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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fantasy Value of Jason Heyward

Note: This article will appear on

Every year there is a player on the major league baseball horizon that has fans, scouts, managers and fantasy players falling our of their seats.

Last year it was Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters along with Rays pitcher David Price. Before that it was Evan Longoria, Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Jay Bruce … the list goes on.

And now we have Jason Heyward.

The reviews are coming in and the consensus is that Heyward will be some approximation between Hank Aaron and Darryl Strawberry (without the nasty cocaine habit).

For a more pertinent comparison, let’s look at Strawberry as opposed to Aaron. Strawberry broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 1983 at the age of 21 and had 473 plate appearances with a .257 average, .336 on-base percentage, 63 runs, 74 RBI and 26 home runs in 122 games.

A little more recent history shows that Longoria, young and similarly touted to Heyward and Strawberry, put up a .272 average, .343 on-base percentage, 67 runs, 85 RBI and 27 home runs in 508 plate appearances, also in 122 games.

What does this mean for Heyward? If the hype is to be believed, he is a step above what Strawberry and Longoria were when they came out. He has a physical gifts of nature with patience at the plate patience that could approach Barry Bonds with the (later years Bonds) power to go with it.

Braves manager Bobby Cox is so excited to have Heyward around for his final season on the bench that Atlanta is ignoring the recognized practices of holding uber-prospects back in the minors to forestall their arbitration clocks. So, unlike Strawberry or Longoria, Heyward is likely to eclipse 122 games played and 500 plate appearances, barring injury.

Let’s say that he gets around 650 plate appearances. In each of their first full seasons Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols were at that level and had 28 and 37 home runs, respectively.

The comparisons never end. Yet, if the sabermetric community, which values historical comparison as a means of quantifiable projection, the comparisons are the most important factor there is to find out what exactly can be expected of Heyward this season. An average between .275 and .290, on-base of .340 to .370 with 80 to 90 RBI and 27 to 35 home runs?

Very reasonable numbers to expect from a first year pro, no matter how much validated hype that surrounds him. But, where does that leave him in terms of fantasy value?

If you were in an early bird league, you probably could have snagged Heyward after the on the waiver wire or at the very end of the draft. A couple of months of media hype, comparisons and a guaranteed roster spot later, Heyward is going around 144th over at ESPN’s average draft position and will cost between $12 to $15 at auction. That is probably what he is worth at this point though he has the potential to jump to elite status if he trends more to the Pujols side of rookie performance as opposed to Longoria/Fielder model.

It is doubtful that the Braves will go slowly with Heyward the way the Diamondbacks have done with Justin Upton. Really, this is the team that brought up Jordan Schafer after a strong spring last year to watch him have a great first game before dive bombing the next 49 games and being sent back to the minors.

That will not happen with Heyward.

Schafer was a flash in the Spring Training pan that had not performed exceptionally well at Class AA Mississippi in 2008 (.269 average, .378 on-base, 10 home runs and 51 RBI) before having a great spring in 2009 to make team. There was some buzz (not enough to call hype) and I will admit that I took him with the last pick of my draft in an extremely deep league before dumping him in the middle of April.

Heyward is more physically mature than Schafer or Upton were at a similar age and seems to have the mental make up that the both the Upton brothers have lacked early in their careers. Heyward will probably get the requisite plate appearances that will make him a viable fantasy option.

Is it worth jumping up in your draft to get him at say, the 120th pick? Probably not, if you trust the projections.  Better value picks at this point might be some of the guys with track records where you know they won’t fall off a cliff and destroy your outfield. Think players like Torii Hunter, Nick Markakis, Brad Hawpe (in leagues that have absolute no defensive metrics) who should be available at the time you are thinking about taking Heyward. If you have already drafted a couple solid outfielders from the first and second tiers on the production ladder, take Heyward. If you are looking for second outfield production from him, you might end up disappointed.

This year at least.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: The Reliever Conundrum

Fantasy baseball owners year in and year out face the reliever conundrum.

What is the reliever conundrum? The fact that in standard 5x5 rotisserie leagues saves is a major fantasy category yet in the grand scheme of things relievers do not offer much value.

For instance, say you want to win the saves, ERA and WHIP categories and plan on doing it with mostly relievers. The first big problem here is that most leagues have a minimum qualification for innings pitched. You do not reach that threshold you are out of contention for winning that league. The innings requirement in turn marginalizes relievers ERA and WHIP totals because those categories are based on cumulative results. The innings threshold makes you carry starting pitchers. Say you have five starters and four relievers with a couple pitchers in reserve. Most fantasy baseball players want to maximize their starters innings to have the highest possibility of strikeout and win totals so a diligent owner might see each one of those five starting pitcher slots throw 250 or so innings to their total.

Of the 16 players with more than 30 saves last year, only four threw more than 70 innings (with Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton topping out 76 for, who else, Joe Torre) with the majority of pitchers falling between 60-69 innings. Even if your four to five relief pitchers have sterling ERAs and WHIPs, the cumulative effect of your relievers 250 to 300 innings will only be about 20 to 30 percent of your overall ERA and WHIP categories.

There is a flip side to this argument as well. If you are behind in saves in the middle of the season and there are multiple yet less than stellar options available either via trade or free agency, go get them and plug them in to your roster. Players like Matt Capps of the Nationals, Leo Nunez of the Marlins or Frank Francisco of the Rangers do not have typical closer ERAs but can get your team some saves. With their marginal amount of total innings pitched you should not be too worried about the cumulative effect of their poor numbers. They can help you tremendously in one category while having a negligible effect in others.

That is only half of the conundrum though. What about head-to-head leagues where being on top of your starting pitching is what separates winners from the also-rans? Since the scoring is on a week-to-week basis, the cumulative effect gets tossed out the window. The key with handling relief pitchers in head-to-head circumstances is to try and play the matchups with as much precision as you can. Are the Nationals visiting the Philles for a four game weekend set? Probably not a good weekend for Capps. Nats have three against Pittsburgh and three against Houston? OK for Capps.

Also check the starting pitching matchups. Ubaldo Jimenez starting twice in a week against, say, Bronson Arroyo and Job Niese? Start Huston Street (when healthy, of course). Head-to-head fantasy is all about the matchups and being able to pair closers with teams that are hot or are playing weak opponents etc. is a beneficial tactic.

For the most part, depending on the depth and scoring style of your league, closers are the only real viable fantasy options. In deeper leagues that use holds as a stat it is beneficial to pick up a few key setup men on good teams. Pair them with their closers will make it a double whammy. Imagine a 3-1 Red Sox victory where your fantasy team had Josh Beckett go seven innings, Daniel Bard in the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon the save in the ninth. Your fantasy team had a monopoly on that entire Red Sox win and with a finite amount of opportunities available to pick up stats, that would be a very valuable combination. Not only are you taking that game, you are keeping those stats out of your opponent’s categories.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist at If you have any questions or comments feel free to email him at or you can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Video: Futile search for pizza in Boston's North End

So, I wandered around the North End looking for a very specific pizza place that I had gone to with a colleague about two years ago. I became quite frustrated with the process. I ended up walking down to to Quincy Market and getting an overpriced gyro that was actually quite good.

So, I couldn't find it in the end and the search, as well as this blog post, turned out to be completely meaningless. But, there it is -- me, my blackberry and nothing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stealing Fantasy Value

This article can be found (soon) at Photo left courtesy of the Washington Post.

For years the steal has been an overlooked fantasy stat. Why not? The steroid era made us all fall in love with the big boppers who could rack up the home runs, RBI and runs totals and we stocked our teams with big run producers with little other redeeming value (I am looking at you, Jermaine Dye).

Getting specific players to fill specific categories is not necessarily a bad thing. Balance is overrated in fantasy baseball. A team should definitely be crafted to be stronger in some areas over another, but that does not mean you completely neglect other categories. A lineup full of home run hitters tends to not steal a lot of bases and so on.

During a fantasy draft, the place you do not want to pick up category specific players is in the first four to five rounds. Good talent is always available well into the fifth round. Take the best player at the premium positions and be patient. The old saying is that you cannot win your fantasy baseball draft in the first (couple) of rounds, but you can lose it.

Where you win fantasy baseball is by exploiting market inefficiency in the middle rounds and finding the key sleepers in the late rounds or on the waiver wire. This is where the category of steals comes in.

In ESPN’s free league, the average draft position (ADP) of Carl Crawford is 10th. Jacoby Ellbury is 20th.  Both of these players do three specific things for you – steal bases, score runs and hit for average (though Crawford threw in a bonus 15 home runs last year).

2009 Stats:

Ellsbury – 691 plate appearances, .301 average, .355 on-base percentage, 94 runs, 8 home runs, 70 stolen bases

Crawford – 672 plate appearances, .305 average, .364 On-base percentage, 96 runs, 15 home runs, 60 stolen bases.

Now take a look at three young outfielders with ADPs in the middle rounds.

Player A – ADP 84, 493 plate appearances, .286 average, .365 on-base percentage, 74 runs, 12 home runs, 22 stolen bases

Player B – ADP 135, 533 plate appearances, .307 average, .369 on-base percentage, 74 runs, 3 home runs, 42 stolen bases

Player C – ADP 158, 390 plate appearances, .305 average, .360 on-base percentage, 65 runs, 3 home runs, 41 stolen bases

Outfield, by definition, is the deepest category of in fantasy baseball. Yes, it is nice to have guys like Crawford on your team but the 10th pick in a draft may be better spent on taking someone at a position where there is a bigger drop off after the elite players. Joe Mauer (ADP 13) would not be a bad player at the 10th spot because there are not any catchers worth drafting at value after him for about six rounds.

So, what do players A, B and C give at better value than going after Crawford or Ellsbury in the top rounds? All three hit for average, have high stolen base totals (or potential for more) and score enough runs that they will not kill you in that category.

Players A, B and C (in order) are Andrew McCutchen, Nyjer Morgan and Rajai Davis.

If you went for power and production near the top of the draft, sprinkled in some pitchers along the way and took these three players, you should be able to come close to winning the stolen base category and have trade leverage late in the season on any team that lags in that category.

In a value bet, these three are good for your money. They provide multi-category (average, stolen base) bang that can lengthen your roster and put you in the middle to top of several offensive categories. Remember, in fantasy you can win a league without winning a category but having strong performances in almost all categories definitely helps. You can lead by a mile in home runs but you do not get more points for how big your lead is.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

You can help Sports Chutney by visiting Amazon to look for some baseball related books. My favorite, as always, is anything from Baseball Prospectus. Baseball Prospectus 2010 now available.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Joba v. Phil - Back end fantasy value

Editors note -- I have picked up a fantasy baseball writer freelance gig with where this article will eventually appear. I will be cross-posting my fantasy baseball articles between here and RotoInfo for most of the baseball season.

Quick question: what wins championships?

If we are talking the World Series, that would be frontline starting pitching. The Yankees powered their way to ring No. 27 last year on the arms of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettite and Joba Chamberlain last year, getting nominal production from their fifth starter slot in the rotation.

More pertinent question to our goals at RotoInfo: what wins fantasy baseball championships?

There are a plethora of answers to that question, but what it all comes down to is depth. Your team can have Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay and then a bunch of schmucks and easily finish last in the league, frustrating your fellow owners in the process while you stubbornly refuse to trade the best players even though a decent swap might bring some balance to your squad.

This is where skill and knowledge comes into play in your draft – looking for value in the later rounds at the backend of major league rotations.

An overlooked but productive fifth starter can be a godsend to a fantasy baseball squad. In this respect, let’s take a look back at the Yankees rotation heading into 2010.

1 – Sabathia
2 – Burnett
3 – Javier Vazquez
4 –Pettite
5 – Chamberlain or Phil Hughes

Do not castrate me here, Yankee fans. The No. 2 through No. 4 starters can put in a different order but the fact of the matter is that it is Sabathia and everyone else.

What we are looking at here specifically is the Chamberlain/Hughes battle for the fifth spot. Let’s take a look at last year’s numbers.

Chamberlain –
32 appearances (31 starts), 157.1 innings, 9 wins, 6 losses, 4.75 ERA, 1.544 WHIP, 4.82 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), 133 strikeouts, 76 walks, 7.6 K/9 1.75 K/B

51 appearances (7 starts), 86 innings, 8 wins, 3 losses, 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.22 FIP, 96 strikeouts, 28 walks, 10 K/9, 3.43 K/B

There are some striking numbers in each of those lines. Foremost, the Yankees deployment of the “Joba Rules” really hampered Chamberlain last year. It is very rare to see a pitcher with 31 starts with only 157.1 innings pitched. Chamberlain did not even qualify for the ERA title (one inning pitched for each team game played or 162 innings). Chamberlain only pitched in seven games last year where he had 100-plus pitches and had the rest of his appearances in the 76-100 range.

Talk about kid gloves. By the end of the season Chamberlain was a wreck. His velocity was down, his location was off and he was generally ineffective.

On the other hand, the Yankees season turned when Hughes was placed into the setup spot in front of Mariano Rivera in the Yankees bullpen. Hughes only had 37 less strikeouts than Chamberlain in 71.1 innings and posted an ERA+ of 141 compared to Chamberlains 90 (think of 100 as the average).

As Hughes and Chamberlain battle it out for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, keep a few things in mind. First, when Chamberlain was used primarily as a reliever, his core numbers were much better (171 ERA+, 1.256 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 3.03 K/B in 42 appearances with 100.1 innings in 2008). Hughes has not been stretched out (if that is what the Yankees would call their handling of Chamberlain) in the rotation on a full time basis. Who is to say that if Hughes becomes the starter this year and Chamberlain the setup man that there numbers would not be identically reversed from the roles they played in 2009?

Away from numbers, the buzz this spring is that Hughes has looked good and he is working on a changeup to compliment the rest of his repertoire. On the flip side, until Wednesday, there were significant concerns about Chamberlain the loss of velocity on his fastball this spring. Chamberlain then went out and struck out five in four innings while allowing a run against the Phillies on Wednesday to jump back into the picture.

Back to finding fantasy value at the backend of rotations. There are some sleepers out there that will fall in the draft. Look out for the Nationals John Lanaan in the last round or on the waiver wire or someone like Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez who is one of the best pitchers that no one seems to notice. Clay Buchholz is a solid bet in Boston. Good pitchers are never quite as valuable when they are on horrible teams. Keep an on the wire to see who gets the Yankees fifth starter spot and take him at the backend of your draft.

If you really want to cover your bases, take them both. Whoever loses out of the rotation will be Rivera’s primary setup guy and (depending on your league format) setups guys can provide value in the leveraged situations.