Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mailbag, July 5th, 2007

Fantasy Fandom, July 5th, 2007
Contributed By: Ray Flowers of BaseballGuys.com


FANTASY MAILBAG

Quick question. If you had to make the call on the following deal, which side would you rather be on? Andrew Jones or Michael Cuddyer?
-- Shawn, Seattle

Who would have thought four months ago that this would be a valid question? Andruw Jones has been horrible almost from day 1 producing arguably the worst overall numbers of his career. Jones, hitting .201-14-48-38-3, has a massive 87 Ks in 83 games with a .176 average in day games and an identical .176 mark since May 1st, a span of 58 games. This is no longer a slump, it’s way beyond that. Jones owns career average of .263 but his unseemly .201 mark is simply atrocious. Though Jones is still on pace for 25+ HRs and 90+ RBIs, he averaged 46 HRs and 129 RBIs the past two seasons so his owners might be close to pulling back on a bottle of vodka to dull the pain. Less HRs, RBIs, runs scored (he is on pace for his worst total since 1997) and that average mark him as the modern day Rob Deer. How scary is that?

Michael Cuddyer on the other hand is enjoying a strong season (.280-9-51-55-3). Hitting 4th in the Twins lineup, Cuddyer is on pace for a second straight 100 RBI, 100 run season, something, shockingly, Jones hasn’t done sine 2000-01. Cuddyer currently has more runs (17), hits (22), RBIs (3) with a higher average (.079 points), OBP (.067 points), SLG% (.048 points) and OPS (.116) than Jones though amazingly Jones still holds the advantage in HRs (14 to 9). Regardless, Cuddyer has been the more consistent and overall stronger performer, so if it was me, I would prefer Cuddyer at this point since 83 games with a .201 average just scares the hell out of me.


I have Ken Griffey, Carlos Lee, Carl Crawford, and Corey Hart as my OFs and Rafael Furcal as my shortstop. I was offered a trade of J.J. Hardy for Crawford. My gut reaction is to say no, hoping that Furcal will actually start playing better. Should I try and get more for Crawford?
-- Jeff, Mesquite, TX.

You should absolutely ask for much, much more for Carl Crawford than J.J. Hardy no matter how strong your OF is. Crawford (.286-6-51-44-21) is a top-10 talent despite a less than superb first half. Still, he is on pace for a career-high in RBI (previously 81), and he should still steal 40+ bases by the time the season is complete. Those SBs are just too hard to give away when you consider the fact that unlike some other speedsters, Crawford contributes in other categories. Crawford has been cold at the plate of late but as recently as June 24th he was hitting .303, so don’t make the mistake of just looking at his overall batting average and being disappointed.

I have written about Hardy a couple of times this year, and just as common sense had predicted, he has slowed dramatically despite great overall numbers (.283-18-52-48-0). In another case of ‘don’t be fooled by overall numbers’, Hardy has only 3 HRs in his last 29 games and even worse just 6 RBIs in his last 23 outings. He is also hitting only just .233 over his last 23 games, so even though his overall numbers are tremendous, he hasn’t been worthy of starting for over a month. Hardy will be lucky to be a top-10 SS the rest of the way whereas Crawford could easily be a top-10 overall performer. Add to that the fact that Rafael Furcal has been slightly more valuable than Hardy since June 1st (.244-2-13-17-4) and that he, unlike Hardy, has been an all-star caliber talent for years, and you are better off going with Furcal at SS anyway. Go with your gut and pass on this offer.

SABERMETRIC ALLEY
Truth be told, there are quite a few metrics that may not be classified as “new” but might be new to the general reader. The reason for this is basically we only know that which we are exposed to. Each week we will look at one metric or idea that can be added to your “toolbox” of knowledge to help you capture your leagues championship crown through a simple explanation of what it measures.

COMPENENT ERA - DIFFERENCE
Last week we discussed Component ERA or ERC (see: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/fantasy/06/29/fantasy.fandom/1.html). This week, we will build upon that discussion by talking about a concept that plays directly off the idea of ERC, and that is ERC Difference.

Just what is ERC Difference? Simply put it is the difference between the actual ERA and the ERC of a pitcher. By measuring the difference, we can find out which pitchers may be pitching “lucky” and which pitchers may have had poor luck thus far (of course there are many factors involved here, but for space reasons, let’s just go with the supposition that this statement is true). The pitchers who have been “lucky” could very easily see a correction in their ERA in the second half with the resulting number being higher. Conversely, those pitching in “poor luck” right now could see their ERA’s move down in the second half of the season.

There are 92 MLB pitchers who have thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (1 IP per game, or 162 for a full season). These are the pitchers that we will review here. So let’s jump right in.

Chris Young has an ERA of 2.00, tied with Brad Penny for the best mark in baseball. Young’s ERC mark happens to be 2.08. That means that Young currently has an ERA that is 0.08 better than what ERC estimates that number should be. Here is the obvious equation that we are using:

ERC DIFFERENCE = ERA - ERC

Another way to say this would be to say that Young has been slightly “lucky” this season (.08 worth). So, any pitcher who has an ERA that is below his ERC mark could be considered a bit lucky. Here are those pitchers who have experienced the most “luck” according to ERC Difference through July 4th, and are candidates to see their ERA’s rise in the second half if their “luck” runs out.

ERA ERC DIFF.
Doug Davis 4.29 5.99 -1.70
Mike Maroth 5.08 6.36 -1.28
Zach Duke 5.79 6.94 -1.15
Livan Hernandez 4.54 5.55 -1.01
Chuck James 3.96 4.93 -.97
Scott Kazmir 4.28 5.09 -.81
Miguel Batista 4.63 5.31 -.68
Chad Gaudin 2.92 3.57 -.65
Matt Morris 3.25 3.86 -.61
David Wells 4.16 4.77 -.61

A quick look at this list should make you very nervous if these are names that are currently on your roster. Three of the pitchers might surprise you considering the fact that they all have ERA’s below 4.00 (Chuck James, Chad Gaudin and Matt Morris). The others, besides Scott Kazmir, are all borderline control type pitchers who you would have to figure might see some peaks and valleys over the course of a season.

However, this isn’t the end of the discussion. If you want to make ERC Difference even more relevant, it would be beneficial to place it in context. What do I mean by that? Well, even if Gaudin sees his ERA total even out in the second half and it approaches his current ERC mark of 3.57, his ERA would still be just 3.57 or 1.20 runs below the number the ERC mark of David Wells (4.77). However, wouldn’t you still rather have Gaudin in this scenario even if his ERA could adjust by a larger margin than Wells the rest of the way (-.65 compared to -.61) since Gaudin’s ERA will still be much lower than Wells’ mark if things hold? Let me illustrate with a clear example.

PITCHER A has a 1.00 ERA and improves by 10% to .90
PITCHER B has a 10.00 ERA and improves 10% to 9.00

PITCHER B improved by one full run whereas PITCHER A improved by only .10 a run making it appear like PITCHER B improved more. In reality, they both improved by the same 10% mark, it’s just that PITCHER B was so bad to start with that his 10% improvement seems greater without putting it in context. Therefore, we need to place the ERC Difference in context, and in order to do that we simple divide a pitcher’s ERA by his ERC mark.

David Wells = ERA/ ERC
= 4.16/4.77
ERC Difference = 0.87

Wells ERA is actually 13% lower than it should be signaling that a possible rise is in the cards if things “even out” (.87-1.00 = .-13 or 13% below average).

Simply put, if a pitcher has the exact ERA that he should according to ERC his adjusted ERC Difference mark, or ERC+, would be 1.00 (4.16/4.16 as an example). An ERC+ under 1.00 is poor meaning that the pitchers ERA could rise, while an ERC+ above 1.00 is good meaning that his ERA could go down if all other factors remain constant. Here are the pitchers who have been the luckiest so far and are solid bets to see their actual ERA’s rise in the second half.

ERA ERC ERC+
Doug Davis 4.29 5.99 .72
Mike Maroth 5.08 6.36 .80
Chuck James 3.96 4.93 .80
Chad Gaudin 2.92 3.57 .82
Livan Hernandez 4.54 5.55 .82
Brad Penny 2.00 2.41 .83
Zach Duke 5.79 6.94 .83
Scott Kazmir 4.28 5.09 .84
Matt Morris 3.25 3.86 .84
Gil Meche 3.26 3.78 .86

So what this chart shows us is that Livan Hernandez’s actual ERA is 18% lower than it should be according to ERC (.82-1.00 = 0.18) whereas Gaudin’s is also 18% lower despite the fact that his actual ERA is over a run and a half lower (2.92 compared to 4.54). Each pitcher’s ERA is 18% “better” than it should be but even if each pitchers ERA evens out, Livan Hernandez is certainly not the pitcher you want on your team considering the fact that his ERA could be almost two full runs higher than Gaudin (5.55 to 3.57).

Here are the pitchers who could see an improvement in their ERA in the second half if their luck improves (of course, this assumes that hey continue to pitch to the levels that they currently are).

ERA ERC ERC+
Jeremy Guthrie 2.63 1.89 1.39
Ted Lilly 3.84 2.86 1.34
Josh Beckett 3.38 2.62 1.29
Joe Blanton 3.09 2.43 1.27
Javier Vazquez 3.70 2.97 1.25
James Shields 3.76 3.04 1.24
Roy Halladay 4.27 3.51 1.22
Dave Bush 5.11 4.24 1.21
Aaron Harang 3.84 3.19 1.20
Kip Wells 6.06 5.07 1.20

In the end all we are doing here is predicting possible outcomes based on a very small amount of evidence so our “conclusions” could end up being off. In order to form a more sound opinion on a pitchers possible performance the rest of the season we will need more data. To this end, we will try to accumulate another piece of the puzzle next week.


SHORT HOPS

Did you know that Babe Ruth’s career HR total is actually 715 and not 714? The reason for this is that prior to 1920 a “walk off” home run, if it created a winning margin of more than one run, was credited only as whatever hit would have produced the wining run. Therefore, on July 8,1918, Babe Ruth’s “walk off” HR was only credited as a triple. However, his HR total still stands at 714 because MLB has decided to maintain the integrity of its records by allowing the ruling that was rendered to “stand” regardless of whether or not the rules were changed later.


Barry Bonds set the all-time single season HR record in 2001 with 73, but did you know that despite all those homers he still finished 12 extra-base hits behind Babe Ruth’s single season record of 119 set in 1921?


Often overlooked in a spectacular career was the fact that Hank Aaron had 15 different seasons with at least 100 runs, the most such seasons in history.


Known as a singles hitter by most casual fans, where you aware that Ty Cobb finished in the top-10 in OPS a record 20 times during his career (tied with Cap Anson)? In fact, his lifetime OPS of .945 is the 25th best of all-time for batters with at least 5000 plate appearances. To compare, Ken Griffey Jr. has an OPS of .932 despite out-homering Cobb 585 to 117.


Ray Flowers, a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), can be reached with comments and questions at: fantasyfandom@yahoo.com. To read more of Ray’s work visit www.Baseballguys.com.

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