Thursday, November 11, 2004

The important things

You may have missed it, what with the presidential election and Yasser Arafat and Falluja and all, but the Anaheim Angels have named Francisco Rodriguez their new closer. This is a smart move by the Angels and, more importantly, a terrific development for my fantasy baseball team, Diablos Rojos.

Sorry, once again, this is going to be a boring post for normal people, but I have to let my fantasy-baseball obsession out to stretch its legs.

I complained about my 2003 fantasy season at nauseating length here. Our league has a modified keeper system: each winter, all owners designate four players to keep for the next season.

Diablos Rojos keepers, 2003-4:
  • Orlando Cabrera
  • Luis Castillo
  • Kerry Wood
  • Billy Wagner

Sheesh. Cabrera and Castillo were not much of a foundation for an offense. The best thing I could say about them was that at least they were middle infielders, which simplifies drafting quite a bit. Wood and Wagner were legitimate keepers, although as it turned out they were hampered by injuries in 2004.

But then I had a good draft. Then I made a series of trades that turned out pretty well. Unlike '03, I wasn't aggressively seeking trades, I was letting the game come to me. Oak Park was wanting a shortstop rather badly, so he offered me Bobby Abreu for Orlando Cabrera. That was a slam-dunk win for me (though Oak Park won the league so he can be philosophical about it). Then I got Gary Sheffield and Freddy Garcia in exchange for Adam Dunn. Another bargain: Dunn had a very good year, but he's a wild swinger who's had an inconsistent career, whereas Sheffield is a disciplined hitter and perennial star who had an MVP caliber year. So Dunn for Sheffield was at least a wash, plus Garcia was a useful pitcher for me. Then near the deadline I traded Carl Crawford to Portland for two excellent rookies, Zack Greinke and Jason Bay. Crawford is the best base-stealer in baseball, but I had a huge lead in steals so strategy dictated dealing him. This trade helped both teams. So I finished the season in 4th place, an improvement of a spot or two in the standings, and here's how the keeper list looks:

Diablos Rojos keepers, 2004-5:
  • Bobby Abreu
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Zack Greinke
  • Francisco Rodriguez

Ah, this is better. Abreu and Sheffield are studs. THEY form a good foundation for an offense. Sheffield is aging and he played with a hurt shoulder all year, but he put up killer numbers anyway, and I think the shoulder will be better in the spring.

Rodriguez was a great middle-round draft choice. He's a hellacious young pitcher--the Angels have just kept him in a setup role because of the old rule of thumb, Teams need an experienced closer. Well, the new rule of thumb is, Look for inexpensive guys in their 20s and avoid expensive guys in their 30s. A young guy, with great stuff, on a competitive team, working with a manager who knows him and will use him in a consistent way. This is all shaping up well. It's just like what the Yankees did in the late 1990s, letting John Wetteland go and giving young Mariano Rivera his chance. I'm glad I resisted Cape Fear's repeated efforts to pry Rodriguez away from me.

Zack Greinke: ah, what the hell. There's a good argument for NOT putting a lot of stock into a starting pitcher. They're relatively unpredictable. A good strategy is collecting, say, seven starting pitchers in the late rounds of the draft, expecting four or five of them to pan out well. And even if I was going to make a starting pitcher one of my keepers, there is an argument for Kerry Wood, who has more of an established track record. But I'm going to make a spot for Greinke. People in the sport rave about him. He had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4:1 or 5:1, which is outstanding. He's 20 years old, which means he might be in danger of early burnout, OR he might be very, very special.

I made a cognitive leap forward last winter in evaluating pitchers: identifying guys who are likely to be sound, with decent ERA and WHIP. This winter's challenge: try to figure out some clues as to which pitchers will record Wins. I've been assuming that Wins are largely a matter of luck, and that the best thing you can do is have a bias toward pitchers who are on winning teams rather than losing teams. (In other words, all else being equal, take a guy from the Yankees or Red Sox or Cardinals rather than the Tigers or Devil Rays.) But I must be missing something. How come I led my league in ERA and WHIP and was near the bottom in Wins? How do Cape Fear and Oak Park manage to be near the top in Wins year after year?

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