Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Amazing Austin Jackson - For Real?

Take a minute and think of a few players that might be the owner of this batting line:

.319 Batting Average/ .401 On-Base Percentage/ .527 Slugging Percentage

Joey Votto? Albert Pujols? Matt Holliday? Chances are you got it right because you looked at the title of this post. However, that does not make Austin Jackson's season any less impressive. If that is not enough, the Tigers' star center fielder has already either tied his career high in homers (10) and is nearly on pace for highs in doubles, triples, homers, walks, runs, and RBI. That after missing three weeks while on the disabled list with an abdomen injury. For fantasy owners the only real disappointment in his season is the low number of stolen bases - just eight as of this writing. The low number of steals can probably be blamed in part on his increased power, as most teams discourage stealing third base and attempting to steal home and not making it can get a young player benched.

The question you should all be asking is how much of this is improved skill and how much is just good fortune? Jackson entered the majors in his age 22 season. Three seasons in the majors and not yet in his prime - that is almost the recipe for a breakout season. His walk rate has improved two straight seasons from 7 percent to 8.4 percent to this season's 11.8 percent. That looks like real improvement. He has also cut his K percentage to 22.6 percent from last season's 27.1 percent which was a slight bump up from 2010's 25.2 percent.

Jackson is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone which is probably key to both improvements. In case you are wondering, Jackson's O-Swing has improved three years running. Jackson attributes his lower strikeouts to not chasing two-strike pitches, which makes a lot of sense. Swinging at better pitches does more than just increase walks and reduce strikeouts. It also allows the batter to make better and more consistent contact. Better contact has likely been a large part of his power increase.

Before the season and in Spring Training, Jackson worked with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on reducing his high leg kick and shortening his swing. Jackson says this allows him to turn on better fastballs. "I'm extremely pleased by how quickly he adjusted and adapted," McClendon said to the Detroit Free-Press. "And really the credit goes to him because he wanted to do it and he was willing to do it."

The future looks very bright for Austin Jackson. But we can find a few worrisome factors if we try. His BABIP is an extremely high .399 and despite his improved skills and terrific speed is not really sustainable. We can expect at least some regression to his career averages, though that is not as big a drop as we may once have expected. His13.3 HR/FB is not absurdly high except relative to his career 7.1 percentage. There may be some luck in his homerun rate, but again part of this is based on real improvements so it is very difficult to say how much to expect it to decline over the next 12 weeks (if at all).

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I am writing for a new digital magazine called Big League Monthly. This is not just a fantasy mag, though that is what I write about for them. The magazine includes great interviews with minor leaguers, features on major leaguers - this month that includes Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, Eric Hosmer and others. Please check it out, it is completely free.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Solving Rickie Weeks

Hey Jon,

Thoughts on Rickie Weeks?

Hey Dennis,

Weeks has always made mediocre contact and struck out too much. This season he has struggled to make even his usual contact rate. He is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone but is making much worse contact with those pitches. His power has slipped dramatically. The only thing that seems to be going well is drawing walks.

There is little doubt that part of this is Weeks at least initially pressing to justify his new contract. This happens to lots of players. That pressing has led to a huge slump that I am guessing is at least partly mechanical. His BABIP is low, he is hitting lots of infield fly balls. and his HR/FB is lower than usual.

I think there is at least some bad luck involved but I think he needs to get his mind straight before his batting will come together. I can't recommend him at this point. If I owned him I'd like to stash him on the bench if I could and hope for the best. I have him in a league where he is undroppable and I probably would not anyway.

If your league is a shallower one and there are viable options available I could see dropping him at this point. I think this might be an Adam Dunn (2011) season for him. But if your league is deeper I think the chances of Weeks having a big second half are better than say - Ivan DeJesus becoming a fantasy stud.

Good luck Dennis, I hope my ramblings have helped you at least a little.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fantasy League Re-Enforcements

It is never too late for a plan to come together.

Your draft or auction is only one part of many that make your fantasy season. It is an extremely important part but still just one part. A hardworking owner even in a fairly deep league can recover from a bad draft by diligently working the free agent list and the waiver wire.

You may search your waiver wire on a particular day and see nothing but back-up catchers and utility players but it is not always the case. Players that can help your team become available all the time. It is your job to stay informed and be ready to claim or FAAB them when the opportunity presents itself.

Who are these players that become available during the season? Late signing veterans, older veterans who teams are signing to fill holes created by injuries or ineffectiveness. Sometimes it will be a bench player who gains a larger role on the team. Players returning from long term injuries are another source of talent.

You also need to keep a close eye on the transactions of your fellow owners. Maybe they released a slow starter that can help you. Did they recently activate a player returning from injury or a newly promoted rookie. Who did they release to make roster room.

Here are some players that may be in a position to help you soon.

Johnny Damon - The aging veteran is still capable of a 15/15 season or even 20/20 given health and the right role in the lineup. He should be activated any day now.

Marlon Byrd - In AL-Only leagues, Byrd has just become available. He is starting slow this season and has not been trending well but of you've been hit by one of the recent spat of injuries, you could do a lot worse. He has 20/20 potential and should hit for a better average in Fenway Park.

Freddie Sanchez - This veteran is fragile but an effective hitter when healthy. If he were healthy for an entire season he would capable of batting .300 with a handful of homeruns and steals.

Juan Pierre - He just barely made the team but has steadily gained playing time and is now in the lineup against most right-handed pitchers. He could hit for a decent average and steal 30 bases.

Francisco Cordero - This former closer had been sitting on a lot of waiver wires. With the recent injury to Sergo Santos he should be one of the most frequently claimed players this week.

Jarrod Parker - He almost made the team out of Spring Training. He has been promoted and should be able to keep a spot in the rotation. It is hard to say what a rookie pitcher will do but he has ace potential.

Tyson Ross - Few were familiar with him before this season but Mr. Ross has been an effective pitcher so far this season. Scoop him up if you are in need of quality innings.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Ten Reasons to Stay Patient with Your Fantasy Team

Patience. Slow starts are depressing for fantasy owners but panic ruins fantasy seasons. Often we come out of our drafts excited about our teams. We got this sleeper for that much and won't he be great! Then after three games and 11 at-bats we are ready to cut him to add that career back-up middle infielder. If you drafted a guy I think he deserves at least a full week of at-bats before you cut him.

Omar Infante has three more homers than GianCarlo Stanton. Are you seriously worried that ol' Mike will not blast his 30 homers?

Jason Heyward may not have a great average just yet but he has a hit in two out of three starts and a .333 OBP despite a .200 batting average.

Did Mariano Rivera suddenly forget how to pitch? Lots of closers start slowly because they do not get enough innings in Spring Training. Despite the disaster start to his season, CC Sabathia was thisclose to getting a win anyway.

Alright, so the Oakland Athletics have panicked a little, designating Brandon Allen after less than a week. But how much could you possibly have invested in Allen? Not much I hope. Daric Barton is hardly a massive upgrade in any case.

Sometimes it is not just poor performance but the overwhelming desire to make moves. Maybe you miss out on a hot start or a chance to grab a youngster on the cheap. But with patience you may find that you get the chance to reserve an Allen and pickup a Kirk Nieuwenhuis and own both, rather than lose a slow-starting James Loney for the privilege of rostering Nieuwenhuis for a couple of weeks before he is sent down again.

Remember a week ago when it seemed like Frank Francisco was going to be out of a job before the season even started? Yeah, those three saves have caused a ton of memory loss.

The San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox will be playoff contenders until the end of the season. No need to give up on their players at this point. Okay, maybe the Red Sox won't be contenders. If you have made a bet on one of the Boston closer possibilities, do not give up on that candidate just yet. The situation is far from clear. i am including Daniel Bard in that conversation.

It looks like the Giants are going to give Brandon Belt a real opportunity this season. Do not over react to his day out of the lineup. The Giants are just getting everyone into the lineup.

Aroldis Chapman is still smokin' hot despite his lack of a real role on the pitching staff. He will force his way into an important role soon enough.

Rafael Furcal is hitting .526 after a horrible spring. It just perfectly illustrates why you cannot allow small sample sizes to rule your thinking. Oh wait, unless you think Furcal is going to hit .500 and steal 146 bases.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Out Of The Park Baseball (OOTP13)

Playing Fantasy Baseball is largely about running a baseball team the way you would as a general manager. You probably grumble to yourself when the General Manager of your favorite MLB team makes a move. Or shout at the wind when he does not make a transaction that seems so obvious and clear to you. Fantasy Baseball is great but when it comes to simulating the true GM experience there is not a game for any system better than Out of the Park Baseball 13.

I must warn you. This game is thoroughly addictive. I guarantee that you will be hooked five minutes after you complete your download. You control everything you want to control. You hire the manager, the scouts, promote and release players in your system, make trades, and make money for the owner. You receive scouting reports and news and communications from other GMs in the league.

If you have played the game before you may not recognize it. The interface has been re-vamped.The HTML pages are gone. The new look is clean, useful and cool to look at while you're doing your GM thing. The game now features advanced storylines that are more than just off the field injuries such as emotional outbursts and clubhouse drama. You get to decide what happens after a player assaults a photographer - you can ignore it, cut him, suspend him, or trade him. It is up to you.

Try this game, you will not be disappointed.

Here are some changes made to this version of OOTP:
  • 2012 Major League rosters, along with rule changes introduced by the new major league labor agreement, including Houston's AL West move in 2013 and a second wild card team in each major league, starting with the 2013 playoffs.
  • Real-Time Simulation Mode, which gives you a GM's view on what's happening in your league in real-time, including scores of games in progress, notifications of important events, and more. You can even jump into any game and watch it play out, or take the reins of your club.
    Real-Time Simulation Mode is perfect for those final days of the season when playoff berths are on the line.
  • Interactive Storylines also offer greater immersion by giving you choices when situations arise. Do you punish a star player who behaves badly or do you ignore his antics? No two decisions are ever alike, and they have wide-ranging effects on injuries, fan interest, team chemistry, player morale, player ratings, player potential, owner attitudes, and much more.
  • A revamped pitching model that more accurately reflects pitching in the real world, where close to 90% of pitchers are typically drafted as starters and later become relievers for various reasons. The new pitching model brings with it a host of positive changes that we'll discuss in depth in Road to Release.
  • You can now create Associations with multiple leagues that may share certain rules, free agents, draft pools, and/or playoffs. And speaking of playoffs: OOTP 13 features more custom playoff options, including, for example, first round byes.
  • We've also overhauled the interface in OOTP 13, enhanced online league play, improved the core gameplay engine, and more.
Out of the Park Baseball 13 - The Grand Slam of Baseball Sims! Pre-order your copy before the official release on April 9, 2012. Pre-order today and receive your copy on April 6, 2012!

Click to Pre-Order OOTP 13 for PC Windows and Mac OS X

Click here to Pre-Order OOTP 13 for Linux

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 Closer Strategies - Finding Cheap Saves

This week alone we have seen Joakim Soria, Royals Closer, go down needing Tommy John Surgery, Ryan Madson, Reds Closer, also need TJS, and Drew Storen, Nationals Closer, has inflammation in his elbow but apparently no structural damage, he may not be available for the start of the season. That is enough to make almost anyone question the decision to pay market rates for saves.

Why Paying Full Price (Dollars or Draft Picks) Is Dangerous

Closers get hurt and replaced constantly. Even when you think someone has settled into a role as a dominant closer, things can change very quickly. Carlos Marmol certainly is not as secure in the role of Cubs closer as he seemed this time a year ago. Many analysts are pointing at Marlins closer Heath Bell's declining K-Rate as a reason to be cautious when drafting him.New York's Mariano Rivera looks like a safe investment but the Yankees closer is 42-years old! I do not mean to come off like Fox News, but grabbing saves with early picks or top dollars is playing with a potential disaster.

The save category represents just ten percent of your potential points in the standings in a standard 5x5 roto league. But if you are spending fourth and fifth round picks or spending 20 to even 30 dollars on a closer you are spending nearly 12 percent on just one closer for one category. You will probably need two closers to finish at the top of the category. Look at it like this - if you spend 30 dollars on the right hitter, say Carlos Gonzalez, you'll get major contributions to five categories. Even spending 30 on a starter like Clayton Kershaw will get you four categories.

It probably sounds like I am advocating punting saves as a category, but that is not the case. I am not saying not to get saves, just not to pay so much for them. The average closer pitches fewer than 60 innings a season and a lot of them less than that. This really reduces their impact on ERA, Ratio, and Strikeouts. If you spend a good portion of the dollars dedicated to saves on improving your starters (get guys with lots of quality innings) you can even further reduce a closer's impact on the non-save categories. Why would you want to do that?

Drafting the Closers No One Else Wants

At first it probably seems like a plan bound to fail. However, it makes some sense. No further testimony is needed to see that no closer is safe. Even the most highly rated closer can get hurt or lose his job. By spending more of our pitching budget on quality starters we can lessen the impact a lower ranked closer's ERA or WHIP can have on your standings points. The following closers are at the bottom of most rankings but are fairly secure in their roles.

Frank Francisco, New York Mets
Brett Myers, Houston Astros
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners

Pick the closers that have jobs but have analysts speculating on their job security. Any closer can be ineffective for a short period and then lose his job. It is even possible that despite the speculation the closer remains in the role for the entire season. The following closers have the closer role heading into the regular season but are not expected to hold onto the job.

Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox - to be replaced by Addison Reed
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians - to be replaced by Vinne Pestano
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers - to be replaced by Kenley Jansen
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics - pick 'em: Brian Fuentes, Joey Devine, Fautino De Los Santos

These closers have an injury or a history of injury that may put their value into question.

Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

Picking your closers from these groups will usually allow you to build a decent base of saves without spending nearly as much as you would drafting the best and safest options. The idea is to get them cheaply enough that the difference in cost allows you to improve your starting pitching.

If you get caught sleeping and miss out on all the closers draft one of these future closers. They aren't in any order.

Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Glenn Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Mike Adams, Texas Rangers
Brad Brach, San Diego Padres
Ramon Ramirez, New York Mets

Good luck adding saves on the cheap.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Expert League: Triple Crown AL-Only

Earlier this week I participated in the Triple Crown Al-Only expert league auction. The league is run on and is sponsored by, where I used to work.

The league includes a lot of talented writers - Dave Gawron,; Al Melchior,; George Fitopoulos, Baseball Professor; Matt Torvomina, Fantasy Gameday; Steve Parsons (freelance); Nick Fleder, HardBallTimes; Keith Hernandez, KFFL; Ian Riley,; Michael Pichan,; Eric Stashin and Will Overton,; and William Bender, Sporting News.

The Plan
I have the unfortunate distinction of coming in last two years running in this league. That will not happen again. Part of the problem has been not focusing enough on the league. bad luck also played a large role. Either way, I fully intend to do everything possible to win this league this year.

My strategy was to use my first 160-180 on as many studs as possible and save 80-100 for the middle and late round bargains. I overshot the mark on the studs and spent over 200 before reaching even the halfway point. I got caught trying to price enforce a couple of times, which is something much easier to do in a live auction. In an online auction you can't read body language and other signals that will tell you an owner is willing to go further. Lesson learned.

Still despite the budget problems I like this team much better than the ones I drafted in 2010 and 2011. I am already on the hunt for saves which I failed to acquire, not unusual for me.

C Ryan Lavarnway 1 - A very good hitter, Bobby Valentine is a big fan, he'll be a factor
C Hank Conger 1 - Not scheduled for many at-bats but Chris Ianetta has disappointed before

1B Adrian Gonzalez 36 - I didn't mean get him but I'm okay with a potential Triple Crown
3B Alberto Callapso 1 - I can't believe Mark Trumbo will last at third base, he'll get At-Bats
CR Prince Fielder 35 - I really wanted him, I think the Tigers are going to have a big year.

2B Johnny Giavotella 8 - One of my favorites, I think he'll hit for average and score tons
SS Nick Punto 1 - Not great, but hopefully he will steal bases
MI Reid Brignac 1 - he'll start the season on the DL, he used to have some potential...

OF Curtis Granderson 36 - I love him, I think he'll come close to a repeat of 2011
OF Alex Gordon 27 - I have him projected for a big year following his breakout 2011 season
OF BJ Upton 35 - His skills are coming together and its a contract year
OF Yoenis Cespedes 13 - He may start slowly but I see 25-30 homers
OF Rajai Davis 5 - Even off the bench he'll steal 20-30 bases

U Travis Hafner 1 - A solid bat in a productive Indians lineup

SP CJ Wilson 19 - My favorite for American League Cy Young
SP Brandon McCarthy 13 - If he stays healthy he'll be in the Cy talk too
SP Yu Darvish 18 - He has ace potential and I think he'll live up to it
SP Derek Lowe 1 - The strikeouts are low but he is a solid and usually dependable starter
P Blake Beavan 1 - I think he will be a lot like Lowe, Safeco helps
P Alex Cobb 1 - If he could get free he could pitch in the middle of a dozen rotations
RP David Robertson 4 - Mariano's understudy, a great pitcher
RP Scott Downs 1 - The guy I think backs up Jordon Walden
RP George Sherrill 1 - A solid relief pitcher likely to get cut for saves at some point

R1 Ryan Flaherty - The Orioles Rule V pick could be the starter at second base
R2 Brandon Inge - Fighting for a job, if he finds one he can provide some power with a low BA
R3 Kila Ka'aihue - A candidate for the first base job, he can hit
R4 Russell Branyan - If Ibanez doesn't get it together, he could get major at-bats