RotoWire Partners

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, September 6, 2011 10:43am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Cc: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: charging

Elite catchers have been such a bad investment this year - at least, more so than the previous years. The big culprit has to be Joe Mauer, who has just 17 extra-base hits all season long. We're no longer at the point of blaming Target Field for all of his troubles - sure, it's been a contributing factor, but there's more to it than that. I'm still not convinced that whatever was hurting his knee has been completely fixed, though how would I ever know? The Twins were something less than forthcoming about the injury (and for that matter, it's possible that Mauer was somewhat less than forthcoming to the Twins). But I'm worried that it won't just take the offseason to hit the reset button and everything will be fine - I think there's more to it than that. Coming into the season, he was probably the fourth catcher drafted, given how early in spring training this cropped up. Where would you draft him among catchers next year? Is he even among the top five? Top 10?

Moreover, generally speaking, what do you like to do with catchers? Obviously it's a huge difference if you start two rather than one - much like starting two quarterbacks in football. Actually, it's not like that - it's probably more like having to start two tight ends, because there's no benefit to having to start two catchers. But in a two-catcher league, especially if it's an "only" league, I always like to invest in decent catchers, if not the top guy. And to be fair, if you spent on Victor Martinez or Brian McCann, or Miguel Montero for that matter, you got pretty close to what you expected. But between Mauer's collapse, Buster Posey's injury and the busts of Geovany Soto, Jorge Posada and Kurt Suzuki, there was a lot of failure among the preseason top-12 catchers. Would you approach the position more cautiously next year? What happened to Soto? His rate stats when healthy have been so good in the past, but they just aren't there this year.

I haven't mentioned two young catchers yet - Matt Wieters and Carlos Santana. They haven't quite met the highest expectations predicted for them, but I'm still encouraged nonetheless. Wieters' contact rate is steadily climbing and with it his production across the board. Yeah, he's not the 25-30 homer monster that most were projecting for him, but he still could get there. Santana's average isn't there, but he's walking a ton and hitting for power - at least in real life, he's providing a lot of value for the Indians. What's his eventual ceiling?

Jesus Montero finally got the call (funny that it took the Yankees longer to call him up than the Rays to call up Desmond Jennings) and he homered twice yesterday. I really want to see the Yankees play him regularly in September and they should carry him on the playoff roster - agreed? Where do you put him next year in the rankings?

Finally, I think now is a good time to do a quick inventory of your teams, before September madness fully takes over and it gets hard to judge the results because of all the variance. What has gone right for you and what's gone wrong? Is there anything you can learn from what happened in your various leagues that will change how you draft next year? Or were your differing results mostly the result of player variance, rather than a great issue of how you put your team together?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 5:21am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: charging

Mauer's got to be in the top-10, but I'd say behind Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Victor Martinez and Buster Posey, and probably behind Matt Wieters (who's quietly approaching 20 homers), Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and Mike Napoli. But I might change my mind if Mauer looks healthy next spring. Right now, we're speculating on his health which is hard to do 6-7 months out.

I always try to get two decent catchers in only leagues. In AL LABR, it worked out well with Wieters and A.J. Pierzynski. In NL Tout, it was a disaster with Posey and Soto (who I think will bounce back). In my home league, someone snagged Soto, so I got "stuck" with Wieters and Avila. The bottom line - you can ignore the position in 1-catcher Yahoo! Leagues, but when you need two, the replacement value is so low, it's worth buying solid production even with the increased risk of injuries.

As for Montero, we had Joe Sheehan on the SXM show today, and he cautioned not to get two excited about a couple home runs as Jorge Posada can still hit righties, and Andruw Jones hits lefties, so the team isn't hurting for a playoff DH. For next year - assuming Montero hits reasonably well this month - I'd probably rank him in the No. 8-12 range, in part because of the park and lineup. But again, I'd like to see what things look like next spring with Russell Martin and/or their DH situation.

My teams have taken a turn for the better since I last addressed them here. My AL LABR squad, knock on wood, is in first place by about 12 points, with three weeks to go. A bunch of categories - wins, average, HR, RBI, SB, Ks - are close, so it's definitely not in the bag, but barring injuries or catastrophic collapse, I'm definitely the favorite. It's funny because had Adam Dunn merely gone 18-60-.200 this year (which is horrible for him), it would be locked up. Unfortunately, he's at 11-40-.162, so it's not.

I did the same thing as last year - got great values on starting pitching, tanked saves, then traded pitching for hitting like crazy. My two big deals were Gavin Floyd and Matt Harrison for Nick Markakis and a surprisingly useful Octavio Dotel, and then Justin Masterson for Peter Boujos, Edwin Encarnacion and Matt Thornton (who's also been very good in relief for me). Those and a swap of Michael Pineda for Ricky Romero. Last year, I bought David Price, Ervin Santana, Ricky Romero, Jeremy Guthrie and Gio Gonzalez dirt cheap, and this year I got Masterson, Jeff Niemann and Pineda, and picked up Harrison, Alex Cobb (who gave me good innings before he went down) and Henderson Alvarez. I also bought John Lester this year, which has helped, but I lost Clay Buchholz.

The bottom line - I think in AL leagues starting pitching is often the best place to make a big profit, so I speculate on a lot of cheaper starters and convert them to value later. Most of my big hitters (Dunn, Josh Hamilton and Derek Jeter) flopped, but Ian Kinsler's been solid, and Alex Gordon has been a great value. It didn't hurt that I got three useful hitters in trade, or that Desmond Jennings set the league on fire when he got called up. Still, it's far from over, and I absolutely don't want to get cocky because three weeks is a long time with so many categories so tight.

I also climbed to second in YF&F, despite losing ARod and Kevin Youkilis (my first two picks), dealing Mike Stanton (fourth pick) and losing Colby Rasmus (sixth pick) for most of the last month. I did a decent job grabbing hot hitters (James Loney Casper Wells, Kyle Blanks, Orlando Hudson, etc.) from the waiver wire, and getting great starts out of streaming Mike Leake, Brandon McCarthy, Randy Wells, Josh Collmenter and James McDonald. Anytime you can face the Astros, Pirates and Mariners in late August and September, you've got a good chance for a win with good peripherals.

Otherwise, home league is sixth place out of 15, but missing the money, Staff League is probably barely in the money (sixth or seventh out of 18), WCOFF I'm in third in my division and NL Tout I'm battling to finish sixth or seventh (a few points separate 5th - 10th). Basically, I'd like to win LABR, take second in YF&F (I doubt I can catch you) and finish top half everywhere else.

The main thing I've learned this year is that elite starting pitching (at least for now) is probably necessary in mixed leagues as it's become more reliable.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 6:56pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Cc: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: charging

That's a good point about the mileage the Yankees have gotten from Andruw Jones. Posada has been decent against righties, though an .820 OPS from a DH isn't all that special. But yeah, I probably should check my expectations on Montero for the short run. The problem on Montero for next year is also going to be position-qualification - so far, all five of the games that he's played (including Wednesday's game) have been as the DH, and he has none at catcher. He's probably going to be DH-only next year in most formats. For that matter, he might not ever catch for the Yankees.

Dunn's killing me too, in a Scoresheet dynasty league. I was deep in starting pitching and wanted to get a bopper that would also get on-base a lot, so I traded Yovani Gallardo for him over the offseason. As Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad might say, "... that's what the kids call "epic fail."" What exactly happened to Dunn, anyhow? I truly believed that the appendectomy back in April had a lingering effect, that he came back too soon. But by now that certainly can't be a factor, right? Is he just aging badly, or collapsing from his own weight? As you said, he hasn't just been bad, he's been disastrous, and now he's losing time to Brent Lillibridge, even against right-handers. Even worse for the White Sox, he has three more years left on the deal.

You and I had similar AL drafts last year, getting great values from the starters while tanking saves - in fact, I won my home league, tanking saves in a 4x4, going away. So why did I go away with that in Tout Wars this year? Had I done that, and bought two mid-priced starters instead of chasing after the two crappiest closers on the board, I'd probably be in first place there rather than second-and-fading behind Larry Schecter (who has won the Diamond Challenge twice and has won Mixed Tout Wars before - in short, he's a darn good player). I wouldn't have had to tear apart as much of my hitting to paper over my pitching shortcomings.

It's not that I necessarily recommend punting closers, but I need to do a better job of trusting my values and my judgments about particular players. Instead of investing significant if not substantial auction dollars on a player I didn't trust (Fernando Rodney, come on down), I could have acquired something, anything, useful instead of feeling compelled to chase.

You took another good sized chunk out of my lead in F&F again last night. What was once a 25-point lead is now 12. You have my attention - let's just leave it at that. Three weeks is a lot of time - too damn long. I agree with your final conclusion about elite starting pitching in mixed leagues - and I think it's especially true in innings-cap leagues. Having that solid ERA/WHIP anchor or anchors gives you the latitude to do a lot with the other spots on your pitching staff.

This is our last edition of Charging the Mound for this season, given our respective time constraints. Send it home with any other pearls of wisdom you might have. Good season, Chris.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 7:25pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: charging

I didn't go into the year looking to punt closers, either. I had some guys I liked, but none of them went at the right price, and so I simply spent my money elsewhere. The beauty of a 12-team AL only league is that having weaknesses isn't a weakness - it's normal, so there's no rush to get a closer, or a steals guy or an elite strikeout pitcher. Those are more concerns for mixed leagues where you're more likely to need some of everything.

As for YF&F, you're being paranoid. If you went on vacation for three weeks and didn't make a single move, you'd have a 98 percent chance of winning. I'm just hoping to hold onto second place. Good season, Jeff. Now I need to go pick up a DB and a LB in the Steak League.