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Charging the Mound: Late Bloomers

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-----
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 4:06am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

One of the sickest feelings in fantasy baseball is to make a bunch of "go-for-it" trades in a keeper league, only to see everything subsequently fall apart. This happened to me in my NL home league this year. I traded for Ubaldo Jimenez as part of a big package back in June, before any sort trade rumblings began in earnest. I understood the concerns about his velocity, but he also was showing some signs of turning it around. Now he's in the AL, and all I have to show for him is extra FAAB money, as we lose a player traded across leagues immediately. In that deal I also got Carlos Beltran, who was useless since getting dealt to the Giants and of course is on the DL. Rickie Weeks blew up his ankle shortly after another one of my trades. Derrek Lee had a token healthy moment with the Pirates, and I had lost a $1 Daniel Murphy for the year, so I swapped the two first base-eligible players in a deal - ha, the joke's on me! I tried to make a big push in saves, so of course Brian Wilson first hurt his back and now his elbow. The latest blow came on Sunday, when Jimmy Rollins suffered a Grade 2 groin strain. Instead of challenging for first, I'm more at risk of falling out of the final fourth place money spot.

Ok, now that I've shared my tale of woe with you (and given you the right to share one bad beat story with me at the time of your choosing), let's look ahead at some of the issues facing NL owners for 2012, as that's what I'm forced to do in this league.

- I've looked and looked to find someone that touted Javy Guerra before the start of this season, though there's probably *someone* out there that did. But even though he was on the 40-man roster heading into the season, we didn't have a player outlook for him - after all, he was a 25-year old reliever that had finally reached Double-A for the first time, and then walked 22 batters in 27 innings once he got there. John Sickels didn't list him in his Top 20 Dodger Prospects for 2011 article, not even as a player "also getting votes" below the rankings - in fairness, Guerra *did* merit such mention as an also-ran for his 2010 article. He's nowhere to be found in Baseball America's organizational rankings for 2011 either, and he doesn't merit mention in Baseball HQ's excellent and thorough Minor League Baseball Analyst.

But here we are in late August, and he's the Dodgers' closer, having converted 11 of 12 opportunities. Though his G/F rate isn't anything special, he hasn't yet allowed a homer in 31.2 major league innings. His strikeout rate is pedestrian for a late-innings reliever, but he averages over 94 mph with his fastball, and he's only walked nine batters this year. Is he someone that we can buy-in for next year? Kenley Jansen is supposed to return from the DL on Friday, and he could theoretically compete for the job. Jansen was listed on all the prospect lists coming into this year, and he has 61 strikeouts in 37 innings (albeit with 21 walks). Neither pitcher really has much draft pedigree - Jansen is a converted catcher, and Guerra once was a 4th round pick - in 2004! Should either pitcher be a keeper candidate for 2012?

- Raul Ibanez seems as if he's finally hit the wall this year, hitting .236/.283/.408 in 436 at-bats. He's starting to lose some playing time to a former first-round pick that has been blocked in the Phillies' farm system but has produced this year with playing time, just as many had scripted. The only problem is that there was an understudy filling in the role of the blocked prospect doing well with a chance - it's not Domonic Brown, but rather John Mayberry Jr. Mayberry has been platooning lately with Ibanez, even if manager Charlie Manuel doesn't want to call it a platoon, and he's now up to .270/.333/.524 with 11 homers and six steals in 189 at-bats. Meanwhile, Brown is still in Triple-A and has had a bad month there. I think this is a buying opportunity to get Brown on the cheap, but is Mayberry worth looking at for 2012 also? I see one big problem - the trade for Hunter Pence leaves just one outfield spot open for the Phillies next year, as Shane Victorino isn't going anywhere until after 2012.

- Carlos Marmol's fastball velocity keeps going down, as does his effectiveness with that fastball. If you own him anywhere in a keeper league, how badly are you going to try to sell him in the offseason? Forget auction price for a second - assume it's a draft league with enough keeper slots that you'd normally keep a middle-tier closer. What are you willing to accept in trade talks if you try to peddle him?

- It's possible that Hanley Ramirez might not come back this year. What's your take on him for 2012? Even before his latest injury, his ground ball rate was up (again), his line drive rate was down, and he was slugging lower than he ever has in his career. Often we'll see ex-post-facto injury explanations for a player like this, but Ramirez's groundball tendencies started in 2010. Is he still a top-5 pick? Top-10? Top-20? Where are you willing to take him in a Y! F&F mixed league type of format?

Because this is Charging the Mound, let's also tackle (pun intended) a topic-related to our column title - what's your favorite charging the mound story or highlight? For me (and yeah, Sports Guy did it first), it's Izzy Alcantara kicking the catcher before charging. That absolutely had to be pre-meditated. Who else thinks of neutralizing the catcher first in the heat of the moment?

What sort of issues are you looking at for 2012 for other NL players? Let me know what you think of the above, share a bad beat story with me, tell me what else is on your mind, and I'll start thinking of similar AL issues for the next segment.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:54pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Well at least you lost Jimenez and didn't have to absorb the beating he took last time out. I detailed my bad luck in NL Tout this year - $152 of my $260 budget spent time on the DL this year, and that's not counting multiple stints by several and, of course, longer one by players like Buster Posey. (And as I type this Cole Hamels just went on the DL, too). But my worst beat ever came when I had the Browns +5.5 in this game. Seriously, take the time to look at the scoring drives (and time remaining) and tell me this wasn't the most improbable ATS loss in NFL history. And if you enjoy checking out someone else's bad beat, there's one in my documentary "Sundays Are for Football," excerpted here. (It's the last four minutes of the Monday night game during the fantasy playoffs).

I'd keep Guerra for about 10 bucks, of course, as the Dodgers don't have anyone else lined up, and as it stands, they're not in any condition to invest in a proven high-end closer. But that's a role issue rather than a skills one, and we'll know a lot more about the role next winter. But it's never that surprising when some random guy becomes a closer and even keeps the job for a couple years. For all we know he could be the next Joe Borowski.

Maybe Mayberry's a late bloomer, but his 2010 minor league numbers weren't much to write home about. If he gets at-bats he could be a Mark Trumbo/Mitch Moreland type, I suppose, but that's basically replacement level for a corner. I'd rather invest in Brown, too.

The time to sell Marmol was before this year. Now you won't get much for him, so unless you think he's not going to open the year with the job, it's hard to see how you'd profit from dumping him now. I didn't like him much this year because the command was still bad, and the strikeout rate likely unsustainable. We'll see what the new regime's tolerance for him will be, but I doubt you'll get much for him as a keeper at this point in trade.

I'd definitely target Ramirez as a last year's bum in the top-20. In the top-10, there's not a whole lot of profit, so I'd probably let him go, barring glowing reports during the offseason. Even this year, he's had good plate discipline, 10 homers and 20 steals in 338 at-bats while qualifying at shortstop. If I'm in a 14-team league and grabbed him in the second round, I'd be very happy.

My favorite mound charging was when George Bell (who once attempted a karate kick to Bruce Kison's face), took a swing at Aaron Sele, and 300-pound first baseman Mo Vaughn absolutely leveled Bell with an NFL-highlight-type hit. I'm pretty sure when former Mets GM Steve Phillips later signed a past-his-prime Vaughn, he was also thinking deterrence and pitcher safety. Who knows how many Mets pitchers would have been charged but for Vaughn's presence?

As for NL players, I'm sick of all of them. Too many teams, a worse league and everyone's hurt. When Pujols and Fielder wind up in the AL next year, it'll really be a wasteland. One player who's going to salvage an injury-nagged season and a slow start is Carlos Gonzalez - he's at 22 HR, 16 SB and a .288 average with 79 RBI and 78 runs. By year end, he'll have earned his draft slot and solidified himself as an easy early first-round pick. The NL interestingly has the league's only four true five-category players now (Cargo, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton). Unless you count Jacoby Ellsbury as one, which I don't yet.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 9:28pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

With batting averages down across baseball again, you could add Curtis Granderson to the five-category class also. I know you said that you're not willing to include Ellsbury in that class, presumably because of his power concerns, but where are you willing to take those two players next year? Behind all of Kemp, Upton, CarGo and Braun? Of the four NL five-category outfielders, which one do you least believe in? Maybe that's not phrased right - is there a player among those four that you wouldn't draft in the top 10 next year?

I wanted to bring up a couple of other guys that fall just short of five-category status, all in the AL, to get your take on them.

- Who would have thought that the Royals would have two hitters that would rank, using Yahoo's player-rater, in the top 40 of all fantasy players this year? But here we are in late August, and both Melky Cabrera (24) and Alex Gordon (37) make the cut. Melky in particular jumps off the page, given how awful he was last year. His 16 homers might put him a smidge below those guys we mentioned, but he's hitting for average, for some power and has swiped 16 bases. With Gordon, at least he had the pedigree of an elite prospect and still had some believers out there - you especially. I'm inclined to believe he'll come closer than Melky to repeating this year's production, but I was wrong once before on Melky.

- Speaking of surprise Cabreras, Asdrubal Cabrera's numbers have tapered off some over the second half (.836 OPS before the All-Star break, .757 after), but with 20 homers and 16 steals from the shortstop slot, he's been especially valuable. I didn't expect that power to come, and part of me expects that part to drop off again next year. What say you?

- Finally, I don't have any shares of Ben Zobrist, but he's having another massive season. Not only does he have 15 homers and 15 steals, but he has 42 doubles and six triples to boot. It's looking more and more as if 2010 was the outlier. Give me a projection for 2012 for Zobrist.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 10:17pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Well, obviously "five-category" is just one way to describe a player, and there's a lot of variation there. A 30-30 .300 guy is worth less than a 25-25 .370 one, and so whether Ellsbury's power fades, and he hits 15 HR next year, making him only a 4.5 category guy, he'll still make up for it if he steals 50 bases. That said, I think power is more scarce, so I'd probably go Cargo, Braun, Upton, Kemp, Ellsbury, Granderson in that order.

Gordon is probably the better real-life player, and is more guaranteed to have a chance to work through a slump or slow start, so I'd be more inclined to pay for him next year. I was actually on Cabrera, too, believe it or not - I told Dalton Del Don to buy him in CardRunners, and if he had, I'd probably be winning the $100 bet with Eric Kesselman (As it stands, I'm in trouble there). But I had no idea he'd bust out to this extent. Even so, Cabrera more than held his own at age 21 in Yankee Stadium, so it was a bit odd no one ever considered him a serious prospect.

I think Zobrist is performing at his baseline, so I'd write in this year's numbers again. I doubt I'll own him because he's such a sabermetric-friendly player, someone will get overly excited about him. The time to buy him was this season, but I missed the boat on that.