Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pirates 2012 Season Preview

This article was part of a Baseball Bloggers Alliance series coordinated four months ago by Mr. Bill Ivie. I volunteered to grade the Bucco's 2011 season as well as discuss the outlook on their offseason. The previous articles were originally published on Baseball Digest, however the website closed and this new article was supposed to be posted on his new blog, Full Spectrum Baseball.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ivie informed me today this will not occur:
"With the closing of Baseball Digest, many writers elected not to carry on with this project. Due to this fact, I am left with a fraction of the submissions we need and no prospects of writers for some of the remaining teams.

"While I appreciate your work on these pieces, I will not be able to publish them this season.

"Feel free to run these on your own sites or whatever you see fit. I may be in touch with a few of you to see if we can use your pieces in another capacity. For the most part, however, I will not have a home for these.

"Thank you for understanding..."
Sadder still, this also means my previous two articles vanished from the internet.I'm disappointed, but I can pick myself up, figure this out, and make the best of the situation. After all, I'm a Pirates fan!

Last Season
The Pittsburgh Pirates saw a glimmer of hope in 2011, but injuries and fatigue after the All Star break ensured their downfall to finish fourth in the standings ahead of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros with a 72-90 record. It was an improvement over 2010 where they finished 57-105, but it still clinched their 19th consecutive losing season.

The team lost quite a few recognizable names from their roster during the offseason including Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Ronny Cedeno, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chris Snyder as well as their mid-season acquisitions, Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. That is a long list to recover, but I believe they managed their resources to the best of their ability, although they may still have the lowest payroll in the MLB thanks in part to Miami’s spending splurge.

The Rotation
Young pitching is what carried the team along last season until their arms tired out. They have quite a few candidates to start this season. Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia are all returning; Erik Bedard signed via free agency for $4.5M, which is a potential steal; and A.J. Burnett was acquired via trade from the New York Yankees and is only responsible for $13M of his $33M salary through 2013.

The Bedard and Burnett acquisitions were the most exciting among our offseason. Bedard has been injury prone and Burnett allows a lot of homers, but I am happy to have some strikeout potential in this rotation beyond McDonald. Both average almost one strikeout per inning pitched and will play pivotal roles.

Morton and Burnett are recovering from surgery and may begin the season on the disabled list, which means their rotation currently consists of Bedard, McDonald, Karstens, Correia, and Lincoln. Once everyone is healthy, I expect Correia and Lincoln will be demoted to the bullpen and/or minors to yield this rotation: Burnett, Bedard, Morton, McDonald, Karstens.

Starting Pitching in the Organization
Brad Lincoln, Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, and Rudy Owens are ready to go in the minors. Expect to see Lincoln and McPherson as soon as April due to injuries, while Locke and Owens are both lefties who can provide diversity in a right-handed heavy pitching system. Their prized arms, however, are first round picks Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon who may be ready as early as late 2013.

The Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan was elected the closer last season and did not make them regret their decision. Jose Veras, Chris Resop, and Jason Grilli dazzled, while Evan Meek spent most of the season struggling and on the disabled list. I would expect a bounce back season from Meek, although he may not get the opportunity after a rough spring.

Veras was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers over the offseason, but you should recognize many of the other names in the bullpen this season. Hanrahan will stick around to close with Meek, Grilli, and Resop setting him up. Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson will probably stick around as the only viable lefty specialists unless they struggle. Daniel McCutchen rounds out the back of the bullpen, but Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux, Duke Welker, Bryan Morris, and Justin Wilson are ready to move in.

The Backstop
Our front office sent Doumit and Snyder packing after the season ended and hope to replace him with the acquisition of Rod Barajas. He offers excellent defense behind the plate with some home run power, but his health may be of concern as he has only exceeded 100 games in a season four times in his 13 year career. Michael McKenry is currently the most likely candidate to back him up.

The Corners
The Pirates front office wanted to find someone to play first base, but they didn’t sign anyone we expected. Garrett Jones will platoon with Casey McGehee. McGehee can play either first or third, which makes him even more valuable if Pedro Alvarez performs dismally again this season. All three players have the potential to hit 20 home runs or more.

Up the Middle
Neil Walker will start at second base and is a contract extension candidate. His new double play partner at shortstop will be Clint Barmes who is a defensive upgrade over Cedeno. We should not expect much more than 20 homers between the two of them. Walker will hit for average, while Barmes will probably bat on the bottom of the lineup.

The Outfield
Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata will cover the outfield for next season barring any injuries. Presley was impressive while appearing in short service this past season, while Tabata spent most of the season dealing with injuries. McCutchen continued to deliver as the face of the franchise with impressive speed and an increase of power. All three players have the potential to steal 20 bases or more.

Tabata signed a contract late last season to secure him through 2019, while McCutchen just signed a $51.5M contract extension on Sunday, March 4th. The extension secures him potentially through 2018.

The Bench
There is not much to write home about regarding the Pirates bench. McKenry will back up Barajas, McGehee will back up the corner infield, Josh Harrison can play second or third base, Yamaico Navarro can back up the middle infield or outfield, and Nate McLouth is back in black and gold to provide more depth in the outfield.

The Minors
I predicted Matt Hague would make his debut in my last article I wrote in December. I stick by that prediction considering our first base situation. Starling Marte has the most recognizable talent and would help an ailing Pirates offense, but there is a logjam in the outfield. Both have been excellent in spring training this year. McPherson, Locke, and Owens could make their debuts as well if injuries plague the rotation again this season.

Created using Tagxedo
Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen
Team Ace: Erik Bedard
Team's 2012 record: 76 - 86
Team's 2012 finish in division: 4th in NL Central

McCutchen should outperform the rest of the team once again and could continue to improve to provide his best season. He is already a 20/20 hitter, but could he do better? Bedard has not completed a full season without injury since 2007, but he is healthy now and has the potential to be a staff ace.

Pittsburgh made some promising moves during this offseason and reportedly pursued several other big name players. This is definitely a step in the right direction and we should see some improvement over our 2011 season, especially if everyone stays healthy. I would love for the Buccos end the curse of Barry Bonds. It is possible we could earn a few more wins with the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from the division, but I do not believe enough progress was made to the roster to crack the .500 threshold this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Report Card
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Offseason Outlook
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Preview

Monday, March 19, 2012

Join My Fantasy Baseball League

I was recently contacted by my sister's boyfriend who wanted to play in a fantasy baseball league. We hashed out some of the details, then I spoke to my girlfriend's brother who was interested as well. I am already committed to six other teams, but I have not played with anyone I personally knew since Ryan's Baseball League in 1998. I could not pass up the opportunity to play with two of my future brothers-in-law.

That's where you come in.

Dearest Readers,

We are seeking a few passionate, knowledgeable, and respectful individuals to participate in our fantasy baseball league. Here are the details:

  • The league will be hosted on Yahoo and is free to join.
  • This will be a head-to-head league with a standard 5x5 scoring system.
  • A live snake draft will occur on Tuesday, March 27th at 7:00pm CST.

You should be able to view the league using the following link, but will need a password to sign up. If you're interested, then please contact me using Twitter/Facebook/email or simply leave a comment.

Let me take this opportunity to share a new photo I created for the Facebook fan page. I received a notification indicating I would be forced into the timeline interface later this month, so I decided to create a nice cover page and accepted the conversion ahead of time. Let me know if you like the image.

Be sure to like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Brain Over Braun

Ryan Braun was declared the National League MVP in 2011 and many analysts declared him the number one draft pick in fantasy baseball leagues until he was accused of using a performance-enhancing drug on December 10, 2011. He faced a 50-game suspension, which would have caused him to miss almost one third of the season and seriously hurt his fantasy value because of it.

Ryan Braun was shocked when he was accused of using PEDs in 2011.

Braun finally won his appeal on February 23, 2012. He stated during a press conference, "I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."

Many analysts corrected their rankings and projections as soon as this occurred, while some dragged their feet. It has been two weeks since that announcement, yet three of my 14 references still show him as a 31st draft pick or worse which is causing his rank on my 2012 Overall Fantasy Baseball Rankings spreadsheet to skew. The Yahoo Draft Average takes every draft into account, including those before the appeal was announced, so this variance is understandable and will correct itself over time. ClubHouseGM and Fantasy Baseball Crackerjacks released their draft kits in mid-February before the appeal and still have him ranked 41st and 76th, respectively.

What happens if these outliers are ignored?

Removing these erroneous values updates Braun on this compilation from a 14th overall pick to 4th behind Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Matt Kemp. His standard deviation is reduced from 106th (21.67) to 6th (2.54), while his weighted and unweighted ranks are both improved to 4th.

This is a great example why I decided to calculate and include the standard deviation value for every player. I am not going to omit these three data sets from my compilation even though they may be outdated compared to the others. They may be inaccurate in regards to Braun, but everything else is great.

Just remember it should be an easy decision to take Braun in the top half of the first round.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Stat Targets in Roto Leagues

Michael Marinakis from Fantasy Baseball Cafe and Jeff Furtah from ClubHouseGM both wrote about statistics you should target when you draft your fantasy baseball team in a rotisserie league. They were written in regards to different league formats, however both came to similar conclusions.

You do not need to win every category in your league to win. Your goal is to create a balanced team who can reach 3rd or 4th place in each category. Jeff reinforced this idea using his past experiences, while Michael shared his success from a mock draft using projections. The winners in his 12 team leagues averaged 98 points, which varied from 96 to 101. I can also attest to the accuracy of his data by comparing it to my own. The winners of my previous leagues in the same format averaged 97 points, which varied from 85 to 110. If you strive beyond third place, then you may be wasting your picks or resources.

For example, a team led the saves category in one of my league's last season with 168 while the team behind them only had 120. That effectively means they had one more closer than necessary. You could make the argument that perhaps their goal was to pad their ERA and WHIP categories with relief pitchers, though I can assure you they failed in both categories. Their offense was middle of the road and their pitching was poor aside from saves. If this team in question had not allocated their draft picks poorly by acquiring an overabundance of closers so early in the draft, then perhaps they would have fared better in the league.

Both writers predicted an alleged goal for a winning team in a league of the format they covered. They admit their provided information may not be useful unless you participate in their league type, though Jeff claims he has a solution and offers individual player averages:

"The reason the individual numbers are so important is you can simply take the number of roster spots you have for both hitters and pitchers and multiply that by the averages here to get the totals you need to strive for. Obviously if you are in a deeper league (in terms of teams or roster spots) the averages would be slightly less and if your in a league with less than 12 teams or fewer roster spots they'll be slightly higher.

"Once you have your total stats needed, either using the overall numbers above or by modifying the averages to fit your league, you need to create a simple spreadsheet. As you're drafting your team fill in the projections for each player. As you start adding up the totals you can quickly identify gaps so you're not scrambling near the end of your draft."

The following table compares the average statistics gathered from several of my mock drafts from ESPN and my Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues from the past two seasons. Our supposed statistical goals at third and fourth place are emboldened.

The standard rotisserie league format is quite different when you compare an ESPN mock draft to a Yahoo fantasy league even though they may both use a 12 team format. Yahoo drafts 23 players for 10 hitting positions, 8 pitchers, and 5 bench holders; while ESPN is a little deeper with 25 players drafted for 13 hitting positions, 9 pitchers, and 3 bench holders.

The target data I provided above was calculated simply by using the opposite of Jeff's calculation. The ESPN data was divided by their available hitting and pitching positions (rather than multiplying), likewise with Yahoo, while disregarding the bench.

ESPN's projection system is slightly skewed because it includes your draft picks on the bench whose statistics should not be included in a true league. This explains the variance from Jeff's estimate, otherwise I can agree his data is quite accurate and a great starting point when you prepare before your draft day.

You can find this information and much more when you use the ClubHouseGM 2012 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit.
I recommend checking it out.