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Ask Rotoman: February 8, 2006

Fantasy 411
 Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

Rotoman's Top 10: 2005 Strikeouts Per 9 (162 IP minimum) -- Mark Prior, Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Brett Myers, Jason Schmidt, Pedro Martinez, John Lackey, AJ Burnett, Scott Kazmir, Randy Johnson


Strategy

Dear Rotoman:

I own both Jose Reyes and David Wright of the New York Mets in my keeper league, and I'm a fan of the team as well (sigh). I've read where the plan for the coming season's lineup is: Reyes, Lo Duca, Beltran, Delgado, Wright, Floyd, Diaz, Matsui & pitcher.

Am I wrong in thinking that the Mets would be better served with either Wright in the No. 2 hole, or move Beltran there and bat Wright third? The way Wright took off at the end of last year, it seems to me that they don't need to protect him anymore, and I would think they'd want to get their best hitters to the plate as much as possible.

Or is it that important to have the 4 thru 7 hitters set up batting left-right-left-right?

-- "Lining Up the Lineup"

Dear Lining:
We might as well get the big issue out of the way first: Does the lineup matter?

Bill James studied the effects of lineup design using simulations and found that it made little difference what order a manager used.

Mark Pankin used a method called the Markov Process to try to determine the best lineup structure and reported to the Society of American Baseball Research in 1991 that the only clear thing is that it's better for better hitters to bat earlier, with better generally meaning those with high on base percentages.

A math class at the University of Washington used the Monte Carlo technique to try to maximize the Seattle Mariners' lineup efficiency in 1998 and concluded that while their model didn't accurately portray the intricacies of lineup dynamics, "even an accurate model would fail to exhibit substantial differences in lineup performance because of the random and chanced nature of baseball play."

Roger Moore, not James Bond but a chemist with a baseball interest, used a simulator he wrote to compare the conventional lineup with lineups made up of players organized by ascending OBP and descending OBP. The conventional lineup, he found, was slightly better than the descending OBP (similar to James' findings), but significantly better than the counter-intuitive ascending OBP lineup.

So, does lineup matter? I think it's safe to say, not much. At least not much mathematically.

Yet even knowing this all baseball fans obsess about lineups. I think partly that's because we all think we know how a team can best construct its lineup (doing it right can't hurt), and when we see a manager do something that doesn't make sense to us it is an indication that he's inept. That bad lineup is evidence of a bad manager, and helps explain why our team isn't doing well.

Of course, it is also possible that while the lineup doesn't matter (much) in the world of the mathematical model, that it does make a difference on the human level. We've all seen a player whose talents we admired go into a slump when he was moved to a different slot in the lineup. Marcus Giles slugged .481 batting second, .432 batting third. Come on! He's a No. 2 guy!

I'm not sure about this, though in all the years he's batted both second and third, Giles has been more productive in the two hole. The problem is that the sample is small, and is almost always small for any player who changes roles. What looks like a characteristic could easily be a fluke, and there's no real way to test that.

But I'm not ruling out the role the human element plays in lineup design. The Cubs attempts last year to turn Corey Patterson failed spectacularly because Patterson was not able to change his game to fit the role he was asked to play. The lineup was his downfall, and that hurt the team because they had a bad on-base guy playing his worst baseball from the most sensitive spot in the lineup.

The miracle is that Derrek Lee drove in 100 runs.

With that in mind, let's construct an ideal Mets lineup.

No. 1: Amazingly, on average in the NL the leadoff spot last year went to the guy with only the fourth best on base percentage, but the best base stealer. Jose Reyes is the best basestealer on the Mets but the worst guy getting on base, which makes him totally unacceptable as a leadoff hitter. Give the job then to Carlos Beltran, who has a career .350 OBP and managed to steal 17 bases last year with a bad knee.

No. 2 traditionally goes to a contact hitter with good wheels, someone who won't strike out and can avoid the double play by hitting behind the runner. Paul Lo Duca strikes out the least of the Mets but he doesn't have the wheels you want for the job. David Wright does.

No. 3 usually goes to a high average hitter, the guy with the classic though not necessarily a power stroke. In the NL last year the No. 3 guys hit .284, eight points higher than the No. 4 spot. But, the No. 4 spot is the second most likely in the lineup to lead off an inning. Rather than Carlos Delgado, the Met for the three hole is Cliff Floyd.

No. 4 goes to Delgado. He bats lefty, as does Floyd, but with hitters this good you can't worry about alternating them. They need the at-bats. (If you decided alternating was important, flip flop Floyd and Wright.)

No. 5, however, as the talent gets weaker, should be a righty. Victor Diaz or Xavier Nady fits the bill here. The only alternatives would be Lo Duca, but he doesn't have the power to scare pitchers who want to pitch around Delgado either, or Bret Boone, if he somehow manages to revive his career. I'll go with the outfielder.

No. 6 traditionally goes to a hitter like Diaz, who has limited on-base skills, not a lot of bat control, but some power. Ideally here too we continue to alternate between lefties and righties. That means our choices are either Kaz Matsui or Jose Reyes. Matsui probably gets on base more, so let's put him here until the Mets upgrade.

No. 7 is the competent Lo Duca, sandwiched between the Punch and Judy hitters.

No. 8 is Reyes, hiding his pathetic on-base skills, and letting him use his speed to give the pitcher a chance to bunt him over to third if there are no outs.

No. 9 is the pitcher. In the NL the No. 9 slot had a .485 OPS last year. In the AL No. 9 had a .679.

Give me Willie Randolph's job and I'll trot out a lineup of: Beltran, Wright, Floyd, Delgado, Diaz/Nady, Matsui, Lo Duca, Reyes, pitcher.

My best hitters get the most at-bats, the end of the lineup causes matchup problems for the opposing manager, and the pitcher bats last. For fantasy purposes, however, the clearest thing is that Jose Reyes shouldn't be the leadoff hitter. Willie Randolph no doubt disagrees, Reyes batted first in all but 22 AB last year, but that doesn't make him right.

Play ball!

Orderly,
Rotoman


Rules

Rotoman:

We've always played our 5x5 league with weekly transactions, but there is some interest this year in changing to daily transactions. Is there anything we should know that will help us decide whether to do this?

-- "Faster Faster"

Dear Faster:

The traditional way to play fantasy baseball was with weekly transactions. Usually on Sunday night or Monday morning, all the teams would make their moves, put in their claims, and set their lineups for the week. Then they would watch them play.

Some major part of this schedule was because when the game of roto began stats were only published on Sundays in the local papers, and on Monday and Tuesday in USA Today. League stat reports were done by hand back in those days when few had computers, so the weekly transactions coincided with stat periods and weekly standings reports.

Obviously, things have changed. Now we get up-to-the-pitch updates at hyperdynamically served web pages by booming sports technology companies eager to capture our eyeballs and pocket our dollars. We watch our fantasy standings ripple as the games are played, and we want to fix as rapidly as possible all the things wrong with our teams.

Why? Because we can.

The trend toward daily transactions is a result of all this quicker information we're getting, and our enhanced ability to process it and react to it. Which is a fine thing, but you should be aware that the daily game is harder.

Daily transactions mean that players in your league who have the time to scan all the fantasy news sources and out-of-town newspapers may get a bigger edge than they have now, because if you have a job you won't be able to keep up. Assuming you have a three-day waiver claims period, or some sort of FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) setup, it isn't acquiring players that matters as much as being able to manipulate a pitching staff to maximize starts against bad teams.

The daily game rewards an ongoing frenzy of attention, and unless you have a spectacular draft, it will make if very hard to compete. There are a few things you can do to tamp down the unemployed in your league. Mainly, set not only minimums for at bats and innings pitched, but maximums for games played and innings pitched as well.

If you rule that no offensive position can have more than 162 total games played, you at least keep teams from piling up ridiculous numbers of at bats and innings by making sure they have a full roster every day. That way the quantitative numbers won't bound wildly out of control. Still, at some point you're going to realize that you have to play the daily game every day.

Unless your league rosters most of the player pool, daily transactions means that there is almost always a better player in a better situation on the waiver wire than on your team. Finding that player each day can become a life-threatening obsession (if you count work and family and friends as part of life).

How you want to play is obviously up to you, but I think there's a nice compromise to be had.

Restrict waiver claims and trades to a weekly (or even bi-weekly) schedule, but allow teams a limited number of free moves over the course of the season to shift guys from their reserve list to their active rosters and back when they're not on the DL. And allow unlimited DL moves. This way you avoid the frustration of having a productive player on your bench when you have a dud (or hurt guy) on your active squad, but you don't require that all the owners quit their jobs in order to compete.

Family friendly,
Rotoman


Chatter

Bengie Molina: Got a lot of money from the Blue Jays, given his last-man-standing free agent status. The signing would seem to doom Guillermo Quiroz this year, unless Molina or Gregg Zaun gets hurt. Molina is a better hitter against lefties than righties, but last year so was Zaun. It would seem that the Jays have too much quality here. Barring injury or a trade at least one of these two isn't going to get enough AB, which is why I think Zaun may find himself moved.

Jonathan Papelbon: He isn't in the rotation now and probably won't be come Opening Day, plus he isn't the Red Sox closer (and probably won't be unless he is a failure down the road as a starter). Which means he should be fairly cheap. He has the arm to be a No. 1 starter at some point, which means that if he's cheap he's worth a shot, but there's a good chance given his control issues last year that there's a stumble coming.

Jeremy Hermida: Florida's games at home had 22 percent fewer homers last year than their road games, and 16 percent fewer runs. Hermida is a big league talent who is probably the NL Rookie of the Year favorite, but he's going to be playing on a team that has only one other sure Major Leaguer in the lineup. If prospects like Josh Willingham and Mike Jacobs hit the way it looks like they might, Hermida might be okay. But his awful team means that dispite his talent you should expect him to be disappointing, because he won't have runners ahead of him to drive in or hitters behind to knock him in.

Esteban German: Finished the Dominican League season with a .442 on-base percentage. He has always known how to draw a walk and steal a base. His problem has been his glove, which hurt him in Oakland and Texas, where they value such things. In Kansas City, maybe, he'll finally get an extended look. The results on the field may not be pretty, but as a rotisserie sleeper he could be a good one.


The big question

Dear Rotoman:

Let's talk about one of the most intriguing SP for this year, Oliver Perez. In 2004, he came on really strong and showed his stuff can be put under control. 2005 had a lot of hype around him, but he then lost his control and was injured. What does 2006 show? Is he going to get back to what he did in 2004 or will we see more of 2005?

-- "Oliver Oliver"

Dear Oh Oh!:

There are two things that are Oh-so-scary about Oliver Perez.

First, his performance: Last year he pitched about the same way he did in the years leading up to his breakout 2004 campaign, striking out plenty of hitters when he wasn't walking them. But he walked plenty of them, more than six per nine innings pitched.

He walked a lot of hitters in 2004, too, (nearly four per nine IP) but the difference was he allowed 40 fewer hits in two more innings, and allowed half as many homers per IP.

Compare last year's numbers to 2003 to see why last year may be the more typical one for Perez.

Year IP ERA H HR BB K
2003 103.7 5.38 103 20 65 117
2005 103 5.85 102 23 70 97

His mental makeup: At one of his darkest moments in 2005, after a bad start versus the Cardinals in June, Perez kicked in anger a laundry cart, broke his big toe, and missed ten weeks.

The Pirates fined him, and while GM Dave Littlefield praised his competitiveness and fire, he pointed out that Pirates are expected to be "mature and professional" as well.

The team was also unhappy with his offseason conditioning before the 2005 season.

So, what can you do with a hotheaded pitcher with control problems? The Pirates sent Perez to the Mexican Winter League this year, to work on his control and no doubt to make sure he didn't just lounge around all winter eating. The results from Mexico were not impressive, but Littlefield said that the goal was getting Perez ready for 2006, not to get results, and his time in Mexico had done that.

We'll see. The bottom line here is that we've seen that Perez is capable of walking fewer than 4.5 per nine innings. He did it over 190+ innings in 2004. So whether we write off last year to bad conditioning or bad luck or a tired arm or bad mechanics or a combination of all of these, the conclusion has to be that if he's attentive and healthy he should bounce back. At least part of the way.

How far? No one has any idea about that right now.

My advice, unless he has a miserable Spring Training, is to pursue him, especially in 5x5 leagues. If you're the only one doing it you'll get him at a good price, and have plenty of profit potential if he regains that magic touch.

But if someone else is thinking the same thing, and won't let go easily, you should let Perez go. There is too great a chance that he'll end up walking the house again and be a total bust to push hard for him.

Ohminously,
Rotoman

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