Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Partner's View of RotoThinkTank's NL Tout Team - Offense

Last night, Mike took an in-depth look at his team.  I thought, for fairness sake, I would try and take my own independent look at his squad and offer my thoughts.  Now, you might say this is unfair, since Mike and I are blog partners.  Well, we can set the record straight on that…blog partners certainly do not agree on everything.  Mike and I could not write the blog without some fundamental agreement on valuation, etc., of course, so to the extent there is a bias, it is here.  There is enough variance in our pricing methods and in the nuances of auction styles, however, that we can usually provide one another with fair and honest feedback. 

The one drawback to this analysis is the lack of a round-by-round list of players.  The pace is quick enough where it is impossible to do in the room, and improbable to do sitting outside in the gallery.  I will try to do this by position then, and see where that takes us.  No set hypothesis or conclusion going in, so, that said, let’s take a look at Mike’s auction, hitters first.

The Catchers

Well, Todd Zola put a charge into NL Tout Wars this year.  Can you remember the last time someone bought four, yes four, catchers?  Miguel Montero ($18), Wilson Ramos ($13), Nick Hundley ($10) and Carlos Ruiz ($9) are all decent buys (really like the Montero and Ramos prices actually, and Hundley and Ruiz are at my par), and put the room at a competitive disadvantage, particularly those owners that did not have a catcher at the time (I believe three of those catchers went in a row).

The McCann price is solid…I have him at $21 on my sheet, though I assume Mike bumped him slightly for Tout.  McCann has earned $19 each of the past two years…consistency means something.  He is also only 28 and there is nothing to suggest any diminished earnings.  Grandal is a John Sickels B+ prospect with good plate discipline.  He struggled a bit with that plate discipline in AAA, but it should continue to improve.  The questions here are two-fold: when does he play and how will he hit in Petco?  The answers are simple: as soon as Hundley gets hurt (which could be by the time I write this) and for not much power.  Solid buys, however…if you are going to dollar out with a catcher, this is a good place to do it, though you lose at-bats, potentially a full season of them.

NOTE: Last evening, Mike traded Brian McCann to Todd Zola for Nick Hundley and Carlos Ruiz.  Excellent trade in my mind given Mike's strategy.  Is either catcher as good as McCann?  No.  Do both catchers together outperform McCann's counting stats?  It is close - taking ZIPS projections, the home runs fall slightly short, the runs batted in are a wash, and the steals are irrelevant.  Where Mike makes out is at-bats and runs.  425-475 extra at-bats produce around 30 extra runs and greater contribution to batting average.  You just hope Hundley hits better than .250.  Good trade, partner!

The Corners

My prices on Rolen and Polanco are partly based on my experiences as a Phillies fan.  The prices on both players need to go out the window anyway.  Rolen and Polanco came up late, and if Mike did not spend his money, he would have walked to the Friday’s bar at Penn Station to buy a beer with it, because there was little other talent to buy at that point.  I think the questions are similar for both.  With Polanco, 2010 looks nice, but is it merely the high point of his regression, or is 2011 the outlier with the injuries?  If Mike gets something in between, he gets 500 at-bats and a profit.  What I do not like about Rolen is the .100 drop in slugging and the big increases in pop-ups, swinging outside the zone, and outside the zone contact.  The increase in contact rate appears to be an increase in poor contact.  Perhaps the drop in fastball performance from 7.5 to -3.5 suggests a slower bat?  It is hard to say, because Rolen saw similar years in 2005 and 2007, years which also saw him injured.  Huff is difficult to assess.  His BABIP fell off career norms, but he posted similar BABIPs, similar averages and similar earnings now in two of the last three years.  Huff’s slugging dropped significantly along with his walk rate, and the strikeout rate spiked.  His LD% plummeted and pitchers got him out with fastballs, not a common occurrence in Huff’s career.  I know he said he was unfocused in 2011, but can we count on a rebound to 2010?  I do not think so, but I think Mike would take 2007 or even a break-even of 2011.  All those things being said, my price on Huff is $11, so I must be counting on the same.

The Middle

This is one area of the auction where Mike and I diverge a bit on prices, specifically with Furcal and Drew.  Now, divergence does not necessarily mean disagreement…I have the luxury of sitting on the outside looking in.  Mike played value, and saw value in these guys as part of a larger strategy.  Drew is the biggest concern.  As you know, he suffered a devastating ankle injury last summer and will open the season on the disabled list.  If he is back by the beginning of May, then this $9 could very well earn a decent profit.  But we are talking in “ifs” here.  With Furcal, the concern is the drop off in speed.  He lost 13 stolen bases, his percentage dropped, and it appears his BABIP and average went with it.  If this is a speed decline, Furcal will have a very difficult time earning $10.  I priced Drew and Furcal further down than these prices for those reasons.  Hudson, of course, I like a lot…I own him in CBS.  Of course, he is hurt already, struggling with a nagging groin injury.  While Hudson’s BABIP and average also dropped this year, his stolen bases and SB% went up.  My gut tells me he just had a bad year though, at 34, he could be in danger of taking a step backward.

Outfielders, Swingmen and Utility

I lumped these three positions together (Tout NL uses a swingman position, which can be used to field a hitter or a pitcher) since Mike took six outfielders total.  I knew before the auction Mike would walk away with Bourn.  Bourn is a hard player not to like in fantasy baseball; he essentially buys you half a category and he is in no danger of losing his job.  The only question with him is whether he hits .260, .280 or .290 or better; his value fluctuates there.  Bay is under-rated, primarily since he has been a dismal failure with the Mets.  Bay isn’t perfect as a fantasy player, but if he repeats last year, he will earn a profit.  Frankly, I think he will be better.  Alonso is unpredictable at this point.  We know he can hit.  Will that translate to power in Petco?  I do not know, but I can see him hitting for a good average with his line drive stroke.  DeJesus, as Mike likes to say, moves the chains.  Unfortunately, his earnings have dropped each of the last three years.  I am not sure if this is a decline, a lack of consistent playing time, or what, but I see DeJesus earning this $9 or better.  Quentin is a concern for me.  I knocked him down a bit because of concerns about his Petco performance.  He has no speed to speak of and hits a ton of fly balls.  He is gifted with great power, but he is moving from a very friendly ballpark to a poor hitter’s park and a poor lineup.  He also does not fit the profile of Mike's team in terms of a BABIP bounce-back candidate, average hitter, etc.  Quentin needs to be healthy so he is a trade candidate.  Harper is a steal at $4.  Mike sacrifices at-bats here, but has a built in guy off the bench in June to fill a dead spot if one arises.  A week ago, before Harper was sent down, he would have gone for double this price or more.  We have to take a wait and see on Harper until he is up and playing, but this is a savvy buy with upside.

Thoughts and Concerns

(a)        At-Bats.  The big concern I see is at-bats at the beginning of the season.  Harper is a dead spot; assume he is out until June.  Drew is out until, at the earliest, the end of April.  Quentin is out until the end of April at the earliest and the middle of May at the latest.  Bay is dinged up a bit, but should be okay for the start of the season.  Hudson is nursing a groin injury and is suddenly a question mark for the beginning of the season.  That is a lot of counting stats missing to start.  Of course, Mike will be quick to point out that these dead spots will not be dead spots; FAAB is made to replace guys like these, if even only in part.  Some at-bats are better than no at-bats, so we must assume these spots will generate something in the way of counting numbers.

(b)        Age and decline.  There is an argument to be made that this team is a BABIP bounce-back team.  I can see the argument; many of these players clearly underperformed in 2011.  The deeper question is this: bounce-back or age/injury-related decline?  If it is the former, then Mike’s team looks solid in terms of at-bats and counting stats, once everyone is healthy, FAAB is done or trades are made.  If it is the latter, Mike is in trouble.

(c)         Points.  Here is where Mike is savvy.  This team is as ugly as a beaten mongrel in a sewer.  It does, however, “move the chains.”  With his pitching staff, Mike needs 30+ points from this offense to compete.  Can it happen?  Well, Mike’s piece on Monday demonstrates the window of opportunity available to him.  If he can pull 30+ points, then his pitching can carry him into contention throughout the season.  If the offense does underperform, then things get dicey quickly.  Keep in mind two other points as well.  One, steals can be found in FAAB, and if someone is out for a time or is severely underperforming, Mike will certainly look to add the steals to the roster.  Two, the other Tout rosters seem to have three or more “holes” on their offense as well, with a couple of exceptions.  No one has the perfect offense, and injuries (as in every season) can wreak havoc on the thinner teams.

This also ties into valuation, which is where Mike is coming from in this auction.  Looking at my prices on players, and looking at the earnings scan, I see Mike's point regarding potential downside.  Is it unreasonable to believe Furcal could earn back in double-digits?  Of course not - his scan has him earning double-digits in limited at-bats.  If Quentin is back at the end of April, can he shatter his $9 bid?  Sure, based on four years of prior earnings.  While my concerns are valid, Mike does not need every player here to bounce back...he does need, however, every player to contribute.

I think Mike did well on offense, after coming out of the gate with two top-tier starters and two closers.  There isn’t a lot of money to spend on your offense when that happens, and Mike did well to find regulars as opposed to back-ups, even if a few of those guys are out for the first few weeks of the season.  Moreover, Mike did stay true to the soul of his pricing theory and, really, our blog in general: he trusted his prices and he bought value based on those prices.  As I have said in the past and continue to say, you take your value where you find it.

Next time, I will take a look at that very sexy pitching playing wing-man to this dog-ugly offense.

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