Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Current (?) and Future (?) King

I think that I've done a reasonably nice job offering insight into my UPL-psyche here, and I sort of wonder if it hasn't hurt me a little bit in the UPL. Perhaps I'm thinking a little too highly of myself (or my postings here), but the thought is that I'm making public my thoughts, analysis etc. Hopefully, it makes for interesting reading, as well as a more interesting and competitive UPL.

In any case, I think that the current incarnation of the O.N. Thugs makes for an interesting case study in how one tries to win now, as well as build for the future. As you may recall from my three-part draft recap (Part I, Part II, and Part III), as well as my commentary on my "slingshot" drafting, that was precisely what I was shooting for. Of course, as the season has progressed, I haven't exactly locked up the win now part of the plan. I suspect that gone are the days where I can just run from wire-to-wire and have people looking forward to the next season by the time we hit the midway point. As of now, I'm sitting in 3rd place, which is actually higher than where I've been sitting in UPL roto leagues the last few years. So it's not really a terrible spot to start a 2nd half run (which I seem to have been doing all too often lately, though with pretty amazing success).

So what's put me in the spot where I need to a) wait for my team to get hot, and/or b) make some moves? Part of it is injuries. Carlos Delgado going down probably took away about 12 HR and maybe 20 R and 25 RBI that I was counting on, as well as 100 points in SLG. Jake Peavy going down has cost me a on the order of 5 W and maybe 50 K's. Part of it is players underachieving. David Wright's playing well, but has shorted me about 12 HR, 15 RBI, and 50 points in SLG. Nick Markakis has put up good R and RBI, but has been off since mid-May, and is about 10 HR, and 50 points in OBP and SLG short of expectations. Russell Martin has been brutal this season, and is short about 7 HR, 8 R and 15 RBI, not to mention 100 points in SLG. Rich Harden has been terrible, as well. I was expecting a little more, maybe 4 W, and lower numbers (about 2 L, 1.75 in ERA and about 0.2 in WHIP.

All told, I'm running a little deficit of about 45 HR, 30R, and 55 RBI, and possibly 30 points in SLG from what I was expecting from these hitters, and maybe 9 or 10 W, about 50K, 0.2 in ERA, 0.05 in WHIP. Now, it's not all doom and gloom. Todd Helton's been a nice band-aid at 1B. Adam Dunn's has more RBI than expected. Shin-Soo Choo has swiped a few more bases than I figured, and Gary Sheffield's been solid when he's played. But my offense has definitely been less than stellar.

The pitching has been pretty good, particularly the bullpen. I think that I manage to consistently get lucky with my closers (save for BJ Ryan this year), in that I seem to avoid getting those closers who get enough saves that you have to keep them in, but are getting lit up and kill your ERA and WHIP (like Matt Capps or Brad Lidge this year). And in fact, K-Rod, Soria, Fuentes, and Sherrill have all been lights out this year and have 140 K's in 134 IP. Tim Lineceum has been his usual phenomenal self, and Chris Carpenter is back to his Cy Young contending self. But 2 reliable starting pitchers is at least 2 less than you want.

So what to do? The big part is that you hope that Wright and Markakis pick it up on offense, and that Harden finds his control. You wait for Delgado to come back in a few more weeks to help the stretch run. Ditto for Peavy. But you have to make some other moves. It used to be that free agency was sort of like an extended roster for me. I could pick up and drop players and not worry about people swooping in. That's no longer the case, and free agency is relatively bare of proven performance. So, the alternative is to try to make trades happen. How do you make trades happen? Make sure that your roster is deep, and then look for ways to trade your excess strengths to shore up needs.

A less-successful trade happened earlier in the season when I had to get a band-aid at 2B when Cabrera went down. I ended up moving James Loney (who's still only 25, and was a potential keeper), to rent Orlando Hudson. O-Dog wasn't exactly good, but he helped keep me afloat. But that isn't quite enough to make a run. I needed to figure out how to pick up some power at C. Enter Scott Rolen.

Obviously, I have an affinity for proven quality, and this guy has HOF-type of career numbers. I picked him up right at the start of his hot streak, and he put up .408/.568 for me, despite not having his HR power back. Part of making a trade is to figure out who has needs. Enter SuckMyKunckleballs (formerly IStillSuckCurveballs), who only have Youkilis at 1B, and had two 3B on the DL (Mike Lowell and Mark DeRosa). You can't really afford to surrender a lot of games at a power spot like 3B, so you have to make a move. Given the dearth of options in free agency, a deal has to be made. Rolen for Jorge Posada, and all of a sudden, I'm looking at making up those 8 HR and 100 points in SLG in the 2nd half that I missed from Martin in the 1st half. Plus, I still have Martin on the roster for when he finally gets his act together. This should be a classic win-win, fill-obvious-needs sort of trade.

The other major issue was my lack of starting pitching. I made a couple longshot bets (Contreras and Pedro) who may help. But I needed to move one of my closers to get a legit pitcher. Enter Mike MacDougal. I've always had my eye out for this guys, since he came through for me back in his KC days. I picked him up right after he got his 1st save for the Nationals, and he's rewarded me with 4 SV, and a reasonable ERA (but a bad WHIP and no K's). It's a little scary to run long with him, but it's a great boost for a few extra saves. Essentially, I've stolen a couple extra SV w/out getting hurt too bad elsewhere. Even though MacDougal doesn't have a ton of trade value, the extra few SV have given me a buffer. Now, I can trade one of my older closers, while still having a legit shot at keeping my points in SV (particularly when SuckMyKnuckleballs moved Brad Lidge). So, the next step was to find a good trade partner.

I think that figuring out where to send your excess stats is a subtle art. For example, I've got Westy right on my tail in 4th place. For him, adding a legit closer is worth at least 3 points just from SV. So even though he had some intriguing options, I didn't really want to send him a closer. I was hoping to send SV to Hats for Bats on the off chance that he's make a run, and overtake the teams in 1st and 2nd, the '90 Reds and IAmJabrone (he's currently down 25 saves to those guys). Unfortunately, he wasn't interesting in making a run at those guys. So the next best option was to move SV to a team that could overtake Westy, or at least protect points from Westy. That put JimmyDix, Muddy Mush Heads, and Benver Droncos as potential trade partners. And got a trade accepted (Brian Fuentes for Clayton Kershaw).

I would have preferred to move Sherrill, since he's less proven, but he also had a lot less value than Fuentes (who's leading the majors in SV). If I was going to get quality, I had to give up quality. Why Kershaw? The Mush Heads didn't seem to have much interest in moving Johnny Cueto (my first choice since I'm a homer). Similarly, if I was in 1st place, I would have tried for Edinson Volquez. I figured that Jared Weaver wasn't available. So I send out an offer to Benver for Kershaw, who is still young (21 this season), plays on a good team in a pitcher's park and a weak division, and has filthy stuff (almost a K per IP). He still walks too many guys, but opponents hit under .200 against him. He was only 7-5, and may still hit the wall this year (first full season in majors), but huge future upside, as well as an upgrade for now. Benver instantly picks up 2 points (maybe 3) in SV, and more importantly, protects 1 point from Westy.

So amazingly, I was able to get younger, as well as get help for the 2nd half. Moving forward, my keeper list looks(roughly) like this, with this season's age in parentheses:

C - Jorge Posada (38)
C - Russell Martin (26)
1B - ???
2B - Asdrubal Cabrera (23)
3B - David Wright (26)
SS - Derek Jeter (35)
OF - Adam Dunn (29)
OF - Nick Markakis (25)
OF - Shin-Soo Choo (27)
UTIL - ???
UTIL - ???

SP - Tim Lincecum (25)
SP - Jake Peavy (28)
SP - Chris Carpenter (34)
SP - Clayton Kershaw (21)
SP - Rich Harden (27)
SP - Ben Sheets (31)
RP - Francisco Rodriguez (27)
RP - Joakim Soria (25)
RP - George Sherrill (32)

That's 17 players, so I have to make a decision on Todd Helton (36), Carlos Delgado (37), Jim Thome (39), and Gary Sheffield (40), who are all putting up numbers around the .400/.500 level that I shoot for, and could very well be the core of my power in the 2nd half. I may end up punting on Harden (if he's this awful in the 2nd half) or Sheets (if the rehab doesn't look great), which could open up 1 or 2 spots. But that still leaves one of the guys out (probably Sheff, based on age). I don't think that I can give up on Martin quite yet, and I think that Posada and Jeter have value for a couple more years.

In any case, I may not be done trading - if my starting pitching gets hot, I may be able to package a pitcher to upgrade one of my keepers. But right now, I've made two legit moves that will hopefully put me back atop the standings.

-Chairman (aka O.N. Thugs)


CJ said...

Macdougal is still a piece of crap.

Chairman said...

That may be. But as long he keeps racking up SV w/out getting killed out there, he'll hang around.

What's interesting is that Peavy may not come back, which means that I'll be carrying both Peavy and Sheets. That definitely reduces the roster flexibility...

However, Harden came out strong. So hopefully, he's straightened out, and ready to make a run.

Greg said...

I think that I've done a reasonably nice job offering insight into my UPL-psyche here, and I sort of wonder if it hasn't hurt me a little bit in the UPL.

Admittedly, I've picked up many tips from you over the years. However, I think the major ones have come by watching your drafting, daily roster moves, and transactions. You can probably chalk it up to "actions speak louder than words," and I do think I've previously mentioned on my blog that after you won 4 consecutive baseball titles I decided it would be a good idea to--as best I could--reverse engineer all your moves in order to understand your overall strategy. So I'd say 90% of what you've taught me is through real-life examples, and about 10% is what I've read on your various blog posts.

BTW, obviously I picked up tips from you prior to 2006, but I'd say 2006 was the first time I admitted to myself that I absolutely needed to "Let go, and let Gau."

Regarding Harden, well, I'll just ask this: Do you know what his Day/Nights splits are? (Apparently Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella finally figured this out about three weeks ago.)

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chairman said...

Greg - my thought is this. If you were to track someone's behavior, you get the biggest chunk of information. However, I'd argue that the "next level" sort of understanding comes from understanding why/how someone does the analysis. Of course, who knows how good my analysis actually is.

As for Harden. Is it the day/night split or the home/away split? I've believed in the ballpark differences more than the time of day difference. But since the Cubs play so many home day games... it's sort of moot. And I'm also a believer that he'll get the ship straightened out, so I'll keep trotting him out there...

Greg said...

If you were to track someone's behavior, you get the biggest chunk of information. However, I'd argue that the "next level" sort of understanding comes from understanding why/how someone does the analysis.

That is true. But I do think there are many cases where it's not too hard to guess the reasoning. For instance, I think it was 2003 when I noticed that you always had your DL slots full. Once I noticed that trend, I quickly guessed the reason: to maximize your team's roster space and potential. There's no penalty for keeping 2 injured players in your DL slots at all times, and who knows, when they get back to health they might contribute to your team. Or they might make a nice "throw-in" for a trade,etc. (Actually, at the time I noticed other UPL players were doing the same thing maximizing their DL slots, so I was probably one of the last ones to that party!)

And in fairness, I don't pretend to know all of your approaches to fantasy baseball. I've only been able to incorporate the ones that I *think* I understand. The area where I've made the biggest improvement is that I don't discriminate against the older players the way I used to. I remember back in the early days I would see you pick up Frank Thomas and think to myself, "Frank's best days are behind him and besides, he'll probably get hurt." And sure, maybe 5 or 6 weeks later he would end up on the 15-day DL and I'd feel vindicated. But what I had been missing was the fact that for 5 or 6 weeks Thomas had put up close to .400/.500 numbers. (Maybe not the same HR and RBI totals as '93, but still a nice addition to a competitive fantasy team.) If you look at my 2007 team, I drafted a lot of older guys who I wouldn't have traditionally drafted in the past (Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Magglio Ordonez, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada are a few that come to mind). As for this year's draft, I drafted some older players who have had excellent careers and some very good track records in recent years for being healthy and productive (Manny Ramirez, Carlos Beltran, and Javier Vazquez come to mind--yeah Manny and Beltran haven't been there as much as I would like, but when they've been in the lineup they've produced).

I see that Harden managed pitch well for 6 innings in a day game today. As a Cubs fan, I hope he keeps it up. But if you check his career splits, you'll see the following for day/night (although his day stats will slightly improve based on today's performance):

Day 3.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Night 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Furthermore, if you look year by year, you'll see that he pitches better during the day than during the night each year except his first. In fairness, last yeer he pitched awesome both during the night and during the day. But most years his days numbers are average at best.

In any case, I do agree that Harden's numbers should be improving this year (even during the day). But if I recall, I think he has some type of chronic injury in his shoulder. So it's hard to know if/when that might resurface.

Chairman said...

Greg - don't get me wrong. This ain't rocket science.

But I think that there's a bit of a balance between art and science when you are trying assess your team (more specifically, to figure out whether or not your team has the goods to win), and then to figuring out how to execute. In regard to using vets that get hurt, you're walking a tightrope. You have to stay active, and keep rotating people on and off the DL. And you'll probably end up with at least one major hole that you have to address with a trade (unless you get lucky in free agency).

And I think that this is where the difference between observation and understanding the psyche comes into play. If you're just observing, you'll see that you have to make a trade at some point. I'd argue that what more interesting is how you make that trade happen, seeing how that trade emerges. I think that the trades that I managed to get done really shored up holes on my team, but were done with legit win-win scenarios.