Finding Keepers: Pittsburgh Pirates

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Finding Keepers: Pittsburgh Pirates

Posted on 02 March 2012 by Ryan Van Bibber

Whenever I start thinking about keepers, I go straight to the most important minor league team in Major League Baseball: the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are the talent development operation for the rest of the league, seasoning talented young hitters and pitchers before sending them off to bigger and better things elsewhere. It is “moneyball” in a different sense; the Pirates make money, winning is a secondary pursuit.

Pittsburgh has some interesting names on the roster and waiting in the wings this season. Some are indeed worth one of your precious draft picks. If, er, when they get traded to a good team, those players could really start paying dividends.

Andrew McCutchen, OF – The most obvious of the entire roster and one of the top keeper players in the entire league. Just 25 this season, many expect McCutchen to take a big jump from a very solid 20/20 season in 2011. His batting average suffered thanks to a twenty-point drop in BABIP, but he improved across the board. He walked more too as pitchers realized the threat posed by his bat and the shame of giving up runs to the Pirates. The Pirates’ lineup will have more to say about whether or not he can produce the kind of fantasy stats required from a top hitter, stuff like RBI and runs scored. He has the ability to be a 30/30 player. Unless some team is willing to dump the family farm in Neil Huntington’s lap, the Pirates will not be trading him this year. McCutchen is eligible for arbitration after the season, and will not be a free agent until after 2015. He is the only viable keeper on the Pirates’ roster at this point.

Good, Not Great

Neil Walker, 2B – Walker has value as an acceptable, mostly consistent player in the middle infield. He is tentatively penciled in for the fourth spot in the batting order, something that may change depending on what happens with their two third basemen. This is Walker’s age 26 season. You can count on him for a dozen home runs. With McCutchen hitting in front of him, he can produce some RBI. The Pirates have him locked up through 2016. If they were to trade him to a better team, his counting stats could get a nice boost. Walker might not be the second-best hitter in the Pirates’ lineup by the time the season ends, but he has a certain level of reliability that no other hitter on the roster, outside McCutchen, has.

For Those Willing To Think Young

Alex Presley, OF – Pittsburgh has very little power to speak of in its lineup. A full season of work from Presley would certainly help that. In 231 plate appearances last season, Presley had an .804 OPS with four home runs. What can he do with a full season of plate appearances? If Presley can keep or even improve his .167 ISO, double digit long balls are a possibility. He can also steal 20 bases.

Jose Tabata, OF – Penciled in to lead off the batting order, Tabata needs a full season of health. Tabata is capable of stealing 25 or more stolen bases. He has a solid walk rate, hovering around 10 percent. At the very least, he could be a cheap source of steals and someone to hang onto as he starts to find his stride.

I should probably put some pitchers in here, but the Pirates’ current rotation is led by the merely above average.

Charlie Morton leads the rotation, and he should be ready to go by opening day after offseason hip surgery. His secret to success is keeping the ball on the ground. He earned a big raise in arbitration, going from the league minimum to $2.445 million in 2012.

Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates’ closer, is arguably the best pitching option on the team. I always think that closers on bad teams cannot accumulate saves, a stupid, misguided stereotype. Hanrahan might get 30 or more saves.

As far as minor league prospects go, I have to defer to someone else. They do have some upper tier names among prospects. The Pirates are a regular presence in the top of the draft. They get young players in trades. Yet, they still struggle. Did they only read the first half of “Moneyball”?



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Strategies For The Late Rounds Of Your Draft

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Strategies For The Late Rounds Of Your Draft

Posted on 13 February 2012 by Ryan Van Bibber

Last time I shared some thoughts on how not to screw up the first overall pick in your fantasy draft. This time, we turn our attention to the other end of the snake, the late rounds of the draft and figuring out just what to do with those future drops.

Attention spans start to wane by the time round 15 starts. I love to play the waiver wire. In fact, I usually check the waiver wire before bothering to look at my own lineup. Now I play in a league that charges $2 per transaction. That changed my perspective on the waiver wire a little bit. To prevent dumping oodles of cash into a one-week replacement I now focus more intently on those late round picks I used to think of mostly as just a grab bag.

There is a strategy, several strategies, for making your last ten picks or so. It depends largely on the kind of league you play in and what kind of rules govern it.  The reality is that you want to mix these different takes in with your final picks, likely depending on which players are available.

Future Stars
For the most devoted of baseball fans, the kind of people who have prospect lists committed to memory, the later part of the draft is time to shine … and annoy friends with obscure baseball knowledge. If you play in a keeper league, this will be your most important track for late picks. The biggest names in prospects, last season’s call-ups ready for prominence, will probably be off the board by round 15.

Go deeper into those top prospect lists. Identify players in opening day lineups likely to be on shaky ground by the first of May and whether or not teams have youngsters wainting in the wings for their shot. This is not just a ploy for keeper leagues. Grabbing a top prospect with a good chance to crack the starting lineup by Memorial Day is an easy to way to reinforce weak spots on your own roster.

Pitching, Pitching and More Pitching
I play in a head-to-head league these days, where starting pitching, even of the most mediocre variety, can still produce points. Loading up on two-start pitchers every Monday morning is also cost prohibitive at $2 per transaction.

Rounds 15-20 in standard leagues with 25 roster spots are meant for adding third and fourth starters. Here you can even chase wins, giving back-of-the-rotation guys on contenders a flyer for your roster. Of course, there are more than wins to be had from this group of pitchers. Look for potential breakout players, guys who had a strong September or someone whose peripheral statistics indicate better things in 2012.

Replacement closers are another option, eighth inning guys ready to step in for a shaky or oft-injured ninth inning guy. I tend to lean on the wire for in-season closer replacements since those decisions tend to be less predictable and less productive than starting pitching. However, if you miss out on closers earlier in the draft, this might be the place to grab some potential saves.

Aging Names
This is a Billy Beane favorite. Remember when the Athletics signed an unwanted Frank Thomas in 2006 and got 39 home runs and a .926 OPS out of him? They might do it again with Manny Ramirez this season, once he gets past that 50-game suspension. Aging greats can surprise everyone with bouts of productivity, and you will more than likely find a few in the late rounds of the draft.

Every year one or more of your starters, your top picks in the draft, will struggle at some point in the season. Colorado’s Todd Helton was probably an afterthought in most league’s last year, assigned to more teams via the robot draft than a purposeful addition. However, he had a pretty solid start to the season. Helton had 17 extra base hits in the first two months of the season to go with 21 runs scored, 22 RBI and an .870 OPS. It was hardly the line you want out of a starting first baseman, but it was good enough to be a fill-in for stragglers drafted in the early rounds.

Position Scarcity
Third base is notoriously thin again this season. There are never enough shortstops and second basemen to go around in a 12-team league. Adding a few backups at those positions, even if you do somehow manage to get a top tier player for all three, is a smart idea for a couple reasons.

Try to find a young player poised for a breakout or even a rebound candidate sitting in the right circumstances at one or more of these positions. They can serve as a fill-in if your starters are injured or in a slump. If they really get going, they could also give you some bargaining power as other owners deal with slumps and injuries.

A productive draft will use all of these strategies to get through the later rounds. It just might be the difference between fantasy gold and another wasted summer on the internet.

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So You’ve Got The First Pick

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So You’ve Got The First Pick

Posted on 10 February 2012 by Ryan Van Bibber

Having the first overall pick in your fantasy baseball draft is a bit like crafting that perfect status update for your Facebook page. Sure, maybe you really are one of those people who just throws up a mention that you had a delicious turkey sandwich with your dad on Saturday and walks away without thinking about it.

More than likely, you’re posting your status update for a reason. You have a message for one or more of your followers.

Maybe you need to get a message to that girl from accounting; “man, these size 28 jeans are the perfect fit!” Maybe, you need to tell the old high school chums how you so aren’t one of them anymore; “Best. Pinot. Ever.” Whatever your reasons, that message is changing because you need to define yourself with one quick electronic swoop.

Your first pick in your fantasy baseball draft is much the same. The first player on your roster says something about you and just how deadly serious you are about winning this season. It’s a weighty action. Picking first overall carries even more existential heft.

The last time I had the first pick in a fantasy baseball draft was 2003, my first season managing a pretend roster of any kind. My fellow bar flies had purposely given me the top spot as a test. They wanted to see if I was the kind of guy that would stand on a pair of a sevens, a greenhorn who could be fleeced with some regularity. I picked Barry Bonds … I think.

I lost that season, but it was a fairly respectable fantasy loss. A more responsible person might even call it a learning experience, teachable moment.

I wish I would have learned something because I’m picking first again this year.

As part of an effort to work through the neurosis of the top spot, I thought I’d make a quick and easy set of considerations to help the unlucky one-in-twelve of us get through first ninety seconds of our draft without a complete freakout.

Your Choices
Sure, you can really over-think this thing and grab Yu Darvish, but there are only five viable options for the first overall pick. Let’s meet these potential cornerstones.

  • Miguel Cabrera – One of the safest bets in all of fantasy baseball. You can almost wager your mortgage that this guy is going to contend for the league-best in homers, runs, RBI and average. The only thing he won’t get you is stolen bases. He’s even batting next to Prince Fielder in that lineup. What makes Cabrera especially enticing is a said move to third base. If he can make it 20 games (the position requirement in my league), he’s worth the first pick in no small part because of a shallow pool of talent at third.
  • Matt Kemp – Again, the numbers are all there. The stolen bases are too. Kemp is even 27. Most projections show Kemp’s numbers falling off from last season, a mere 30-30 guy. That’s still pretty good. The issue I have here is that he plays outfield, a much deeper position. Still, numbers are numbers, and you need those in your lineup.
  • Albert Pujols – He seemed more like a plain old superstar rather than the God of Baseball last year. He could be due for a rebound, or he could be due for a decline.
  • Troy Tulowitzki – This is the status update equivalent of saying “come and wave at me in my ivory tower.” He is a shortstop capable of producing excellent fantasy numbers. He is not what Hanley Ramirez used to be as a first-round pick because he doesn’t steal bases at the same clip as Hanley used to in his hey day (which may or may not return).
  • Jose Bautista – So I guess that whole power hitting thing was the real deal. Oh, he also plays third base.

Now which of these guys do you take? Hey, when that clock starts ticking down from 90 seconds and the sweat starts gumming up the Doritos residue on your hands, you are alone in the universe. You’ll have to choose which one is right for you. I know who I plan to pick.

Position Scarcity
One of the downsides of picking first is that long wait until the draft snakes back to you, assuming your league uses the standard snake draft. In a 12-team league, that means 22 of the best players available will be off the board before you make your second pick. Twenty-two players, almost a full major league roster.

Among those players likely to be off the board will be all of the good shortstops or third basemen or second basemen. One or two of the top five players, the guys in the upper echelon of talent, at one or two of those positions will be gone by the time you make your second-round pick. Third base is particularly thin; shortstop is not much deeper.

That means you have to do some homework prior to the draft. Make sure you focus intensely on that second tier of players at those thinner positions. Do not overlook the under-the-radar types, a guy due for a bounceback season, like David Wright or Chase Utley. If you draft a player like that after the first or second round, it might end up being more valuable than that first overall pick.

Do Not Be The Smartest Guy In The Room
When draft starts and you queue up your player and make the first overall pick, do not get crafty. Save the breakout candidates, pitchers, catchers and your favorite sentimental attachment picks for later in the draft. Forget about upside; this is not the NFL draft. Pick a hitter that will produce with a high degree of predictability, like one of the guys mentioned above.

Stars like the Cabrera, Pujols or Bonds back in the day, are the guys that will get you by from week to week. These guys are dependable, even if they are not the best player in the league that season. Baseball teams pay them a gazillion dollars for much the same reason you will draft them first overall.

You have the first pick, congratulations. Don’t screw it up.

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