April 09, 2010

Each week I'll answer a handful of the most pertinent questions I've received during the week in my attempt, weak as it might be, to bring insightful fantasy analysis to the fore (my email address is listed at the bottom of the piece if you wish to drop me a line).

I'm already regretting taking Ian Kinsler over Dustin Pedroia. Should I be?-- Jay, New York

I would bet a lot of people are in that same point (possibly even the author of this piece).

Kinsler went 30/30 last year, scored 101 runs and knocked in 86 despite being limited to 144 games because of injury. He did hit .253, but he also had the worst BABIP of any batting title qualifier at .241 (career .288), and his line drive percentage also dropped more than four points down to 15.9 percent. Given those facts, a return to much closer to his career batting average of .279 certainly seemed like a reasonable assumption. Alas, Kinsler is hurt again, this time a high ankle sprain that has required two cortisone shots already. The Rangers hope that Kinsler will return to action at some point late next week, but it appears likely that he will miss the first two weeks of the season. Given that he has averaged 129 games played a season in his four-year career you have to hope that this is his one "injury" of the year and that he will be healthy the rest of the way, but history certainly says that likely won't be the case.

As for Pedroia, well, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. This isn't to belittle Pedroia in the least, though I doubt that many would argue with the position that if everything broke right that Kinsler has a higher fantasy upside than Pedroia. However, Pedroia has been an absolute force since 2007, and over the past two years he is first at the second base position in average (.311) and runs (233), is second in doubles (102), third in extra base hits (137), fourth in steals (40) and seventh in RBI (155). You don't have to be physically imposing to be a mighty force.

It's a long season so we will have to wait and see how it plays out, but you had to know that rostering Kinsler was more of a risk/reward play than rostering the rock solid Pedroia. Sometimes you crap out when you roll the dice. We'll just have to wait and see if this is one of those times.

I was offered C.J. Wilson for Josh Beckett? Obviously I don't accept the deal, but how do I respond to the other guy, who is clearly cracked?-- Chris, Arizona

Chris, you aren't the only one who deals with this idiocy. Every year there is some buffoon in your league who will act as if no one has ever played fantasy baseball before. He'll offer to deal someone who stinks but is off to a hot start for a star who flops in the early weeks. No offense to Wilson, who looked good in his first outing and brings to the table a rather intriguing skill set as a starter (career: 8.45 K/9, 1.95 GB/FB), but offering him straight up for Beckett is akin to trying to trade in Ugly Betty for a night with Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker.

So what do you do with that yahoo? Well, you could kick him/her out of the league, but that would screw up the competitive balance of the league; plus, there is no penalty for being stupid in life other than having to live with your stupidity. I would politely reply and just say "no thanks." I've found that it's best not to antagonize people, lest you set off some hidden craziness that often lurks behind the veneer of mere ignorance. If similarly laughable trade offers continue to come in, and let's face it, they almost certainly will, just ignore them. Sooner or later the person should get that the only way to do business is for two people to try an equitably work out a deal that benefits both parties. You could always find out where he/she lives and toilet paper their house, but that doesn't seem like something you should be doing if you've already hit your 35th b-day (and yes, that means it's OK if you are only 34).

I'm new to fantasy baseball. What categories should I focus on with pitchers besides wins and loses?-- Ryan, Shreveport, La.

The good news is that you are asking the question, Ryan. The bad news is that you are starting by looking in the wrong direction.

There are many measures for pitchers and their effectiveness, and about the least effective are wins and loses. Think of it. A guy could allow one run in eight innings but lose 1-0. Another hurler could allow six runs in five innings but his team could win 11-6. All you have to do is look at the 2009 season of Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers' lefty was 5th in the NL in ERA (2.79), 11th in strikeouts and was the toughest starting pitcher in the league to hit with a .200 batting average against. Despite all of that, he won all of eight games (against eight loses). At the other end of the spectrum you have a guy like Braden Looper, who went 14-7 despite a 5.22 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and a pathetic 1.56 strikeout to walk ratio.

So what should you concern yourself with? Well, you can get all fancy and dive into sabermetrics if you really feel like going full throttle, and if you do you should check out my Sabermetric Glossary for Pitching. If you want to take things a little slower, kind of work your way into feeling comfortable behind the wheel before jumping into a Formula 1 racer, here are the measures I would suggest focusing on to start:

K/9: Strikeouts per nine innings (look for at least 6.00).BB/9: Walks per nine innings (look for something under 3.50).K/BB: Strikeout to walk ratio (target guys with at least 2.00).GB/FB: Ground ball to fly ball ratio (the floor is 1.00).HR/9: Homers allowed per nine innings (under 1.00).

These categories will give you a nice foundation to start building up your personal database of which pitchers you really want to target for inclusion on your pitching staff.

I was high on Magglio Ordonez after his hot finish last year, and I got him cheap in my mixed league this year ($7). Do you think that was a good use of money?-- Craig, Minnesota

How apropos that I got this question. After going 7-for-14 to open the season, I did some digging into Ordonez and found out just how amazing he has been dating back to the end of last year. Over his last 31 games leading into Friday (28 last year, three this season) Mags is hitting an astounding .446. Yeah, that isn't a misprint -- .446. Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann's work pales in comparison to that mark (for more on the exploits of Magglio including a look at how he has done dating back to the All-Star break last season give April 8: Baseball Notes a few moments of your time). He has been a revelation in the batting average category.

So what do I think Mags will be able to bring to the table this season? Well, I think the $7 investment, assuming a standard $260 dollar scenario, puts you in a position to see a sizeable return on your investment. Sure, he has a mere 10 homers in his last 533 at-bats, so he may never be a 20-homer force again, but Ordonez owns a .312 career batting average and hasn't hit below .292 since 1998. Ordonez also owns a .372 career OBP and hasn't seen that number dip below .350 since 1999 (it's been at least .376 the past three years). As long as he can stay healthy he would appear to have a legit shot to hit .300 with 80 RBI and 80 runs a distinct possibility (he has never failed to knock in 99 runs or score 72 times in each of his last eight seasons with at least 500 at-bats). There certainly isn't any upside left in Ordonez, who is 36 years old, but that doesn't mean that the skills he still retains aren't enough to make him a valuable fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed leagues.

How do you evaluate injured players? I'm struggling to find a reason to keep a guy like Russell Branyan on my roster since I need help on my pitching staff.-- Ben

To be honest, the key to winning and losing each year has almost as much to do with the health of your squad as it does to the choices you make with the players on your roster. Each season hosts of players end up costing teams league titles because they simply don't stay healthy (as Ron Shandler has pointed out, 140 of the top 276 players in the fantasy game in 2009 spent at least one stint on the disabled list). Frankly, injuries are just something you have to weather with patience and a bottle of whiskey.

There is good news with Branyan. He went 3-for-3 in a rehab game at Triple-A on Thursday night, and all indications are that the back injury that has slowed is progressing quite well. As long as he doesn't suffer a setback, he'll likely make his first appearance with the Indians next week, when he is expected to take over full-time duties at first base, which will push Matt LaPorta back to the outfield, likely resulting in the demotion of young speedster Michael Brantley (at least that is the common thought).

Will Branyan repeat his 2009 efforts when he was a huge weapon with his 31 homers? Not a chance, and I go into some detail as to why I feel that way in Taking Sides -- First Base. As for whether or not this all means you jettison him from your roster, you'll need to consider just how ineffective you figure your pitching staff will be, not to mention deciding how talented your first base and corner infield options, if your league has that position, figure to be.

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