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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"
Sent: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 6:29am
Subject: Charging Punt to Win

Hey Chris, hopefully you were able to navigate the six, count 'em, six speed traps set by the Arizona Highway Patrol and then emerge clean from the surreal dust storm in the Palm Springs on the drive back from this weekend's LABR drafts. Let's start off this week's conversation about your AL LABR team. For those of you unfamiliar with LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality), it's the original expert's league first established by John Hunt and now run by USA Today's Steve Gardner. There's a 12-team AL league that you did and a 13-team NL league where Dalton Del Don represented RotoWire. It's an auction league, $260 budget, no keeper component, and you have 14 hitter slots including two catchers.

Enough preamble let's talk about your team. Here's your roster:

Pos Player $
C Matt Wieters 15
C A.J. Pierzynski 9
1B Adam Dunn 26
2B Ian Kinsler 28
3B Brandon Inge 7
SS Derek Jeter 23
CI Chris Davis 1
MI Cliff Pennington 12
OF Josh Hamilton 30
OF Alex Gordon 9
OF Michael Saunders 5
OF Desmond Jennings 6
OF Scott Podsednik 6
U Travis Hafner 4
P Jon Lester 27
P Clay Buchholz 16
P Gavin Floyd 10
P Michael Pineda 11
P Jeff Niemann 6
P Justin Masterson 5
P Nick Blackburn 1
P Kyle Gibson 1
P Darren O'Day 2
R Mike Gonzalez 0
R Jesse Litsch 0
R Michael Taylor 0
R Travis Buck 0
R Tyson Ross 0
R Daniel Cortes 0

You can share more of your thoughts on your team in your response, but the aspect of this team that drew the most response was the lack of a proven closer. You have guys that could theoretically close in the future, but right now no one on your roster has the job. That's not necessarily a death knell for your squad, however. You mentioned the ways where you can end up getting saves still, but I'd contend that even if you don't, you're not in bad shape. You've got a really nice base of starting pitchers and quite a lot of playing time among your hitters. I don't necessarily advocate punting a category, but sometimes you just have to take what the draft gives you. The fact that one guy has five closers (Tom Trudeau from Bloomberg) means you're not the only one without a closer, so there might be a pretty low threshold to get a couple of points pretty quickly should you end up trading for a closer.

Did you come into this draft expecting to walk away without a named closer? If so, what prompted you to go this route? If not, did you make a conscious decision after seeing the prices on the closers in this particular auction? Or did you just get outbid? If this were the NL LABR league, would you be more or less inclined to go this route. What were your experiences when you went sans-closer last year?

Punting a category is tricky, because it gives you less of a margin for error in the other categories. If you blow off saves, you better be sure you're getting high strikeouts and wins from your starters. That's probably the most commonly used punting plan. I pulled it off last year in a 4x4 league, when I just thought saves were overpriced from the top on down. Nearly every starting pitcher I drafted panned out, to the extent that I traded away six starting pitchers and still won the wins category by a healthy margin.

But if you didn't come into this draft planning to punt saves, have you done it in another draft, be it saves or another category? In a 4x4 league without an innings floor or one with a low floor, it's pretty easy to punt wins and still do well in the other three pitching categories. I've seen people attempt to punt batting average, but I think that's hard to do without hurting yourself in runs scored. What category is easiest for you to punt? Do you think a punting strategy can win in Yahoo! F&F?

Beyond the Punt-To-Win topic, I was interested before the AL auction in seeing what prices some of the injured players went for, namely Grady Sizemore ($13), Justin Morneau ($16), Kendry Morales ($18) and Brandon Webb ($3). Morneau is the most difficult of those three to me. The Twins are spinning every bit of news as a positive item, but the fact remains he hasn't played in a game yet, and we're already into the second week of March. At $16, Lawr Michaels might have a $10 profit or a $10 loss, or he might get nothing still. I just have no idea how to price Morneau. Were you in on the bidding for him? What other thoughts do you have on those injured players, or the weekend as a whole?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 8:20pm
Subject: Re: Charging Punt to Win

I certainly didn't intend to punt saves heading into the draft, but that's just how it shook out. Actually, the best bargain among closers was one I always buy, Mariano Rivera at $22. But he came up early, and I wanted to see more of the market before going to $23. As it turned out, Joakim Soria was $22, Andrew Bailey was $19 and even Matt Thornton was $17, so maybe I should have gone the extra buck on Rivera. I also was hoping to get Joe Nathan at a steep discount, but he went for $16, which was nearly full price under the circumstances.

The same thing happened last year and I finished in second place despite paying big bucks for Kendry Morales, Dustin Pedroia and Grady Sizemore, spending $23 combined on Erik Bedard, Michael Brantley, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Desmond Jennings and leaving $7 on the table. I wound up with an "8" in saves after trading starting pitching for Neftali Feliz and Rafael Soriano midseason, and I still had a "12" in strikeouts. In other words, it didn't hurt me one bit, and had I just had normal injury luck, I might well have won the league by 10 points.

But that doesn't mean it'll work out as well this year. A lot of my young pitchers (Ricky Romero, David Price, Gio Gonzalez) panned out big a year ago, and if Masterson, Pineda and Buchholz don't match their production, I won't easily be able to flip them for saves. I do like Darren O'Day's chances for saves if Neftali Feliz moves into the rotation this year, and I'm surprised Mike Gonzalez, the guy they brought in to close last year, was available as a reserve with only an injured Koji Uehara and merely passable Kevin Gregg in his way. I also had Brandon Funston on the Sirius XM show a few weeks ago, and he said Daniel Cortes was a candidate to close should Brandon League flop. So I have some options, and just because I didn't buy any closers at auction, doesn't mean I'm punting. But if none of my relievers pan out, I need all my starters to maintain my position in wins and Ks and I can't afford to move a hitter, then yes, I'd punt saves and try to do well enough in the other nine categories to survive it.

As for punting generally, I think saves and steals are the best routes to go. Average not only costs you runs, but for reasons we've gone into before (see the last paragraph), it's usually a bad one to punt. Same with ERA and WHIP, and you can't really punt one without punting both. But saves and steals are easy to avoid, and they're also easier to acquire during the year if you change you mind. Some people have punted two categories (ERA/WHIP or HR/RBI), but then your only chance to win is if your league standings are extremely tight top to bottom. If one or two teams are ahead of the pack, there's no way you'll catch them in that case.

Finally, Morneau might turn out to be a great bargain now that he's played in a game, but Lawr didn't know that when he bought him. If we did the auction again, I bet he'd go for about $25. Sizemore and Morales deserve to be discounted significantly because they're both still hurt, and it's unclear when they'll be back. Anyone's guess on how to value them is as good as mine, but it worries me that these guys have been out this long, and yet they're still not ready for the start of the year. It seems highly unlikely someone would need exactly 10 months and two weeks as opposed to 10 months, so if they're not ready for Opening Day, who knows when they'll be back? And even if Sizemore does make it back, how long will his knee hold up? You're dealing with a speed/power guy who might have lost his ability to run, and he never hit for average even when he was healthy. No more than $10 on him and probably less.

But I do like buying injury prone players like Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton (though I'm worried about him for other reasons) so long as they're healthy now. In the NL Rickie Weeks and Brad Lidge fit the bill. They might get hurt again, but unlike Sizemore and Morales, they're not already compromised heading into the year.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 3:48pm
Subject: Charging Punt to Win

I like the starting pitcher chances that you took. Niemann came at a discount because of his second half the shoulder injury. Of course, that shoulder might still act up this year, but you took a reasonable gamble that it wouldn't. Masterson is another one of those guys that misses bats but has an identifiable flaw. Those guys frequently take big steps if they can address it. In the case of Masterson, if he can master an offspeed pitch that helps get lefties out, he'll be a potential monster. For $5, I'll gladly take that chance in an AL-only league. I'm not enamored with Blackburn, but in an AL-only league, the world needs ditchdiggers too. He's useful as a $1 pitcher given that it looks like he's locked up a rotation slot (though it's lunacy to make a decision this early in spring training unless the Twins had already decided that Blackburn was going to start for them). Pineda is a beast, and while he's a smidge expensive due to the risk of spending half the season in Triple-A, he might still earn his keep in four months. Floyd always seems underrated.

And yes, I think that saves/steals are the easiest to punt also, for the reasons you cite. In old-school 4x4 leagues, you can make a pretty good case for punting wins while attacking saves and the ratio categories, but in 5x5 leagues that makes it awfully difficult to compete in strikeouts. I haven't gone into more than three or four drafts or auctions intending to punt a category usually it's just a case of how it's worked out, once I've seen how the league overvalues a particular commodity. As long as you're aware of what the supply is in that category and/or position, you can make that adjustment on the fly. One of the worst scenarios you can find yourself in at the auction is not to be punting that category, and then suddenly finding out there's nothing left in it.

Even though Morneau returned the nanosecond after I started this column, I still don't think I'd be in on the bidding at the end if it's going up to $25 in an only league. I just need more before I'm ready to believe. I probably would stop short of $20 on him, and I also share your reticence on Kendry Morales and Grady Sizemore. Chase Utley and Carlos Beltran belong in that group for me now, too. In fact, I might be more pessimistic about Beltran than any of these injured position players. If he can't run because of his recurring knee problems, and compensation injuries result, what sort of value does he have? I won't pay even $10 for Beltran now in an NL-only league.

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: Charging Punt to Win
From: Christopher Liss
Date: March 9, 2011 5:44:27 PM PST
To: Jeff Erickson

I kind of like Blackburn as a $1 guy. He's using a cutter now and apparently feels better after offseason clean-up surgery. He was pretty bad last year, but I love the park, and he's capable of an ugly 10 wins without seriously hurting my ERA and WHIP at least that's what he did in 2008 and 2009.

The news on Utley isn't good as he's talking about "the big picture" regarding his knee injury and by that he means the rest of his career. Not loving that Joe Mauer is getting cortisone shots in his knee, either. Of course, there was that one spring when Albert Pujols had an elbow problem and slipped to the second round in some drafts, but as I told Joe Sheehan on the air today, Pujols isn't human.

As for Pineda, it annoys me that the Mariners are likely to send him down even though he's more than ready because of that stupid service time rule. I knew this before I bought him, of course. I'm still holding out hope that he's so lights out in spring training the team feels the attendance boost during his starts and the added wins will partly make up for the cost down the road.