ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fantasy Owners: Don't Panic, It Is Only April

Set the barn on fire, slaughter all the livestock, and poison the wells. You are in the midst of being conquered and, for the moment, there is no hope in sight. 

But wait. Is that the sound of a friendly bugle? Are their reinforcements for our weary troops? Has the cavalry arrived to save us from certain destruction?

The answer is no, the cavalry has been here since the beginning.

It is the beginning of the fantasy season and you are sitting on the bottom of your league. You thought you had a good draft but key components are not living up to expectations. Josh Beckett has not turned out to be the ace you thought he was, Manny Ramirez may be showing his age and that sleeper pick who you absolutely knew would be setting the league on fire from the sound of the bell is languishing on the bench or in the minors.

Do not fear, intrepid fantasy owner. Remember the key to all statistical analysis (especially pertinent in baseball) – everything comes back to the mean.

The guy who is leading your league by a mile right now because he (for some reason no one can quite figure out) drafted and started Vernon Wells, Daric Barton and Dallas Braden? Yeah, he is not going to keep that up. 

There is a reason that the core statistics in baseball hardly ever deviate from their averages. Over the long run of the season the sample size becomes so large that the numbers cannot help but stay within similar ranges. Season over season and “average” major leaguer will hit around .265 with a .326 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage. If you have done your due diligence and have taken players who have career averages above those means then there is a good chance that they will eventually perform back to their historical value.

What does this mean? Do not go out and sell Victor Martinez just because he is batting .250 on April 14. It also means that you should look at players like Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen have probably just gotten lucky to already have three wins in the first week and a half.

A closer look at Janssen. He has the league leading three wins, but he also only has three innings pitched with four strikeouts and two walks. On April 8 he came he came in to a game the Jays were losing 1-0, threw a scoreless inning then watched as Toronto scored three runs in the ninth for the win. The next night he allowed a run to the Orioles in the eighth but watched as the Jays scored a couple in the ninth to win 7-6. Two days later he pitched a scoreless seventh against the Orioles and watched his team score three in the eighth and one in the ninth for a 5-2 win.

The lessons here are that Janssen has pretty much been the lucky recipient of some cardiac comebacks by the Blue Jays. Considering the overall lack of talent on the Jays roster, the division they play in and the fact that two of those wins came against the equally hapless Orioles, you get the idea that it is not worth relying on early season indicators as recipes for season long success. Especially when it comes to middle relievers on bad teams.

Janssen is just pertinent example of early season sample size, not a viable fantasy option. There are not many fantasy owners (0.9 percent in all ESPN leagues) who actually own him.

There is a reason that owners in the elite Tout Wars fantasy leagues do not like to trade in the first month of the season. They have crafted, drafted and carved their teams with the hope and knowledge that they believe their players will perform. Why start trading away the Becketts, Martinezes or even Nate McLouths of the world for the (proverbial and literal) Janssens? It is probably not even worth to pick Janssen up on the waiver wire (where you will inevitably find him) because the likelihood that he wins three more games all season is probably quite low. Again: See middle reliever – Toronto Blue Jays.

Conscientious and cerebral owners who have a good pulse on their league can take advantage of the impulse owners who are in an early season panic. There are always bad owners who drafted well by some magic or luck who will be enticed by a trade of big names, say David Ortiz and Eric Chavez for Jason Heyward. If you can find one of those owners in your league, make the deal and do not look back.

Otherwise, it is only April. Remember that everything that rises must converge and exercise your patience.

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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Great review of Horse & Hound Gastropub Beer Dinner

Editors note: This post is copied in its entirety from the blog Edible CVille, authored by a woman named Libby. It is such a fantastic assessment of the Horse and Hound Gastropub that it just had to make its way to Sports Chutney. One, just to get H&H some more pub, two because there has been a lot more sports and not enough chutney here for a good while. Just so you know, my brother-in-law if the Chef Luther mentioned in the piece and he owns the restaurant with my sister Brooke. Enjoy.

Horse and Hound Gastropub.

When Hubby and I lived in Pittsburgh, we used to attend the Sharp Edge Beer Festivalevery June. A beer tent full of over 100 different kinds, from lagers to pilsners, to Belgian ales and beyond. For three blissful hours distributors would offer you tastes of their wares then punch a hole in your "dance card" (the festival card ensuring you had no more than one taste of each beer offered). We'd compare beers and compete to see how many we could quaff in three hours, our cards resembling Swiss cheese by the end. Afterward, we'd stumble into the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium to scarf down pub grub and count the days until next year. Inevitably, we'd start talking with total strangers who'd just come from the festival as well, and end up staying long after closing, debating whether or not Duchess du Bourgogne was a gorgeous red ale, or simply vinegar (I'm a firm believer in the latter for the record, BLEH!)

Ever since we've been trying to recreate the festival experience by attending Cville beer dinners. Of course, you don't get the depth and breadth of beer styles (i.e., drunkenness) you do at a festival, but it's still a great way to sample while enjoying what we hope will be great food. We've had various levels of success with this experiment (I'm looking at you l'étoile), and it was with this in mind that we recently attended the Ommegang beer dinner at Horse and Hound Gastropub.

I'd not yet been to Horse and Hound, but the menu looked interesting, and I loveOmmegang beer. So much in fact for the longest time I thought they were a Belgian company, but no, they create their nectar in Cooperstown, NY of all places - lucky baseball hall of fame tourists!

I don't know what it is, but every time I go to a beer dinner I think it's going to be like a beer FESTIVAL. But it's not. Instead of conversation growing organically under the friendly beer tent, they sit you at this long table full of SOBER strangers, and instantly you feel like you're having dinner with the in-laws for the first time. You better be on your best behavior! Awkward conversation abounds. Inevitably, within 20 minutes I wish Hubby and I were at our own table where we can act like 12-year-olds without repercussion. But no, we stay at the big-people table and get what I imagine to be disapproving looks that only get worse as the night goes on and we get more silly.

This night was no exception. So, I put on my "Chatham face" (the term I used in my old job when I had to go to social functions and be nicey-nice) and do my best to make friends. It was fine. Not a beer festival, but fine.

As at any beer dinner (I talk like I'm an expert when I have been to only TWO) the distributor does his spiel about the roasting of the hops, the loving care taken in the creation of this nectar, the fabulous untouched by human hands spring water sprinkled lightly over the barley like a warm spring rain. Yadda Yadda Yadda. The poor guy. You could tell he adores his job, but this is usually where I tune out and start looking at what food is coming. Hoping for that first pour. Let ME be the judge as to whether the beer is good or not. It's the same when I visit wineries - you can ply me with reams of heritage and lineage and information and awards and medals, but the real story is the taste.

The TASTE of the beer which was superb, but in this case, the real story was in the food as well, and the presentation. Each course arrived quickly, but not too quickly, presented perfectly, and with a short explanation by Chef Luther as to how the dish was prepared. I started to feel a little like Padma Lakshmi, without the plunging cleavage or the attitude. Yes, it was a little "Top Chef" and you know what?.............I LOVED it. It made the dinner special. It made me FEEL special. Hearing the Chef's process, the way he chose the ingredients to complement the beer, then the way the course was prepared, made me excited to eat it. Even the diners around us, stuck with the regular menu of meat, chicken, and sandwiches, looked envious.

They should have been. The food was outstanding. Every course. So it surprised me later when I looked up Horse and Hound's regular menu and found it pretty pedestrian. But Chef Luther can create all these OTHER things, so why sell steak and sandwiches? Does the other not sell? I got the impression the regular menu was Chef Luther's 9-5 daily grind, and the beer dinner was his time to "play".

And play he did. What I love about his menu is not only were the offerings paired perfectly with the beer, but he USED the paired beer in each course. So simple. So genius. I will always remember March 4, 2010, as the day I first tasted Flemish Carbonnade. A hearty beef stew which is the Belgian national dish. Slow braised beef - and I mean slow. Chef Luther told us it took him THREE DAYS to prepare this dish in its entirety. Braised in the Ommegang 2009 Ale(of which we were told only 3 casks remain) with vegetables, prunes, and spices until everything is just falling apart the minute you touch it. I SWOONED on first taste. It was bliss. I may have gushed ever so slightly as I left the restaurant, shaking Chef Luther's hand, thanking him, lingering just a little longer than I should. In my heart I wanted to kiss his feet but restrained myself. It was a beer DINNER after all and not a beer festival.

The next beer dinner is April 22, 2010. The menu is here. I suggest you go. No, it's not a festival - there will be some awkward conversation. You will have to listen to some distributor wax poetic about how his ales can cure the common cold. But I can almost guaran-damn-tee you there will be great food. Oh, and good beer too. Now, where can I buy an "I heart Chef Luther" tee shirt?

Horse and Hound Gastropub / Ommegang Beer Dinner
March 4, 2010

First Course - Prince Edward Island Mussels
Steamed in Hennepin, red coconut curry cream
Hennepin Farmhouse Saison

Second Course - Zucchini, Corn, Herb, Conch & Crawdad Fritters
Horseradish-orange marmalade
Rare Vos Amber Ale

Third Course - Duck, Lamb, Beef & Irish Banger Cassoulet
Ommegang Abbey Ale

Fourth Course - Flemish Carbonnade
Slow-braised in "Obamagang" ale, smashed red bliss potatoes, roasted vegetables
2009 Ale "Obamagang"

Fifth Course - Chocolate Cherry Profiteroles
Three Philosophers Quadrupel

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Buyer Beware: The Verducci Effect

Injuries are the great equalizer in fantasy baseball.

Predicting them is difficult, though not impossible. Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus is a foremost expert on injuries and does a fair job each year of identifying players who have higher or lower risk (and designating them with flags – red, yellow, green etc.) and there are other databases created by the sabermetric community that are very useful when trying to predict whether a player will break down over the course of the year or not.

When it comes to young pitchers, injuries and performance, the general rule over the past few years has been to watch out for the Year After Effect. Better known as the Verducci Effect, named after Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci , the rule is defined “as any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings log by more than 30 in a year in which he pitched in the big leagues” by Verducci in his Feb. 16 article on

The idea is that pitchers under 25 should be allowed to gradually develop at the major league level. If a pitcher goes 30 innings or more above his previous career high, he is at risk for the Verducci Effect.

The poster boy in recent memory for this has to be Cole Hamels. In leading the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008 he ended up pitching 253.1 innings between the regular season and playoffs. That was 63.1 innings more than he pitched combined in 2007 and it comes as no surprise that he struggled in 2009 with 193.2 regular season innings and another 19 in the postseason.

Hamels went 14-10 in ’08 with a 3.09 ERA, 142 ERA + and a league leading 1.082 WHIP. In 2009 he went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA, 98 ERA + and 1.286 WHIP. Going by the ERA + numbers (where 100 is average), that is a 44 percent decrease in performance from year to year.

To be fair, there are pitchers who escape the Verducci Effect. Jon Lester pitched 237 innings in ’08 (with postseason) and, after some early struggles, was a dominant pitcher for the Red Sox in ’09 and has a lot of analysts picking him as a top Cy Young contender this year.

What to expect this year? I did some research and found a plethora of young pitchers who could be at risk for the Verducci Effect this year. Some of the names on my list match Verducci’s own (he has made predictions on 10 pitchers at and a couple of them are no-brainers.

The first place to look is at three particular organizations known for riding young pitchers – Los Angeles, Detroit and Atlanta.

All three franchises have been playing with fire, to a certain extent, year after year with young pitchers. The Dodgers Chad Billingsley threw 147 innings in ’07 and then a combined 212.1 in ’08. Billingsley was 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA in ’08 then 12-11 with a 4.03 ERA in ’09.

This year Joe Torre has another pitcher with red flags in the form of 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw. In ’08, at age 20, he pitched 107.2 big league innings and then threw 184.1 a year later. Will his performance continue to climb in ’10 or will he find himself on the disabled list or generally ineffective this summer?

Then there is Detroit, a team that has pushed young arms like Justin Verlander, Jair Jurjenns and Armando Galarraga hard in their young careers. They did it again in ’09 with 20-year-old Rick Porcello who threw 170.2 innings last year, about 45 more than his previous minor league high. Porcello was also asked to throw a lot of high effort innings as the Tigers imploded down the stretch last year to miss the postseason.

The Braves pushed Tommy Hanson last year, mostly because he was a stud for them straight out of the gate. Between the minors and his time with the big club, he pitched 183.2 innings, 45.2 more than his previous minor league high. The Braves rode another young pitcher (oddly enough acquired from the Tigers organization) in Jurrjens who hit a career high 188.1 innings in ’08 after not pitching more than 142.1 in a season before that. Jurjenns had 215 innings last year and it should come as no surprise that he is dealing with some arm issues this spring.

Who else to keep a close eye on this year? Look out for Florida’s Josh Johnson (+ 52), Oakland’s Trevor Cahill (+ 54.1) and Brett Anderson (+ 55.1), Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez (+31.1 with postseason) and Max Scherzer (+ 42). Especially look out for Scherzer since he was traded to the Tigers in the offseason and it is a team desperate to make the playoffs and will push its pitchers as far as they will go.

This year’s poster boy for the Verducci Effect will probably end up being Homer Bailey, who only had 203 combined major/minor league innings last year that were 55.1 more than his career high. As Verducci points out, there was no reason for Bailey to throw that many innings last year, especially for a team that looks to be a dark horse coming into 2010.

The best way to prevent injuries from ruining your fantasy season is to keep an eye on the news wire, which is exactly the thing we do here at RotoInfo. Stay ahead of the game and make roster moves as soon as you are sure that you will lose one of your contributors for an extended period of time.

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.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fantasy Value and Pitfalls of Stephen Strasburg

Jason Heyward may be the next uber-prospect to break into the batter’s box, but when it comes to the crème de la crème of hyped prospects is definitely Stephen Strasburg.

Young pitchers are much harder to project than young hitters. Basically the way it works is that when an especially young hitter proves that he can hit, he will not lose that talent barring significant injury. Think Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds and maybe even Justin Upton.

Hyped young pitchers are different. For every Rogers Clemens, there is a Ben Macdonald. For every Felix Hernandez there is an equivalent Rick Ankiel.

Every player named thus far has had the same things in common – they were known as elite, once in a generation prospects and broke into the majors by their early 20s. Strasburg turns 22 on July 20th and figures to have been in the majors for at least a month by then. The plan for the rookie pitcher for now is to send him to Double A Harrisburg to let him get acclimatized to professional baseball for a little while before bringing him up to The Show to turn him loose.

A couple of questions arise: how soon is too soon to bring up Strasburg? How well will his stuff play in the majors coming more or less straight out of college? Can the young man handle the pressure?

For our purposes, the pertinent question becomes: what kind of fantasy impact can we expect from Straburg this season?

History gives us some clues.

Here are three pitchers who were high draft picks with elite expectations with time spent in the minors and performance in the first year they were called up.

Player A – Minors time: 15 games, 74.2 innings
First season: 21 games (15 starts), 118.2 innings, 8 wins, 5 losses, 2.43 ERA, 159 ERA +, 1.037 WHIP, 4.9 K/9, 1.86 K/BB

Player B – Minors time: 55 games, 278.1 innings
First season: 26 games started, 166.2 innings, 13 wins, 6 losses, 3.40 ERA, 129 ERA +, 1.212 WHIP, 12.6 K/9, 2.74 K/BB

Player C – Minors time: 9 games, 51 innings
First season: 19 games started, 116.2 innings, 6 wins, 6 losses, 3.32 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.166 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 3.387 K/BB

Player A and Player C were considered the best pitching prospects in memory in their respective drafts. Neither pitched badly in their first seasons and, especially in the case of Player C, showed great promise with his periphery numbers. Both players spent very little times in the minors and were with their big league teams in their first full year as professionals.

Player B was a little bit different as he spent parts of a few seasons in the minors before coming up in 1998 and blowing the doors off the league. He would team with Player C to make a very formidable rotation punch in the very memorable 2003 National League Championship series.

Got it yet?

Player A is Ben Macdonald, the first pick overall in the 1989 draft. Player B is Kerry Wood (4th overall, 1995) which would, of course, make Mark Prior (2nd overall – 2001).

Let us start with Macdonald. He was considered to be one of the best arms in a generation when he was drafted and he ended up having serviceable, though no where near sterling, numbers as a pro. His lifetime line of 78 wins, 70 losses, 3.91 ERA, 115 ERA + and 6.02 K/9 makes him slightly above average and he never really registered the “break out” superstar season that should be expected from a No. 1 overall.

Maybe Macdonald was overvalued in the first place but fantasy leaguers had a fair argument for picking him up in his first few seasons on hype and potential alone, if only to be marginally disappointed later.

Wood and Prior are different stories and, for our purposes, much closer to Strasburg than Macdonald. Wood may have benefited over Prior in the long term for his slower ascent through the minors (Wood is still pitching in the big leagues whereas Prior’s flame has pretty much been extinguished). In Wood’s first season he put up an astonishing number of strikeouts (233) and led the league in hits against (6.3/9) which, if he walked less batters, who have led to one of the most dominant seasons in history.

Wood was a must-have when he came up and probably only the most ardent of stat heads and minor league followers (or Cubs fans) had him on their fantasy roster for his 20 strikeout performance on May 6, 2008.

Prior was similar in that regard. He did not have quite the gaudy overall numbers that Wood did but his 11.3 K/9 and 3.87 K/BB were impressive and added up to a 1.16 WHIP, enough below league average to be serviceable. He did not add many wins and his overall accomplishments were marginalized in terms of fantasy value as he only had 116.2 innings. That makes him better than any reliever you could pick up but still on the fringe of quality fantasy depth.

So, what does this all mean for you, me, Strasburg and our fantasy leagues? Don’t get too excited. He could come out of the gate like Wood (or Dwight Gooden or Roger Clemens) and be a firecracker and have instant fantasy value. Or, he could go the Prior route and be good but only fringe worthy because of innings limitations, which fantasy owners always like to maximize.

From what we have seen from Strasburg this spring, he will probably be with the Nationals by June, at the very latest. Keep an eye on his progress because you would not want to miss picking him off the waiver wire (as long as somebody does not already have him stashed away) for a few quality starts before the All Star break.

Or he could be Macdonald.

In which case we will hear The Beltway cry in their cups for years to come.

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.

And to my left ...

A very tall building which I should know the name of but cannot quite remember. Oh well.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Yes, it's an ice cream cone

Can you tell I am wondering around Boston on this fine spring day yet? Not really a tourist but having mild fun nonetheless. Blackberry Bold once again serving me well as a reporter's tool.

Currently we are in Copley Plaza on the stoop of Trinity Church.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Playing with the iPad

Found the latest from the Wheel of Time in iBooks. Boston Apple Store.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Spring Time in Boston ... Again

Same tree from last year's post ... new picture.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T