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Irrational Behavior in Fantasy Baseball

I’ll never trade Mike Trout in my fantasy league.

Well, never is a long time, so I won’t commit to that. But I’ll overvalue him for a long time. Like with investing, there’s sometimes an irrational choice that flies in the face of any kind of wisdom and learning you’ve done in the field because of (shudder) emotions.

Won't this guy get a beer with me? Once?

Won’t this guy get a beer with me? Once?

I drafted Trout in March 2010, nine months after he was selected by the Angels with the 25th overall pick. And I honestly can’t remember why. Something about the potential of a five-tool outfielder, which I fall for like Garfield loves lasagna, or that evil archaeologist from Indiana Jones movies loves taking things away from Indiana Jones. Which is to say, a lot.

(My fantasy league is funny; we’re allowed to keep 26 players with no penalty year to year, and if we forfeit equivalent draft picks, up to 38 total. Which makes the draft pool shallower, and more research is needed. In 2010, I took the 18-year-old Trout in the 7th round, having already taken recent draftees Jacob Turner, Drew Storen, and Shelby Miller in previous rounds.)

That I drafted him so young, that I watched him (or more accurately, his stat lines) through the LAA farm system, rooted for him during his much-heralded and not-without-highlights debut in 2011, and was blown away during his 2012 rookie campaign, has made me feel more invested in his career. Not just as an arrogant, swaggering fantasy owner, but as a fan of the game.

Granted, it’s always hard listening to interviews with professional athletes, highly paid guys who by and large don’t have an awful lot of interesting things to say beyond “see the ball, hit the ball.” But the more I watch Trout, the more I love him. I don’t know if it’s like this with everybody. I drafted Dustin Pedroia early in his minor-league career. Before “Laser Show” and before the balding. He was what I envisioned myself as if I ever became a pro ballplayer. Undersized, cocky, swinging the bat like his life depended on it, dirty before he left the dugout. But I traded him earlier this season, packaged with Coco Crisp for Johnny Cueto.

But Trout. Watching him is like what I imagine watching early Mickey Mantle was. So young, All-American, winning smile, plays with a love of the game. Arm = average. But other than that. Cripes. By the end of this season – barring injury – he’ll be around the same career WAR as Don Newcombe, Hal Baines, and Juan Gonzalez, above Steve Garvey, Frank Howard, and just shy of Hack Wilson. WAR is obviously not the end-all, be-all. But these are not small names.

To paraphrase a sardonic tweet from the other day, his second two-homer game outburst of the week, he’s becoming just a boring future inner circle Hall of Famer.

Weirdly, I take pride in his accomplishments. That’s ridiculous. What did I do? I drafted a five-tool minor league outfielder who was a late first-round pick the prior June by the Angels. I did nothing, I deserve to feel no sense of pride from this 23 (23!) year-old’s athletic accomplishments. In fact, it’s a total parasitic relationship. He plays for a team I have no affection for, and I’ve – literally – made money from his on-field successes, while sending him no kind of thank-you note, gift basket of delicious cookies, financial kickback, or anything.

But it’s like I watched this seed grow into a plant. Or this private start-up become a billion-dollar public company. And somehow, with my rooting and love, I provided the sun and the nutrients and the affection that helped him grow. And more than that, even though it was mostly luck, I dare to think that I had the perspicacity to draft him, like that guy who scouted Derek Jeter and slapped future Hall-of-Famer tag on him.

I’m a Mets fan. Whenever my teams have been winning, I’ve been waiting, for just about three decades now, for something to go wrong. For Armando Benitez to give up a homer; for Luis Castillo to drop a pop-up; for Carlos Beltran not to swing; for Tom Glavine to throw a terrible game. For etc. But there’s a warmth in rooting for sure things, and good god, Trout is as much of a sure thing as there is in the game right now.

In December 2011, I offered Trout in a multi-player deal that would’ve netted me Albert Pujols. In February 2012, I used him as bait to try and reel in (wow) Tommy Hanson. Obviously, both owners declined. I have neither received nor made an offer that involved Trout since then.

Fantasy owners – who are more or less fans – by and large evaluate their own prospects higher than the industry would and certainly higher than their fellow owners do. This is mostly because of the fear of doing what I came so sadly close to doing, which is trading away Mike Trout to get Tommy Hanson. It’s all prospective, so we’re looking at their ideal ceilings and dreaming on that. That Trout not only reached that ceiling but also, impossibly, far surpassed it, only reinforces my terrible habits.

But the actuality of my own evaluation of Mike Trout goes beyond  calculating what he could provide to my team. When (and man, it’s gotta be a matter of when now, not if) he gives his Hall of Fame induction speech, and it’s filled with some clichés about playing hard and loving the game and so forth, I’ll beam like his father, because, hell, I helped that boy become famous in my own way.

Youth Movement

With the promotion of 20-year-old Carlos Correa to the surprising Houston Astros’ major-league squad last week, as well as Francisco Lindor and Byron Buxton over the weekend, MLB has had not only a big-time influx of top prospects this year, but also a big-time influx of youth – scarily talented youth, at that – in the last couple of years.

I do not mean youth like 27-year-olds, hitters just entering their prime. I mean youth like ‘these guys can’t buy alcohol, let alone run for Congress” young. And this is a good thing.

Here are the top five players on FanGraph’s WAR leaderboard as of Sunday, June 14th:

1. Bryce Harper (22 at end of season)

2. Mike Trout (24)

3. Josh Donaldson (29)

4. Jason Kipnis (28)

5. Paul Goldschmidt (27)

Read more…

Why I Hate the Yankees

imagesI mean, I don’t really hate the Yankees. I feel a little happier when a bunch of guys who are paid to play baseball by the Yankee Global Enterprises LLC lose. But for the sake of argument, let’s just say I hate the Yankees.

Which is actually the subject of a longer piece; one that is really more about my perceptions of its fan base – changed drastically from the 1970s to the early aughts – and, come to think of it, really more about the changing economics of New York City, my lifelong home; and therefore, really  about my place in New York. So, I guess, like all sports and sports teams, it’s kind of about more than the Yankees.

I digress. From both of these caveats.

But is a good example of what I don’t like about the Yankees, and how, to me, they feel strangely out of place in the weird fabric of interconnected Major League Baseball teams, independent but totally dependent. For a while now, perhaps starting with or catalyzed by 9/11, it seems like the Yankees have not just been vying for the title of “America’s Team,” wresting that from the drug-trafficking, homiciding Dallas Cowboys, but really, saying that they ARE America, in their exceptionalism and work ethic and expectations and symbolism. Of the qualities that the Bronx Bombers actually do share with the foreign perception of America is that arrogance – which leads to stupid things like Mystique and Aura – is what rubs people the wrong way about both, uh, franchises. Read more…

Career Leaderboards

Man, those career lists on FanGraphs and  Baseball Reference. So much fun. From Mike Trout’s go-go rookie season, I’ve been obsessively looking at his stats through the scope of history, as have so many other articles and stories.

Every couple of weeks, I’m like “jeez, who’s he passing for total player value now,” and then I’m like “did I just think the term ‘total player value’ to myself” and then I think, “god, I need to do something with my life.” Here’s some WAR for you (stats as of August 28th, 2014):

Fangraphs (fWAR) – Trout, in 464 games, is at 27.6, right above Roy Sievers, and right behind Willie McGee.

Baseball Reference (rWAR) – Trout comes in at 26.8, just above Jose Bautista, and tied with Mike Bordick.

Why the discrepancy? Two reasons. This from FanGraphs’ stat library:

  • Calculating Defense (2002-Present). For recent seasons, each system uses a different defensive metric. fWAR uses UZR, while rWAR uses Total Zone. UZR is considered more accurate, but is only available from 2002 onward, while TotalZone values can be calculated for any player in baseball history. As such, fWAR uses UZR for every year from 2002 onward, and it uses Total Zone for earlier seasons.

  • Baserunning. Both rWAR and fWAR includes base running, although they use different metrics. fWAR uses Ultimate Base Running (UBR) & Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), while rWAR uses their own linear-weights-based system.

According to Baseball Reference’s highly-scientific “Fan Elo Rater,” Trout is already the 301st best hitter in MLB history, just ahead of Andres Galarraga. (Of course, I just rated Zack Greinke better than Wilbur Wood without looking at stats or doing any kind of in depth thinking required for such a groundbreaking test of statistical and performance perpetuity.) Read more…

Why I’m Buying Mike Moustakas in 2015

moose  With the exception of the end-year roundup I did for my fantasy league last year    (that all of 14 people read), I can’t really offer any proof that I called Anthony  Rizzo’s breakout season by pointing at his  2013 poor BABiP and good line drive rate.

But what I can do is say that Mike Moustakas is going to be fairly valuable next year. I don’t mean like top-5 third baseman valuable, but I do mean that he could enjoy a pretty nice 2015 that could help your fantasy team for pennies on the dollar.

Let’s start with his BABiP, which is by no means a tell-all, but could be fairly useful. His batting average on balls in play (all stats as of today, August 27th) is .206. Among players with 350 plate appearances, that’s the worst mark by 19 points. The two players above Moose are Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis, each of whom strike out one every three or four at-bats. Which leads me to my second point. Read more…

Let’s All Enjoy it While it Lasts

ImageI had a Ken Griffey Jr. poster on my wall when I was in middle school. His rookie, maybe sophomore year, Sports Illustrated released a bunch of posters of him, each showing Griffey at the end of his swing, one of the sweetest in baseball history, tracing the invisible ball’s trajectory. Griffey was a delight to watch. His hat backwards, his smile, his gregariousness permeating his on- and off-field interactions, his nickname, “The Kid,” the perfect moniker encapsulating how he made sportswriters and fans feel when they watched him play. Of course, I was a kid, so he didn’t make me feel nostalgic or all waxy-poetic, but he was a favorite. Even in New York in the early ‘90s, where Seattle games weren’t on any kind of news reports.  Read more…

Godspeed, Journeyman Pitchers, Wherever You Are

ImageRamon Ortiz was a journeyman pitcher, with a lifetime 87-86 record, a below average ERA, and a 5.7 lifetime Wins Above Replacement. He had one good season under his belt, his 2002 campaign with the Anaheim Angels, when he won 15 games, notched 162 strikeouts, had a 3.1 WAR, and a 3.77 ERA (which, during the steroid era, was still much better than average). He never made an All-Star game, bounced around in a bunch of minor league levels, pitched in Japan, and ultimately signed contracts with ten different MLB franchises. Read more…

In Brief Praise of Alex Gordon and his Crazy Season so Far

As long as he’s playing in Kansas City, as long as he’s playing on a not-very-good team, as long he’s continually compared to what he projected to be coming out of college, as long as he’s unfairly held up to the moniker of Second George Brett, Alex Gordon is not going to get the press he deserves.

But he’s really, really good.

As a junior at the University of Nebraska in 2005, Gordon swept the three big college awards: the Dick Howser Trophy, the Golden Spikes Award, and the Brooks Wallace Award. The Royals selected him second overall that June behind the Diamondbacks’ no-brainer pick of Justin Upton.

(That 2005 draft gets a ton of press and rightfully so. The first 12 picks included seven All-Stars Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce, along with Gordon, Jeff Clement, Mike Pelfrey, and Cameron Maybin. The only player who didn’t make the majors out of the first 12 was Wade Townsend. You’d have to go back to 1986 for a group of first 12 picks in the ENTIRE DRAFT play in the bigs. Drafting, over the last decade, has gotten a lot more precise in that first half of the first round.)

Gordon immediately was saddled by the media and the destitute Royals’ fanbase with the responsibility of being George Brett’s heir and leading KC to a new golden age. He seemed to live up to it pretty quickly, lighting the Texas League on fire the following year,  leading the pack with a 1.016 OPS and improbably swiping 22 bags. He ranked in the top five in the TL in ten major offensive categories, won Baseball America’s Player of the Year Award, and the following spring, Sports Illustrated led off a balls-sucking fluff piece about him by essentially calling him the second Brett:

“Through high school and college, Gordon played third base (just like Brett), batted lefthanded (just like Brett) and accumulated hits at a prodigious pace (just like Brett). Gordon was the second overall pick of the 2005 draft, taken by the Royals, the same team that had drafted Brett in 1971. Gordon even has a brother named Brett, and it is not a coincidence.”

brett           (Gordon, left; Brett, right)Gordon

He broke camp in the bigs the following year, got a standing ovation before his first at-bat  … and then the waiting began. Glimmers of hope led to slumps, injuries, faded dreams, and eventually, once-hopeful fans writing scathing things about him. On May 1st, 2010, batting .194 with a .323 slugging percentage, Gordon was demoted to the minors. The deeper analysts (Hardball Times and FanGraphs) were not fans of the move, noting his value not readily evidenced in simple slash lines, but Gordon stayed on the farm for two months, and the former plus-defender at the hot corner was moved to the outfield. Gordon returned to the bigs in July and hit marginally better for the rest of the year, but his final batting line was still pretty awful.

But there were hints of a turnaround. His miserable batting average was greatly hindered by a .254 BaBIP; this, combined with a strong 23.2% line drive rate suggested some piss-poor bad luck out there. And he was acclimating well to the positional shift.

The following season, Gordon’s 7.3 bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR) / 6.7 fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) was good enough to rank him among the best players in baseball. He batted .303 with a .503 slugging. He led all outfielders with assists and all left fielders in putouts, winning a Gold Golve. He finished 22nd in MVP voting. And nobody f-ing noticed that he was one of the best players in baseball.

Last season he hit for less power, but became the best fielding left fielder in baseball, winning the much more advanced Fielding Bible Award, whose nominators said that Gordon “lapped the field with his 24 runs saved defensively, his nearest competitors being Martin Prado of Atlanta with 12 and Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings with 9 runs saved. Gordon was a unanimous choice for the 2012 Fielding Bible Award, finishing first on every single ballot cast by the panelists.”

This season, Gordon has a very bad walk rate, he’s hitting a lot more groundballs, and he’s swinging at a lot more stuff outside the strikezone. But he’s once again in the top 25 players in baseball. He’s batting over .350, and already has six games this season with three or more hits. This, compared to just seven games in which he’s gone hitless.

Yes, he’s basically just as likely to have three hits in a game as he is to get an 0-fer.

Gordon’s HR/FB rate is the highest it’s been … as, strangely, is his infield hit rate. He’s batting .405 in May. He’s hitting the ball all over the field. He’s destroying lefthanders (batting .431 against them), despite being historically weaker against them. In “high leverage” situations, he’s sporting a 1.095 OPS.

It’s crazy to think that Gordon didn’t make the All-Star Game in either of the last two seasons, and he won’t be voted in by the fans, not with wunderkind Mike Trout technically counting as a left fielder this season. But he’ll get there as a reserve, unless Jim Leyland carries a grudge against Gordon’s 968 OPS vs. Detroit last season.

Will Gordon regress against southpaws for the rest of the year? Maybe. But he’ll also draw more walks. Just watching him square up and unload against some balls this year, I can completely envision him challenging Brett’s .390 mark, living up to that once-assumed comparison.

Some Thoughts on “42”


Tom Alston, the first black Cardinals’ player.

Despite the title, this is just one thought on 42. And it’s not even about 42. It’s about the generations — well, one player, really — of black and Latin ballplayers that broke the color barrier of the lily-white ballfields of MLB and its affiliates.

Jackie Robinson’s (and Larry Doby’s and Hank Aaron’s and etc.) trials are well-documented. The new god-making movie on the two years of Jackie’s life only scratches the surface of what he went through. There were really only two scenes of the out-and-out threat facing him: one, in Sanford, Florida when rumors of a mob coming forces him to move locations (the scene ends with a somewhat humorous button); and the second, when Branch Rickey takes out three folders full of death threats sent to Robinson just halfway through the season. Read more…

Phil Hughes and the Modern Athlete

So here’s this great quote from this New York Times article about how Yankee pitcher Phil Hughes, who visited hoity-toity Europe this winter:

Having never been anywhere but Canada and Mexico, Hughes said he was enthralled by much that he saw. They toured London and saw Big Ben, Westminster and the changing of the guard. Then it was on to Paris, where Hughes discovered escargot. He visited the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, at least for a minute.

“I’m not big into art and stuff like that,” Hughes said. “So we just kind of made a beeline for the Mona Lisa.”

I always wince a little when I read something like that.  Read more…