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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).

From: Jeff Erickson
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2011 2:15 pm
To: Christopher Liss
Subject: Re: Charging

This is the Vegas trip version of Charging at the All-Star break, so usually this is a pretty good time to take stock of where we're at this season. You covered the first half fantasy all-stars this week, and I recently posted the July update to my RotoWire 200 overall rankings.

My question to you, and to the readers who want to chime in on the comments, is do you get much value from these sorts of features? I think it's pretty useful for me to do the rankings again, if for no other reason than to focus on a few players I might not be fully up on statistically. But looking backward is pretty dangerous when you're trying to rank players, especially because we have the imperfect information problem. I guarantee you there's one early slumper this season that's had a hidden injury, and another that's going through a divorce or some other personal problem that's affecting his play, and we're not privy to that info. Worse yet, analyzing his current stats still only tells us what he's done, but isn't all that predictive about what's to come. Even something like a hitter's BABIP or a pitcher's xFIP is just a small barometer of who has been lucky or unlucky, but it doesn't really tell us what's going to happen when that luck corrects or if it will and when.

Yet I still get requests for more updates to the Top 200 from the readers, so I do it. Just like Funston does with the Big Board for all the sports on Yahoo, and our friends at ESPN do the same with their rankings.

Anyhow, in reviewing that list, I wanted to go over a few problem players for me and get your take on them. Feel free to suggest other players either on or off the list that are interesting to you, too in your response (player's current rank in parens):

Adam Dunn (117) He's dropped quite a bit from his original rank, yet I've had a firestorm of comments suggesting I drop him altogether. Yes, he's been helpless against lefties, and maybe the DH thing really does weigh on him. Or maybe he's just weighing on himself, literally and metaphorically. Yet I still feel the urge to buy lowest on him you could pick up a cheap 15-20 homers if he turns it around at all.

Colby Rasmus (57) This rank will almost certainly go down this week, after a reader pointed out just how poor he's been lately. He's one of those guys I thought of highly and always seems to hit well when I watch him, but he's not on any of my 14 (yes, 14) teams this year, so his struggles were a little off my radar. But since that reader called my attention to him, I also noticed that the Cards have hinted that he could be in play on the trade market. I think there's a huge buying opportunity out there for a real club, given the acrimony surrounding him in the clubhouse and with manager Tony La Russa in the past I really do think that the proverbial change of scenery will help him.

James Shields (54) I've bumped him up, but is it enough? What reasons would you have for keeping him from being in the same tier as Cliff Lee? The AL East schedule and his previous homer tendencies probably have prevented me from putting him 20 spots higher. What say you?

Chase Utley (37) Utley is still well below where he was getting drafted in previous years, but it's also a significant jump up from the last set of rankings, when he hadn't yet returned. He has eight stolen bases already, which is more than I thought he'd have for the full season given his knee injury.

Joe Mauer (148) Still looking for his first homer, has only five extra base hits and is hitting .243 right now. Plus we still really don't know what happened with his leg this spring, so there's a chance he's still not fully healed.

Melky Cabrera (165) Suffice to say I didn't think I'd be putting Cabrera in my top 200 by midseason. But with 11 homers and 12 steals, he's been a huge bargain for anyone that took a flier on him in only leagues or picked him up in April in mixed ones. The Royals are still running a ton (their 92 SB's lead all of baseball, though the Mets, the Padres and the Rangers are right there), so I wouldn't be surprised if he and Frenchy continued to run.

Those are a handful of my tricky guys. Who else is tough for you to read?

From: Christopher Liss
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2011 16:18:32 -0700
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging

I have no idea what's wrong with Dunn, but I think your ranking is appropriate. How many other players could hit 25 home runs in half a season if they right the ship? People might not like it, but if experts redrafted for the second half, Dunn would not last that long. The upside is too important.

I like Rasmus, too and I have him on three of six teams (one is AL-only and one is a keeper league where he was kept) but I'd put him closer to 70 or 75 probably. He was good last year, and he's at an age where he could break out, but he's also never done that much and doesn't have a bankable track record.

I think I have to buy into Shields. I was resistant, but the magnitude of the performance has been so good, it can't possibly be just dumb luck that he has a .260 BABIP vs. a .354 one last year. Maybe I'd have him around 65, but you're in the ballpark.

Utley's mostly back his numbers are roughly in line with last year's if not those of his peak. But I wonder if the steals are really sustainable given that he never was a huge runner even in his prime. I'd say more like 45 or so, but I don't think it would be a disaster to take him at No 37.

I have no idea what to make of Mauer, but he's a player I'd trade for if I were low in average and needed to make a big move. I also have no idea what his market value is right now, either, whether some owners will appraise him at name value, and others would look to get 60 cents on the dollar for him. In a two-catcher league, I'd probably take him higher than 148, though.

Cabrera is a player I liked before the season, believe it or not. He was a real prospect with the Yankees at a young age, is still just 26, can run a little and doesn't strike out a lot. Maybe the .455 SLG is for real as he hits his physical peak, and there's no reason he can't keep stealing bags if he gets the green light.

A few guys I have trouble with are:

Alex Rodriguez let's say he comes back in four weeks. Is he a top-30 player at that point? Or is he the AL version of Chipper Jones, a once great player who has enough skills to be useful, but will never be anything close to his early-30s self.

Derek Jeter With the monstrous 3000-hit game behind him, is he ready to turn the corner? Or is he going to be the ground-out machine he's largely been the last two seasons?

Max Scherzer he's been so up and down this year, and his velocity is down a tick. His biggest problem is the 16 home runs allowed, and I'm not sure whether that's bad luck or that he's simply more hittable these days.

Joey Votto he's got just 13 HR at the break after hitting 37 last year thanks in large part to a whopping 25 percent home run rate on fly balls. Is he really more than a 25-30 HR player going forward? (Not that the batting average, runs, RBI and handful of steals are anything to sneeze at).

Zack Greinke you have him at No. 44, ahead of Felix Hernandez, but I'm not sure. The .374 BABIP and .585 strand rate tell the story to a large extent, but as we've talked about before, it seems guys are squaring up on him when you consider the sub-2.0 BB/9 and the 11 HR allowed in 74.3 IP. The Brewers defense is probably responsible for the BABIP, too, and not a lot is going to change about that this year. I'd put Greinke closer to 60, the great peripherals notwithstanding.

Ubaldo Jimenez it's hard for me to consider him a fantasy staff ace with the diminished velocity, mediocre command and home ballpark. He's coming off two good outings, but I'd probably put him closer to 100 than 79 which is where you have him. I just don't trust him as much as I do players like Matt Cain (94) and Ricky Romero (110).

From: Jeff Erickson
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 5:56 pm
To: Christopher Liss
Subject: Re: Charging

Greetings from a tire shop in Henderson, Nevada. Nothing like having a tire shred when you're at the California-Nevada border. I guess it could be worse I could have been between Baker and Barstow. At least the spare got me here.

I have A-Rod in two leagues one is a keeper and one is a redraft league. I'm going to try to sell him at 60 cents on the dollar in the latter league and maybe see if I can get Dunn in the equation. I want to believe he can return to form because hey, he's A-Rod, and elite players can eventually surprise once they recover. But more often than not it takes a full offseason for that think Lance Berkman. Your Chipper example scares me, though.

Jimenez has had better velocity recently than earlier in the season. I've traded for him twice this year, once just 10 days ago. So I'm definitely on the high end there.

You made a really good point about Greinke's high BABIP-against the Brewers aren't a standout defensive team, and that's unlikely to change. At least the acquisition of K-Rod will shorten the back end of games for them if Greinke can take a lead until the seventh or eighth, he's more likely to get the win now.

I'm about to hit the road again, so I'll leave the door open for you to regale everyone with tales from the poker table and sportsbook.

Subject: Re: Charging
From: Christopher Liss
Date: July 13, 2011 6:41:53 PM PDT
To: Jeff Erickson

It could have been a lot worse blowing a tire at 90 mph can result in vehicular defenestration. In some cases one will even refenestrate into another moving vehicle, the consequences of which I don't have to tell you would be dire.

K-Rod helps the Brewers starters a little maybe a better strand rate and more wins, but it's not like he's been the second coming of Mariano Rivera this year, and I'm not sure how much I'd move Greinke's value on account of it.

I'm hoping A-Rod pulls a Josh Hamilton comes back better and stronger after taking time off. I do think he's still got 3-5 more good years left, and would be surprised if he were on his last legs. But maybe Berkman is the right comp where it might take a full year or two before he's really himself. Given what he's getting paid and that he's scheduled to be surpassing Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in a few years, there's a lot at stake for him getting 100 percent healthy. He doesn't have the luxury of taking the Andruw Jones path to aging over the next few years.

You were at the table when I got my royal flush and the nice jackpot it paid out. In fact, along with everyone else at the table, you got $100 for it. The funny part was the guy across the table went "all-in" on the turn (after I had made the hand), and I probably made the quickest call in Hold'em history. In retrospect, I should have asked for time and pretended to agonize over it before calling and then slow rolling it.

Get back safely.