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Charging the Mound: Do We Still Trust Starting Pitching?

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, May 29, 2012 6:31pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

What a contrast there is sometimes between different formats. In AL Tout and LABR, I spent most of my money on offense and gambled on cheap pitching. In AL Tout, I actually hit the lottery with an $8 Jake Peavy, but I lost Michael Pineda to Joe Girardi's moronity, and erred badly with the carcass that Ubaldo Jimenez has become. I'm not sure many realize this, but the guy has 42 walks and 33 strikeouts in 56 IP and a WHIP of 1.786. I don't know how many standard deviations that is above the average WHIP (1.304) in the AL, but it's a lot. It's probably as if I paid $12 for a hitter, say, Chone Figgins, and he hit minus-15 homers on the year. I realize that's not possible, but the point is it's not possible for a hitter to do to your power what Jimenez is doing to my WHIP. Put differently, buying Jimenez is like going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, and instead he amputates both your legs. Or ordering a pair of shoes online and instead receiving a leaky package of nuclear waste. Even these metaphors fall short of conveying the harm and toxicity Jimenez has brought to my team. And Clay Buchholz hasn't exactly softened the blow.

But I digress. My central point is there's not much I can do about those draft-day mistakes in that format - I bought Alex Cobb off waivers, I have most of the Mariners' minor-league pitchers stashed, and I might even bench Jimenez after he faces the Mariners this week. But in the daily-moved mixed YF&F League, it could not be more different. I've held onto only two starters - King Felix and Mat "I refuse to pitch out of the stretch" Latos, but have been able to pick up R.A Dickey for two enormous starts, Josh Beckett for a decent showing and others. I grabbed Dayan Viciedo after someone - I think it was Brad Evans - dropped him as well as Colby Rasmus recently, and Rafael Furcal early in the year. While the deep AL-only leagues are great tests of your preseason player evaluation skills (as well as auction strategy) - the YF&F is much more dynamic during the year. The former is like being a long-term buy-and-hold investor, while the latter is like being a day trader.

Of course, I've had some losses in YF&F. I briefly owned Josh Reddick and dropped him, and I actually drafted Jake Peavy and dropped him before the season even started. But the name of that game isn't to be perfect - it's to be on the winning side more often than not, and to press your advantage by making a lot of transactions, or trades with the waiver wire if you prefer.

Do you have a preference in investing/league style? As a stock investor, I'm pure long-term-buy-and-hold (because otherwise the game is rigged), and in any event, I lack the expertise and the inside info to keep up with the line-walking pros and outright criminals. But as a fantasy player, I find myself drawn to both paradigms and am glad to play in leagues that offer both.

While I have your attention - what do you think of Dickey? Is he a day trade that turns into a long-term buy and hold? Is Rasmus finally turning the corner for the Blue Jays and become someone I should hold onto all year?

We've talked in the past about how the last two seasons saw almost every top pitcher escape without serious injuries, but this year has not followed suit. Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver just went on the DL, and Cliff Lee and Dan Hudson were out for a while, too. Were 2010 and 2011 simply anomalies, or do you still trust pitching more than you once did?

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 3:28pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

I'm fully aware of the damage that Ubaldo Jimenez has wrought, as I traded for him in a dynasty league last year, under the buy lowest / sell highest theory. I gave up James Shields and a prospect (Neil Ramirez), getting Ubaldo and David Freese in return. Freese has made the deal just awful, not catastrophic, but the contrast in the pitchers illustrates the risk in buying at the lowest point of value. It won't dissuade me from doing that type of trade again, but then again, I will steer far clear of pitchers with big drops in their fastball velocity.

I've picked up and dropped Steve Cishek and James Russell exactly at the wrong time, I've held on to Peter Bourjos for far too long, and had way too many nights where I've been screwed by a late-game night off for one of my hitters. Everything that I got right with the hitters last year seemingly has gone wrong this year. That said, I love the format - I really like that I have a league (actually, two) where I can day trade. But I'm also really glad that none of my other leagues are like it. It's exhausting! Not only do you have to plan in advance for slow schedules on Monday and Thursday, but you have to act increasingly early to beat you, Pianow, Behrens, Carty and Razzball to day trade fastest! Instead of making moves the night before, with some players you have to make moves 36 hours in advance. Instead of waiting until a pitcher has blown a save, I have to pick up a closer-in-waiting as soon as the closer walks his first guy. I don't mind doing it, but I'd get crushed if all my leagues were like this.

R.A. Dickey was this year's player that showed up higher in my rankings based on the projections than I anticipated. I try to do the player projections independent of other players, and just look at the player on his own merits. The valuation/ranking of the player comes after everyone is done. Occasionally some weird results will be spit out as a function of that process, and occasionally I'll tweak the projection accordingly if the outlier is stark enough. But I try not to do too much of that - I'd rather look at the projection in detail first and decide whether there's anything outlandish about it - maybe I gave a guy too many wins, or a closer too few saves, etc ... But more often than not the process reveals to me a guy that should be higher in the pecking order than is his current valuation.

All that said, in this particular format, he's still a day-trade guy - and you had exquisite timing to pull it off. He's not throwing harder than before (though he does throw harder than your typical knuckleball pitcher), and at age 37 this isn't some sort of growth spurt. He faced the Pirates and Padres and ended up on the extreme end of the spectrum of possible results. He'll probably go back to being the 5.8 K/9 pitcher he's been for the recent part of his career.

As for Rasmus, I'm not quite as certain. His contact rate is up, and his walk rate is up. He's closer to being the player overall that he was in his rookie season than in his breakout second season, at least right now, but why can't he be one of those "once you display a skill, you own it" guys that Ron Shandler invokes? I think he's a hold.

Good question on the starting pitching. I do trust starting pitching more than I did five years ago, but the examples you cited, plus the decline of Tim Lincecum make this question up for more debate. I suppose if I really trusted starting pitching, I'd have ended up owning more of the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and the other elites in the first place, but I don't. But you can have bad luck with those next-tier guys too that you used in place of betting on the elites. I had Cory Luebke everywhere, for instance. So, upon further review, I guess no, I don't trust pitching as much as I did the last two years. How about you? And armed with that knowledge, how are you acting on it?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 11:26pm
Subject: Re: Charging

I actually had Dickey ranked higher than Mike Leake on my home league cheat sheet, but for God knows what reason I went with Leake. The difference couldn't be much more stark. Rasmus just homered today, and because I just dealt Viciedo (and Sean Rodriguez) for an injured Dustin Pedroia (about whom the news got better 30 minutes after the deal was done), I'll need him to fill an outfield slot until Austin Jackson and possibly Carl Crawford come back. One under-appreciated aspect of YF&F - besides the day trading - is that you can only house so many injured players on your roster, given the hard-to-reach games-played requirements and short benches. I've had Crawford and Utley clogging my DL slots all year (thought they'd both be back by now), and so Jackson and now Pedroia (and Cameron Maybin who's dinged up) don't leave me much margin for error when players take a day off.

I trust whoever's really good and running well, but the second an ace runs into 2-3 bad starts, it's hard not to get nervous. One bad start, I can write off, but 2-3 in a row, and I start to wonder. On the flip side, anytime I see a dominant start out of Francisco Liriano or another one-time ace, I start to wonder whether he could be on the way back. Jake Peavy and Johan Santana have done it so far, why can't Liriano? Or Jimenez? Actually, I'm 97 percent sure Jimenez will never get it back. But I still can't drop him in AL Tout.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2012 4:25am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

That's really the underrated aspect of this game - even with day trading allowed (encouraged, even), it's hard to fill up your hitter slots' games cap. I had a lot of stable guys that mostly stayed healthy last year, and I don't think I fully appreciated how big of an advantage that was. This year, I'm scrambling for at-bats. The one negative is that with all free agents required to be added the night before and not on the day off, if there's a late-breaking injury, a guy getting a day off, or a catcher getting a day game off following a night game, it's harder to fill. Multi-position guys become more valuable, and you really have to follow the playing time patterns even closer. A guy like Peter Bourjos in this format becomes even tougher to own - every night he sits (and because he's on a West Coast team, there are a lot fewer options to stream in for him) is a wasted chance to accumulate more at-bats than your foes.

I'm thinking I might adjust, however minutely, my draft strategy for next season. I'm already playing with fewer pitchers than ever, but I need to start that way post-draft, and load up on more hitters, so I have more optionality on a daily basis. I shouldn't have to sweat having a MI, CR or OF getting a day off - there should be at least one of each position in tow. Perhaps at catcher, too. And I think I should also discount the more marginal West Coast guys more, too, given the lack of recourse I'll have in replacing them if they are a late scratch. The stars won't change, but I won't pay for the next Bourjos, at least at that price.

And yeah, carrying DL'd guys for the long-term is really tough when they start to add up. I had to cut Lorenzo Cain in one of these leagues - I think it was the Sirius/XM league and not YF&F, but the principle is the same.

As far as Liriano goes, I think you're taking a trip down Signature Significance Lane. I think Luke Hochevar is due for a 10-strikeout game soon, too. And I'll probably buy into it again, because at the end of the day I'm still a big dumb animal and if a player confirms to my bias even once or twice, I'm back onboard.