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Thursday 24th Aug 2017

Since I have been playing Fantasy ball, I have noticed how dismissive a lot of folks seem to be about banging 20 homers. Baseball is a hard game, and I have always felt 20 big league smackers indicates a pretty good season for anyone.

As it was, I was watching the Cubs on Thursday when they clobbered six homers, in a losing cause no less. I noticed that the team now has a chance for six guys with 20 or more big flies, which is a lot. It reminded me of the 1977 Dodgers who had Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker all with 30 homers, indicating a pretty good hitting team. 

The Cubs have Anthony Rizzo (28), Kris Bryant (23), Willson Contreras (21) and Kyle Schwarber (20), along with Javier Baez (19) and Ian Happ (17), who should also top the 20-HR mark.

In deference to that, I began to wonder if the number of home runs this year really was crazy high, so I looked it up and discovered that as of Wednesday night, 67 major leaguers had hit at least 20, and since Schwarber banged his on Thursday, that means at least 68. So, that set me wondering again, so I looked back since the turn of the Century as they say to see how this year stacks up.

And, since this season is pretty much exactly three-quarters done, that means roughly 40 games left, and if we calculate 3.5 at-bats for all the home run hitters over those games, that adds 140 at-bats for the average everyday player. Remember that I am not a math guy, but according to Fangraphs, there have been 123,265 Major League at-bats this year and 4568 homers, meaning on average a home run was hit every 27 at-bats.

So, 140 divided by 27 gives us another projected five dingers for the year, though I will acknowledge that is likely a conservative number for it factors in Alcides Escobar's power along with Giancarlo Stanton, and there are more guys closer to Alcides than Giancarlo.

Either way, I looked at the number of players who have hit 15 this year (there are 54) thus far and added five to them and compared this year's projected totals to some other dates since Y2K came to tease us, and this is what I found.

Year   #20 Home Run Guys  #30 Home Run Guys  #40 Home Run Guys
 2017  121 29  4
 2016  111 38 8
 2015    64 20 9
 2010    76 18  2
 2005    78 27
 2000   102 47   16

2000, to jog your memories, was the year Sammy Sosa led the Majors with 50, but 16 players--which is a lot--hit 40. And, Andruw Jones hit 51 in 2005, along with Jose Bautista hitting 54 in 2010, but even projecting out 2017 and adding in those five extra homers, this year will not come close to the 16 40-homer guys of 2000.

As it happens, I was on Patrick Davitt's BBHQ Podcast today, and the very subject came up, and Patrick's take on the power boost is that the real power hitters, like Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo, are unaffected by whether they hit a 425-foot homer or a 410-foot homer. But, as Patrick astutely pointed out, that 15 feet the ball adds makes it so that Yonder Alonso and surprises like Chris Taylor and Tim Beckham get four bases and the accouterments for what used to be a warning track fly out.

And, I personally think, especially looking at these numbers, Patrick is dead on correct.

So, the question is how do I plan towards next season with the proliferation of guys who have between say 15-25 homers and determine what their value is?

Well, thinking ahead, my approach is that there will be a plethora of them I will indeed not think so much about as a power source but rather supporting acts scoring runs and ideally helping the counting stats. But I think the group of players we draft in rounds 10-17 or purchase for between $8-$13 in a single league draft become targets more for steals and on-base percentage and batting average while we focus on the true power guys in the early rounds.

And that means pitching becomes a lot more ad hoc, meaning I will focus on a couple of closers and an ace and otherwise think about building my rotation out of the dregs and free agent pool.

That might not sound like much, but for me it will be way different from the past few seasons. Because you know, you can never plot too early.

Remember you can always reach me @lawrmichaels.

 

Last year, at the behest of Wreck Room proprieter Tod Alsam, my radio-mate on FNTSY, Justin Mason, initiated the first Bay Area experts Fantasy Baseball League, dubbed by me BARF for Bay Area Rotisserie Fantasy League.

The first BARF draft was held in February of 2016 and the cartel had such a good time that we repeated the process this past March. And, well, since we are all Fantasy guys who are addicted to games who all have year-round websites, supporting football as well as baseball, the group decided to venture into the BARF Fantasy Football League.

So, this afternoon, at 3 PM, pacific time, twelve of us will gather at the Wreck Room on California Street and Nob Hill in the City to draft in a 12-team PPR Super Flex league.

The cast is fairly stellar for us Northern Californians, featuring the likes of Howard Bender, Ray Flowers, Sammy Reid, Justin Mason, and The Welsh among others. And, as with all leagues that have had a couple of years to get established, by now the core group are mates just like any other league where trash talking and one-upsmanship simply become part of the league dynamic.

Last Thursday, Justin and I had Sammy Reid on The Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, and we talked up the BARF draft, especially in deference to Mason's crushing the 11 of us in the baseball league by over 20 points.

Because the league is Super Flex and PPR, though, that places a fun challenge. For, if a Standard league favors drafting Running Backs, and if a PPR league favors selecting Wide Receivers, a Super Flex league throws all of that out the window.

That is because playing a Quarterback at Flex can be a real point generator. In fact, the common strategy is to draft two or three solid starting signal callers. And, again, that is where things can get dicey, for drafting a pair of QBs early suggests a potential hole at WR or RB and potentially points to a mediocre team all around.

The focus, though, on such a league is if we are to try to emulate "real" sports in our Fantasy environment, we want to try and be realistic, and certainly the Quarterback position is the core spot to driving a team. Thus, emphasizing the position does try to push towards reality.

But, if you follow the BARF draft live on Yahoo!, and there is a run on signal callers, expect a lot of fun both within the draft and then when the season begins. If all the owners target grabbing two starting QBs along with a third for bye weeks, several teams will find themselves short, for there are only 32 starting Quarterbacks in the NFL, and with 12 teams each trying to nab three, that leaves us four short.

This is where the fun begins, for during the season, if a team has a $1000 FAAB budget, spending $375 to get Josh McCown, who happens to be starting in the coming week due to injury, is not uncommon.

So, seeing how our "so called experts" adjust to this wrinkle will make the draft and ensuing season all the more fun and interesting.

As for me, I'm pretty sure I'll follow the route of grabbing the Quarterbacks now, filling in with #2 Wide Receivers and Running Backs, hoping I can take advantage and draft some lesser valued but high potential players.

Will it work? I don't know, but check in tomorrow as I run a special Extra Points and review the draft and my picks right here as Zach takes a vacation day.

Remember that you can follow the draft here on Yahoo! and that you can harangue me @lawrmichaels.

Monday was a fun day for swaps as the trade deadline brought forth 13 deals involving 40 players plus the ubiquitous "future considerations" over the final 24 hours of swap window.

And, there were indeed some swaps involving stars like Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, and some fun veteran trades like Tony Cingrani for Scott Van Slyke: a pair of players I like involved in a bench deal who would be useful in Strat-O-Matic, and maybe to the Reds and Dodgers, and not much else.

But, a cluster of young players were involved in this last wave of swaps who have bright futures but are likely a few years away from seeing big league daylight. So, seeing the name now, and then watching how soon they hit Double-A, and then how well they perform there will tell us most of what we need to know for Major League possibilities.

Jorge Mateo (22, SS, Athletics): Oakland is restocking so well, though Gray is the one veteran I wish the Athletics had retained. But, Mateo has some huge potential having hit .240-4-11 with 28 steals over 69 games and then .300-4-26 over 30 games with another 11 swipes. With 31 walks to 115 strikeouts (.315 OBP), Mateo needs some work to realize his table-setter potential, but the tools are there.

Dustin Fowler (22, OF, Athletics): Over 421 minor league games, Fowler has hit .282-39-251 with 74 steals, making him a Mark Kotsay kind of player, with some speed and some power. Fowler is hitting .293-13-43 at Triple-A this season with an .871 OPS. He should challenge for an outfield job next year.

Willie Calhoun (19, 2B, Rangers): A plug package at 5'8" and 185 pounds, Calhoun has a quick bat and some serious pop, having banged 62 homers over 306 games with a .516 Slugging Percentage. This year he is hitting .294-24-69, largely at Round Rock prior to the swap with a great 36 walks to 50 strikeouts, good for a .355 OBP and a .930 OPS. He is not a second sacker, so the question is a lot more a question of where, but when is pretty soon.

A.J. Alexy (19, P, Rangers): The Rangers did well in exchange for Yu Darvish, with Alexy being another part of the equation. The Dodgers drafted Alexy in the 11th round last year and he made a brief Rookie Ball appearance (1-0, 4.61 over 13.6 IP). He then moved to Great Lakes this year, posting a 2-6, 3.67 line over 73.6 frames with 86 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA. 

Oneil Cruz (18, 3B, Pirates): A pretty good gamble for the Bucs, swapping Tony Watson to the Bums, who signed the 6'6", 175-pound Dominican last year. He's hitting .236-8-48 this year at Great Lakes, with just 28 walks to 110 strikeouts and clearly needs some work on playing the zone. But, he is a big kid (Cruz is just an inch shorter than Aaron Judge but weighs 107 pounds less) with big potential power, making him worth an eyeball every now and then.

Isaac Paredes (18, SS, Tigers): Detroit scored a pretty good coup in getting Jeimer Candelario, who is Big League ready, and Paredes, whom the Cubs signed last year. He is hitting .273-7-53, largely at South Bend, with 26 doubles and 29 walks to 54 strikeouts. Paredes has actually put together 149 minor league games, posting a .281-8-76 line with a .762 OPS.

Samad Taylor (19, 2B, Jays): The Jays are retooling in a cool way, and Taylor could be up the middle in the future. Drafted in the 10th round by the Tribe last year, Cleveland turned Taylor (and Thomas Pannone) into Joe Smith for some pen help. Taylor has spent the bulk of the year at the New York Penn League, hitting .300-4-19 over 29 games and 122 at-bats, stealing four bags. He does pose typical flaws for a young player, without a lot of pop (.460 SLG). But he still weighs in at just 160 pounds, and similarly his eye (five walks to 24 strikeouts) should improve, but interesting raw talent. 

Teoscar Hernandez (24, OF, Jays): Signed by the Astros, Hernandez was part of the Francisco Liriano deal and might be the closest to Major League ready of the lot here. He has hit .273-12-44 with 13 swipes this season at Triple-A, walking a solid 41 times to 77 strikeouts, good for a .365 OBP and an .839 OPS. Hernandez had one at-bat with Houston before the swap and will challenge for time next year.

You can follow me @lawrmichaels and listen to the Tout Wars Hour every Thursday from 9-11 PM ET (6-8 PT) on the FNTSY Sports Network.

A few weeks ago, Scott Pianowski noted on Twitter that it appeared the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs was indeed upon us, so I began to wonder first, if that was really true (as opposed to hitting being improved) and if so, how do we compartmentalize and strategize in the future.

While cogitating this, I remembered a few years back, in my Scoresheet League, an owner tried to pry Clayton Kershaw from me, offering a small cluster of proposed treasures including Rick Porcello, whom my partner claimed was a "future Cy Young" pitcher. I remember scoffing, and turning down the deal, noting that I never thought much of Porcello and thanks but no thanks.

As it turned out, the Porcello owners were prescient, though Porcello arguably was the worst hurler to win the award at least since Bartolo Colon a decade ago. And, neither really set the world on fire with what we think of as the dominance of Chris Sale or Roy Halladay, for example.

However, I looked at the numbers over the seasons and oddly, last season was the worst pitching year since 2005, when Colon won with a 21-8, 3.48 ERA to go with 157 strikeouts as compared to Porcello's 22-4, 3.15, and 189 whiffs. Contextually, five times since 2000 has the Cy winner had an ERA over 3.00, and only three times since then has the winner had under 200 strikeouts.

But, more revealing is that save the years from 2011-15, when the MLB ERA ranged from a low of 3.74 in 2014 to a high of 4.01 in 2014, the MLB ERA has not been below 4.00 since 1992, although prior to that year the league ERA was almost always below the 4.00 barometer. Perhaps it was the 1993 expansion that affected a change in the game.

Similarly, WHIP has not really exploded either. In fact, let's look at some league average pitching data from the past decade.

Year IP ERA WHIP Strikeouts
 2017  8.93  4.36  1.343  8.3
 2016  8.92  4.19  1.325  8.1
 2015  8.94  3.96  1.294  7.8 
 2014  8.97  3.74   1.275  7.7 
 2013  8.98  3.87  1.300  7.6 
 2012  8.92  4.01   1.309   7.6 
 2011  8.96  3.94  1.316  7.1 
 2010  8.91  4.08  1.347   7.1 
 2009  8.90  4.32  1.390   7.0 
 2008   8.93  4.32  1.391   6.8 
 2007  8.93  4.47  1.406   6.7 

Clearly, though we do indeed live in the age of strikeouts, ERA and WHIP have largely been constant over the past decade.

So, to keep it short and sweet this time, to me it doesn't look like pitching has so much gotten worse this season but has rather progressively eroded throughout most of the last decade.

The question then is, as Scott suggested, are we in the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs? The answer is yes, but in reality we have been there for awhile, so rather than adjusting how we draft, the better approach could be to lower our baseline goals for our teams. I always target around 3.80 as a reasonable ERA for my team and work for a WHIP as far under 1.30 as possible.

What I think we do need to do, though, is to certainly grab an ace of the Sale, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg or Madison Bumgarner ilk, and augment that starter with a couple of Zack Godley/Aaron Nola types to share the whiff burden. Ideally, ERA and WHIP will fall under those strikeouts and push towards competitive numbers for your squad.

As far as closers go these days, however, I think you might be on your own.

You can reach me @lawrmichaels.

 

It certainly is that time of year. We are deep enough into the season that if we have a competitive team, things are beautiful. If we are in a throwback league, however, and are not in the running, it means football season could not come soon enough.

But, those of us who play in Dynasty and Sim leagues are busy trying to plot for 2018 as I write. The trade wire in my keeper leagues has already kicked into gear, and I have tried to be active, save in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, where I am having a miserable 2017 in anticipation of a fantastic 2018.

Just based upon the 2017 totals of many of my players, I will actually have not just good starters at every slot, but a full rotation with the amazing surplus of two extra starting pitchers, and in a 30-team league with strict usage issues, the existence of Luis Perdomo and Jesse Chavez is tantamount to manna from heaven.

I do have a decent starting eight, and enough starters that I can rotate around to ensure that usage rules are not abridged. We are allowed 20% over a player's AB/IP the previous season, but with no injuries. Overuse reduces the number of freezes a team can retain.

With a core of Travis Shaw, Marcell Ozuna and Yonder Alonso in a very deep, 30-team league where usage is indeed enforced, that is a golden troika of hitters. Throw in Zack Greinke, Ervin Santana, Jimmy Nelson and Alex Wood as my pitchers and next year is looking so good.

The problem is, if you remember the numbers of those guys, you can see just how rugged last year (remember, we sim the previous season) was and how fine 2017 looks to be.

 Player  2016 Stats  2017 Stats  2016 WHIP/OBP  2017 WHIP/OBP
 Alonso .253-7-56 .273-21-45  .316 .373
 D. Santana .256-11-32 .290-16-51 .345 .381
 Shaw .242-16-71 .295-25-61 .306 .363
 Greinke  13-7, 4.73  11-4, 2.97  1.273  1.047
 E. Santana  7-11, 3.38  11-6, 2.99  1.219  1.108
 Wood  1-4, 3.73  11-0, 1.56  1.260  0.877
 Nelson  8-16, 4.62  8-5, 3.43  1.517  1.227

So, I will have to muddle through 100 or so more games this year plugging the gaps with Jordan Pacheco, Xavier Scruggs in the outfield, Erik Kratz at catcher, and Rob Refsnyder.

In fact, my team is just off an eight-game losing streak wherein we could muster no more than four hits off Larry Dierker. Larry Dierker, you ask? Well, to alleviate those tight usage rules, we are allotted two each of hitters and pitchers. All are set up for the worst fielding, baserunning, and skills as the game will allow, meaning the players represent bad placeholders to save us from ourselves.

Well, in the throes of my losing streak--during which I should mention Lord Zola's team swept me for the second time this year, here-to-fore unheard of--I faced Larry Dierker (we are allowed to name these players whatever we like). The Dierker Strat card reflects a pitcher with a 7-35 mark, a 7.50 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00, meaning even a guy like Kratz, with an .094-1-5 line last year, should be able to at least work a walk, right?

Afraid not, for all we could muster was four measly hits and it is only by the grace of Travis Shaw's two-run tater that we were not shut out.

I do like to play games, and though I try to avoid any kind of killer competitive instincts, I still like to play hard and to win, so biting in over seven or eight really offensive games is tough to swallow no matter how delicious 2018 might appear right now.

At this point, my goal is to ensure that like it or not, Kratz, Pacheco and Scruggs get all the playing time they can donate to keep the really good fun core of my squad together for next year.

That means facing a pitcher better than the Dierker set up will make the path forward a very tough 100 games. It will be a tough row to hoe. And, I gave Diane very strict instructions should my kidney fail or an airplane fall out of the sky and crash into me between now and next year's Opening Day.

But I think I can make it, know what I mean?

I will almost always respond if you track me down @lawrmichaels.

 

If you read my stuff, or follow me on Twitter because you want to see my thoughts on baseball, football, rock and roll, and I suppose now golf, and are sometimes irritated or put off by my writing about politics or social events, I need to write three things here.

First, I am sorry but this will kind of be another one of those. Second, I would appreciate your indulgence in continuing to read. Because third, I want to explain my reasoning.

As a prelude, I vote to the left. I supported Bernie Sanders, am seriously pro-choice and believe climate change is a serious issue all of us Earthlings need to collectively attack.

It is no secret that my parents fled the Holocaust. My father was pushed out in 1936, at age 19, from his home in Leipzig and the rest of his family that did get out settled in London. In fact, my grandfather and uncle were arrested on "Krystalnacht," and it was only due to money and political influence that my grandmother was able to secure their release.

My mother, conversely, was 14 when her family fled from Stuttgart, also in 1936, paying a fortune to be able to leave and drag some possessions with them (my folks met in San Francisco in 1939). And, again, they had money, but were forced to spend it for their passage to America was on the Queen Mary, believe it or not. And, for the archives, both my grandfathers served loyally in the German Army just 20 years earlier in WWI.

It has always been ironic to me that my parents, who claimed to be and embrace left-wing liberal ideals, though, still remained bigoted in so many ways. A lot of this was their German roots, but both my grandfathers were orthopedic surgeons and my folks grew up relatively wealthy and they retained those sensibilities even though upper middle class--which was actually quite remarkable--was the best they could really claim in America.

For example, my Jewish parents, who fled Germany with their lives because of that quirk of how and when they were born, looked down their noses at our fellow Jews who spoke Yiddish instead of "Hoch Deutsch" (meaning "high German," or that of the elites), something that puzzles me in so many directions my head spins.

Even as a kid, I knew that was wrong for some reason, not that I too don't have my snotty side from time-to-time, that judging others as you were judged either had to be filled with objectivity and understanding, at least to start for each of us, or it was simply bigotry. In fact, our temple proudly boasted "Love thy Neighbor as Thyself," words I bought into. And, I need to add we are all bigots of one kind or another, depending upon the circumstance. But, the challenge is acknowledging this and trying to move forward as humans if we want to be a successful species and planet.

Somehow, through all this, I seem to have come through with a sense of justice and my country of birth as a first generation American, in a kind of Superman way, if you know what I mean.

I believe, above all, in our freedoms of speech and thought and movement, and I believe all men, as in humans, are created equal and should be treated acccordingly unless they give us as society a reason to be isolated. And, for some reason, it is important to me to speak out when I feel these basic human rights are being abridged or taken for granted. For, they do not just belong to a place or time, but must always be defended even if speaking out is uncomfortable (which it usually is as people don't want to move out of their comfort zone) or even seems contrary. After all, there are indeed always two sides.

In sharing some of the thoughts above with friends, in columns, and even on Twitter, I have often got the response, "I know, but I hate politics and I just want to live quietly," which is something I understand, to be sure. On the other hand, that is what my Great Uncle Leo said to my grandfather as to why he was staying in Germany while much of the family was exiting. 

Uncle Leo and his family were arrested a short time later and sent to Brikenau, we all believe, their possessions seized, never to be heard from again. Sadly, they were not the only members of my family to be exterminated, for that is indeed what it was.

As a result, I try to speak out on what I see as statements or thoughts that are bigoted or ignore the fact that there could be another side to a story. I try to be neutral when I do this, trying to frame my thoughts to "I think", noting that my thoughts do not represent anything other than mine. But that is the point, for most of the bigoted statements spoken would take on a different sheen if we all just paraphrased with something being our opinion.

Second, I do like facts. If you read me, you know I like statistics, even if I am not a math guy. So, reading things like "all the immigrants want to do is come here and overthrow us" (not quoting anything or anyone in particular) is not true until someone shows me the numbers to back this up. Similarly, especially if you like baseball, you live by stats, so ignoring those that don't seem favorable does not make them go away, or any less true.

I don't believe in censorship. I will never block someone on Twitter, though I accidentally hit the wrong button once and did and was then blocked on the other end. That made my trying to apoligize for the mistake even more crazy, right? But, I can always unfollow or just ignore someone if I choose.

So, I try hard to be objective and even-keeled.

If you are a reader, or follower, or hopefully both, and this stuff clogs your timeline, or causes grief when you really want to read about the Eloy Jimenez/Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana swap, I am sorry for these occasional divergences.

But, unfortunately, at least to me, sometimes our freedoms and thoughts and speaking out about and against what is wrong is a lot more important than baseball, or football, or god forbid, even golf.

Thanks for indulging me. I try to keep it to a minimum.

lawr

You can publicly disagree with me @lawrmichaels. 

Yesterday we honored The All Star Break by looking at the roto dogs of the year, so today, let's look at those underpriced guys who are delivering big seasons.

Note that for dollar value purposes, I used the Tout Wars auction prices which can be checked here. Obviously, depending upon your league and rules, results could be a lot different, but I used the leagues with experienced players using pretty much standard formats as a barometer. The values listed were from the AL/NL only drafts.

C Caleb Joseph $1: It is kind of tough finding a star catcher since the best, who were the most expensive, are either producing pretty well or are Jonathan Lucroy. But, in the realm of $1 backstops, Joseph and his .282-3-14 line over 142 at-bats is exactly what I hope for out of a $1 catcher. Honorable mention to Robinson Chirinos, also a buck, who is hitting only .224, but has 12 dingers over 116 at-bats.

1B Justin Smoak, $2: It is tempting to throw Yonder Alonso here, but for two bucks less Smoak has four more homers, 14 more RBI, and 15 points in batting average. (Note just that difference is better than Alex Gordon has managed to hit all year.)

2B Scooter Gennett $0 FAAB: Gennett, a $0 FAAB acquisition of Grey Albright in Tout more than deserves the props beyond his four-homer game since he has a .317-14-46 line over 202 at-bats.

3B Jedd Gyorko $10: Second most productive third sacker, who hit 30 homers with 59 RBI last year, has 13 dingers and 42 knocks to go with a .305 average.

SS Zack Cozart $5: .316-9-35 with a .946 OPS for five bucks? Seriously?

OF Avisail Garcia $3: .313-11-51 with a couple of steals on a young team without a lot of pressure is helping Garcia realize his potential.

OF Ben Gamel FAAB $101: Gamel spent the first month of the season in Tacoma, making him a FAAB pickup in most leagues. All he has done is return the acquisition by delivering .328-4-28 totals with 42 runs scored.

OF  Aaron Judge $3: .330-30-66 with six swipes? Truly, no one saw this coming.

SP Jason Vargas $1: Wow, a 12-3, 2.63 ERA mark from a $1 hurler. The only issue with Vargas is his whiffs are low at 78 over 104 IP. Honorable mention to Ervin Santana who for $5 has a 10-6, 2.99 mark with 91 strikeouts over 108 frames.

RP Greg Holland $5: Major League Leader in saves (28) to go with 43 whiffs over 33.3 innings with a 1.62 ERA.

If you disagree, let me know @lawrmichaels.

The All Star Break is here which means a few days to chill from stats (if that is possible), ideally some time to spend with the fam (and especially taking the squeeze out for dinner), along with either taking stock of our baseball teams for the grueling second half (or starting to seriously plot one's Fantasy Football teams for the coming drafts).

Well, since we are indeed at some down time, and since Zach is on vacation tomorrow, let's look at the guys I think are the Roto Dogs today, and tomorrow the low-priced gems who are indeed helping push to a pennant for our teams.

Note that for dollar value purposes, I used the Tout Wars auction prices which can be checked here. Obviously, depending upon your league and rules, results could be a lot different, but I used the leagues with experienced players using pretty much standard formats as a barometer. The values listed were from the AL/NL only drafts.

C Jonathan Lucroy $22: After being one of the strongest offensive catchers let alone hitters in the game the last few years (2016 line was .292-24-81), Lucroy going to hitting friendly Texas with a nice gaggle of hitters around him meant the numbers could kick up a little. .255-4-25 is the return in a season when Kurt Suzuki, who was an afterthought in most leagues has seven homers. 

1B Adrian Gonzalez $19: With 11 straight seasons of 18 or more homers to go with 90 or more RBI, AGone has been one of the steadiest producers on the planet for the last decade in Major League Baseball. But this year the bottom didn't so much fall off as it was disintegrated as injuries, and apparently age, have caught up to Gonzalez to the tune of .255-1-23

2B Jonathan Villar $29: .209 with 16 steals and a .279 OBP for a nearly $30-player says it all.

3B Manny Machado $35: Machado's year really isn't so terrible at .224-18-45, though his OBP of .279 is pretty wretched, but from a guy who hit .294-37-96 last year with a .343 OBP, that is a tough regression for $35 dollars worth of salary cap.

SS Brandon Crawford $15: This was tough with Trevor Story ($26) and Dansby Swanson ($15) both delivering, or should we say not delivering anything close to numbers at least desired. Add in I really like Crawford who has improved his hitting so much, giving us back-to-back 84 RBI seasons leading up to this years .221-7-40 line with a paltry .260 OBP. At least that could make him a bargain next year.

OF Alex Gordon $15: Another tough one as I dropped $9 on Tyler Naquin for literally no production, but the fall-off in Gordon has been so severe it is almost disturbing. But, the former All Star has just a .198-5-26 mark thus far making him barely worth a buck in just about any league anywhere.

OF Kyle Schwarber $24: We have all been over this enough, and Schwarber has hit 12 bombs, but with a .170 average. I think the problem is we all assumed he was the can't miss kid and we were right: he misses pitches on a more than regular basis.

OF Byron Buxton $21: The power numbers were what owners were salivating over with 12 hit over 138 big league games leading into this year for the then 22-year old. The conventional wisdom was now a vet, in his third year, Buxton would kick it up a notch. .214-5-16 is what the "notch" replied.

SP Justin Verlander $24: Another Cy Young potential season was thought all around after Verlander's strong 2016, but the results are a sorry 5-5 mark with a 4.96 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and a dozen dingers surrendered over just 98 frames.

RP Sam Dyson $11: 0-4 with four blown saves and a 10.80 ERA was the reward for owners who went the Dyson route. As the Rangers dumped him, probably so did most roto players. And, though Dyson hooked on with the Giants (for whom he has three saves) it is hard to imagine owners picking him back up no matter how stellar Dyson's performance is.

Feel free to argue with me @lawrmichaels.

Last weekend, during a thread where Larry Schechter noted he was happy I turned down an offer of some FAAB $$ for Jesse Hahn (I needed Hahn to cover injured arms), Yahoo's Scott Pianowski noted that the days of the pitchers with the 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP were not only here, but that most of us would be thrilled with this.

The general consensus of the Tweets, however, was that pitching sucks. Surely there is truth to that it seems, but I also had to consider if pitching was worse, or if hitting had gotten better, since that is the logical other side of the equation.

I have been pretty vocal about what, to me, seems to be the lack of strike zone skill empolyed by hitters, for the three true outcomes--homers, whiffs, and walks--seem to be what the game entails and what the next generation of fans like.

But, just in perusing the stats, it did indeed seem to me that OBP was down all over Major League baseball these past few years, so that is why I puzzled at pitching being that much worse than hitting.

So, I went to the Baseball Reference for reassurance, and I was surely surprised by what I found, that OBP this year was its highest since 2010. 

In fact, here are the pitching and hitting numbers since 2010.

Note that numbers below are per nine innings. *=season in progress

Year OBP BB K HR
2017* .324 3.27 8.23 1.26
2016 .322 3.11 8.03 1.16
2015 .317 2.90 7.71 1.01
2014 .314 2.88 7.70 0.86
2013 .318 3.01 7.55 0.96
2012 .319 3.03 7.50 1.02
2011 .321 3.09 7.10 0.94
2010 .325 3.25 7.06 0.95

The corollating pitching numbers, for the season. *=half-season, roughly.

Year WHIP Total BB Total K Total HR
2017*  1.339 7654 19286 2962
2016  1.325 15088 38982 5610
2015  1.294 14073 37446 4909
2014  1.275 14020 37441 4186
2013  1.300 14640 36710 4661
2012  1.309 14709 36426 4552
2011  1.316 15018 34488 4613
2010 1.347  15778 34306 5042

I was indeed surprised by some of these totals. First, over the past 50 years, the Strikeout-Per-Nine total was 4.84, and that number has essentially been moving up since 1951, when the average crossed the "4" line for good, although this was still a decade before expansion.

Second, despite the fact that whiffs have steadily increased, essentially since the beginning of statistical time, homers-per-nine and walks-per-nine still seem to fluctuate.

Next, between 1992 and 2010, the league OBP never dropped below .330, while this season's 1.339 WHIP is lower than any league WHIP from 1992 until 2010.

All of which suggests that in general, both hitting and pitching are not only not worse than they have been, but the combo might actually be a bit better than we anticipated.

Of course, this season is still in progress, as noted, but as we manage our teams, maybe that context of "maybe things are not as bad as we perceive them" is worthy of embracing. 

I certainly am trying to.

Hit me up @lawrmichaels, and play the monthly Fantrax game against me for bragging rights. Sign up here.

It is not much of a secret that I am a big fan of Strat-O-Matic, the delicious sim game created by Hal Richman. Strat, which I began playing in 1977, was indeed the game that whetted my appetite for Fantasy Baseball and all the craziness that has ensued both in my life, and that of the development of Fantasy Sports over the 40 years since.

Similarly, I like to play in tough leagues. Surely AL Tout and LABR are some fairly stiff leagues, and the mixed XFL might be the toughest roto format of all, a league in which I struggle to finish sixth no matter how many years or angles I am willing to sacrifice. My Scoresheet League boasts 24 teams, allowing just eight freezes, and that can be difficult, but my two Strat Leagues are the ones that I love managing.

There is something about playing out the games, for though there are no actual dice the way my leagues play out, there is still an active punching of the enter key to force play, and thought before each "pitch" for me.

Of the two leagues in which I play, one, the MidWest Strat League is a keeper format that allows us to freeze up to 28 players from year-to-year. As the game sims the previous year, there are usage rules so penalties can be invoked for overage and other infractions that cut into freezes, something that can hurt in a league where every at-bat and player is needed.

That contemporary player league is a 30-team configuration where each of us plays in the home park of a Major League team, playing out that team's schedule. For example, I play in ATT Park, so my Berkeley Liberators play the Giants home and road games, accordingly,

It is good fun, and I am more than excited about the prospects for my team next year for it includes surprises like Leury Garcia, Ariel Miranda, Jimmy Nelson and Ervin Santana.

But, nothing is as wild and crazy as my other league, the Summer League of Champions (SLOC) that is comprised of 24 teams, with each rostering 10 players drafted from the Hall of Fame set, and the remaining HOF players go into a player pool of a specific year the league agrees upon. 

This year, our 10-man freezes were augmented by 1961, meaning the likes of Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash and Roger Maris got tossed into the draft pool (remember, Mantle, Mays, et al were in the HOF set, so they were already drafted and not eligible out of the 1961 set).

I have struggled hard in this league over my five years in, trying to figure out how to win when Ralph Kiner is a bench player and Eli Gerba can face and whiff the Pirates great.

There are a couple of things that work out funny in a league with such strange personnel as Elio Chacoan and Bill Dickey sharing roster time, for all 24 teams have similar constructs, and what that means is hitting is largely everything, and no one is really out of it.

For either of my league's games are usually due a certain day of the month, and since Di and I had some airplane time going to New York and back, I played my dozen remaining games in the air coming home from the FSTA.

Playing these games out can be exhilirating, depressing, hypnotizing, and generally a lot of fun, But, the thing about these games is no one is really out of it, and getting those last three outs is indeed so difficult.

At least twice during my 12 contests, which started brightly with a pair of wins, then a pair of losses, then five straight strong and satisfying wins, which led into a brutal sweeping by the Mayberry Bullet, who bested me 5-4, 20-4, and then 13-1 to take any wind out of any sails I might have had.

At least twice during the home series my teams held six-run leads going into the seventh inning, and neither time could they hold it, and that is with Al Hrabosky and the great Webster McDonald topping my bullpen. 

I do see that hitting is everything, but over the years, especially with Strat, pitching always trumps the batters, so I am having a hard time giving up old habits that tell me having Bob Gibson is more important than having Stan Musial. 

But figuring this all out, and in the end being successful with it, is quite a reward when there are 23 other guys trying to do the same, no?

If you don't know Strat, and love the nuance of the game--Strat accounts for stealing and baserunning along with range and arm skills, the ability to hold runners and hit in the clutch, and a myriad of other micro plays within the game. Give it a try. Strat is pretty tough to give up once it's in your blood!

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

As it was June, that meant the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) was holding its annual Summer Convention. Diane and I always attend this soiree--there are now over 600 companies within an industry that generated $7.2 billion last year--for it means a handful of days in New York in addition to seeing so many buds in the industry.

As it was this year, Diane worked as the event photographer while I was drafting in the Experts B-League (which I refer to as "Beleaguered") for the industry has grown such that there are indeed "A" and "B" leagues, and though A gets the hype, B is no easier. Also note, the teams Todd and I have driven over the past four years always make the playoffs, and generally die in the championships. Not this year!

There is a caveat, however, that the winner of B moves "up" to A, and the last place A team is relegated to B. The draft allowed for a standard PPR 16-player roster which includes kicking and defense.

For a look at the results of the drafts, both A and B are hosted by our friends at Real Time Sports. For the archivists, here are my picks and rationale.

And, before you check out the players, for whom the comments will be brief, I did take a different route for me, going hard after Wide Receivers and then Running Backs who can catch before thinking of much of anything else. That meant fading at Quarterback, but that actually worked itself into my larger plan. In a 14-team league, I picked in the 13th slot.

T.Y. Hilton (WR): As long as he stays healthy, Hilton should catch 80-plus to go with 1000 yards and whatever scores follow. That is a start.

Amari Cooper (WR): This was a tough choice between Cooper and Dez Bryant. I went Cooper partially because I love the Raiders and their top pass catcher, and partially because I feared Bryant getting hurt.

Michael Crabtree (WR): Not a homer pick by any means, If I draft in the 13-hole, again there was a long wait for my next pick and Crabtree is not only very good, he is John Taylor to Cooper's Jerry Rice. Well, maybe not quite that good, but it is an analogy, for a good defense cannot double-team both of them and with Derek Carr, they will both get ample looks.

Paul Perkins (RB): In what appears to be an evolving offense, Perkins seems to be growing into the #1 RB slot. The second-year runner averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year along with 15 catches for 162 yards.

Bilal Powell (RB): Powell rushed for 722 yards last season while catching 58 passes for another 388 yards and should continue to be a major offensive cog.

Theo Riddick (RB): A great complement to Powell, Riddick missed six games last year but still ran for 357 yards and caught 53 passes for another 571 yards.

Cameron Meredith (WR): Quietly caught for 888 yards last year on 66 receptions.

Martellus Bennett (TE): Should now be a formidable weapon with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball his way.

Philip Rivers (QB): I focused hard on RB and WR knowing the professional and productive likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Rivers would be around when I needed them. Rivers is such a pro and now he has a bunch of fun new weapons, all very good. Big fun, and a lotta potential points.

Cameron Kupp (WR): #3 pick of the Rams is a speedy selection who should get a lot of chances to strut his stuff on a young, changing offense. Kupp set collegiate Football Subdivision Championship all-time scoring, reception, and yardage records.

Robert Woods (WR): Was a Bill last year, but this year is a handcuff to Kupp where Woods should get a chance to improve upon his 61 catches and 613 yards earned last year.

Tyrod Taylor (QB): Taylor, who can run and throw, has yet to realize his potential, but he will, and I hope this year. He can score with the ball and pass, and as a tie to Rivers, I am good. 

Evan Engram (TE): All-American first-round pick of the Giants should get every chance to succeed. 

Jalen Richard (RB): A perfect foil to big Marshawn Lynch, Richard averaged 5.9 yards a carry, ran one for 75 yards and a score, along with 29 passes caught and should also figure big in the Oakland offense.

Graham Gano (PK): At this point, all kickers are alike. I will stream, pick, and choose.

Jacksonville Jaguars (DEF): Hoped to bag the Steelers (they open against the Browns) but they were sniped, so will stream depending upon the matchup and ideally stumble into something. 

You can hound me @lawrmichaels. Well, not really, but kinda. 

 

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