Author Archive

Still Underwater: Deep-Draft Targets, Part 2

Let’s resume our sweep through MLB in search of deep-draft value without our customary throat-clearing. This week, we’ll finish the AL and start the NL, with the remaining NL coming next week.

Angels. The Angels starter who’s being kind of ignored is Dylan Bundy (NFBC Average Draft Position 308), who’s worth a buck, maybe two if that’s what it takes. He gets plenty of strikeouts, and last season became a ground ball pitcher. Unfortunately, he did this while pitching for the Orioles and their ultra-porous infield. Now we get to see him with an infield of Fletcher-Simmons-Rendon behind him, and if we get our wish, Tommy La Stella plays first base. If not, leaving the position vacant would be an improvement over having it occupied by Albert Pujols. Read the rest of this entry »


The Abyss Stares Back: Deep-Draft Targets, Part 1

As a rule, we’re not Science Guys, but we’re suckers for the kind of real-life story wherein a crew of geeks takes a submersible to the Abyssopelagic zone and discovers a giant squid big enough to swallow Yankee Stadium whole or a new species of sea slug shaped like a double helix. And that’s how we think of ourselves—geeks in the Fantasy Baseball abyss. Except what we’re looking for is exotic deep-draft specimens—at the very least, guys whose NFBC Average Draft is above 330, thus making them no more expensive than $1 players. Better still, we want players who figure to go in the 40th round or later. And best of all, we want the equivalent of new species—players we actually do like, but who have been taken by nobody else.

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Birchwood Brothers 6.1: Antipasto Salad

Hello again. We are the Birchwood Brothers, back for our sixth season at the old stand. We’re still real-life siblings, still geriatric, still tireless seekers after the Fantasy Baseball dispensation, still reporters, via Rotographs, on the progress of our quest, and still the top finishers among Fangraphs writers (and 7th overall of 315 teams) in last season’s Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, where the elite meet to tweet and compete. It’s been a tough few months on the sidelines, as we have struggled unsuccessfully to care the tiniest bit about Bang on a Can or the Jeter Apostasy (though we’d like to know the apostate’s rationale, if [s]he had one). But now it’s time to contemplate truly important matters, like who will comprise the Dodgers’ eight-man starting rotation or who will play right field for the Mariners.

If you’ve joined us in the past, you know that we are the detritivores among Fantasy Baseball pundits. Where others concern themselves with, say, whether the Blake Snell of 2020 will be the Blake Snell of 2018 or the Blake Snell of 2019, or whether Aristides Aquino should go in the 5th, the 8th, the 11th, or the 14th round, we trawl contentedly on the bottom, among the 4th outfielders, backup catchers, 6th starters, utility infielders, and setup guys—the ones who’ve drifted down to or near the reserve rounds, and who—if we’re right about them—will pay fantasy dividends in excess of what, for example, Jose Abreu will be worth if he hits 40 home runs rather than the 30 everyone projects for him. Sometimes we’re right about our guys, sometimes we’re not, and some seasons we’re righter than others, but it’s a harmless pursuit, and we amuse ourselves, and occasionally our readers, doing it.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll do a sweep through all of MLB, trying to identify at least one cheap player per team who has a shot at paying lavish dividends. But for the moment, let’s concentrate on a new but already-familiar baseball phenomenon—the opener, or, as we Italian-Americans prefer to call him, the antipasto. As we wandered, lonely as clouds, through the roster of the Detroit Tigers—who, by the way, are a very interesting team, though they may be just as bad this year as they were last—the perennially-disappointing Daniel Norris caught our eye. For most of the season, Norris was dreadful, but take a look at his last eight “starts.” In each of them, he pitched exactly three innings. Obviously, he got no wins or saves, but his other stats were excellent: 24 IP, 16 Hits, 3 Walks, 6 Earned Runs, 23 Strikeouts.

This got us wondering: suppose you projected an antipasto to do over the course of a full season what Norris did for the last six weeks or so of 2019. Would you rather have that guy in your day-to-day lineup than a sixth starter? The answer is, decisively, yes. As we calculate it, using the Birchwood Brothers’ top-secret valuator–which is essentially indistinguishable from everyone else’s top-secret valuator—Norris times four would have earned about as much as Jake Odorizzi or Mike Minor. That’s as in Mike Minor, the guy who attracted four votes in the Cy Young balloting.

Or let’s approach the math from a different angle. The question before the bar is whether your starting lineup is better off with an antipasto who has Norris’s stats than it is with a typical sixth (or, a fortiori, seventh) starting pitcher. Using the current NFBC Average Draft Positions for Draft Champions (i.e. 15-team, 50-round) leagues, we identified the 76th- through 90th-ranked starting pitchers. We took the 2020 stats foreseen for those guys by Ariel Cohen’s nonpareil ATC projections, and averaged them. We found that the typical SP6 is projected to pitch about 140 innings and get about 8 wins with 135 strikeouts, an ERA of 4.40, and a WHIP of 1.32. It appears to us that substituting Norris for that guy on an average Draft Champions team will cost you 3 standings points in wins and one point in strikeouts—but will lower your ERA enough to gain you three points and lower your WHIP enough to get you another three or four. In other words, you’re better off with Norris, and you haven’t had to use a pre-reserve round pick to get him.

We know what you’re saying, which is something like “if we knew ex ante that Norris or someone else would have a full season like that, we’d draft him in the 16th round or so. But we don’t.” True, and we’re not suggesting that you draft [insert name here] in the 16th round, or before the reserve round. What we’re suggesting is that, if you play in a deep league, along about the 25th or 30th round, Insert Name might be a more useful selection than, say, Kevin Gausman or Jordan Lyles.

But whose Name do you Insert? You will not be stunned to learn that we have some thoughts. We found three starting pitchers who last season (1) were way better their first two times through the batting order than their third, and (2) were good enough those first two times, and got enough strikeouts, to make drafting them a possibility on the chance that they’ll be used as multi-inning antipasti. Those pitchers are:

Elieser Hernandez, Marlins, NFBC Average Draft Position 543. (FTTO/STTO: 10.4 K/9; 1.11 WHIP; 4.08 ERA. TTTO: 3.5 K/9; 1.55 WHIP; 7.84 ERA). Hernandez is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and he’s always going to give up home runs. He’ll probably give up more this season, what with the fence retraction in Miami. The question is whether he gives up anything else. He succeeds, when he does, by striking out the guys who don’t hit home runs, and apparently, when he doesn’t strike them out, they get hits. His hard-hit percentage stays about the same no matter how many times through the order he goes, but his BABIP goes from .240 to .316.

Vince Velasquez, Phillies, NFBC ADP 507. (10.3/1.16/4.18 vs. 5.1/2.76/10.95). With Velasquez, you can account for the different outcomes readily enough. First two times through, he’s hard-hit 44.2% of the time with a BABIP of .271; Third time through, it’s 60% and .417. Whether this is because of a decline in velocity, a change in pitch mix, a question of familiarity’s breeding contempt, or something else, it’s happening, and (we posit) won’t happen if you stop him after he pitches three innings.

Tyler Mahle, Reds, NFBC ADP 377. (9.6/1.20/3.58 vs. 5.8/1.85/12.88). When Mahle is on, he throws a split-fingered fastball and a curve that induce ground balls in great profusion, plus a respectable fastball that can strike guys out. When he’s off, he doesn’t and doesn’t.

We know what else you’re saying: How do I know these guys will be succulent antipasti rather than overcooked linguine? In other words, even if I think they’re projectible to Norris-like seasons, how do I know they’ll be used as three-inning openers rather than dollar-short starters? You don’t, of course. That’s why they’re reserve-round picks, and why you’re not counting on them for anything. But their upside is significant, especially when you consider that they’re all still young and that they (or anyway Mahle and Velasquez) were, within living memory, elite prospects. Maybe it will turn out that they can do for five innings whatever they’ve been doing right for three. And wouldn’t you rather take a chance on them rather than suffering through another season of the uninspired and uninspiring chicken parm that is Rick Porcello or Zach Davies?


The Birchwood Brothers’ Ten Bold Predictions In Review

How was your season? Ours was pretty good—a Draft Champions win, some in-the-money finishes, and our proudest achievement: 7th overall (and first in our 15-team league and among Fangraphs scribes after a bitter struggle for preeminence with Shelly Verougstraete) in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, where the elite meet to tweet and compete.

Our Bold Predictions, however, weren’t so great. That’s how it is when you confine yourself, as we do and did, to players who will cost no more than a dollar. We wonder, as we always do, how our results would compare to anyone else’s ten-cheap-player picks. We like to think we’d be competitive, but who knows? Let’s do the post-mortem: Read the rest of this entry »


Deadline Day: Is That All There Is?

Now that’s entertainment, right? Deadline Day was, in its way, at least as much fun as NBA Free Agent Day. But, unlike Free Agent Day, it doesn’t look like it produced much in the way of a shakeup in the standings. The teams that were expected to sell sold, the teams that were expected to buy bought, the rich got richer, the poor got prospects.

But a bigger disappointment, as far as we’re concerned, is how few deals produced unexpected Fantasy upside for those of us in redraft leagues. Downside, sure. If you were hoping that Hunter Strickland would become Seattle’s closer, we share your pain. And there was a lot of rearranging of deck chairs, whether the chairs wound up on the Titanic or the Love Boat. We were hoping that Tony Kemp would land an everyday job someplace, but with the Castellanosful Cubs he figures not to play a lot more than he did while he was DFA’d. Likewise, Shane Greene and Zack Greinke are probably marginally more attractive with their new teams than they were with their old ones, but not so’s you’d notice, even if there’s a redraft league out there somewhere where they’re available. Read the rest of this entry »


Subprime Day 2: The Birchwood Brothers Ten Bold Second-Half Predictions (Hitters)

Let’s finish what we started yesterday and look at some hitters. We’ll assume that, like us, you’re the brawny, rugged type who likes two-catcher leagues rather than the effete sort who prefers the monocatcher variety. If so, you’re always looking for a catcher who will be an improvement on a dead roster spot, and—unless your league somehow factors defense in—what with injuries, there aren’t enough of those to go around. Thus, our next two Bold Predictees. First, and more obviously, there’s Kevan Smith. He’s spent about four weeks this season dealing first with a possible concussion and then with a sprained metacarpal, but when he’s been healthy—for about 100 plate appearances–he’s done exactly what we, you, and everyone else expected, which is a .286 batting average, high on-base percentage, little power, no speed, and a slightly higher runs-plus-rbis per at-bat than is the norm for catchers. In other words, he’s worth something, and because he’s freshly off the DL and nobody carries more catchers than absolutely necessary, he’s freely available. Read the rest of this entry »


Subprime Day 1: The Birchwood Brothers’ Ten Bold Second-Half Predictions (Pitchers)

Where would those of us who are passionate about full-season Fantasy Baseball be without the counsel of America’s Leading Fantasy Sports Aggregator to guide us? Our hearts accordingly leapt up when we beheld in our In Box last week ALFSA’s “Ten Bold Second Half Predictions.” And about whom were these predictions predicted? Here’s the full list: Matt Olson, Christian Yelich, Justin Smoak, Pete Alonso, Kenta Maeda, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Woodruff, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Eloy Jimenez.

Thanks, podnuh; we’ll rush right out and grab all those guys. Look—as we see it, a Bold Prediction must also be a Useful Prediction, and for anyone in a redraft league, a Useful Prediction is one involving a player who might actually be available. With this in mind, we present our own Bold Second Half Predictions, confident that most if not all these guys will be available for cheap in most if not all leagues. Five pitchers today, then five hitters tomorrow: Read the rest of this entry »


Does Quality Start Percentage Predict Anything?

Short answer to title question: apparently not. But as onetime academics, we hate nothing more than doing even cursory research that doesn’t produce an article, however uninteresting or intuitive its conclusions. Thus, as part of our tireless quest for fantasy-baseball-pundit tenure, whatever that may consist of, here goes:

The prevailing definition of a “Quality Start” is one in which the starting pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up no more than three runs. Lots of people, us included, think the definition should change. We’d go with five innings and two runs, and we wouldn’t deprive the pitcher of a QS if he goes longer and gives up more runs. We figure it’s the manager’s fault if the bullpen doesn’t take over soon enough. But for the moment, we’ve got to use the readily-available stat, and that’s six and three. Read the rest of this entry »


Desperation Waiver Wire: Longshot Closers

For our money, the most interesting Fantasy Baseball development of 2018 was the Great Closer Selloff. As you no doubt recall, around the trading deadline eight also-ran teams—San Diego, Minnesota, KC, Texas, Baltimore, Toronto, the Mets, and the White Sox–traded away their closers, and only two of the guys thus traded away (Brad Hand for the Indians and Roberto Osuna for the Astros) wound up getting a significant number of saves thereafter.

We suspect that this phenomenon is both the beginning of a trend and the signifier of a transition. Two transitions, actually, though one has already occurred. The one that’s arrived is the tendency of contending teams to assemble what they hope are completely impermeable bullpens. The one that hasn’t is the long-overdue recognition that there’s nothing magical about a “closer,” and that a guy who can pitch you out of a jam in the seventh or eighth inning can probably do it in the ninth inning as well. But people have been predicting the demise of the closer for about 20 years, and it hasn’t quite happened yet, so there are a lot of guys sitting around the bullpens of bad teams waiting for a ninth-inning lead that never comes. And if we’re right about the trend, there will be more closer trades next month, leaving other guys to sit around those same bullpens, occasionally picking up a stray save or two. Read the rest of this entry »


Who’s Been (Un)lucky So Far, Pitcher Edition

Having last week illuminated the situation with hitters, we now take a look at who’s been lucky and unlucky among pitchers. Our approach is the inverse of what we used last week. To find unlucky pitchers, we looked for guys who aren’t getting hit hard, but have high BABIPs and seem to be giving up a disproportionate amount of home runs relative to the number of fly balls hit off them. To find lucky guys, we turn it upside down. Read the rest of this entry »