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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: Yunel Escobar -- Wherever you go, there you are

Yunel Escobar rounds third after grand slam
 homerun July 18 against Baltimore. Image from
Toronto Sun (via Reuters).

I am always a little skeptical when pundits and scouts say that all a struggling player needs is “a change of scenery.” Yet, with limited access to actual major league clubhouses, there is little insight I can give into how a certain player is fairing on the field because of the situation around him.

Sometimes a change of scenery is really what is needed to offer a boost of moral and productivity. Think about it: Have you ever left a job just to go somewhere else to do the same exact job and been much happier for it?

My guess is that you probably have and, at least initially, you thought that the move was the best possible thing that you could have done for yourself. Yet, one of the simplest and oldest clichés applies to the change of scenery notion of productivity.

Wherever you go, there you are.

A mere hop from one spot on the map to another is not going to change the fundamental characteristics of your personality. Yes, it may offer a temporary blip of energy and purpose, but after a while you find that you are doing the exact same things that you did not like (or others did not like about you) in the place that you left. Without fundamental character growth and maturity, a will to engage life in a professional manner, you are bound to regress back to the level of productivity that had become your statistical norm. If being complacent or angry or easy-going is in your nature, a brand new location is not going to fundamentally change that characteristic.

Given that this is a fantasy baseball article and the MLB trade deadline is ten days away, you may see what I am getting at here.

I am speaking specifically of Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was traded from the Braves to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez on July 14. I will circle back to Escobar shortly.

Think about some of the prominent trades in the last couple of years. The biggest and most pertinent name in this discussion would have to be pitcher Cliff Lee, currently with the Rangers after having been shipped from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle and finally to Texas since last year’s trade deadline. Lee, regarded as one of the most professional players in baseball, has not changed a bit in the maelstrom of moves since leaving the Indians. In that period he has pitched 201.1 innings with an absurd 10.05 strikeout to walk ratio (171/17) with a 15-8 record and nine complete games. In going from Seattle to Austin earlier this month he just kept on chugging along, going nine innings in both of his first two starts with his new team. Clearly this is not a player affected by environment.

Now let’s go back and look at the trade that sent Manny Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles in 2008. Ramirez, who was regressing due to age despite still being a very productive hitter, found new life down the stretch for the Dodgers hitting .396/.489/.743 for a ridiculous 1.232 OPS with 17 homeruns and 53 RBI in 229 plate appearances. His line before leaving the Red Sox that year was .299/.398/.529, an OPS of .926 with 20 homeruns and 68 RBI. That is a rather large statistical jump as he produced nearly as many homeruns and RBI with the Dodgers as he did with the Red Sox in nearly half the plate appearances. His OPS+ split between the two was 136 in Boston to 221 in Los Angeles (with 100 being considered average on a percentage scale).

Since that torrid stretch, Ramirez has regressed back to his career means. Take into account the alleged lack of performance enhancing drugs and his age he has not really changed as a hitter. His 155 OPS+ in 2009 and his 152 mark in so far in 2010 (in limited playing time due to suspension and an increasing injury rate) are right in line with his career OPS+ of 155.

Granted, there was no way that Ramirez could have sustained his 2008 performance with the Dodgers but it does go to show the temporary benefits of change of scenery can do for a player. In the end though, Manny is still Manny, no matter where he is playing.

Now for Escobar. This is a talented shortstop who, at the age of 27, should be approaching his prime production period of his career. His career slash line of .293/.370/.408 is respectable if a little light on the slugging side (.414 is about league average slugging) and he has a career 107 OPS+ over 450 games and 1867 plate appearances. That makes him seven percent better than a league average shortstop. His 2009 breakout, which was to be expected of a player entering his third year in The Show, of .299/.377/.436 is perhaps a touch higher than his expected overall performance over the course of his career but does offer a decent guideline into what type of player he can be – a slightly better than league-average middle infielder with a propensity for streakiness depending on his mood.

The Braves could not wait to get Escobar out of Atlanta and gave him up for a shortstop with a career OPS+ of 81 (which is, oddly enough, Escobar’s 2010 OPS+) and a couple middling prospects. For a business-like team trying to win in manager Bobby Cox’s last season, his lack of professionalism and poor fielding as a consequence were a poison on the field and in the clubhouse.

It should then come as no surprise that Escobar has been on fire in his first couple of games in Toronto going 8 for 17 with four runs, two homeruns and seven RBI. Contrast that to his run production in Atlanta (28 runs, zero homeruns and 19 RBI in 301 plate appearances) and it is clear that the change of location has lit a temporary fire under Escobar.

Before Blue Jays fans and fantasy owners get too excited though, remember that this cannot last. Escobar is at an age where he is not a likely candidate for any remarkable statistical breakout and eventually he will be what he has been all along . . . decent but not outstanding.

Ultimately it will come down to Yunel being Yunel, no matter what city he plays in.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy 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, July 7, 2010

Twitter -- @EarlyBird and the endless possibilities

I have been wondering how Twitter was going to make money.

I love the idea of Twitter, if not alway in practice. I tweet, a lot, and try to be more than an automaton linking my articles and breaking the occasional bit of news. As someone from the company said recently, Twitter is a "information media" platform as opposed to a "social media" platform and in that regard I believe it to be true.

Twitter has come to replace a lot of folks RSS readers and it is great if you are in the news junkie business and have an affinity to scroll. This is what makes Twitter important to me and as such I have been hoping that they would eventually acquire a business model to stay at the top of the microblogging hierarchy. Hey, I have brand loyalty sometimes too!

Yet, I have not been sure how they were going to do this. My first thoughts that Twitter, in and of itself, does not have a lot of business potential. Advertising is tricky because a vast portion of the network operate from third party clients (I am a TweetDeck and UberTwitter for my Mac and Blackberry, respectively), hence "Promoted Tweets" on trending topics does not seem like it could have scale. Placing ads within peoples timelines could work to penetrate that third party system (or, as Twitter has been doing, consolidate the third party functions to vertical integration) but that may cause a user backlash that their trusted company and platform was, more or less, spamming them.

The thing that I saw that Twitter really has as blue chip asset is the most important thing when it comes to the interwebs -- data. The Twitter data "Fire Hose" is impressive and growing. That is why it did not surprise me that the first revenue model that Twitter employed was to sell access to the data stream to Bing and Google along with other various businesses. The business-to-business model allows Twitter a marginal economic core to sustain it while figuring out other business models that will allow it to grow in to a tech powerhouse, climbing the ranks from "successful startup" up the latter to Facebook or even Google status (though I do not envision Twitter to ever be as big as Google).

Yesterday, Twitter unveiled the @EarlyBird program. Essentially, @EarlyBird is a akin to Groupon or Woot -- partnered deals with companies to distribute advertiser deals.

From Tech Crunch:

Looks like Twitter is about to start offering users exclusive, time-bound deals, events and sneak peeks, for which it has partnered with a number of (yet unnamed) advertising partners.
Those advertisers will distribute offers via the @EarlyBird account, and they get to determine the terms of the offer, including availability, amount, and pricing. And you? You get to opt in to them.
If you want to get access to said exclusive deals, you need to of course follow the @EarlyBird account, although you may also see offers if someone you follow retweets a tweet from that account. Yes, that means exclusive deals are bound to get viral pretty quickly, which will be interesting to observe given that many of the offers distributed via the account will be time-sensitive of nature (otherwise it wouldn’t be called Early Bird, of course).
I was reading this last night and, all of a sudden, everything became clear . . .

Twitter can do everything.

Name me a business model on the web. Search? Twitter has its own impressive search already and it is not a stretch to jump from Promoted Tweets on trending topics to promoted tweets on search terms integrated into the feed or on the page. Groupon, deals and partnerships? @EarlyBird has the early lead on that. Location aware partnerships, a la FourSquare, with local businesses and other media properties? Does not seem that far away as Twitter already does location. It could augment part of the service in the mobile sector to have the option to always know where a tweeter is and send promoted tweets from nearby businesses. Auctions, eBay style? Tweets seem a ready made way to operate an online auction with the proper supervision.

Twitter probably cannot (and should not) jump into straight ecommerce. Amazon and company have that taken care of. But, partnering through @EarlyBird gives them a portion of that revenue stream.

Twitter's rise and relative ubiquity compared with FourSquare and Groupon make it the perfect platform to steal the thunder from those business models as they attempt to grow. 

The only problem is that Twitter is going to need to grow up and in a hurry. The scalability issues they have been dealing with (and painfully highlighted by the World Cup) cannot exist if Twitter is going to make lasting partnerships on the advertorial and marketing level. Businesses are going to want the money they spend on these various models to payoff at times of highest traffic. The problem with Twitter right now is that times of highest traffic cause the system to fail. If they can work that out in the near future, Twitter can take off as the model Web 2.0 company heading into the next decade.

A year ago I was baffled as to how Twitter could possibly sustain itself. Now, the possibilities seem endless.

Fantasy Football -- Running Back Tandems

Every year you anxiously await to see if you land the first overall pick in your fantasy football draft in hopes to grab the stud running back who will lead you to the promised land.

For most of you, that is not going to happen.

The No. 1 pick, naturally. There are draft various draft strategies to employ that can still lead you team to fantasy football glory even if you missed out on the Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes.

In years of playing fantasy football, I do not think I have ever received the first pick. Multiple leagues a year and never once have I had that shining moment. That does not mean I have not won my fair share of leagues. It just takes a little practice.

When it comes to running backs, if you miss out on Peterson or Chris Johnson (this year’s consensus first overall pick), the drop off is significant. Yes, Maurice Jone-Drew, Stephen Jackson and Ray Rice are all fine backs but after the first couple of picks there are better first round options than a running back. That is why I like to wait if I cannot get in on the big names and go tandem style for maximum efficiency.

That means taking two running backs, from the same team in relatively short order. Some fantasy owners like to make it a sandwich. For instance, they will draft a team’s top running back, get a second-tier guy early and then come back for the backup. This method can work and does help your team avoid the nasty pitfall of production that comes about when your primary and backup running backs have their bye week (which always seems to come at the most inopportune time, doesn’t it?)

Yet there are some tandems that you will want to take rapidly to keep them together as they often work in cohort as opposed to a feature back and the guy that spells him. Drafting this way can also allow you to look for other production at other positions as these players will be on the board in later rounds at good value. So, here are half a dozen running back tandems to keep an eye on heading into your draft.

Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins

The Wild Cat. Got to love it. The Dolphins have resurrected their once-wretched offense in recent years by taking two talented though slightly flawed backs and turning them into the feature of an attack that can be confounding to opposing defenses (just ask the New England Patriots). Brown has always been a bit of an enigma and do not be fooled this year into drafting too high. He platoons heavily with Williams and is injured more often than you would probably like but he holds his end of the bargain pretty well when on the field. He broke his foot after nine games in 2009 so that is something to watch and he has never had more than 1,008 yards in a year but if he is good for between 800 to 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns, trust that the Dolphins will find a way to make the rest of the production up with Williams.

Williams, The NFL King of Cosmic Cleansing (or whatever he is doing these days) is still viable at age 33. He definitely got tired towards the end of the year in 2009 when Brown went down but if their stats do not look pretty similar (granting health, of course) by the end of the year, I would be surprised.

Bye Week -- 5

Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints

Thunder and Lightning. Vanilla and Chocolate. Sting like a bee, light as a butterfly. OK, so now the cliché superlatives are out of the way, Thomas and Bush are a great  tandem of complimentary backs as you will find in the league. Thomas is a top-20 back, probably just barely, and he will have days where you pinch yourself and say “did he just win this week single-handedly for me?” Because he might. Then again, he might not. He is consistent enough to start on a weekly basis but head coach Sean Payton won a Super Bowl last year with an offense that was so dynamic you were not sure what it was going to do play-to-play, let alone week-to-week.

That is where keeping Bush around comes in. Between the two there will be plenty of production to go around for one of the leagues best offenses. Bush is almost the type of player who you would like to start him at wide receiver as opposed to running back and match somebody else with Thomas but alas, that is not how the game works. Bush is also a guy you can sleep on for a couple rounds if you know that you are going to pair him with Thomas since his numbers the last couple of years has not matched his hype.

Bye Week -- 10

C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson – Buffalo Bills

I was an ACC football beat reporter last year and there was nobody else in the conference as quick or dynamic as Spiller was for Clemson in 2009. He could be the type of back that people always envisioned that Bush would be without actually being Bush. Great vision and cutback ability, good for kickoffs and can punish when he needs to. Spiller has all the makings of a back who can have a great first couple of years in the NFL before the punishment takes its toll and he flames out after five years or so. Being that this will be his first year in the league, it is safe to put him on your fantasy roster and hope the Bills line can give him the three yards he will need to create a cloud of dust.

Jackson had a lot of carries last year and was effective as he could be considering that that aforementioned Bills offensive line is something of a cesspool. There is a reason Buffalo has been looking up at the AFC East heavy hitters for the better part of the last decade. In terms of fantasy though, the Jackson/Spiller combination should provide some decent production at good value later in your fantasy draft.

Keep an eye on Marshawn Lynch as well, who still has the potential to be a productive fantasy back if his off the field problems allow him to get in the lineup. Lynch could be a significant wrench in the duo but it is a situation worth monitoring in training camp.

Bye Week -- 6

A couple other tandems to watch out for:

Matt Forte/Chester Taylor – Chicago Bears

Taylor has always been a second banana in the NFL but Forte has not yet proved that he can be productive individually. Neither Taylor nor Forte should be drafted as stand alone guys but together have decent potential.

Bye Week -- 8

Shonn Greene/LaDainian Tomlinson – New York Jets

The opposite of Forte, Greene has a good thing going with the Jets now that he has inherited the No. 1 slot with Thomas Jones in Kansas City. He has a great offensive line and a coach who loves to run. Tomlinson will be his backup and without the punishment of being The Man on a regular basis probably still has a few shining moments (and touchdowns) in his reserve tank.

Bye Week – 7

Thomas Jones/Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs

Outside of Johnson in Tennessee, Charles was one of the best backs in the second half of 2009. He probably will not be the heavy torch carrier with Jones at Arrowhead but between them the Chiefs should be able to get back to the great ground game they had between Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes in the not-so-distant past.

Bye Week – 4

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy 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, July 3, 2010

Washington Nationals Playbook -- Fourth of July Weekend

Taking a look at what is happening with the Washington Nationals through the Fourth of July weekend.

-- The Nationals celebrated Black Heritage Night with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. The team awarded the inaugural Joe Black Award to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks and Recreation-Prince George's County. The award, given to a person or organization that promotes the game of baseball in African-American communities, was accepted by former major leaguer Steven Carter.

Interesting tidbit on Carter -- Unknown to this reporter until researching Carter's Baseball-Reference page is that Carter is from Charlottesville, VA and graduated from the same high school that I did -- Albemarle H.S. Future note to get in touch with Carter and commiserate.

Carter played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in parts of two seasons (1989-90) a registered 23 plate appearances with a home run, double and three runs batted in.

-- The Nats lost the game 5-3 to the Mets when rookie outfielder Roger Bernadina was picked off second base by New York closer Francisco Rodriguez with Willie Harris at the plate representing the tying run.

-- Washington signed Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez to a minor league contract. Hernandez is the older brother to current Nats starter Livan Hernandez. Orlando has not pitched in the majors since 2007 though pitched eight games in the minors for the Rangers last season before being released. He posted a 90-65 career record with a a 4.13 ERA in nine seasons with four different teams and will be reporting to the Nationals' spring training facility in Viera, Fla.

-- The Mets and Nationals will continue their series this afternoon at Nationals Park with pitchers on direct opposites of the spectrum. Rookie flamethrower Stephen Strasburg (2-2 2.27 ERA) will make his sixth professional start looking for his third career win. He is opposed by journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-1 2.98 ERA) who has resurrected his career this season with the Mets at the age of 35.

-- Saturday's Nat's game will be on "MLB on Fox" with first pitch at 4:10 p.m. Gates to Nationals park will open at 1:30 p.m. The game will not be shown on MASN. A touch of irony: Saturday is Replica Patriotic Cap Day at Nationals Park, presented by, you guessed it, MASN.

-- Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman is on his way back from Tommy John surgery and will make his first rehab start Saturday night for Class A Potomac. Zimmerman will be on the mound for the first time since July 18, 2009 after he was yanked in a start against the Cubs with elbow pain. Zimmerman is likely to return by August if all goes well in his rehab schedule.

-- Catcher Carlos Maldonado was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and optioned to Triple A Syracuse.

-- Trade rumors are starting to heat up for the Nats with the potential of slugger Adam Dunn being shipped out of town. Federal Baseball (part of the SB Nation network) breaks down some Washington trade rumors.

-- On Twitter -- Andy Martino (Surfing The Mets), the Mets beat reporter for the New York Daily news, posted an interesting question to his followers during Friday night's game: Which third baseman would you rather have on your roster, Ryan Zimmerman or David Wright? Given that his follower base is obviously Mets-centric, the overwhelming majority chose Wright, 30-3 at last count.

It is an interesting question. Wright is two years older and had won Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008 before being usurped by Zimmerman in 2009. Through this season Wright is batting .312/.391/.546 with a 154 OPS+ (54 percent better than average) with a league leading 25 doubles AND 63 RBI in 79 games with 343 plate appearances. Wright's career slash line is an impressive .309/.389/.512 with and OPS+ of 137.

In contrast, Zimmerman's slash line this year is .284/.350/.480 with a 134 OPS+ and 13 home runs with 40 RBI in 73 games and 301 plate appearances. His career line is .284/.375/.498 with a 118 OPS+. That is good but Wright appears to just be in a higher category that Zimmerman at this point in their careers.

-- Happy belated birthday to centerfield Nyjer Morgan who turned 30 yesterday, July 2. He celebrated by going 2 for 4, raising his season average from .254 to .258.

-- The next Nats birthday will be that of Strasburg, who turns 22 on July 20. 

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fantasy Baseball -- Putting Boesch in perspective

I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How does the 25th best prospect in the Tigers organization heading into Spring Training get a call up in late April and then go on a rampage for the next two months, with little sign of slowing down?

I am talking, of course, about Detroit rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch.

It is confounding, I tell you. It is like the 25 year old woke up sometime in February and said “this is my year.” And it has been. Through 15 games and 66 plate appearances at Triple-A Toledo Boesch hit .379/.455/.621, good for an OPS of 1.076 and three home runs. Despite the small sample size, the Tigers liked what they were seeing and brought Boesch to the big leagues on April 23 and he has subsequently hit .332/.380/.602 in with 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 56 games and 229 plate appearances with Detroit.

Yet, this is a career minor league hitter with a .274/.321/.432 slash line who had 51 home runs (though also 25 triples ) in 1811 minor league at bats.

What gives?

Twenty-five is a good age for young hitters. It is about the time where you know if a player is going to be an actual major leaguer or just a guy who keeps his bags packed – the Quadruple-A variety. His minors slash line, though not overly impressive (pretty near identical to average, actually), does not show a hitter who was in over his head. Yet, there is also nothing there to suggest that the Boesch we have seen so far is the one that will be seen for the rest of his career, let alone his immediate future. Let’s take a look at some splits.

In the minors, Boesch had a ground ball/ line drive/ fly ball percentage (GB/LD/DB) of 48.7/15.3/35.9 with 16.9 percent of those fly balls (FB+LD) coming in the infield. In his short stint in Toledo in April those percentages were skewed as his line drive rate went up while his ground ball and fly ball rate went down at 36.6/34.1/29.3 with none of his fly balls coming in the infield at all. The sample size was so small and he was raking so hard that every ball he hit in the air was finding the outfield. That is simply unsustainable.

Now that he is in the majors, his GB/FB split is .75 with a 20 percent line drive rate and 19 percent of those fly balls in the infield. Yet, his home run rate has gone way up, with 15.4 percent of his fly balls going for home runs, almost twice the league average of 7.1 percent. For context, David Ortiz’s HR/FB rate this year is 19.1 percent but his career average is 13.8, still quite high against the average.

What does this tell us? Foremost, that Boesch has been hot, but any major league pitcher, general manager or astute fantasy player could tell you that. Second, he is outplaying his career norms by a little more than one standard deviation. Third, he has been getting a touch lucky.

When it comes to luck though, Boesch has always seemed to be the beneficiary of good fortune in his professional career. His minor league batting average on balls in play (BABIP, a fair measure of how lucky a hitter is, with any league average around .300) was .316. An impressive number when you consider his 1811 career minor league plate appearances and his almost exact league average of 68 percent balls in play percentage. Though his 58 at bats in the minors this year, his BABIP was .500.  So far, his major league BABIP is .379. This just cannot continue.

Then there are the home runs. Boesch is hitting a home run in his rookie season once every 17.6 at bats. That is about double the rate that he hit his 51 home runs in the minors at one per 35.5 at bats. Think of this: the major league average of at bats per home run is 36.6 putting Boesch’s minor league history right in line with major league averages.

Starting to sense a theme here?

I would hope so, because I am laying it on pretty thick. The general conclusion to be made here is that Boesch’s outstanding numbers are unsustainable given his history. At the same time it is hard to say that Boesch will just simply fall off a cliff.  He will eventually regress to his means, which are not all that bad. The thing about Boesch’s means are that they are surprisingly close to the average slash line of a major league player. Major league averages tend to fall very close to .265/.325/.414 year after year. Going back to Boesch’s career minor league line of .274/.321/.432 and, what do you know, almost the same.

Boesch reminds me of another young outfielder to come out of the minors and surprise folks with outstanding and surprising hitting before falling back to earth (and staying there) for the rest of his career (so far).  That player came out of the minors with 1429 career at bats, 53 home runs and line of .285/.332/.480, a little better than Boesch, but similar. He got called up late in 2005 and hit .300/.336/.549 in 257 at bats with 14 home runs and 45 RBI. Boesch at this point is a little above that level but if he continues his 17.6 at bats per home run, he will be at about the same as that particular hot rookie who everybody thought was going to be a mainstay for years to come.

That 2005 rookie’s name?

Jeff Francoeur.

Frenchy’s career line after five seasons is .270/.311/.430 and has been a perpetual frustration and disappointment to fans and fantasy leaguers everywhere. So, before you get too high on Boesch, remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just wait.

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.