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Charging the Mound: Liss Gets Hosed By Posey, Twice

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, July 19, 2011 4:44am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

While assembling my All-Bust Team today, I noticed something very strange: While it was easy to find position players (especially in the outfield) who fit the bill, it was nearly impossible to find starting pitchers. Think about that. We advocate drafting hitters - like Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Shin Soo Choo and Ichiro - early because they're so reliable, and we push elite starting pitchers down because their performance varies so much year to year. But let's look at the league's top-20 preseason pitchers by ADP:

1. Roy Halladay
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Cliff Lee
5. Jon Lester
6. Ubaldo Jimenez
7. CC Sabathia
8. Clayton Kershaw
9. Jered Weaver
10. Zack Greinke
11. Dan Haren
12. Justin Verlander
13. David Price
14. Cole Hamels
15. Josh Johnson
16. Yovani Gallardo
17. Francisco Liriano
18. Matt Cain
19. Tommy Hanson
20. Mat Latos

Of the top 20, I'd say only Jimenez, Greinke, Johnson, Liriano and Latos count as busts, and even they haven't been that bad. Jimenez is turning it around and has struck out 99 in 110.1 IP, Greinke's strikeout rate is off the charts, and Latos has 98 K in 107.1 IP. Lester's missed a few weeks with an injury, and Johnson, to no one's surprise got hurt, but for the most part, if you invested in an elite pitcher this year it was far safer than investing in a comparably priced outfielder, many of whom have been terrible. (Aside from those mentioned above, there's Jayson Werth, Colby Rasmus and Alex Rios among others. And keep in mind these outfielders aren't hurt, or if they were - as in Choo's case - they were already playing poorly before they went down.)

Is this just a blip - an odd year where top starting pitchers held up better than usual, and outfielders fell apart in larger-than-usual numbers? Or is this another result of a more defensive-oriented, pitcher friendly game? Does this mean we should rethink the draft hitting early and pitching late mantra that's worked so well in the past?

In NL Tout Wars, I bought Buster Posey for $21, and he got hurt on May 26. I couldn't reclaim my FAAB dollars right away because there's a rule that says you have to wait until he's placed on the 60-day DL, something the major league team can decide to do whenever it likes, usually the next time it needs to add someone to the 40-man roster. In the meantime, I put Posey on my team's DL and picked up Eli Whiteside. At some point a couple weeks later - I believe it was on June 11 - Posey was put on the 60-day list to make room for newly acquired Bill Hall. At the time, I didn't notice it since an out-for-the-year player being transferred from one DL to another is hardly major news.

Several weeks went by, and today, I decided to look into it, discovered Posey had indeed been placed on the list more than a month ago and went to claim my FAAB. It turns out there's an rule in the Tout Wars Constitution of which I wasn't aware that you have one month from the date of the 60-day DL placement to claim your FAAB. After that you're SOL.

Now, one could argue it was on me to be aware of the rule as I have access to the league constitution. In fact, I have access to the constitutions of all six leagues I'm in, and I also have access to all the provisions of my dog**** healthcare plan, my contract with Time Warner Cable, my contract with T-Mobile, my contract with American Express, the US Tax Code, among many other things. I'm aware of the basic parameters of most of them, but I do not know all the details of any of them.

When I complained about the rule the Tout brain trust offered responses including: "It's not the commish's responsibility to let you know your player went on the 60-day DL" - totally beside the point because he didn't, and I'm the one making the claim. If I were saying I should have had the FAAB on June 11, and complaining that no one told me, that would be a valid point. But I'm not, so it isn't.

Another response asked where we draw the line on these types of oversights and gave the example of someone forgetting to activate a star player from the DL one week. But setting your lineup each week is fundamental to the game! That's also a case where you don't need to read the fine print to know the rule - everyone who plays knows that.

Checking for news on a possible procedural move that has no baseball or fantasy relevance weeks after your player's been declared out for the season is not something central to the game and not something one would do in the normal course of things. And as the rule has no good purpose (unlike the rule for setting your lineup on time each week), I'm not even sure why it exists in the first place.

Their only decent argument seems to be - it may be a pointless, obscure and unnecessary rule, but it is there, and you had the opportunity to learn it, so you're bound by it. Which is what your insurance company will tell you before it bends you over and does what insurance companies do. It doesn't matter that you paid your premiums on time for 10 years, if you didn't read section 8, paragraph C iii on exemptions to the exceptions to the medically necessary determination once you've reached your maximum deductible and copay, you're the one who's at fault. I won't quit Tout Wars over this or even throw it under the bus - it's a good league, and it's largely well run. But this is a bad rule, and I'd be a lot more angry if Brian Walton weren't running away with the league.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:46pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

It's hardly dispositive, but let's look back at the top-20 preseason starting pitchers from the previous two years to get a better idea if this is a fluke or a trend. Here's the 2010 preseason ADP top-20 starters:

1. Tim Lincecum
2. Roy Halladay
3. CC Sabathia
4. Zack Greinke
5. Felix Hernandez
6. Dan Haren
7. Justin Verlander
8. Johan Santana
9. Adam Wainwright
10. Jon Lester
11. Cliff Lee
12. Javier Vazquez
13. Josh Johnson
14. Chris Carpenter
15. Josh Beckett
16. Tommy Hanson
17. Yovani Gallardo
18. Matt Cain
19. Cole Hamels
20. Ubaldo Jimenez

There's not many busts on this list - some outright, some in context. The obvious busts here are Vazquez and Beckett. If you had Haren in an NL-only league and lost him after the trade to Anaheim, then he was definitely a bust (4.60 ERA). Otherwise, his late season surge made him return most of his price. Yovani Gallardo didn't help you in ERA or WHIP, but 14 wins and 200 strikeouts made his price worth it. The one big contextual bust was Greinke - he had 181 K's, but that was at least 30-40 K's below expectation, and of course he had a 4.17 ERA. You might argue Santana could have been a bust, given that he had just 144 K's, but that still was accompanied by a low ERA and WHIP. But that's not a bad return on investment from this group of pitchers.

And here's the 2009 list.

1. Johan Santana
2. Tim Lincecum
3. CC Sabathia
4. Cole Hamels
5. Jake Peavy
6. Brandon Webb
7. Roy Halladay
8. Dan Haren
9. Francisco Liriano
10. Cliff Lee
11. Josh Beckett
12. Roy Oswalt
13. James Shields
14. Scott Kazmir
15. Chad Billingsley
16. Felix Hernandez
17. John Lackey
18. Ervin Santana
19. A.J. Burnett
20. Jon Lester

There's many more busts on this list, both outright and contextual. In fact, you almost have to classify them by degree of bust. The disasters on this list include Brandon Webb, Francisco Liriano, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana. The next level busts include Cole Hamels (4.32 ERA, good size drop in K's), Roy Oswalt (4.12 ERA, 138 K's, only eight wins) and James Shields. Finally, a few other small busts include Johan Santana (this was the first year of his strikeout drop - which is fine if you're the 15th pitcher taken, but not the top pitcher taken), Jake Peavy and Chad Billingsley, maybe even A.J. Burnett. So that's roughly half the top 20 that returned a disappointing result in 2009.

So to address your question, this isn't necessarily a blip - it's quite similar to last year. And it does coincide with two years of scoring decline. But I really don't know well enough to argue whether this is causation, correlation or coincidence. Maybe we're just lucky enough that not too many pitchers in the top 20 have gotten hurt. We probably don't have a bi enough sample - in terms of seasons, and in terms of the number of pitchers in the sample. I think we also need to fully address why scoring is down - and there's a number of theories that could apply. But I do think this is a useful exercise, if for no other reason than to check and re-check our assumptions (good in any endeavor), in this case about the comparative reliability of starting pitching.

I actually did buy more elite starting pitching in AL Tout (Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano - so mixed results there) and drafted starters earlier than usual in Y! Friends & Family (Verlander - 4th round; and Dan Haren - 6th round), in the latter league because I wanted two reliable strikeout pitchers, thanks to the innings cap nature of the league. I probably won't go beyond that, however, because of the nature of each league. In any AL-only league, finding full-time at-bats for all positions is pretty hard to do, yet really important. And the short benches in Friends & Family plus the innings cap also encourage to still emphasize the hitting slots.

How about you? Let me throw the question back in your direction - how do you plan to use this information?

As far as the 30-day rule, I don't love it either. I forget if it was enacted before or after I joined the Tout Wars board, and I certainly didn't remember the rationale. I talked to Peter Kreutzer, and he suggested that it was enacted to make owners make a more immediate decision, rather than be able to hold out until later when you may have gotten better or worse news on a player's health. Say a player goes on the 60-day DL in April - you can reclaim that FAAB then, or hold out hope that said player comes back in August. The better the player, the more likely that you are to hold onto him. If you want to reclaim that FAAB, you have to take the risk that he won't come back and you won't be able to get him back then. Now obviously this wasn't the case with you and Posey - both on the timing of the injury and the timing of your claim.

The only thing wrong with your insurance analogy is that if you had a significant injury, you wouldn't wait over 30 days to make that claim. You wouldn't necessarily know what the rule is, but I can bet that you'd make sure to find out if it was so significant to you.

You're a little newer to Tout Wars - I believe this is your third year, right? In the past we've had some issues with FAAB re-claims, so had you been around longer, you probably would have been more aware of the issues that have cropped up over the years, and thus known the rule better. I'd guess the takeaway is that you really need to know all the ins-and-outs of your roster, including technical roster statuses. The rule is picky, but expert leaguers are held to a higher standard to know all the rules.

In the offseason, I think I would vote to get rid of that aspect of the reclaim rule, though. The harm you suffer by losing out on a reclaim is greater than any possible advantage you'd gain by waiting. That to me is the standard for why we have the rule in the first place - now that we've seen it in action, I think we have a better idea of that harm vs. benefit.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 9:28pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Getting 21 dollars in FAAB back isn't that great, by the way, so it's not like I had a massive incentive to scour the transaction wire every day to check if Posey finally hit the 60-day DL. It's more akin to having some minor procedure which you know is covered and getting around to it six weeks later to file the paperwork, only to be told you won't get reimbursed on a technicality. But anyway - you've agreed that's a stupid rule, and there's nothing I can do about it. I'd just prefer people to say - "Yeah, that's a dumb rule, and you got screwed", rather than try to set forth some half-assed justification that it's an important aspect of the game, or that it's like not setting your lineup. That's what annoyed me most about that horrible Staff Keeper League trade of Albert Pujols for Dana Eveland. Sure, it was robbery and should have been vetoed, but Bret was actually arguing why the deal was legitimate. At least admit you were wrong, and I can live with the result. But if you won't even cop to the rule being stupid, then it's really insult to injury.

As for the pitchers, I'm so much more used to the 2009 result happening where half the top-20 are garbage, and not only due to missing time. Now that we have two seasons of top pitchers holding up as well or better than hitters, it's something to think about - even if it's not a big enough sample in and of itself to scrap the old theories entirely. Another reason this might be happening beyond defense being better (which leads to fewer pitches thrown, better health, more innings, better bullpen health, i.e., fewer blown wins by them), is that teams are getting more sophisticated in preventing pitcher injuries. Not horrendously run organizations like the Cubs, but teams like the Rays chart the guys' mechanics during the game, and teams like the Rangers have developed throwing programs that seem to work better than most teams. As major league teams make the transition from old-school "tough-it-out" mentalities or even the heavy-handed pitch count police to using the data to figure out what really causes pitchers to get hurt or underperform, we might see more consistency out of them league-wide. Or then again, maybe it's just a blip. But if in my leagues next year, people are still waiting a long time on top pitchers, I might grab one a bit earlier than usual. I certain wish I had this year instead of rostering Colby Rasmus everywhere.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 9:28pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

The better defense angle is an intriguing one. If there's a strong correlation to better defensive teams keeping their pitchers healthy, then that's an angle to exploit. I know that we can keep that in mind anyhow, but perhaps that's something we can do at the draft table more systematically and quantify that impact. We probably don't do enough of that - rewarding the good defenses, and importantly, punishing the bad defenses. For instance, I probably should downgrade the Brewers' starters every year, especially when they insist on using Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop. We've talked about that angle with Zack Greinke before, but it also applies to WHIP-killer Yovani Gallardo, too.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 9:30pm
Subject: Re: Charging

BTW - the Angels just put Kendrys Morales on the 60-day DL today! That's how ridiculous that rule is.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 11:59pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

It's a reflection of a couple of things - one, "out for the year" is somewhat nebulous. There's often a sourcing problem in pointing to "officially" out for the year, because baseball doesn't have such an official designation. So putting a guy on the 60-day DL is the closest we could have to making it official. It's also silly that a team can wait so long to make that sort of move, when nothing has changed in the last six weeks.

By the way, congrats on dropping Nyjer Morgan in Y! F&F for the eighth time this year. I look forward to your next pick up of him next week.