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Effective Clubs Seek Moderation in Defensive Shifts PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 13 September 2014 00:00

More so than ever in 2014, we have seen Major League Baseball teams deploy defensive shifts. Their hope is to secure more outs by taking advantage of statistical trends of hitters’ batted ball placement via more advantageous fielder positioning, primarily infielders.

For example, in the early part of this season, opposing clubs often stacked the right side of the infield when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams came to the plate. It took awhile before the slugger reacted – by shortening his swing and taking singles to left. Adams learned taking the ball the other way was a more preferable outcome than to try to shoot a ball through three infielders stacked between second base and first.

While we inherently suspect that shifts do help clubs overall, the benefits are now being quantified. Friend, fellow industry participant and fantasy opponent Steve Moyer has access to reams of Major League Baseball data in his role at Inside Edge. On the subject of shifts, Moyer penned an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.

If you have not seen it, please go there now and take it in. I will be here when you return.

Moyer’s data indicates that 26 of the 30 MLB clubs have experienced a net positive in terms of hits saved by deploying shifts this season. Of course, there are some limitations and interpretation is required.

The extremely wide variation in the use of shifts across the game is an item that really caught my attention but was not fully analyzed in Steve’s WSJ article.

Sure, Houston saved the most hits, 44, but they also deployed shifts roughly 50 percent more than any other club. The second-most prolific user, Tampa Bay, was far less successful, tied for 24th in most hits saved. At the other end of the spectrum, the Rockies shift least often - less than one-sixth as frequently as the Astros.

That led me to take Moyer’s data one step further and measure the efficiency of shifting by team. It is the simple division of net hits saved by number of shifts deployed.

Team Times shifted Rank
Net hits saved Rank
Efficiency Rank
Giants 494 17
25 2
5.1% 1
Tigers 294 T27
13 T15
4.4% 2
Nationals 258 29
11 T18
4.3% 3
Dodgers 296 26
10 T21
3.4% 4
White Sox 683 10
22 T3
3.2% 5
Padres 342 22
11 T18
3.2% 6
Mariners 633 13
20 T6
3.2% 7
Phillies 321 24
10 T21
3.1% 8
Athletics 646 11
20 T6
3.1% 9
Royals 695 8
21 5
3.0% 10
Braves 370 20
11 T18
3.0% 11
Astros 1562 1
44 1
2.8% 12
Twins 533 15
15 13
2.8% 13
Brewers 634 12
17 T8
2.7% 14
Cubs 462 18
12 17
2.6% 15
Red Sox 620 14
16 T11
2.6% 16
Angels 507 16
13 T15
2.6% 17
Indians 707 7
17 T8
2.4% 18
Blue Jays 946 4
22 T3
2.3% 19
Cardinals 424 19
9 23
2.1% 20
Orioles 825 6
17 T8
2.1% 21
Rangers 686 9
14 14
2.0% 22
Yankees 950 3
16 T11
1.7% 23
Diamondbacks 352 21
5 24
1.4% 24
Mets 294 T27
4 T25
1.4% 25
Rays 1028 2
4 T25
0.4% 26
Pirates 826 5
-2 28
-0.2% 27
Rockies 248 30
-1 27
-0.4% 28
Reds 337 23
-3 T29
-0.9% 29
Marlins 309 25
-3 T29
-1.0% 30

Data source: Inside Edge; Note: Data through September 8, 2014.

In terms of shifting efficiency, Houston drops to 12th with San Francisco, Detroit and Washington jumping up to the top three spots in MLB.

Note that none of the three are in the top half of shifts attempted. Further, the Tigers and Nationals are only in the middle of the pack in terms of net hits saved.

In other words, these teams seem to pick their spots particularly well.

Another interesting item is that if the regular season ended today, all three would be playoff clubs, as is the fourth-most efficient club, the Dodgers.

One should not assume these results are linear, however. Specifically, these teams’ efficiency may drop if they deployed shifts more frequently. After all, one would think their comfort level in shifting is reflected by their current level using them.

Anyway, I found it interesting that there seems to be no correlation between frequency and results. Well, in reality, one could argue a negative relationship. In fact, five of the top 10 shifters are among the bottom 10 in efficiency, with two others right on the edge of joining the bottom third in effectiveness.

It seems the moral of the shift story for 2014, like so many things in life, is that moderation may be the best policy.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 September 2014 08:59
 
Many Trade Deadline Deals Did Not Provide Benefit PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 06 September 2014 00:00

That loud “thud” sound you may have heard was the impact of the 2014 non-waiver trade deadline on single-league fantasy baseball formats. Jumping to the conclusion, once again it seems that saving one’s money to receive the final two-month benefit of big names traded into the league hardly assures a payoff.

Of course, it goes without saying that there is inherently more risk in spending earlier on less-proven commodities, but they typically cost less, too. Therefore, you can spread your bets over multiple players over time.

Then again, this year’s big trade names carried their own risks, very heavy ones. Let’s take a look at all the non-waiver deadline acquisitions over $20 by league, using AL and NL Tout Wars as our guide.

(To put the dollar values into context, each Tout Wars owner works from a $100 FAAB base for the season with adjustments downward for a poor finish the year before and upward on reclaims for injured players.)

I judge only half of the AL incoming trades being worthwhile for fantasy owners while four of seven in the NL look ok heading into the final month.

American League – three booms, three busts

Jeff Samardzija, Oak $77 - boom
Jason Hammel, Oak $51 - bust
Allen Craig, Bos $51 - bust
Chase Headley, NYY $39 - bust
Martin Prado, NYY $36 - boom
Huston Street, LAA $36 - boom

While Samardzija’s Oakland ERA is three-quarters of a run higher than in Chicago, his 3.57 mark as an Athletic would be his best in three years as a major league starter. His past and present teammate Hammel is at the other end of the spectrum. He has struggled so badly since the trade (2-5, 4.98 ERA) that he was skipped in the rotation recently, though he has since started to show some sign of life.

It was difficult to fathom that Allen Craig could actually be worse at the plate in Boston than in St. Louis, but that is what is happening. So much for a contract push by Chase Headley. Since his move to New York, the third baseman has improved over his dreadful start with San Diego, but as a Yankee, he is still below his career norms.

Headley’s new New York teammate, Martin Prado, is on his career average and hitting with increased power, a nice addition. Huston Street has been nothing short of fantastic since joining the Angels. The closer is 11-for-11 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run. It is no coincidence that the Angels have surged since Street took over the ninth inning.

National League – four booms, three busts

Asdrubal Cabrera, Was $53 - boom
John Lackey, StL $53 - bust
Justin Masterson, StL $52 - bust
Jake Peavy, SF $42 – boom
A.J. Pierzynski, StL $39 - bust
Yangervis Solarte, SD $34 - boom
Jarred Cosart, Mia $30 - boom

Hard to believe, but Cabrera was the top offensive player to join the Senior Circuit this summer. Since the move from Cleveland, the shortstop has logged a slightly below average batting average, but greater power, with 11 of his 25 Nats hits going for extra bases for a clear first-place club.

It may be harsh to label Lackey a bust. Then again, the veteran has just two wins in seven NL starts and an ERA over 4.00. On the other hand, Lackey is eating innings and generally keeping his contending team in games. But so did the man he replaced, Joe Kelly, who is making a fraction of the amount Lackey is paid. One cannot find anything positive to say about Lackey’s new teammate Masterson, who has been so dreadful that he has been banished to the bullpen, from where he is unlikely to be seen the rest of the way except in blowouts.

An ex-Boston battery is next. On the left coast, Jake Peavy has lost four of seven starts with the Giants, but a 2.66 ERA indicates his hit-and-miss offense is primarily to blame. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was a fill-in for Yadier Molina in St. Louis and did about what was expected. On the other hand, Molina is now back and A.J. may rarely play in September. 19 starts to date is about all $39 is likely to deliver.

Yangervis Solarte went the other way in the Headley deal and the third sacker has performed about as well in San Diego as he did in his surprising New York debut. Solarte has been superior to his more highly-compensated trade partner in their respective new venues.

We end with one of the most delightful stories of the 2014 deadline. Jarred Cosart has cut his walks in half, going 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA since joining the Marlins while helping to keep Miami’s faint wild card hopes alive.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 22:28
 
Big Trades Not Having Desired Impact on AL Contenders PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 00:00

A wise baseball man once suggested that sometimes the best trades are the ones never made.

If you are in the front office of the Detroit Tigers or Oakland A’s, off the record you might reluctantly agree.

In a relatively quiet year for mid-season trading, these two American League clubs were perceived to be the big winners. However, the standings beg to differ.

On August 3, the Tigers landed former Cy Young Award winner David Price from Tampa Bay. Many analysts felt the cost was far too cheap for one and a half seasons of one of baseball’s most elite hurlers.

As I write this on the 27th, Price set a new record, but it was not a good one. Against the New York Yankees, he allowed nine consecutive hits, a new low-water mark for any Cy Young winner in the history of the game. Price was pulled after yielding eight runs in two innings.

Price had been very good in his four initial starts wearing the Detroit uniform. Despite a 1-1 record, his ERA was 2.35. Yet his new team seemed to be crumbling around him from almost the moment he arrived.

In all fairness, correlation does not equal causation. Still, since the trade, the Tigers are 10-13, having lost 7½ games in the standings and yielding first place to the Kansas City Royals. How is that for a difference-maker?

On the West Coast, resident genius Billy Beane acquired three starting pitchers for his Oakland A’s. He gave up plenty in return, including arguably his best hitter in Yoenis Cespedes and his best prospect in Addison Russell.

Russell helped fetch Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 5 while the primary return for Cespedes on the July 31 non-waiver deadline was three-time AL All-Star Jon Lester, a former 19-game winner and owner of a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox.

The Oakland story is similar to Detroit. Two of the three new pitchers have been fine, but their team has tanked.

Lester is 3-1, 2.50 in five starts with the A’s. Samardzija is pitching around his career average at 4-3, 3.86 in ten appearances in his new club’s rotation.

Hammel’s apparent deal with the devil may not have been transferable from Chicago. With the Cubs, the right-hander was 8-5, 2.98 and on his way to a career-best season at age 31. On the other hand, his Oakland experience has been a disaster. Hammel is 1-5 with a 5.77 ERA in eight starts and was temporarily removed from the rotation.

Worse has been their team results. On July 5, Oakland was in first place by 3 ½ games and sat 19 games over .500. On the 31st, they were 25 games over .500 with a 2 ½ game divisional edge.

This month, with their shiny newly-reconfigured staff, the A’s are just 11-13. More importantly, they have lost their lead in the American League West standings to the resurgent Los Angeles Angels.

There is still a month for these pitchers to more fully adjust to their new surroundings and perhaps, for their new teammates to adjust to their altered roster.

Then again, no matter what happens, I cannot help but wonder how the AL landscape would have looked had both Detroit and Oakland simply stood pat.

Sure, it is generally far more laudable to do something rather than create the appearance of doing nothing, but the standings don’t lie.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 09:21
 
Did They Have to Cheat to Prosper? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 23 August 2014 00:00

Despite it being front and center in Major League Baseball headlines just 12 months ago, I can only remember the identities of three of the Biogenesis 13. Still-suspended Alex Rodriguez is a no-brainer, but don’t worry – this is not another A-Rod-themed article!

Can you come up with two other names, not counting Ryan Braun, who had already been slapped down?

As I write this, the other two headliners are leading off “MLB Tonight,” but for entirely good reasons.

Baltimore outfielder Nelson Cruz launched a home run deep to left field, helping his first-place club to a convincing road win over the White Sox. It was his 32nd blast of the season, then tops in the American League.

250 miles away in St. Louis, shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s line drive to left field brought home Matt Holliday for a Cardinals walkoff win over the Cincinnati Reds in extra innings. It was his second RBI of the night and 55th in 2014, just five off the team lead. Though Peralta’s home run total is just half of Cruz’s, his 16 long balls still lead the light-hitting Cardinals by four. With six weeks to play, he already owns the team’s all-time single season record for homers by a shortstop.

In addition to their 50-game suspensions served to close the 2013 regular season, Cruz and Peralta had another shared experience. They were both free agents this past off-season, though their paths taken were very different.

It started with Cruz turning down a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million for 2014 from his prior club. Peralta was let go with no compensatory strings attached.

Not wanted back in Detroit amid whispers his effectiveness at shortstop was nearing its end, Peralta was still the premier free agent at a very important skill position. Looking to break their pattern of seven starting shortstops in the seven prior seasons, the Cardinals quickly made a $53 million commitment to sign the 32-year-old. The four-year deal was announced just before Thanksgiving.

Amid considerable criticism for signing a player coming off suspension to such a lucrative contract, John Mozeliak begged to differ. The Cardinals general manager said his team was acting within the rules to improve and asserted it was not their role to serve as “morality police.”

While there were rumblings from some quarters to increase suspension penalties by legislating some kind of contract restriction in years and/or dollars to recently-suspended players, nothing visible has yet come from it.

As quickly as Peralta found a home last winter, Cruz’s experience was just the opposite.

As Cruz left the Texas Rangers, it was thought he might score as much as four years and $65 million on the open market. Though rumors suggested interest from the Seattle Mariners, among other clubs, the outfielder turned out to be about as popular as the Maytag repairman.

By mid-season, it was a very different story. In fact, the 34-year-old was the starting designated hitter for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Who would have guessed that result when Cruz was still jobless as players were reporting to spring training?

Having to accept a one-year, $8 million contract with $750,000 in incentives was a major defeat for Cruz, but for the Orioles, it may be the single best bang-for-the-buck signing in the entire game this year.

Based on his results in 2014, it will likely turn out to be a one step backward, two steps forward maneuver for Cruz.

If Cruz makes it back onto the open market this winter, Biogenesis will be further in our collective rearview mirror.

It stands to reason that his performance in 2014 should enable him to follow Peralta with a longer-term deal - but without the same criticism, given he now has one strong post-suspension season under his belt.

Last off-season, could anyone have assumed that Peralta and Cruz would have a combined 49 home runs by mid-August this year?

Makes you wonder why they ever bothered to fool around with Anthony Bosch, doesn’t it?

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 22:23
 
Informal Rules Can be Confusing in Fantasy, too PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 00:00

With more and more of our baseball time taken up in preparation for the upcoming NFL season, some of the differences between the unwritten rules between the two sports have been recently brought into the forefront of my thinking.

I am not talking about such “rules” in the real sports – moves viewed with universal disdain that virtually no one would defend them. For example, in football, going for a two-point conversion when already up by 40 points in the fourth quarter or calling for a double-steal when up by nine runs in the ninth inning. Tony La Russa was fond of calling it “respecting the game.”

In the fantasy world, those problems do not exist – nor do the avenues of direct retaliation – such as a fastball drilled into the hip of the first batter of the next inning. That was also a common La Russa team reaction.

Some of these unwritten rules in our games are less clear and can be most perplexing.

Here as we reach mid-August, with 4 ½ of the six-month MLB schedule complete, we can pretty clearly see which teams in our fantasy leagues have a realistic title shot and which do not.

In keeper baseball leagues, many owners of non-competitive teams in 2014 made this assessment long ago and executed trades more with the future than the present in mind. Assuming the deals are fair, they are rarely controversial, as the ebbs and flows over time are understood and generally accepted.

However, in any league, owners are expected to compete until the end – or are they?

In National League Tout Wars, a prominent industry league, penalties were enacted to incent owners to fight through game 162. Finishing below a pre-defined point threshold leads to an owner being taxed one dollar of FAAB the next season for each point below the line.

In an industry keeper league, the Xperts Fantasy League, or XFL, the next season’s draft used to be in the inverse order of the prior year’s standings. That actually led to certain teams trying to lose points late in the season to improve their draft position – sort of like when NBA teams are accused of tanking to help their lottery chances. Certain owners were benching starters, keeping injured players active and the like in a legal, but ethically questionable attempt to alter fate.

As a result, the XFL rules in this area had to be flipped to almost the opposite of the prior implementation. The following year draft order was changed to 2, 3, 4, etc, 14, 15, 1. In other words, only the league winner was disadvantaged the next season and in the process, there became a clear reason to want to finish second instead of third, for example.

But here comes some of that inconsistency. In FAAB leagues, I have experienced some team owners in contention expressing concern about teams out of the hunt continuing to aggressively bid on players as the season nears its end.

I guess they feel it is more chivalrous for the losers to step aside for the winners. I don’t buy it.

I am in the also-ran group in NL Tout this year, with considerable money remaining. I will continue to compete to the best of my ability, whether in first or 11th place. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why any reasonable person would expect otherwise, but they are out there.

Fantasy football can be just the opposite.

Because of the head-to-head nature of the pigskin game and the relatively limited number of matchups each season, teams that quit trying are invariably attacked violently by their peers.

After all, if I had to play the eventual weak sisters early in the season when they were still interested in their teams, but my main competitors did not draw the quitters until later in the year, I would be upset. Picking up an easy late-season win over a team with a blank roster or a crew of injured players active could decide the title.

So, fantasy football’s unwritten rule is to “compete to the end,” while the answer in some corners of the fantasy baseball world is “maybe not.” That is not the case where I play, however.


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 August 2014 07:55
 
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