Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions: The Year Of Chalking Safely

Bah, Chalk Bug
Do you remember a year where the division winners looked this locked in? I sure as hell don't. Four out of six divisions look more or less locked down unless there are exceptional amounts of injury, and that's not the way you bet. Rookie of the Year candidates, Cy Youngs, MVPs... it's all looking about as clear as day, at least at the opening bell. Oh, and the five worst teams in baseball? Even more locked down.

That's all an illusion, of course. As Atlanta's spring training shows, one bad week with Dr. James Andrews (every week is a bad week with that guy) can reset everything, and I'm sure that will happen to at least one division that looks solid. But again, not the way you bet.

NL East

1) Washington 91-71
2) Atlanta 88-74
3) NY Mets 75-87
4) Miami 70-92
5) Philadelphia 66-96

The worst division in baseball looks like it should be a cakewalk for the Nats once the Braves suffered a SP leprosy outbreak, but they've got a way of making things hard on themselves, and the offense might struggle after the inevitable Jayson Werth regression. The pitching is too good for them to falter, though. Atlanta will slug their way into wild-card contention, mostly on the fact that they'll get a lot of games against the trash at the bottom of the division. New York is slowly but surely rising to mediocrity, and will be ready to contend just in time for their good young talent to leave town for a franchise that chooses to afford them. Miami has some dead cat bounce in them from top tier young talent that, as always, will be trying like hell to get out of Miami, and the Ruben Amaro Jr. train wreck will end... in another 2 to 5 years. Don't want to be setting expectations too high, Philly Fan.

NL Central

1) St Louis 100-62
2) Cincinnati 90-72
3) Pittsburgh 82-80
4) Chicago 75-87
5) Milwaukee 72-90

The best franchise in baseball comes back for another year of stomping the turf, seamlessly bringing in new talent with quality holdovers, and the scary thing about them is that they'll probably be even better next year, when the pitching is more experienced and Kolten Wong and Matt Adams are past the growing pains. No one looks like they are ready to fall off a cliff, the bullpen is positively absurd, and the offense just turns you into paste with patient ABs and OBA all over. Cincy will excite fantasy honks with Billy Hamilton's SBs and Joey Votto's OBA, but the rotation is set to take a step backward, and they just don't have the horses to stop the Cards. Pittsburgh's little team that could year will falter on inadequate SP depth, but there is some fun young talent coming, and they could luck their way into another wild card game. Chicago is on the way with outstanding young talent, and as soon as they start the clock on Javier Baez, the North Side will have something fun to watch, but they really aren't close yet. Milwaukee is counting on a return to form by disgraced PED user Ryan Braun; even if it does happen, the pitching's not good enough, and neither is the rest of the lineup.

NL East

1) Los Angeles 96-66
2) San Francisco 91-71
3) Arizona 80-82
4) San Diego 76-86
5) Colorado 66-96

LA's got an insane payroll and reasonable minor league to go with solid talent, and the division is theirs to lose, especially if they get anything out of Matt Kemp, or health from Hanley Ramirez. About the only thing that could throw them is Clayton Kershaw going down for serious time, but I don't see that happening just yet. San Francisco is secretly good on offense (the home park kills that), but the rotation isn't as good as it used to be, and the bullpen might also start to show cracks. Arizona might have been frisky before Patrick Corbin's injury, but now they'll just be the middle weight in a top-heavy division. San Diego isn't ready for prime time, especially in the rotation, and Colorado needs unprecedented health from Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales just to be mediocre. Oh, and when you are bringing in Justin Morneau to play first base, you are telling the world that your farm system is sad. Very, very sad.

NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton
Wild card: San Francisco over Cincinnati
Division: St Louis over San Francisco, Los Angeles over Washington
Conference: St. Louis over Los Angeles

AL East

1) Boston 92-70
2) Tampa 91-71
3) New York 88-74
4) Baltimore 81-81
5) Toronto 75-87

Baseball's best division, but not by record, is a full-on meat grinder with no weak options; even Toronto can slug you bad, and have some intriguing options in the rotation. In this division, that just gets you wrecked. Look for the defending champions to struggle with injury and overwork, but the rotation is still solid, they'll get major contributions from youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks, and they don't miss in the bullpen. Tampa might be on their last go-around at the top of the division, as it's David Price's last year at a manageable number, and the other SP options haven't shown themselves to be good enough in a playoff crucible, but at least they'll score more this year with a full year of Will Myers. New York broke the bank on talent that's going to get hurt, and Derek Jeter's final year won't be nearly as solid as Mariano Rivera's. They need CC Sabathia to have his old velocity, and he just doesn't; it's also going to be unsettling when the closer role isn't locked down in concrete. Baltimore's going to hurt from Chris Davis regression and Manny Machado's ascension to MVP candidate falling behind due to the knee injury. And Toronto? Well, someone's got to finish last. What a division.

AL Central

1) Detroit 90-72
2) Kansas City 85-77
3) Cleveland 77-82
4) Chicago 68-94
5) Minnesota 62-100

The conference's worst division by a wide margin will be won easily by a Tiger team in remission, with what used to be a world-class rotation taking major steps backward with the trade of Doug Fister, Justin Verlander showing signs of wear, and feuding with Max Scherzer leading to a bitter walk year. The bullpen's a little better, and the offense will be enough, but this is going to be six months of everyone knowing they are going to lose in the first round. Kansas City has the division's best young talent, but not the best overall, and they'll miss the innings eater work from Ervin Santana. Cleveland is expected to contend but won't -- Ubaldo Jimenez was big for them last year and I'm not quite buying their young talent staying healthy. Chicago looks like a tire fire to me, and Minnesota is what happens after the tire fire is over. These organizations just aren't very smart.

AL West

1) LA Angels 90-72
2) Oakland 89-73
3) Texas 86-76
4) Seattle 77-85
5) Houston 63-99

Sort of the mirror version of the East, only with a designated patsy in Houston for everyone to beat up on. All three of the top teams have serious issues. LA's pitching depth and minor-league looks shaky, but they have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, and two huge bounce-back candidates in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Oakland was the favorite, but then lost pitching depth in the starter's block, and the offense is boom or bust with platoon guys who whiff a lot; they need Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick to be great, and they really might not be. Texas has bullpen questions, middle infield and SP injury woes, and a farm system that's looking a little piqued. So throw a blanket over all of them and guess, and when you go in that direction, I'll take Arte Moreno's money and growing insecurity over the Dodgers drinking his milkshake. At the tail end of the division is a Seattle team with a vest and rest Robinson Cano; if they ever got into a playoff they'd be dangerous with possible SP goodness, but that's not happening. Bringing up the rear is the quietly improving Houston, who have exceptional young talent and the knowledge that nothing before 2016 really matters. They'll win a few more games this year, even if they don't really want to.

AL MVP: Mike Trout
AL Cy Young: David Price
AL Rookie of the Year: Xander Bogaerts
Wild card: Oakland over Tampa
Division: Oakland over Detroit, Boston over LA
Conference: Boston over Oakland
World Series: St. Louis over Boston

See? Chalk as you can get, complete with a repeat World Series. Isn't stasis fun?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Scar Tissue

So it's a day later, and an awful lot of sports talk around my poker table, on the blogs and the radio, as the DeSean Jackson release permeates.

There is, of course, only one way for this to go now. Jackson must be vilified and marginalized, because he's no longer on the team. You can either stop being a fan of the team and follow Jackson to his new digs, or stay with the laundry you know. The middle ground of questioning the team's inability to get anything from this asset, or questioning why they were not capable of better management of their employee, is too nuanced. You are either with the team or with the guy who is no longer on the team.

At least, um, locally.

From 1999 to 2006, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and kept my allegiance to my teams. It was such a better place to be a fan, particularly for the Eagles. Games started early, Howard Eskin did not exist, and I didn't have to hear people freak out when the team lost. Honestly, the best place to be a fan of your team is far away from your team; it will take at least 20 points off your blood pressure. And it gives you the outsider perspective you need to go beyond on and off.

And here's where I keep getting to: I can't remember a situation where a team that has no cap issues releases a productive WR1. Not sign a free agent? Sure, that happens, all the time. But just release him? Without an arrest, a career-ending injury, a contract holdout, or a pre-emptive retirement? It's, well, damn near unprecedented.

Unless, of course, you think about Terrell Owens. Or, depending on how far you want to stretch the visualization of WR1, Cris Carter.

So. 32 NFL teams. Three WR1 whiffs. All from one set of laundry.

Tangent time. Some times when I can't find a game on, I put the WWE on for background, and I like reading snarky columns about it, because when smart guys write about dumb things, it's usually a good time. The WWE is really good at finding out who the lifers like, and making sure that they don't win in the big events, usually from screwjob finishes, because that means they get them to come back, like Charlie Brown with the football, for the next event. It's an abusive relationship, and the individual athletes don't matter and never have, because the machine is always going to be here. And it makes me feel bad for the people who really need to see this stuff, because they are just going to be taking it for, well, ever.

Just like fans of actual sports.

When the Sixers traded Charles Barkley in the '90s, I hated the deal from the start. Barkley forced his way out of town with feuds with the local media, ill-advised three pointers (Chuck really never had a reason to hoist from there), and run-ins with fans. And we all knew why he was doing it -- because after so many years in town, he had lost all hope of winning with the other talent on the team. He was right. Barkley doesn't get his ring elsewhere, but he got to the Finals and almost took out Michael Jordan at the height of his powers, and he did it without hurting the rotation of the team he went to.

Ten years later, Allen Iverson got dealt to Denver, and while the circumstances weren't quite the same, they were close enough to bring the echoes... but it didn't hurt as badly as the Barkley trade because I had built up some scar tissue. This is my team; this is what they do. I'm not smart enough to stop watching or change teams, but I stopped marking out for them, and it's not like I go to a ton of games, or buy the merch. When they start trying and have a watchable team, I'll watch them again more often. They won tonight for the first time in 26 games. Good for them. Haven't watched much of them this year; I watch national league games instead, and care more about my fantasy team.

The Phillies' loss in the 1993 World Series was rough, but it happened at the end of a great year, so it's not like I was looking to stop watching the team right afterward... except for the fact that the key members of that team started falling apart with a quickness, which makes sense, given how much roid work and general instability was part and parcel of that blue snow team. By the time of the strike, the team had stopped trying to be competitive until they hijacked a new yard from the powers that be, and the strike was a big issue for me as well. I stopped caring, and haven't really recovered since; the A's are my club now. The World Series win was nice, and the loss against the Yankees was bitter, but only at a fraction of the earlier intensity.

As for the Eagles? I haven't missed a game in 35-plus years. I paid for satellite and went to sports bars when I couldn't get the game any other way. I've traveled to a half dozen road games. I watched the Super Bowl on a Tuesday afternoon in New Zealand. I've been completely on board with the Chip Kelly Era, and wanted him above and beyond all other options when the team finally pulled the cord on the Andy Reid Era.

And, well, I'm not going to stop rooting for them, or running a fantasy league. I'm going to be 45 in a couple of months. They've got me. If they didn't lose me for Norman Braman and Rich Kotite and Bobby Hoying and Mike Mamula and Danny Watkins and Various Detmers and Steve Smith and Patrick Chung, or the departures of Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Reggie White and Seth Joyner, they aren't losing me now.

But here's what doesn't happen.

I don't watch the games with my kids. I don't buy merch. I don't go to very many games (the ones I have gone to have been mostly birthday presents with my mom), and have turned down opportunities to go to others.

I'm not going to stop being a fan of the team, but I'm also not going to just drink the Kool Aid, or accept what the eternally compromised media says on fate. As smart as Kelly is, he needs speed to win; system guys like Jeff Mahel don't work here. And he just tossed his fastest WR, and one of the fastest in the league who actually has hands, straight to the curb for reasons that a better managed franchise doesn't have. 

I don't doubt that there will be more dirt on Jackson, as much as the team can supply third-hand to the media so that they can avoid a lawsuit. I don't doubt that he'll never be as good for any other team as he was here, or that he might have already had his best years. And if he had snapped a knee in training camp or suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the league for good, it wouldn't have affected the level of my fandom at all.

But this? This makes me numb. It makes me feel stupid for caring about the team, and care less. It makes me fantasize about not watching football at all, and start doing the math about what that would mean, in terms of time and money. It makes me think back to when I was a child, and the Eagles were terrible, and I thought long and hard about just becoming a Packers or Niners fan.

It makes me hate the fans that buy everything the team is selling, and the people who claim they aren't going to watch them any more, since that's also, well, bull crap. If they win it all without Jackson, Kelly and Howie Roseman are absolute geniuses and braver than brave and very few people will admit that they didn't hate Jackson forever...

Even when he was running that punt back against the Giants.

And if that makes me a bad fan, or a Jackson apologist, or some other marginalization of nuance...

Come back to me when your football team explodes WR1 for the third time in the last 20 years, when no other team has done it once.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Brief And Obvious Message To The DeSean Jackson Haters

(Who are rejoicing today, because the man was just released by my football laundry)...

Man alive, I hope you are right.

I hope that a 27-year-old man coming off a 1,300-yard season, with 9 TDs, who is among the team's all-time leaders in REC yards, is spent.

I hope that he doesn't go to some other team and provide exceptional value for years.

I hope that he was such a locker room cancer that everyone works harder next year, just because one guy is gone.

I hope that the team's very meager current WRs are up to WR1 status.

I hope that their upcoming draft picks, spent now on WRs instead of the defense, work out.

I hope that everyone on the team with any kind of veteran status now knows to (a) never talk about money, and somehow (b) still want to stay with the club after their initial deal.

I hope that any marquee FA doesn't look at this whole sordid story and decide that there are better places to ply their trade.

I hope that the Philadelphia media, fresh with page views in a dull time of the year, doesn't decide to spend the next 3+ months reporting on who's next on the block. For funsies. And money.

I hope that a racial divide doesn't spring up from the release, seeing how Jason Kelce is already gloating about it on social media.

And I hope that this damn near unprecedented dismissal of a Pro Bowl level talent...

Isn't indicative of a GM and coach situation that is so filled with hubris that they feel that scheme and personnel acumen is more important than talent, productivity, and durability.

As for me...

I lost a lot of hope today.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitchers

End of the line, and yes, yes, yes, only mooks pay for elite closers... but at some point, everyone doing the other thing means that doing the opposite pays off. Besides, juggling weak closers all year long is downright tedious. Winning your league on draft day is the best.

Closing Pitchers - Sleepers

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis.
Just filthy stuff, and going outside of the top tier due to the Cardinals' unfortunate habit of cycling out closers, and always having another stud arm to take the gig. But at some point, striking out nearly half of the people you face will assuage most fears, and winning 5 out of every 8 games means you aren't waiting long for another save opportunity.

Glen Perkins, Minnesota. Microscopic WHIP, low ERA, good pitcher's park and a 5 to 1 K/BB ratio. So why he's in the second tier? Because the strikeouts aren't elite, and too many balls leave the yard -- 13 in the next 132 IP, most of them spent as the Twins' closer. But it's not like he's losing the job, and the control means those are mostly solo shots. Grab him and forget the style points.

Jim Johnson, Oakland. Was last year shaky and no fun? Sure, in comparison to 2012's 1.01 WHIP fest. But he kept the gig in both years, has 101 saves in the last two years. and just traded a middling defensive team and good hitters park for a dynamite defensive team and top five pitchers' park. If he struggles, the A's have other options, but he's not going to, especially with the strong coaching staff. It's also telling that he's been durable, avoids the long ball, and was brought in by a GM that knows what he's doing.

Closing Pitchers - Busts

Joe Nathan, Detroit.
The commonly viewed numbers -- saves, WHIP, ERA -- seem to say that he's just fine, and should get a boost from getting out of Texas. But I'm just not buying it. Texas made no effort to keep him, despite a $10mm a year price tag that really wouldn't have hurt them, and with no obvious and healthy replacements on staff. His velocity has been down in spring training, and he's going to a town that just hasn't had much luck in getting long-term production out of their closers. He's 39; it's got to end sometime.

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia. Is there anything to like here, other than he's got the job and no rivals? Well, no. The average velocity is through the floorboards. His off-speed stuff does not provoke swings and misses. His control is not exact, he doesn't avoid the long ball. He plays for a team that might win 3 out of every 9 games, in a hitter's park. He makes way too much money, which means no club is going to trade for him in June and hope for a dead cat bounce. Oh, and he's an unspeakable asshat. There are set-up men I'd rather have.

Ernesto Frieri, Anaheim. It's rare that a closer sees a 1.5 jump in the ERA and keeps the job, but that's just what happened in SoCal, where Frieri continues his pattern of dominance or dominated. 18 HRs in the last 123 IP is real trouble, and 56 BBs is also telling. He's still hard as hell to hit, but if you wait him out, you can get a walk and a blast, and it's not like Mike Scoscia has been all-in with him. I just don't see him keeping the job all year.

Top 10 reasons why the Eagles signed Mark Sanchez

That Shining Butt Moment
10) Object lesson to Matt Barkley to show what happens if he doesn't work hard at his craft

9) It's not like there are many other backup QBs that have ever won a playoff game

8) This prevents anyone in the fan base from chanting for Nick Foles' back-up in the event of a weak game

7) Seemed only fair since the Jets gave Michael Vick a home

6) Chip Kelly's got this unfortunate, and highly secret, tattoo

5) There's a reasonable chance that he's used up all of the downright funny turnover moments in his career

4) Sanchez is more mobile than Foles, for all of those idiots who are convinced that Kelly needs his QB to be a running threat

3) To be fair, it's not as if he's ever played with an NFL-caliber wideout

2) It's a nice distraction from whatever veteran who dares to make money that they are dangling on the trade block this week

1) Eagle Fan was getting way too happy with the team's off-season moves

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitchers

Live Surgery Every Fifth Day
Every year, there's a guy in your league that pays nothing for starting pitching and does well in the categories anyway, and that guy makes you feel like a total asshat. But what you're failing to realize is that guy is (a) witch-like in his luck, both from selections and from dodging injury, and (b) grinding like hell for his numbers, and winning your league with the persistence of a 20-year-old working the 18-table online poker hustle. For the humans with lives in the room, you are actually going to have to make some good picks on draft day, which means that it's time to dig into the rankings and find some values, and dodge some grenades.

Starting Pitchers - Sleepers

Cliff Lee, Philadelphia.
Durable, devastating if your league does K/BB ratio (and it should), and even a reasonable bet to win a lot of games for a terrible Phillies team, because he'll (a) stay in games long enough to get a few wins he wouldn't get on a good team, since the bullpen is weak, and (b) find himself on a good team for the second half of the year, after Rben Amaro Jr. executes a terrible fire sale as his last gift to the team's fans. Cliff's a monster, and as safe as pitchers get.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco.
Love the park, defense, skills and durability. Bum's got 4 straight years of 200+ innings and solid numbers, hasn't shown any real sign of slowing down, and is still scary young (turns 25 in August). In a tier of guys with warning signs, he's just lockdown good.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta. It took a while for him to get here and get great, but he's just all kinds of electric (185 K's in 211 IP), has the Opening Day slot since Kris Medlen exploded, and could easily provide Top Six value despite coming off the board after dozens of other picks. I think there is a lot of profit potential here.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle. The secret best SP in town last year, Iwakuma will go a little light from a lack of history at this level, not to mention his slow spring training from a driving finger strain. That's good news for you, since it might make a guy with a career 1.10 WHIP and 2.84 ERA, who went nearly 220 innings last year, available a long time after he should have gone off the board. It's really not out of bounds to suggest that he might be the Mariners' best SP again this year.

Doug Fister, Nationals. He goes from the good league to the bad one, an infield defense that grazes to one that vacuums up everything, and gets to pad his strikeout numbers by mowing down opposing SPs. Oh, and he's never had injury issues. My friends who root for the Tigers can't figure out why they would trade him, especially for the meager returns they got, and his upcoming appearance in the All-Star Game isn't going to make it easier to explain.

Tyson Ross, San Diego. A common sight on expert lists, Ross has the peripherals that make nerd hearts flutter, pedigree (second round pick by the A's in 2008, a team that knows how to draft), and the best park in the majors for pitchers. The only real question here is whether his arm is going to be up for a full diet of starts, because his numbers are going to be too good to put him back in the bullpen.

Marco Estrada, Milwaukee. Sometimes the breakout happens a year after it's expected. Estrada was a trendy pick a year ago based on the peripherals and a move to the rotation, and while he failed to hold up for more than 21 starts, those starts were quality -- 1.08 WHIP, 3.87 ERA, 4+ K/BB ratio. All he needs is a little more luck in making the long balls count only as solo shots, and more durability. Besides, I'd much rather have a guy that pitches well and gets hurt, rather than the plugger who keeps taking the ball no matter what.

Scott Kazmir, Oakland. Oddly dominant in the second half of the year in Cleveland, and now in a better home park, with a coaching staff that thrives with castaways (see Colon, Bartolo). Oh, and he's still just 30, and lefties frequently come into their own a bit later. At some point, you just have to trust Billy Beane's track record on things like this.

Yordano Ventura, Kansas City. It's hard to imagine how this guy isn't ranked higher, seeing how he's been lighting up radar guns in Arizona, appearing in tout lists, and winning a better slot in the rotation every time you turn around. There's some sniffing that he throws too hard and isn't tall enough (sub 6-footer) to last, and I get that there's a strong prejudice against the Royals ever having fantasy relevant players, but this is just a different kind of animal here. I could see him struggling a bit with control, but if he doesn't? Meet the AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year.

Rick Porcello, Detroit. Groundball pitcher ups his K rate, gets a massive upgrade in the terrible defense behind him (shame Julio Iglesias isn't healthy to make it really amazing, but still, they aren't a joke any more), and moves up in the rotation at age 25. You still need to be in a bit of a deep league to make his upcoming 3.8 ERA and 1.2 WHIP work for you, but he's got the pedigree to do better than that.

Starting Pitcher - Busts

Stephen Strasburg, Washington.
On pure stuff alone, he might be the most frightening pitcher on the planet. But his owners, hamstrung by the Nationals' inability to ever commit to one year in which they truly go for it, and the man's own high pitch counts, find themselves outside of the winner's circle more often than not. The problem is that you are just getting 20% less from your SP1 than the other guy, and that assumes good health -- something that no Straz owner is taking for granted. 75 career starts, 434 career innings, for less than 6 a game. So he's not exactly helping you in Wins or Quality Starts, and maybe they shut him down late in the year for your playoffs, too. If this is your idea of high pick SP1 Fun, you're doing it wrong.

Justin Verlander, Detroit. Can I hate him into irrelevance? Not likely, but those who ignore 2013's leaking oil year may be doomed to repeat it, and if not for good luck, the 1.31 WHIP would have produced more than a 3.46 ERA. The K's were at a 5-year low, the walks at a career high, and if won-loss matters to you, he went 13-12. There's only so much post-season heroics you can pull off before wear and tear gets noticed, and Verlander will, if all goes well this year, make his 300th start at age 31 in September. I don't see him getting back to his ceiling, even with a better defense behind him.

Zach Greinke, Los Angeles. The secretly worst big name pitcher, Greinke has spent a career not quite getting to the promised land, and he's usually good for a trip to the DL every year. Starting the year off bad-mouthing the Aussies seems like more of the same to me, and he's had enough of a burden that makes me wonder if he's on borrowed time at age 31.

Gio Gonzalez, Washington. I keep waiting for his borderline unacceptable walk rate to really harm him, but so far, he's been remarkably consistent both here and in OAK. But with this many walks, he walks the edge where power hitters can end his night early. He's likely never to be on one of my teams.

Mat Latos, Cincinnati. Starting the year on the DL is never a good sign, especially when you couple it with last year's WHIP erosion. If Latos hadn't gotten lucky with long balls not leaving the yard last year, the ERA would have slipped as well. You're paying SP1/2 price for SP3/4 here, which is never a recipe for success.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay. Supposed to be the new David Price, but the control has never been there, and he's been a WHIP killer. At this point, there's 337 innings of evidence that he is what he is -- a mid-rotation fireballer that might be more due to the raw K numbers, but hasn't quite put it all together yet. And if you haven't gotten it done to date in this park, with this defense and bullpen.... how is it supposed to get better once you graduate your way out of town?

Cole Hamels, Phillies. This is one of those cases where the eye tells you stuff the numbers don't. By the numbers, Hamels was fine last year, with a 1.16 WHIP, 4+ K/BB, and poor luck won-loss record and pedestrian 3.60 ERA. But he failed the eye test, with meltdowns instead of shutdown innings, weak work whan the season wasn't yet lost, and an 8-14 record that really felt like it was what he deserved at times. Add that to the interminable spring training injury reports, and I'm staying away.

Jered Weaver, Anaheim. Red Alert! Red Alert! Weaver's velocity dropped last year, hasn't looked good in spring training this year, and just feels like quick-twitch erosion. Innings have dropped in three straight years, he's 31 with nearly 1500 career innings, and the strikeout rate that was once elite is now ordinary. Don't get sucked in by the brand name.

Clay Buchholz, Boston. Proof that fantasy baseball is making people smarter can be found in 2013's 12-1 won-loss record and World Series ring not translating to a higher pick, but he's still going too high for my liking. His career WHIP is 1.29, the ERA is 3.60, and he misses starts every year. If your league is shallow, that's borderline FA level.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco.
Why are people still drafting this guy? He's a WHIP murderer (just under 1.40 in the last 2 years), an ERA killer (4.75 in the same time frame), and all of that is in a great pitcher's park and defense. Somehow, this led to a new deal and continued employment from the Giants, but you don't need to make the same mistake.

Tomorrow, closing pitchers and season predictions. And all for free!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Third Base and Outfield

2-Time Champeen And Busty
Historically, this is where you get your power numbers, but historically, baseball had power hitters. Going deep 30 times a year makes you a monster nowadays, and yet strikeouts are still as high as ever. If this continues as a trend -- and honestly, in a post-PED world, I have no idea why it would not -- you're going have to start thinking about lowering the mound again. The game is awash in unanticipated money now, but offense drives attendance, and while 2-1 games are exciting and tense in October, they are soul-crushing for the rest of the year. Anyway, draft accordingly.

Sleepers - Third Base

Kyle Seager, Mariners.
Two straight years of 20 / 10 with an OPS that's creeping up to .800 isn't exactly setting the world on fire, but Seager is still just 26 and just got Robinson Cano in the lineup to help with the Runs and RBI counts. It wouldn't take very much for him to tick up to 80 / 30 / 90, and the dozen SBs is a a half dozen more than most 3Bs get. All kinds of sneaky value here.

Nolan Arenado, Rockies. Rocking a .700+ OPS as a 22-year-old call-up from the minors over 133 games, while not exactly the stuff of legend or Cooperstown, is still a fine starting place. This year. he's got a clear path to 650 ABs, half of them in thin air, with some of 2013's doubles sneaking over the fence, and a little more counting goodness. You won't get rich here, but you might get 75 / 15 / 75, and in this era, that's manageable.

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco. I'm generally not a fan of hitters from one of the worst hitters' parks in baseball, but the Panda is (a) 26, (b) carrying a lot less weight than usual, and (C) in a contract year, which really might explain (b). Health is usually an issue here, but money and less weight should trump, and his contact skills have never been an issue. I could easily see him finishing up with 75 / 20 / 90, which might be a top six finish at a weak position.

Busts - Third Base

David Wright, New York
. In two out of the last four years, the Mets' captain has missed 50 and 60 games. He hasn't topped 30 HRs since 2008, 100 RBIs since 2010, or 25 SBs since 2009. The .900 level OPS is still elite, but his teammates are still average at best, and at 31, the speed and durability aren't getting any better. He's usually the fourth third basemen off the board, and the end of top tier options, but I just don't see him producing at this level.

Josh Donaldson, Oakland. Simple regression from 2013's borderline MVP season seems inevitable given his BABIP, but the calf problems in spring training aren't helping matters, either. The bigger issue here is the fact that Oakland doesn't run their lineup to benefit your fantasy league team, and the team's extraordinary number of versatile platoon hitters means that Donaldson's 158 games played really shouldn't happen again, particularly when his OPS against right-handers was 200+ points lower than lefties. He's still going to be his team's best everyday player and a borderline All-Star, but don't pay for a .301 BA, .384 OBP, and 89 / 24 / 93... when the final numbers will be about 10 to 15% less than that.

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh. Power being such a rare commodity now, Alvarez and his 66 HRs over the past two years is trending up in draft position... but man alive, there's a knife's edge here, and months where he's barely rosterable, let alone the guy you want to trot out there every day. That's what happens when a third of your ABs end in strikeout, and his combination of below average OBP and non-existent speed creates weak work in Rs and SBs. The Pirates will put enough men on base where the RBIs shouldn't be too bad, but that's a lot to wade through for two categories out of five. I'm staying away.

Outfielders - Sleepers

Justin Upton, Atlanta.
April 2013's MVP front-runner tanked so badly that he didn't even make it to the All-Star Game, but I think the second year in town goes better, simply because he isn't expected to be the end-all of the offense, and his brother's struggles aren't going to be new. He was also struggling with injuries in 2013, so with just a little luck, an .850 OPS isn't out of range, which would get you 100 / 30 / 85, and maybe 15 SBs as well. (And if it all gels together, and he looks like the MVP in May? Deal him. Deal him fast.)

Austin Jackson, Detroit. I get why people are down on him; he was helpless in the playoffs last year, the wheels haven't translated to a lot of SBs, and Ian Kinsler coming to town should mean that his leadoff gig is gone. But that assumes that Kinsler stays healthy, that the Tiger offense doesn't score so much that even the 9 hitter crosses the plate 90+ times, and that he's stopped gaining before his age-27 season. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him bring in a sizable profit for his owners with a 100 / 20 / 60 / 20 year.

Desmond Jennings, Tampa. Post-hype breakout, anyone? Jennings has added muscle in the off-season but is still stealing bases in spring training, and will go for less dollars in 2014 then he did in 2013, because that's what happens when a guy loses 11 SBs, despite the OPS raising 46 points. I like Tampa's entire offense to bounce a bit this year in Year 2 of the Will Myers Era, and Jennings' 31 doubles and 14 homers in 2013 tells me he's got 20 HR pop to go with the 30 SB potential. He's 27, and just about ready to start making too much money to stay in town... which might also mean a mid-season trade to a home park that doesn't murder him. A lot to like here.

Outfielders - Busts

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee. Did I miss something here? Despite the 50-game PED suspension and the Lance Armstrong levels of mendacity, despite the dramatically lower HR production before the federales took his bat away last year, and despite the 4 for 9 (!) performance on the basepaths last year, he's going off the board as the 4th overall OF, at age 30. Folks, 2013 happened, and few players in MLB lost more value in that year than this lying sack of garbage; he doesn't just auto-rebound to the PED years. Oh, and don't anticipate much in the way of crowd support, either. I'm penciling him in for injury, ineffectiveness, and an eventual line of 80 / 24 / 80 with 10 SBs and a relatively empty batting average, or roughly OF3 / OF4 production. And that assumes he stays healthy, out of custody, and away from needles to the ass when it becomes more and more obvious that he's a fraud. Pass.

Jayson Werth, Washington. Last years 82 / 25 / 84 with a .318 BA was his career-best OPS, and he's, well, 34 now, with over 120 missed games in the last two years. He's been one of the most erratic hitters in the game for most of his career, and if he's anything more than your OF3, your taste for risk is probably too high to cash. Also, there's this: Werth's kind of a lunatic, with all kinds of odd media moments and head-scratching decisions, and might decide at any point to get a little special on us. There's better dice rolls.

Shane Victorino, Boston. 33-year-old speed OF with middling power comes off surprisingly good year and playoff run. Nothing but ceiling comes after that, right? Everyone's favorite Hawaiian isn't going to fall off the table, but the name recognition is going to greatly outproduce the 70 / 12 / 55 / 15 line, especially when the team starts deciding that the reason he's struggling is that he needs more rest. He'll hit the waiver wire in shallow leagues this year.

Tomorrow, starting pitchers and ending pitchers. Who could object to that?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Second Base and Shortstop

Dee's Nuts
My apologies if these come to you after your draft, but revealing my thought process before my own event is a no-sale on a lot of levels. First off, because it shows my hand to my league mates, and secondly, because damn near every moment before my draft is spent honing my rankings. And, well, said draft also informs my post. So, well, here we go.

Sleepers - Second Base

Brett Lawrie, Toronto. Here's the thing about injury risk guys; they are great dice rolls if you get them late, or further along in the defensive spectrum than where they belong. Lawrie isn't really a second baseman (he plays third), is still just 24 despite 276 games over three years in the bigs, and has easy 20/20 potential, especially if Toronto keeps giving green lights on the basepaths to guys who probably should not get one (Lawrie is 29 for 43 on attempts). He's still a high draft pick, still has All-Star potential, and will spend half of his at-bats in a reasonable environment, surrounded by reasonable hitters. There's top six potential here late in the draft.

Jedd Gyorko, San Diego. News flash: Petco is no longer an auto-fail for hitters, as Gyorko's 23 HRs in 125 games shows. That projects to an 80-30-80 year even if you think there's a chance of sophomore slump. I'm not a huge fan of getting no steals from a middle infield slot, but there are enough rabbit OFs this year, and not much in the way of 30 HR threats anywhere, that he's worth a sniff. Think the new Dan Uggla, back in the time where Dan Uggla wasn't a punch line.

Anthony Rendon, Washington. Stick a fork in Danny Espinosa; Rendon has clearly won the competition for the starting gig in DC. There's serious pedigree here (6th overall pick in 2011 from Rice), and while it's not translating to speed, I think he winds up in a prime location in the lineup and does well in the weak NL East. The man did have a 725 OPS in 350 ABs last year, so its's not as if he's at risk of washout here.

Busts - Second Base

Robinson Cano, Seattle.
Just because you might be the best pick at your position... does not mean that you are worthy of a first round pick. Cano goes from a bandbox to a pitcher's park, a division with harder pitching staffs and environments, less pounders around him, and he just got paid an absurd amount of money to go to a team that didn't have enough to fill holes around him. 90/30/90 isn't bad, but it's a big price to pay for relatively little ceiling, and I'm not liking the "vest and rest" potential.

Brandon Philips, Cincinnati. Where counting stats lie: Philips had a career high in RBIs last year (103, the firs time he cracked triple figures) despite an 8-year low in OBA and SLG, and the 5 for 8 on the basepaths is the worst he's managed since 2003. With Shin-Soo Choo and his mad OBA gone, and Joey Votto under pressure to change his approach and swing more, there will be less RBI opportunities even if he does stay in the good slot. He's also 33 in June, and while not in danger of losing the starter job, there's no way he should be hitting in the middle of the order any more, especially if the Reds get a bounce back year from Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier. If he's your back up MI and you just need counting numbers, he might pay off, but he's being selected as if he's a top-6 guy, and he's not.

Ian Kinsler, Detroit. Nearly a chalk pick for bust in the tout community, but that doesn't make it wrong. Kinsler goes from a bandbox to a strong pitcher's park, might be due for another injury-riddled year, and hasn't had a good percentage year on the base paths since 2011 (70% on 30 attempts in 2012, 58% on 26 attempts in 2013). I'm also not sure how he's still a good power threat after 32 homers in the last 1200 ABs. Oh, and he'll turn 32 in June, and that's the age where second base either becomes a move or a fade. Maybe he powers through everything with the power of hate for Texas for moving him, and it's not like he won't have opportunities in Detroit, but there's a lot to not like for a guy with this much name recognition.

Sleepers - Shortstops

Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta.
If only defense counted, right? Well, it does: Simmons' otherworldly leather means that he's never leaving the lineup, and his sneaky power (17 HRs, 60 total extra-base hits in 2013) means that he gets a lot of chances. The 24-year-old from Curacao doesn't need to get much better to get to 80-20-70, and he'll come to you late in the draft. It wouldn't shock me if he breaks out and gets some MVP votes, especially if the Braves are able to overcome their pitching injuries and win the NL East.

Xander Bogaerts, Boston. Meet the meta nature of fantasy sports; Bogaerts is so overrated that he's underrated, so known he's overly known, and so on, and so on. What you are getting is a universally regarded prospect, who has already shown his mettle in the post-season, who will play every day in a juggernaut offense. Oh, and he'll probably wind up in the top part of the order for a good chunk of the year, after his always-injured teammates hit the shelf. He's not going to steal a ton of bases, but even that will be OK, since he's young enough and in a volume situation. There's a lot here to love.

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles. Show of hands; how many people think Hanley Ramirez is going to play 162 games Juan Uribe will hold the job all year at third, and Alex Guerrero will step out of the Cuban leagues and seize an MLB job... all in 2014? When one of these things fail, or the OFs get hurt, Gordon will get the call, and while his OBA skills are never going to be elite, there are signs that he's starting to get the hang of things. He also has no power and no conscience, which means he's kind of fun to watch, since he's always going for SBs. Finally, I really think that if Reds' OF Bill Hamilton goes wild on the basepaths this year, professional egos will not let him go it alone. His career is basically one full season, and it gets you 83 Rs and 66 SBs. Full-time play could get you that in 2014.

Busts - Shortstops

Jean Segura, Milwaukee.
Last year's magic all happened in the first half, which either means that he hit the wall on conditioning, or the league adjusted to him. I tend to think it's more the latter than the former, and that the 12 MLB homers are about twice of which you should expect in 2014. If the BABIP erodes as well, you won't get the 40+ SBs, either. We'll come back in 2015 for the return to prominence.

Starlin Castro, Chicago. I get that betting on the bounce is usually a good idea, but man alive, he was a 24-hour tire fire last year, and I'm not ready to say it's all going to be sunshine and puppies now... especially with crazy hot prospect Javier Baez ready to make Cub Fan have hope again as soon as they start his eligibility clock. He's also never been a big HR or SB guy, so even if you do get the bounce, he's still not necessarily a top six finisher.

Everth Cabrera, San Diego. Does ending PED use mean that you lose the ability to steal bases? It wouldn't seem so, but for a guy with Cabrera's injury history, it makes me wonder. Take one of the other rabbits who aren't so savant-ish, or leave him to some limited math mind while you get an undervalued power stick like JJ Hardy or Jhonny Peralta; the OF rabbits are much less likely to get hurt.

Tomorrow - Third base and outfield. Come on back?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fantasy baseball sleepers and busts: Catchers and First Base

Once and Future Depressed Guy
I don't know about you, but whenever I read one of these columns, and the writer feels compelled to tell me about their personal history or how Average Draft Position and relative value is a thing... I just feel like I'm in a restaurant, and the waiter is telling me about their recent surgical procedure, or that they have forks. In other words, I Don't Care and Yes, Fine, Stop Telling Me That Water Is Wet. This will be a series so that the posts don't get crazy long. So, without any ado...  

Sleepers - Catcher  

Jason Castro, Houston. Castro's young, has hit in the minors, and should hit in the middle of the order of an almost has to be better lineup this year. It wasn't too long that people talked about how Houston was a bandbox, and while I still suspect he's going to lack for RBI opportunities, there's a reasonable chance of Top 6 production from a no-name guy.  

Devin Mesoraco, Cincy. Sort of a post-hype situation here; catchers tend to come to offense later. The park is still a bandbox, and with Dusty Baker and his tendency towards backup catcher fetish work gone, Mesoraco might see 110+ starts in a good situation.  

Alex Avila, Detroit. Just a feel thing here, and you really aren't going to need him outside of the deepest of leagues, but it wasn't that long ago that Avila was an All-Star and huge value due to his surprising power. If he's finally healthy again, he could surprise, and the Tiger offense is going to be insanely productive this year.  

Busts - Catcher 

Evan Gattis, Braves. I don't need to tell you about BABIP here, right? Suffice it to say that Gattis started the year hot, but didn't finish that way, and now has the FT job behind the plate. With Atlanta's rotation in disarray and the youngster feeling the heat to take over for Brian McCann, there's too much risk for my blood.  

Yadier Molina, Cards. Last year says career to me. The Cards are going to coast this year, and there will be more ABs spread among bench players. Molina's still a fine option, but he's not going to be as good this year, and you'll be able to get similar or better numbers (Salvador Perez, Wilson Ramos) later, and for a lot less.

 Buster Posey, Giants. He's the best in real baseball, but can't quite stay healthy, and with Brandon Belt finally emerging, the volume starts at 1B aren't going to happen. Don't pay for his defense and leadership.  

Sleepers - First Base 

 Billy Butler, Royals. I'm aggro on KC this year, and BB will be in the middle of a lot of good things this year. Coming off last year's disappointing 62 Runs, 15 HRs and 82 RBIs, people will forget about the top tier OBP and BA. I'm thinking he gets to 80 / 25 / 95, which in this age, is downright tasty.  

Justin Morneau, Rockies. He's never going to be what he was, but there's something a little ludicrous about the everyday first baseman in the best hitters' park in baseball going undrafted. He's still just 33, too, and this will be the first season where his home park will help him. If you can use 80 / 20 / 80 with a .270 average, grab him late.

Jose Abreu, White Sox. This isn't a case of grabbing an untested and erratic electric bat from Cuba, a la Puig and Cespedes; Abreu is 27 already and a legend in his native land. He's also going to be an every day player on the South Side (Paul Konerko's ABs are charity, and Adam Dunn isn't going to see time at first). Depending on your draft, he could be a bit of an unknown entity.

 Busts - First Base 

Michael Cuddyer, Rockies. The luck this man hit into last year was downright staggering, and it's not as if he's in a good age for sustaining excellence. The position flexibility is a help, but I think he falls apart this year; he's got something of a tendency towards it. Mark Trumbo, DiamondBacks. I don't get the fascination here; dude is a wind machine who is a wind machine that doesn't walk, so he's got clear collapse potential, not to mention some real issues in categories where you need full production. Even if the power does come in, and he hits a career high of, woo, 35, that's a lot to give up for a few homers more.

Anthony Rizzo, Cubs. Could it be that there's just no there there? As much as a target of the bounce-back community as the bust list, Rizzo's 63-point OPS drop in 2013 a the time when he should be on the rise is just that polarizing. He's hit in Arizona this spring, and showed some patience during the washout year of .233 / 71 / 23 / 80, but I see him being treated like last year never happened in some drafts. Tie it to the still poor NL lineup that the Cubs trot out there, and I'm not seeing enough here to want to get on the bandwagon.

David Ortiz, Red Sox. He's got to get old eventually, right? The 38-year-old is coming off a World Series run (i.e., deep play), can always sit a spell for Boston's deep options, and might succumb to one of those slow starts that have marked many of the past few years. When he's on a roll, there's very few that are better, and Sox Fan should be completely in the tank for him. But I doubt that you are thinking you'll get .290, 75 / 25 / 85 from him, and that's with health. There's no ceiling here.

Tomorrow, second base and shortstop. Share and enjoy.

Mike Vick, The Newest And Most Appropriate Jet

Nice and current, tabloids
Over the weekend, the NY Jets made a clearly correct football decision to swap out a hurt, inconsistent and turnover-prone young QB for a hurt, incon- sistent and turnover-prone older QB. But when you add in the names of Mark Sanchez and Mike Vick, it makes more sense.

(Oh, and tabloid headline writers... nice to see you really digging deep on this one. Could you try any less?)

Why is this actually a good move for NY? Well, because whatever Vick's failings as a QB -- and they are legion -- he's an outstanding teammate. Last year, he had a WR have a racist breakdown, worked with a new coach and offense, lost his job after performing fairly well due to injury, and never got back on the field... and didn't say a negative word to anyone. This comes at the end of a tumultuous 5-year run in which he more or less completely turned his life around after a prison stint, paid off all his debts, did extensive community service and never, not once, snapped at the protestors who refused to accept the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption.

If only, well, he were better at playing football.

As a back-up, Vick is one of the best in the league. He's been a star, still has game-changing wheels, stretches the defense with the arm strength, and has won big games, even in the playoffs. (Look it up: night game in Green Bay, tore Brett Favre up.) For a game or two, a quarter or two, flash plays where he bails out a half dozen teammates and confounds the defense with a first down, he looks like not just a good QB, but the best.

The fact that this is a mirage, and that inaccuracy and turnovers are sure to follow, especially when the field tightens up and defenses are more able to bring middle pressure, really isn't Vick's fault. Neither is the unacceptable injury history, the possibility that the concussions are borderline career-threatening, or that he isn't quite as quick as he thinks he is any more. He's doing the best he can; he's just too small, and didn't run into the right coaching situation until very late in life. (Seriously, if the man were an inch or two taller, able to execute a hook slide rather than engage the defender, and a decade younger, it wouldn't have mattered what Nick Foles did during his injury time. He'd had gotten the job back, and Chip Kelly would have coached him for years.)

A very good back up is, of course, the best QB the Jets have seen in forever, which makes him the most likely choice to start 2014 for NY. He doesn't really have the WRs (outside of Eric Decker, who is still going to be lucky to post half of his 2013 numbers in the downgrade from Peyton Manning), but the Jets are still going to have him handing off as much as humanly possible, and the defense isn't bad. In a weak division, in a year where he magically stays healthy and only commits about half of the number of turnovers that he did in Eagle Green, I could see him winning 8 to 10 games and threatening for a wild card, or maybe even the division. I could even see him being a useful mentor type to Geno Smith; Nick Foles said he was, and at least in Smith, Vick's a guy with similar skills.)

But there are two things that Vick can't do, especially at this stage of his career. First, he can't avoid turning the ball over, and second, he can't stay healthy. And neither of these things is going to change.

So he's not winning a Super Bowl, or giving you more than a good streak and some great highlights amidst the bad ones.

For a back-up, that's completely acceptable.

For a starter, that's the Jets.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ten Brief And Obvious Points About The Eagles PR Campaign Against DeSean Jackson

Or Eagle Management
1) Regardless of how you feel about Jackson, this is no way to build up someone's value in trade.

2) If you think that 27-year-old WRs who put up 1,400 yards and 9 TDs in a year, with 4.3 speed, a current clean bill of health, a low drop rate for the past few years, and years of high production despite a carousel of QBs are things you should cut if you can't trade, you should not be in charge of running a football team.

3) If you think that teams can not win with star players who can be distracting, you must not be aware of the current champions with Richard Sherman, or have watched too much pro wrestling, where the good only lose due to Distraction.

4) If you think that you can't afford a high-priced WR core on a team with no cap issues at all, when you are paying less for your QB than many teams pay for their field goal kicker, you have failed Math.

5) If your primary argument in getting rid of a guy is I Just Don't Like Him, you have conflated Soap Opera or Reality TV with Game, and really, truly need to stop doing that.

6) If you don't think that every other franchise in the NFC East is absolutely thrilled to see the Eagles self-destructing on personnel management in this way, you may be on some highly effective pharmaceuticals.

7) If you've ever wondered why athletes in town do not seem to want to cultivate a relationship with the media, consider just how many men and outlets have lined up for the role of Club Mouthpiece on this one.

8) If you think the Eagles would be fine at WR without Jackson, you must not be familiar with the injury status and one-year deal for Jeremy Maclin, the one month of good play in the entire career of Riley Cooper, the likelihood that Darren Sproles is on the downside of his career, the drops of Zach Ertz, and the drops and increasing age of Brent Celek

9) If you feel that Jackson is just too bad of a person to be on this team, you should get your brain checked out, since your memory seems to not extend to Cooper's summer video fun from last year, and

10) If you think this will all be fine because the upcoming WR draft class is said to be great, you must not be aware of the average production rate for rookie WRs, the washout rate for same, or the fact that spending high picks on a WR when the defense needs help so much more is also, um, Bag Of Hammers Stupid...

In this year's fantasy baseball draft that you could not care less about...

Embrace The Nerdery
Here's the 2014 opening day roster after a day of full-on geekery. Asterisks denote keepers; the nice part about this draft is that I didn't get caught in any price protection moments. Apologies for the formatting weirdness.

    Player    TM    2014 $    2015 $
C *   Salvador Perez    KC    15    19
C    Yan Gomes    CLE    2    5
1B *   Joey Votto    CIN    36    41
2B    Ben Zobrist    TB    18    22
3B  *  Manny Machado    BAL    7    10
SS   * Xander Bogaerts    BOS    4    7
CI    Adam Dunn    CHA    1    4
MI    Jose Reyes    TOR    29    34
OF   * Justin Upton    ATL    28    33
OF   * Alex Gordon    KC    23    28
OF    Matt Kemp    LAN    12    16
U    Drew Stubbs    COL    1    4
SP   * David Price    TAM    23    28
SP   * Kyle Lohse    MIL    4    7
SP    Jon Lester    BOS    7    10
SP    Sonny Gray    OAK    10    14
RP   * Jim Johnson    OAK    8    11
RP   * Aroldis Chapman    CIN    8    11
P    Scott Kazmir    OAK    1    4
P    Brandon McCarthy    ARI    2    5
P    Neftali Feliz    TEX    1    4
BN    David Freese    LAA    1    4
BN    Javier Baez    CHN    4    7
BN    Rajai Davis    DET    1    4
BN    Carlos Correia    HOU    1    4
    Total        247    336

The thing about a keeper league is that you aren't just looking for value in this draft, but in future... and that's especially important when, like me, you don't do well in trades. My team was also crippled in spring training by season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Miguel Sano, the slow Manny Machado recovery, and then the Aroldis Chapman accident. Coming on top of a sixth place finish, it hasn't been fun.

So the plan was to roll the dice with high-risk high-reward types (Reyes, Kemp), back fill in trouble spots with non-sexy bounce back picks (Dunn, Freese, Stubbs, now leading off in Colorado, and McCarthy, never healthy last year in Arizona), sneak in a few low visibility value picks (Kazmir was quietly dominant in the second half of last year, Davis now has the FT job in Detroit due to injury and could rip off a lot of steals and runs in a great offense)... and then make sure to lay in for some potential future keepers in Baez and Correia, both of whom are in the top 10 prospect list. Hell, from the way he played in spring training, it wouldn't shock me if Baez is up early to play second, and Correia could advance quickly if Jonathan Villar doesn't hit in Houston. Other than a bit of a whiff on Feliz (I had him years ago when things were good, and while I still like him, I probably should have gone in another direction), I like my draft.

And now, well, I need to get really, really lucky, which seems very unlikely given how the year has started... because other teams have better young talent, better skill in trading, more mathematical acumen or free time or better instincts and so on, and so on. I'm starting to wonder if fantasy sports kind of match trad sports, in that you've got your peak time and your decay. I run three leagues and haven't cashed in any of them since 2011, and my last win in an auction league was in basketball in 2010.

It's not a great feeling. But then, what part of getting older is?

Top 10 takeaways from MLB's Opening Series In Austrailia

Yes, Bud, This Sucked
10) Bored people in Australia do the wave just like bored people in the U.S.

9) Scott Van Slyke's power is lost in normal latitudes

8) People who know an awful lot about cricket have other problems

7) The MLB Network loves the tradition of Opening Day so much that they're willing to dilute it for a cheap PR stunt

6) This Clayton Kershaw guy is pretty good

5) If you watched this game and expected to learn anything about Australia that isn't an absolute cliche, you clearly overestimated the powers of the MLB Network

4) The advertising community was so excited by this opportunity that they, um, completely ignored it, so MLB showed the same ads over and over again

3) Aussie Fan was very excited by foul balls, pop ups, and DiamondBack offensive futility

2) Yasiel Puig remains a three-ring circus of baseball whimsy

1) When Bud Selig pats himself on the back in the Southern Hemisphere, it's with more of a counter-clockwise motion

Friday, March 21, 2014

Aroldis Chapman, Salvador Perez, And The Inevitability Of Serious Injury

Good Lord
By now, you've heard about this, and hopefully haven't seen the video. Cincy's closer, Aroldis Chapman, a lefty who hits three digits more than just about anyone else in the world while throwing a baseball, has Royals' catcher Salvador Perez in an 0-2 hole. Chapman's been struggling this inning, not that he's probably too concerned; it's spring training. Perez has been hitting this spring. Not that he's too impressed; it's spring training. Just a dry run for when things count in two weeks.

Chapman rears back and brings that easy gas that has defined his adult life.

Perez swings, making the solid contact that has defined his own career.

And the ball goes in an inhuman and unspeakable trajectory right into Chapman's face, and damn near kills him.

Chapman crumpled to the ground immediately, legs twitching, blood pouring out of his head. The game is stopped, never to resume (well, it is spring training). Fifteen awful minutes later, Chapman is taken off the field in an ambulance, and the preliminary diagnosis is that he's "lucky", since he just has a slight concussion, a smashed orbital bone, and an absence from the mound for at least four to six weeks. (This assumes, of course, that he doesn't have mental issues from this. The same goes for Perez, albeit without the concussion and smashed face.)

As is required now when things like this happen, we get the roll of similarly injured pitchers (Brandon McCarthy will be on reporter speed dial for this for the rest of his life), and the following question...

What is baseball going to do about this?

The answer that they don't want to say out loud is this: nothing. The protective cap that McCarthy said was not yet game-ready wouldn't have done much to prevent injury on the play in question. (And the idea that Chapman was "lucky" to be hit where he was, instead of getting caught on the side of the head, is kind of insane, but so be it.) Short of putting the pitcher in a hockey or lacrosse style helmet, which would more or less require a huge retraining of the entire body, and probably repetitive stress injuries on the neck and shoulder, given the violence in an average MLB delivery... we are where we have always been.

Which is to say, performing a physical activity that is spectacularly awful for the human body, but much more so for the arm than any other part.

When a pitcher takes a line drive off the head, it's awful, and looks like it could happen, well, all the time. But it doesn't. Your average MLB game will have upwards of 300 pitches, and the season is 162 games long, with 30 teams... so with extra inning games and playoffs, we're looking at somewhere around 800K to a million pitches a year. And incidents like Perez-Chapman just don't happen often enough to be worth a cure that's worth more than the disease.

Are we at greater risk now, with pitchers throwing harder than ever, and hitters more physically attuned? Probably.

Is someone eventually going to suffer permanent injury, or maybe even death? Sure. It's happened before, in the minors, and MLB is stone lucky to have gone 90+ years since the last on-field fatality. That wasn't from a shot to the pitcher, it was from a hit batsman, the far more likely form of catastrophic injury, but the point still stands. (Carl Mays, an underhand fireballer and borderline Hall of Famer, hits Ray Chapman square in the temple in 1919, and Chapman collapsed, never to wake again. The incident is directly responsible for the introduction of fresh baseballs at routine intervals, and indirectly responsible for the growth in home runs, and Babe Ruth, and baseball getting away from the Dead Ball Era permanently. History turns on moments. But I digress.).

And the money ball... if and when that happens, will MLB end or suffer attendance issues?

No. Not at all.

MLB has survived multiple work stoppages. A year without a World Series. Franchise relocations. The worst cheating scandal of any major sport through PED usage outside of cycling. Massive income disparity, and so on, and so on. And a relative lack of ugly injury moments, at least in comparison with the NFL, and even the NBA.

The game is ingrained now. We'd still watch it if pitchers wore cage helmets, but anyone who didn't grow up wearing one -- something that isn't in any Little League right now -- isn't going to switch late in life. We're also not going to move to a screen situation, the way that pitching coaches do in batting practice, or to pitching machines taking over for human arms.

We're just going to hope that moments like what happened last night just don't happen. Because, well, they usually don't.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the NFL is going to start enforcing 15-yard flags for the use of the N-Word

Dear Lord, Not That
10) Mostly white officiating crews have a hard time hearing the difference between err and ahh

9) Part of a vast conspiracy to rein in Richard Sherman

8) League really wants the players to expand their vocabulary and respect the nation's rich history of racial insults

7) Given the increasing importance of the foreign markets and on-field mics, the league needs more universally known insults

6) Someone told Roger Goodell that hearing the N-word increases risk of concussion, and Goodell will agree to anything that limits risk of concussion

5) If racial insults are out of the game, no one will ever lose their temper again

4) The game really needs more flags that come out of nowhere, and that have no bearing on physical performance

3) Need to protect the nation from a word they've clearly never heard before

2) Until this scourge is driven from the game, the league's economic viability is severely limited

1) In a league with suspect officiating, life-shortening violence, rapacious price-gouging and the most overpaid commissioner in the history of mankind, bad words are clearly the biggest and most urgent problem

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The A's Want Ten More Years In The Coliseum

Home Sweet Home
Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and Owner Lew Wolff get the Jonah Keri interview treatment over at Grantland today, and while the piece is worth a read for any A's fan, the biggest surprise to me was the idea that Wolff wants to sign a 10-year extension to stay in the club's current digs, the 47-year-old multi-sport Coliseum. And while this seems like all kinds of insanity to outsiders, given that the place is only known for plumbing failures and overly large foul ground, I can't help but say that I'm happy with the news for a lot of reasons.

First off, that it acknowledges reality. California is an enlightened state for many reasons, not the least of which is that stadium construction is downright difficult. The Giants got their yard from dot-com money (anyone remember Webvan? The Giants sure do) as much as the Barry Bonds attendance bonanza. The Dodgers are still in the same place they've been in for half a century. The Angels have refurbed their yard a ton, and San Diego took a very long time to get Petco, which was also more than a little aided by the online revolution. They aren't building any more land in Cally,  the Giants aren't giving up the San Jose territory, and there isn't a better place to go or be, after nearly a decade of Bud Selig saying the A's should have their own yard, but doing jack squat about that. So be it.

The much bigger issue for the A's than the yard is the local media. The Giants own a ridiculous advantage there, with better coverage and more media dollars, and with two World Series championships in the past five years to wash away the Bonds stink, nothing is going to change that. But the way of the world is that live sports is DVR-proof, and the rising tide lifts all boats. It also doesn't hurt that Oakland's new-found love for platooning means that a malleable roster of Swiss Army knives makes for the club's eternal advantage, i.e. that their 20th to 30th players are almost always better than the other team's, more meaningful...

But the plain and simple of it is that Oakland, more so than any other franchise due to the limited nature of star level pitching, needs to stay healthy to win. Texas or Anaheim can always eat another contract and reload from a tanking team. Oakland can only promote from within and hope to outdraw their opponents, and hope that youth and coaching and player selection beats experience and natural ability.

Which brings us, finally, back to the yard. The idea that the Coliseum could be seen as an advantage sounds crazy, but actually, it's not. The A's are able to get cheap pitching wins by bringing in flyball pitchers, especially ones that provoke foul balls that would be harmless in any other yard. They can win by always making sure their third baseman is a de facto fourth outfielder on balls in the air especially, and that the catching is always young and spry enough to get to a few more of those as well. They win from the unseasonably cool air and marine layer that takes many teams out of their element, especially when the rest of MLB is cooking. And they win when the yard is filled with the kind of people that you can only really find, at least on the West Coast, in Oakland; people who don't make enough money to know better than to mark out for the club.

People at A's games bang drums, bring instruments, chant, and generally sound like, well, a crowd from several decades ago, before smartphones and luxury boxes, before niche cuisine and shorter attention spans. It helps. The roster of a typical A's team is basically a baseball frat, filled with guys who are either too young to keep to themselves, or too old and eager to not have this stop be like the others, which is to say, some kind of odd business. There is a connection, a goofy, irony-free, hipster-resistant connection, that is only aided and abetted by the dive-like surroundings.

Real A's fans do not now, and really have not ever, complained about the Coliseum. They've complained about how their team is outbid, or that the ownership doesn't commit enough, or that the team just didn't win. If they are old enough, they complain about Mount Davis ruining what was a more more pleasant sight line, back in the day. They also might wonder why there isn't better security at the BART station, or more to do in the area after the game.

But the actual yard? It's just where the game is. The game is enough, provided the team is good. And they've been good for a while now, and with luck and health, will be so again this year.

So stay. Shine the turd by bringing the plumbing up to code. Put a fresh coat of paint and upgrade the BART lot. Spring for some new carpet or whatever in the locker rooms and press boxes so that we don't have to hear outsiders pule quite so much. And make it work for you, especially as your yard becomes more and more of an outlier with each passing year, and more and more of an advantage.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top 10 takeaways from Indianapolis Colts' Owner Jim Irsay's DUI Arrest

Vote Quimby
10) There goes one of the few truly fun Twitter accounts in sports

9) This will really embarrass the good people of Indianapolis, who have never had to endure the shame of an aging drunk white man

8) Any chance of beating the charge went out the window when the cops got a good look at his outfit

7) Irsay's lack of a Boston accent and failure to DUI without pants is just unfortunate for all of us looking for cheap humor points here

6) Between this legal trouble and his pending divorce, Irsay's net worth is likely to go from more money than you or I could ever spend in ten lifetimes to more money than you or I could ever spend in ten lifetimes

5) Irsay is the seventh Colts player or official to be arrested in the last 50 months, so the team is right on average for NFL teams in that regard

4) If convicted on all four felony counts, Irsay could do 12 years in prison, which would be 12 years more than any billionaire has ever gone to prison in the United States

3) Baltimore Colts' Fan is wondering why I'm being so easy on him right about now

2) I think that this, once and for all, shows the world why everyone who has made an unconscionable amount of money from sports needs a posse

1) Irsay is damned lucky that his impaired driving didn't result in an accident or fatality, because those cost real money

False Spring

Owie Owie Owie
It snowed today here in the mid-central New Jersey hellmouth, on St. Patrick's Day. It wasn't much, because we ducked the six inches that hit the southern part of the state, which meant that the fact that it was cold and bitter and awful outside yet again was something of a relief, since we didn't have to shovel and scrape and salt and wonder, yet again, why the hell we moved back here in 2006. Other than the home ownership and job and family, of course.

More baseball players that we care about underwent Tommy John surgery today -- the A's Jarrod Parker, the likely Opening Day starter for the favored laundry, and Atlanta's Kris Medlen, who we traded the utterly hated Justin Verlander for last summer when Verlander was doing his End Times Doc Holladay impersonation.

So the A's are down 40% of their rotation before a meaningful pitch has even been thrown, I'm out of my SP2 in fantasy, and I've just said sayonara to Minnesota 3B power prospect Miguel Sano, who I stashed for an entire year on my keeper league roster in the hope that I'd have that rarest of properties, a young power hitter for below market value. Sano, of course, just had Tommy John surgery, because, well, why not. Sano backs up Orioles 3B Manny Machado on my team, and Machado has spent the spring not running and increasingly doubtful for making Opening Day from last season's September knee surgery. It's nice to want to tank the year before you even draft.

Oh, and the local team that I tend to watch the most (Phillies, because Mets and Yankee fandom is far, far worse, especially when you bring into account the odiousness of the broadcast teams, and yes, that matters a lot in baseball, what with all the dead time) is going to be one of the five worst teams in the sport this year, and utterly unwatchable.

This is all, by the way, to be preferred to wallowing in the 21 losses and counting necessary train wreck that is the Sixers' season.

So, a quick and simple question...

When, exactly, will sports, and to a lesser extent, my life, suck a little less?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ryan Sandberg, Jimmy Rollins, and the start of the Circus of Sad

Mano A Whatevs
So in case you had something of  a life, you might have missed that newish Phillies manager Ryan Sandberg has been benching a healthy Jimmy Rollins in Florida while talking up the positive mindset of backup Freddie Galvis. Rollins has a no-trade contract and a laissez-faire attitude about running really hard in meaningless moments, and when you add that to a 35+ year-old body and coming off his worst year, it's not exactly a great combination. Oh, and by the way, the Phillies are going to be one of the very worst teams in baseball this year, and no one in town has any idea why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a job. So... cue the meaningless controversy!

Rollins is, still, a better player than Galvis, mostly because Galvis has no business cashing an MLB check given his meager offensive skills, and Rollins can still play a credible short; he's lost a step, but the arm is still top grade. But he could flashback to his MVP year and it would not matter at all, because there is no real difference between a 95 loss team and a 90 loss one.

Too harsh? Not quite. The top of the rotation is fine with Cliff Lee and the theoretical existence of Cole Hamels, who has spent the spring telling the world about the dates he's going to miss. (April and counting!) A.J. Burnett at three seems OK, but he's on a one-year smash and grab, is not exactly young, and could easily lose the plate, like he's done in the past, and go straight back to terrible. At #4, it's innings blob Kyle Kendrick, a guy who seems like he's got to be perfect to be useful, and then Cuban emigre Miguel Gonzalez, who looks so far like a AAA pitcher at best.

Oh, and the rotation is the best part of the team.

The bullpen is "led" by Jonathan Papelbon, who the team has been trying to give away for nine months, and his big contract, diminishing velocity and worsening attitude. The set up men around him are much worse than Papelbon, and are basically comprised of speed arms without control. Oh, and there's no good ideas for SP slots when (not if) the 100+ years of Lee, Hamels and Burnett get hurt.

Next, on to the offense. Domonic Brown had one great month in 2013; he's the team's only candidate for an offensive player who might not be disappointing. Chase Utley is in the twilight of a borderline Hall of Fame career, and won't stay healthy. Ryan Howard can't hit lefties, can't stay healthy, and might have the worst contract in baseball. Marlon Byrd found the only GM in baseball who wanted to pay for a fluke year from an old PED user. Ben Revere might have the least amount of power in MLB, which means he's kind of the Kendrick of CFs. Carlos Ruiz is another case of age over intent, and Cody Asche at third looks much more like Rick Schu's career than Mike Schmidt's. If everyone stays healthy -- they won't -- this is a 75-win team.

So, anyway, back to this week's distraction: Rollins. He's within hailing distance of having the most hits in franchise history. He's a bit of a polarizing figure, in that racism is not exactly a foreign experience to much of the fan base, and his offensive production has been downright maddening for years; too many pop ups and too little running will do that. But it's not as if Galvis is destined to be anything more than a tolerable utility sub, or that it's going to make the rest of the team run through the wall for Sandberg just because he's played bad cop with the ex-MVP shortstop.

And if my light monitoring of the region's sports talk and media are right... it's "working." Spring training won-loss records don't matter, but having the worst one is something of a tell, especially when the only injury of note is Hamels. The minor-league cupboard is mostly barren, the payroll is going to drop as soon as the yard empties -- and this team has been bad for a long time now, long enough to erode the season ticket base. But all anyone can talk about is whether they can or should trade Rollins, whether this is all a ploy to get him to waive the no-trade, and whether this means Sandberg is crazy or acting under Amaro's orders or what.

None of it matters, just like this team. And none of it will until Amaro is removed. And why do that when he's been removable for years?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The FTT Movie Review: Veronica Mars

Shockingly, this is not about sports.

One of the things that you do, or at least what I do, as a father to daughters is that you try to find them stuff in the culture that you can both watch without feeling like you're just punching the clock. Historically, this was also pretty damned difficult, because so many female protagonists were passive, which is just not in my DNA. Lastly, I need something that won't make my brain hurt form lack of use. In my daughter's lifetime, there have been two television series that hit all of these marks and work like mad for both of us: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars.

Mars is the one that you've probably heard less about. It only ran from 2004 to 2007, and the third year was something of a mess. I never saw it when it was live; I only saw it once it hit Netflix Instant Streaming. Lightly rated on an also-run teen network, the elevator hook premise -- snarky pixie blonde teen girl detective -- seems like something that would just strain all credibility. But it was a lot more than that, mostly because it had an insanely great cast, and very sharp writing. After six-plus years of nothing, a Kickstarter campaign went viral (91K+ donors, $5.7mm raised on a $2mm goal) and the fan base ponied up enough to make Warner Brothers match the donations, and Bell and series creator Rob Thomas were able to bring the band back together to make a movie.

The premise is that in the time we haven't seen the lead, she's gone to college and law school, gotten the hell away from the class struggle California dystopia that was the setting for the life of the series, and is ready to take a big money job and marriage in Manhattan. But she gets a call from her troubled old flame, who's been accused of a murder, and it coincides with the 10-year reunion of all of the people she desperately wanted to, well, never see again in her life.

What follows is fun, especially if you're a mark for the series, and that has to describe just about everyone in the audience. Exposition is disposed of with alacrity, red herrings and mini act breaks predominate as if the film can't quite shed its TV archetype, and there are a load of in jokes that hit home. It works because it's not trying to do too much, and for the same reasons why the show worked.

Start with the lead, of course. Kristen Bell has made a lot of money doing a lot of stuff, but Mars is what she's best at. The role lets her go from comedic to dramatic at the drop of a hat, and the range is solid. I'm a huge fan of Enrico Colantoni, who plays her private eye father with a clear integrity and reality of limits. His ability to push and question his daughter while also respecting her abilities and heart just sings to me, and my eldest loves him, too. It makes some of the seams and cracks easier to take. Jason Dohring is good as the male lead, though a bit more toothless than his younger enfant terrible persona. Gaby Hoffman gets some good crazy girl stuff to work through, Krysten Ritter stays int he wheelhouse of tragedy that she nailed in "Breaking Bad", and we both enjoyed it a lot.

But the movie was one big problem, and it's one that can't be underestimated; it's a movie. Veronica Mars works really well as episodic television, with the easy rhythms of guest stars, extended monologues and narration, and just, well, dozen of hours in the hands of people who know what they are doing, rather than 90 minutes from those folks working out of their element. Strings are left untied, relationships resolve too quickly for comfort, and the ending doesn't really feel like an ending, but just an incomplete.

Television is just better than movies now, and Mars' Kickstarter campaign would have been better served to make a streaming season on Netflix, rather than a movie. (The same, by the way, goes for what Joss Whedon did with "Firefly / Senerity.") And unless this movie somehow makes huge bank in the next week, maybe from "Frozen" fans deciding that after Bell's voiceover work, they are going to follow her anywhere... it won't.

But hey, 90 more minutes of good stuff is 90 more minutes of good stuff. And my eldest wants to watch the series again, which means a whole lot less tween and early teen sitcom on my screen...

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