Posted on: August 29, 2008 7:57 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2008 3:14 am

Assessing the Sliders column

As my first full season covering Fantasy Baseball draws to a close, I find myself assessing my contributions, determining how to make them better for next year.

Of particular interest is my Sliders piece -- a column of my own invention that, because it didn't already have its own set of rules or instructions, kind of became a season-long experiment. I found myself in a constant wrestling match with terminology -- one I could usually sort out within the column itself, but not without leaving behind the more casual readers who simply wanted to glance over the piece without hanging on its every last word.

One section of the column that readers found particularly confusing was the "change-up," where I'd take my assessment of a player from a week or two earlier and completely overturn it. They thought it served no purpose other than to wreck my credibility. Take this latest e-mail from Jeff:

Scott, I do admire the fact that somehow you acquired a job writing about baseball. In regards to your Sliders column, don't you get tired of throwing change-ups? You're on the bandwagon and then off, and then back on. For example, Justin Duchscherer has a rough stretch, and you proclaim, "I told you so!" Prior to it, though, you had said he's for real. Now, you have to say, "Well, looks like he's been hurt." This kind of thing makes you look like a hack.

The change-up, in fact, serves three purposes:

1. It exposes player forecasting as the inexact science it is.
Sliders, when broken down to its barest essentials, is an exercise in player forecasting. I take individual players and explain what I think they'll do -- a pretty simple concept, really, but with one fundamental flaw:

I don't necessarily believe in player forecasting.

Sure, it has its place. It acts as a motivator, a catalyst for action. I might not pick up that left-handed slugger until I read a glowing scouting report on him, for instance. But for the most part, I prefer to build my Fantasy teams following more general, inexact strategies. In other words, I'd rather constantly react than put all my eggs in one basket, cross my arms and wait.

Player forecasting is guesswork. Anyone can make an argument for or against any player in baseball. True, some of those arguments hold more water than others, but sometimes, the more unlikely ones end up coming true. No Fantasy analyst can get every player right, and I don't want to give anyone the impression I can.

So I remind them when I get one wrong. They have the right to know. Maybe they'll follow their gut next time instead of listening to me, which wouldn't be such a bad thing. I want people to view my work as a second opinion to measure against their own, not the presiding opinion to follow blindly without even bothering to form their own.

Does that make me a hack? I'd claim just the opposite. If I acted like I got every pick right, I'd be a hack.

2. It holds me accountable.
As I've mentioned numerous times in this blog, I came into this job with the advantage of having long been a fan of Fantasy content, reading every piece I could find. So when I became a writer, I knew from my experience as a reader what I wanted to include and what I wanted to avoid.

Specifically, I never, ever wanted to pat myself on the back for a correct a prediction. OK, I don't "never, ever" do anything. In fact, I've occasionally had reason to mention a correct prediction to preface another point, but I don't ever want to find myself writing a 500-word "ode to me" because one of my thousands of predictions actually came true. A correct prediction should be the expectation, not the exception, so if I get one right, it should go without saying.

So in Sliders, I took the opposite approach, emphasizing my incorrect predictions. If forced to elaborate each week on everything that goes wrong, how can I ever get too high on something that goes right? I'll never have this Fantasy stuff totally figured out, and the change-up serves as a weekly reminder.

3. It reminds you, me and everyone else not to take this stuff too seriously.
Have you even read Sliders? It's not exactly stern-faced analysis. Sure, it presents intelligible arguments and stands behind them as long as it should, but it doesn't take itself all that seriously.

And it shouldn't. It's a piece not only about a game, but about a game about a game. Sure, it's a game we love -- maybe even obsess over -- but when push comes to shove, I think we can all agree we play it strictly for fun.

So how can a column written about something we do for fun not be for fun itself?

And the change-up was for fun, mostly. In my column about a game about a game, I included yet another game, giving the readers a chance to guess which player would make me eat my words next week and see if I'd actually follow through with it.

But with all that said, I have to admit I did get tired of looking for a change-up every week. Rarely did a player do enough in one week to make me change my mind about him, and if I waited several weeks, the change-up seemed more like a response to an in-season development than a case of me changing my mind.

So I don't know. I could see myself doing away with the change-up next season -- or at least presenting it a little differently.

Wait, I take that back.
Category: MLB
Posted on: July 15, 2008 2:59 am
Edited on: July 15, 2008 3:00 am

First half risers and fallers

As an extension of my Sliders column this week, in which I talk about the biggest sliders of the entire first half, I made a list of the biggest risers and fallers at each position. How 'bout I share?

Riser: Geovany Soto
Faller: Victor Martinez

Soto had sleeper written all over him going into the season, but people still waited until the 20th round to draft him. Can't exclude him just because some people saw it coming. Listing Martinez here might seem unfair because of his elbow injury, but he was so bad, and people drafted him so early. If you want another pick, I'll say Kenji Johjima.

First Base
Riser: Jason Giambi
Faller: Nick Swisher

I admit I declared Giambi toast, and while his batting average keeps him from becoming a clear must-start in Fantasy, his power numbers and strikeout-to-walk ratio qualify him as such in most leagues. As for Swisher, he always had a good strikeout-to-walk ratio of his own, and the move to a hitter's park should have helped his numbers. Not so. Hopefully, you didn't draft him in the sixth round like some people did.

Second Base
Riser: Ian Kinsler
Faller: Robinson Cano

Most people who drafted Kinsler drafted him to start, so in a way, he doesn't apply here. But he's risen so much I feel like I should still give him his due credit. To think he ranked behind Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Brian Roberts and Cano before the season. Now, some might argue he doesn't even rank behind Utley. Speaking of Cano, his poor plate discipline really caused his batting average to fluctuate, didn't it? Really, you had no business drafting him ahead of guys like Kinsler and Roberts, but what's done is done. The good news is he usually explodes in the second half, so don't sell now.

Third Base
Riser: Jorge Cantu
Faller: Ryan Zimmerman

Cantu's 28 homers in 2005 looked like a fluke or something worse, but he's on an even better power pace with the Marlins this year. Every time he looks like he'll slow down, he heats right back up, so I have to believe in him by now. I still can't believe I took Jose Castillo over him in an NL-only league. Talk about a bad move. As for Zimmerman, he got hurt, of course, but he still looks stuck in neutral after his rookie season. I wouldn't expect anything amazing when he returns -- certainly nothing to rank him among the top 10 at his position.

Riser: Jerry Hairston
Faller: Troy Tulowitzki

For the riser, I could have chosen Cristian Guzman, but I preferred to go with the guy the Orioles used to consider a better prospect than Brian Roberts. I seriously doubt he'll hit .350 all season, but he should hit well, and his stolen bases offer more for Rotisserie owners than anything Guzman does. Tulowitzki had some bad luck with injuries, of course, but even they can't explain a .166 batting average. He won't hit below .200 all season, but don't expect him to hit .290 in the second half either.

Riser: Carlos Quentin
Faller: Andruw Jones

Quentin was toeing the line of big-league bust before the season, but he's since emerged as an elite Fantasy outfielder. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted in most mixed leagues. I could have picked Josh Hamilton, J.D. Drew, Nate McLouth, Milton Bradley or Ryan Ludwick, but I went with Quentin for the combination of overall upside, low draft position and potential to sustain his current pace. As for Jones, when I have trouble sleeping all those lonely, guilt-ridden nights, at least I can take some solace knowing I warned people against drafting him in the eighth round.

Starting Pitcher
Riser: Justin Duchscherer
Faller: Brett Myers

So many risers at starting pitcher this season, which is the No. 1 reason I suggest loading up on hitting at the beginning of a draft, no matter the league format. From Edinson Volquez to Ervin Santana to Joe Saunders to Cliff Lee to Jonathan O. Sanchez to Ryan Dempster to any of a dozen other names, I could have gone in so many directions here. But I couldn't go against the man who's bailed me out in two Fantasy leagues. I mean, Duchscherer was a complete afterthought in AL-only formats, much less mixed, and he leads the world in ERA. And it doesn't even look like a fluke, considering his consistency. Meanwhile, no potential Fantasy ace has crashed and burned like Myers, with the exception of maybe Dontrelle Willis. I kind of hope people saw the warning signs with Willis, though.

Relief Pitcher
Riser: Kerry Wood
Faller: Trevor Hoffman

I know some people might pick George Sherrill as the biggest riser, but I get the impression a lot Fantasy owners don't quite trust him. I know I sure don't. Just look at his peripherals. I considered picking Joakim Soria and Brad Lidge -- and I couldn't have gone wrong with either -- but Wood entered the season totally distrusted in Fantasy circles, for understandable reasons. He's since become arguably the best closer in the National League, pitching for arguably the best team in the National League. Trevor Hoffman, meanwhile, pitches for the arguably the worst team in the National League, and he doesn't pitch particularly well. I applaud the Hall of Fame career he's had, but he looks finished at age 40.

That's all for now.
Posted on: June 24, 2008 3:38 am

Starting is a relief

I don't get it.

I understand what is happening, but I don't understand how. I don't understand how a middle reliever -- in many cases, a crummy middle reliever -- can transition to the starting rotation and immediately become a lights-out starting pitcher. Someone explain it to me because I don't get it. I don't remember it ever happening before, and this year it keeps happening over and over and over again.

When going one inning at a time instead of six or seven, pitchers can throw harder and put more effort into every move they make. We saw it happen with Ugueth Urbina, Jason Isringhausen and Eric Gagne, among others. Theoretically speaking, pitchers should be at their most dominant in short relief. So what gives?

Is it a matter of primary and secondary pitches? Do these particular pitchers have less-than-exceptional primary pitches but decent enough secondary pitches that they end up more effective when they pitch deep into games and have access to their full arsenal? That's the only explanation that makes any sense to me, but it seems too simple to explain this sudden widespread phenomenon.

My inspiration for this entry is Justin Duchscherer, who just came off a two-win week and now boasts an ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP below 1.00. I talk about him in my Sliders column due out Tuesday, so I won't use this space repeat everything I already wrote. (I also talk about Marcus Thames in the column, bigblue4evr11, since I know you asked about him in my previous entry.) But at least Duchscherer succeeded as a middle reliever before his rise into unexpected acedom. I can't say the same for the rest of these guys.

Ryan Dempster
He was a terrible closer and a not-so-great starter before then. I don't know what happened to him in this latest transition, but at this point, I trust him over John Maine, Tim Hudson, Javier Vazquez and a handful of other quality starting pitchers.

Todd Wellemeyer
I guess you could credit Dave Duncan for Wellemeyer's transformation, but the pitching coach didn't exactly have the same magic touch for Braden Looper last year. Before his disastrous start against the Phillies last time out, Wellemeyer had a 2.93 ERA. In four full seasons of relief, he never posted a WHIP below 1.51.

Scott Feldman
For an organization that never has enough starting pitching, the Rangers unearthed a gem out of their own bullpen in Feldman. He's gone a bit overlooked in Fantasy, but he's pitched six innings or more in eight of his last nine starts. He has a 1.26 WHIP after posting a 1.95 WHIP in 39 innings of relief last year.

Jonathan O. Sanchez.
Unlike Wellemeyer and Feldman, the Giants planned for Sanchez to start all along. Ironically, he's done the worst of the three, but he has the best strikeout rate and has allowed three earned runs or less in seven of his last eight starts.

See? It's madness. I really don't have an explanation, but I couldn't help but make the observation. Hopefully, you didn't ignore these pitchers when they blew hitters away right out of the gate, and hopefully you won't ignore whatever pitchers like them might emerge early next year. We have a new trend developing before our very eyes.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 7, 2008 10:03 pm
Edited on: June 7, 2008 10:09 pm

Time for a commercial break

Just finished my first Hitting Planner. It's probably not as fun to read as my Sliders column or even this blog, but you'll hopefully find some valuable information in there. Speaking frankly, I consider Emack's Pitching Planner a little more valuable, but I'll look to make improvements in the coming months. Suggestions are always welcome, though keep in mind time constraints might make some of them impossible.

Speaking of time constraints, they'll keep today's blog entry a little shorter than most, but I'll take a timeout to answer a couple quick trade questions I just received today. Yeah, you could call this entry a truncated version of Dear Mr. Fantasy, but at least I won't talk about any New York Yankees.

By the Numbers. Playing the Waiver Wire. There. I think I've named every baseball column we have.


Geez ... gotta love our Fantasy content, huh? And while I'm off on a tangent promoting our Fantasy content, why not promote our new Fantasy content site. I'm sure you've seen the ads for it -- you know, those creepy ones with all our faces lined up:


Check it out if you haven't already. Or check it out again if you already have once. In fact, keep checking it out every day because, like any good content should, ours keeps refreshing.

All right, enough with the commercials. On to the questions ...

Would you trade Evan Longoria and Jonathan O. Sanchez for Albert Pujols? And the only reason I ask is because of Pujols' health.
-- John Anthony

I don't think anyone approached Pujols' elbow more cautiously than I did this spring, going so far as to say I wouldn't draft him in the first round -- and I'd still say that if the season started today -- but come on, Johnny. Pujols is obviously still a monster, enough that you have to bank on the likelihood he won't blow out in his elbow over the next four months. If I owned him now, I might shop him to see what I could get, but I also wouldn't hesitate to acquire him, especially for two players who, in standard mixed leagues, I'd consider fringe waiver fodder. (Yes, I call Longoria borderline rosterable -- not because he's bad, but because he's a rookie. When he can maintain a batting average over .280, we'll talk.)

I have been offered Alex Rodriguez and Derrek Lee for Nate McLouth, Justin Morneau and Adrian Beltre. What do you think?
-- Shawn (of the dead?)

Yeah, that sounds like the kind of deal I'd make, Shawn. I still think of A-Rod as the best player in Fantasy, and I'd probably prefer Lee to Morneau even though the former has slumped lately. As long as losing McLouth doesn't leave gaping chasm in your outfield, pull the trigger.

That's all for now.
Posted on: May 13, 2008 6:44 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2008 8:46 pm

Worth the add?

I've taken a deep breath, counted my many blessings and regained my composure after last night's unadulterated rant. With the Fantasy Baseball leagues back up and running (until 2 a.m., apparently), I'll now proceed with my assessment of the 10 most-added players in Fantasy.

Ryan Ludwick -- Four home runs in five games will go a long way to getting people's attention. So will a .721 slugging percentage. Ludwick obviously won't sustain that pace or his .346 batting average, but I don't question his ability to hit 30 home runs over a full season. His 14 in 303 at-bats last year project to 25 in 550 at-bats, and with Chris Duncan struggling and Skip Schumaker merely an above-average player, Ludwick could get the lion's share of at-bats in the St. Louis outfield. Considering his ownership is still only 62 percent, I wouldn't call his inclusion on this list a widespread overreaction to his great performance last week.

Jimmy Rollins -- Rollins' inclusion here is obvious. He just recovered from a sprained ankle and came off the 15-day DL, and as a first-round draft pick going into the season, he deserves to start in all leagues. We sometimes get e-mails here asking us how superstars get dropped in so many leagues just because they go on the DL, and I have to tell you I wonder the same thing. I could almost understand it in leagues that don't have benches, but even then, they'd have to be shallow Head-to-Head leagues, and most leagues without benches are Rotisserie. If someone in your league dropped Rollins, hopefully you scooped him up before the dust had a chance to settle.

Rich Harden -- Harden fits the same mold as Rollins. He just came off the DL. He doesn't have quite the superstar standing of Rollins, but he deserves to start in all leagues when healthy. If you cut him the first time, though, expect to cut him again soon.

Ryan Franklin -- I'm guessing if you pounced on Franklin, you probably owned Jason Isringhausen, and I won't dispute the move if you had no alternatives for saves. While not overpowering, Franklin has proven a successful middle reliever over the last season-plus, allowing less than a 1.20 WHIP. I don't expect him to keep the role for long, though, and he might lose saves to Russ Springer even while he has it. If you can snag any full-time closer instead of Franklin -- like Brian Wilson, Kevin Gregg or Brian Fuentes -- do so.

Vicente Padilla -- Padilla's 5-2 record and 20-win pace probably has a lot to do with his inclusion on this list, and I wouldn't necessarily criticize people for riding the hot hand. But I hope in Padilla's case, they know it'll go cold soon. He can't sustain his 3.23 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP. He just can't, and when the ERA rises, the wins will fall, cradle and all. Padilla did have some Fantasy appeal as a 15-10 pitcher with a 4.50 ERA in 2006, but don't expect him to do any better this season.

Justin Duchscherer -- Duchschererererer has a 2.45 ERA through four starts. He has yet to allow more than two earned runs, and although he hasn't quite built up his endurance yet, he went seven innings in his last start. In some Head-to-Head leagues, he qualifies as a relief pitcher, and starting pitchers tend to outscore closers. Take advantage, people.

Chris Iannetta -- The Rockies unceremoniously pulled the plug on Iannetta's starting debut last year, but he's forced his way back into the lineup this year. He has a 1.015 OPS though Monday, and as ridiculous as that sounds, it actually falls right in line with his minor-league numbers. The Rockies will ride the hot hand between Iannetta and Yorvit Torrealba for now, but Iannetta is the one you want as a No. 2 catcher in Fantasy. By the end of the season, he could emerge as a No. 1.

Blake Dewitt -- I can tell I'm going to have a love-hate relationship with DeWitt. I praised him in my blog Sunday, then blasted him in my Sliders column Monday. At first glance, I love him. I see his 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and slowly emerging power and think, "hey, this guy could do my team a lot of good." But then I look at his minor-league numbers and quickly backtrack. His ratio is more due to a lack of strikeouts than a surplus of walks, and his power is ... let's use the term inconclusive. If I play in a mixed league, I need to see more before making a move.

Joey Votto -- If you play in a Head-to-Head league that rewards walks and penalizes strikeouts, Votto won't do your Fantasy team any more good than Jeff Francoeur (and if you own Francoeur in one of those leagues, you know exactly what I'm talking about). I think he has good offensive upside and the potential to hit 25-30 home runs this year, but he'll probably end up with three times as many strikeouts as walks, making his batting average a total crapshoot. Don't get me wrong: For this year alone, I rank Votto about as highly as I do Ludwick, but I praise Ludwick while criticizing Votto because I don't think the general public gives Ludwick enough credit.

Milton Bradley -- Bradley is shaping up as one of the most underrated players in Fantasy this season, and I can certainly understand why, given his injury history -- he just left Monday night's game with a sore shoulder -- and his oftentimes poor attitude. But in between all of his stints on the DL, he's long teased us with his emerging four-category offensive talent. He took a huge step forward last year, posting a .948 OPS, and his .975 mark this year shows he hasn't let up one bit. He might succumb to an injury or two along the way, but I could definitely see him becoming a must-start in Fantasy this season and like him more than anyone else on this list (other than Rollins and Harden, of course). Pick him up in all leagues.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 15, 2008 6:55 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2008 8:10 pm

Closing time: Who steps up for Indians, Braves?

Get your bids ready.

It happened when we least expected it. One day, Joe Borowski is tumultuously closing games for the foreseeable future, and the next? Decreased velocity, mysterious injury, 15-day DL, done.

OK, I fabricated that last part, but I think it's the ultimate destination on that wondrous journey of his. Borowski has a one-way ticket to done town.

Because his replacement is obvious -- so obvious you might not even have a chance to grab him in your league if one of your opponents preemptively scouted him, drafted him and stashed him in the off chance of this scenario playing out.

Rafael Betancourt -- his awaited rise to Fantasy prominence has long captivated legions of wide-eyed enthusiasts, rivaling the latest shuttle launch, Earth Day and the return of the McRib sandwich.

And now it's here -- the day we can witness firsthand just how many saves a 1.48 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP will translate into.

Which is kind of a silly way to put it, I'll admit, considering saves have a limited capacity dependent on a million outside factors beyond Betancourt's control. But still, with his stuff in that role for one of the league's perennial contenders, he could emerge as one of the top closers in the game, provided his head proves up to the task (he has converted only 12 of 29 saves in his career). Pick him up in all leagues.


And the Indians aren't the only participant of the 1995 World Series to undergo a ninth-inning makeover. For the second time in less than a week, the Braves have to anoint a new closer, with Peter Moylan (right elbow soreness) joining Rafael Soriano on the 15-day DL. The replacement here isn't quite as obvious as in Cleveland, but Manny Acosta is the leading candidate, especially since the Braves considered turning to him when Soriano went down. I won't write a lengthy ode declaring him the second coming of Jonathan Papelbon, but he has good stuff and could emerge as a decent stopgap.


Finally, I want to take a moment to read and respond to an e-mail from one of the readers of my Sliders column, which made its second showing Tuesday.

Hi Scott, I have an extremely crowded utility area, and I'm hoping you can help. It's a Head-to-Head league that uses standard batting categories, plus OPS (i.e., not a points league). We have two utility spots. I have to choose between Jim Thome, Lastings Milledge, Jeremy Hermida and Mark Reynolds. We don't have a corner infield position for Reynolds, and my third baseman is Miguel Cabrera (who has to snap out of it sometime). My three outfield spots are occupied by Nate McLouth, Hunter Pence and Alex Rios, so there's no way to get all of these guys in on the fun. Of the four players left for my utility spots, which ones have the most upside going forward? Luckily, I don't have to drop any of them at this point. Thanks. --Ed, Portland, Ore.

Thanks for the e-mail, Ed.

Knowing that you still have to account for stolen bases -- which is unfortunate, but important to know -- I think the final choice for your starting lineup comes down to Jim Thome, Lastings Milledge and Hunter Pence, believe it or not -- and I'd actually consider Thome the no-brainer if not for your need for speed.

For now, I like Thome's OPS too much to bench him, especially with Milledge not stealing many bases, which I guess means I have Pence going to the bench. I know benching Pence sounds like a bonehead move because he came on so strong last year, but keep in mind it was just one year. He hit only .283 in his final full season in the minors, so it's not like he's a born contender for the batting title. If he starts to heat up, you can always put him back in the lineup.

I guess I'll answer your question two ways, and you can choose the one that bet fits your style. If you hope to set your lineup once and leave it all year, reserve McLouth and Milledge. They're the more "risky" options, given their lack of track records. But if you want to go with your best bets now and reassess throughout the season (which I highly recommend, by the way), reserve Pence and Milledge.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 14, 2008 10:32 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2008 8:10 pm

Big day for the Big Unit

It's Monday night, and Michael Hurcomb and I are in the office counting down the minutes until Randy Johnson's debut.

Why? I guess we're a couple of dorks. And we both loaded up on Johnson in our drafts, apparently.

I've held firm to the belief that Johnson will make a serious contribution in Fantasy this season, as long as you can stash him on your bench when necessary. He might make only 10-20 starts, but assuming last year's numbers hold -- 1.16 WHIP, 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings -- they'll be good starts.

I didn't have the guts to activate him for this first start, even against the lowly Giants. I learned my lesson in his first start back from injury last year, when he gave up six runs in five innings. I'll let him prove his health first.

Speaking of superstars storming back into the Fantasy spotlight, Alex Rodriguez broke out of his slump today, finally hitting like a defending league MVP with a 4-for-5 day and his third home run. A-Rod, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder -- they'll come around, so keep them active. I don't mean to tell you something you already know, but then again, I just got an e-mail today from someone who was already referring to A-Rod as trade bait, calling him a choke artist or something.


Anyway, my Fantasy Sliders column set me back a bit today, so I'll have to keep this entry short. Be sure to check out that column if you get a chance, though. It should come out sometime Tuesday afternoon.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com