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Monday, May 31, 2010

Fantasy Baseball -- Market Efficiency Royalties

Editors Note: This column can be found at in the near future.

At this point in the fantasy baseball season it may be hard to take advantage of most market efficiencies in certain statistical categories. A lot of owners are either jumping on trending players quick or jumping at any ghost of a player that goes on a hot streak just to try and gain some momentum and get back into the league race.

One thing popped out at me this weekend though while watching Kansas City and Boston split a four-game series – the Royals’ batters have some decent batting averages.

Before running into the Clay Buchholz/Jon Lester buzz saw in the final two games of the series and watching the its team average drop from .280 to .278, Kansas City was leading the majors in batting average (the Yankees jumped them at .282 entering Memorial Day). The Royals have a plethora of contact hitters led by Billy Butler who has a .348 batting average and is emerging as a great second-tier first base option and a force in the mid-West.

But there is more to the Kansas City batting spree than Butler. Alberto Callaspo is hitting .287, David DeJesus .286, Scott Posednik .296, Yuniesky Betancourt .281 and Jason Kendall .286, all of which are not misnomers based on number of plate appearances accumulated thus far. Add to that Mitch Maier at .272 and Mike Aviles at .327 (in three-quarters at-bats, granted) and there are things to like about these hitters and their sky-blue uniforms.

This is where the market efficiency comes into play. The Royals, by definition of being, well, the Royals, tend to only get serious fantasy consideration when there are players like Butler or Zack Greinke playing like their heads are on fire (or for that next contract that will get them out of western Missouri). Except for Butler, the rest of the Royals are a flawed team and it is actually hard to call them a terrific offense. They have a cumulative .338 on-base percentage (eighth in the majors) and are just about average in slugging percentage at .412 (12th in the majors). That adds up to 224 runs thus far, 17th in the majors. Those are not numbers that create the type of fantasy buzz around a group of hitters that make them much sought after commodities.

Which is a good thing for you, especially if you need to pick up some points in the batting average category.

The specific players to keep and eye on and go after if they are on the free agent junk pile in shallow to middling leagues are Aviles, DeJesus, Podsednik and Callaspo. Aviles is getting a lot of time at second base recently and hit .330 in 100 plate appearances in May after missing most of April. He had a respectable 17 runs to show for it, so he will not kill you in that department either. He is definitely a player to look at if you are a Dustin Pedroia or Chase Utley owner and are frustrated by their extended slumps that show little signs of turning around any time soon. Granted, Pedroia and Utley are basically the two best second basemen in the majors, but giving your fantasy roster a little breather to test Aviles out for a week and let the two All-Stars get back on track may be a worthwhile short term investment. You can always stash Aviles on your bench in the meantime as insurance.

DeJesus has been a solid fantasy contributor since 2005 and his career slash line of .286/.358/.426 has is right in line with his 2010 line of .286/.369/.444. He is not a first tier outfielder but he does sneak into the bottom of the second tier and would be a good pickup in a trade that included a couple other pieces. He will probably score another 40 to 60 runs this year that would definitely be decent production on your roster.

Callaspo is nowhere near being your everyday starting third baseman but he offers decent power to go along with his batting average to make him worthwhile. He has seven homeruns already this year with a .480 slugging percentage and looks at least double his career high of 11 homeruns from last year. Callaspo would be more or less a straight batting average pick up because his ISO (Isolated Power Rating, slugging percentage minus on-base percentage) of .191 is well above his career average of .131, promising a regression closer to his career mean later in the season. He is also versatile and, depending on your league, he may be available at third, shortstop and second base depending upon league availability formats. Players that can fill in across the lineup are always valued on fantasy rosters (with Ben Zobrist being the gold standard in that venue).

Podsednik is a little bit of a blast from fantasy baseball past. He was a must-have from 2004-06 with the Brewers and White Sox in terms of stolen bases, average and runs scored before falling off in 2007-08 before bouncing back to be viable last year. He continues his reemergence in the fantasy realm this year with 16 stolen bases thus far to go along with his near .300 hitting. You could do a lot worse than target him in a trade, especially if you are falling too far behind in the stolen base category.

Kendall has been, and will always be, a lower end fantasy catcher. The problem with Kendall, and yes, this is a bit oxymoronic, is that he plays too much. In reality, he is a great catcher to have on a major league roster. He plays hard, hates to sit and always has a decent batting average. He averages 134 games a year, great for a catcher and his career .290 batting average is nothing to sneeze at. Then again, he also average three homeruns a year with 58 RBI, so yes, there are better options behind the plate. Kendall always seems like the catcher that is readily available either on the waiver wire or via trade for teams that have missed out on the top-tier fantasy catchers and end up more or less wasting that roster spot with the hopes that guys like Dioner Navarro will somehow decide it is 2008 all over again.

Then there is Betancourt. Under no circumstances would I ever endorse Betancourt who is considered by many to be one of the very worst players in the majors. While a lot of the Royals offer some value in multiple categories, Betancourt is good for his average with a .275 career mark but that is about it. Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore, noted for his lack of sabermetric acumen, likes players like Betancourt because they have good batting averages even if they have historically bad on-base percentages (Betancourt’s career on-base mark is laughably horrific). If you are looking at any of the Royals, better just to stop if Betancourt’s name is mentioned.

Overall though, Kansas City as a group has distinct skills that can provide at least some temporary benefit to your fantasy roster. Being that that they are the Royals, you might be able to pick them up on the cheap as well. As the calendar turns to June, that is not something to be overlooked, even if everybody else does.

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, May 29, 2010

Daisuke Matsuzaka against pitch f/x

There is just no rhyme or reason to it.

For the last several hours I have been cross-checking Daisuke Matsuzka's pitch f/x data (from Brooks Baseball) with choice games on between 2008 and 2010 looking for some pattern I could exploit and say "there it is! That is the reason he is so inconsistent!"

Really though, this may be a futile effort.

In terms of pitch f/x data, I have tried to pinpoint batter results by pitch release point, balls and strikes by release point, batter results and balls and strikes by strike zone plot against both right and left handers. The list goes on. There are a couple things that I will point out below but let me give you a little context first.

I was triggered to try and break down Matsuzaka once and for all after his last two starts have resulted in one of the oddest splits you will ever see in a pitcher. On May 22 against the Phillies in Philadelphia, Matsuzaka took a no-hitter into the eighth and finished the game with eight innings pitched, one hit, four waks and five strikeouts. His Bill James game score was a terrific 81, ranking the third highest of his career.

On Thursday, when everybody thought that Matsuzaka may have finally turned a corner. Then he comes out against the Royals (a team that has the highest batting average in the American League but has a very mediocre on-base percentage meaning they do not walk much) he goes 4.2 innings with one strikeout, three earned runs and eight walks. His game score for that clunker was 41 (which, considering the eight walks, was not that bad).

In both outings he threw 112 pitches, which makes the contextual difference between the outings more striking. Against the Phillies, Matsuzaka threw 73 strikes against 39 balls. Against the Royals it was 60 strikes to 52 balls.

Let's take a look at the strike zone plot from the Royals game by left and right handed batters, respectively. Note: Pitch f/x data is from the catcher's perspective.

What pops out with these strike zone plots are just exactly where the balls occur. If there is one thing consistent about Matsuzaka is that, for the majority of the time, he tries to pitch away from hitters and his balls tend to be focused in two zones. He is either missing high on the right side of the plate or low on the left side. Note how the plots tend to flow away from the hitter as Matsuzaka misses to lefties a lot high and outside and the chart stretches in that direction while he misses low and away to righties with the plot stretching the opposite in correlation.

What does this tell you? As a right-handed pitcher it means that his delivery is flying open on the right side of the plate and he is pushing the ball too far to the left side. This also has a lot to do with his release point. As Matsuzaka either lets his shoulder fly open too early or rotates too far, it is nearly impossible to fin a consistent release point for his pitches. Too many moving parts and the gears just fall off the machine.

Matsuzaka's release point against the Royals:

It is hard to put this in context except to note that the size of the overall cluster represents a large range of release points. Also note the fringes of green (balls) on the top left and lower right of the cluster, representing where he has either flown open too early or released too late. For a matter of comparison, here is the release point for Roy Halladay on April 11 of this year in a complete game shutout against the Astros with eight strikeouts, seven hits and no walks. Halladay is a good comparison to Matsuzaka because in terms of consistency of delivery, he is a machine.

Without breaking it down too far, it is easy to see that Halladay keeps his release point range smaller than does Matsuzaka, with a couple of fringe outliers drawing the cluster out. 

So, whereas the scatter plots against the Royals were drawn out, Matsuzaka was much better within the strike zone against the Phillies, especially considering that Philadelphia is a team with a four dangerous left-handed or switch hitters (five when Jimmy Rollins is healthy, which he was not) in their everyday lineup. Matsuzaka was successful against the Phillies because he lived on the outer edge of the strike zone without deviating too far away from the plate, especially against left-handers.

Matsuzaka was good in the outside of the zone and keep the ball down without opening up too far. The overall strike plot for the game shows that he did tend to miss overall down and away to right-handers. His release point against the Phillies was also tighter though the difference was noticeable from where he was releasing the ball against the Royals verse where it was against Philadelphia.

You can see how the plot does is a little more center focused and does not have the rounded edge on the bottom left part of the cluster the way it does against the Royals. He still released late on balls to the lower left side of the zone, stretching the cluster out to the right but overall it was more consistent against the Phillies than Kansas City. 

In each game Matsuzaka's primary pitch was his four-seam fastball. Against the Royals he threw 62 four-seamers and hit the strike zone with 32 of them (51.61 percent). A fair amount of those fastballs that missed were the ones that were placed high and on the outside of the plate. He did not throw any other pitch more than 16 (that being his slider, with nine strikes and then his two-seam fastball 15 times with eight strikes). Against Philadelphia his four-seamer was much more effective and he threw it a third less of the time with 41 pitches with a 63.41 strike percentage. His two-seamer was also on display that night with 29 pitches and 18 strikes.

Matsuzaka is more effective when he can establish the four-seamer and mix it with the two-seamer to give hitters two different looks at basically the same speed (92.93 MPH average with the four-seamer, 92.96 with the two-seamer). He needs to establish his four-seam fastball first though before throwing the two-seamer which sets up his slider and curve, which were extremely effective against Philadelphia with a combined 21 strikes on 30 pitches. Against the Royals he threw the curve ball 12 less times (19 to seven) and had 13 strikes on 23 sliders/curves.

The conclusion with Matsuzaka is that the only thing consistent with him is his inconsistency. As my former colleague Alex Speier at pointed out the other day, it is absolutely befuddling. From sore neck, back, shoulder to the difference of Japanese baseballs to American baseballs or hotel room beds. At this point, the difference in baseballs should not be a problem, especially from one start to the next. Matsuzaka did say that he had some "lower-body soreness" against the Royals and that could explain why he was flying open early. Really though, "lower-body soreness?" What is this, freaking hockey?

It seems that the one thing that Matsuzaka needs to do from here on out to climb back to the upper-echelon of pitchers is to stop worrying about his stuff, get out of his own head and pound the strike zone with his two effective fastballs, adding in his change-up the secondary pitches for balance.

Bottom line, Matsuzaka is not short on talent. He just needs to get out of his own way.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fire Brand -- The Intangible Benefit of Dustin Pedroia

Editors note: This post can also be found on ESPN's Sweet Spot baseball blog network Fire Brand of the American League where Dan Rowinski is a weekly columnist.

Everybody knows about "The Laser Show." Dustin Pedroia is the working man of working men on the Sox roster (next to Kevin Youkilis, of course) and the straw that stirs the proverbial cocktail. Pedroia seems more like a whiskey type of guy to me, not that it matters.

Yet, the Sox former Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year is not having the best of starts to the 2010 season. It has been a poor May for the Sox second baseman with a .237/.343/.376 in 23 games entering Wednesday with two home runs and seven RBI in 108 plate appearances. Definitely not the greatest month of Pedey's boisterous career but, as is often the case, the base numbers do not tell the whole story.

The Sox lineup, as always, is a meat grinder. They have four players in the top 20 in the American League in pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) and Pedroia ranks seventh at 4.27 (behind Youkilis who is fourth at 4.36) through 217 plate appearances (Victor Martinez is 11th at 4.12, J.D. Drew 13th at 4.11 while Marco Scutaro is 33rd at 3.92). Pedroia is also second in the league in total plate appearances at 217, behind only Denard Span of the Twins at 218, and leads the league in total pitches seen. Factoring in the entire majors, Youkilis ranks ninth and Pedroia 19th in P/PA.

Sitting in the No. 2 hole in the Sox lineup, Pedroia pesky plate appearances have a ripple down effect. Take for instance last Thursday when Boston beat Minnesota 6-2 on the strength of Jon Lester's nine-strikeout complete game. Pedroia was 0-3 with a walk and a run against the Twins and Francisco Liriano and was instrumental in knocking Minnesota's wily lefty out of the game after 4.2 innings with five earned runs on five hits and three walks. Pedroia was in the midst of a 4 for 39 slump at the time that spanned from May 12 to 23 before putting up three hits against the Rays on Monday.

There were good things to see from Pedroia that night. In his first three plate appearances against Liriano he saw 21 pitches, working the lefty to into a frustration that Martinez and Youkilis would capitalize on. In his first at-bat, Pedroia saw four pitches and popped out to shortstop in the first. Nothing out of the ordinary there but the second baseman saw eight pitches and drew a walk (and scored on a Youkilis three-run homer) in the third and then nine pitches on a fly out to right-center in the fifth. His final at bat was a four-pitch fly out to right against Jesse Crain.

After Pedroia's final three at-bats against the Twins the next hitter up, Martinez, hit a double. Coincidence? Perhaps but Liriano served up meatballs to Martinez after throwing 17 pitches to Pedroia between his second and third at-bats and Martinez was able to put some wood on the ball in early counts on his way to a three double night.

"We made him work and it is a lot easier when you get one swing of the bat and get a three-run homer. Youk put a really good swing and what maybe was overlooked going into that was Pedey had a great at bat so we had some base runners. Youk takes a great swing and drives it and it spreads it out a little bit," manager Terry Francona said in his press conference after the game (I was covering it for that particular day).

That is the value of Pedroia. Never stops working, never gives up and at bat and sets the tone at the top of the order.

On Wednesday against the Rays, Pedroia's talents were once again on full display. Twice he worked a walk on Tampa starter Matt Garza and scored on home runs by Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz as the Sox went up 6-2 in the middle innings. The first at-bat against Garza in the third inning Pedroia went down in the count 1-2 and then drew three straight balls to work a six-pitch walk. Ortiz grounded out into the right field shift next but Pedroia knew that nobody was covering third on the play and hustled around the diamond to beat the throw and keep the inning alive with a runner in scoring position.

Youkilis then drew a walk and Beltre hit his second home run of the game that made it 4-2. Then in the fifth Pedroia drew another six-pitch walk against Garza and then scored immediately as Ortiz put the ball in the right field bleachers.

Reports of the Red Sox offensive demise before the season have turned out to be exaggerated and in retrospect they look quite foolish. Any team that sees a lot of pitches is going to have a degree of success because it means that lineup is dotted with quality hitters. The track records of guys like Drew, Pedroia, Youkilis and Scutaro were evidence that the Boston offense was going to be just fine and heading into Memorial Day, that is definitely the case.

Fantasy Baseball: Catch These Rays

Flipping through some league stats the other day and one thing popped out to me – the Rays are leading the American League in ERA … by a full run. Surely, I thought, the Rays are good, but are they that good?

So, I dove into the numbers. As of Wednesday the Rays team ERA was 2.92. The next closest team was the Mariners at 3.72. So, not a full run, but close enough for even casual baseballs observers to sputter on their beers.

How are the Rays so good? More importantly for this space, how can they help your fantasy baseball team?

Really, it all comes down to the starters. David Price, Jeff Niemann, James Shields and Matt Garza all have ERAs under 3.00 and rookie Wade Davis is not far behind them in the maturation process at 4.01.  They are all young and healthy with Shields the leader at age 28 that, coincidentally, is smack in the middle of “peak years” for starting pitchers (between the ages of 27 to 31, more or less).

The staff as a whole holds opposing hitters to a .227 batting average, .291 on-base percentage and .362 slugging percentage. Consider that league averages tend to be .264/.325/.414, then it goes to show how impressive the Rays staff has been. The peripheries statistics back up what the staff is doing as well with 7.6 hits per nine innings, 2.9 walks per nine, 7.3 strikeouts per nine a 2.5 strikeouts per walk.

The leader in the clubhouse is probably Shields but the maturation of former No. 1 overall pick Price makes him the undoubted leader on the field (and in your fantasy league) through the first two months of the season. A 7-1 record with 2.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 46 strikeouts through 59.2 innings pitched tends speaks for itself. That correlates to 6.9 strikeouts per nine, a touch lower than his career average of 7.1, 2.00 strikeouts per walk and an ERA+ of 176 (whereas an average major league pitcher would be 100). Price has done improved incrementally from his relatively disappointing 2009 by throwing more strikes (65 percent ahead of 63 percent in 2009) and doing it early (62 percent first pitch strikes, four percentage points over last season). His secondary pitches have improved and hence hitters have been swinging less and striking out looking more. The only thing that might be concerning about Price is that his batting average against on ball in play (BABIP) is .243, which is a little more than have the league average year-to-year of .300 meaning he may have found some luck in the early going but overall his stuff is good enough that even if it does rise into the .290-.300 range, he should still be able to keep wracking up the numbers. With an average draft position of 164 in ESPN leagues, Price has been a steal for a lot of fantasy owners this season.

Price, like the rest of the Rays pitchers, benefits from a strong Tampa Bay offense that averages 5.3 runs scored per games started, above the league average of 4.6.  With a run-differential of +95 though, any of the Rays pitchers should be a good bet to give you wins in your league.

Following Price would probably be Garza with a 5-2 record, 2.41 ERA and ridiculously low 1.082 WHIP through 64.2 innings pitched. His peripheries are better than Price’s too at 7.5 K/9 and 2.70 K/BB and 2.8 BB/9. His walk rate is .7 below that of Price that leads to his low WHIP. Add it all up and Garza leads the team with an ERA+ of 176.

Shields is similar to Garza but not quite as spectacular. The Rays rely on him to be the steadying influence and primary innings eater and he leads the team in innings pitched this year at 69.1 after Tuesday’s start where he was the hard-luck loser to Jon Lester and the Red Sox as the Rays were one-hit by Boston in a 2-0 loss. Shields took the loss, bringing his record to 5-2 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.226 WHIP and a 146 ERA+. Shields’s BABIP is high and the folks at Baseball Info Solutions that put out The Fielding Bible have put together a metric that says Shields has been among one of the unluckiest pitchers in the majors thus far this year (whereas Price has actually been the third luckiest).

The backend of the rotation between Niemann and Davis is decent but Davis, like Price before him, has been having some rookie-like outings in his first season and Niemann has been the beneficiary of some luck himself through the first part of the season. Niemann’s era of 2.54 will not stay that low as his BABIP is low at 2.44 and his “strand rate” (runners allowed left on base at the end of an inning) of 84.5 percent is 13.5 points above the league average of 71 percent. Both of those numbers will go back towards the league average and Niemann’s ERA (and ERA+ of 167) will rise back to the 3.80 range or so by the end of the year. But, with a career average of 2.12 K/BB and the Rays putting up runs behind him he should remain to be a viable fantasy starter but with an own-rate of 90.7 percent in ESPN fantasy leagues, he may be available on the waiver wire in shallower leagues and his WHIP of 1.09 and 4-0 record should look attractive to teams in need of stability on their pitching staff. Also, like Price, his average draft position of 260 makes him a great value for those prescient enough to pick him at towards the end of the draft.

Davis is one to keep and eye on. As of yet he is not a great fantasy option except in deep mixed leagues or in head-to-head leagues when he is a two-start pitcher. He is just 4-4 (which gives him three more wins than Zack Greinke, but that won’t last long) with the aforementioned 4.01 ERA and a 1.480 WHIP translating into a 106 ERA+, making him slightly above average. Yet, when times get tough in the dogs days of fantasy baseball summers, an average major league pitcher on the best team in the league starts to look like a great option. Davis has the talent to go on a streak and will definitely be available in most leagues as a free agent pickup.

Overall, you cannot really go wrong with any of the Rays starting five. None of them were the most sought-after pitchers in drafts this spring but putting together a couple of them (for instance, trading for Shields and Garza if you already own Price) should be able to carry your team to contention come September.

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.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: The Stud Call-Up Season Is Here

It is my favorite time of the fantasy baseball year and where my usually title contending teams separate from the pack if I hit on the right player.

It is rookie stud call-up season.

Now, you might be thinking that September is really call-up season. While that is the 40-man roster expansion date and picking up some rookies then can help your team down the stretch, usually by September you are pretty entrenched into you position in your fantasy league and that little extra boost will do nothing for 95 percent of fantasy owners. Also, the difference in the late-May, early-June call-up season and September is that the guys coming up earlier in the year are the studs who were sent down at the end of Spring Training either for a little extra seasoning or two set their arbitration clocks back and keep them from becoming Super Two category players. The players coming for September are on either end of the spectrum – the older veteran free agent waived in mid-August or the too-young-to-be-MLB-ready youngster ending minor league years but played well enough for a cup of coffee.

For instance, when Dustin Pedroia got his initial call-up in September of 2006 for a Red Sox team that had fallen out of contention. He got 98 plate appearances and had a .191 batting average, .258 on-base percentage and .303 slugging with two home runs, seven RBI and no stolen bases. The next two years, “Laser Show” Pedroia was the Rookie of the Year and the American League Most Valuable Player. It was much better to pick him up in late May of 2007 when he got hot (and has pretty much stayed hot) as opposed to grabbing him the previous September when there was hype about the Sox bringing up a solid second round second baseman.

So, depending on the service time of the player, this is the time of year that they are being brought up. My guess is that a fair amount of you reading this either already have Stephen Strasburg stowed away or someone on your league does, so I will avoid the obvious. Yet, 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for young talent outside Strasburg and Jason Heyward and picking these guys up or keeping them on your radar could be the difference from fighting for position come September or watching as the big boys battle it out while you are trying to figure out who the backup running back to Darren McFadden will be.

There are some imminent arrivals on the horizon:

Outfielders –
Mike Stanton – Florida
Jose Tabata – Pittsburgh
Desmond Jennings – Tampa Bay
Michael Taylor – Oakland

Third Base –
Pedro Alvarez – Pittsburgh
Josh Bell – Baltimore

Catchers –
Buster Posey – San Francisco
Carlos Santana – Cleveland
Tyler Flowers – White Sox

Pitchers –
Kyle Drabeck – Toronto
Chris Tillman – Baltimore
Jake Arrieta – Baltimore
Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa Bay
Tanner Scheppers – Texas

Note: These are all players who are still in the minors but should find space on their major league rosters sometime within the next month-and-a-half. There are a couple other players in this rookie group that deserve some attention as well such as Drew Storen who has the potential to close for the Nationals, Starlin Castro at shortstop for the Cubs. It is also worth it to take major looks at Mike Leake of the Reds and Wade Davis of the Rays as starting pitchers who began the year with their big league clubs and are having strong starts to their seasons.

But, back to the potential call-ups. The biggest names on that short list there are Posey, Stanton, Drabeck and maybe Tillman. Few scouts have doubts that these players will sooner than later be impact major leaguers and all but Tillman should get regular time once they get the call (the Orioles bullpen is so woeful that Tillman and Arrieta are probably headed there before getting thrown to the Camden Yards fire).

The reason that Stanton, Drabeck and Posey will be immediate starters (probably on your fantasy team as well) is because their parent teams have glaring weaknesses at their positions. The Giants cannot hit a lick and Posey lengthens their lineup well while probably kicking Aubrey Huff out of the lineup or to the outfield. The Marlins have atrocious numbers from their corner outfielders (looking at you, again, Cameron Maybin) and Toronto needs pitching to go with a surprisingly strong offense.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those players. Stanton was a second round pick by the Marlins in 2007 and is 21 in November. A lot of player development professionals want to see young hitters play well in the minors for about 1500 plate appearances and as of Saturday Stanton had 1338 from rookie league to double-A Jackonsonville in 310 games. This year through 39 games he has 17 home runs and 43 RBI with a .313/.446/.741 line, exceptional in everyway after struggling initially with Jacksonville in a mid-season promotion in 2009. Given that little bit of history, the Marlins might like to see how Stanton does at triple-A New Orleans but at this point the clock is set to “when” not “if” for this season.

Posey has already got the call-up to the Giants and has 40 innings behind the plate under his belt with 17 plate appearances. With a -38 OPS+ rating, he has not done much yet but there is a good chance he will find his groove this year and be a semi-productive catcher at one of the weakest positions in all of fantasy baseball. He had 723 plate appearances in his minor league career with a .328/.423/.534 line and in 41 games at triple-A Fresno this year had 181 plate appearances with a .333/.431/520 line with five home runs and 28 RBI. That is a major-league ready catcher if there has ever been one and it is worth keeping a close eye on him when his bat catches up to big league pitching.

Drabeck probably will not set the league on fire but has the potential to be a stabilizer. This year in double-A New Hampshire he is 5-4 with 48 strikeouts, 3.59 ERA and 1.424 WHIP in nine games started and 52.2 innings pitched. Those are not particularly great numbers, especially considering his peripheries of 4.1 walks per nine innings, and 2.00 strikes per walk but his 8.7 strikeout per nine innings is promising and should not fall below 7.00 or so when he comes to the majors. If he can cut down on his wildness, especially in the big leagues, it is not out of reason to assume that he can stay around his minor league levels of 3.68 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts per nine with a much more respectable 1.286 WHIP.

Perhaps Tillman or Scheppers are more to your liking on the pitching front or you are higher on Jennings than Stanton. The point is that these are potential impact players in reality that means they could definitely be difference makers on your fantasy roster very soon. Keep an eye out on the transaction wire in the next month so you can be the first to lock them down when the time comes.

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, May 11, 2010

The Perfect Game Mirage: Dallas Braden

A lot of mid-season fantasy baseball is about chasing mirages. You think you see something in a young, unheralded prospect who has had a good week getting time filling in for a veteran and you go pick him up off the waiver wire only to have him bat .178 for the next three weeks and get designated for assignment.

Or maybe you see a seldom used veteran get a chance to start and put up some decent numbers. Marco Scutaro was a late bloomer. So was Denard Span. Then you have also-rans like Nick Green for the Red Sox last year or Darnell McDonald this year who, despite some dramatics, are not worth a spot on your fantasy roster. That does not mean that somebody in your league is not going to put him on his roster.

But, by far the biggest mirage that gets fantasy owners frothing is when a marginal pitcher comes out of nowhere and throws a no-hitter, or in Dallas Braden’s case, a perfect game. There was a fairly good chance that Braden was available in your league as he was owned in only 65 percent of owners in ESPN free leagues earlier this week. He saw a spike in ownership right after the perfect game and a lot of activity on the trade line.

But, other than Braden making some early season waves when he became irate with superstar Alex Rodriguez for crossing the mound when returning to first base from third after a foul ball, there has not been much to Braden to remark upon in his career. The question becomes: is Dallas Braden really a guy you want to go out of your way to acquire at this point in the season?

The answer is that he is in the middle somewhere. If he is not on your roster, I would not go out your way to get him. He is a good option in deeper mixed leagues or as an waiver acquisition during two-start weeks but there are a fair amount of starting pitchers you can find at this point in the year with middling strikeout numbers and a couple of wins to their name. At 4-2 with and ERA of 3.33 (a Fielding Independent Pitching line – FIP -- of 3.45 indicating the level he is actually pitching at on an ERA scale) he is pitching about half a run better than his line last year of 3.89 (3.73 FIP which is rare that the number would go down instead of up, especially considering his park weighted xFIP was at 4.80) and his peripheries say that will probably drop to at least the 3.90 range sometime within the next month.

Now, that is pretty good when looking at backend fantasy options. But within a standard 5x5 roto world, there is more to it than just ERA. He plays for the Athletics, a team that has trouble hitting and has averaged 3.9 runs per game of support for him through his career (4.2 this year). League average tends to be around 4.42. He had five “tough losses” last year in 22 starts. A “tough loss” is categorized as a loss for a pitcher when he has registered a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER or less). This year he has one in seven starts so wins can be a concern.

He is a starter, so saves are out of the question as a value category so he should provide good WHIP and strikeout numbers to be of value. This year, his WHIP is fantastic at .96 through 46 innings pitched. He has reduced that this year by dramatically reducing his walks per nine innings from 3.14 in 2008 to 2.77 in 2009 and then cut in half to 1.37 this year. For a guy with a history of walking guys in the big leagues, it is hard to imagine that he can keep his walks per nine under 2.00 for the year and hence his WHIP will adjust correspondingly. Braden also has a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .245, about .55 below league average and .63 below his career average of .308. Put these two stats together and it says that he is pitching a little over his head in terms of his historical reference points.

Braden’s career major league strikeout per nine innings ratio is a very mediocre 5.65 even after he put up great strikeout numbers through the minor leagues. This year he is right at his average at 5.48 so he is not a guy who will really help you get ahead in the strikeout category. He will help you tread water, certainly, but a roster full of Bradens would be destined to finish the bottom half in that statistical category.

It is not unheard of for a pitcher to really start tuning it up in his mid to late 20s. Braden is 26 and due for some type of breakout, even with his relatively mediocre stuff topping out at 87 miles per hour with his fastball and a deceiving if overly unimpressive slider. He could turn into a late-career Tom Glavine type or even Jamie Moyer but that is not exactly the type of comparison a 26-year-old pitcher with 53 career MLB starts under his belt wants to hear.

Think of Braden like Aaron Laffey with an attitude. lists Laffey as one of Braden’s top comparables with a 972 similarity score (1000 would be an identical player). Then ask yourself, how much do I really want to trade for Aaron Laffey?

This article will appear on May 12 at Dan Rowinski is a columnist for and can be reached at