Thou Shalt be Saved

April 4, 2015

 

 

Just as Judah Ben-Hur tells his quartet of Arabians that the race is not won the first time around the circus track, no one wins their fantasy league on draft day. Even the greatest draft ever has to be followed up with a good reserve list and smart in-season management. The race, as the great charioteer concludes, is won the last time around. So even though my XFL team had some pretty significant needs after the November draft, I was still somewhat optimistic that it could be very competitive with a good reserve draft.

 

However, my task was complicated by the fact that my third, fourth and sixth round picks in the draft were held by other teams as I had traded them away in a futile attempt to win last year. With Yu Darvish going down for at least this season, plus the fact that I only had five starters going in before that unfortunate occurrence, I desperately needed to roster some starting pitching. Anthony Rendonís injury also meant that I would need to focus on finding players who are eligible to play either third base or second base. All this with only three of the first 90 picks. Not easy.

 

As with any complex problem itís often best to break things down mathematically. Using my starting pitching conundrum as an example, winning teams over the past few years have accumulated about 1400 strikeouts. Going in I had Stephen Strasburg, Derek Holland, Drew Hutchison and Taijuan Walker. I donít think itís too much to expect that they will total about 760 strikeouts, which means I still need 640. I have two solid closers (Betances and Papelbon) who will probably be good for 140 combined. That leaves roughly 500 more needed between three starting pitchers. Thatís about 170 apiece. So rather than try to somehow find three ace-level starters from a group of pitchers who werenít thought of highly enough to be taken in November, I just need several solid guys who have a chance to post respectable ERA and WHIP, and perhaps play for good teams that will support them well enough to get some wins. Translated: I donít have to use my first three picks to take starting pitchers. I can probably find decent options as late as the 7th or 8th rounds. And with that realization, already the pressure was easing.

 

So hereíre the guys I ended up rostering and my reasons for taking them:

 

Of the starting pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in 2014, Carlos Martinez ranked 8th in swinging strike percentage and 4th overall in zone contact. All that means is that batters swing and miss an awful lot against him, even when he throws his pitches in the strike zone. When baseball people talk about a pitcher having great ďstuffĒ, this is the statistical proof.Martinez also has the benefit of pitching to one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and pitching for a team that is almost always in contention. Much has been written this off-season about his potential and the Cardinals are going to give him his shot to realize it at the back end of their rotation. And if motivation is any factor, one of this best friends on the team, Oscar Tavares, died tragically last fall, which moved Martinez to re-dedicate himself to his craft in Tavaresí honor. This year is his best opportunity yet to make the leap from enormous potential to performance.

 

Jung-Ho Kang came to the US with high expectations after posting some astounding numbers in Korea. Other than his first game of spring training, his performance so far has been pretty disappointing. But since GM Neal Huntington announced that the Pirates plan to carry him on the Opening Day roster regardless of what his spring numbers look like, Kang has been hitting like the scouts who sold Pittsburgh on his potential thought he would. Over the last week heís hit .353 (6-for-17) with four of those hits going for extra bases. The Pirates are pretty set at the positions he plays but he should get enough playing time as a utility player to make his above average power pay dividends.

 

Among the Padresí myriad moves this winter, acquiring Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox might end up being the most crucial. Their outfield additions got most of the press, but adding Middlebrooks makes the lineup more than just a three-hitter threat that can be pitched around.The last two seasons have not been kind to him with assorted injuries bogging down his progress. However, his right-handed power was intriguing enough to get another chance at a full-time job. This spring heís displayed an improved eye for balls and strikes which bodes well for a rebound. He doesnít have much competition for the job so even if he gets off to a slow start thereís a good chance heíll be allowed to work through it. That means regular at bats which will be key to accumulating the counting stats like runs and RBI.

 

The Cleveland Indians have some very high upside starters who have garnered quite a bit of acclaim this winter. Carlos Carrasco was one of the hottest pitching commodities this winter in fantasy circles, Trevor Bauer is hailed as a future ace, and oh, Corey Kluber just won the AL Cy Young Award.Even TJ House has been getting a lot of fanalytic attention. With so much attention elsewhere, Zach McAllister fell under the radar for a lot of people. I liked him because his strikeout rate, walk rate and groundball rate all improved last year, and even though his ERA was a fairly hideous 5.23, if one looks only at the things he controls his ERA should have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.50. The discrepancy is largely due to his strand rate, the base runners the Cleveland bullpen failed to strand. McCallisterís was 5th worst in baseball at 59.5%, while major league average is around 75%. This is something that tends to regress to the mean which bodes well for an ERA that is more reflective of his performance.Heís also at an age (27) at which many players either make a significant leap forward or peak.

 

Like McAllsiter, Wade Mileyís topical numbers (ERA, WHIP) belied a worse season than his peripheral stats indicated. He continued a strong groundball tendency while significantly improving his strikeout rate. His problem last year wasnít the bullpen, but simply bad luck on balls in play. That too tends to regress to the mean. And even though heís moving from the NL to the longer line-ups in the AL, heís also moving to a park that is a little more favorable for pitchers. Ironically enough, three of the four ballparks where heís enjoyed his greatest success are in the AL (Tampa, Texas and Kansas City).

 

It wasnít until Rickie Weeks relented on his demand that he play only second base that he was offered a contract this winter. That decision probably saved his career. Now with Seattle, heíll get a chance to show whether his second half last season (.302/.444/.538) was just a hot streak or a return to the kind of hitter he was from 2010 to 2012. The last two seasons heís had trouble staying healthy but the primary reason he lost the second base job in Milwaukee was substandard defensive play. Now his defense wonít be as much of a factor as his playing time will be determined almost solely by his bat. He could see time both in the outfield and first base, giving him fantasy eligibility at three positions. The Mariners are also a bit desperate for right-handed hitting so heíll get plenty of opportunities to prove heís back.

 

I donít have any suspicion that Hector Rondon will be unable to handle the closerís job for the Cubs. But should he falter, Pedro Strop should be first in line to replace him. Even if he doesnít register a save, Stropís strikeouts, WHIP and ERA should make him a valuable piece on any fantasy staff.

 

Of the Japanese players who are not currently in the majors, Shohei Otani is generally regarded as the best. Not only is he a starting pitcher with a 101 mph fastball, but he also clubbed 10 homers as a part-time outfielder last year for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Heís viewed as a young Yu Darvish on the mound due to his similar size and repertoire. He even wears the same number Darvish did. But the additional threat of his bat should make him especially intriguing to National League teams. He made it known from the outset of his career that he intended to pitch in the majors, even threatening to bypass the Japanese Leagues altogether. As to when heíll finally get his chance to play in America is anyoneís guess as the transfer agreements between the Majors and the Japanese Leagues seem to change yearly.

 

I really like Manuel Margot. This is what I wrote about him in my Top 50 prospects article: ďMargot is farther down most lists largely because heís had so little minor league experience. But he was one of five players in the entire minors to produce a 10-homer, 40-steal season last year and over .300 for the year with excellent plate discipline. Heís not just a potential lead-off hitter, but a potentially great lead-off hitter. Even those who arenít as high on him admit that his floor is as a major league fourth outfielder due his excellent defense alone. Heís probably not going to develop above average power but the rest of his game is all plus.Ē The Red Sox are loaded at center field right now so I expect heíll be plying his trade for another team when he reaches the majors, possibly as soon as next year.

 

Rafael Devers is another Red Sox prospect I really like. To quote me again: ďWhat Devers does bring and figures to bring more of as he matures is plus power to all fields and a reasonably advanced understanding at the plate. His potential with the bat virtually assures heíll be in the majors one day and probably as a middle-of-the-order hitter.Ē Pablo Sandoval is signed through 2019 but I doubt that will provide any impediment should Devers prove his bat is ready before that contract expires. Neither player is assured of being a fixture at third and Devers has the kind of physical tools that will play at any of the corner positions.

 

In theory, taking a top pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery is not a bad idea. Heíll occupy a roster spot for a year and then youíll have a high quality arm for less than half the price he would normally go for. But taking a pitcher coming back from a second Tommy John surgery is a different matter. Whereas a first recipient can recover and be pitching again in meaningful games in as little as 12 months and be back to full strength in 18, a pitcher coming back from a second procedure can expect to be out up to 18 months and not be at full strength for another 6 months after that. Jarrod Parker underwent the reconstructive procedure for the second time in his career last spring, which means he probably wonít be fully back until next spring. For all intents and purposes, this was a brain cramp pick. I would have been much better off taking a third catcher or an outfielder or a reliever or just about anyone else. But perhaps Parker will prove me wrong and set a new standard for recovery.

 

Randall Delgado was one of the top 50 prospects in baseball in 2011 and 2012, profiling as a potential #2 starter, but in his first three years as a starter he failed to find his groove. Last year was the first year that he was used primarily out of the bullpen and something clicked, particularly in the second half. That maturation continued this spring. Even though heíll begin the season as the Diamondbacks long man he has a decent chance of getting another shot at the rotation should one of the starters falter. Even if he remains in the pen, he should accumulate enough strikeouts and quality innings to be useful.††

 

Few players fell as fast and as far as Dan Uggla had over the last two years. It turns out that he had been playing for at least a year through an undiagnosed concussion. Initially he thought that his vision was deteriorating so he had Lasik surgery. But then he discovered that his vision was clear only when he was motionless. It was then the thinking changed and that something else was wrong. Now it appears that he is completely healed from the head injury, except now he also has the best vision of his life. He enjoyed the most productive spring of his career this March, posting more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his professional career. Heís competing with Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa for playing time at second base but if he really is completely healthy, neither should provide much of a hurdle.

 

Jose Abreu made a huge splash last year, as did Yoennis Cespedes in his first season with the Aís. So the prospect of another power hitter from Cuba possibly coming to MLB is intriguing to say the least. Alfredo Despaigne is currently under contract to play in Japan for this season and next but after that he may decide to make the move to the US. Most of the Cuban invasion has been comprised of very young players, like Yasiel Puig, Yoan Moncada and Jose Fernandez, for which there is very little or no performance record from Cuba, or what there is occurred at such a young age that the data isnít very useful or predictive. But with Despaigne, Abreu and Cespedes, there are a few years from which we can analyze and draw some conclusions. In Despaigne we see a player with nearly as much raw power as Abreu and a bat that is only slightly less accomplished. His production falls between that of Cespedes and Abreu, albeit a little closer to Abreuís level. Despaigne will likely be 30 years old when/if he makes his major league debut. While thatís not ideal, it still puts him in his peak plateau years with at least three seasons before the decline phase of his career. In a keeper league, waiting two years for a player to produce is commonplace; only with a minor league prospect thereís no guarantee the peak production will occur in his first season. In fact, history shows that thereís probably only about a 20% chance that it will. With a fully developed player coming from another country, that peak production will start from the outset.

 

Year

Age

AgeDif

Tm

Lg

Lev

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

TB

GDP

HBP

SH

SF

IBB

2008

22

-3.3

Granma

CNS

Fgn

90

405

328

73

123

25

2

32

97

16

6

61

45

0.375

0.481

0.756

1.238

248

8

11

0

5

15

2009

23

-2.3

Granma

CNS

Fgn

87

376

317

79

128

37

0

31

97

7

3

40

34

0.404

0.489

0.814

1.303

258

8

16

0

3

11

2010

24

-1.8

Granma

CNS

Fgn

67

303

261

56

93

7

0

27

74

1

2

33

42

0.356

0.439

0.693

1.132

181

10

7

0

2

6

2011

25

-1.2

Granma

CNS

Fgn

95

447

344

87

112

19

0

36

105

4

2

91

47

0.326

0.479

0.695

1.174

239

15

11

0

1

27

Average

 

 

A. Despaigne

 

 

85

383

313

74

114

22

1

32

93

7

3

56

42

0.365

0.474

0.741

1.215

232

10

11

0

3

15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2009

22

-3.3

Cienfuegos

CNS

Fgn

89

393

286

82

114

25

3

30

76

2

1

74

49

0.399

0.555

0.822

1.376

235

11

30

0

3

32

2010

23

-2.8

Cienfuegos

CNS

Fgn

66

293

212

79

96

14

0

33

93

2

1

58

32

0.453

0.597

0.986

1.583

209

5

21

0

2

21

2011

24

-2.2

Cienfuegos

CNS

Fgn

87

384

282

71

111

18

1

35

99

1

0

75

40

0.394

0.542

0.837

1.379

236

9

22

0

5

33

2012

25

-1.4

Cienfuegos

CNS

Fgn

77

337

264

60

91

15

0

19

60

2

5

54

39

0.345

0.481

0.617

1.098

163

18

17

0

2

19

Average

 

 

J. Abreu

 

 

80

352

261

73

103

18

1

29

82

2

2

65

40

0.395

0.542

0.807

1.350

211

11

23

0

3

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2008

22

-3.3

Granma

CNS

Fgn

85

387

328

83

106

19

0

24

76

4

4

43

40

0.323

0.411

0.601

1.011

197

15

10

0

6

2

2009

23

-2.3

Granma

CNS

Fgn

87

392

342

87

118

19

4

22

67

5

3

42

45

0.345

0.426

0.617

1.043

211

10

7

0

1

4

2010

24

-1.8

Granma

CNS

Fgn

90

415

354

89

118

17

1

33

99

11

3

49

40

0.333

0.424

0.667

1.091

236

17

9

0

3

5

Average

 

 

Y. Cespedes

 

 

87

398

341

86

114

18

2

26

81

7

3

45

42

0.334

0.420

0.629

1.049

215

14

9

0

3

4

 

Other than the Parker pick, which still has a remote chance to prove fruitful, I didnít roster any players that I didnít want or didnít have some degree of confidence in their ability to produce. All in all I would say I achieved what I needed to in the supplemental draft and have at least given myself a chance to be competitive. Weíll know for sure on the final lap.