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Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss Talk Baseball

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: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 2:45pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

I'm going to hit a few quick points this week and let you pick what interests you, instead of going longer form on one topic. Feel free to pick what you like from this menu:

- Offense is down in baseball again, and batting average in particular seems to be way down. The league average triple-slash right now is .251/.321/.389, down from last year's totals of .257/.325/.403. Granted, we're halfway through May, so we haven't had warm weather in a lot of parks yet (and the number of rainouts and rain delays we have had this week reinforce the notion that we haven't had good weather). So there should be some improvement over the summer. As we discussed on-air Monday, it's not a case of batters striking out more - the global strikeout rate is nearly identical on a per-game basis. But teams are hitting for less power (.89 HR/g this year vs. .95 HR/g last year) and scoring fewer runs (4.22 R/g this year, 4.38 R/g last year). Is this is all a function of hitting worse on balls in play (and better defense from teams on the field), a function of the weather, or something else? More importantly, what do we do with this information? Do we place a higher premium on high-average guys? Only 23 "qualified" players hit .300 or higher last year - how many do you think hit that mark this year? For starting pitchers, is 3.50 the new 4.00 ERA?

- I was that one guy anywhere in the world that had Vin Mazzaro active in a league last night - I had him active in AL Tout Wars, a 12-team, AL-only league. His 14 ER shellacking dropped me four points in ERA and two points in WHIP - scarily enough, there's still a team that has a worse ERA than me for the season, despite the presence of that outing and the enduring presence of Francisco Liriano on my roster all year. Have you ever had such a bad outing on your active roster? What's the worst outing you've endured? We all have to take our lumps over a long season, but I can't remember when I've willingly submitted myself to such a bad outing from such a mediocre pitcher. We had Steve Gardner from USA Today on the show today, talking about some of the worst fantasy disasters in recent memory. Did you have any of those bad boys going for you?

- Just how bad of a game would a batter have to have to come close to doing some of the same damage as those pitching performances did? Even if you are in a points league with negative points for strikeouts, I can't see anything short of a 20+ inning game presenting that much of an opportunity to hurt you.

- You're currently projected to finish 47 innings short of the 1,250 innings-cap in the F&F league. When do you plan to make up that stagger? Are you going to add an extra start here-and-there going forward, or do you plan to load up on starts in August and September, trying to cherry-pick against weaker lineups, perhaps when other teams in the league are less active on the waiver wire?

- Travis Hafner is now hitting .339 on the season entering Tuesday's play and has only had minor injuries so far this season. Are we looking at a 20-80-.300+ season out of him? I know that he'll lose time in interleague play and is UT-only in most leagues, but if you were drafting again today in AL LABR, how much would you pay for him?

- Give me one reasonably-prominent player that you'd cut bait with if you had him on one of your teams. Bonus points if you've actually cut him from one of your six teams recently.

- We recently did the NFL Mock draft for the magazine. You had the fifth pick and took Michael Turner. Given the time that you've since put into the mag, would you take him again? If not, who would you take in that spot?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:54pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging?

First off, I want to thank Scott Pianowski for filling in for me so ably last week while I dealt with moving and working on RotoWire's NFL magazine. I had forgotten how stressful moving can be, especially when you're dealing with a girlfriend who's helping you throw out stuff you probably should have gotten rid of 10 years ago, but didn't have the heart to. I drew the line on the mustard-colored pants I used to rock, but a lot of personal stuff is now gone, almost certainly for the better.

I don't know how to search for this, but it would be great to see what last year's numbers were for the first six weeks, i.e., whether run scoring is always down until the weather warms up. Anecdotally, that seems to be the case with Coors Field, Arlington and US Cellular, to name a few, but I've never seen hard month-by-month data for league-wide scoring output. If it turns out that scoring is down this much for even for April and May, that would be significant. After all, while six weeks isn't a huge sample for one player, we're talking about that multiplied by 750.

Assuming that's the case, then yes, the baseline shifts a bit. A .330 hitter will be more standard deviations above replacement value in this environment than he would have been last year. A pitcher with a 5.00 ERA will be more standard deviations below the league average, too. Accordingly, both impact your team's standing more than they would. Applying this, however, isn't quite so simple. If you go out and trade for Ichiro, you might find that he, too, is a victim of whatever's ailing hitters, and instead of hitting .330, he hits .324, and is roughly the same as he always was relative the the rest of the league.

I think Roy Halladay gave up 14 ER in one outing once, and I can't remember if I owned him. I think I did. I did have Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett on the same AL Tout team on a day where the Yankees and Blue Jays (Burnett was on the Jays then) played in the only two day games, and they gave up 18 ER in about five innings combined. I also went into the season two years ago with Brandon Morrow (SEA) and Jason Motte (STL) as my only two closers in a league, and on Opening Day or shortly thereafter they both gave up 4-5 ER and lost their jobs. The only way a hitter can hurt you that bad is if he loses his job.

I've been steadily about 50 IP below the Y!F&F cap for a month now, so I'm keeping pace for the time being after getting behind early. Barring injuries, I'll pick up a spot start here and there where it seems opportune.

I actually own Hafner in LABR for $4, and I'd probably have gone $9 or $10 if we were drafting again today, but some of that depends on where he came up in the auction. It's usually a bad idea to clog up your UT spot early because it costs you flexibility later in your draft if a player comes cheap, and you're filled up at a position.

I cut Ian Stewart in YF&F and also WCOFB. I'd held onto him thinking if healthy he could be a game-changer - a 25-30 HR 3B in that park when everyone at that position - Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval (and now David Wright) - seems to be falling apart. But that's an obvious move at this point. I don't cut struggling players very often unless they're hurt or have lost their jobs. One guy I'd cut if I needed the roster space in a shallow mixed league (12-teams or less) is Grady Sizemore. He's on the DL again, and while he's hitting for a decent average, that's never been his strong suit, and I doubt he'll run much. So we're looking at 25-30 HR power hitter with a low average and little speed. I don't see why I'd wait around for him if say Fernando Salas or Todd Helton were still on the waiver wire.

As for the draft, I think I'd still have gone Turner in a non-PPR. He's in a stable offensive environment and led the league in red-zone, inside-the-10 and inside-the-5 carries by a fair margin. He'll give up some yards from scrimmage to pass-catching backs like LeSean McCoy and Darren McFadden, but he'll get a lot more carries and all of the ones from in close. I'd much rather have the No. 4 pick, though as I think there's a clear drop off after Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 8:59pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging?

Man, I remember some of the early Halladay crushings, before he got sent down a reshaped as a pitcher. In 1999, he gave up 11 runs in 2.1 innings against the Angels, who were powered by a grand slam by Andy Sheets and a three-run homer by Randy Velarde off of Halladay in that game. 2000 was his really ugly year, when he posted the 10.64 ERA. Yet his disasters that year weren't quite as stark. It could have been worse that year, by the way, but for the grace of the official scorer - in his last outing, he gave up seven unearned runs in just two-thirds of an inning.

As far as the weather issue goes, I have to imagine certain parks have bigger monthly/seasonal splits. A place like Wrigley, for instance, has wild swings - and for that matter, can be significantly different from year-to-year. But you already knew that. The point being is that I think the overall numbers should go up - I just wonder how much and whether it will be across the board. I definitely remember the same anecdotal evidence as you about Coors Field production stepping up in the summer in a big way - Gene McCaffrey wrote about it when talking about Jhoulys Chacin in his 2011 Wise Guy Baseball.

Sizemore is borderline for me in 12-team leagues - when we talked about the idea of dropping him on the show earlier this week, I thought that you were crazy. The power he has showed so far would have been enough for me to hold onto him, along with the idea that maybe he might run in the second half. So far in F&F he has been the 270th rated player overall in the Yahoo game and about the 60th overall outfielder. That's somewhat a function of his lack of speed, but it's also a function of him starting the year on the DL. If you want to argue that you expect this injury to last longer than the minimum 15 days or that you expect other injuries, then I guess I could get behind the idea of dropping him, but otherwise, I think it's too soon. I want to see more about the injury, because I think that the power upside is worth it.

As for Turner, I see the drop in yards per carry, the increase in fumbles and the increase in nagging injuries, and I just get a feeling that he's going to drop off the table. You make a good case for him, though, and I definitely agree that the drop-off comes after the fourth pick, though I'm somewhat agnostic about the order of the top four.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 9:18pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging?

Maybe I was thinking of the 11-run outing for Halladay. He did help me win an expert league in the final week of 2001 - I picked up him and Steve Trachsel off of waivers down the stretch, and both had good weeks.

And I'm not assuming Sizemore will be out for more than two weeks or will get hurt again. But I'm also not assuming (as you are) that he'll be back or won't get hurt again. We really don't know. Two weeks is simply the best case scenario, and the question is how you value him now. Not after more information is known, but now while it's still uncertain. And given the uncertainty and his history and that he doesn't have 40 HR power (after all his power surge was hardly sustained enough to be considered the demonstration of a new skill) and isn't likely to run (especially after this second knee injury) and doesn't hit for average (unless you think a four-week sample at .282 constitutes a new baseline), I'm not seeing it. Waiting until there's more information is nice, but if it costs you the chance to pick up a Salas or a Helton, then it's a mistake in my opinion.

Finally, I'm not wedded to Turner there. I could change my mind over the summer. But right now I think he's the safest bet for the most rushing yards and TDs once the top-four are gone. Any running back can fall off a cliff, but he's only had two and a half seasons of heavy work. That's less than Adrian Peterson and about the same as Chris Johnson, for example. And yards per carry is a deceptive stat. When the Chargers finally got good in 2004, LaDainian Tomlinson went from 5.3 YPC the year before to 3.9. Sometimes when your team is ahead and running out the clock, the opponent stacks the box against you.