The 2011 Brewers represent the largest percentage increase in payroll of any team in baseball since 2004, which happens to be Melvin's second year on the job.  Unlike ownership in many other markets, the Brewers owners met improved support from the community with a deeper investment in the long term competitiveness in the team.  Milwaukee's $85.5 Million Opening Day payroll puts them in the middle of the pack (#17) among all MLB franchises, but it represents a 211% increase since '04.  Melvin grew this payroll gradually (in step with attendance) until he reached the plateau he's maintained pretty consistently since 2008.

Pundits like myself can commend Melvin all we want for his personnel decisions and his deft economizing, but the fact remains, he is nearing the point where he will be judged by his results.  As fun as this collection of Brewers players are to watch, they've got only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance during Melvin's tenure.  With the face of the franchise in his final season, it's imperative the Brewers improve upon that record.  During the Opening Weekend against the reigning NL Central champs, the Cincinnati Reds, you could see that the pressure was on.  The Brewers hit just .223 against the Reds, with an abysmal 26/5 K/BB ratio.  Their bullpen got roughed up, including a painful three-run walkoff homer against closer John Axford on Opening Day.

But the Brewers bounced back in a major way this week, taking three in a row from Atlanta, another presumed NL powerhouse.  Gallardo asserted his Ace status by stopping the losing streak with a dominant complete-game two-hitter and Axford netted saves in back-to-back appearances.  The Brewers need to carry this momentum forward, as their performance in the season's first two months will say a lot about this team.  They will have to face Atlanta and Cincinnati again, as well as Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Los Angeles before Greinke's anticipated return.  If they can stay above .500 during this opening stretch, Greinke's comeback could provide them with a little confidence going into interleague play.

(Greinke is due back sometime around the middle of May.  Considering his injury is similar to that which delayed the start of Cliff Lee's season in 2010, I don't worry too much about his ability to stay on the field and pitch well once he returns.  Lee, after all, was one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball last year, despite his late start.)

The biggest challenge for the Brewers comes in June, when they open a 15-game tussle with some of the best teams in the American League.  The schedule-makers did not do Milwaukee any favors.  They will face the Yankees and the Red Sox on the road, as well as the Rays at home, and their "interleague rival," the AL Central Champion Twins, home and away.  Four AL teams, all of which won 85 or more games in 2010 and all of whom are expected to perform at close to that level, if not better, in 2011.  Compare that to Cincinnati, who gets the Yankees at home, skips the Red Sox entirely, and gets to play their rivalry series against the lowly Indians.  Or the Cardinals, who somehow manage to avoid both New York and Boston, plus get six games against arguably the worst team in all of baseball, the Royals.  It would be a substantial accomplishment for the Brewers to get near .500 against their AL opponents, while their primary rivals will have a significantly easier time of it.

It's important to note that, even when the Brewers lose Fielder to free agency this coming offseason, they will not be going back to the drawing board.  Somewhat ingeniously, Melvin has gotten Braun, Weeks, and Gallardo under team control through 2015.  Greinke, Marcum, and Corey Hart remain under contract through at least 2012.  As such, it would be a mistake to argue that if they miss the playoffs in 2011 their window will absolutely be closed.  However, their is no reason to believe the Reds will be getting any worse, while 2012 will bring the Cubs some much-needed salary relief, they could be major players in the free agent market this coming winter.  While the NL Central is already a rather deep, competitive division, it could get even tougher in coming years.  Yet another reason Milwaukee's management clearly feels their time is now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Opening Statements

The season is but a week old.  It's best not to overreact to half a dozen games.  As things stand, the Royals, Orioles, and Mets are all division leaders.  Something tells me that's not the way things are going to play out.  However, we spend the Hot Stove season pouring over payrolls and depth charts, imagining how Carl Crawford will look fielding a line drive off the Green Monster.  During Spring Training we watch odd melanges of half-assed veterans, anxious invitees, and youngsters playing out of position and hitting against  pitchers who may or may not have permission to throw their curveballs.  So, there really are instances when a team takes the field on Opening Day and you say, "Eureka!"

Nowhere was that response more pervasive than in Arlington this past weekend.  Certainly, I expected the defending American League Champions to be contenders again, but watching the Rangers club their way past the prohibitive AL favorites (Red Sox) I was reminded that last year's team may have only scratched the surface of its potential.  The Rangers have 30 extra-base hits in five games.  A significant portion of that damage has been done by Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler, two of the more injury-prone players in recent history, so there is a high likelihood that the Texas lineup will not be able to maintain its current depth for 162.  Nevertheless, every reporter who overhyped the Michael Young fiasco, bemoaned the departure of Cliff Lee, criticized the Adrian Beltre contract, or in any way contributed to the general impression that the 2010 Rangers were a fluke did his own team a considerable disservice.  Last season, the Rangers were dogged by controversy throughout the offseason and Ron Washington used it to spur them to an unprecedented performance.  It might've been difficult for them to re-harness that energy were they treated as the AL's foremost powerhouse.  But they weren't.  And after another offseason filled with criticism and second-guessing the Rangers are again playing with a chip on their shoulders.  They reminded us that even if they aren't the best team in the American League, they are at least in the conversation.

A similar situation has developed in Cincinnati.  The Reds dominated their division in 2010.  And, like the Rangers, their team has youth, depth, and payroll certainty, making it very likely that their best years are still ahead of them.  For some reason, however, punditry has favored the Cardinals this preseason, despite the fact that they lost their Ace and did very little to improve the problems which caused them to fall back of the Reds last year.  It pains me to say it, but the Cardinals just aren't a very well-constructed baseball team right now.  The real threat to a Cincinnati repeat in the NL Central is the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Reds made the first statement in a season-long battle by sweeping the Brewers on Opening Weekend.  Their underrated workhorse, Bronson Arroyo, the "Mark Buehrle of the National League," shrugged off his spring bout of mononucleosis to throw a seven-inning gem on Sunday afternoon, following two close games, one which the Reds won on a walk-off homer by Ramon Hernandez.  The Reds drew first blood, which means very little in the long run, but it should act as a reminder that they feature premier performers on both sides of the ball, something which few NL teams can boast.

A strong finish to 2010, an acclaimed manager, an active offseason, a vaunted farm system, and now a 4-0 start have made the Orioles a favorite darkhorse in the American League.  However, I'm more impressed by their AL East rival, the Toronto Blue Jays.  One could argue that both teams are vying for, at best, third place, but the increased parity in the division makes it possible that a few breaks could make it possible for one of these teams to sneak into the Wild Card race.  Ricky Romero's manhandling of the Twins furthered the impression that he could be the breakout pitcher of 2011.  (You can see more on Romero in my "21st Century Cy" post from the preseason.)  And, in the early going, the Jays have continued the power display of 2010, but with more balance (.304 AVG, .371 OBP, 17 BB, 19 K, 3 SB).  Obviously, it's a small sample size and we should not underestimate the fact that Twins are 6-20 against the Blue Jays since 2008.  It's clearly a good matchup for Toronto to open with, but I think the Jays will make everybody uncomfortable in 2011, especially when playing in the, Rogers Centre.  They've got an imposing, circular lineup and an frightening young pitching staff.  They could be erratic, but Romero, Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil are all guys with incredible "stuff."  No lineup looks forward to facing a stretch of pitcher like this, any one of whom could show up and be completely unhittable.  Whether they win 80 or 90, this is going to be a fun team to watch in 2011.

I think the fans of the D-Backs have a lot to look forward to.  The team is building around Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Daniel Hudson.  And everything about Kirk Gibson seems perfectly suited to this process.  However, as the D-Backs opened their season in Colorado we witnessed the difference between a team with lots of a potential and a team who's realized that potential.  Following the surprising runs by the Giants and Padres in 2010, it's ease to forget that the Rockies were the favorites for much of the season and have been to the playoffs twice in the last four years.  They are an efficient, well-oiled ballclub.  They take extra bases.  They turn double plays.  They limit baserunners and longballs.  They've got a deep bullpen and an impressive bench.  There are two other good teams in their division, the Giants and the Dodgers, both probably have deeper rotations than the Rockies, and in the NL West, the deepest rotation has, in recent years, usually been the key to victory.  But unlike the Giants, who are defensively challenged and the Dodgers, who trot out players you thought were retired (and probably should be) at three or four positions everyday, the Rockies are above average in every aspect of the game.  Is a well-rounded team better than one which absolutely dominates one aspect of the game?  Not necessarily, especially when that aspect is starting pitching.  But those that believe that NL West race is all about the L.A. v. S.F. rivalry are ignoring an elephant in the room.  

Saturday, April 02, 2011

My Broke-Ass Ouija Board Says...

NL East:

Thanks in large part to the foresight and creativity of a front office led by CEO David Montgomery, former GM and advisor Pat Gillick, and current GM Ruben Amaro, the Phillies have been to the playoffs in four straight years and, following an offseason which featured the surprise return of Cliff Lee, they are the prohibitive favorites in the National League once again.

However, they've had a rough spring.  First, they lost the services of their promising rookie outfielder, Dominic Brown, to a wrist injury which will probably cost him at least half the season.  Also, their brittle closer, Brad Lidge, has been sidelined for at least a few weeks.  And, most importantly, the team's best hitter and defensive whiz, Chase Utley, is beleaguered by an injury for which there is, at this point, neither a confident diagnosis or a timetable for return, fueling speculation that the five-time All-Star may be out for the season, if not longer.

With Jayson Werth, the Phillies most productive hitter in 2010, now playing for a division rival, there are now some gaping holes in Philadelphia's lineup, which not so long ago was the best in all of baseball.  They opened their season yesterday with Jimmy Rollins and his 737 OPS since 2007 hitting third, while the 38-year-old Raul Ibanez provided protection for Ryan Howard.

But, while the Phillies offense may be a shadow of its former glory, the rotation is being heralded as one of the greatest ever.  That may be presumptuous, but the Phillies do have a quartet of Aces and arguably the two best starting pitchers in the game, Lee and Roy Halladay.  Teams like San Francisco and San Diego proved only a year ago that a deep, dominating rotation can take you a long way, especially in the National League.  And, despite its growing flaws, nobody's comparing the Phillies lineup to the Padres.

The Braves, who eeked into the playoffs as a Wild Card last season, have been a somewhat popular pick this preseason to upset Philadelphia.  Their viability depends upon the progress of some very young players on whom they are depending heavily: Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor.  Although I'm willing to admit this is a frightening collection of talent, I'm not sure we can expect it to avoid the inconsistency which is generally expected from young cores.  If they are to do so, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Nate McClouth will need to be healthy and productive...

I would, in fact, observe that the Florida Marlins are a team composed very similarly to the Braves.  They've got tons of talent on both sides of the ball, but much of it is not yet established at the major-league level.  What the Marlins have that the Braves do not is a proven stud in his prime hitting in the middle of the lineup.  I think this gives them a minor advantage, although I could see either team winning anywhere from 75 to 95 games with a few good breaks.

Philadelphia Phillies 91 W
Florida Marlins 86 W
Atlanta Braves 85 W
Washington Nationals 66 W
New York Mets 62 W

MVP Candidate: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Cy Young Candidate: Roy Halladay, Phillies
Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Comeback of the Year: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Breakout Candidates: Logan Morrison, Marlins; Anibal Sanchez, Marlins; Ian Desmond, Nationals

NL Central:

The Brewers are a "wild card" team in every sense of the word.  They have an extremely high Narrative Likability Factor (for me, they are this year's version of the 2010 Rangers).

In last year's preview of the NL Central there were a few predictions on which I can hang my hat.  First, while everybody else was picking the Cardinals to run away with the title, I noted that they were "not as complete as some would have you believe," lacked "a whole lot of compensatory depth," and that "the Cardinals lineup looks a little tepid."  Correct on all counts.  Thank you.

I also noted that "the real Wild Card here is the Cincinnati Reds" and that "they could become an NL version of the '08 Rays."  Again, not terribly far off.

Unfortunately, the team I expected to outperform both the Cardinals and the Reds was the Milwaukee Brewers, who finished back of both, in third place.

The Brewers major problem was a familiar one: starting pitching.  They addressed it in a major way this offseason by trading for both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.  As I wrote a few months back, these trades signal Doug Melvin's intention to "go for it" after nearly a decade of patient building.  Melvin mortgaged the farm for two front-line starters to slot in between Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf.  Next offseason he faces the possibility of losing two of his offensive lynchpins, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart, potentially pressing the reset button on all his work and progressively raised expectations.  To retain his job, I think Melvin needs a playoff appearance, at the very least.  

Surmounting Cincinnati is, however, no mean task.  The Reds were the NL's offensive powerhouse in 2010.  There's no obvious reason why that should change.  In addition, they seem to have an army of high-upside young pitchers.  This is a team built to win not only now, but for many years to come.  The Reds have pretty much their entire roster under control for at least the next two seasons, with several key players wrapped up into the middle of the decade.

Cincinnati Reds 97 W
Milwaukee Brewers 93 W
Chicago Cubs 82 W
St. Louis Cardinals 74 W
Pittsburgh Pirates 70 W
Houston Astros 63 W

MVP Candidate: Prince Fielder, Brewers & Ryan Braun, Brewers
Cy Young Candidate: Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Rookie of the Year: Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Comeback of the Year: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
Breakout Candidates: Jay Bruce, Reds; Johnny Cueto, Reds; Colby Rasmus, Cardinals

NL West:

From my perspective, this is the toughest division to call in 2011.  It's hard to argue with the reigning World Series Champs, who have a dynamic young core and the potential to get better via the resurgence of Pablo Sandoval and the ascendence of Brandon Belt.

That said, we should remember that prior to 2010, this division was considered a two horse race between the Rockies and the Dodgers.  Each of those teams also possesses an impressive stable of young talent entering their primes.  As such, the NL West features three teams with established identities, but who still have plenty of upside and who are hungry to prove themselves.  The Giants will have a hard time shaking the label of "fluke," given their status as an extreme underdog going into the 2010 playoffs.  The Dodgers, after getting to the NLCS two years in a row with basically the same team, are eager to shake off the bad taste of 2010, only their second losing season in the last 11 years, during which the McCourt Divorce dominated the headlines.  And the Rockies, who always play with a chip on their shoulders, feel as though they have the makings of a dynasty, having locked up Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez through at least 2014.  

Whatever I choose, I feel I've got a strong chance of being wrong.

Colorado Rockies 93 W
Los Angeles Dodgers 90 W
San Francisco Giants 87 W
Arizona D-Backs 76 W
San Diego Padres 63 W

MVP Candidate: Justin Upton, D-Backs
Cy Young Candidate: Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, Giants
Comeback of the Year: Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Breakout Candidates: Ian Kennedy, D-Backs; Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies; Dexter Fowler, Rockies; Brandon Allen, D-Backs

Friday, April 01, 2011

My Broke-Ass Ouija Board Says...Don't Bet On A Darkhorse In The American League

AL East:

For a decade, the AL East was an annul two-horse race between the Yankees and Red Sox.  In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays force there way into playoff picture.  Now, with the Blue Jays and Orioles both fielding impressive young rosters for whom winning records are very realistic, nobody looks forward to visiting any of these cities.  The vaunted East is not far from being a wide-open competition.

But not this year...

I think the Jays and Rays will both be better than .500 teams, and I expect Buck Showalter's "Baby Birds" to have their best season since 2004, but when all is said and done, the Yankees and Red Sox will again be headed for the postseason.

Following an active offseason, in which Theo Epstein brought in a pair of premier hitters, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, to add to a lineup which already promised to be buoyed by the returns of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the BoSox are the odds-on favorite not only to win the East, but also the AL Pennant, and the World Series.  They've got a loaded lineup, a deep rotation, and a dynamic bullpen.

The Yankees are far less complete.  They have only once truly dependable starting pitcher.  They have a very uncertain catching situation.  And they depend upon an aging core, several of whom are coming off down seasons.  Still, they've got an abundance of talent, especially on offense, and while it would hardly surprise me if they caught a few bad breaks and fell back of the Rays and/or Jays, I'm having a hard time talking myself into making that prediction.

Boston Red Sox 97 W
New York Yankees 91 W
Toronto Blue Jays 89 W
Tampa Bay Rays 87 W
Baltimore Orioles 78 W

MVP Candidate: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
Cy Young Candidate: C. C. Sabathia, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
Comeback of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
Breakout Candidates: Ricky Romero, Blue Jays; Adam Jones, Orioles; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Brett Cecil, Blue Jays; Matt Joyce, Rays; Sean Rodriguez, Rays; Jed Lowrie, Red Sox

AL Central:

Many will bet the chalk in the AL Central.  The Twins had an impressive 2010 campaign and none of their divisional opponents made big splashes this offseason.  The Twins do have a few things to hang their hats on.  They've got a plethora of power-hitters.  They've got a three-time batting champ.  They've got arguably the best pitcher in the division.  They've also got some serious uncertainty at the back of the rotation.  They've got unproven players at three infield positions.  And their cleanup hitter is still recovering from a concussion he suffered nine months ago.

Chicago relatively quietly improved themselves this offseason.  Their big move was the addition of free agent, Adam Dunn, who give them a consistent power source to slide into the lineup between Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.  They bolstered their bullpen with the addition of veteran relievers, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman.  They added an inexpensive high-upside outfielder in Lastings Milledge.  And they brought back clubhouse leaders Konerko, A. J. Pierzynski, and Omar Vizquel.

More importantly, however, the Sox have plenty of depth in their rotation and a handful of young players who could make much bigger contributions in 2011.  Foremost among these is Gordon Beckham, the 24-year-old second-baseman who struggled mightily in the first half of his sophomore season, but made adjustments and hit .310 in the second half.  The White Sox could also get substantial contributions from rookies Chris Sale and Brent Morel, and sophomores Sergio Santos and Dayan Viciedo.

I often preach the importance of depth in the marathon season.  The White Sox have it.  The Twins don't.

Chicago White Sox 92 W
Minnesota Twins 86 W
Detroit Tigers 77 W
Cleveland Indians 70 W
Kansas City Royals 62 W

MVP Candidate: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Cy Young Candidate: Francisco Liriano, Twins
Rookie of the Year: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins
Comeback of the Year: Jake Peavy, White Sox
Breakout Candidates: Max Scherzer, Tigers; Gordon Beckham, White Sox; Kila Ka'aihue, Royals; Asdrubel Cabrera, Indians

AL West:

Sure, they'll miss Cliff Lee.  But the rumors of the Rangers demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Remember, Texas was five games up in the West and playing at a .581 clip before Lee ever threw a pitch for them in 2010.

The ever-optimistic Angels fans will rally behind their solid rotation and their improved bullpen depth, but the Angels ability to score runs remains in doubt, especially with Kendrys Morales remaining on the D.L. to begin the season and still no long-term solution at third base.

The major threat to a Texas repeat is actually the Oakland Athletics.  Billy Beane helped move his offense towards respectability by adding David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui, but the A's still don't possess a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter.  However, teams like the Giants and Padres have proven that mediocre offense can be overcome by superlative pitching.  The A's have potentially superlative pitching.  If the rotation keeps Oakland in the race into July, expect Beane to chase impending free agent rentals.

Texas Rangers 91 W
Oakland Athletics 87 W
Los Angeles Angels 75 W
Seattle Mariners 68 W

MVP Candidate: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Cy Young Candidate: Jered Weaver, Angels
Rookie of the Year: Chris Carter, Athletics
Comeback of the Year: Chone Figgins, Mariners
Breakout Candidates: Brett Anderson, Athletics; Julio Borbon, Rangers; Jason Vargas, Mariners

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fantastic Thoughts: Hippeaux 2011 "Sleeper" Team

As you may have noticed, things have been a little busy in the land of Hippeaux.  I apologize for the fact that, at the time of year when many are itching for preseason predictions and analysis, I've been busy with my day job.  Over the weekend, I'll get out the "ouija board" and continue my series on Tout Wars.  I will obviously have an unfair advantage in my predictions, having already watched a game or two of Milwaukee v. Cincinnati.  In the meantime, here's a lineup of guys I'm "touting" for breakout campaigns in 2011.  I know it's belated, but there are still plenty of drafts on the horizon.

Russell Martin - C - New York Yankees

What's new, right?  Martin's always been among my favorites and it's going to pain me dearly to see him in pinstripes, but as a fantasy owner, this is a dream come true.  For one thing, Martin's popularity has absolutely tanked.  After his first three seasons, when Martin was averaging 14 HR and 16 SB a year, we probably got a little giddy, ranking him alongside the McCann's and V-Mart's of the world.  Now, coming off two seasons in which he was dogged by injuries, buried in a mediocre lineup, and discouraged by an unsupportive organization, he's been more or less forgotten (he's the 17th most popular catcher in ESPN standard leagues).  The argument for Martin goes like this:

1.) He's a high energy player and excellent defender who Joe Girardi is going to fall in love with.  So long as his hip is fully healthy, I think he's a synch to start 140 games.

2.) Even in his worst years, he's shown good plate discipline.  He's going to get on base.  Batting at the bottom of New York's lineup, that should mean solid runs and probably solid RBI as well (for his position).

3.) He's the only catcher in fantasy baseball who gives you any steals (double-digits in 4 out of 5 seasons and was on pace for that again last year before his injury).

4.) He's still just 28.

(P.S. In BLOGZKRIEG! I insured myself by adding Jesus Montero for a surprisingly cheap price.  I recommend this course of action in deep leagues.  If Martin goes down or fails to perform, you can bet Montero will be his replacement, either behind the plate or at DH, with Posada moving as well.)

Kila Ka'aihue - 1B - Kansas City Royals

I've been promoting the Kila Monster for three seasons now, ever since he posted a 1085 OPS and a 104/67 BB/K ratio in the high minors in 2008.  The Royals, of course, would seem to have botched his development, flipping him back and forth between leagues and never giving him a prolonged look in the majors.  This year, he has until July (by which time Super Two eligibility will have expired and K.C. might be tempted to promote Eric Hosmer).  Ka'aihue showed how serious he was about taking advantage of his opportunity by hitting .397 with a 1307 OPS this spring.  Obviously, we can't read a ton into those numbers, but I think it suggests that he's chomping at the bit to show off his skills for teams who might free him from baseball purgatory.  Don't reach, but as a cheap corner infielder or utilityman, Kila has a lot of upside and not that much downside.

Rickie Weeks - 2B - Milwaukee Brewers

You're going to be reading quite a bit about the Brewers in these pages in the coming months, just as you did about the Rangers in 2010.  Hopefully, I can spur them to the same sort of luck.  Many will question Weeks ability to duplicate what he did last year (.269 AVG-112 R-29 HR-83 RBI-11 SB-830 OPS), but I think that's just the beginning.  It feels like Weeks has been around forever, but that's just because he was such a high profile prospect and got promoted at such a young age.  He's still just 28, with plenty of room for improvement, if he can just stay on the field. say...well, isn't that his problem?  Let me just name a few guys getting drafted ahead of him: Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia.  You want a bastion of health at this thin position?  Get in line.

Pablo Sandoval - 3B - San Francisco Giants

Kung Fu Panda's incredible offseason health regimen has turned him into a preseason favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.  In BBA BLOGZKRIEG! I had to go all the way to $19 to roster him, which I was more than willing to do.  Let's face it, you can't hit .330 with a 943 OPS over a full season at the age of 22 as a "fluke."  It just doesn't happen.  His belly has disappeared.  His skills haven't.

Mike Aviles - 2B, 3B, SS - Kansas City Royals

Aviles has a strong chance of being this season's Martin Prado.  Don't overestimate his value, but don't ignore the fact that he's hit .298 over three big-league seasons, despite hitting only .183 in his injury-shortened 2009 campaign.  Aviles is a legitimate .300+ hitter who throws in double-digit power and double-digit speed and, perhaps most importantly, will qualify at three shallow infield positions in most leagues.  Like Prado and Placido Polanco before him, he's great insurance against injury and batting average protection.  Buy with confidence.

Ryan Braun - LF - Milwaukee Brewers

There are different breeds of "sleepers."  Mike Aviles and Ryan Braun are definitely not of the same species.  That said, every year there is a premier player (or two) who consistently fall to far.  Last year's examples were Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.  This year I think that distinction belongs to the two Brewers sluggers, Braun and Fielder.  A popular new crop of young, high-upside outfielders, led by Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Andrew McCutchen, and Mike Stanton have seduced fantasy leaguers into believing there is a panoply of five-tool options in the outfield.  When you have to fill five slots, as is the case in most leagues, that's simply not the case.  If Braun is still around at the end of the first round or goes for less than $40 in a standard mixed league auction, you'll regret letting him go to somebody else.  This is a guys who's 162-game averages are .307 AVG-111 R-36 HR-118 RBI-18 SB-918 OPS.  Yes, please! Oh, and he just turned 27.

Delmon Young - LF - Minnesota Twins

For some reason, people hate Delmon Young.  I don't know exactly why it is.  Maybe it dates back to that minor-league fracas he got himself into.  Maybe it's because he often looks a little lackadaisical, even a little confused, in the spirit of J. D. Drew and B. J. Upton.  To me, he seems like a quiet unassuming kid.  I emphasize kid because last season, prior to which a whole lot of pundits were ready to declare the former #1 pick a bust, Delmon Young was 24-years-old.  Remember what you were doing when you were 24?  Who's the bigger "bust"?  Delmon proceeded to hit .298 and drive in 112 runs.  Now, I'm the first to admit, he got a lot of RBI chances.  I wouldn't expect him to match that total.  But I see no reason why he can't improve in every other category, as he continues to cut down on strikeouts and improve his power and discipline.  I'll guarantee you this, he's better than the 25th best outfielder in fantasy baseball.

Jay Bruce - RF - Cincinnati Reds

I know, I know: "BANDWAGON!!!"  Sometimes the conventional wisdom is simply wisdom.  Bruce has made strides in each of his first three seasons.  Everybody knows he's a industrial-strength toolbox.  Last year, he started to lay off pitches that even the catcher couldn't reach.  And, really, that's about all he can't hit.  Second half splits in 2010: .306 AVG-30 R-15 HR-34 RBI-0 SB-951 OPS.  Don't be the fool who takes him ahead of Ichiro or Shin-Soo Choo, but don't be the idiot who believes he'd be better off with Corey Hart.

The following pitchers I covered in the most recent edition of "21st Century Cys," so I won't belabor the point with more than a few additional words:

Francisco Liriano - SP - Minnesota Twins

Say hello to the 2011 AL Cy Young.

Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers

Could be the Ubaldo of 2011, which doesn't mean he won't suffer from a second-half slide.

Ian Kennedy - SP - Arizona D-Backs

Yankees fans will be cursing the trade that sent Kennedy to Arizona about every fifth day.

Here are the underrated veterans:

Carlos Zambrano - SP - Chicago Cubs

No more Lou Pinella.  No more Derrek Lee.  No more Carlos Silva.  No more Milton Bradley.  Perhaps Big Z will get pissed off be somebody else, but in the second half of 2010, he showed what he could do with a little anger management: 8-0, 1.58 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 64 K, 74 IP.  I'm obviously hoping for more of the same in 2011.  As an added bonus, Z's meltdown from a season ago has made him eligible as a relief pitcher in many leagues.  Depending upon your scoring system, that could dramatically increase his value.

Fausto Carmona - SP - Cleveland Indians

In 2007, Carmona was the best pitcher on a staff that also featured C. C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.  The following two seasons, things went terribly wrong.  Last year, Carmona recaptured some of that former glory and earned himself an All-Star bid (the truly pathetic quality of his teammates didn't hurt).  Carmona won't pile up strikeouts, but he keeps the ball on the ground and has the potential to pitch deep into games, giving you significant aid in ERA and even WHIP.  Victories may be few and far between in Cleveland, but even with some bad luck, he got 13 in 2010.  This is a very strong pitcher who is almost always available in the late stages of your auction or draft.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tout Wars Mixed 2011 Pt. 1: Backstops & The Bruce

The 2011 Tout Wars Mixed League Auction began with the nomination of Jay Bruce.  Every year a few players generate an abundance of buzz during the fantasy baseball prep season.  This year, nobody has been more buzzworthy than Bruce.  Not yet 24, the Reds rightfielder is now three seasons into his major-league career and in 2010 he managed to both stay off the disabled list and show enough patience to manage a respectable average (.281).  A torrential second half (.306 AVG, 15 HR, 951 OPS) adds to the perception that Bruce is on the verge of superstardom, as many have been expecting every since he broke into the bigs.

So, perhaps, Andy Behrens of Yahoo!, Tout Wars Mixed defending champion, believed Bruce was the perfect player to generate active, maybe even excessive, bidding from the 15 fantasy baseball "experts" who were itching to start spending.  Indeed, more than half the assembled players got a bid in before Dave Feldman of rostered Bruce for $19.  Although by no means an obscene number (the experts do occasionally practice restraint!), it did turn out to be more than was paid for more established outfielders like Curtis Granderson ($18), Shane Victorino ($17), and Corey Hart ($14).  It was the first of several cases of Touts going to the mat for popular young "breakthrough" candidates.  Clayton Kershaw, for instance, cost Fred Zinkie of $19, more than former Cy Young candidates like Zack Greinke ($18), Dan Haren ($18), Ubaldo Jimenez ($17), and David Price ($17), none of whom are exactly "over the hill" themselves.

Following a year in which many of the best fantasy producers - guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, Jered Weaver, and Jimenez - had been relatively unheralded in the preseason, the temptation to pay for "upside" was even greater.  Minor bidding wars developed at some surprising places.  The 21-year-old Florida outfielder, Mike Stanton, who, in both his impressive power and his 34.3 K%, is very reminiscent of Jay Bruce circa 2008, somehow managed to cost more than Bruce, and more than Hunter Pence, Delmon Young, or B. J. Upton.  Another sophomore uberprospect, Carlos Santana, whose rookie season was cut short by an unfortunate and catastrophic collision at home plate, though he possesses all of 46 games of major-league experience, was Tout Wars second most expensive backstop, topping steady producers like Victor Martinez and Brian McCann, as well as the NL Rookie of the Year and postseason hero, Buster Posey.

Catchers, in general, were nominated early and often.  Before the first break, Joe Mauer ($27), Posey ($23), McCann ($21), Geovany Soto ($17), Yadier Molina ($11), Matt Wieters ($10), John Jaso ($7), A. J. Pierzynski ($5), Russell Martin ($4), Nick Hundley ($3), Jesus Montero ($2), and Yorbit Torrealba ($2) had all been rostered.  Certainly, this explains to some extent the furious bidding on Santana ($24), Mike Napoli ($20), and others, later in the day, when the backstop pool was getting thin.  The Touts took very diverse approaches to the run on catching.  Zinkie and Seth Trachtman saw an opportunity to create a large marginal advantage at the position by nabbing two premium players.  Trachtman spent nearly 20% of his budget on V-Mart and Mauer.  Others, like Scott Swanay, The Fantasy Sherpa, and Nando Di Fino of, more or less punted the position.

But from my perspective, it was Behrens who most stealthily handled the problem.  Seven rounds into the nominations, when most of the participants had showed their hands, either by netting backstops or moving into the "scrubs" portion of their strategy, Behrens brought home Miguel Montero for exactly half the price of Santana.  Montero is a 27-year-old D-Back, who, when healthy, has shown considerably power and respectable average for the position.  And, of course, he falls into that "post-hype" prime, possessing both upside and experience.  Near the auction's conclusion, Behrens nominated and won Carlos Ruiz ($3).  Nobody gets goosebumps watching Carlos Ruiz, but Chooch has all the advantage of ballpark, lineup protection, and playing time certainty that one looks for in a #2 catcher, and, his excellent bat control (193/188 K/BB for his career) give him a high likelihood of providing a respectable average (for the position).  In 2010, he did even more than that, hitting .302.  From Montero and Ruiz, Behrens won't get Mauer and V-Mart level production, certainly, but he will get considerably more than 30% of their output, which is the price he paid for his tandem.

Next up...Tout Wars reveals that "Stubs & Scrubs" is still alive and well, and with good reason.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fantastic Thoughts On Tout Wars

The Sporting Hippeaux is on the road.  I'll be live-blogging from the Tout Wars Mixed-League Auction tomorrow afternoon at the official Tout Wars website.

Next week you can look for a couple posts about the auction, the results, and commentary from some of the participants.

The 2011 season is near.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

21st Century Cys (2011 Edition)

Last season about this time, in response to "out of nowhere" Cy Young award-winners like Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee, I offered a method for identifying the next set of pitchers who could climb suddenly to the elite Ace status.  You can read the original for more on my rationale, but the basic premise is to identify pitchers who haven't garnered Cy Young attention in previous seasons, but are in their mid-twenties, have at one time or another been considered blue-chip prospects, and are coming off respectable, but not dominant, seasons.  This was the 2010 class:

Chad Billingsley - Los Angeles Dodgers (25-years-old in '10, 1st-Rnd. Pick in '03)
12-11, 3.57 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 171 K, 192 IP, 4.6 WAR (+1.4), '10 All-Star

John Danks - Chicago White Sox (25, 1st-Rnd. '03)
15-11, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 162 K, 213 IP, 4.3 WAR (+1.4)

Yovani Gallardo - Milwaukee Brewers (24, Baseball America #16 Prospect in '07)
14-7, 3.84 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 200 K, 185 IP, 4.6 WAR (+1.9)

Edwin Jackson - Chicago White Sox (26, BA #4 '04)
10-12, 4.47 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 181 K, 209 IP, 3.8 WAR (+0.3), No-Hitter

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies (25, Entered League at 22)
19-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 214 K, 222 IP, 6.3 WAR (+0.6), '10 All-Star Starter, #3 NL Cy Young Voting, #23 NL MVP Voting, No-Hitter

John Lannan, Washington Nationals (25, Entered League at 22)
8-8, 4.65 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 71 K, 143 IP, 1.2 WAR (-0.3)

Ricky Nolasco, Florida Marlins (27, Entered League at 23)
14-9, 4.51 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 147 K, 158 IP, 2.5 WAR (-1.8)

Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (27, 1st-Rnd. '04)
13-12, 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 233 K, 224 IP, 5.9 WAR (+2.0)

As you can see, although none won the Cy Young award (both leagues chose a player who was a perennial favorite), two pitchers, Jimenez and Weaver, were legitimate contenders, six of our eight pitchers improved upon their '09 campaigns (according to WAR), and five of the eight set career highs in WAR.  In total, the "21st Century Cy" class of 2010 combined for a 5.5 win improvement.  The only two backtrackers, Lannan and Nolasco, were derailed mainly by early season slumps.  After a month-long demotion, Lannan actually bounced back to go 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA in the second half.   Nolasco had his season ended early, but not before he put together a solid sixteen start stretch in which he went 10-5 with a 4.05 ERA and 9.7 K/9.

I used the "21st Century Cy" designation as part of my BLOGZKRIEG! draft stategy, landing Jimenez, Weaver, Gallardo, Danks, Jackson, and Lannan, and they were a big part of my eventual championship. Was this merely good fortune?  Well, there's only one way to find out.  Using the same formula as last season, I've identified a new class of "21st Century Cys."  It's signficantly larger than the 2010 class, indicating the dearth of good young pitching in the major leagues right now.  Three players from last season's class - Billingsley, Danks, and Gallardo - still qualify based upon all my criteria, but I won't bother profiling them again.  Here are the other candidates:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Get Well Wishes To Former Fan Favorite

When I was a kid during the 80s and early 90s the Cubs were, for the most part, thoroughly mediocre.   This was when Sammy Sosa was still a spindly young fourth outfielder, long before Wood and Prior, before Bartman, before a nine-figure annual payroll helped make the Cubs consistent contenders, for which I'm thankful, but also before Wrigleyville, always a popular summer destination, became unaffordable for anything more than the rarest special occasion.  My family, grandparents and all, would routinely pile in our gas-guzzling American-made boat of a car and drive three hours to take in a game (hell, gas was less than a dollar a gallon, right?).

Naturally, the Cubs teams of this era will always have a special place in my heart.  Not just Dawson, Sandberg, and Maddux, our contributions to Cooperstown, and longtime regulars like Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, and Joe Girardi, but also the cast of shapely misfit utilitymen, including Hector Villanueva, Doug Dascenzo, Lloyd McClendon, Vance Law, and one Luis Salazar.

Like all of the players listed above, each of whom brought one basic skill in abundance, but were severely lacking in all the rest, Salazar was absolutely beloved by the Wrigley Field faithful.  One of the most raucous moments in any game was when Don Zimmer, as part of some desperate double switch, elected to replace one of his revolving door of borderline major-leaguers with another.  Villanueva would pinch-hit and remain at catcher as Gary Varsho shifted to center, Salazar took his place in left, and Dascenzo trotted in from the outfield and took the mound (this happened far more often than it should have).

Salazar, a journeyman infielder, finished his career with four years on the north side.  He was, perhaps too frequently, our starting third baseman, but also spent time at four other positions and was a fairly sharp defender (by my memory, at least) everywhere.  He couldn't hit a lick, but he was a hustler, and, despite being in his mid-thirties by the time he landed in Chicago, had incredibly quick reflexes, perfect for the hot corner.  Which only makes his recent injury, struck by a foul liner while he stood in the dugout, even sadder.  After the initial shock, Salazar fell upon his head and neck, sustaining even further injuries.  After three surgeries, he is apparently stable and ready to return home.  Though doctors had to remove an eye, they feel fortunate that he has escaped death, paralysis, or severe brain damage.  Best wishes to Salazar, his family, and Braves teammates.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BBA BLOGZKRIEG! Auction: Watch Out For Falling Prices

In the wake of the "Year of the Pitcher," the conventional wisdom avers that top-flight Aces are not worth what they once were.  This was exactly what played out during the first week of auctioning for BBA BLOGZKRIEG! 2011.  Even last year's NL Cy Young winner, who was the most expensive pitcher of the 2010 class, fell $4 in 2011.  Other high profile starters like Tim Lincecum ($28), Yovani Gallardo ($22), and Chris Carpenter ($17) also saw their prices drop considerably, despite excellent 2010 performances.  King Felix ($34) was the most expensive pitcher of this year's auction.  Doc Halladay was the only other pitcher to top $30.

However, the pitching market was the only thing suffering from deflation.  Last season, half a dozen hitters went for upwards of $40, with both Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez clearing the $50 mark.  This year, even Albert dropped modestly (to $49), and HanRam ($43) was the only player who came within $10 of the undisputed king of fantasy.  Other perennial studs, like Ryan Braun ($38), Matt Kemp ($33), and Mark Teixeira ($33) came down substantially from where they were a year ago, while BLOGZKRIEG! participants remained somewhat conservative towards 2010 MVPs Joey Votto ($35) and Josh Hamilton ($31), as well as breakout MVP candidates Carlos Gonzalez ($34) and Jose Bautista ($27).

With most of the premium players rostered, there is still quite a bit of money on the table, so the next week of bidding for mid-level and high-upside talents should be pretty furious.  Expect to see some popular "sleepers" become the object of bidding wars.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Reading Dan Rosenheck (and vice versa): The Continuing Search For Pujols Comparables

To make sense of what follows, it's probably sensible to read Dan's original column and my unnecessarily condescending response.

Upfront I'm going to admit that there were some aspects of my argument which were ill-conceived and underdeveloped.  Some of this has to do with my own limitations when if comes to advanced sabermetrics, more has to do with my haste in posting.  The following points I concede without hesitation.  I'll let Dan take it from here:

1.) "If you don't 'timeline' - that is to say, credit today's players for a higher quality of play relative to the past - then absolutely anyone with access to a calculator would rank Gehrig as the top first baseman in MLB history."

2.) "Pujol's baseball-reference WAR is inflated...Ultimate Zone Rating, which needless to say is a far superior statistic, puts him at a much more reasonable 62 runs above average for his career, which is consistent with 'outstanding defensive first baseman' rather than 'God with a mitt.' So Let's knock off those nonexistent 45 runs/4.5 wins, and drop Pujols down to 79.3 WAR."

3.) "Cherry-picking a few players who had decent seasons at age 40 is no more convincing than if I randomly named three players who were cooked by 40."

4.) "PECOTA was designed to project on season ahead, not ten...I would gladly bet my life savings that Pujols underperforms the career WAR total implicit in that projection - it's downright crazy."

5.) "Hmm, why did Greenberg and Mize only have 44 WAR each by age 30?  What possibly might have prevented them from playing in the major leagues for some of those years?  Here's a hint...what does WAR spell?" (Very tasteful snark.)

5.) "My last name is Rosenheck, not Rosencheck." (Though I got it right 9 out of 10 times, as somebody with a somewhat uncommon Eastern European last name, I should be more conscientious.)

After those concessions, we are left with a few substantive disputes.  I'm going to address these in order of what I'll call "intensity of dissent":

1.) Is is fair to compare?  Or, as Mr. Rosenheck puts it, to "timeline"...
"First off, the size-of-the-player-pool argument is pretty overblown.  The US population was about 130 million in the 1930s, versus 300 million today, an increase of 130%, while the number of major league teams has risen from 16 to 30, an increase of 87.5%.  After counting segregation and Latin America, there were probably 6.5 million people per team in the 1930s, and 11 million today.  That's a significant difference, but I don't think it's so vast as to support a claim that older comparables are completely irrelevant.
"Second, as for better training and nutrition and equipment, etc., of course that's true, but if you put Hank Greenberg in a time machine to 2011, he would presumably benefit from the same advantages as well.  
"Third, I wasn't willfully ignoring more recent or non-white players in my analysis - there just weren't any first baseman in Pujols's league from about 1950 to 1990 (and I have no idea why not).  If you want to expand your consideration set to all position players from more recent time, then leaving aside Bonds (who I discount due to chemical enhancement), their track record is no better - none of Schmidt, Rickey, Morgan, Boggs, Brett, Carew, Griffey, etc. did much at age 39+.  
"Finally, the whole thing is irrelevant if you ask me, because even if you concede that the quality of play is higher than it's ever been and therefore Pujols is the greatest player ever because he's the greatest active player, the same is true of his opponents.  If he is likely to age better than his predecessors because he is a modern player, then so will all the pitchers he has to face, and the hitters he will compete against for batting an HR titles, etc.  In figuring how much a team can afford to pay a player, all that matters is his value relative to his cohort - in which case players from the 1930s or even the 1890s are every bit as useful as those from more recent times in projecting his future.  Indeed, the single best-case scenario for the second half of Pujols's career is probably Cap Anson, is it not?"
Obviously the meat of our disagreement lies in this idea of "timelining."  I've got strong feelings about this, as I've expressed previously in these pages, but I haven't really gotten into it for years, so this seems as good a time as any to attempt to lay out the argument in detail.

I'm pretty certain that upon further reflection, Dan would agree that, even if his figures are dead-on accurate (which is a near impossibility), an increase of 69.2% in terms of potential players per franchise represents a radical alteration in the level of play.  (5-10% shifts in potential employment pools are frequently more than enough to effect massive upgrades in the proficiency of labor markets.) Baseball considers itself a pure meritocracy.  Whether it is or not is certainly up for debate, but the politics and economics of the game are definitely build upon this assumption.  Meritocracies are designed upon the express idea that increasing the size of the employment pool is the most effective way of making the system more productive and/or efficient.  For this very reason, since the days of integration, franchises have been highly motivated to increase their allocation of resources to scouting in Latin America, Japan, Korea, Europe, and, most recently, China and India.

I won't argue that baseball is fully globalized, but the search for talent definitely extends beyond the Americas.  Which is just one reason I think Dan's "people per franchise" figures are conservative.  In fact, I think statistics are inherently misleading in this situation.  Those statistics have to be based, after all, on census data.  In America, especially prior to the revolutionizing of sampling protocols in the 1940s, census data was a long way from accurate.  And, as historians like Margo Anderson have shown, the census frequently inflated white populations and deflated minority populations, by as much as 30% in some regions, for obvious reasons (let's just start with the fact that census data effected political districting).  Dan, as a former bureau chief covering Mexico, Central America, and the Carribean for The Economist, will know better than I, but I suspect that population statistics for many of the baseball-rich countries of that region are still less than stellar.  [Dan adds, "I've never heard any suspicion or doubt about Latin American population statistics (as opposed to economic statistics, which are indeed sometimes poorly compiled or willfully doctored).]

Moreover, and specific to the baseball argument, we must remember a few significant cultural differences between the pre-WWII game and that of today, which no doubt influenced franchises' ability to fully exploit what player pool was at their disposal.  For starters, scouting was in its infancy.  Dodgers GM, Larry MacPhail, and manager, Leo Durocher, were frequently responsible for fleshing out new talent, in addition to, obviously, their management of the major-league club.  The absence of commercial airlines and the infancy of highway travel meant that even parts of continental U.S. were inaccessible to baseball scouts in any meaningful way.  Obviously, great players did frequently find there way to the majors by way of barnstorming and semi-pro ball, but one could hardly argue that the system for finding and developing talent was anywhere near as efficient as it was today.

Not only that, but the dramatically different labor structure under the "reserve clause" meant that professional baseball was not "a gentleman's game."  To be a baseball player meant almost certainly being without an income, without a profession, and without any meaningful job training by the age of 35.  For this reason, as Ken Burns so often points out, the teams were comprised mainly of farmboys and street urchins, men with little education and few other prospects.  One of Dan's examples, Hank Greenberg, was, of course, famous for being among the few college-educated men in the major leagues and, as Dan pointed out, for leaving the game at something of an early age, in part because he wanted to get into the business side of things.  Again, a competitive meritocracy which does not pay a competitive wage in relation to other fields is going to be extremely inefficient at acquiring the greatest talents.

Moving on, I want to reiterate something Dan says - there just weren't any first baseman in Pujols's league from about 1950 to 1990 (when we get Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell, more on them later).  Dan and I actually agree about more than we disagree (more on that later), in part because we're both fully prepared to acknowledge that there are few precedents for Pujols.  From Dan's perspective, that means you have to go all the way back to the Depression.  From my perspective, that means you have to stop looking and start considering that we may be dealing with a true outlier, at least as far as first base is concerned.  I will point out that I am not alone in seeing the Cardinals current offer as underwhelming reasonable projections.  See Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron.

I know I've been using the word efficiency a lot in this rebuttal, but it is exactly why I don't agree when Dan says "value relative to cohort" is inherently relevant, regardless of era.  Inefficient systems are bound to yield a different pattern of results from efficient systems.  The contemporary game is, I believe without doubt, far more efficient at identifying, developing, and retaining the highest level of talent.

Hopefully, the meritocracy is still moving towards more efficiency (by way of scouting new populations, increasing longevity, etc.), however, I doubt we will ever see the rate of efficiency increase as drastically as it did in the first boom decades of professional baseball.  Think about how many paradigm shifts altered the game during the careers Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, Williams, et al.  You've got the ascendency of the power-hitter, you've got the popularization of baseball via mass media, you've got the interruption of the war, and, last but not least, integration.  All the while, the model for running a franchise is improving, technology is improving, etc., etc.  Although it would be difficult for me to display this in meaningful statistical terms, I think you can see why this era was operating under wildly different constraints from those with which we're now familiar.  This alone could explain why players of the '30s and '40s had shorter careers.  If the game keeps getting better by leaps and bounds, most veteran players are likely to have a hard time keeping up.  Unless we discover a large baseball-playing community in the remote regions of China or Argentina, I sincerely doubt Pujols is going to face a radical change in the level of competition over the next ten seasons.

If one were not in favor of "timelining," Cap Anson wouldn't be a horrible analogue for Pujols's upside.  From 31 to 40, Anson accumulated  60-65 WAR, which would make him worth about $220 Million, which is more than the Cardinals have offered, but not quit "A-Rod money."  I'm going to assert instead that, since I don't "discount," Barry Bonds is closer to my ideal of Pujols's upside. Certainly, I don't expect him to peak in this later thirties.  But Bonds, even pre-allegation Bonds, was roughly the same player from 31 to 35 (8.3 WAR/YR), as he was from 26-30 (8.5 WAR/YR).  [Bonds in his 20s lost some games to the strike, but Bonds in his 30s lost roughly the same number of games to injuries.]  I think Pujols could easily have 3-5 more years where he is as good, if not even a little better, than he has been so far, followed by a gradual decline into his early 40s.

2.) Is there a more recent precedent?
"Lining up Thomas's raw offensive stats with Pujols's is silly, since the first half of Thomas's peak was in a significantly lower run environment.  Thomas was a slightly better hitter, as OPS+ will tell you.  Furthermore, I don't know what you're talking about in terms of durability--Thomas averaged 154 games a season during his peak.  But of course there's a significant gap in defensive and baserunning value, making Pujols's best seasons around 0.8 wins per year better than Thomas's.  And obviously Thomas's body type suggested the early decline he eventually suffered. 
"WAR through age 30 is a pretty poor metric to assess Bagwell, since he debuted at 23 and didn't develop his power stroke until 26.  Bagwell averaged 8 WAR a year from ages 26-30 (remember to adjust for the strike), which is a perfect match for Pujols's production in those years.  Bagwell had his last star-caliber year at 34, and was out of baseball by 37.  In my article I say Pujols is probably a good risk up through age 37."
I'll admit, I'm jumping to conclusions about Pujols durability in comparison to Thomas in large part because of "body type" and quickness.  Thomas was incredibly durable early in his career and quite to opposite from 2001 on.  The "triceps tear" which ended his '01 season may have had something to do with that.  That said, Thomas was still far more than a "fringe" player even at the age of 39, at least when he was on the field.

The reason I was attentive to "WAR through age 30" stats is that I do think Pujols early ascension and success at the major-league level is relevant to his contract negotiations.  Maybe if Bagwell had been promoted earlier he could've had a comparable career to Pujols, but he wasn't, and the evidence suggests the Astros were right in delaying his arrival.  After all, his first three seasons (averaging 4.3 offensive WAR) were excellent, but not Pujols-esque (7.4 oWAR), even though he was several years older.

While I do think that Thomas and Bagwell played under similar enough circumstances to make the comparison justifiable, I don't think either lives up to that comparison.  Pujols was better earlier that either of them, has sustained that pace for longer than either of them, and has a wider diversity of talents than either of them.  Now, could Pujols's elbow be his Achilles heel, like Bagwell's back or Thomas's foot.  Sure, it could.  But if the Cardinals bring that to the negotiating table, they've hardly got a leg to stand on, because the elbow is reportedly fixed and even when it was bothering Pujols it barely effected his production.  The possibility of catastrophic injury exists with all players and cannot be accurately accounted for.

3.) Why do terms matter?

Dan says, "Why does it matter how they structure the contract?  The only thing we care about is net present value."  But, actually, as I'm reading this from the perspective of labor negotiations, there are other things I care about.  Several writers, as well as Tony LaRussa, have speculated that the major roadblock in the negotiations is that Pujols, his agent, and the MLBPA are looking to set a new bar.  It's a completely rational strategy when you're dealing with a player who is arguably amongst the best ever and is pretty much universally regarded as the best right now.  Moreover, unlike Alex Rodriguez, Bonds, or many of the other groundbreaking players of the free agency era, Pujols comes free of PR problems.  He's hard-working and charitable, has a highlight reel smile when he's signing autographs and a demon scowl when he's sizing up his opponents.  Prior to these negotiations there's been pretty much zero indication that Pujols does anything wrong...ever.  If a player like Pujols can't get a groundbreaking deal, the union is in trouble, and the agent should look for a new job.

(Sidebar: Why is it that we keep hearing about how Pujols is disloyally handcuffing his franchise, but we never hear about how by not paying Pujols what he's worth, the Cardinals are stealing from the Pujols Family Foundation, the down syndrome charity to which Albert is so avidly committed.  How about this headline: Billionaire Owners Withholding Millions From Retarded Kids.  Just because Pujols doesn't need $300 Million for himself, doesn't mean he should give it to Bill DeWitt.)

The reason creatively structuring the contract matters is that it could provide an avenue for both sides to save face.  For instance, the Cardinals could offer Pujols $200 Million over seven years.  That way, the contract would have the highest average annual value in history, but the Cardinals wouldn't be on the hook much past the point when, as Dan suggests, the risk might outweigh the reward.  There is also the option of building in incentives, vesting options, opt-outs, etc. on the backend, thus protecting the Cardinals from the catastrophe scenario, while giving Pujols the assurance that he will continue to get paid according to his market value in the waning years of his career.

4.) What's the riskiest risk?
"Yup, marquee/brand value is indeed the great unknown.  I'm skeptical anyone can contribute $80 million above and beyond their on-field playing value--that's a significant chunk of the purchase price of an entire team. What did I write to suggest I was 'tickled' by a 'discovery' that three solid players were worth the same as Pujols?  I just used them to illustrate the comparison to a combination of players with the same on-field value but no marquee value.  And I don't see why there's significant extra value in concentrating your WAR in fewer roster spots for a mid-market team like the Cardinals.  Sure, it frees up more room to buy more valuable players, but you'd also have to pay those players more money.  (I do think it matters for teams like the Yankees with no real payroll ceiling, who just want the best team money can buy).  Moreover, I can't understand your risk analysis for the life of me.  Surely you have less risk (and less potential reward) with three two-WAR players than you do with one six-WAR player!  Just from an injury standpoint, assuming the players have an equal risk of going down, if one of the two-WAR players get hurt, you still have four left, whereas if the six-WAR guy goes down, you're out the whole package.  The converse of this is that it's much less likely that you'll have three players all outperform their projections and give you a combined MVP-type year than it is that you'll have one star put together some magical season.  Finally, of course I wouldn't recommend signing any of Harang, Matsui, or Johnson to an 8-year deal.  But unless you expect the free agent market to be more overpriced in the future than it is in the present--and I don't see why that would be the case--then there's no compelling reason why signing a series of short-term free agent deals is a worse idea than signing one big one is."

First off, in snide terms, I was merely observing that Aaron Harang, Kelly Johnson, and Hideki Matsui seemed particularly likely to appear to NYT readers as "fungible" players and therefore make Pujols demands seem more ludicrous.

Now, assuming all players have the same risk of injury, would you rather have three relatively inexpensive two-WAR players or one ridiculously-expensive six-WAR player?  There are logical arguments on both sides, which, as Dan suggests, have a lot to do with the franchise's market, budget, player development system, and the make-up of the rest of their roster.  A couple weeks ago Jason Rosenberg made a pretty compelling argument, based upon the A-Rod/Rangers debacle, that no team should use more than 25% of their payroll on a single player.  The Cardinals have yet to top the $100 Million mark as a franchise, so giving Pujols $25+ Million a year would be breaking Jason's rule.

The reason I prefer the "Pujols risk" to the "Johnson/Harang/Matsui risk" is that my team gets not only his WAR, which we're presuming is roughly equal to that of the other three players combined, but WAR from additional positions (preferably occupied by cost-efficient homegrown or at least cheaply-acquired talent).  Assuming the health of all parties, in the Johnson/Harang/Matsui equation we are topping out at 2-3 wins per roster spot, while in the Pujols equation that's the bottom line.  Yes, Johnson/Harang/Matsui will come cheaper and are almost certain not to decline to 0 WAR over the short term, but they are more likely to fall short of 6 WAR.

Obviously, as Johnson/Harang/Matsui would cost substantially less than Pujols, you could spread the money around even further and, in many situation and many offseasons, that may be the most sensible way to build a team.  However, it is misleading to treat Johnson, Harang, and Matsui as fungible commodities.  The Rockies recently brought the term "cost certainty" into the common parlance of baseball media by wrapping up Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in long-term contracts.  The "Johnson/Harang/Matsui risk" is part of the reason why.  There is little certainty that you can consistently identify and sign even two-WAR players on the free agent market.  In Pujols, presumably, the Cardinals have a player in whom they are confident, who has done nothing but flourish in St. Louis, and about whom they know pretty much as much as any franchise can know about a player.  When you're constantly buying free agents, not only are you subjected to the whims of the market, you are also constantly being "sold" on players.  Nobody can sell the Cardinal the "Pujols factor."  They know not only how he contributes to production on-the-field, but his box office draw, his public relations value, his clubhouse chemistry assets, his relation to other players, coaches, etc.

Generally, it's safer to bet on the devil you know, as it were.

5.) Whose side are we on?
"When did I ever say how much money I though Pujols 'should' be paid?  I don't have any opinion on what the morally correct outcome is.  My column was about how much money the Cardinals could offer him and still make a profit on the contract."
The problem here is that Dan's column fell under two different headlines on the NYT website, which were "Albert Pujols May Be Asking Too Much of Cardinals" and "Asking For a Lot, Perhaps Too Much, from St. Louis."  Dan did not choose these headlines, but they inflect our reading of his research with a "morally correct" overtone.  Such headlines fit right into the evolving narrative (at its most ridiculous extremes in the commentary of Seth Everett and the similarly simple-minded), which accuses Pujols of "disloyalty" and "greed."

I think, on these counts, actually, Dan and I are in full agreement.  1.) Pujols has every right to negotiate according to recent market precedents like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, and Mark Teixeira.  In comparison to those precedents, there's no denying that the Cardinals offer is short.  2.) The Cardinals would be completely within reason if they decided that they could not afford pay any player, even the best player, $300 Million, considering the constraints of their market.  3.) If the Cardinals don't make Pujols an offer approaching at least $25 Million/yr., somebody else will.

You can assume "asking too much" is an allegation of unreasonable greed on Pujols part.  Or, you can read it as an acknowledgement of the Cardinals limitations.  For some reason I assume the general public read it in the former fashion.  But I could be wrong.

Finally, thanks so much to Dan Rosenheck for reading and responding in such great detail and with such a generous and perhaps undeserved level of collegiality.