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Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss Talk Baseball

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: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound, Bat in Hand
Date: February 22, 2011 2:38 AM PST
To: Christopher Liss

Last week we previewed the Toronto Blue Jays on SXM in our season preview series, and spent some time talking about their young but promising starting pitching. While much of it was spent on Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, we also briefly talked about Brett Cecil. Cecil had a good rookie season overall and was especially good against the big three in the AL East, going 11-3 against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, a stretch that included him posting a 2.67 ERA over 33.2 innings against the Yankees. He's 24 years old, with only 180 innings of major league experience under his belt. In short, he could be a pretty valuable property.

There are a couple of things that I don't like, however. His strikeout rate last year wasn't all that great (6.10 K/9IP), and he fell apart a little bit in September, posting a 6.92 ERA and 1.962 WHIP over five starts. The latter aspect actually bothers me a little more than former. Pitchers frequently don't hit their peak strikeout rates early in their careers, despite throwing harder in those years than at any point later on. But a young pitcher that fades at the end of his first full season can be scary. Did opposing hitters get the book on him, or did he just wear out? If it's the latter, what effect will that have on his second full season? I don't believe in the concept of the sophomore jinx, alternating years or anything like that. But a full regular season is a grind, and not all pitchers are equipped to handle it. It's plausible Cecil will stagnate or even regress I think at this point we've stressed enough that players, especially pitchers, rarely progress linearly, but instead move up and down the developmental ladder in fits and starts. He's ranked 68th by Yahoo's composite among all starting pitchers, and that seems about right to me.

With that in mind, I traded him today in one of my many leagues, this one a pretty intense Strat-o-matic league (MWSTRAT) that includes Jason Grey, Dean Peterson and Lawr Michaels, among a number of other really skilled players. I'll be the first to admit that this is my weakest format I didn't grow up playing Strat. However, it's a great game, and playing it helps educate me on the strategic aspects of baseball, and forces me to know the defensive side of the coin. This is a dynasty league, and we can keep up to 29 players in a given year, minus however many picks we have in the ensuing rookie draft. The team I inherited has a pretty good core, but because of injuries (Strat uses the previous season's stats, rather than contemporaneous ones) to Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Morneau and Ian Kinsler, among others, it's not going to be much better than .500. I do have a number of pitchers with good cards, however, with some decent innings depth. Meanwhile, I have a pretty large hole at shortstop, with only Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria eligible to play there (this is a 30-team league, so while this is bad, it's not quite as hideous as it sounds). I ended up trading Cecil for the Nats' Ian Desmond.

Desmond had an ok but not great rookie season. He had some power (10 homers) and speed (17 stolen bases), but he also walked just five percent of the time, while making contact at a mediocre 79 percent. Defensively, he led all shortstops with 34 errors, but also put up pretty good range numbers. The low OBP and high errors might make it seem like he doesn't grade out all that well, but, just to use one example, he was among the top 15 at the position in VORP last season. In a 30-team league, I think it would be difficult to get a better shortstop for the price I paid. He'll be 25 this season, meaning there's a reasonable chance for improvement, and given the current shortstop pool, even a modest improvement offensively or defensively could put him among the top 10.

Having laid out the more optimistic scenario, is getting a shortstop that might rank among the latter top 10 or in the top half worth it? Or is the pool so flat after the top tier or two that the difference is only marginal? Did I get hosed, or was this a good deal?

I'll finish this opener with a couple of quick hits:

Wilson Betemit had an .889 OPS in 276 at-bats with the Royals last year, yet the Royals are planning to move Mike Aviles to third base and bench Betemit, all so Chris Getz can start at second base? What gives here? Is it certain Betemit will collapse with a full season of at-bats? I understand his batting average will likely plummet he had a .365 BABIP. But just how low would he have to drop to justify playing Getz every day, even with whatever improvements defensively Getz brings? You said on-air today that what the Royals do with Aviles and Betemit doesn't matter, and you're probably right, as Mike Moustakas eventually will take over at third. But this is a pretty good indicator they won't call up Moustakas until later in the season.

Speaking of the Royals (and speaking of not mattering), check out Jason Kendall's mini-meltdown.

I'm terrible at coming up with team names for my home leagues. There's something to be said about these expert leagues, where we don't have to come up with creative team names.

(Quasi-Spoiler Alert) You and I both have been catching up on Breaking Bad. I just finished the finale to Season Two last night. Besides the usual praise for the show as a whole, how do you like how they finished off the season? At first, I wanted there to be something different to the teddy bear in the pool scene. But after a little time to let it sink in, I thought it was a perfect metaphor for the Butterfly Effect. Each decision Walt made had far reaching consequences, and every mistake he made along the way compounded those consequences. I can't wait for Season Three to become available on DVD. I'll definitely Tivo the next season as it rolls out.

I've given enough to chew on the floor is yours.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 12:52pm
Subject: Re: Charging

First off, you can download Season 3 now on Amazon Video. It's still good, but Season 2 was better in my opinion. That last episode blew my mind. You get snippets of it throughout the season, and the way it resolves is far worse than whatever you were imagining. As you said, the consequences compound horrifically.

I wouldn't read too much into Cecil's September it's just 26 bad innings, and he faced the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees twice. In fact, it was just two bad starts that did him in, and he had a knee injury at the time that cost him some velocity. Cecil's numbers were completely supported by his peripherals (70 percent strand rate, .298 BABIP), and he did a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground. The question is whether any young pitcher without overpowering stuff is a good bet to survive in the AL East. Usually the answer is no, but Cecil did it last year, so he's a better bet than most.

Was it a good trade for you? I'm not familiar with Strat, but if you're going by last year's real-life stats no. Cecil was more valuable, especially considering the park and division. Going forward, either player could become more valuable, so I'd consider that a wash. But given that you lost the deal for 2011, I don't like it. You could argue that you don't care about 2011, so it's a wash for you, but then you've given your trade partner a windfall without getting anything in return. He should have had to pay something extra for the added value this year.

As for the Royals, there's always "the organization is poorly managed, so why even bother analyzing their moves" argument, and maybe that's the case here. But if you're going to give them credit for restocking the farm system and believe they're figuring it out, the answer has to be they think it improves their defense, and maybe defense is more important when you're rebuilding because it helps your pitchers. Once you decide Betemit is not part of the next Royals contender, what good does having him in the lineup do, except maybe get you 1-2 extra wins in 2011? While having better defense can help Luke Hochevar, for example, assuming such a thing is still possible.

But back to the Jays for a moment is it crazy to think this team might contend? Adam Lind, Aaron Hill and Jose Bautista can hit 100 homers between them, while Yunel Escobar is two years removed from a .299/.377/.436 season, a slick fielder and at his peak at age 28. Travis Snider is a blue chip prospect, and between him, Juan Rivera and Edwin Encarnacion, you might be looking at another 75 homers. Even their catcher J.P. Arencibia could hit 15-20 bombs if he develops a little more quickly than expected. Morrow and Romero have ace stuff, and both turned the corner last year. Kyle Drabek's another big prospect, and you could do worse than Jesse Litsch control specialist and Marc Rzepczynski K's and groundballs at the rotation's back end. And while the bullpen lacks an elite closer, it's pretty deep. It's probably not enough to catch the Yankees and Red Sox, but put Toronto in another division, and they'd be one of the favorites.

Finally, some news has trickled in over the last week, and there are couple things that jumped out at me:

Alex Rodriguez shed 10 pounds this offseason and cut his body fat to nine percent. While this kind of thing is usually meaningless, I don't think that's the case here because ARod was less than 100 percent for a lot of last year, and was coming off hip surgery the season before. If he's completely healthy and fit at age 35, there's no reason he couldn't hit 45 homers again we're talking about an inner-circle Hall of Famer in one of the league's most hitter-friendly parks. Pay whatever it takes.

Jake Peavy increased his velocity and threw breaking pitchers, and his shoulder felt fine. We'll obviously know more once we see him in spring training games, but a healthy Peavy is probably a top-15 AL starter he was just turning the corner last year before he got hurt.

Anything move the needle for you of late?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound, Bat in Hand
Date: February 23, 2011 5:19 PM PST
To: Christopher Liss

Obviously the big needle-moving event happened this morning with the news about Adam Wainwright's elbow. If the Cardinals' worst fears are confirmed and Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery, they're in a world of hurt. They were already relying on Kyle Lohse as a fifth starter, and the guys they have in reserve (Miguel Batista, Ian Snell, Lance Lynn) don't inspire confidence. What's more, they don't have a whole lot of depth in the farm system to trade for an improvement, so they're faced with giving up their top guys, Shelby Miller or Zach Cox.

However, this is also a win-now team. Albert Pujols is in his walk year, they've traded other prospects to land Matt Holliday, and Tony La Russa might be in his last year or two managing the team. Should they just go all-in and trade the last of their prospects, and part with Miller? It might just be the rational decision. Looking at the division, the Brewers have already gone all-in, and the Cubs are tilting in that direction with so many long-term deals on the books. Of the top four teams in the division, only the Reds have a younger core. Of course it depends on which pitcher they can land, but flags fly forever. I'd consider trading Miller if I were in their shoes. Once they do decide to go down the rebuild path, it's going to take awhile anyhow. They might as well go out in a blaze of glory.

Without a move, I think they're in trouble. It's interesting to me that their projected win total in some outlets has gone from 87.5 wins down to 84 wins upon this news.

Answering your question on the Blue Jays, yes, you're correct. They're viable in the AL East this year. I think there's a perception out there that they punted 2011 because they dealt Shaun Marcum and Vernon Wells away, but you already mentioned a lot of the reasons to be optimistic about them. Yes, their young pitching staff is going to have to fulfill if not exceed expectations, but the talent is there. And moreover, both the Yankees and Rays are more vulnerable than they've been the in the last three years. The Jays won 85 games last year it's hard to see how their over/under is 76 wins this year. From a fantasy perspective, I'm going to go back to the well frequently on Travis Snider this year, as he'll finally get an unfettered chance to play daily and has a decent amount of experience at the plate. I'm actually glad that he had the early spring training rib cage injury I'm hoping it dilutes his cost, if only by a small amount.

There are two other quick injury notes that came up in the last 24 hours that I'll be watching carefully:

Joe Mauer's knee injection has been downplayed by both the team and by Mauer himself. But he had arthroscopic surgery over the offseason after blaming some of his power shortage last year on a number of nagging injuries, including his knee. As he's a catcher, having those knees not bark at him is kind of important.

Brian Roberts left the O's camp Wednesday with neck soreness. X-rays on the neck showed no disk-related problem, but given all the back problems he had last year, of course this is worth watching. Second base has a lot of "Last Year's Bums, including Roberts, and if he's healthy he could earn a nice profit. But he's also at an age where maybe he recovers more slowly, and perhaps not as fully as he might have when younger. He's a pretty big part of what makes the O's offense click not having a good OBP-guy in front of Nick Markakis hurt Markakis' RBI totals last season.

Finally, I'm with you on A-Rod. I've grabbed him around 15 in one mock draft and just saw him go 13th in front of me in another mock yesterday. His price will probably move closer toward the top 10 in snake drafts by the end of spring training, I suspect. I don't know if he'll run this year after not doing so last year, but he's as safe as can be in terms of power.

-----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Subject: Re: Charging
Date: February 23, 2011 6:15:16 PM PST
To: Jeff Erickson

If the Cardinals are in trouble without a move, then they're probably in trouble with one. The Yankees also want another starter, and they haven't found one yet, so who's left for the Cardinals? Assuming the Cards are in trouble, they have a big incentive to move Pujols while his one-year, $16 million deal has a ton of value to other teams (Texas is a particularly good fit). After this year, Pujols has no surplus value because he'll require a 10-year, $300 million deal which is a long-term loser given the limited potential for profit and the huge downside risk as he ages. (If I'm the Cards, I go seven and 175, max, and I don't think that gets it done.)

Of course, Pujols is a 5/10 guy, so he'd have to agree to any trade, but if the Cardinals aren't going to re-sign him anyway, why not go to a contender for a few months before deciding on a more permanent move? For now, I imagine they'll stand pat, scramble to find some back-end pitching help and see what happens. But if the Reds and/or Brewers pull away, the Cardinals would be crazy not to see what kind of package they can get for the game's best player.