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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 »

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

Now let’s take a look at whose numbers so far might be deceptively good or deceptively bad. We do this by looking at a hitter’s BABIP, HR/FB ratio, and Hard-Hit Percentage. Our theory, which is not abstruse, is that a guy who has hit the ball hard but isn’t getting either hits or home runs has been unlucky, whereas a guy who hasn’t but is has been lucky.

We’ve done this in past seasons; sometimes we’ve been right. In the past, though, we’ve couched it in terms of players who might be traded for or away. Now, though, we realize that we and most of the rest of the world plays in no-trade redraft leagues. And even if you play in a league that permits trading, it does you little good to know that, say, Tim Anderson has been immoderately fortunate this year. So what?

Read the rest of this entry »

Desperation Waiver Wire, Pitcher Edition

Hard as it is to find useful hitters on the waiver wire in genuinely deep leagues, it’s even harder to find useful pitchers. We emphasize the “genuinely.” Just yesterday, America’s Leading Fantasy Sports Aggregator favored us, unbidden, with a list of “Early Waiver Wire Pickups” that included, as a “Deep League Target,” Merrill Kelly. With Kelly, as with other American players who have revived their careers in East Asia, we are agnostic. But if you’re in a “deep” league in which Kelly—who was universally recognized as a probable early reserve-round pick even before he had a superb start against the Red Sox last week—is available, we want in.

No, the problem with pitchers is that, in fantasy leagues that use standard categories, about half of them are useless at best and a liability at worst. Between starters who will kill you with their rate stats unless they’re in the 90th percentile of their performance range and unreliable non-closer relievers, there’s not much left but the bones after the deep league vultures have picked over the post-draft remains for an FAAB session or two. Even in most deep leagues, it’s true, there are one or two worthwhile and widely-owned survivors among the free agents. In our 15-team league in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, if we want Jordan Zimmermann (we don’t) or Felix Pena (we might), we can have him if we’re willing to pay. But no one above what let’s call the LeBlanc Line—the level at and below which a free agent starting pitcher won’t be worth the risk—is reliably available.

And relievers? Sure, there are plenty who might not hurt you. But they all might. As we discovered last season, there’s no such thing as a consistently Fantasy-useful non-closer. If they’re that good, they wind up getting saves after a while. And if you get someone like Richard Rodriguez—a non-closer who was indeed rather valuable last season—how do you know you’re going to get the 2018 model? In his first two appearances this season, Rodriguez pitched one inning and gave up three earned runs, three hits, and a walk. It will take a bunch of good outings (which, to be fair, he’s started to have) for him to reach break-even.

We will nonetheless stride fearlessly into this carcass-littered minefield and seek some under-owned pitchers who might actually have a pulse and be worth picking up as free agents if you’re desperate to color in some blank roster canvas. Two of them (one of whom may strain your credulity past the breaking point) have a shot at being useful starters. And one of them, hand to God, actually has a shot at becoming his team’s closer, even though he’s gotten no attention that we’re aware of from the Fantasy punditocracy.

Adam Warren, San Diego. Warren’s virtues are not a secret, and were fully discussed by Rian Watt of Fangraphs last month. We’d add or emphasize that (1) Warren isn’t just some fungible journeyman, but a good major league pitcher who almost always does right by his Fantasy owners; (2) he has a starting pitcher’s profile: no platoon split, throws hard when he needs to, has four okay-to-good pitches, and is quite effective third time through the order; (3) he has a record of success as a starter; In 21 Major League starts, he has a 3.88 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and an opponent slash line of .245/.315/.371; and (4) he came pretty close to being in the Padres rotation to start the season. A not-great spring and the success of the Padres’ kiddie corps kept him out of it, but Padres manager Andy Green was not only considering but half-planning on it. All of which is to say that it looks like Warren is next in line for the rotation if anything happens to the kiddies, he should do well once he’s there, and he shouldn’t hurt you in the meanwhile.

Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh. This is the credulity-strainer. Liriano is 35; his ERA over the last three seasons approaches 5; he gave up 9 walks in 10 2/3 innings during spring training; he just barely made the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, largely because he’s left-handed. But there are some counterpoints. First of all, Liriano has spent the best years of his long career as a starter in Pittsburgh, working with Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage. We don’t know what it is that Searage does with his pitchers, or why they don’t take it with them when they go somewhere else, but he definitely does something. Second, those spring training numbers are deceptive. He had one game where he just couldn’t find the plate—four batters, four walks—and was otherwise outstanding. Third, he’s once again doing what he did when he was effective, which is keeping his pitches low and inducing ground balls in great profusion. As you no doubt know, Liriano is off to a terrific start, and the Pirates’ rotation, while solid overall, includes the frequently-hapless Jordan Lyles (career ERA 5.25), so it may have room before long. If there’s a rotation vacancy, maybe the Pirates fill it with top prospect Mitch Keller rather than Liriano. But even then it seems to us there’s a good chance that Liriano keeps doing what he’s been doing in the bullpen, which will still help you.

Nick Anderson, Miami. We’d never heard of this guy until his appearance on the Marlins’ Opening Day roster caught our eye. He’s 28, and he’s got an interesting history: 32nd round draft choice by the Brewers in 2012; doesn’t sign, spends two awful years in an Independent League instead; signs with the Twins, spends four years in their system, gets traded to the Marlins last November for a non-prospect you’ve never heard of. He’s got an ugly history with alcohol, and we haven’t seen any of the back-from-the-depths articles you usually see in this situation, which we hope just means that his recovery is old news. None of which would matter for present purposes if he weren’t also the answer to the question “who had the highest strikeouts-per-nine and strikeouts/walks ratio in the high minors last season?” Take a look at that amazing season, and then realize that it’s even more amazing if you toss out the four games he started (as an opener, we surmise).

And then realize that, all unknown to anyone but Marlins fans and people who spend an unhealthy amount of time doing what we do, Anderson’s kept it up in the majors so far: 4 1/3 innings, 5 hits, one (intentional) walk, ten strikeouts. And there he is in Miami, where the three pitchers who were supposed to compete for or share—we’re not sure which—the closer’s job have a combined ERA of 7.94. We wouldn’t say Anderson’s path to closerhood is clear. If Tayron Guerrero’s control is just a bit better than it’s been, he’s a good candidate, too, and possibly even worth immediate Fantasy attention. But as a guy that was taken in none of 337 NFBC drafts, Anderson’s a find, isn’t he?

Desperation Waiver Wire, Hitter Edition

Time for our annual sort-of grousing about the waiver-wire advice offered by America’s Leading Fantasy Sports Aggregator, whose e-mails pop up like weeds in our In Box. Their standard-issue recommendations are ludicrous—those guys are long gone—and even their “Deep League Targets”—Delino DeShields, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Reynolds—will bring a sneering laugh, or a laughing sneer, to the lips of hard-bitten deep-league veterans, of whom we are two and you are probably one.

So as a public service, we bring you a genuine deep-league waiver wire, where anything better than a dead roster spot is gravy. Our criteria: the player must be generally available even in deep leagues, active on a major league roster, and have a pulse Fantasywise right now—upside is nice, and some of these guys have it, but you’re looking to stanch the bleeding, right? Not have elective cosmetic surgery. We’ll give you one player and one alternative at each position except shortstop, where it was tough enough to find a single guy. Read the rest of this entry »

Revisiting The Quadrinity: Slow But Cheap

We reintroduced the Quadrinity to you last week in its original application, to pitchers. As we discovered last year when we looked at 2017, it also works well—perhaps better—with hitters. And it worked great last season as well. So let’s see whom it turns up now.

To review our approach briefly: we look for the inverse of what we looked for with pitchers last week. This means hitters who were in the upper half of Hard-Hit Ball Percentage and Walk Percentage, and in the lower half—in other words, the upper half—of Strikeout Percentage and Soft(ly)-Hit Ball Percentage. The rationale should be apparent. Just as with the pitcher Quadrinity, this approach yields some very obvious hitters. But what we’re really looking for is moderately-priced or cheap guys who might outperform market expectations.

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Men Of Goodwill: The Birchwood Brothers’ Ten Bold Predictions

One of us happens to live hard by a Goodwill Super Store, and he occasionally drops in just to see what people are giving away. All right, he sometimes buys stuff too, but it’s nice stuff, and the price is right. And we like to think of ourselves as the Goodwill Store of Fantasy Baseball, setting out a rack of bargains for you while others urge you to pay full price for name brands.

Hence our annual feature: not the humdrum Ten Bold Predictions you might find elsewhere, though of course never on Rotographs. Rather they are the outre, gauche, and louche Ten Bold Predictions in which we specialize. This year, we’ve tried to concentrate on players that you might take, either for a dollar or in the reserve rounds, in even a relatively shallow draft—say the 30-player NFBC Main Event. But we wouldn’t be the Birchwood Brothers if we didn’t offer at least one Ouija Board longshot, and since we are in fact the Birchwood Brothers, we did. And, as always, we add an eleventh Bold Prediction, about a guy who’ll cost considerably more than a dollar. Read the rest of this entry »

Revisiting the Quadrinity: The $80 Pitching Staff

And now let’s begin our annual foray into Fantasy Baseball theology—a consultation of the Holy Quadrinity. For those of you who are new to our world: Back in the day, Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus posited that “the three skills that are most important to the art of pitching [are] getting strikeouts, reducing walks, and keeping the ball on the ground,” and that pitchers who can do all three of those things, as betokened by their above-average stats in those categories, are or can be something special. He called this approach The Holy Trinity.

The Quadrinity is our contribution to the ongoing dialectic. We look for pitchers who are in the upper half of two categories (strikeout percentage and soft-hit percentage) and the lower half—in other words, the upper half—of two other categories (walk percentage and hard-hit percentage). You can see why both the Trinity and the Quadrinity would work, insofar as they identify really good pitchers. But you don’t need them to tell you that Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale are really good pitchers. What we found surprising is that the Quadrinity often identifies pitchers who are in fact really good, but aren’t recognized as such by the Fantasy market. Read the rest of this entry »