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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: Monday, March 19, 2012 8:14pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

After doing all my in depth research for AL LABR in late February, I spent the last two weeks getting ready for NL Tout this weekend. To that end, I put together an NL-only cheat sheet that was 107 outfielders and 114 *starting* pitchers deep. This list included not only infielders like Willie Bloomquist with 20 games played in the outfield, but NRIs like Joe Mather and minor leaguers from top prospects like Starlin Marte to under-the-radar ones like Tim Wheeler. Aside from the fact that it was a work of art, it probably took about 16 hours to compile, in part because I also researched players like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Carlos Gonzalez every bit as closely as I did the obscure ones. I research the known players because even though I have a general idea of who they are and what they did last year, I want to know exactly plate discipline, caught stealing, games played the last three years, exact age, etc. It's one thing to have a general impression of a player based on a loose knowledge of his stats and his general market value and another to have precise knowledge based on your own detailed research. In short, I could not have been more ready for Sunday's NL Tout draft.

Of course, I got invited to switch to AL Tout this weekend and accepted the offer in part because (1) I know the AL better; and (2) because it'll be less work to have my two deepest leagues both be AL. The downside, of course, is that you and I are going against each other and therefore have no chance of a Tout sweep (If DVR won mixed, then there could be a RotoWire triple crown of sorts), that I'll have potential rooting conflicts between my AL Tout and LABR teams (unless I can buy all my same players for the same prices) and that all of this NL research went to waste!

So in the interest of putting some of the NL work to use, here are some of my observations:

I'm bumping up Jose Reyes the contact rate is unreal, and he doesn't walk that much which means if healthy, he's going to give you a very at-bat-heavy high batting average from the SS spot. That the Marlins are leaving the infield grass on the longer side is only going to boost his infield hits further. I'll now take him early to mid second, whereas before I had reservations.

Heath Bell His K rate was down last year, and he's leaving Petco, but so what? He's still good enough, his velocity was actually up, and he's getting paid $27 million over three years! That's closer money, and management has a huge incentive to keep him in that role which is the most important factor (other than health) for closers. After Jonathan Papelbon, I think Bell might be my No. 2 guy, ahead of Craig Kimbrell.

Tyler Greene He has a good chance to win the starting 2B job, and he stole 30 bags at Triple-A and the majors combined with just two caught stealings. He also hit for decent power at Triple-A. With Tony LaRussa who seemed to take a bizarre dislike to certain players and deprive them of opportunities at times gone, Greene could be a very useful middle infielder even in mixed leagues.

Tim Lincecum should be in the Verlander/Kershaw/Halladay tier. His velocity was actually up a tick last year, and there's no reason to drop him out of it based on last year's perfectly good showing.

Carlos Marmol is in serious jeopardy. He's logged a lot of innings/appearances the last five seasons, relies heavily on his slider, was bad last year, lost velocity and is struggling this spring. Go get Kerry Wood for cheap.

Dan Uggla is being drafted too late. He hit 36 homers in a friendlier park last year, and that was despite a dreadful first-half slump. He could easily hit 40 and bat .265.

Give me Hanley Ramirez, now healthy, over Troy Tulowitzki. The biggest difference will be in steals, and that favors Ramirez unless the Marlins new park turns out to be Petco east.

I bumped Paul Goldschmidt down my list after a closer look. Lots of Ks, not that many major-league at-bats. And what are the D-Backs going to do with Jason Kubel, whom they signed to a 2-year, $15 million deal when they have Chris Young, Justin Upton and Gerrado Parra a .784 OPS 24-year old who played gold glove defense? Could Kubel wind up donning a first-baseman's glove on occasion if and when Goldschmidt gets off to a slow start?

Mat Gamel actually played three games at third base, two at first and two at DH last year. In some leagues that makes him a third baseman, and he'll get 1B eligibility soon.

Wilson Ramos had 15 HR in 389 at-bats at age 23 last year and batted .267 (that's like .300 for a catcher). He could easily make it into the top tier of catchers in 2012.

Those are a few of the things I unearthed in my research. Hopefully, someone will put them to good use.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2012 11:14pm
To: "Chris Liss"
Subject: Charging

Your research didn't go to waste. You were able to use a lot of that info for your home league draft over the weekend, and you still have Y! Friends & Family and the RotoWire Staff league this week plenty of chances to act on that NL intel. You won't be able to jump all over the Joe Mathers of the world, but I think you'll get over that.

But had I been in your shoes, I think I'd have decided the same and gone ahead with the switch to the AL Tout league. You're not at the same place in time as a parent yet, but you'll find time becoming increasingly scarce as Sasha gets older. Any possible time-savers become vital.

I reached the same conclusion as you about Jose Reyes, drafting him 19th overall in my NFBC satellite league Monday night. It helped that I didn't have much speed from my first round pick, and that Giancarlo Stanton is still hurting. Miami's new park also is a concern, but Reyes' game should prevent him from getting hurt too badly at home. And our on-air conversation Monday about David Wright persuaded me to take the value presented to me at 4.4 (49 overall). Now I have to cross my fingers that his injury really isn't as bad as Ryan Zimmerman's was last season.

I'm finding the opposite about Uggla that he's is going earlier than I'm comfortable drafting him. The power is legit, but last year wasn't the first time his average slumped (though it was certainly the lowest it slumped), and he doesn't run at all. I think where he should go in some part depends upon what you've done with your first 2-to-3 picks. If you grabbed speed early or a starting pitcher early at the expense of taking a power hitter, you're right, he deserves to go early. But how much earlier than his ADP of 56 (on MockDraftCentral) should he go? He went 47th overall in my NFBC Satellite, for what it's worth.

I agree with you about Greene and feel the same way about Allen Craig, once he has returned from his knee injury. Things are already breaking right for Greene Skip Schumaker is out and Craig, another potential second baseman, won't be ready for Opening Day. But there are so many different avenues to playing time for each we could eventually see them comprise the Cards' double play combo up the middle.

When you were doing your NL rankings, who ended up being your No. 2 first baseman behind Joey Votto? It's obviously not Goldschmidt. What about Mike Morse? He's got a lat strain and might have to make a position change once Bryce Harper gets the call. Is it Ike Davis and his Valley Fever similarities? Or maybe it's my choice, Michael Cuddyer, who gets to play in Coors Field and qualify in the outfield. But Cuddyer has his own durability issues as well. I'm really interested in seeing the Tout NL prices, by the way, to see if/how these guys get bid up, and if we see the market fade pitchers as badly as LABR did.

Speaking of NL first basemen, you mentioned Mat Gamel. What do you think of him? The Brewers never bothered to use him in September last season, which sort of bothers me when figuring out what to invest this year. But yet, I'd rather gamble on him than settle for the likes of James Loney, Garrett Jones or Aubrey Huff.

One last question would you also consider elevating Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee to the same tier as Kershaw/Halladay/Lincecum? If not, how far off are they in your mind? I find Hamels in particular to be undervalued among the elite NL Starters.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 1:00am
Subject: Re: Charging

I had Cuddyer No. 2 in the NL, but I don't care much about the ranking so much as the margin. Cuddyer, Freeman, Berkman doesn't matter that much to me. I had Morse lower because his plate discipline (which I typically don't care about in fantasy) is so bad, but looking at it more closely, I probably shouldn't. He hit in half a season in 2010, too, so he probably regresses to the .270s or .280s at worst with some pop. I like Gamel as a post-hype guy who's at the right age (26) to break out after tearing up Triple-A last year. He's worth $12 or so in NL Tout. (Incidentally, I just looked it up, and that's exactly what he went for in NL LABR to Eric Karabell). Of course, Loney went for $16, but that's due to reliability in a deep only-league. In a mixed league, I'd also rather have Gamel who has some power upside.

I think Lee belongs in the top tier, but not Hamels. I know his numbers were good last year, but he's coming off a clean-up surgery, saw his K-rate decline a bit and just hasn't been as reliable as the top four. I have him more in line with Yovani Gallardo in Tier 2.

Speaking of Y!F&F, how do you feel about your team? I'm pretty satisfied with mine though I didn't like drafting out of the eight-hole. I took Robby Cano almost out of obligation because with the daily moves and 162-games played requirement, durability for your top hitters matters a good deal. I wanted to take Hanley Ramirez, but felt it was too risky in this format at No. 8, and he went two picks before me in Round 2. I actually like Carl Crawford in Round 7 a good deal in this format, as it's not a big problem if he misses a month. I also think Clayton Kershaw should have been a first-round pick, but because everyone waits a little bit on pitching, you can't take him there. The market for elite pitching for some reason is a little soft in that league, even though it shouldn't be. Mid-level pitching, on the other hand, is essentially worthless given the low innings cap.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 1:41am
To: "Chris Liss"
Subject: Charging

My F&F team is interesting. I'm not sure that's necessarily a positive endorsement. At least the Draft Software likes the team, though that's hardly predictive.

I drafted sixth overall, which isn't a bad slot in this format. I got Jose Bautista there, which was fine though part of me hoped that Troy Tulowitzki would fall there to me. But that's standard. The next two picks could make or break my team at 2.8 I went with Jose Reyes, grabbing him in the second round for the second day in a row. Given this format 13 teams, low innings cap, I really was tempted to take Clayton Kershaw instead, but chickened out. The only other hitter that I looked at in that spot was Mark Teixeira, but I decided to go after the batting average, speed and positional scarcity instead. It all sounds well and good until Reyes blows out his hammy. But this league is ideal for the Kershaw gambit, and at the very least I'm going to spend some time mapping out how the team will flesh out if I take Kershaw that early for the NFBC main event in two weeks.

Going with Reyes that early indicates you need to embrace a little bit of risk to reach a higher upside, so at 3.6 I took Josh Hamilton for the first time in my countless drafts this season, thinking maybe I'd go with a starting pitcher next, depending upon what the room gave me. Hamilton's production per plate appearance is off the charts, so he fits pretty well with this format.

The decision to go with Reyes over Kershaw was just that a decision, one that put me down a certain path. If there was an error in my draft, it was in dealing with the closers. This is my weak point in snake drafts it bit me two years ago in this league and three years ago in the NFBC, too. I took a third starter in the 11th round in Cory Luebke, who I'm constitutionally required to take after touting him all over the place. But I probably could have gotten him a round later, and not gotten swept up in the rush of closers that followed after Motte, League (I wanted one of those two coming back ha!), Street, Betancourt, Farnsworth and Frank Francisco all went off the boards before my next pick, this after 15 closers had gone before my 11th round pick. I don't mind going ugly with closers, but in this format with the innings cap, they take on more value.

I ended up taking Kenley Jansen (who isn't even the closer, yet) and Grant Balfour with my next two picks, and while I like those guys, and they should help my K/9IP, I'm definitely short saves compared to most, even after grabbing stinky Matt Capps even later. If I can beat out Pianow and the Razzball guys for a closer off the waiver wire this year, it'll be a small miracle, but it would go a long way to helping the cause.

You embraced a certain amount of risk in this draft, but the pay-off for what you spent on someone like Chase Utley is certainly worth it. As a baseball fan, I hope he doesn't go Sizemore on us. In a league where it's winner-take-all, though, you have to take a few wild swings here-and-there. I do like how you talked up Tyler Greene and Kerry Wood, and then turned around and got them here in this draft. Never trust a tout who doesn't put his money where his mouth is. The draft is the ultimate litmus test of us talking heads it's one thing to talk up a strategy or a player, but in the light of day, are you willing to follow through on your assertions? You did that, so kudos to you on that.