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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 3, 2012 2:38pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

It would be nice if the season just started already. And I don't mean that false start at 6 am PT in Japan that of course I couldn't watch and that just caused a headache for fantasy owners trying to decide when free agents should be available and when lineup changes could be made. It would also be nice if the Phillies could officially put Chase Utley on the DL and the Red Sox did the same with Carl Crawford, so I could make some moves in Y!F&F. The first half of this week is an odd limbo where most of the final roster decisions are already known, and we're just waiting around as mostly minor news trickles in.

Overall, I have seven teams (eight including our Scoresheet league), but one is co-managed by Tim Schuler and another by our co-producer Trevor Ray, so really I'm only on the hook for five. That's probably one or two more than I'd ideally have, but since the FSTA experts league, my least important one, drafted in January, is so loaded (Ryan Braun in Round 4, Jason Heyward in Round 11), I can't complain too much.

One thing I will (and did) complain about is the Yankees' handling of Michael Pineda, whom I kept for $11 in the staff league and bought for $14 in AL Tout. Pineda is one of the best young arms in the game, and the Yankees traded their best hitting prospect, Jesus Montero, for him. Pineda reportedly showed up out of shape, and his fastball velocity was off early on. The media jumped on this, of course, while Pineda insisted he'd be fine once the season started. But four days ago, manager Joe Girardi comes out and says that Pineda might be ticketed for the minors, because Freddy Garcia's having a good camp, showing increased velocity. Was it any surprise then when the 23-year old Pineda who's obviously the Yankees' No. 2 starter when healthy overthrew in his next outing and injured his shoulder? It's normal for media to whine and stress over any potential issue in spring training they even speculated that Roy Halladay had an arm injury but the manager's job is to be a buffer between them and the players, particularly a younger pitcher. Instead Girardi amplified their concerns by announcing that Pineda's job was at stake, obviously due to his low velocity, as his other stats (3.13 ERA, 16:7 K:BB in 16.1 IP), were perfectly fine. Essentially, he said: "Amp up your velocity now, or you might wind up in the minors." Which is about as stupid a thing as he could possibly say. This is a $150 million arm, and no manager is worth anywhere near that kind of money. More importantly, as I said, I have Pineda in two leagues, and now best case scenario is he misses only April.

Sean Marshall was named the closer today, while Aroldis Chapman is now a set-up man again. It seems the Ryan Madson injury had an unfortunate cascade effect of making Chapman a reliever, as it's hard to envision the Reds needing two potentially elite set-up lefties in the pen. Is Chapman stuck in the pen all year? Is he first in line to close should Marshall have a problem? And what do you make of Mike Leake and Homer Bailey this year, who wind up in the rotation? Bailey averaged 94 mph in 2009 and was down to 92 last year. Is he capable of a post-hype breakout in 2012?

Andrew Bailey is almost certainly going on the DL with a thumb injury and could be out for a significant portion of the regular season. I avoided the guy in every league, and though a thumb, rather than an arm, injury is somewhat fluky, it just seems there are certain players who find ways to miss time any way they can. It's obviously not on purpose, but I think there might be a psychological component to it from certain guys' reckless styles of play to not being aware of where your body is in space (proprioception, it's called) to some guys being slower to feel their ankle twisting and transfer their weight accordingly. Or maybe there's some fear or success, guilt over what seems like unjust prosperity, simply because you can throw a ball 95 mph. In any event, the precise reason is less important than the general idea that injuries are not entirely random. And I'm not talking about pre-existing ones like Jose Reyes' scar tissue in his hamstrings or Chase Utley's eroding knee cartilage. I mean injuries to healthy players not being entirely random. The flip side of this is considering health a skill. Some players seem to know how to stay healthy, while others apparently don't. So maybe there's an edge to be had in determining who had a random injury, who has a chronic injury and who, despite being healthy now with no chronic conditions, has a propensity to be hurt, assuming such a thing exists.

I have no problem investing in Tim Hudson, Ian Kinsler, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gonzalez. I'm on the fence about Reyes, Francisco Liriano and Joe Mauer, and I stayed away from Bailey, J.J. Putz, Kevin Youkilis and Nelson Cruz, at least where you'd have to take them. I don't include Justin Morneau or Chase Utley on this list because the discount was so steep, it didn't really matter what I thought about them. I'm sure I'll be wrong about a lot of the particulars, but do you buy my premise?

As the season is set to get underway, it's hard not to be excited about my teams' prospects. But no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and it really is much the same with your perfectly and not-so perfectly constucted fantasy squads. The players you thought were great values might well disappoint, and a couple late-round picks will be unlikely saviors. And there are probably 2-3 players whom you don't even own yet that will be key in any money finish. Still, as of Opening Day, you get to watch with your battle plans intact and your (in most cases) hallucinogenic dreams of victory undisturbed.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 9:35pm
To: "Chris Liss"
Subject: Charging

I'm with you on the Japan games, both from a fan and from a fantasy standpoint. How ludicrous is it to play two games that count, and then go back and play more spring training games? While we're at it, let's get rid of the Wednesday night game between the Marlins and Cardinals. Do we really need to showcase that Jeffrey Loria hoodwinked the Miami politicians into giving him the latest monstrosity of a stadium deal? Opening Day should be on the first Monday in April I don't understand why MLB had to pollute such a good thing, especially when the payoff (two games between non-contenders played at a time when their home audiences couldn't watch live) was so small.

Between Girardi's handling of Jorge Posada last season and Pineda this year, at the very least his people-management skills need a significant upgrade. Many Yankees fans I know don't love his game tactics either, stemming from his refusal to bat Derek Jeter lower in the order against righties (or at least bat Brett Gardner leadoff against them more often) and his bullpen management last year. I know that the Yankees are favorites in the division, more so with the Red Sox's spring training woes, but this Pineda situation is the exact type that could put his job in jeopardy. Is this a fireable offense in your mind? Is Girardi on the hot seat? Or should we be blaming Pineda for showing up to camp out of shape (reportedly some 20 pounds overweight)? How much of the blame needs to fall to Pineda?

As for the Reds and Chapman, ideally they'd commit more to him starting, even if it means beginning the year in Triple-A, though after his spring I'm not sure I see the need for him to go there. I wish that they'd replace Bronson Arroyo in the rotation with Chapman, but it's hard to see the Reds making this type of decision. Arroyo's contract runs through 2013, plus there's an inherent bias towards veterans in this situation. His job was never in danger this spring, even though he was by far their worst full-time starter last year. But I also don't think this move is permanent. If Bill Bray hadn't gotten hurt this spring, the Reds would have had him and Marshall as two lefties in the bullpen, obviating the need to add another for the sake of having two lefties. When Bray is up to speed and Nick Masset is off the DL, I could see them putting Chapman in the rotation the first time an opportunity arises.

I think Leake has another level in him, but I don't know if he gets there this year. I still don't get why the Reds had him spend no time in the minors before he landed his first major league role in 2010, but he's held his own in that time, and finished strong last year. He won't ever be an ace, but he can still be a fantasy asset. Bailey has had an awful spring, and I'm beginning to think he may not ever get there. But while the Reds are looking for bullpen help, why don't they consider Bailey in the bullpen? With him giving max effort each pitch, he could be a pretty imposing reliever. In a perfect world he'd be a competent starter first, but that ship is pretty close to sailing.

One corollary to the "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy" maxim is that Opening Day is just a start, not a finish. If you have a couple of guys get sent down, it's not the end of the world, either for you or for those players. We'd all like to have a roster chock-full of stable guys with no job threats, but it's just not that easy to do. We have to take a few risks, so we shouldn't be discouraged when it doesn't work out on that risky player or two just have contingencies in mind if the player doesn't win the job right away, including what it would take just to ride it out.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 1:19pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Having Travis Snider or Brian Matusz sent down (Matusz might be recalled, it turns out), doesn't matter much in AL LABR or Tout where you're just looking at season-long production, and even if that's four months could easily justify his draft-day cost. And it doesn't matter in a mixed league with a lot of bench spots where you'll use at least one or two for a mid-season lottery ticket. But it absolutely does matter in a league like Y!F&F where there are limited bench slots. If you drafted Snider, he's got to be dropped there. I also drafted him in my 15-team mixed home league with only six bench spots, and dropped him for Liam Hendriks, who's in the rotation. It just wasn't worth waiting for someone whose upside is uncertain in that situation. But had Snider gotten the job over Eric Thames, of course, I would have stuck with him.

I think Pineda who showed up at 280 after finishing last year at 270 should have been in better shape, but he's not a center fielder. Does anyone care how fat C.C. Sabathia is? And even if we concede that Pineda's reduced velocity was weight/shape related which I'm not sure it was then sure he deserves some blame. But 10 or even 20 pounds is a fairly minor obstacle for a 280-pound man compared to shoulder problems for a pitcher. And while I'm not sure Girardi should be fired, someone should sit him down and explain to him what the manager's job is. It's emphatically not telegraphing your intentions to the NY media. He should have told Pineda that no matter what happens, he was their guy, the one for whom they traded one of the top hitting prospects in baseball, and just to relax, go out and build up his velocity naturally, making sure not to overthrow and to tell him immediately if he felt any soreness or discomfort. If at the end of spring training, Girardi still felt Pineda wasn't his best option, he could shock everyone by sending him down, explaining that Pineda wasn't totally healthy and that as soon as he was, he'd be the team's No. 3 starter, probably in mid-April. The only downside to that is the media might think Girardi was crazy for sending him down with no warning, but that's the manager's job. Take the hits yourself, while protecting your players from them.

I don't like the Wednesday night "opener", either.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 9:49pm
To: "Chris Liss"
Subject: Charging

Yeah, I have to agree with you on Girardi. He seems to be positioning himself on Pineda in the media to try to look better, without realizing that he comes off worse. Though to a certain extent, that narrative has "worked" I've seen more than one NY writer opine that this story is about a 23-year old (with emphasis on the age) not wanting to work this offseason. Maybe that's entirely true, but it's also a self-serving narrative. You've persuaded me here.

Meanwhile I briefly owned and then dumped Chris Heisey in F&F for mostly the same reason that you had to get rid of Snider even though he hasn't been sent down, it's also pretty clear he's not going to play every day Ryan Ludwick will get the first start in left field. And yeah, it hurt a little bit, given how much I like Heisey. Maybe I'll still grab him for spot starts, or more likely, you'll poach him before I get a chance. That's sort of the risk you have to take in a league like this with daily moves the bottom 4-6 spots of the roster have to be pretty fluid, and while you'll miss out sometimes by cutting a guy too soon, the risk of holding on to a guy too long this league is also pretty apparent ask anyone who tried to be patient with the Giants on Brandon Belt last year.

I missed talking about your health-as-a-skill premise in the first part, so I'll briefly comment here. I think to a certain extent that it exists, but I also think that sometimes all it takes is that first major injury to change that perception. Neither Utley nor Morneau were particularly injury prone until the last couple of years though those both were major injuries, so they might not be good examples. But the idea that bounces around for me is that even those guys who have been healthy all of their careers once they get that first major injury, maybe through no fault of their own, they don't know how to react. Is there a propensity to get hurt, otherwise? It's an interesting premise. I'm not sure how to identify it, much less act on it. Maybe you can have a sense about a guy like Bailey, or maybe it's just bad luck.

Finally, the Cardinals-Marlins game is in the books. You know what they say about Kyle Lohse on any given night, he's got no-hit stuff.