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Slow Starters: Slow Starters

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2008 10:06 am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging


I'm not sure whether this season is different than any other, but it struck me that some pretty good pitchers are off to especially terrible starts. You could have come out of your mixed league draft pretty happy to have the following starters:
C.C. Sabathia
Justin Verlander
Roy Oswalt
A.J. Burnett
Rich Hill
Ted Lilly

But you'd be in a hole so deep after just 12 days, that I'm not sure your ERA and WHIP would ever recover. Because while you typically expect players who have been good for a while to bounce back, you should NOT expect them to pitch better than normal to make up for the damage. In other words, if a 3.50 career ERA pitcher puts up a 4.00 ERA in the first half, he can't be expected to put up a 3.00 in the second half to balance it out. Probably you should expect his 3.50 in the second half, and a 3.75 ERA on the year. And it's the same way after 14 innings of 18-run ball, it's going to be hard for Sabathia to have an ERA close to 3.20 again. I'm thinking 3.75 is probably a better bet, and that's only if he gets it together soon.


But beyond the simple math, are you worried about any of these guys after two or three starts? When apparently healthy hitters start off slowly (Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau), I don't worry at all. I'd trade for either player in a minute, and if someone wants them from me, they're not getting a discount. But with pitchers there's always a little worry - maybe there's some minute tear in some part of this guy's arm, and while his velocity seems okay, that minor injury is causing him to alter his release ever so slightly. And that's causing him to have trouble locating. Maybe he's walking an extra batter or two, but worse, maybe those pitches that used to touch the black are now veering over the middle of the plate and getting scalded. You can't tell from the boxscore always. Sabathia's give up 24 hits in 14 innings - has to be bad luck, right? But what if only some of it is bad luck, but he's missing over the plate more this year? The three HR allowed and nine walks suggest that his command is shaky.


Of course, pitchers also just don't have it occasionally, and even last year, there were starts where he got hit hard, so maybe those starts have all just come in early April. The bottom line is that it's hard to say with pitchers, and that's why they worry me a lot.


On the flip side, had I told you I spent $200 on hitting, $53 on two stud closers and $7 on $1 starters and come out with the following:


Ryan DempsterJake WestbrookGavin FloydTodd WellemeyerBrian BannisterGreg MadduxCliff Lee


I'd have a pretty big leg up right now. Maddux seems likely to keep it up in that park. I like Westbrook a lot, too - striking out a few guys early on, keeps the ball down, good home park, run support. I like the ground-ballers, especially when, like Derek Lowe, they can boost their strikeout rate just a little bit. Floyd, I hope does well - have him in AL LABR - but worried about him in that park. Still, pitchers (like all young players) can "get it" suddenly and take a leap. I just worry that this is more a case of smoke and mirrors, given his low K rate, high walk rate and lack of ground balls. Also, I think Lee is interesting because he's had good seasons in the past and benefits from the same environment that Westbrook does. And Bannister could probably write this column, so seeing him succeed early makes me wonder if there's something to that. Wellemeyer and Dempster are pretty similar - hard throwers who can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground - but the command comes and goes. Any chance either of those two turn the corner?


Bottom line, Jeff - pitching is volatile in the long run, and extremely volatile in the short term. What should we make of two or three starts worth of data, and are you sold on any of these $1 studs, or troubled by any of these big money busts? How long does it take before you change your mind on a pitcher?


-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: April 16, 2008 3:26 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: RE: Charging

I can tell that this is going to be our "clip-and-save" column for this year. We're going to have to make the call on these guys after just three starts. But I suppose, their poor fantasy owners are in the same boat. So let's jump right into it.

C.C. Sabathia - There's a legitimate concern that Sabathia has been affected by his heavy workload last year, not just during the regular season but also adding in his playoff innings. That said, I'm in the "he'll get it together eventually" camp. Bill James once wrote an essay in one of his Baseball Abstracts talking about how well power pitchers do in April - his inspiration was seeing Joe Altobelli adjust his starting rotation for the O's in April such that Storm Davis could get more starts, rather than a soft-tosser like Mike Flanagan. Altobelli thought that hard throwers would benefit more from the cold weather on the theory that hitters would be behind pitchers at that point of the season. What James found was that the opposite was more likely to be true - it was the finesse pitchers that did better.

How does this apply? For two of Sabathia's three starts, the weather has been simply awful. Sabathia has had a lot of problems with his control and command within the strike zone. I do think it's a matter of time before he comes around. We always talk about "buy low" this time of year, and while the mechanics of doing so are rarely cut and dried, I do think that he's a good candidate for that.

Justin Verlander - I'm even less concerned about Verlander than Sabathia. Two of his starts have come against the White Sox, who for whatever reason have always raked him across the coals. He has a 6.14 career ERA against them, over 10 starts, so it's not just this year. He's an even better guy to target than Sabathia. Just wait until after Thursday - he pitches against Cleveland on Thursday, and his track record against them is just as bad. Anyhow, the general perception is to downgrade him right now. I'm reluctant to do so, unless you're going to do so on the basis that he's not going to get a whole lot of support in the bullpen. I can buy that - but the run support is going to come here. I hate trying to target wins, but if you're going to do so, here's a pretty good place.

Roy Oswalt - Here's where I wish I had been bolder with my projections. I saw his four-year trend of declining strikeout rates, and yet, I didn't give him a more negative projection. Now, when I chime in and say I am/was worried about him, it doesn't hold as much value. We've talked before that in some cases, it's OK if a pitcher doesn't strike out a ton of batters - pitching to contact can be successful at times. The question becomes whether or not that pitcher can adjust like Roy Halladay, or does he become Barry Zito? I'm afraid that Oswalt is going down the Zito path. He is decidedly not a buy-low candidate for me.

A.J. Burnett - This is probably the one that strikes closest to home for you, given that you have him in four leagues. The disappearance of his strikeouts can pretty much be explained away by minor injuries. His heroic battle against a car door left him unable to throw his curveball for much of spring training, so I suspect that he's having problems getting the feel for that pitch still. He also wrenched his knee in his first start against the Yankees. He's not exactly the Iron Man out there on the mound, but I'm presuming that both of those conditions improve and so will his performance.

Rich Hill - This is a carryover from a pretty awful spring training for Hill. He just hasn't had his command, and in this case I don't think that you can blame the weather. What can you blame? I don't know - it could be a case where his mechanics are just off. I'd advocate patience, and in fact, in the one league where I have him, I pretty much have to be patient - it's a keeper league where I picked up one of the worst teams in the league and am rebuilding. That said, do you make him a buy-low candidate? The Cubs are under a lot of pressure to win right now, and clearly have a manager who has no desire to weather the storm with struggling young players. As opposed to the next pitcher on the list, I don't think Lou Piniella will be especially patient with Hill. I think he's a hold, not a buy.

Ted Lilly - Our colleague Scott Pianowski stated in one of our blogs that "... At the end of the day I don't even root for my play
I'm not sure whether this season is different than any other, but it struck me that some pretty good pitchers are off to especially terrible starts. You could have come out of your mixed league draft pretty happy to have the following starters:
C.C. Sabathia
Justin Verlander
Roy Oswalt
A.J. Burnett
Rich Hill
Ted Lilly

But you'd be in a hole so deep after just 12 days, that I'm not sure your ERA and WHIP would ever recover. Because while you typically expect players who have been good for a while to bounce back, you should NOT expect them to pitch better than normal to make up for the damage. In other words, if a 3.50 career ERA pitcher puts up a 4.00 ERA in the first half, he can't be expected to put up a 3.00 in the second half to balance it out. Probably you should expect his 3.50 in the second half, and a 3.75 ERA on the year. And it's the same way after 14 innings of 18-run ball, it's going to be hard for Sabathia to have an ERA close to 3.20 again. I'm thinking 3.75 is probably a better bet, and that's only if he gets it together soon.


But beyond the simple math, are you worried about any of these guys after two or three starts? When apparently healthy hitters start off slowly (Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau), I don't worry at all. I'd trade for either player in a minute, and if someone wants them from me, they're not getting a discount. But with pitchers there's always a little worry - maybe there's some minute tear in some part of this guy's arm, and while his velocity seems okay, that minor injury is causing him to alter his release ever so slightly. And that's causing him to have trouble locating. Maybe he's walking an extra batter or two, but worse, maybe those pitches that used to touch the black are now veering over the middle of the plate and getting scalded. You can't tell from the boxscore always. Sabathia's give up 24 hits in 14 innings - has to be bad luck, right? But what if only some of it is bad luck, but he's missing over the plate more this year? The three HR allowed and nine walks suggest that his command is shaky.


Of course, pitchers also just don't have it occasionally, and even last year, there were starts where he got hit hard, so maybe those starts have all just come in early April. The bottom line is that it's hard to say with pitchers, and that's why they worry me a lot.


On the flip side, had I told you I spent $200 on hitting, $53 on two stud closers and $7 on $1 starters and come out with the following:


Ryan DempsterJake WestbrookGavin FloydTodd WellemeyerBrian BannisterGreg MadduxCliff Lee


I'd have a pretty big leg up right now. Maddux seems likely to keep it up in that park. I like Westbrook a lot, too - striking out a few guys early on, keeps the ball down, good home park, run support. I like the ground-ballers, especially when, like Derek Lowe, they can boost their strikeout rate just a little bit. Floyd, I hope does well - have him in AL LABR - but worried about him in that park. Still, pitchers (like all young players) can "get it" suddenly and take a leap. I just worry that this is more a case of smoke and mirrors, given his low K rate, high walk rate and lack of ground balls. Also, I think Lee is interesting because he's had good seasons in the past and benefits from the same environment that Westbrook does. And Bannister could probably write this column, so seeing him succeed early makes me wonder if there's something to that. Wellemeyer and Dempster are pretty similar - hard throwers who can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground - but the command comes and goes. Any chance either of those two turn the corner?


Bottom line, Jeff - pitching is volatile in the long run, and extremely volatile in the short term. What should we make of two or three starts worth of data, and are you sold on any of these $1 studs, or troubled by any of these big money busts? How long does it take before you change your mind on a pitcher?


-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: April 16, 2008 3:26 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: RE: Charging

I can tell that this is going to be our "clip-and-save" column for this year. We're going to have to make the call on these guys after just three starts. But I suppose, their poor fantasy owners are in the same boat. So let's jump right into it.

C.C. Sabathia - There's a legitimate concern that Sabathia has been affected by his heavy workload last year, not just during the regular season but also adding in his playoff innings. That said, I'm in the "he'll get it together eventually" camp. Bill James once wrote an essay in one of his Baseball Abstracts talking about how well power pitchers do in April - his inspiration was seeing Joe Altobelli adjust his starting rotation for the O's in April such that Storm Davis could get more starts, rather than a soft-tosser like Mike Flanagan. Altobelli thought that hard throwers would benefit more from the cold weather on the theory that hitters would be behind pitchers at that point of the season. What James found was that the opposite was more likely to be true - it was the finesse pitchers that did better.

How does this apply? For two of Sabathia's three starts, the weather has been simply awful. Sabathia has had a lot of problems with his control and command within the strike zone. I do think it's a matter of time before he comes around. We always talk about "buy low" this time of year, and while the mechanics of doing so are rarely cut and dried, I do think that he's a good candidate for that.

Justin Verlander - I'm even less concerned about Verlander than Sabathia. Two of his starts have come against the White Sox, who for whatever reason have always raked him across the coals. He has a 6.14 career ERA against them, over 10 starts, so it's not just this year. He's an even better guy to target than Sabathia. Just wait until after Thursday - he pitches against Cleveland on Thursday, and his track record against them is just as bad. Anyhow, the general perception is to downgrade him right now. I'm reluctant to do so, unless you're going to do so on the basis that he's not going to get a whole lot of support in the bullpen. I can buy that - but the run support is going to come here. I hate trying to target wins, but if you're going to do so, here's a pretty good place.

Roy Oswalt - Here's where I wish I had been bolder with my projections. I saw his four-year trend of declining strikeout rates, and yet, I didn't give him a more negative projection. Now, when I chime in and say I am/was worried about him, it doesn't hold as much value. We've talked before that in some cases, it's OK if a pitcher doesn't strike out a ton of batters - pitching to contact can be successful at times. The question becomes whether or not that pitcher can adjust like Roy Halladay, or does he become Barry Zito? I'm afraid that Oswalt is going down the Zito path. He is decidedly not a buy-low candidate for me.

A.J. Burnett - This is probably the one that strikes closest to home for you, given that you have him in four leagues. The disappearance of his strikeouts can pretty much be explained away by minor injuries. His heroic battle against a car door left him unable to throw his curveball for much of spring training, so I suspect that he's having problems getting the feel for that pitch still. He also wrenched his knee in his first start against the Yankees. He's not exactly the Iron Man out there on the mound, but I'm presuming that both of those conditions improve and so will his performance.

Rich Hill - This is a carryover from a pretty awful spring training for Hill. He just hasn't had his command, and in this case I don't think that you can blame the weather. What can you blame? I don't know - it could be a case where his mechanics are just off. I'd advocate patience, and in fact, in the one league where I have him, I pretty much have to be patient - it's a keeper league where I picked up one of the worst teams in the league and am rebuilding. That said, do you make him a buy-low candidate? The Cubs are under a lot of pressure to win right now, and clearly have a manager who has no desire to weather the storm with struggling young players. As opposed to the next pitcher on the list, I don't think Lou Piniella will be especially patient with Hill. I think he's a


I can tell that this is going to be our "clip-and-save" column for this year. We're going to have to make the call on these guys after just three starts. But I suppose, their poor fantasy owners are in the same boat. So let's jump right into it.


C.C. Sabathia - There's a legitimate concern that Sabathia has been affected by his heavy workload last year, not just during the regular season but also adding in his playoff innings. That said, I'm in the "he'll get it together eventually" camp. Bill James once wrote an essay in one of his Baseball Abstracts talking about how well power pitchers do in April - his inspiration was seeing Joe Altobelli adjust his starting rotation for the O's in April such that Storm Davis could get more starts, rather than a soft-tosser like Mike Flanagan. Altobelli thought that hard throwers would benefit more from the cold weather on the theory that hitters would be behind pitchers at that point of the season. What James found was that the opposite was more likely to be true - it was the finesse pitchers that did better.


How does this apply? For two of Sabathia's three starts, the weather has been simply awful. Sabathia has had a lot of problems with his control and command within the strike zone. I do think it's a matter of time before he comes around. We always talk about "buy low" this time of year, and while the mechanics of doing so are rarely cut and dried, I do think that he's a good candidate for that.


Justin Verlander - I'm even less concerned about Verlander than Sabathia. Two of his starts have come against the White Sox, who for whatever reason have always raked him across the coals. He has a 6.14 career ERA against them, over 10 starts, so it's not just this year. He's an even better guy to target than Sabathia. Just wait until after Thursday - he pitches against Cleveland on Thursday, and his track record against them is just as bad. Anyhow, the general perception is to downgrade him right now. I'm reluctant to do so, unless you're going to do so on the basis that he's not going to get a whole lot of support in the bullpen. I can buy that - but the run support is going to come here. I hate trying to target wins, but if you're going to do so, here's a pretty good place.


Roy Oswalt - Here's where I wish I had been bolder with my projections. I saw his four-year trend of declining strikeout rates, and yet, I didn't give him a more negative projection. Now, when I chime in and say I am/was worried about him, it doesn't hold as much value. We've talked before that in some cases, it's OK if a pitcher doesn't strike out a ton of batters - pitching to contact can be successful at times. The question becomes whether or not that pitcher can adjust like Roy Halladay, or does he become Barry Zito? I'm afraid that Oswalt is going down the Zito path. He is decidedly not a buy-low candidate for me.


A.J. Burnett - This is probably the one that strikes closest to home for you, given that you have him in four leagues. The disappearance of his strikeouts can pretty much be explained away by minor injuries. His heroic battle against a car door left him unable to throw his curveball for much of spring training, so I suspect that he's having problems getting the feel for that pitch still. He also wrenched his knee in his first start against the Yankees. He's not exactly the Iron Man out there on the mound, but I'm presuming that both of those conditions improve and so will his performance.


Rich Hill - This is a carryover from a pretty awful spring training for Hill. He just hasn't had his command, and in this case I don't think that you can blame the weather. What can you blame? I don't know - it could be a case where his mechanics are just off. I'd advocate patience, and in fact, in the one league where I have him, I pretty much have to be patient - it's a keeper league where I picked up one of the worst teams in the league and am rebuilding. That said, do you make him a buy-low candidate? The Cubs are under a lot of pressure to win right now, and clearly have a manager who has no desire to weather the storm with struggling young players. As opposed to the next pitcher on the list, I don't think Lou Piniella will be especially patient with Hill. I think he's a hold, not a buy.


Ted Lilly - Our colleague Scott Pianowski stated in one of our blogs that "... At the end of the day I don't even root for my players first - I want my publicly-stated opinions to be right." That's exactly how I feel about Lilly - I've advocated that Lilly's 2007 season was real. Sure, pitching in the NL Central played a big part in his success, but that condition hasn't changed. He's still going to be pitching in favorable matchups. He's going through a period where he doesn't have his full fastball - for now I'm treating it as the prototypical "dead arm" period that pitchers often experience during spring training, and nothing more. If it is an enduring condition, then I'll revise my statement on him, but he's also a hold now. Thursday's outing against the Reds should be an interesting test - assuming the wind isn't howling out like it was on Tuesday night. The Reds haven't hit well off of lefties at all this season, so Lilly could begin the turnaround then.


Looking at your flip-side pitchers, I think you want to look for the reasons why they've been successful, and you've done a pretty good job at delineating that already. I tend to believe more in the pitchers that reliably can induce groundouts, like Lowe, Westbrook and Chien-ming Wang. That's why I'm not so optimistic about Bannister - as much as I'd like to root for him given how he's embraced sabermetrics, at the end of the day I don't see his skills translating into consistent success. So far I've been wrong. We'll see if that lasts. I'm even less convinced that Gavin Floyd has turned the corner. I wrote about him in this week's AL FAAB Factor article:


"Floyd has beaten the Tigers twice now to begin the season, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Saturday. We're reluctant to think that Floyd has turned the corner entirely, however. He has a 6:6 K:BB ratio over 13.1 innings, still isn't inducing a lot of groundballs (while pitching in a park that will punish flyball pitchers generally), and was facing a watered-down Tigers lineup on Saturday that was missing Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen. Tread carefully here."


What's your opinion on the pitchers that you mentioned? Do you look for trends, specific stats this time of year, or is it more of a case-by-case basis? Let me throw out a couple more names for you, both good and bad:


Zach Greinke

Joe Saunders

Randy Wolf

Jeremy Bonderman

Jon Garland (just two strikeouts in 18 innings)

Chris Young


----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2008 3:00 pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

I'm agnostic about Sabathia - hard to say whether it's a sample-size related cold weather blip or a sign of arm trouble starting to manifest in lack of command. I'd make him a hold, but not target.

I agree on Verlander - probably the safest pitcher in the AL, though your concerns about his bullpen are duly noted.

I'm buying Oswalt if he's available on the cheap. The difference between Oswalt and Zito is that Oswalt was an elite pitcher for years whereas Zito had a couple years then fell off. I know there's a trend with Oswalt, but he strikes me as a pitcher who will adapt because he seems more focused on baseball. Of course, I went the "competitor" route on Pedro Martinez, too this year and so far I'm 0-for-1. It takes a lot of work to change your style and be effective, and I'm not sure most players, who are already rich and successful, are willing to relearn their approach. I'd bet Oswalt is from what we know about him.

Burnett I refuse to comment on. Don't want to jinx him.

I'm genuinely worried about Hill. He's a cerebral pitcher who struggled a lot with his command when he first came up, despite dominating in the minors. On the one hand, he worked it out the first time, so that bodes well, but on the other, I think there's a confidence issue here that's not assuaged by his 2007 success. I think it could take him a while to find his groove again, and if he struggles in his next start, I might even send him down to the minors (rather than the pen) to find his way. And I liked Hill heading into the year.

I was down on Lilly this year - I assumed he'd regress to the mean. His control was better than usual last year, and I wasn't sold on that after one season, and he allowed a .272 batting average on balls in play, which is also likely to spike. He also serves up his share of homers, so if a few more hits drop in along with a few more walks, those can be two and three-run shots rather than solo ones.

I think Bannister is interesting. More ground balls so far and good control. He's a smart pitcher, so he knows what he has to do. Of course, he's only allowed 10 hits in 21 IP, and that's not going to last. But I could see a repeat of last year's numbers or better - he's 27 years old and still developing, so maybe he makes the most of his skill set. It would be nice to see another strikeout per nine though.

Greinke has the stuff and the pedigree, but he's the luckiest pitcher on the planet right now - .214 BABIP and .957 strand rate. I'd sell high if I could get Burnett for him right now (knock on wood).

Saunders is also lucky - he's basically a left-handed version of Garland. Just let them put the ball in play, let Torii Hunter go get it - eke out some wins against weaker lineups. But he's just 27, so who knows - it's possible he could improve.

I think that's the main thing to keep in mind, obvious though it sounds, that past performance does not guarantee future results. We sometimes talk like we can assess a player's future 100 percent based on his peripherals, but we really can't. All we can do it isolate his past skills from the noise in his cosmetic numbers and get a good read on how he's done. But going forward, things will change unpredictably. I know it's obvious, but I want to make sure people don't think baseball analysis is just about knowing K:BB ratios, GB:FB and strikeout rate. The unknown is big.

That said, I like Randy Wolf in that park - for however long he stays healthy. He can strike people out and Petco will help him avoid the long ball. His control is spotty, though, and I'd be surprised if he made 20 starts.

I don't want to jinx Bonderman, either, since I overpaid for him in the RotoWire Staff League, but I think he'll be okay - he's keeping the ball on the ground. Your projection for him 4.64 ERA and 12 wins seems about right, but I think there's still some upside. I don't like Young much - too many walks and way too many fly balls. I know Petco's a big park, but he's got to pitch on the road, too, and no way he gives up 10 home runs in 173 innings like he did last year. Not that I wouldn't take him if someone gave him away, but I think last year's stellar first half was a mirage.

Send it home, Jeff - anything I said here that you don't agree with? And throw in a couple hitters - say David Ortiz, Troy Tulowitzki, Hunter Pence and Adam Dunn - I'm sure people are worried about those guys, too.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: April 16, 2008 5:00 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: Charging

I forgot to answer one of the questions from your first missive - how long does it take me to change my mind? I don't have a hard-fast number of starts or point in time. It's one case where I think you need to have a bit of a feel, which admittedly is difficult to do. My answer probably is "too long." I preach patience with most struggling players while emphasizing the long-term nature of baseball. I'll miss out on dumping a guy too soon occasionally, but more often I'll be rewarded when a player returns to form.

Part of the problem with this topic is that mere statistical analysis is insufficient in making this determination. We're working with imperfect information fairly often. Is the player hiding an injury, or is the team hiding the severity of that injury? After the infamous B.J. Ryan injury last year, I take almost any positive news on a player injury with an extra grain of salt; and yet, I still want to believe the best when it comes to my own players. But you're right - the unknown here is huge. For that matter, the big gap for me is the ability to evaluate pitching mechanics and to otherwise dabble in physical scouting. We can all watch the radar readings and see if they correspond with what a pitcher usually throws, but after that, I'm usually at a loss.

Still, I'll be watching Sabathia and Oswalt closely tonight.

I'm far more willing to give a struggling hitter the benefit of the doubt than I am a struggling pitcher. But then again, I trust hitters a lot more on Draft Day too. But with your list of hitters, they're all on my buy-low list. Maybe David Ortiz is the one guy that I'm afraid of, because of his knee operation over the season and his drop in power. As far as Pence and Tulowitzki (and Ryan Braun, for that matter), I want my opponents to keep talking up the concept of a "sophomore slump." Do you really think that such an animal exists? It's alliterative, and makes for an easy explanation to talk away a slot start, but I'm not buying it. If anything, such a slump should have manifested itself over the second half of their rookie seasons, when they had already been exposed to major league pitchers for an extended period of time.

I agree with your assessment on the Royals - they have been exceptionally fortunate so far. Greinke is going to settle down to earth eventually - but I wonder what is "true" level is anyhow? As you alluded, the pedigree and the stuff is there, and he did have a fantastic second half last year. The Royals' bullpen (Hideous Nomo notwithstanding) has been excellen


I'm agnostic about Sabathia - hard to say whether it's a sample-size related cold weather blip or a sign of arm trouble starting to manifest in lack of command. I'd make him a hold, but not target.


I agree on Verlander - probably the safest pitcher in the AL, though your concerns about his bullpen are duly noted.


I'm buying Oswalt if he's available on the cheap. The difference between Oswalt and Zito is that Oswalt was an elite pitcher for years whereas Zito had a couple years then fell off. I know there's a trend with Oswalt, but he strikes me as a pitcher who will adapt because he seems more focused on baseball. Of course, I went the "competitor" route on Pedro Martinez, too this year and so far I'm 0-for-1. It takes a lot of work to change your style and be effective, and I'm not sure most players, who are already rich and successful, are willing to relearn their approach. I'd bet Oswalt is from what we know about him.


Burnett I refuse to comment on. Don't want to jinx him.


I'm genuinely worried about Hill. He's a cerebral pitcher who struggled a lot with his command when he first came up, despite dominating in the minors. On the one hand, he worked it out the first time, so that bodes well, but on the other, I think there's a confidence issue here that's not assuaged by his 2007 success. I think it could take him a while to find his groove again, and if he struggles in his next start, I might even send him down to the minors (rather than the pen) to find his way. And I liked Hill heading into the year.


I was down on Lilly this year - I assumed he'd regress to the mean. His control was better than usual last year, and I wasn't sold on that after one season, and he allowed a .272 batting average on balls in play, which is also likely to spike. He also serves up his share of homers, so if a few more hits drop in along with a few more walks, those can be two and three-run shots rather than solo ones.


I think Bannister is interesting. More ground balls so far and good control. He's a smart pitcher, so he knows what he has to do. Of course, he's only allowed 10 hits in 21 IP, and that's not going to last. But I could see a repeat of last year's numbers or better - he's 27 years old and still developing, so maybe he makes the most of his skill set. It would be nice to see another strikeout per nine though.


Greinke has the stuff and the pedigree, but he's the luckiest pitcher on the planet right now - .214 BABIP and .957 strand rate. I'd sell high if I could get Burnett for him right now (knock on wood).


Saunders is also lucky - he's basically a left-handed version of Garland. Just let them put the ball in play, let Torii Hunter go get it - eke out some wins against weaker lineups. But he's just 27, so who knows - it's possible he could improve.


I think that's the main thing to keep in mind, obvious though it sounds, that past performance does not guarantee future results. We sometimes talk like we can assess a player's future 100 percent based on his peripherals, but we really can't. All we can do it isolate his past skills from the noise in his cosmetic numbers and get a good read on how he's done. But going forward, things will change unpredictably. I know it's obvious, but I want to make sure people don't think baseball analysis is just about knowing K:BB ratios, GB:FB and strikeout rate. The unknown is big.


That said, I like Randy Wolf in that park - for however long he stays healthy. He can strike people out and Petco will help him avoid the long ball. His control is spotty, though, and I'd be surprised if he made 20 starts.


I don't want to jinx Bonderman, either, since I overpaid for him in the RotoWire Staff League, but I think he'll be okay - he's keeping the ball on the ground. Your projection for him 4.64 ERA and 12 wins seems about right, but I think there's still some upside. I don't like Young much - too many walks and way too many fly balls. I know Petco's a big park, but he's got to pitch on the road, too, and no way he gives up 10 home runs in 173 innings like he did last year. Not that I wouldn't take him if someone gave him away, but I think last year's stellar first half was a mirage.


Send it home, Jeff - anything I said here that you don't agree with? And throw in a couple hitters - say David Ortiz, Troy Tulowitzki, Hunter Pence and Adam Dunn - I'm sure people are worried about those guys, too.


-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: April 16, 2008 5:00 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: Charging

I forgot to answer one of the questions from your first missive - how long does it take me to change my mind? I don't have a hard-fast number of starts or point in time. It's one case where I think you need to have a bit of a feel, which admittedly is difficult to do. My answer probably is "too long." I preach patience with most struggling players while emphasizing the long-term nature of baseball. I'll miss out on dumping a guy too soon occasionally, but more often I'll be rewarded when a player returns to form.

Part of the problem with this topic is that mere statistical analysis is insufficient in making this determination. We're working with imperfect information fairly often. Is the player hiding an injury, or is the team hiding the severity of that injury? After the infamous B.J. Ryan injury last year, I take almost any positive news on a player injury with an extra grain of salt; and yet, I still want to believe the best when it comes to my own players. But you're right - the unknown here is huge. For that matter, the big gap for me is the ability to evaluate pitching mechanics and to otherwise dabble in physical scouting. We can all watch the radar readings and see if they correspond with what a pitcher usually throws, but after that, I'm usually at a loss.

Still, I'll be watching Sabathia and Oswalt closely tonight.

I'm far more willing to give a struggling hitter the benefit of the doubt than I am a struggling pitcher. But then again, I trust hitters a lot more on Draft Day too. But with your list of hitters, they're all on my buy-low list. Maybe David Ortiz is the one guy that I'm afraid of, because of his knee operation over the season and his drop in power. As far as Pence and Tulowitzki (and Ryan Braun, for that matter), I want my opponents to keep talking up the concept of a "sophomore slump." Do you really think that such an animal exists? It's alliterative, and makes for an easy explanation to talk away a slot start, but I'm not buying it. If anything, such a slump should have manifested itself over the second half of their rookie seasons, when they had already been exposed to major league pitchers for an extended period of time.

I agree with your assessment on the Royals - they have been exceptionally fortunate so far. Greinke is going to settle down to earth eventually - but I wonder what is "true" level is anyhow? As you alluded, the pedigree and the stuff is there, and he did have a fantastic second half last year. The Royals' bullpen (Hideous Nomo notwithstanding) has been excellent this year, and that helps out quite a bit, though both Bannister and Greinke threw complete games their last time out.

Otherwise, our differences here aren't too stark. There's a chance that Saunders could have improved some - it looks like he's throwing harder, later into games this year. But I'm not yet completely sold. We've both discussed Oswalt. I want to know why his strikeouts have declined. He's still throwing 93 mph in tonight's game, so I don't think it's a degradation of his velocity, compared to Zito. So maybe you're right that Halladay is the more apt comparison.

Anyhow, enjoy the tonight's games by those starters. I see Sabathia has already served up a homer tonight. That "buy low" price might have just gotten lower.

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 5:50 pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

I'm on record against the existence of "the sophomore slump" as a cause of a second-year player's struggles. Sophomore is another name for second-year player, slump is another name for struggles. It doesn't add anything. It's like the doctor who made up chronic fatigue syndrome:

"Doctor, I'm tired all the time."

"Well, you must have chronic fatigue syndrome."

"Really, what does that mean?"

"It means you're tired all the time."

And that's the point - until we know what causes the fatigue or the slump, just renaming it doesn't advance the ball. It's non-analysis, and we know this because some sophomores have great seasons.

As for those players, I think Pence is most likely to struggle. He was a good, but not great prospect who came out of the gate on fire last year, and I'm not sure you can count on


I forgot to answer one of the questions from your first missive - how long does it take me to change my mind? I don't have a hard-fast number of starts or point in time. It's one case where I think you need to have a bit of a feel, which admittedly is difficult to do. My answer probably is "too long." I preach patience with most struggling players while emphasizing the long-term nature of baseball. I'll miss out on dumping a guy too soon occasionally, but more often I'll be rewarded when a player returns to form.


Part of the problem with this topic is that mere statistical analysis is insufficient in making this determination. We're working with imperfect information fairly often. Is the player hiding an injury, or is the team hiding the severity of that injury? After the infamous B.J. Ryan injury last year, I take almost any positive news on a player injury with an extra grain of salt; and yet, I still want to believe the best when it comes to my own players. But you're right - the unknown here is huge. For that matter, the big gap for me is the ability to evaluate pitching mechanics and to otherwise dabble in physical scouting. We can all watch the radar readings and see if they correspond with what a pitcher usually throws, but after that, I'm usually at a loss.


Still, I'll be watching Sabathia and Oswalt closely tonight.


I'm far more willing to give a struggling hitter the benefit of the doubt than I am a struggling pitcher. But then again, I trust hitters a lot more on Draft Day too. But with your list of hitters, they're all on my buy-low list. Maybe David Ortiz is the one guy that I'm afraid of, because of his knee operation over the season and his drop in power. As far as Pence and Tulowitzki (and Ryan Braun, for that matter), I want my opponents to keep talking up the concept of a "sophomore slump." Do you really think that such an animal exists? It's alliterative, and makes for an easy explanation to talk away a slot start, but I'm not buying it. If anything, such a slump should have manifested itself over the second half of their rookie seasons, when they had already been exposed to major league pitchers for an extended period of time.


I agree with your assessment on the Royals - they have been exceptionally fortunate so far. Greinke is going to settle down to earth eventually - but I wonder what is "true" level is anyhow? As you alluded, the pedigree and the stuff is there, and he did have a fantastic second half last year. The Royals' bullpen (Hideous Nomo notwithstanding) has been excellent this year, and that helps out quite a bit, though both Bannister and Greinke threw complete games their last time out.


Otherwise, our differences here aren't too stark. There's a chance that Saunders could have improved some - it looks like he's throwing harder, later into games this year. But I'm not yet completely sold. We've both discussed Oswalt. I want to know why his strikeouts have declined. He's still throwing 93 mph in tonight's game, so I don't think it's a degradation of his velocity, compared to Zito. So maybe you're right that Halladay is the more apt comparison.


Anyhow, enjoy the tonight's games by those starters. I see Sabathia has already served up a homer tonight. That "buy low" price might have just gotten lower.


----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 5:50 pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

I'm on record against the existence of "the sophomore slump" as a cause of a second-year player's struggles. Sophomore is another name for second-year player, slump is another name for struggles. It doesn't add anything. It's like the doctor who made up chronic fatigue syndrome:

"Doctor, I'm tired all the time."

"Well, you must have chronic fatigue syndrome."

"Really, what does that mean?"

"It means you're tired all the time."

And that's the point - until we know what causes the fatigue or the slump, just renaming it doesn't advance the ball. It's non-analysis, and we know this because some sophomores have great seasons.

As for those players, I think Pence is most likely to struggle. He was a good, but not great prospect who came out of the gate on fire last year, and I'm not sure you can count on his steals. I'd be selling if I had him for 90 cents on the dollar.

Article first appeared 4/16/08



I'm on record against the existence of "the sophomore slump" as a cause of a second-year player's struggles. Sophomore is another name for second-year player, slump is another name for struggles. It doesn't add anything. It's like the doctor who made up chronic fatigue syndrome:


"Doctor, I'm tired all the time."


"Well, you must have chronic fatigue syndrome."


"Really, what does that mean?"


"It means you're tired all the time."


And that's the point - until we know what causes the fatigue or the slump, just renaming it doesn't advance the ball. It's non-analysis, and we know this because some sophomores have great seasons.


As for those players, I think Pence is most likely to struggle. He was a good, but not great prospect who came out of the gate on fire last year, and I'm not sure you can count on his steals. I'd be selling if I had him for 90 cents on the dollar.

Article first appeared 4/16/08