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Charging the Mound: The Value of Clairvoyance

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: Monday, April 30, 2012 9:30pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging


Nearly a month is in the books, and it feels like we know something about the season. Enough to feel if we could go back in time to early March and re-do our drafts we'd be at a distinct advantage. It's not just that we'd stay away from Michael Pineda, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Madson, but you'd have Bryan LaHair, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam LaRoche, Jake Peavy, Jason Hammel and Fernando Rodney. How much of an advantage would that be? In other words, if you knew in March what you know now, what kind of percentage boost would your title hopes get? From 10 to 50 in a 10-team league? More or less?

The flip side of this is that players who started off hot will inevitably cool off, and many who started off cold will hit their strides in May and June. I blogged some players who should be deeply discounted due to their slow starts because you know some will turn it around. I'm not talking about Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton and Robinson Cano who are nearly impossible to pry from their owners, or even Eric Hosmer and Matt Moore - young phenoms whose owners probably targeted aggressively at their drafts. But players like Geovany Soto, Heath Bell (another disastrous outing today), Kevin Youkilis, Cameron Maybin and Mark Reynolds. Those players' owners are fed up and justifiably worried. Moreover, they were middle tier players and not likely the foundation of anyone's strategy. Who are some other mid-tier players you'd be looking to acquire? And which ones are struggling so badly that you're not interested - even at a discount? Or put differently, are there any healthy and employed players you own for whom you'd take 75 cents on the dollar?

I barely watched the NFL draft last week in part because I'm still in baseball mode (though with the NFL magazine due in a month, that's going to change quickly), and in part because it's a stupid event. For starters it's way too slow. Give each team two minutes to make a pick - that would be more exciting. (You'd be able to make a trade before or within your two minute window, and the team with whom you traded would have the clock reset). But 15 minutes is ridiculous. Have a list of guys in mind, and cross them off as you go. If player x is gone be ready to take player y. Fantasy owners do it all the time. Second, even with a faster clock, it's still kind of pointless to watch a draft. Just do the draft in secret and post the results when it's done. A draft isn't like a live sporting event where you enjoy the action itself and not merely the result. A draft IS only a result. The process is overrated. (Maybe it would be different if they turned it into an auction).

The other thing that annoys me about the draft is all the super savvy insider coverage. While player evaluation in all sports is a highly uncertain business, it might be even worse in football which is the ultimate team sport where individual success depends not only on the personnel combinations but also the coaching schemes. Would Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, for example, outperform Vernon Davis and even Greg Olsen if they switched teams? So you have pundits analyzing players with the usual ridiculously high error rate, and that's before understanding how they're even going to be used. At least in baseball, teammates matter so much less, and how a position player's used just means where he hits in the lineup. I much prefer to wait until a player gets to camp and see how he's likely to be used before jumping to conclusions. And even then, predicting how he's *really* going to be used when the games count is another story.

As I type this LaHair just homered again, tying the game for the Cubs in the eighth inning Monday night. After Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz broke out at age 29 and 28, respectively, two years ago, it's hard not to wonder how many other so-called older quad-A players deserve an extended chance to produce in the big leagues. Brad Eldred (31) already had 13 homers at Triple-A this year before the Tigers called him up as their DH. Is there any reason he can't hit .240 with 35 homers if he had a full season of big-league at-bats? Are there other older players who crushed Triple-A sitting out there? Jake Fox is in the Pirates system now. What kind of odds would you give him of outperforming Garrett Jones if he got the call?

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 9:41pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging


My guess is that the advantage would be on the lower end of that spectrum, if for no other reason than there's still five more months to get things wrong, especially on those breakout players that we were clairvoyant about, and who we bypassed to roster those clairvoyant picks. Clearly some of those that you mentioned would be in our scope to begin with, so maybe the opportunity cost is truly low, and in this hypothetical, all of the guys that we passed up to get the likes of Hammel, Rodney and LaRoche would have all turned out to be bums rather than possible breakouts.

The huge advantage would be to dodge the bullets that you mentioned, especially the first-round guys like Ellsbury and now Evan Longoria. I think that's especially true in the deeper leagues, like AL Tout & LABR, or no-trade leagues. When the replacement level is so low and you lose the player of that caliber so early, it's just devastating.

I've actually been trying to test the assertion that you can't trade for the slumping star, as I generally agree with you about that. I've made offers for Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols in separate leagues with little success - one offer for Bautista was countered with me giving up Robinson Cano in return. It was certainly fair, but it's not as if I'm giving up 95 cents on the dollar. The Pujols' entreaties were flat-out denied - the owner wasn't interested in trading him, and didn't even want to hear an offer. I think you can get great but not elite players sometimes at a discount, or with the right circumstances. I was able to trade for Jon Lester before last week's good start, though it was in a keeper league, not a one-year league. I wouldn't be surprised if there are leagues where you can get Tim Lincecum from a worried owner. But that's as high-end as it gets. Generally, your construction is correct though - you have to buy lowest, like you've always said.

I'm willing to go ugly. It wasn't a trade, but I went with James McDonald last week and both he and Phil Hughes this week in the NFBC, a 15-team mixed. I had an offense-heavy strategy early, so I necessarily have to go after a few more starting pitchers on the margins, play the matchups, and hope for some breakouts. McDonald in particular is interesting - I didn't like his first couple of opponents, but pitching in PNC Park should prove to be pretty nice, albeit at the expense of not getting much in the way of run support.

Heath Bell is a good one to target. You've rightly pointed out with closers that salary and track record play an important role in giving a guy multiple opportunities to keep a job, and that ballpark certainly won't hurt him. I'd still trade for Mark Reynolds, too, if I needed the power and could shoulder the batting average hurt. I'm still holding onto Max Scherzer - just turned down an offer of Grant Balfour for him. Supposedly they found a flaw in his mechanics from his last start, much like they did two years ago. The strikeout rate is still there, too. Danny Espinosa is interesting, too - his strikeout rate is scary, and he has only attempted one stolen base so far, but he's still drawing walks and is coming off of a 21-homer, 17-stolen base season. HIs price currently is as low as it's going to be.

I caught the first-round of the draft, but you're right, most of the coverage is nauseating. I went away from Berman, Kiper and crew and went with the NFL Network, which was a little less annoying. But I had to turn off my Twitter feed (I have a couple of feeds on TweetDeck). Not only did a whole class of instant experts spring up, but there were too many reporters that were too eager to show just how great they were at scooping the announcement by 30 seconds, as if anyone really cares that they could beat the networks. If anything, it pushed me to unfollow those guys - they're not adding any value whatsoever, just playing the role of spoiler for their own aggrandizement.

Of course, I want my team to draft certain players (and certain positions), and want the analysts to like my team's picks, but really, who cares? It's only a half-step better than asking people to evaluate a fantasy football draft immediately after. Usually the "reach of the draft" and "steal of the draft" responses are wrong, hilariously so in many cases.

And yet ... I watch. At least for the first round I did. It's a sickness, I guess.

The older prospects issue is a good one. I've got LaHair in a handful of leagues, so I'm biased in his favor. Look at all the organizations that whiffed on Nelson Cruz before the Rangers (who once designated him off the 40-man) cashed in on him. I'm sure you can point out plenty of examples that fit that description. Even in an era where teams are a lot more open-minded about giving guys chances than they used to be, I have to think that there's plenty of cases of inefficiency where a guy doesn't get a shot because of his perception or circumstances. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting into the right, weak at one spot organization. Why can't Scott Van Slyke, for instance, out-hit the dreck that the Dodgers are trotting out in left field? There's no urgency for them to make a swap, given that they're winning, but yeah, I could see it happening.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 1:13am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging


That Brian Matusz just beat the Yankees in Yankee Stadium just shows how quickly a player's performance - and perception - can change. Even so, Ubaldo Jimenez is so lost, it would take a lobotomy (either of him or me) before I feel confident in trotting him out there again against anyone. Of course, I benched Matusz for Danny Hultzen in Tout (took a zero purposely) to avoid that start. And I had Jimenez active against the White Sox.

And you might as well not even use keeper-league examples in these discussions as the incentives are so different. I mean if I'm not contending I'd trade anyone - Pujols, Bautista, Cano - it doesn't matter. In those leagues, the guys you can never get are the Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts. Even if Harper breaks his leg tomorrow, his owner won't part with him.

Finally, while it's impossible to buy Cano, Bautista or Pujols low, do you think one or more of them will actually disappoint this year, i.e., would you consider selling any of them for an Edwin Encarnacion and a solid pitcher - say Ricky Romero, for example - in a 15-team mixed league? Or is it simply too hard to predict that kind of drop-off for a superstar near his prime?

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Thursday, May 3, 2012 1:57am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging


I'm stuck with Jimenez in one of my dynasty leagues (we keep 28 players per season in a 20-man league, so there's nothing out there) where I'm already short on starting pitching - especially with both Cliff Lee and now Cory Luebke on the DL. But I think I'm going to bench him, at least, until I see something promising. Tuesday's outing was so dreadful that he just can't be active. I'd actually trust Phil Hughes more than Jimenez the rest of the way in a redraft league, though I think Hughes is going to lose that spot in the rotation when Andy Pettitte returns.

At least with Matusz, the velocity was there, and his previous start showed some promise. I wouldn't have started him in your shoes, either. In fact, I didn't start him. Alas, I did start the now-awful Luke Hochevar against the Tigers instead. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

As to your final question, yeah, I think the odds are that one of them will disappoint this year, probably more. The thing is, they could hit at their projected pace for the next five months and still fall short of what we're expecting, but it might take even longer than that to correct their flaws. It's very difficult to predict that drop-off from their prime - in fact, if you gave me a list of seven-to-eight of those guys with similarly slow starts, I'd bet that two of them really disappoint, but I'd have a hard time telling you which two, absent an injury or other glaring reason. I think that there's also a definition issue in what we term disappointment. Is it 2011 Pujols-level disappointment? Or are we talking full-on fall of the cliff, like Carl Crawford last year? Do you think one of those guys fall under the latter class?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, May 3, 2012 2:04am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging


Pujols last year wasn't a disappointment to anyone being realistic. Carl Crawford was, as was Hanley Ramirez but they were both playing hurt. Cano, Pujols and Bautista are all ostensibly healthy right now.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Thursday, May 3, 2012 2:10am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging


True enough, though Crawford was awful before he was hurt too, unless he was hiding an injury early on. That's the part that we will always have a problem with - who's playing hurt, and who's hurt more than they're letting on? Ostensibly healthy is the operative phrase, indeed.

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