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Charging the Mound: Liss and Erickson 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: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 2:03am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

The biggest news of the weekend had to be Josh Beckett's domination of the Yankees on Sunday night. Ten strikeouts, 94 mph fastball, only two hits and one walk in eight innings - you have to think he's back to the pre-2010 Beckett that was routinely drafted among the top-10 AL pitchers. Unfortunately I had benched him in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, but I'm not losing too much sleep over that given his lackluster showing against the Indians and the disastrous year he had. Where do you rank Beckett now? Ahead of or below Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Ricky Romero and/or Edwin Jackson who himself had 13 Ks, something about which Austin Jackson tipped us off ahead of time on our Sirius XM show. Put those five in order for me in that's possible.

Mat Latos returned Monday night and looked good enough against the Reds with seven Ks and two walks in six innings. Is he back to his full preseason value? I blogged about Dustin Pedroia showing he's very likely all the way back from his September foot surgery now that he's hitting .400. With his contact rate, high at-bat totals, surprising power and decent speed, I view him as a batting average anchor nearly on a par with Joe Mauer and Robinson Cano. Ichiro is in a class by himself for batting average, but pair Pedroia and Billy Butler, and you can get away with a Mark Reynolds or a Carlos Pena.

How does Asdrubal Cabrera already have four home runs? He had only six in 523 at-bats in 2009 and never showed much pop in the minors. With two walks and 10 Ks, this looks more like a hot streak than major skills growth. But even in 2009, he hit .308 and had 17 steals. Even a small bump in homers could make him a poor man's Pedroia, though one that's easier to strike out and thus not as likely to maintain the average.

You dropped Matt LaPorta last week in Yahoo! Friends and Family, and I vowed to drop him in my home league come Sunday, but then he started to hit. Not only did I not drop him, I picked him in YF&F. And he hit a home run tonight! Seriously, Jeff - how could you be so shortsighted to drop a 1B/OF eligible former big-time prospect with a decent hold on a starting job? Sticking with the Indians, Michael Brantley and even Travis Hafner are off to good starts. Are you buying into either? And what about Justin Masterson who dominated the Mariners Sunday? Granted you or I would probably be league average against that lineup, but nine Ks, and Masterson's ground ball rate is more extreme than ever.

Is it time to worry about Brandon Belt? Granted he looks fine, but the numbers are bad, and the Giants have to figure out what to do with Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff once Ross comes back. There are three spots for four guys, and one of them is a rookie with options. In YF&F, would you rather have Belt or LaPorta right now?

And what about Jered Weaver's 15-K outing Sunday? Is he a top-five overall pitcher, up there with Halladay and Lincecum? Would you take Weaver or Jon Lester right now? What about Weaver or Justin Verlander?

Finally, what's the deal with Jay Bruce? I have him in both the World Championships of Fantasy Baseball and also my home league, and he's killing me. I feel a bit cheated because I wasn't a huge Bruce backer heading into the season, and I feel as though I got talked into thinking he was a great value in the fifth round. Do you think he's nursing some undisclosed injury, or just off to a slow start which we'll all forget about when he starts raking?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 10:16pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

I came away really impressed with Beckett as well on Sunday night, particularly given the opponent. Sometimes it really is about health - he had trips on the DL last year and probably pitched hurt longer than we're willing to acknowledge. The velocity on his fastball was back and the movement on his pitches was sharp. I hate to overreact, but I'm with you, I'm sold. Here's how I'm ranking that group of five pitchers:

1. Josh Beckett
2. Ricky Romero
3. Trevor Cahill
4. Gio Gonzalez
5. Edwin Jackson

The reason I put Jackson at the bottom of this group is I think his performance fluctuates more than the others, and he's got the worst park to work with, especially in the summer. Neither Cahill nor Jackson pitched especially well tonight, but I'm not all that concerned in the long run.

I saw a lot of Latos' start, and he looked really good, especially early. Even when the Reds were making contact, they were taking a lot of defensive swings. Even the first of the two homers he allowed, to Jonny Gomes, was on a hanging breaking ball. Latos did tire over those final two innings, however, and Chris Heisey, who hit the go-ahead homer against Latos, said Latos was losing velocity on his fastball over those last two innings. The pitch that Heisey hit out in fact was an inside fastball that he turned on. But I wouldn't be too worried about that - Latos still was able to throw 94 pitches, and it was his first start, so some fatigue should be expected.

Speaking of Jonny Gomes - I'm a Reds fan and am not the biggest fan of his game. He's not a good defender, and he didn't do much against righties while getting the majority of at-bats against them in left field last year. I think Chris Heisey is a better overall player, and want to see him take over eventually. In fairness, however, it's weird noting that Gomes coming into Tuesday's game leads the National League in walks. He's not necessarily the most patient hitter, but he's contributing more at the plate than I would have expected.

I agree with you about Pedroia - and further think that at the draft table we tend to overlook batting average anchors. Michael Young used to fall in that class - not quite as extreme as Ichiro, but he brought a consistently high batting average and a lot of at-bats to maximize that BA's impact. He dropped off last year, but he's still a pretty safe batting average impact guy who gets discounted too much because of his contract and status in the Rangers' organization.

DVR and I talked about Asdrubal Cabrera on Tuesday's show. He (Cabrera, not DVR) hit 42 doubles in that 2009 season, so though the homer numbers haven't been there before, he's capable of driving the ball. Right before he hit his fourth homer of the season on Monday, the Indians' broadcasters were discussing his early power numbers and how he was encouraged to hit for more power on occasion. Perhaps it's the Toronto approach from last year sinking in elsewhere? If so, then your LaPorta pickup is looking pretty astute, even if you had to stab me in the back to get him.

Brandon Belt - yes, I'm definitely concerned. He's slumping, the Giants batted him eighth in Tuesday's game against a right-hander, and he has no built-in credit with the coaching staff. The one positive I've seen is comments from Bruce Bochy today talking about how Belt played more outfield than first base in college - they might just shift Belt to right field, Cody Ross to center if Andres Torres goes on the DL, and put Aubrey Huff back at first base. But yeah, offer me LaPorta for Belt, and I might just pull the trigger in a redraft league.

Jay Bruce - he had stretches last year where he looked just as lost at the plate as he does now. When he's going bad, he's chasing breaking pitches from both lefties and righties, and that's what's happening here. At least he drew a walk on Tuesday night against Heath Bell - that's the sort of at-bat that can turn things around for him. I don't think that he's hurt, and still think that you'll get 95% of your expected value out of him, maybe all of it.

Meanwhile, right after you sent this to me this morning, Josh Hamilton got hurt on a funky play in Detroit, trying to score on a pop-up to the third base dugout. You of course own him in AL LABR - what do you plan to do to replace him? Who do you blame more for your loss - Hamilton for sliding headfirst, the third base coach for sending him, or Brad Penny for being too lazy to cover home plate in the first place, encouraging the third base coach to send him?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:18am
Subject: Re: Charging

I'm sick over the Hamilton injury because I had a bad vibe about him when I bought him. I was actually just price enforcing at $30, figuring there was no way he wouldn't go to $31, and it stuck. He also destroyed my 2009 AL LABR team which finished 3rd. Hopefully, he'll be back closer to six weeks, hit 20 homers and bat .300 in four months, but I'm not optimistic given his inability to stay healthy and his troubled history. I really have no one to blame but myself because I knew he was a dog, and I got caught. The one silver lining is I have Chris Davis at corner, and he could force Mitch Moreland to the outfield or the bench before too long. I also traded Gavin Floyd and Matt Harrison (who I just bought for $9 in FAAB nine days ago) for Nick Markakis and Octavio Dotel. Believe it or not, that was Glenn Colton's opening offer, and even though I really like both pitchers, it was so reasonable I had to accept it almost out of principle and felt it would be bad form to counter and ask for more. It also helps that I still have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Jeff Niemann, Jesse Litsch, Nick Blackburn and Michael Pineda in my rotation.

Speaking of which I watched Pineda square off against Romero tonight, and both pitchers looked good. Romero actually looked better despite taking the loss as Pineda has great stuff but doesn't always seem to know where it's going. He belongs more in the Justin Masterson/Matt Harrison tier than the Cahill/Romero one.

As for Belt, I have a feeling he'll stick. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and a steal tonight, and keep in mind he's only played in 11 games, and two of them were against Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball in April of 2011. The Giants didn't bring him up to send him down because Cody friggin' Ross is healthy. Unless they felt Belt himself were overmatched or were better served by playing at Triple-A, I think he'll stay with the big club. If you disagree, I'll trade LaPorta back to you for him. This reminds me of a question I took from a listener on Craig Misch's Fantasy Baseball show on Sirius XM today - he asked whether he should keep Dominic Brown for $10 for 2011 and 2012 in an NL-only league, or try to get rid of him via trade. I told him there's no point in selling Brown low, he could very well earn $10 this year and should be projected to earn far more than that in 2012. When the caller expressed concern about Ben Francisco, I said the same thing: when Dominic Brown is healthy and ready to produce in the majors, Francisco and a 39-year old Raul Ibanez are not going to stand in his way. If you're blocked by Ryan Howard it's one thing, but any team playing for the present is going to get an elite prospect capable of winning Rookie of the Year into its lineup ahead of league-average roster filler so long as that prospect is healthy and killing Triple-A. Of course, Brown has a wrist injury which is worrisome for hitters, but assuming he gets healthy enough to crush Triple-A over the next month, he should be up shortly thereafter.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2011 4:51pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

That's a remarkably fair offer from Glenn. He and I were able to swing a deal in Tout Wars last year, too, without too much sweat. Markakis was a flop last year, but if the O's can get a full season out of Brian Roberts in front of them he'll benefit greatly. You did a good job of quickly mitigating the damage. The fact that you still have seven starting pitchers of varying levels is pretty good, especially for an AL-only league.

I ultimately turned down your offer of LaPorta for Belt, for a couple of reasons. One, I think you're right that he's more likely to stick than get sent down when Ross returns, even if his playing time suffers. Two, and the controlling one for me, is that I acquired him with his upside in mind in the first place. It's silly to give up on him after two weeks, especially when that entails facing Kershaw twice in that span.

If you get a chance, I want to hear more from you on Masterson in the comments. He's had two nice starts so far, getting there in two different ways. In the past, lefties have gotten the best of him, and when they put it in play against him so far they're hitting .391, as opposed to RH's hitting .118 in balls in play. But he has also recorded eight of his nine strikeouts against lefties. Which metric is more convincing to you? Has he really turned a corner?