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Playing the Name Game: Spring Training edition, Part Two

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Playing the Name Game: Spring Training edition, Part Two

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Chris Caylor

This is the 2nd of a two-part Spring Training edition of Playing the Name Game. In Part 1, I listed some infielders for you to focus on during your AL-only or NL-only drafts or auctions. As a reminder, I am not advocating that Player B is better than Player A; I am simply pointing out some players that may produce elite numbers at a less-than-elite cost. Now, let’s take a look at some pitchers and outfielders:

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista is brushed back by a pitch in the third inning against the New York Yankees in their American League MLB baseball game in Toronto August 23, 2010. Bautista homered on the next pitch.  REUTERS/Fred Thornhill  (CANADA - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Outfielders

Player A: .303/.371/.510, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB, 89 R, 119 OPS+

Player B: .283/.373/.441, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 21 SB, 88 R, 131 OPS+

Player A is Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. Player B is the Reds’ new centerfielder, Shin-Soo Choo. CarGo suffered in 2012, along with the rest of the Rockies (and their fans), clearly missing Troy Tulowitzki to protect him in the lineup. However, it remains questionable whether Gonzalez will reach the mid-30s in home runs again, as he did in 2010. Choo, meanwhile, bounced back from in injury-plagued 2011 season and to post solid numbers for a mediocre Cleveland team. Now that he is leading off for the deep, talented Reds, Choo could post career-high numbers. Projections I have seen have Choo virtually equaling Gonzalez in home runs, stolen bases and batting average, while besting Gonzalez in runs scored. Gonzalez will retain the edge in RBI, but Choo is being drafted 3-4 rounds later and is going for much cheaper in auction leagues.

Player A: .241/.358/.527, 27 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB, 64 R, 137 OPS+

Player B: .242/.305/.463, 32 HR, 85 RBI, 11 SB, 85 R, 110 OPS+

Player A is Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays. Player B is the Athletics’ Josh Reddick. Joey Bats’ 2012 season was marred by his wrist injury, which disabled him in July and eventually required surgery. Before that, he led the AL in home runs two consecutive seasons. Reddick came out of nowhere to mash 32 homers for the A’s in 2012. At age 26, his prime years are ahead of him. Bautista might – I repeat, might – drop of the 2nd round in some leagues due to fears about his wrist sapping his power stroke, but he won’t fall much further than that. Reddick, meanwhile, is ranked 20+ spots lower in ESPN leagues. Don’t that let deter you. The power is real and still developing. If Reddick played in a park other than the cavernous Oakland dump, he might threaten for the league home run title.

Pitchers

Finally, we come to the pitchers. In over 20 years of playing fantasy baseball, I have found it much more challenging to consistently build a good pitching staff than to construct a strong lineup. Is it because so many pitchers are one wrong pitch away from a trip to the disabled list? Or is it more that many pitchers who succeed one year struggle the next? Or is it something else entirely? Perhaps a combination of all three?

In any event, I subscribe to two theories when it comes to fantasy baseball and pitching: 1) pitchers with a solid WHIP rarely steer you wrong, and 2) do not punt the saves category. That is not to say that you should spend excessively on saves, but judiciously. Example:

Player A: 3-1 W-L, 42 Sv, 116 K, 0.65 WHIP

Player B: 2-1 W-L, 42 Sv, 69 K, 1.16 WHIP

Player A is Craig Kimbrel of the Braves. Player B is Rafael Soriano of the Nationals. Obviously, Kimbrel put together one of the most dominating seasons we have seen from a closer not named Mariano Rivera in many years. If you put aside the staggering difference in strikeouts, however, Kimbrel is not much more valuable than Soriano in standard fantasy baseball leagues. They compiled the same number of saves. The wins total is negligible. Both WHIP ratios are outstanding. But would you rather have Kimbrel (whom you would have to select in the early rounds of a draft or pay Rivera-like prices for at an auction), or would you rather use that early draft pick/big auction money on a starter like Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, knowing you can pick up Soriano several rounds later? I’d take the latter.

Player A: 20-5 W-L, 2.81 ERA, 142 K, 1.02 WHIP

Player B: 8-14 W-L, 3.81 ERA, 165 K, 1.28 WHIP

Player A is Jered Weaver of the Angels. Player B is Josh Johnson of the Blue Jays. Weaver has finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young balloting each of the past three seasons. Johnson was acquired as part of that massive trade between Toronto and Miami. Although the transition from NL to AL is typically more difficult for pitchers, that in this case is cancelled out by Johnson moving to a much better team. Forget the win-loss totals from last season; Johnson is still getting plenty of swings and misses when he pitches. Weaver missed almost a month in 2012 with back pain. Johnson is an injury-risk himself, but he is a year younger than Weaver and offers ace-like potential at No. 2 starter value. I’ll take my chances here.

Opening Day is rapidly approaching. If you’re like me and have your draft or auction coming up in the next 7-10 days, I hope this article proves helpful to you.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Name Brands

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Name Brands

Posted on 05 June 2012 by Dennis Lawson

3 Balls

You need not look any further than the most commonly searched names on any popular baseball site to determine which players have big time name recognition.  Some players become multimedia sensations before they ever take the field.  A few reach star status prior to even being drafted or signed from overseas.  Consider that a Google search for “Bryce Harper” returns 5,830,000 results.  “Yoenis Cespedes” gets you 601,000, and a “Yu Darvish” works out to roughly 4,660,000.  All 3 highly-touted rookies currently play for major league teams, but that was not the case a matter of a few months ago.  While that may be a lifetime by internet generation standards, it still represents a relatively short period by baseball standards.

Given the amount of time, energy, and money dedicated to creating a brand for each of these players, I cannot help but wonder whether the newest faces of MLB even have the chance to meet the lofty expectations associated with each of them.  Will every positive step be simply the predecessor of another marketing and advertising wave?  Will the creation of higher expectations always outpace actual accomplishments?

Cespedes has already become a mainstay of the A’s offense.  He ranks 2nd on the team in both home runs (5) and RBI (22), despite the fact he has just over half the at-bats the team leader in each department has.  Josh Reddick ranks first in both HR and RBI, but he has 203 at-bats to 119 for Cespedes.  Unfortunately for the A’s, Cespedes generously gives back on defense everything he gives them on offense and more.  He certainly has the athletic skills to play his position, but his baseball skills still have some catching up to do.  He might qualify as a work-in-progress, but he would then be considered an expensive project.   Cespedes cashes in to the tune of $6.5M this season, and the A’s already signed up for $8.5 for 2013, and $10.5M for 2014 and 2015 each.  With the increase in salary, the team and its fans certainly are reasonable to expect an increase in productivity, and that might be very gradual for a guy who has struck out 31 times in 132 plate appearances.  I hope Cespedes rewards the team and fans for their collective patience, because they cannot afford to swing and miss on very many big ones like this.

Yu Darvish faces similar if not greater expectations in Texas.  The Rangers have committed $56M over 6 years to Darvish, and the early returns appear promising.  Beyond the 3.25 ERA and 9.7 SO/9, Darvish could benefit from lowering his walk rate, because a WHIP of 1.459 is kind of like playing with fire.  It also means high pitch counts, and at 17.39 pitches per inning, Darvish is basically a 6-inning pitcher.  For now, that works fine, because the Rangers have a great bullpen that can cover the last 1/3 of the game regularly.  However, he could take a lot of load off of that pen by becoming slightly more efficient and going just 1 more inning a game on average.  If Darvish can accomplish that without ratcheting up his pitch counts, the Rangers have a potential ace-in-waiting.

Perhaps no young player carries the burden of expectations like Bryce Harper does.  The Nationals expect him to be an impact player now and hope for him to be a star player for years to come.  No big deal, except the guy is 19 and has barely had time to find his locker.  He is hitting .288/.380/.542/.922 with 5 HR, 4 3B, and 12 RBI.  As with Cespedes, his defense lags behind his offense by quite a bit, and he also carries a relatively high strikeout rate.  Still, he had the good fortune of playing on a team that does not need him to power the offense, and he appears to have the ability to learn on the job.

Even so, the expectations for Harper run as high as they do for Cespedes and Darvish.  All 3 have high ceilings in terms of potential, but they are all a long way from reaching those levels of performance.  They have become name brands in a matter of months on the MLB stage, and that leads to accelerated expectations and almost certain disappointment.  It is a shame that MLB and the various teams have essentially colluded with the media in putting the proverbial cart before the horse.  I just hope that it does not prove a detriment to the young, talented people entering the league.

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