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White Sox re-sign Vizquel for $1.75 million, set market for utility infielders

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The White Sox’s signing of Omar Vizquel to a one-year deal will not make or break them as champions, but it may raise some eyebrows considering he will be 44 years old for the 2011 season. Despite the age, Vizquel is a smart investment for a contending White Sox team.

Vizquel had a pretty good year for a 43-year-old in 2010, hitting .276/.341/.331 while playing some third base, shortstop, second base and DH. While he didn’t play any defensive position particularly well, his versatility is valuable given the ineptitude of any other organizational options such as Brent Lillibridge or Fernando Cortez.

Fangraphs has his 2010 season valued at only $1.0 million dollars, although that was likely skewed by the bulk of his time at third base and designated hitter. With the emergence of slugging third basemen Brent Morel and Dayan Viciedo, Vizquel will be used more properly in the coming year. Vizquel will be able to give days off to Morel, Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham while also likely filling a mentor role for the younger players.

Some may scoff that any money was given to Vizquel given his production and age, but Vizquel keeps himself in tremendous physical shape, making him less likely to decline suddenly. Other options such as Craig Counsell, Nick Punto, Mike Fontenot and Adam Everett all carry different weaknesses. It will be interesting to see how Vizquel’s contract compares with some of the other younger infielders such as Jhonny Peralta.

With a lack of other suitable options, the White Sox were able to secure a solid piece to their 2011 bench at a cheap price. Their success, however, will be determined by how little they depend on Vizquel to produce.

Categories: MLB Tags: , ,

Giants’ model will be impossible to replicate

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

The San Francisco Giants are World Series Champs. Ask anyone how they did it and they’ll probably give you a similar answer: starting pitching, timely hitting and a great rookie catcher. This formula seems foolproof for playoff success, but any other club will have a difficult time recreating the same type of magic.

For starters (pun intended), elite pitching is incredibly difficult to come across at any cost. After the mid-90’s dominance of Atlanta, much was made of the Braves’ model and the incomparable strength of three Cy Young candidates in your staff. Teams such as the early 2000’s Cubs tried to build on that idea, only to see some of their big arms flame out.

The Giants were able to obtain their homegrown product by investing three first-round draft picks and developing a late-round pick into dominant starters. For the most part, this is extremely rare. A lot has to come together for any of these picks to become as dominant as the Giants’ four have become. Even if a pitcher merely becomes an average starter, injury is a constant reality in the life of a young arm.

Given the time, variability and risk in developing a pitching staff, a different approach has been to add top starters via free agency. The most recent example has been the Yankees, but they haven’t even had a season where four starters have put together great years. Even the World Series Champion Giants engaged in the free agent game by giving Barry Zito an albatross of a contract. It appears that even though free agency can grant a few good years out of a pitcher, building an entire rotation that way will ultimately lead to some bad investments.

The last time four starters of this caliber came together for a World Series win was back in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had a mix of homegrown and acquired talent featuring the fearsome foursome of Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Mark Buerhle and Jose Contreras. For a few of these pitchers, this was a year of career years. In the Giants case, their success almost seems guaranteed for a good part of this decade.

In terms of the Giants’ hitting, they will be almost as impossible to imitate. Catcher Buster Posey is another first-round pick who developed into a star. For the rest of the team, you have a bunch of seemingly stop-gap solutions and castoffs: Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Andres Torres and Cody Ross make up part of a long list of players who played at unexpected levels. Posey, the team’s only cornerstone, didn’t even join the club until a quarter of a way through the championship season.

The Giants’ hitters feature additional unproductive contracts: Aaron Rowand earning $13.6 million, Mark Derosa at $6.0 million and Edgar Renteria at $10 million. Any small or mid-market team looking to take this approach would go bankrupt before winning a World Series.

For the Giants to come together in 2010, it took a solid group of young players along with several bottles full of lightning while ignoring tens of millions of dollars in dead money. Any GM would be wise to look the other way as they enter the winter meetings.

Fantasy Slumpers and Fantasy Dumpers: Week 9

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Each week we will try to take a look at some struggling players in fantasy football and whether they are just slumping or worthy of dumping. This week will take a look at players who struggled in Week 8.

The Slumpers

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers had a rough fantasy outing in the Packers’ Week 8 9-0 win over the Jets. This was pretty easy to anticipate as Jermichael Finley is out for the season, Donald Driver is nursing an injury and the Jets feature one of the best defenses in the NFL. Rodgers’ line of 15/34 for 170 yards and no touchdowns is sure to improve in coming weeks, and both he and the Packers should benefit greatly from the Week 10 bye. Rodgers still didn’t throw any picks and managed to only take a couple of sacks. With that in mind, he has done little to make us reconsider the #4 ranking amongst fantasy quarterbacks we gave him last week.

Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger is another quarterback who struggled this past week, but also shouldn’t be too big of a concern for fantasy owners. Roethlisberger still threw for nearly 7 yards per attempt and a completion percentage over 60%, but the Steelers were unable to move the ball or consistently make end zone threats against the Saints. Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense should get on the field more against a less efficient offensive group. Look for a bounce back in coming weeks with more yards, touchdowns and fantasy points.

Titans Defense

The Titans defense gave up the most points of any week this year in the Week 8 33-25 loss to the Chargers. Fantasy owners should remember that, despite the record, the Chargers are one of the best offensive units in football even without weapons like Malcom Floyd. The Titans have a talent for creating turnovers and have some great pass rushers in Jason Babin and David Ball. The Titans’ defense should have some big performances after their Week 9 bye as they face the Dolphins and Redskins.

The Dumpers

Randy Moss

The Vikings took the ‘dump’ advice we are giving to fantasy owners and decided to cut Randy Moss today. Moss had a pretty dreadful week followed by an interesting press conference and is unlikely to make a significant impact if he finds a new team. Part ways with him as soon as you can and find someone else to help make your playoff push.

Jonathan Stewart

With DeAngelo Williams out, Jonathan had the opportunity to shine and position himself to take carries from Williams. While one Jon Stewart was in Washington rallying to restore sanity, this Jon Stewart was in St. Louis securing Williams’ role once he returns from injury. On the day, he ran for 30 yards on 14 carries while catching one pass for eight yards, On the season, he is averaging less than 3 yards per carry, has less than 200 total rushing yards, and has scored only one touchdown. In such an anemic offense, Stewart is barely worth a roster spot once Williams returns.

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch appeared to be the answer to Pete Carroll’s backfield questions when the Seahawks acquired him from the Bills prior to Week 6. Lynch has not impressed, failing to run for more than four yards per carry in three games with his new team. As a result, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington each received five carries in the Seahawks’ loss to the Raiders. With Forsett receiving some short-yardage and receiving opportunities, Lynch’s fantasy relevance is fading fast.

World Series Game 1: Cliff Lee’s Crazy Night of BABIP

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

“This just goes to show you we have no idea what we’re talking about.” – Joe Buck during the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1

Cliff Lee had his first rough outing of the postseason tonight against the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series. Over 4 2/3 innings, his line was 7 R, 6 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 1 HBP and 7K. If you think like me, your first glance at that line will have you thinking “where are all the outs in play?” Let’s take a look.

Lee faced 24 batters over his 4 2/3 innings. Here’s a breakdown of the plate appearances:

7 strikeouts
1 walk
5 aerial outs (including bunt foul popup by Linececum)
1 groundout
1 error
8 hits

The Rangers got 8 hits on 15 balls in play for a .533 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and the Rangers defense only converted 6 of 15 balls into outs at a 40% rate. These are some pretty extreme numbers, needless to say. This isn’t to say that Lee got completely unlucky — a lot of his pitches were off and he was giving up a lot of hard-hit balls even though none left the park. However, we can compare this to his season-long performance for some perspective.

Compared to the .533 BABIP in Game 1, that number was at .302 during the regular season. Unfortunately for Lee, really small sample sizes will give you that discrepancy. Over the course of the year, there were only three starts where Lee gave up hits in more than 33% of plate appearances.

5/21 v. SDP
6.1 IP, 32 batters faced, 11H, 8R, 7ER, 7K, 0BB

8/21 @ BAL
5.2 IP, 28 batters faced, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 4K, 1BB

8/31 @ KCR
4.2 IP, 25 batters faced, 10H, 7R, 4ER, 5K, 0BB

Tonight’s start looks pretty similar to each of these. However, Lee had a much more dominant night tonight in terms of missing bats. Here’s the % of batters struck out in each appearance:

5/21 vs. SDP – 21.9%
8/21 @ BAL – 14.3%
8/31 @ KCR – 20%
10/27 @ SFG – 29.17%

So, from a statistical standpoint, this looks like a night of aberration.

FOX Color Commentator Tim McCarver did offer up the observation that Lee was not getting ahead of batters nearly as much as he normally does. In fact, his first pitch strike rate tonight was 60%, compared to 69.8% on the year. On top of that, Lee threw 66.3% of pitches for strikes, compared to 71.14% on the year. These numbers could help explain the fact that he actually walked a batter and hit another. The Giants also could have been able to make better contact off Lee due to his poor control. Still, this doesn’t account for his whole performance.

In the end, it was a slightly-off performance combined with good hitting by the Giants and some bad luck. To top it off for Lee, reliever Darren O’Day immediately surrendered his two inherited runners on a Juan Uribe 3-run homer, adding two more earned runs to Cliff Lee’s total.

These are the kinds of results you get in playoff baseball. It may not be just, but it is definitely exciting.

Update: Joe Pawlikowski at Fangraphs did a great breakdown of Cliff Lee’s pitches showing that the left-hander was hitting the middle of the zone a whole lot more rather than the edge of the plate. This would explain all the hard hit balls, and as a result, hits.

Categories: MLB, World Series Tags: , ,

Romo and Favre Fallout: Re-Ranking Fantasy Quarterbacks

October 27, 2010 1 comment

In the last week, we’ve seen some big news at the quarterback position. Brett Favre may or may not be out with multiple fractures in his ankle and Tony Romo is out for a majority of the season with a broken collarbone. With such flux, it’s time to refresh our rankings for the second half of the season.

1. Peyton Manning
Manning has been the best performer so far, and gives no owner a reason to doubt his future performance. He will stay on the field, put up yardage and touchdowns, and has a nice Week 15 matchup against Jacksonville.

2. Phillip Rivers
Rivers has also been a top performer, and should keep throwing for a bunch of yards and touchdowns, even with wide receiver Malcom Floyd out. The running game hasn’t been as consistent as expected, but Rivers has taken to the air and done it well.

3. Drew Brees
Brees hasn’t had a bad year, but his four interception game against Cleveland is symbolic of the Saints’ struggles this year. With Reggie Bush on the way back and Robert Meachem back in a prominent role, the Saints’ passing game should rebound and Brees should resume his place as a top three fantasy quarterback. If you happen to make it to the championship game, Brees has a great Week 16 matchup at Atlanta.

4. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has had a strong year, but the loss of Jermichael Finley will hurt him over the rest of the season. He still holds on to the ball a bit long and has thrown his share of interceptions, but you’ll get the yards and touchdowns in that Packer offense.

5. Tom Brady
Brady was featured as a “Slumper” in the Week 8 Slumpers and Dumpers and should bounce back from some rough weeks. The Patriots offense hasn’t been as potent lately, but give Brady some time to get into a rhythm, and the points will come.

6. Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan and Roddy White have emerged as a great combo. Ryan is the best of this next tier of quarterbacks and should give owners some great weeks.

7. Joe Flacco
Flacco was also featured as a slumper prior to Week 7 and has performed masterfully, notching five touchdowns, over 500 yards and no interceptions the last two weeks.

8. Michael Vick
Vick is coming back from injury after this week’s bye. When he comes back, he will be in an incredible offensive environment and be capable of putting up huge amounts of points. Still, given his playing style and the relatively strong play of Kevin Kolb, he isn’t the most secure option to finish the year as the starter.

9. Eli Manning
Eli Manning had an interesting game this past Monday night against the Cowboys. While he threw three interceptions, he also notched four touchdowns and was able to yet again find Hakeem Nicks for some big scores. Manning will throw his fair share of interceptions and is still prone to some down weeks, but the overall yards and touchdowns will be there.

10. Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger is still fresh off his suspension, but has played great since coming back. He could easily repeat his standout performance from last year, and will pay off well for any owner who took the risk in drafting him.

11. Matt Schaub
Schaub had his second 300 yard performance in Week 6 against Kansas City and his fate seems to vary with Andre Johnson’s health. Schaub will have huge games, but like Manning, can still have some bad games.

12. Kyle Orton
Orton has been a top fantasy quarterback thus far while operating in a spread-style offense in Denver. However, the last two weeks have seen Orton slow down a bit and Tim Tebow entering the game in the red zone. Orton’s yards and touchdowns could take a dip, and we could see even more Tim Tebow if the Broncos continue to regress.

13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick has put together some great weeks and will continue to produce at least respectable the rest of the way. Any owner or prospective owner of Fitzpatrick can read Greg’s analysis asking the question Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a Good Quarterback?

14. Carson Palmer
Palmer looks terrible at times, and sometimes has big weeks like he did in Week 7. He is too much of a wild card to rely on at the sole quarterback option, but could fill in during bye weeks or due to injury.

15. Donovan McNabb
McNabb has had trouble getting the ball into the end zone and won’t produce week-to-week at a high enough level to be anything more than a matchup play. He was featured this week as a fantasy dumper.

16. Jay Cutler
Cutler was a fantasy dumper way back in Week 6 and hasn’t done much to prove that label wrong since. The Bears’ offensive line is still a mess, and Cutler has started to throw interceptions. The Bears will still throw the ball enough to warrant a Cutler start in some weeks, but even against poor opponents he has struggled.

17. Chad Henne
Henne has improved his completion percentage and YPA while gaining a rapport with Brandon Marshall. Still, he has struggled to find the end zone and will have his bumps along the way. He is a pretty good backup option and is a candidate to break into the top 15 this year.

18. Mark Sanchez
Sanchez is emerging from his caretaker role, but is still not going to put up too many yards or touchdowns. His lack of interceptions and the presence of a good red zone target are a plus, but he throws at too low of a percentage and too infrequently to be very valuable.

19. Matthew Stafford
The Lions’ passing game was productive under quarterback Shaun Hill and should remain so with Matthew Stafford at the helm. Calvin Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the game and gives Stafford the potential for a few huge weeks. Still, there will be growing pains and Stafford shouldnt’t be a primary starter.

20. Jon Kitna
Kitna will fill in for the injured Romo for the majority of the rest of the season. The good news is that he inherits a lot of offensive weapons including the explosive Dez Bryant. Still, his last full year was 2007 and hasn’t done much since. Kitna could fill a void for Romo owners, but they should also consider holding onto Romo as he could return in time for the fantasy playoffs.

21. Matt Cassel
Cassel has put a few solid weeks together, but the Chiefs aren’t going to throw enough over the course of the season to give him too much value.

22. David Garrard
Garrard will come back from his concussion either this week or in coming weeks. He is fairly reliable for some solid production.

23. Josh Freeman
We evaluated Freeman’s 2010 success a few weeks ago. Freeman has made some strides, but has thrown for a low average of late.

24. Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck has done about what anyone could expect out of him, which isn’t much. He’ll put the ball in the air frequently, but is on the fringe of backup quarterback options.

25. Brett Favre
If Favre plays this year, he’ll still have some value, but right now there are two injuries that could potentially keep him off the field. Even when on the field, he wasn’t great this year. Favre should sit on the fantasy bench right now until he proves he can play at a high level.

26. Sam Bradford
The ROY candidate has impressed at times and is a decent option as a fill-in during certain weeks.

27. Jason Campbell
Campbell is in a pretty rough situation in Oakland and should only be added when there’s not many other options. This week Greg looked at the possibility of Campbell regressing.

28. Matt Moore
If he plays, he could have some pretty good weeks, but rookie Jimmy Clausen is always looming.

29. Vince Young
Vince Young is currently a bit dinged up, and wasn’t a good fantasy quarterback beforehand. Given Jeff Fisher’s early season willingness to go to backup Kerry Collins mid-game, Vince Young barely has fantasy value.

30. Tony Romo
If he comes back in time, he could be a playoff difference maker for a team without a quarterback.

31. Kevin Kolb
He has the chance to play in a dynamic offensive system and has shown he can produce.

32. Tarvaris Jackson
With Favre hurt, Jackson will inherit the Vikings’ weak passing game.

33. Max Hall
If you add Max Hall, you’re in trouble.

Categories: Fantasy Football Tags: ,

Fantasy Slumpers and Fantasy Dumpers: Week 8

October 25, 2010 1 comment

Each week we will try to take a look at some struggling players in fantasy football and whether they are just slumping or worthy of dumping. This week will take a look at players who struggled in Week 7.

The Slumpers

Tom Brady

Brady had a relatively down week, despite a good number of attempts against the Chargers. The last three weeks have seen a couple of disappointing games and a bye week. At the same time, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is getting goal-line scores, taking some of Brady’s touchdown opportunities. Nevertheless, Brady and the Patriots should get into their offensive rhythm in coming weeks, yielding big results for owners. Look for a big game next week against Minnesota.

Rashard Mendenhall

Mendenhall had only 15 carries for 37 yards in Week 7 against Miami. This was his fewest attempts all year, one of two games he didn’t score a touchdown and the only one where he failed to break a run over ten yards. Neither his workload, lack of touchdowns or lack of big runs is sustainable over the long-term and we should see a big week for Mendenhall after the Week 8 bye for the Steelers.

Jeremy Maclin

Maclin disappointed owners who thought he could have another big week in DeSean Jackson’s absence. While he did produce some yardage on the ground and catching the ball, he was targeted fourteen times and caught only five balls. He also failed to score a touchdown in this game. He clearly isn’t yet a receiver who can operate alone on offense, but he and the Eagles offense should bounce back in Week 9 after a bye week. He is very capable of big plays and touchdowns and is a top fantasy wide receiver.

The Dumpers

Donovan McNabb

McNabb managed only 200 yards despite over 30 attempts in Week 7 against the Bears. He has had trouble getting the ball into the end zone, and his low completion percentage will prevent long drives from occurring in the offense unless Ryan Torain contains to eat up yardage. He has a few old receivers and an emerging one, Anthony Armstrong, but probably won’t get enough big plays to justify a week-to-week start. At this point, McNabb is a matchup play. Fortunately for owners, he is facing the Lions in Week 8, and a good performance could provide an opportunity for fantasy owners to shop him around the league.

Matt Forte

This is the third straight week we have featured a Chicago Bear as a fantasy dumper, and it is no coincidence. The Bears’ offense is looking more inept and in different ways each week. Matt Forte once again did not look as impressive as Chester Taylor, and will probably lose any future goal-line carries to him. He did provide 70 total yards last week, but a fumble hurt his points. Despite the difficulties, offensive coordinator Mike Martz still will not run the ball enough to give Forte a lot of value. Forte remains a decent second running back, but the coming bye week is a good time to find a replacement.

Brandon Tate

It was less than two weeks ago that we looked at Deion Branch’s impact on Brandon Tate’s fantasy value. Unfortunately for owners, our rosy outlook on Tate has not come to fruition. This past week, he was targeted just three times and had one catch for three yards. The week prior saw him with no receptions and a 22 yard run. The new look of the Patriots’ offense doesn’t seem to have a role for Brandon Tate, although he could still emerge. Consider a waiver wire pickup if he posts a big week later on, but for now, he is barely worth a roster spot.

Five reasons why the Rangers are a lock to advance

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

It may not be a particularly bold move to declare the Rangers the certain favorite to advance to the World Series, but there is still some hope among Yankee fans after the strong showing in Game 5. Here’s five reasons why the Rangers will close out the series

1. Cliff Lee
If the Rangers fail to win Game 6, they have the safety of Cliff Lee pitching at home in Game 7. We all know about his ridiculous performance this post-season and astronomical K/BB ratio. With Mark Teixeira out, Lee will continue to improve upon the .612 OPS he held the Yankees to during the regular season.

2. Homefield Advantage
The Rangers were a stunning 51-30 (that’s .630 baseball) at home during the regular season and didn’t even muster a .500 record on the road. Against the average team in random circumstances, they would have an 85% chance to win one of the two games. This went a bit by the wayside in the ALDS and in Game 1, but you can’t keep down such a good home team too long.

3. Josh Hamilton
Some wondered whether Hamilton could be brought back to speed quick enough for the Rangers in the playoffs. The long series against the Rays helped him out and he has found his swing, completely mashing the ball. His career .991 OPS at the Ballpark in Arlington is surpassed by his season 1.044 OPS. If Hamilton is in form, it will be hard to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard.

4. Baserunning
The Rangers have excelled in baserunning this postseason and the Yankees haven’t slowed them down a bit. So far in the series, they have 9 stolen bases, many directly contributing to runs. The only way to stop them is to keep them off the bases, something the Yankees didn’t even do in their Game 5 win.

5. Yankees hitters
While Robinson Cano has woken up to become the Yankees best hitter both during the regular season and playoffs, the rest of the Yankees have been a disappointment, aside from Curtis Granderson. With Mark Teixeira out, they will all need to wake up soon to be able to win this seires. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do so against Colby Lewis and Cliff Lee, something I don’t see happening.

Final Verdict
The Rangers will win Game 6 to close out the series. Bring on Halladay/Lincecum to face Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the World Series.

Categories: MLB Tags: , ,