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Crazy little thing called love

Ask Rotoman: June 28, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

ROTOMAN'S LISTS: June Fantasy All-Stars

American League
C: Joe Mauer, 1B: Justin Morneau, 2B: Brian Roberts, SS: Michael Young, 3B: Adrian Beltre, MI: Julio Lugo, CI: Jason Giambi, OF: Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, Vernon Wells, DH: Gary Mathews , SP: Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, Jeremy Bonderman, Randy Johnson, Kenny Rogers, RP: BJ Ryan, Mariano Rivera.

National League
C: Russ Martin, 1B: Lance Berkman, 2B: Jose Castillo, SS: Jose Reyes, 3B: David Wright, MI: Jimmy Rollins, CI: Scott Rolen, OF: Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, UT: Todd Helton , SP: Chris Young, Scott Olsen, Jason Jennings, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Morris, RP: Derrick Turnbow, Trevor Hoffman.


Dear Rotoman:

What are your thoughts about Chuck James, starter with Atlanta. I also have picked up Chad Billingsley and Scott Olsen to bolster my pitching. How would you decide when to start them, since they may have ups and downs in their first year?

"Young Guns 3"

Dear YG3:

I love Chuck James. He's an undersized underdog who has pitched very well at all levels so far, speeding his way to the big leagues in 2005 after starting the year in Class A. He's got excellent command and a fine changeup, but his fastball isn't overpowering (though the change sometimes makes it seem so) and his slider is a work in progress. Despite his Minor league successes he doesn't have a lot of margin for error at the Major league level, so be careful with him.

But as I said, I love Chuck James, and in his debut as a Major league starter this past Sunday he shut down the Devil Rays, allowing just one run and three hits in eight innings (he walked four, struck out eight), causing me to activate him in the 15-team mixed league in which I own him. Though I worry about that.

I love Chuck James. Chuck is a great baseball name, especially for a pitcher, because what does he do? He chucks the ball! (I admit it, I had a similar affection for Chuck Smith, a different kind of underdog hurler with the Marlins at the turn of the century.

The thing with all young pitchers is that they can have runs of excellence, times when their stuff and aggressiveness overwhelms hitters unfamiliar with their repertoire and delivery, but at some point they inevitably stumble. Sometimes the hitters catch up and figure the pitcher out, sometimes injury undermines the pitcher's ability to deliver his best. The pitcher struggles.

Then, sometimes the pitcher develops different patterns, especially after he better learns what hitters like and don't like, and sometimes he just gets healthy. The pitcher succeeds.

This back-and-forth, give-and-take repartee is why young pitchers -- no matter how talented -- shouldn't be bid up the way veterans are. Are you with me, Felix Hernandez owners? The best advice is to ride the youngster while they're going good, and not be afraid to bail when they struggle. It only takes a couple of bad starts to undo a handful of good ones.

Most importantly, when evaluating a pitcher look at more than his ERA and ratio. Chad Billingsley arrived in the Major Leagues with serious question marks about his control. He didn't allow many runs his first two starts (against San Diego and Seattle), but he walked six in 10.1 IP. His third start (against Minnesota) he walked seven in 5.2 IP and allowed six earned runs. He gets the Angels this coming Sunday, and while he could turn it around at any moment -- he's very talented -- he isn't recommended. That 3.60 ERA after two starts didn't reflect his effectiveness.

Scott Olsen had a rough patch in May, allowing 22 runs over the course of 19.1 IP in four starts, capping the streak by trading some punches with teammate and friend Randy Messenger. What happened in May? The only word out there about the fight is that Olsen "crossed a line" and Messenger responded. About his pitching, Olsen said he felt fine, and so while it may have been a dead arm period, or bad luck, or a period of adjustment. What matters most is that since then he's had an ERA of 2.31, is 4-0, walking just seven while striking out 28.

Enjoy that while you got it.



Dear Rotoman:


I'm one of very few baseball fans in Europe. I have recently read Sam Walker's Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe and have become interested in fantasy baseball.

However, from my (outside) point of view, home runs are boring and RBIs are vastly overrated (conditional upon others' success getting on base). I'm much more thrilled by spectacular defensive plays and "small ball".

My question: Do you know of any fantasy league that also values defensive performances?

"Playing the Field"

Dear Playing:

Ah, proof that not all of Europe is mad for the World Cup.

But your disdain for the long ball certainly situates you nearer the Hague than Camden Yards. So be it, I like to talk about fielding.

The traditional fielding measures are errors, assists, and putouts, traditionally consolidated into Fielding Percentage, which tells you how many times the fielder made the play.

The problems with all of the traditional measures are huge and familiar to baseball fans who have looked into the matter at all. I'll recount them quickly, for those who have not.

Errors are a problem because the player with the most errors is often a good fielder who plays a lot and who takes chances. Sometimes these pay off spectacularly, and sometimes they result in an extra base or baserunner. A bad fielder who barely plays will make far fewer errors than a great fielder. This is a problem in fantasy. How do you rank them?

Assists and putouts added together aare called Range Factor, an early Bill James' attempt to find the best fielders. As an indicator of something, certainly, Range Factor can be useful, but it is very dependent on the pitching staff. A staff that throws lots of strikeouts will give its fielders fewer chances to field the ball, hence lower Range Factors, while fielders in Colorado, where the pitchers don't strike out many, usually lead the league in RF. These big swings have nothing to do with the pitcher, which is a problem.

Fielding Percentage tends to reward cautious fielders who get to fewer balls, rather than aggressive rangy fielders who get to many.

Clearly, these fielding measures don't identify who the best fielders are. Not reliably, anyway.

So various other approaches have been made over the years. One of the most important was Zone Rating. Game scorers tracked where all hit balls went and players were graded based on how many balls they tracked down in their zone on the field. Zone rating has the advantage of being a rate stat, so playing time isn't an issue, but it also is not all that objective. Different scorers see different zones, a problem that might best be solved by painting a grid on the field.

There have been various attempts at improvement, including Ultimate Zone Rating and mash ups of the big three. Bill James derived a way to extract individual fielding wins from players for his Win Shares system, and this year, John Dewan (who invented the Zone Rating) published The Fielding Bible, which uses a plus/minus system that rewards fielders for making plays that other fielders didn't, based on exact hit location information compiled by Baseball Info Solutions.

The problem that all these systems is that the information is only available later. Assists and put outs and errors we can add up in real time, the same way we can HR and RBI (pardon moi), but a player's ZR only makes sense later, after he's made hundreds of plays. For this reason, I doubt that fielding will ever be a component of roto-style fantasy baseball, though I certainly hope I'm eventually proved wrong about that.

Where fielding does count are simulation games, like Strat-o-Matic and Diamond Minds. The creators of those games have had to give all the players fielding values that reflect their effectiveness as fielders. By playing a simulation you can try to put a winning team together without the long ball, or choose to play with the squad of the 1959 Chicago White Sox, a team that won the American League title while hitting the fewest homers in the league.

The problem with the sims, just so you know, is that because there are no established fielding records that surely measure a fielder's range, savvy, hands and arm, different sims give the same players widely different ratings.

Plus ├ža changely,


Tampa Bay Closer: A while back I declared here that Tyler Walker was a bum who was pitching very poorly, and that he would not be the Devil Rays' closer for long. But after a rough few games he somehow got himself right and pitched very effectively as a closer, until he hurt himself a couple of weeks ago. Last week, reading some murky tea leaves, I suggested that Shawn Camp was looking like the team's closer until Walker returned, but the three TB saves since then have gone to Brian Meadows (2) and Chad Harville (the latter was supposed to be the team's closer coming out of Spring Training, but bad pitching -- really bad pitching -- cost him the job). Walker is expected to return next week sometime, and I'm not making any more guesses about how things will go in the TB bullpen, but none of these guys is good enough or reliable enough to hold onto the job all season long.

Gary Matthews Jr.: He's hitting almost exactly the same as he did last year, same homers, same singles, same walks and strikeouts, same number of fly balls and ground balls, but he's doubled his rate hitting doubles and triples. That's a difference of 14 outs last year that this year have fallen as doubles or triples, a small swing that is almost certainly more a matter of good fortune than him making some sort of fundamental change in his game. He should be a valuable player in the second half, especially because he was probably pretty cheap, but he won't keep up the .900+ OPS.



I'm looking for a couple of hitters. Could you please pick a couple players per position who are major disappointments thus far and who should rebound in the second half? These are guys that I could possibly get cheap via trade or waiver wire.


Dear Digger:

One of the game's great challenges is finding bargains. You would think that whatever patience owners had with flops like Jhonny Peralta (the spelling was funnier when he was hitting home runs) had just about run out, and you could pick these guys up now cheap.

It may have been, back in the days when we didn't know a lot of stuff about players, but I don't find that to be the case anymore. The randomness of performance and detailed health information apply to some extent to all of the players on our teams who are bombing even now, in part because teams that got stuck with the bombs are floundering now, and their best bet for recovering is hoping they get big second halves out of the guys who stunk it up in the first half.

Still, if you need a boost in the second half there's nothing wrong with trying to pick off all the high-upside rebound prospects you can. Here are some possibilities at each position:

Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay: His first half was wrecked by a bruised wrist, after which he was replaced by another young catcher in the Dodgers' plans. The trade to Tampa Bay gives him another opportunity, and while he's far from a star at this point, he is a good defensive catcher with good strike zone judgment. Sounds like power could come eventually -- not this year -- but he should be worth a roster spot immediately.

Brian Schneider, Washington: He's got a long enough track record that he should be expected to bounce back in the second half after two DL stints this spring with a bad hamstring.

First Base
Dan Johnson, Oakland: It may be too late to grab Johnson, who raised his average 50 points between June 1 and June 15 while hitting four homers. But he's been foundering since, so maybe his owner will think he's selling high.

Richie Sexson, Seattle: More than half his RBI this year have come in seven games, which would be useful if you knew which they were going to be. On the other hand, in spite of his struggles he's driven in 52 runs. He's showing signs of health, which is a reason to grab hold.

Second Base
Marcus Giles, Atlanta: He says he wasn't bothered by a finger injury in April, but he's struggled all season and the power outage might be expected with a hand injury. Too down and too talented to ignore.

Placido Polanco, Detroit: He's hitting for average but hasn't been driving the ball, probably because he's been nursing a sore back all spring. Reportedly healthy, he isn't going to solve your power problems, but he can help a little.

Cesar Izturis, LA Dodgers: He's back and he's playing pretty much every day. An early return may catch some by surprise, especially those who think the Dodgers infield is crowded. How much he runs will determine whether he's a real bargain, but if you need a shortstop who is going to play and can hit he'll fit the bill.

Jason Bartlett, Minnesota: He's been jerked up and down by the Twins, who seem to have had a hard time committing to him. But they've given him the job now and he would seem to be capable of hitting enough in the big leagues. Despite having his aggressiveness on the basepaths challenged by scrappy manager Ron Gardenhire, he's not going to steal many big league bases.

Third Base
Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs: He's limped along with various muscle strains, and it's not a sure thing that he's 100 percent physically, but after a miserable April he's had acceptable -- if modest -- results in May and June. Expect much more if he's healthy.

Adrian Beltre, Seattle: He makes the list because he's always on these lists, and because Eric Chavez's health is too worrisome to suggest you go with him. And because he was the best AL third baseman over the past month.

Geoff Jenkins, Milwaukee: He had a terrible first half last year and a great second half, and while I don't believe he has a "gene" for that or anything, the fact that he did it once makes me believe he can do it again. A concussion suffered in May, however, may also change the equation significantly, so while I'm confident in Jenkins, I suggest caution.

Juan Pierre, Chicago Cubs: Age is supposed to erode the speed, but Pierre's basestealing is as plentiful as always. It's the hits that are killing him. Worth picking up because the speed will help you even if he doesn't bounce back in batting average, and he probably will hit for a higher average in the second half.

Vladimir Guerrero, LA Angels: Part of Vlad's problem is the lack of support around him. He's struggling against righties, relatively, and will get over that.

Until next time,


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