Elite company: Willis should remain among top young armsPosted: Monday August 11, 2003 11:52 AM
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I'm in a keeper league for the first time and need some advice. Do you think Dontrelle Willis is going to be the next dominant lefty or a flash in the pan? I need to upgrade at outfielder to get back in contention, but would have to trade Willis to get Andruw Jones. Since we can only keep five, I am thinking three pitchers and two position players. Is Willis good enough to keep over Randy Johnson, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Woody Williams, or Kevin Millwood? Also, any advice on how to approach my keeper list would be appreciated. I'm thinking about keeping Miguel Tejada, Mike Lowell or Carlos Delgado as well. Thanks.
Willis was featured in an earlier mailbag and has continued to impress. Do not let his post All-Star ERA of 4.30 fool you. Since the midseason classic, he has produced a stellar WHIP of 1.17 with 20 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 innings.
One sign to look for in a young pitcher is how he handles teams the second and third time he sees them. This is especially relevant with Willis, as part of his success is related to the deception spurned by his unorthodox delivery. The more times lineups see Willis, the more accustomed to his motion they become, which may lead to increased success.
Thus far, Willis has faced two teams twice. In May, he started against the Cincinnati Reds twice within a week. In June, he squared off against the New York Mets twice within 11 days. While this is far too small a sample to glean any tangible conclusions, his record in the two follow-up games is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings.
Whether Willis becomes the next dominant southpaw probably will depend n his health. It is fairly safe to say that if healthy, he will be much more than a flash in the pan. Willis should be considered to be in the same class of young hurlers like Brett Myers, Jacob Peavy, Rich Harden, Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano, Joel Piniero, Johan Santana, Billy Traber and Oliver Perez. Whither Mark Prior? He is at the head of the class
Comparing the keeper prospects of Willis to the list Michael provided, Mulder and a healthy Schmidt make better keepers as they have a proven track record. Johnson has reached the point that he needs to be downgraded on draft day due to his injury risk. Williams and Millwood are fine pitchers, but do not have the upside that Willis possesses.
As for general suggestions with respect to putting together a keeper list, the most important thing to remember is to play to your strength. If you excel at identifying sleeper closers, do not freeze Keith Foulke and Eric Gagne. If you are adept at piecing together a balanced roster so you compete in stolen bases, do not protect Juan Pierre. If you have a knack for finding quality pitching under a rock, then do not protect Mike Mussina or Dontrelle Willis.
Personally, I much prefer to play the percentages and keep hitting, hitting and more hitting. There are three primary reasons. To begin, pitching is less reliable and predictable than hitting. Some of this is due to the inherent injury risk with pitchers, but there are other factors as well. The learning of a single pitch can elevate one from pretender to Cy Young contender (see Loaiza, Esteban). While it is true that hitters can improve their plate discipline or alter their swing mechanics, a larger percentage of pitchers incur a significant increase or decline in value than hitters.
Next, year after year, there is more available pitching available from the free agent pool, compared to hitting. Finally, especially in 5x5 leagues, my chief strategy is to sweep the hitting categories while stockpiling my pitching staff with starters to fare well in wins and saves. Assuming my hitting stays relatively devoid of major injuries, my fate usually depends upon where I finish in ERA, WHIP and saves.
In a 12-team league I have Todd Walker as my second baseman. He has been struggling lately. Do you think he will continue to struggle or do you think he will break out of his slump? If you think he will continue to slump, should I pick up Bo Hart or should I trade for a quality second baseman, using Kevin Millwood as trade bait?
Walker is mired in a bad slump, hitting only .229 since the All-Star break. He has only hit a single homer while knocking in eight runs. Teammate Bill Mueller had three times as many homers and one more RBI in a single game.
Recently, Walker and Mueller have flip-flopped in the batting order, with Walker now occupying the eight hole. Walker is too good a hitter not to turn it around, but his production is bound to be disappointing. Even when hitting well, he was not hitting as many home runs as expected. That said, if he does get it going, he still could put up some production since the Boston lineup is potent enough to provide ample ducks on the pond even for the bottom of the order.
Assuming Ian has an adequate replacement for Millwood, perhaps packaging Millwood with Walker would work. Sell the other guy on the likelihood of Walker getting it going again, making him a perfect buy-low candidate.
Comparing Walker to Hart, I think I would stick with the veteran. As nice a fill-in as Hart has been, realize he is the third second baseman the St. Louis Cardinals have used, following injuries to Fernando Vina and Miguel Cairo. Also, Hartís overall numbers are inflated from his unreal start, when he hit .426 in June. Since then he has hit a rather pedestrian .250.
My league is allowing us to have four keepers. I am torn on whom to keep. I have to decide among the following: Phil Nevin, Jeff Kent, Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Ichiro Suzuki and Luis Gonzalez. Pujols is a no-brainer, but what about the other three?
In my mind, Suzuki is a no-brainer as well. Without knowing which team will be signing Tejadaís paychecks, it is difficult to judge his keeper potential. Assuming Kent is healthy, he must be considered as well. Bonds is the wild card as, with apologies to Pujols, he has the highest ceiling. Pujols is a safer bet, but a healthy Barry Bonds still has the potential to match or better Pujols stat for stat and steal more bases along the way. Nevin and Gonzalez are fine players, but should be thrown back into the player pool.
Which categories are easiest to make up ground in? I have always heard that it is too late to make up ground in batting average at this point in the season.
My colleague Jason Grey addressed this in his latest Grey Matter, but I will build upon his sage advice.
For openers, it is a myth that ground cannot be made up in the ratio categories of batting average, ERA and WHIP. The assumption is too many at-bats and innings have been accrued to allow sufficient movement. This is simply not true. In a study I conducted at the end of last season, I sampled 10 leagues and tracked the weekly movement within the standard rotisserie categories. The most movement was in the ratio categories. Ten leagues is by no means a sufficient sample size to decree it is easier to gain points in the ratios than in the counting categories, but I feel perfectly safe in debunking the myth that it is impossible to do so.
The reality of the matter is each league is unique and has unique standings distributions. Your ability to gain or lose points within a category totally depends upon your placement within that category. Often times, there are pockets of tightly bunched competitors. If you fortuitously find yourself at the bottom of that pack, you can obviously gain some points in the category.
There are a couple of important factors to keep in mind when studying the categories and deciding where to make your move. By means of example, let us consider the following scenario. You are six homers behind the next owner. This does not seem like much. Let us assume both teams continue on their current pace of homers. This means that six-homer bulge is really an eight-homer bulge if prorated until the end of the season. So you really need to make up eight homers. This is the first factor to remember.
The next is to do more than pick up a player who projects to hit eight homers from now until October. You need him to hit eight more dingers than the player he replaces. Upgrading from Steve Finley to Sammy Sosa is all well and good. Just realize that if Finley is likely to hit about four more homers, so you need Sosa to knock 12 out of the yard. If you think about it, you need Sosa to hit 12 homers just to make up your present difference of six.
The above example contains a major flaw. It is hard to believe that both teams will stay on the same pace. Injuries, trades and slumps all affect your pace of production. Say you already own Sosa and are six behind someone who had Austin Kearns. Sosa is enjoying a revival of sorts and will probably continue to hit homers at a greater pace than earlier in the season, while Kearns is likely out for the year. You may not even need to make a trade to make up that six-homer lead, it may occur naturally. So the real advice is not just to be aware that a six-homer bulge might be really eight, but rather to spend some time reviewing the recent trends each team has had in the category, in an attempt to project how many homers each squad will hit, all things considered.
Let us conclude this discussion by going back to the ratio categories. There are two significant differences between the ratio categories and the counting categories. The first is not only can you improve in a ratio category, but your opponent can get worse. In fact, you could stay the same or even drop and still gain a point if the drop suffered by your competitor is severe enough. The second is you can use the mechanism of addition by subtraction to improve. What this means is you can replace a detrimental starting pitcher or everyday hitter with a reliever or part-time player, whereby helping your ratios. Of course, you better be able to absorb the loss in counting stats by doing this.
Mathematically, let us pretend you have amassed 900 innings to date. Your ERA is 4.00, meaning you have allowed 400 earned runs. If this is prorated to the end of the season, you will end up with about 1256 innings and about 559 earned runs allowed. Now say you drop a pitcher who would have tossed 56 innings and allowed 29 earned runs, computing to an ERA of 4.67. You replace this starter with a lefty specialist who throws 10 innings and yields only three runs. Your new final ERA is now 3.96, down from 4.00. This may not seem like much, but I bet if you look at your standings, you will find at least one pocket where that earns you a point or two.
The average difference between consecutive standings places in ERA is a little over .090. You just made up almost half of that with one substitution. Maybe your team as a whole pitches better while your opponent gets a little worse. The .090 is just an average. There will be places where the difference in standings points is .050 while others are .130. They key is location, location, location. Just hope you find yourself at the bottom of a tightly packed bunch, and then do what you can to improve your numbers. It can be done, trust me.
Todd Zola is a writer for The Masters of Fantasy Baseball at www.mastersball.com, a free daily source for news, analysis, insight, and opinion.