Author Archive

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: The Dumpster Dive

After a 13-hour work day, I took a walk through the North Bay suburb of Petaluma—southwest Petaluma to be exact. The sun had set but the sky was still mostly blue, surrounded with red paint above the mountains that surround our valley. I hadn’t had time to check Twitter that day, so when my brother, Ringo, texted me, “Got heeem!” I was hopeful he meant that the San Francisco Giants had acquired David Price.

“Price?” I replied.

“Not those Giants. No, we got your boy: Dan Uggla.”

“He’ll hit.”

“You’re insane.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Ben Revere and Speed

Like the San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays, my fantasy baseball team is endlessly waiting for Buster Posey and Evan Longoria to be Buster Posey and Evan Longoria again. We’re past the half-way point in the season, so perhaps we’ll all have to wait until next year, at which point I’ll fire myself as the general manager of my fantasy baseball team.

I can’t separate fantasy baseball from, like, who I would want on a real baseball team I was in charge of, and I don’t really care about speed. However, in fantasy baseball, things like stolen bases matter. I have nothing against the stolen base or speed in general (full disclosure: I’m fast), but I just wouldn’t really want a guy like Ben Revere playing center field for my favorite team. He’s fast, but he doesn’t walk, hit for power, or get on base at an above-average clip. It’s fun to try to get a time on a fast guy down the line or on a stolen base attempt on your stop watch. One of the joys of watching the Giants over the past few seasons has been the speed of Angel Pagan when he’s in the lineup, which is becoming increasingly less of a common occurrence these days. Unlike Revere, Pagan has some slug to his game in addition to plus-plus speed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: To Rise Again

At the end of a long weekend that went by much too fast, as another absurd week of paper-pushing, traffic, and tension quickly closes in, I re-read The Stranger. In closing, Albert Camus writes, “I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiance,’ why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again.”

Reading that, I was suddenly able to burst through my Sunday night anxiety. So here we are for another edition of Fantasy Baseball Existentialism. Last week, I read Joshua Ferris’ novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The novel relates here because there are elements of existentialism and baseball. The main character is a Red Sox fan who is struggling to stay in love with the team after they’ve disappointed him by winning two championships, which creates nostalgia for a lifetime of the club’s familiar letdowns.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Nightmare Declines

As a Giants fan, I can relate to what Tigers fans and fantasy owners of Justin Verlander must be feeling right now. One day, Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher on the planet, then he wasn’t quite as good, and then he was awful. One day, Matt Cain was really good at throwing baseballs, and then suddenly he wasn’t. They weren’t even that old, either. They still aren’t!

Lincecum posted a 2.81 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 26.9 percent strikeout rate, and 22.4 WAR from 2008-11 while winning two Cy Young awards and a World Series ring. Since showing up for the 2012 season, Lincecum has put up a 4.77 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 22.9 percent strikeout rate, and just 2.6 WAR over 79 starts. The nearly one run difference in his ERA and FIP over the last two-plus seasons has provided some reason for optimism, but at a certain point we’re going to have to accept that he just gives up more runs than his peripherals suggest he ought to.

From 2005-12, Cain went 85-78 with a 3.27 ERA and 3.65 FIP, prompting the Giants to give him a 6-year, $127.5 million extension during the spring of 2012. Now, Cain’s xFIP during that span was 4.19 due to what appeared to be an unsustainable 6.8 percent HR/FB ratio. Since the start of last season, his HR/FB ratio is 11.9 percent, which is the main culprit for his 4.14 ERA and 4.21 FIP. His xFIP has actually gone down to 3.98. Perhaps with Cain, fly-ball luck eventually ran out and he became the mediocre pitcher his peripherals always suggested he was. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher, he’s always been able to maintain a low BABIP (.264 from 2005-12 and .257 in 2013-14).

Verlander showed signs of decline last season, but he appeared to right the ship down the stretch and in the postseason. He’s in year two of a 7-year, $180 million deal—the extension replaced the final two years of his previous deal, so it can also be seen as a 5-year deal that starts next season—and the Tigers have to be feeling buyer’s remorse already.

After posting 6-8 WAR seasons from 2009-12, he slipped to 5.2 WAR last year. This season, he’s posted a 4.98 ERA over 15 starts with a strikeout rate of just 15.8 percent. After averaging 95 mph on the heater in 2011, his fastball velocity has slipped down to an average of 92.6 mph.

Verlander is 31 years old with a lot of mileage on his elbow ligaments. Lincecum just turned 30, he’s undersized, and his velocity began declining in 2009 and never came back. Cain will be 30 in October, and while his velocity hasn’t changed much since 2010, he just doesn’t look like the same guy anymore.

Do former aces who begin to decline ever get it back? Or once it starts to go does it just keep on going?

It isn’t just Verlander, Cain, and Lincecum in the midst of nightmare declines. Cliff Lee, who is owed $25 million this year and next with a $27.5 million option for 2016, has been on the shelf for a month with an elbow problem. He pitched well before being sidelined, but he’ll turn 36 in August. CC Sabathia will be 34 in July and his ERA since the beginning of last season is 4.87. Even the maniacally hard-working Roy Halladay eventually broke down. As dominant as Clayton Kershaw has been, there will come a day for his inevitable decline and fall.

It isn’t just pitchers like Verlander, Cain, and Sabathia having disappointing seasons. In-their-prime position players like Evan Longoria and Buster Posey have let their fantasy owners down, too. It’s one thing for pitchers with a lot of wear and tear to begin to break down, but how do you explain 27-28 year old star positional talents letting you down? Pitchers fall apart, but young hitters shouldn’t being to slip like this, right? Has the diminutive Dustin Pedroia started his decline phase? Why does Robinson Cano have only four home runs and a .109 ISO? When will the Mariners want a do-over on that contract?

There’s just so much we don’t know. As Philip Roth wrote in The Human Stain, “What we know is that, in an unclichéd way, nobody knows anything. You can’t know anything. The things you know you don’t know…All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes as knowing.”

With the knowledge that we know we know nothing, the question is: when is the right time to cut your losses as a fantasy owner? And, what good does it do to cut your losses if you have to sell at the bottom of the market anyway? You might as well hold on, hoping against all odds that Lincecum’s ERA starts to match his peripherals, that Cain’s fly balls start dying on the warning track again, that Verlander and Sabathia turn back the clock or learn to get hitters out with diminished velocity, that Longoria and Posey begin to match their track records, that Lee’s elbow returns to health, and that Cano and Pedroia aren’t yet in the decline phase.

All things are prone to decay and decline, yet it doesn’t truly hit home until it happens to you. Jim Cavan wrote:

Sports, at their core, are pastimes, our respite from the rancid rancor of politics and the monotony of daily life. It’s an outlet—social, emotional and psychological—through which we exercise our innate competitiveness in an arena that isn’t nearly as rancorous as Washington or as frustratingly mundane as our living rooms are. Watching the Knicks, for me, is a chance to frolic in a [bleeped]-up alternate universe where nothing makes sense. Where nothing is supposed to make sense.

I never thought Lincecum or Cain would fall this far, at least not this quickly. But here we are, and even though it doesn’t make much sense, their declines are at least more true to life than those awesome championship parades.

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Chase Utley Still the Man

I’m a San Francisco Giants fan and our* starting second baseman will probably never play baseball again. His replacement Brandon Hicks is hitting just .182/.297/.359. Despite Hicks’ stellar work in the field (+4 DRS) and occasional dinger production, we need a new second baseman if we’re going to set the modern record for wins in a single season.

So I went on over to McCovey Chronicles which is like the New York Times for me given that I don’t know what’s going on in the world beyond Grant Brisbee’s opining on the Giants. Brisbee had a well-reasoned column on the Chase Utley trade rumors. I thought Utley had faded off into obscurity with Marco Scutaro. Instead, it turns out Utley has returned from nagging leg injuries to re-take his rightful position as one of the game’s best at the keystone. Who knew? If the Phillies have a Hall-of-Fame second baseman at the top of the league at his position in offensive production, why have they been so awful? Please let me know in the comments.

Anyway, the point here is that Chase Utley is still the man, apparently. He leads all second baseman in wOBA, and he’s second in WAR.

Brisbee’s article had a link to an in-depth Philadelphia Magazine piece on Utley. The article made me completely fall in love with the guy, and that wasn’t just because of the hot picture which is now my desktop background. The tight-fitting white shirt, the gun show, the intense look off into the distance, the soul patch, the wavy hair—are we underrating how handsome Chase Utley is?

Utley is not just a Hall-of-Fame player. He’s also a leader with a plus-plus clubhouse presence, an incredibly hard-worker, and a loving husband and father. Chase, if you’re reading this, with Father’s Day coming up, perhaps you’d like to adopt me? Please let me know in the comments.

After reading about the real Chase, I was pretty devastated I hadn’t drafted him in fantasy. I figured the health risk was too steep given his age (36 in December) and injury history (hasn’t been fully healthy since 2009). Now I’m stuck with underachieving early-round picks Buster Posey and Evan Longoria who can’t lead in my fantasy clubhouse until they start producing, which, like, any day now fellas! I’m thinking of proposing a blockbuster trade to acquire Utley so I can move Matt Carpenter to third base and spark the ballclub. But first, I consulted my fantasy coach who not only doesn’t want Utley on our Giants, but who also thinks Utley is an overrated fantasy player. Here’s a transcript of our chat:

Me: I’m going to write about Chase Utley. Any fantasy thoughts?

Fantasy Coach: I actually have no fantasy thoughts on Utley. I’ve never even thought about getting him on my team. I’ve never liked him; always thought he was overrated. I seriously think Rickie Weeks may be relevant once he’s traded to the Giants, A’s, or Yankees. The concern would be the ground-ball percentage (15th highest). He’s hitting line drives (20.3 percent), which is what made him successful before, but that’s not really sustainable and his ground-ball percentage is super high which doesn’t bode well for a return to big-time power.

Me: Utley leads all second basemen in wOBA.

Fantasy Coach: Cano, Kipnis, Dozier, Kinsler, Altuve, and Pedroia are better fantasy players. I can think of seven or eight second basemen I’d rather have than Utley.

Me: Ouch. Well, he’s third in wOBA since the start of last year, so it’s not like his defense—which doesn’t count in fantasy—is carrying his value. And there’s no park adjustment in fantasy, so offensive production only, he’s at the top.

Fantasy Coach: Right, but that’s not the only calculus in fantasy. Matt Carpenter is also good at hitting baseballs, but he doesn’t hit home runs or steal bases, so he’s a ghost-runner on first a bunch of times.

Me: Which is why we need a sabermetric revolution with fantasy stats.

Chase Utley might not be the most valuable fantasy second baseman at this stage of his career because he doesn’t steal bases or dig the long ball anymore, but I doubt he’ll mention that in his Hall-of-Fame speech. Also, on my fantasy Giants team I spend most of the day thinking about, I just traded Kyle Crick for him. Get on it, Sabey-Sabes; we need the man.

*I’m basically on the team

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Jon’s Addiction

Our own Dave Cameron wrote up the Jon Singleton signing and promotion on Monday. In the article, Cameron referenced Singleton’s battle with drug addiction. Singleton told The Associated Press (via back in March, “At this point, it’s pretty evident to me that I’m a drug addict.”

So that’s pretty interesting, but plenty of people successfully combat addictions. The Astros aren’t necessarily wrong to give a long-term deal to an admitted drug addict, particularly when the deal has the potential to be extremely team-friendly if Singleton performs up to his reputation as a top prospect. You aren’t wrong for owning Singleton in fantasy or picking him up on the waiver wire now that he’s in the big leagues. If you are an Astros fan, you have reasons for optimism now with Singleton and George Springer joining Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler, and Matt Dominguez to form what is starting to look like a competent team after several long years in the abyss.

Where I became startled in reading about Singleton was when the article said:

He isn’t receiving treatment for his addiction, isn’t in a program and doesn’t have someone traveling with him to keep him on track.

Singleton is confident he can avoid further relapses by focusing on his opportunity, keeping better company and avoiding bad situations. He calls his life a work in progress and is focused on not being so hard on himself this season.

I don’t know what the statistics are on relapse avoidance for people in programs as opposed to out, but I can’t imagine the odds are in Singleton’s favor right now. I don’t know how many people reading this have addictions of their own or at least know someone who, like Singleton, is a self-admitted addict of some kind. I do know that human habits are extremely difficult to change, particularly a habit as serious as substance abuse.

I know this because last Sunday I thought to myself, “You know what? You’ve gotten pretty out of shape here. You should stop drinking once again and start exercising. Also, like Singleton, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself anymore!” Good thoughts, no? Then, on Tuesday night, one of my bosses offered to pick up our bar tab at a local watering hole and I thought to myself, “What kind of idiot turns down free drinks?” Sunday’s resolution to hope for change had failed miserably, as Tuesday night ended with a phone call to my attorney to get her to file a lawsuit against the fast food establishment which had me sick in my view of things.

Actually, since the readers here probably aren’t aspiring to be Gonzo journalists with a substance abuse solution to reality like the great Hunter “Pence” Thompson and this aspiring writer, let’s use a different example. Also on Sunday, I thought, “You should eat healthier, too.” And then Monday morning someone upset me at work and next think you know there’s a Chinese restaurant down the street and I’m there for some deep-fried sugary products of some kind that sure taste great but aren’t exactly “good” for you. The point here is that reality is always out there, cold and indifferent, ready to strike down our best intentions and return us to our worst habits.

Singleton might have better will power than I do, and let’s certainly hope so. We’d all hate for his story to end with him out of the game and feeling ill at a fast food restaurant. But perhaps willpower can only get you so far, and as habitual creatures, we need to be re-programmed to change those habits which need changing if we’re to have long-term success.

I seem to bring up Infinite Jest in each of these columns and that’s because I read all of the like 1,110 pages in that book and didn’t even get a trophy or an IQ bump, so I have to keep mentioning the fact that I read the book to feel better about myself and how I spend my time. Also, does any novel capture modern American society better than Infinite Jest? I can’t think of any. The themes of over-consumption, waste, addiction, compulsion, obsession, loneliness, and depression combine to paint a rather eery depiction of our arguably hollow society. On addiction, Wallace writes:

That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking…That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good…In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving [beep] out of itself.

In baseball, “Ninety percent of the game is half-mental.” In life, 100 percent of the game is half-mental or 100-percent mental.

Singleton has clearly been blessed with the physical tools to succeed as a ballplayer. He’s listed at 6’2″ and 255 pounds. He hit .279/.388/.466 during his minor league career after being selected in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He’s been ranked as a top-100 prospect for four straight seasons, getting to as high as No. 25 on Baseball Prospectus’ list last year. He was a key piece in the trade that brought Hunter Pence over to the Phillies. He blasted a home run in his first game with Houston.

Yet those attributes and accomplishments aren’t all that unique at this level. What stands out about Singleton in comparison to other top prospects who’ve graduated to the show is his admission of drug addiction. Can he control his demons and reach the height of his ceiling, or will his mental activity drag him back down and limit what has the chance to be a great career?

The Astros have already made a bet on Singleton staying clean, and they should know more about him than anyone. Yet when it comes to the human psyche, there’s so much we don’t know, or perhaps it’s just that there’s so much we aren’t willing to admit.

Singleton is still a decent bet for fantasy owners and the executives in Houston. It’s just that in his case, he’s admitted his demons in a public manner, and since the information we have makes it sound as though he’s white-knuckling it, there is more risk associated with him than the typical prospect.

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Josh Donaldson Walks it Off

I don’t really know why I’ve entitled my series of columns here “Fantasy Baseball Existentialism.” I think it was because I knew I wouldn’t really say much about fantasy baseball even though it’s a fantasy baseball column in theory, and so I added the word existentialism to like try to tip people off that this would ultimately be about, well, not fantasy baseball really. I don’t know. I’ve read two books by Camus so I don’t really know much about existentialism yet either.

So today we’re going to talk about Josh Donaldson. If you didn’t draft him in fantasy, you probably made a mistake. You should trade for him, I’d say. Swing a deal for him or keep him if you’ve got him; dude is legit.

I took Evan Longoria early and never even thought about drafting Donaldson because last year was obviously not sustainable. I figured the A’s would regress some this  year and fall behind Texas in the AL West. I assumed Donaldson would fall off in a big way from his near-8-win season in 2013. That had to have been a fluke, right? A guy who hits .232/.280/.386 over his first 328 big league plate appearances without having dominated in the upper minors isn’t going to sustain a .301/.384/.499 slash line. That absolutely had to be his age-27 peak season, and the rest of his career would be a downhill slide from that epoch.

On July 8, 2008, with the A’s five games back of the Angels despite possessing a much better run differential (+63 to +24), Billy Beane flipped Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the first-place Cubs for Donaldson, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, and Eric Patterson. Nine days later, Beane traded Joe Blanton to Philadelphia for prospects Adrian Cardenas, Matt Spencer, and Josh Outman. Six years later, the fruit of those reloading efforts have paid off in a big way via J-Don. Do they actually call him that? Probably not. And so but you trade for a bunch of guys and maybe most of them don’t work out as you hoped but that’s okay if you can get a gamer like Donaldson to build a championship baseball team around.

On Wednesday night at whatever it is they’re calling the Oakland Coliseum these days ( Coliseum) with the A’s trailing Detroit 1-0, Donaldson jumped on a first pitch changeup from Joe Nathan and unloaded it down the left-field line for a game-winning three-run homer. After a slow start, Donaldson’s slash line is up to .276/.370/.529. He’s already been worth three wins. Since the start of last season, only Mike Trout has been more valuable than Donaldson.

Rather than regressing, Donaldson is flourishing. Rather than regressing, the A’s just keep on winning. They have the second-best record in baseball one year after winning 96 games. The year before that, they won 94 games. They’re on pace for 96 wins this season. Their +100 run differential is by far the best in the game.

Maybe it’s time to stop waiting for a fall that’s never coming with these guys. Maybe it’s time to stop doubting Donaldson, who has now sustained a star-level performance for a season and two months. Maybe it’s time to stop doubting Billy Beane, who has managed to build a roster that appears well on its way to a third straight AL West crown despite one of the game’s smallest payrolls. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin go down for the season with elbow injuries and Dan Straily gets demoted due to ineffectiveness, and yet the A’s 6th, 7th, and 8th starters slide right in there and pitch effectively.

I mean who in the world does Jesse Chavez think he is? Why is a 30-year-old journeyman with a career 5.48 ERA suddenly pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter?

Back to Donaldson, I happened to be at last night’s game, though I didn’t show up until the sixth inning. My co-workers and I were going to the game to celebrate the departure of a guy who quit. If you’ve ever had a job you hated, you know what I’m talking about when I use the word “celebrate.” I mean I guess compared to war, slavery, abject poverty, violence, and other miseries in life, having a middle class office job you don’t like isn’t so bad. If you can afford to go to an A’s game, you probably shouldn’t complain too much even if all you actually do is petulantly whine all the time.

And so but when I showed up to a baseball game in the sixth inning I knew right then and there that somehow my life really had gotten off track. I mean not even a lowly Dodgers fan would show up that late. But again, if you’ve ever had a job that was pretty miserable, you can relate to over-indulging on the honey mead and losing track of time and the truly important things in life like baseball. I don’t know why baseball matters, but intuitively I know it really does, and to feel the game slipping away from me is truly frightening. If I no longer love baseball, am I capable of loving anything? Or is it just that in this Year of the 99-Cent Taco, I’d rather read Infinite Jest and consume literature instead of sport? Doing anything besides consuming, after all, is clearly out of the question. In a late-capitalist society one is defined solely via their consumption, no?

And so but there was a lot of resentment festering at this A’s game. Some of us were probably envious of our escaping co-worker. Some of us were mad at ourselves for having gotten to the game so late. Then, as Craig Gentry led away from first and Coco Crisp from third, and I wondered whether Gentry would attempt to steal the bag to put the winning run in scoring position, Donaldson delivered the dinger that would momentarily recall me to baseball, and to life. Donaldson stole victory from the jaws of defeat and provided the intoxication of winning to a group of co-workers lost in the modern world, badly in need of something greater than themselves. Can remarkable greatness of this thrifty Oakland team save the lost souls of the Bay Area? Can they teach us what it is to love the game once more?

With one of the game’s truly elite players in Donaldson, maybe this will be the year Beane’s stuff works in the playoffs. Josh Donaldson, elite player? That seems weird to write, but WAR don’t lie. As I recall Donaldson’s game-winning home run sailing into the bleachers, I can’t help but think: has Billy Beane created the perfect entertainment?

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Wither Danny Salazar?

A few years ago, I remember hearing Keith Law on some podcast talking about how scouting comes down to a yes or no answer, either acquire or do not acquire. Scouts can’t waffle. You either want the player or you don’t. I like the bottom-line certainty of that in this confusing world of the false notions of hope and change, globalization, automation, rapid technological change, and yet a seemingly permanently stagnant economy. Wait, what? I don’t know; the point is the world is a very confusing place in 2014.

And so but my fantasy strategy this season was to buy the bats early and get young pitching later. I was able to draft Jeff Samardzija (1.46 ERA), Sonny Gray (1.99 ERA), Yordano Ventura (2.80 ERA) and Michael Wacha (2.54 ERA). Samardzija isn’t exactly young (29 years old), but there’s probably less mileage on his arm given his college football background. Those three are a pretty solid rotation foundation.

The guy I was most confident in, however, is already toiling in Triple-A. Danny Salazar was still missing bats (25.5 percent strikeout rate) with Cleveland this year after a dominant ten-start showing in 2013. When I saw him throw late last year I immediately put him into my “acquire” pile for 2014. What’s not to like about a guy averaging 96 mph on the heater with a plus-plus change? Unfortunately, Salazar had control (9.2 percent walk rate) and command issues (1.77 HR/9) over eight starts to open this season, earning a demotion. His average fastball velocity was down three ticks from last year.

Salazar is out and former (and arguably current) top prospect Trevor Bauer is back in the Cleveland rotation. Bauer is a good cautionary tale for those ready to pull the plug on the talented Salazar. Like Salazar, Bauer had some early-career velocity dips. After averaging 92.8 mph on the fastball last year, Bauer’s velocity is up to 94.6 over his two big league starts this season. With the velocity bump has come an increase in strikeouts. In 2013, Bauer struck out 19.3 percent of Triple-A hitters and just 13.6 percent over four starts with Cleveland. So far in 2014, he’s fanned 24.2 percent at Triple-A and 26 percent in the big leagues.

The real question with Salazar in the long-term might be his health. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010 which, combined with the sudden velocity loss, could be construed as evidence that health is the problem here. That’s obviously just speculation; perhaps his problems are just mechanical. We don’t know what the problem is, but we do know that something isn’t right with Salazar in the here and now when everything looked pretty great just a handful of months ago.

If Salazar could dominate in the big leagues before, he can certainly do it again. He’s only 24 years old, he has swing-and-miss stuff, and he’s had recent professional success. It’s far too early to quit on a talent like this, just as it was too soon to give up on Bauer.

The 23-year-old Bauer was the third pick of the 2011 draft and a top-ten prospect in 2012. The 24-year-old Salazar looked like a future ace last year. Arms like this don’t grow on trees, and they also don’t always grow on a linear trajectory towards stardom. There are often bumps in the road, and stardom isn’t guaranteed. However, in the final analysis, Bauer and Salazar remain two young arms worth riding the waves of struggle with towards fantasy success and perhaps renewed hope in Cleveland.

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Buster Posey Has The Fear

Do they still do the worst column of the week thing at Grantland? I love those things! Let’s try to top the good folks at Grantland in this space today!

My baseball consumption and internet reading have been way down in the first month-plus of 2014. The bosses at work are really making me like actually work a lot lately in this post-Marxist, post-industrial capitalist world. Little do they know that this column is being written on the company’s dime! I feel like I’m starting to finally win here. Long introduction long, I’ve been having to follow the season pretty much through Grant Brisbee’s columns to this point, and earlier this week, Brisbee provided an embarrassing gif of Buster Posey catching the fear as Jason Heyward slid in to the plate, eluding Posey’s fraidy-cat tag.

I’m with Darryl Ratzlaff who tweeted at Giants beat writer Hank Schulman, “was little league. Franchise philosophy? I havent seen Sanchez scared of contact Injury in his head.” That’s exactly right. Posey might have more tools than Hector Sanchez, but Hec has a plus-plus heart. They say you can’t measure heart, but I just did.

Defensive Runs Saved has Posey at +1 on the year and +16 for his career, but I’ve got news for John Dewan: that play linked to above qualifies as a Defensive Run Lost (DRL), another new stat I just created. Worse, watching Posey run for the hills with a runner barreling in on him has a cascading effect on the rest of the club. When they see the highest-paid player on the squad dogging it in a meaningless Ryan Vogelsong start in May, they know they don’t have to bother selling out for the team either.

What’s that you say? Posey is hitting .292/.386/.467 while leading one of the game’s best teams (so far) in WAR? Posey might be first in WAR, but he’s also first in appeasement and last in heart. And to think, the Giants could’ve drafted an all-heart gamer like, I don’t know, Justin Smoak or Gordon Beckham instead.

It’s time for Sabey-Sabes and fantasy owners everywhere to either give Posey his outright release or move him to third base. They say good-hitting catchers don’t grow on trees, but Andrew Susac is hitting .312/.404/.610 at Triple-A Fresno. Plus, Hector Sanchez is a money player. He’s already got 16 ribbies this year. I know this is FanGraphs and so you guys don’t know what ribbies are, so I’ll educate you. A ribbie is a run batted in, meaning a player drives in another member of his team via a walk, hit, or even an out. It’s something gamers who don’t care about their UZR or OPS+ or wOBA or WAR or VORPS or FIP do for the ball club in pursuit of victory.

I really feel for Sabey-Sabes, his skipper—Boch, Giants fans, and Posey fantasy owners. Posey is the Giants all-time San Francisco leader in Championships+, another new stat I just made up, but he’s sold out to sell sports drinks and protect his health to avoid another potentially career-threatening injury. What’s more important: keeping Posey healthy so the Giants don’t have to trade Kyle Crick for Carlos Beltran later this summer, or trying to win a game in May? If you answered winning a game in May, you’re a get-it guy or gal. Each game is equally important. This isn’t Animal Farm; some wins aren’t more equal than others. Duh!

I can’t stress enough to you how important the phantom tag heard ’round the world is to this season. It’s an even year, so you’d think the Giants would just waltz to the World Series a la 2010 and 2012; however, that plan was dashed nearly three years to the day that Scott Cousins took Posey out. The Giants can’t recover from this unless they turn things over to the young bucks with nothing to lose in Susac and Sanchez. Sabey-Sabes has pulled off this addition by subtraction once before when he dealt Bengie Molina to Texas and turned catching duties over to the eventual Rookie of the Year in 2010, a guy named Buster Posey. That guy is gone now.

It’s time to look beyond the stats and sell high on Posey.

In all seriousness, one could make the case Susac is the top prospect in the Giants’ system right now. As the trade deadline approaches, if the Giants stay in contention, a catching-needy team would be wise to take a run at Suasc. He’s shown power, patience, plus-plus looks, and the ability to throw out Billy Hamilton five times thus far during his minor league career. The 24-year-old second-round pick out of Oregon State could have a bright future if he can stay healthy, as injuries have plagued him dating back to college.

This article was funded by Take it Back PAC: Andrew Susac for Starting Catcher in 2014. It was entirely facetious with the exception of the final paragraph.

Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Troy Tulowitzki Saves All

Let’s jump into some fantasy baseball and existential questions from the readers this week. Why should you ask me questions and take my advice? You absolutely shouldn’t; however, I did draft Troy Tulowitzki this year. Just go admire Tulo’s player card right now. We are not worthy. Hopefully the gods of baseball health acquiesce and keep this guy on the field so he can set the all-time WAR record or something insane.

Harry from San Francisco asks, “What happened to Will Venable?  Last year he was a 20/20 guy with a near .800 OPS.  This year, he’s failed to contribute even a single SB or HR to my team.  Do I give up?”

It’s early, obviously, but yes, I’d probably give up on Venable. He’s 31, he’s not getting the bat to the ball enough, the power is missing in action, and it’s not like he’s some horrendous victim of the BABIP gods right now. Also, unless you are in an NL only league, you should be able to upgrade on Venable even if he does get back to where he was last year (.268/.312/.484, 22 dingers, 22 SB). That near-30 percent strikeout rate and .060 ISO would send me running for the hills right now.

Michael from Gloucester, MA asks, “Is Chris Colabello a witch?”

To the best of my knowledge, Colabello is a living, breathing human being with no relation to witches. If nothing else, he’s a mediocre baseball player who I assume you are partial to because he went to college in Worcester which has some of the same letters as Gloucester. Also, if this is the same Michael from Gloucester who I once worked with for a number of very painful years, it’s time for you to get back to our shared cubicle. I miss you. We can fight the post-traumatic stress together by never leaving.

Also, Colabello is probably thinking that if he’s a mediocre baseball player according to this writer, well, this writer is a 20-grade talent. To which I say…I have no comeback there.

Turkelton from Boston, MA and the hit television show Scrubs asks the existentialist, “I’m in a 16-team, points based, head-to-head league. David Wright is currently my starting third baseman. I’m worried that he is going to eventually hit the shelf, so I’d like to ensure that I have a solid backup on the roster. The problem is that third base seems particularly shallow this season. Right now, I’m rostering Mike Olt who has third base eligibility (and a serious prospect pedigree). Olt offers some power upside, but he’s currently hitting a crisp .162/.237/.353. Here are some other options on the waiver wire: your namesake Mark Reynolds, Cody Asche, Lonnie Chisenhall, David Freese (currently on the DL), Donnie Murphy, etc. Should I hold on to Olt and trust his one-time prospect pedigree?”

My shoulder is still messed up from a recent car accident and I have no bat-to-ball skills. Wait, I’m getting my Mark Reynoldses confused here. Just stay away from anyone named Mark Reynolds. Freese gets hurt all the time, Olt and Chisenhall probably don’t play enough, and I honestly don’t even know what in the world Donnie Murphy is. Is he related to Donnie Baseball?

If the Cubs believed in Olt, wouldn’t they have just turned the position over to him for all 162 this year? What do the Cubs have to lose besides another century’s worth of baseball games? Chisenhall would be more deserving of a gamble than Olt, and Asche is probably your best bet because who else are the Phillies going to put there? The Phillies aren’t actually that bad for me. I’d take Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, and a healthy Cole Hamels any day of the week. Okay, the Phillis probably are that bad despite those guys.

Richard from Alameda, CA asks, “Does good pitching beat good hitting?”

Good pitching beats good hitting and good hitting beats good pitching. As John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” That written, even a great hitter doesn’t get on base 60 percent of the time. Thus, pitching generally beats hitting whether it’s good, bad, ugly, or indifferent. If I were a GM of something other than a fantasy baseball team, I’d draft position players over pitchers with high picks in most cases because of the high attrition rate of pitching prospects. For instance, I think the Astros blew it drafting Mark Appel last year. I watched Appel pitch in person several times at Stanford, and I never walked away thinking of him as some kind of future ace the way people probably did when they saw Stephen Strasburg dominate in college.

John from Petaluma, CA asks, “Should I regret not playing fantasy baseball this year for the first time ever, really?”

If you have to ask, you probably aren’t missing out too much. Like, if there was anything for you to regret, you’d be feeling it in the deepest recesses of your soul. There are a lot of things in my life that I regret having done or not done. That reminds me of the Taoist proverb, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” I kind of understand that, but I couldn’t explain it for the life of me. I guess it means if you do nothing, there’s nothing…yeah, I don’t know. It’s all about the do-do. Intellectually understanding things isn’t that important, anyway, unless you can somehow apply it towards like right living.

Anyway, I quit baseball during my senior year of high school. I regret that decision. I’d probably be in the big leagues right now if I had kept playing. Okay, I definitely wouldn’t be in the big leagues, but the point here is that regret is something you know you are experiencing, not something you have to question. Fantasy baseball might not be for you anymore and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter either way.

Okay, we’ll leave it there for this week. If you have any fantasy questions you’d like answered in a future mailbag—if there is one—you can leave a comment or tweet at me. In the meantime, I’d strongly advise the acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki. He’ll improve your fantasy team and, if you’re like me, your extremely superficial, shallow, and sometimes low self-esteem.