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Saturday 28th May 2016

Friends and industry colleagues come together each October for the annual Xperts Fantasy League (or XFL) draft. The 40-man roster league offers the ultimate challenge – an auction draft before MLB free agents have even hit the open market, conducted with no supporting materials allowed.

Each team is granted up to 15 keepers, in any combination of established players and prospects. Salaries of players initially acquired as minor leaguers escalate annually at $3 per year instead of the regular $5.

One of the unusual dynamics of this 15-team league is that it does not take long after each season gets underway to ascertain whether or not one has a competitive roster.

As the league is currently conducting its annual free-for-all, er…discussion about potential rules changes, several vocal league owners aired criticisms over the rash of what they consider to be “dump trades” too early in the season.

In 2014, a number of teams made deals in which they sent established players to contending owners in return for younger, cheaper talent. These trades began in earnest by late May, less than two months into the season.

Owner complaints seemed focused on the supposed increased stratification of the standings, making the league less competitive from top to bottom, coupled with a desire by some to implement various penalties on rebuilding teams that “dump.”

Oddly, some of my peers seem to forget that it takes two to trade. The few proposals raised that might penalize contending teams for gobbling up the best players from the dumpers were initially met with general disinterest. They are along the theme of lower cap values in-season or for keepers during the off-season.

Though the results of the league vote have yet to be finalized, a number of others, including me, came down in opposition to making changes in this area.

Having become a dumper for the first time in my decade in the XFL this season, I admit my wounds are fresher than most.

Consider my story.

My team was an annual contender, among the top six of the league from 2008-11, but has slid every year since. One key reason was that my core +$3 pitching, Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander specifically, were getting into the $20s. Same with my hitting base, led by David Wright.

Over my first 10 years in the league, I had consistently resisted dumping, competing in every monthly draft and fielding the best lineups I could each week. Still, I was losing headway in recent seasons, dropping all the way to 14th place (of 15) in 2013. In the interim, I had tried trading prospects for more established players to cushion my fall, but it did not alter the trajectory.

I drafted last October to the best of my ability, but it was clear almost from the start of the 2014 season that I was destined to finish at or near the bottom of the pack once again.

As a result, I made a big decision – not to dump - but to execute a very specific plan – to replace my expensive core starters with a new generation of +3 aces. I targeted several young, low-cost, front-line players out for 2014 with Tommy John surgery – a procedure from which there is a high recovery rate.

Having to trade quality to get quality, I gave up Wainwright among others to acquire two inexpensive +$3 Tommy John hurlers – Matt Moore and Matt Harvey. I tried to get rid of Verlander and Wright, too, but it became clear I waited a year too long to make those divestitures. I also added several top prospect hitters close to the bigs like Addison Russell and Miguel Sano, the latter also a TJS acquisition target. Russell, injured in spring training, spent the first two months of the season on the DL.

The particular players that met the profile of what I wanted – top talent with a low +$3 salary and depressed value this year due to injury, but a much higher ceiling down the road – were few and far between. I needed to act quickly to get the specific guys I wanted for 2015 before they were potentially traded to someone else.

I don’t think I swung the 2014 balance of power in the league with my deals. Of the teams I executed major trades with this season, there was a representative cross-section. One finished a distant second, another came in sixth and the third ended up in ninth.

Obviously, I would not have been able to make these deals had not these other owners also been anxious to trade. Anyone who has ever been in an industry league knows how trade-resistant that population is by definition.

Before making the swaps, my 2014 season was already in the tank. I am pretty sure I was going to be among those near the cellar either way. Having said that, I am not proud to have finished firmly in last. I continued to participate in every monthly free agent draft, but by August, it was clear I could not escape - this year, at least.

As a result, I traded my #1 spot in the August draft for better position in next April’s supplemental draft, receiving an extra third-rounder. This transaction also elicited some peer criticism after the fact. That surprised me. I saw the 2015 pick carrying far more value than acquiring than a +$5 August free agent added to my last-place team for eight weeks before being released.

Earlier, I had included my June #1 pick as part of the deal for Russell, also giving up Asdrubal Cabrera, while receiving a fourth-rounder next April.

I am not embarrassed in the least about any of these moves and feel I was still competing in the most advantageous manner for my team’s future. I would do every one of the deals again.

Yet, I did not make my rebuilding decision lightly and hope I am not going to have to resort to these kinds of drastic moves again anytime soon.

I cannot see why some in the league would want to penalize me for trying to break out of a losing spiral in a logical and well-thought out manner. Being in the unenviable position of looking up at 14 very competitive teams is enough of a deterrent.

The messages for you?

First, this is the time of the year to discuss rules changes in your leagues – while the topic is still fresh in your minds. Sure, everyone is already focused on football, but if you wait until spring, many of the good potential fixes will be forgotten – only to be re-discovered the hard way next season.

Second, resist the temptation to rush to solutions. When ideas are suggested, make sure you challenge your mates to clearly articulate what perceived problem they are trying to fix. Too often, one potential change opens the door for two possible new issues.

It is always best to agree on the original problem statement before throwing around ways to address it. This is far easier said than done, but if you can enforce this kind of discipline, you may be able to avoid the frustrating free-for-alls that we have all faced.

Finally, when you know in your heart that you have to make a tough move, such as my decision to blow up my XFL keeper team, step up and do it. It was Baseball Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey who once said, “It is better to make a trade a year too early than a year too late.” I had to re-learn that valuable lesson this season.

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.

Long before his face was smashed by an errant pitch from Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers on September 11, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was the source of intense interest across Major League Baseball.

The realities of baseball’s economic structure likely make the Miami Marlins a short-term home for the best young hitter in the National League. Though the men who run the Fish say they are going to try to keep Stanton for the long-term as the cornerstone of their franchise, the likelihood of a Jeffrey Loria-owned team anteing up the tens of millions it is going to take seems a low-odds bet, indeed. stanton

I run a St. Louis Cardinals-focused message board and hopes and dreams, mostly the latter, about the club acquiring Stanton have been posted and re-posted for months. I bet most every contending club in Major League Baseball has a segment of its fan base drooling all over themselves thinking about the possibility of their team being the one to land the 24-year-old in a trade.

It is certainly not crazy. After all, not many months ago, we could have substituted “pitcher David Price of Tampa Bay” with “outfielder Giancarlo Stanton of Miami” and most of the rest of the words would fit like a glove.

Many believe that the Rays asked too much for too long in return for the former Cy Young Award winner and ended up receiving much less than one dollar in return for each dollar of Price’s real value.

For that reason, some think the Marlins will trade Stanton this winter, as soon as they make a failed attempt to re-sign him to an extension.

One reason Cardinals fans may crave such a deal – other than the immediacy of a life-saving transfusion for an anemic offense – is that they remember the club swiping shortstop Edgar Renteria from Miami at the start of the prior decade.

Most trade ideas are unrealistic, either too weak, unloading a quantity of underachievers for the one player, or too strong, giving up too many of a good club’s best young players for the services of one man.

However, the Cards have nothing on Price’s new home, the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins in December 2007. Since then, Cabrera became baseball’s best player, adding two American League Most Valuable Player Awards to his trophy case.

The Marlins, then called the Florida Marlins, also unloaded a declining (at age 25) Dontrelle Willis in the cost-cutting deal. They added six players in return. Problem is that none of them have been much as major leaguers. One did not make it at all.

For the record, they are Dallas Trahern (minors only), Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo.

What does this have to do with Stanton, you ask? Well, interestingly enough, when Cabrera was dealt away, he was the same age as Stanton today, 24, and with roughly the same level of Major League experience.

No one knows if there are seven 100-RBI seasons and a pair of MVP awards ahead for Stanton, but there is no reason to believe he cannot become that good for that long.

The review of the Cabrera trade should serve as a good reminder that prospects are never a sure thing. I am on the road now so I don’t have my 2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook with me, but I bet a good number of the six players moving to Miami in the trade were considered strong potential major league talents at the time.

So no matter how the Stanton deal goes down, if it goes down at all, like any other trade, it will take at least three to five years to properly evaluate.

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.

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.

This past week, rookie National League hurlers Jacob deGrom and Anthony DeSclafani were again in the news, though for much different reasons.

On Monday, deGrom tied the Major League Baseball record with eight consecutive strikeouts at the start of the New York Mets’ game against the Miami Marlins. Ironically, it was the opposing pitcher who broke the streak.

DeSclafani was not deGrom’s starting pitching counterpart for the Fish that evening. The right-hander is appealing a three-game suspension for intentionally hitting Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez after an official warning was in effect.

To an extent, one can see why DeSclafani did what he did.

After all, it was the same contest in which an errant offering from Brewers hurler Mike Fiers caused serious facial injuries to Giancarlo Stanton, who left the ballpark in an ambulance. Not only that, but Fiers struck the following batter, Reed Johnson, with his very next pitch, yet remained in the game.

Sadly, the retaliation/suspension may be the highlight of DeSclafani’s unremarkable rookie season, while deGrom is considered one of the two front-runners for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, along with Cincinnati centerfielder Billy Hamilton.

You might be wondering why I used the word “again” in my opening sentence.

Their unusual last names have forever tied the two pitchers together in my mind. It began the week of May 14 when the two were called up to the bigs almost simultaneously.

DeSclafani, the beneficiary of the season-ending elbow injury suffered by star Jose Fernandez, was promoted from Triple-A New Orleans to make his MLB debut on May 15. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just two runs in six innings while earning a win at all places, Dodger Stadium. If he can win there, he can win anywhere, right?

That same night, deGrom made his first major league start, summoned to the Mets to step in for the injured Dillon Gee. At home against the Yankees and in front of a national audience, deGrom impressed, allowing just one run in seven innings. Yet with no run support, he took the hard-luck loss.

After that pair of personally successful first outings, the two were part of the National League Tout Wars talent pool for that Sunday night’s bidding.

The DeSclafani-Fernandez connection was most ironic, as the latter was the best single FAAB addition in NL Tout in 2013. His injury replacement was positioned to potentially accomplish the same in May 2014, with 4 ½ months of play still ahead.

Bidding was spirited, but semi-cautious for both players. I remember this all too well, as I acquired neither. They both sold for the exact same amount, $14, with the Met going to Phil Hertz and the Marlin to Lenny Melnick on May 19.

That is probably the last time the two pitchers were mentioned together until now.

DeSclafani was slapped around by the Phillies in his second start and was returned to Triple-A for the first of three demotions this season. Melnick had enough and dropped his $14 acquisition.

Back in June for three starts, Anthony yielded a symmetric, yet ugly and unlucky, 13 runs in 13 innings. Gene McCaffrey apparently saw something to like, adding DeSclafani for a buck just in time to absorb a two-run-in-three-inning start that was actually his best of a bad June. Two weeks later, the Marlin was back on the waiver wire.

When brought back to the bigs for a third time briefly in August and again with expanded rosters in September, DeSclafani was sent to the bullpen, where his fantasy value is zilch.

On the other hand, deGrom took off like the promise of a top prospect might suggest. The 26-year-old right-hander has made 21 starts and has compiled a stellar 2.68 ERA to go with 134 strikeouts in 134 1/3 frames. He has just eight wins in part due to the Mets' anemic offense.

deGrom has helped Hertz hold the NL Tout season lead in both ERA and WHIP while Melnick is dead last in both categories. (In the spirit of openness, both are ahead of me in the overall league standings.)

Certainly how the two chose to spend their respective $14 on May 19 is not the only reason they are where they are. Yet it serves as a great reminder to use whatever FAAB it takes early on to get difference-makers - but keep expectations in check. Understand for every deGrom, there is bound to be a DeSclafani or two or three.

At least these two owners were trying. Coming in second in FAAB bidding, or even worse, not bidding at all, leads to nothing other than the kind of regret that leads to articles like this instead of celebrating winning titles. The former is something I want to avoid in 2015 so there can be more of the latter.

Please join me! 

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.

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.

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