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Charging the Mound: It's A Long Season

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: Chris Liss
Sent: Thursday, July 4, 2013 2:19am
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Charging

It's amazing how long the baseball season is. Early on it was the Justin Upton era. You filled up countless minutes of radio lamenting that you took Jose Bautista and Stephen Strasburg over him. There was also the Roy Halladay epoch - is he finally coming around, and shouldn't I have offered Hyun-Jin Ryu for him? Remember when Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay fueled a strong start by the Yankees before warming weather led to their extinction? There was also the time when we were waiting to see if David Ortiz would make it back at all this year and at what capacity and for Nolan Arenado, Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers to get called up. If we were to create a calendar to map the season, we might divide it between B.P. (Before Puig) and A.D. (In the year of this year's Mike Trout).

Even after all this, we're only at the halfway point. What other powers will rise (and fall) in the second half. Are we going to hear from post-hype sleepers like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Brett Lawrie? Eric Hosmer was in that class, but already seems to be heating up. Is Chris Davis going to hit 55-plus HR? If so, is he the No. 2 player after Miguel Cabrera, or would you still prefer Trout. If the Dodgers win their division and Puig hits 23 HR and bats .340, does he win MVP? Or is everyone going to vote for Yadier Molina because they think he's an elite-hitting catcher plus gets credit for the entire starting staff, too? What pitcher takes a major jump in the second half? I like Matt Moore, but he's already expensive. Who pulls a Kris Medlen?

What happens to fast starters like Matt Harvey, Hisashi Iwakuma, Jean Segura and Domonic Brown? Do they crash back to earth or wind up flying off the board early in 2014? And who makes the biggest impact among players recently back from injuries: David Price, Jose Reyes. Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton - someone else?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Friday, July 5, 2013 3:15am
To: Chris Liss
Subject: RE: Charging

I know - whole entire minutes of radio, which could have been spent making fun of Producer Trevor on-air instead. I should have been lamenting my pick of Danny Espinosa instead. What a bum - who cares that he's hurt? He shouldn't have tried to play through that shoulder injury in the first place. Just think if I had drafted Jean Segura instead.

But every year there's the hot player or even hot team for a month or even less, and we fixate on them too much. It's the nature of the beast - we need material to write about and players to talk about. Generally I think that our jobs make us better players, but there's always that danger about getting too caught up in the moment. It's especially prevalent in April and May, when it's both new to us for the season and there's no other baseline. When a player that's been active all season goes on a heater in July, we still notice, but we don't fall heads-over-heels for them as quickly, particularly if he's a veteran player. Say, for instance, Michael Cuddyer. Nobody is talking about making him a second or third round pick next year.

With that in mind, we should take a closer look at Yasiel Puig. How many players at any point in a season have put together a month like his? Is it more common that we think, making his last month more noteworthy only because it coincided with his debut? Or is the amplitude so vast that it changes our entire perception of him?

I'm really hesitant to put Ackley and Smoak into a post-hype sleeper class because I really think that Safeco has fundamentally changed their approach at the plate. They might be damaged until they get that change of scenery. I'd bet on Smoak before Ackley, by the way.

But rather than debunk a couple of suggestions, better to provide a few of my own post-hype or second-half sleepers. Under the "it's too late" category, Leonys Martin could end up being a monster. I love what he's done over the last month, and I think that his power-speed combo really blossoms over the second half. I still think he's not yet valued properly. Now is the ideal time to go trade for Starlin Castro - his owners are fed up with his numbers and the notion that he's never going to move beyond a certain plateau, but he's still a guy that had 12 homers and 25 SB at age 22 last year. I'll take the chance that this first half was just a hiccup for him. Jason Heyward (.847 OPS over his last 30 days) seems like another obvious choice. Peter Bourjos can be had really cheap because of his wrist injury, but he was finally showing signs of a big breakout before the injury. I could see him going nuts over the second half. Pitching wise, Andrew Cashner seems like my best bet to pull a Kris Medlen - great park, getting stretched out as a starter, finally healthy after showing glimpses of his potential before.

As far as the MVP talk? Too soon. Way too much could happen to change the narrative - and the narrative is what usually wins these discussions, not metrics. Sure, Molina could win it, and Puig could change the voting discussion, no doubt.

I still have Trout as my #2 overall player. Davis should keep hitting for power - I think he ends up somewhere between 50-to-55 homers. But I don't see the average sticking anywhere near that high, and he doesn't run at all.

Fast starters - we had Ron Shandler on last week, so of course we had to talk about Mike Trout, which is a little unfair to Ron, as he's right about the general principle. Gravity is real, and it's a pain when it kicks in on our players. All four players that you mention - Iwakuma, Harvey, Segura and Brown are excellent candidates to slow down significantly in the second half. Iwakuma seems like the most likely to do - but that's unfair to claim any credit for that. Not only is he an AL pitcher, but the decline has already started - 5.14 ERA over his last 14 days, 3.51 over his last 30 days. I think Segura gets drafted earliest among the four last year, but Harvey has the best chance to be worth it.

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Liss
Sent: Friday, July 5, 2013 5:17pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging

I don't think it's common at all for a player to hit .430 for a month - even among MVPs. Miguel Cabrera is hitting .364, and his best calendar month was May when he hit .379. Last year his best month was August when he hit .357. I'd bet there's been a 30-day span this year when he eclipsed .400, but even then, I doubt he hit .430. I think the magnitude of his performance is so big that the small sample is highly significant.

If Safeco is so tough, then why does 41-year old Raul Ibanez have 21 home runs despite not even playing full time early in the year? Smoak is a switch hitter, and Ackley is a lefty, so neither faces the tougher side of Safeco. Heyward and Castro might be available at a slight discount, but I'm pretty sure their owners aren't dumping them for cheap. What about Dee Gordon - who's slashing .300/.391/.414 at Triple-A? Will Hanley Ramirez agree to move to third base again?

As for the "gravity" principle, of course it's the better bet over the entire fast-starting player pool (or in the case of Trout, a young player coming off an historic year). But when is someone an exception to the rule? It seemed Ron was one of the few saying that Trout would succumb to gravity like anyone else, while the market said he'd be an exception. How do we identify an exception to the rule? Do Harvey or Chris Davis qualify? When is an outlier skill set more likely to persist?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Friday, July 5, 2013 11:55pm
To: Chris Liss
Subject: Re: Charging

Yeah, I'm genuinely curious about how unique that amplitude is. And while calendar months are somewhat arbitrary endpoints, it'll still do as a decent proxy, and it's easier to research. You're probably right, I just wish I knew the answer with any more confidence. Time to put the research hat on.

I think I discussed Robbie Erlin with you on the radio Monday - in the context of a ballpark thwarting a player's development. The reason I'm wary of younger players in Safeco is because they're dealing with two components - learning to hit major league pitching, and learning to deal with a punitive ballpark. There are those that can overcome it, but it's probably much easier for a veteran like Ibanez. But even a younger guy that's have a decent season, Kyle Seager, is getting crushed by Safeco (.687 home OPS, .930 on the road).

Dee Gordon is an interesting name, but again we have the extreme differences in ballparks, and the notion that the Dodgers must win now. How much rope will Gordon get with Don Mattingly next time? They pulled the plug after only 63 at-bats last time. But I don't know if Hanley will concede to move, or will be forced to do so, and what effect that will have on his bat. It's awfully difficult to pull off that sort of move during the season.

I don't know if we can identify the exceptions to the gravity rule with any sort of confidence. Trout seems obvious now, and you probably articulated his defense the best in the offseason, but there are plenty that we've whiffed on, too, on both sides of the ledger, whether it's Joe Mauer's power, or Luke Hochevar's signature starts. But you should probably answer your own question - what was in Trout that you felt so sure about, and do you feel that's the case in Puig? Are you better off being agnostic about the gravity principle, or taking an agnostic approach? There's certainly a higher reward in trying to pick your spots and being correct, and in a tighter, competitive league, it seems to me that the reward is well worth the risk. Sometimes the risks all go wrong and you have a nightmare team, and other years you're actually able to grasp the brass ring.

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