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Charging the Mound: What About Unearned WHIP?

Chris Liss

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

Jeff Erickson

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

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 11:34pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging the Mound

The thing I hate most about fantasy baseball is getting *&*$(%&* out of a win by a bullpen that blows the save. It's one thing if your pitching leaves with a 6-5 lead after five - you really don't deserve it in that case. But on Saturday Jeff Niemann went six for me in CardRunners, allowing just two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out seven. The Rays were up 4-2, and what's more, Joaquin Benoit, who I also have active in that league, struck out a batter with two outs and inherited men on base to get out of the seventh. That meant I had a two-run lead, a good pitcher still going and only two innings to go. But what happened was this: the Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, and because it was an interleague game in Florida, Benoit was due up. They understandably pinch-hit for him with Willy Aybar. I say understandably from the point of view of the Rays who don't care which of their pitchers gets the win, but I was lukewarm about the move. There was a 65 percent chance Aybar failed, and while a big hit would virtually seal the deal for me, an out would leave a weaker pitcher out in the eighth, and one I didn't own.
As it turned out, Aybar drew an RBI walk, John Jaso got out and the Rays were up 5-2 in the middle of the eighth.

With Grant Balfour - who's also been good this year - used in the seventh, that left the execrable Randy Choate to start the eighth inning, and he promptly hit Chris Coghlan with a pitch. Then Dan Wheeler came in and coughed up two doubles, and 2009 fluke Jason Bartlett made an error. It was 5-4 with runners on first and third and no outs.

Enter Rafael Soriano, who promptly struck out Dan Uggla for the first out, giving me false hope. But an error on a ground ball (could it have been an inning-ending double play?) by Evan Longoria made it 5-5, and I was sunk. I left the house to meet a friend for about 100 beers and made the mistake of checking the final on my phone - apparently James Shields - a pitcher who was worse than useless for me in the second half last year - and owned by various competitors in my leagues this year got the cheap relief win in the 11th.

Everyone knows wins are a *&%*&#$& stat when they're not getting them, and this is but one of many examples. I like to think that it'll even out over the course of the season, but it won't. It might even out over the course of my lifetime, but what good's that going to do me now?

The other thing that really chaps my hide is when some butcher in the field makes an error with two outs, and my pitcher gives up three more hits and an intentional walk before getting out of the inning. Sure, the runs are unearned, but what about unearned WHIP? I've got to foot the bill because some moron can't field? Meanwhile, my opponent's pitcher gets a comebacker and throws it into center field, but that's unearned, and then he gets out of the inning on the next pitch, with zero penalty even though he made the error.

I think this stuff is getting to me because June and July are probably the most trying times of the entire baseball season (except for September when you've been in first all year, and you're just wanting the season to end because it would be unthinkable to get caught in the last weeks after leading nearly wire to wire). We're dealing with injuries, uncertainty around the approaching trade deadline, uncertainty in playing time as teams aren't quite ready to commit to a youth movement or milk veterans for more wins, a big enough sample for performance to matter, but too small for it to be definitive and endless miles ahead before the season ends. I repeatedly remind myself to be patient - last year I sat on Tommy Hanson and Clay Buchholz for what seemed like forever in my home league, and I got second place in large part because of their contributions down the stretch. Desmond Jennings, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, Jeremy Hellickson - they're all ready, and their time should come before too long.

The Rays are suddenly in a very interesting spot - they're tied for second with the Red Sox, half a game behind the Yanks, but don't have nearly the payroll flexibility of those two teams. Moreover, the Sox are getting Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett back, and the Yanks haven't even gotten much from ARod or Mark Teixeira. Matt Garza and Shields are slumping, and David Price and Jeff Niemann have outpitched their peripherals and could be due for a correction soon. In short, there's a good chance the Rays miss the playoffs after their blistering start, and you wonder what will happen if they're six games back as the deadline approaches. Could they possibly move Carl Crawford?

The one redeeming thing about the AL-only CardRunners League is the rule that you can buy NL players on spec before they get traded into the AL (of course, their stats don't count unless that in fact happens). It's just got me obsessed with trade possibilities and with that the real-life status of every team as that determines who might go where. I dropped Dan Haren this week to pick up Roy Oswalt because the former is too valuable to his real life team which is much closer than the Astros to rebuilding. In fact, I think the Diamondbacks are a good team right now and would be in the thick of things in the NL West but for one of the more atrocious bullpens in league history. So someone would have to blow them away to get Haren, while Oswalt's not going to be on the next Astros playoff team unless he signs an extension. My bet is Oswalt goes to the Rangers, while Cliff Lee goes to the Twins or Yankees.

I feel pretty sure Prince Fielder's not going anywhere - I don't think management will make that hard of a choice this year when it has all offseason and even until next year's deadline to put it off. Even if someone offers the Brewers a nice package, moving Fielder will anger the fans and also likely make it harder to contend in 2011. And they're still going to get a good package from someone later on.

Finally, I'm still trying to figure out what the A's are doing. Conor Jackson's being treated like their best hitter, batting third and playing every day. I think Ryan Sweeney - a .300 hitter with good contact skills at age 25 - is also going to play almost every day. Coco Crisp is due back by the end of the week, and he's a plus fielder who they brought in to start in center. That means there's no room for Rajai Davis unless Jackson were to DH over Jack Cust. I suppose Jackson could play first base, but Daric Barton has a .385 OPB. My guess is if everyone's healthy, Davis is going to see most of his at-bats against lefties (.742 career OPS vs. .700 against righties). The other big issue is what happens when Michael Taylor and Chris Carter are ready? The A's are already 8.5 out, and Brett Anderson's not coming back for at least three weeks, i.e., it's over for this year. Shouldn't Taylor and Carter be up and playing every day as soon as they get hot for a few weeks? Right now, neither is tearing it up, though Carter is at least hitting for power.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 8:10pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: RE: Charging the Mound

Yeah, this is about the time of year that you begin "What's eating Chris Liss," the angst-filled edition of Charging. It stinks when you get a pretty solid win blown, but look at it this way - at least it wasn't because the manager brought in some crappy reliever in the inning in which Niemann left and allowed his inherited runners to score. Benoit at least did his job. I personally hate it when the manager has the starter stay in the game, throw an intentional walk, *then* yank him out, then see the reliever blow it. That's happened way too many times on my watch.

The thing I hate in fantasy baseball is the injury or demotion that happens on the first day of the transaction period, more so when the time it takes until you can replace him is longer, as it is in our CardRunners league. In that league, it's a two-week window before you can adjust your lineups, and we set our lineups every other Tuesday. I've had at least five occasions where we lost a guy on the first or second day in that league, without the ability to replace him, including trips to the DL by Josh Beckett and Grady Sizemore on the same day. The worst part is seeing their potential replacements thrive on your bench afterward - we had two Derek Holland wins stuck on our bench while Matt Harrison whiled away in our starting lineup. We all play by the same rules, and we all agreed to play by those rules - even if there was a debate about them. So this isn't a plea to change that rule - at least, not this time. But I want to point out that variance like this does *not* even out over the course of one season. Sure, we all have injuries, but the timing of those injuries and the extent of them don't even out. If you play in enough leagues, sure, across those leagues the luck balances some, but it really is awful when the bad luck concentrates on one team.

About the Rays, I think that you're baiting me (and Joe Sheehan) a little bit because of our Rays-Yankees bet. We have a steak dinner riding on this, if one finishes three games higher than the other in the AL East - I forgot, is this a must win? What happens if the Red Sox win the division? Anyhow, sure, it's possible that the Rays could sell Crawford, but I think it's going to take more than a five-or-six game deficit, especially if there are plenty of head-to-head games remaining. The Rays weaknesses are pretty easy to identify - their bullpen depth, and the DH slot. But they're also easily correctable, and those corrections might already be in house with the likes of Jennings, Hellickson and Matt Joyce (who I think that you're selling short). Moreover, their farm system is really loaded still - they have the resources to trade. They don't have the money to spend that the Yanks and Sox do, but that's just one way to get a deal done. You can either do it with prospects or cash, and I think that they have more prospects to spin.

I too love the trade deadline speculation, though I have to admit, I'm getting impatient about wanting to see more actual trades. Last year's trade deadline (and the run-up before the deadline) really delivered, more so than many in recent memory. Give me more trades, more secondary implications to analyze, more spots to open for prospects to play - more chaos! Even without that rule in CR (which I agree, is a pretty sweet rule) I'm a trade junkie.

So speaking of which ... the Conor Jackson trade. Yeah, I don't get it either, and I'm trying to get a better feel for the bigger picture. They've pretty much committed to playing Jackson every day and they're even batting him third in the order. I get that he has good on-base skills, but did they really need another light-power guy, especially in the outfield? I've heard the theory that they traded for him to flip him... which hasn't really worked out all that well for them in the past, judging by the cost it took to get Matt Holliday and what they got for him. Remember, they traded away Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street in that deal, and then when Holliday was dealt to the Cardinals, they got Brett Wallace (who was subsequently flipped for Michael Taylor), Clayton Mortensen (3.66 ERA, 69:30 K:BB in 91 IP at Triple-A Sacramento) and Shane Peterson (.656 OPS at Double-A Midland). Which package would you rather have right now? In an added insult, Taylor is now (further) blocked by Jackson, as you pointed out. At best, the A's are spinning their wheels, wasting at-bats on someone who has a pretty low ceiling.

I'll finish with the Brewers. Derek and I talked a few weeks ago that they should consider trading Fielder but probably won't end up doing it. That the Reds and Cardinals have come back to the pack a little bit makes it even harder for them to sell this trade right now, but you know what? Who cares about them selling the deal if there's one out there, and it's the right move for the team? Looking at the Brewers pitching and their farm system, I don't really view them as a 2011 contender, either. I'm not saying you're wrong about what they'll probably conclude (if they haven't concluded that already), and when you're sitting in the GM/Ownership seat it's different than us looking at it from afar, but I think they really need to be cold-blooded here. If the right deal isn't there (as seemingly it wasn't for Roy Halladay last summer), then fine, wait until the offseason if you have to. But I really don't think they can address their pitching woes via free agency (with yet another mid-level starter), and I'm not sure there's another player that's tradeable in their system that brings in the right haul. Maybe if they get really creative and get a huge package for Yovani Gallardo it could work, but it's a really tough sell to try to improve your pitching by trading your best starter. I don't think Corey Hart gets it done - but then again, if Casey Blake can fetch Carlos Santana, miracles could happen for the Brewers too, I suppose.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:26am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

You've misunderstood the Yanks-Rays bet - it's whether one of the two finishes three games or more ahead of the other from the point we made the bet when the Rays were three games ahead of the Yankees. (Red Sox winning or not winning the division isn't part of it). As of right now, my side is already in the money - or in the steak and shrimp cocktail - as the case may be. Matt Joyce reminds me of a left-handed Matt Murton who was a decent prospect with the Cubs a few years back and actually had a huge second half one year before being given a half-assed shot at playing time and then winding up in Japan. For some reason, Murton wasn't that impressive and never got an extended shot despite doing well in the high minors and even the majors for a stretch. Granted the Rays are smarter than the Cubs, but I'm getting that vibe from Joyce. Jennings is the big-time prospect and bigger potential difference-maker right away, especially given his skills on the bathpaths and in the field. If the Rays need to make something happen, Jennings is more likely to give the team a spark. And after Wade Davis walked the ballpark yesterday, I wouldn't be surprised if Hellickson weren't up any day now.

One thing I left out that mitigates the lack of unearned WHIP is HBP. Sure, a hit batsman can turn into an earned run, but it doesn't hurt your WHIP! It's almost to the point that I hope my pitcher hits a couple guys a game just so I can enjoy the undeserved lack of WHIP damage.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 9:20pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

The HBP/WHIP rule finally explains why you had Vicente Padilla going for you on Opening Day. I knew that there had to be a valid consideration in there somehow.

The Joyce/Murton comparison has one other similarilty - neither is/was considered anything close to a plus defender. In the case of the Rays, that certainly matters - much of their 2008 run was built on a quantum leap on the defensive side of the equation. And that's also where Jennings would trump Joyce.

Either way, you're right, when Jennings is ready, he moves the needle more than Joyce. So if he's ready, yeah, call him up before Joyce. But perhaps because of his multiple injuries the Rays want to wait a little longer on Jennings - I could understand that. Trust me, I want Jennings up pronto - I have him in two of my AL-only leagues, where I'm starving for steals. But assuming that Jennings needs more development time, there's no reason why Joyce shouldn't be up there in place of Blalock right now. Stick him in there at DH and at least get an OBP jump, with a good chance the power will come.

I'm a believer in the Rays management team (certainly more so than the Cubs) - here's hoping that they justify my love this week - because that should be their motivation, right?