“Round Robinson” Fantasy Baseball Observations from the Graveyard Shift
I don’t consume baseball the way 99% of you do. I can’t consume baseball the way 99% of you do. When you’re getting home from work ready to relax in front of the TV to watch your favorite team, I’m just waking up. When you flip the TV off after seeing the last handshake or walk-off of the night, I’m three hours deep into a shift. Day games? Forget about it. I might catch the opening few innings if I’m lucky. And I would venture to say very few of you have overslept for an online draft. It’s not a good feeling to see your team loaded with five big name closers when you wake up and it’s the middle of the 10th round.
I’ve never looked at it as a disadvantage, just a unique challenge. I moved to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area a little more than three months ago, chasing the dream. It’s a grind, and times can be hard now and then, but the journey is what makes the destination worth it. Part of that chase, as by now you’ve noticed, requires me to work hours that should make it difficult to stay on top of the game. But I want to be as good as the next owner. Scratch that, I want to be BETTER than the next owner. That should be the mindset of everyone who plays.
And we all have our challenges, certainly in this game. Some of you are still waiting to see your first-round pick Clayton Kershaw take the mound again. Some of you are wondering if Miguel Cabrera noticed the season started. Some of your teams look more like an infirmary than a competitive baseball squad. But you don’t throw in the towel. You simply take the challenge in front of you and find a way to make it work. That’s what makes this game so worth it. It’s all just a part of the grind.
For me, making it work means finding information beyond just what my own two eyes tell me. Baseball being the numbers game that it is, I have to rely on those numbers along with what I do get to see to make informed decisions. It means I’m going to have to work a little harder plowing through the numbers than my fellow owners to get the jump on them. It also means I value the opportunity to sit down and watch games more than most.
This past Wednesday was a rare night off in the middle of the week. It just so happened to be the same night that King Felix vs. Darvish was on the slate here in north Texas, so my plan to set my alarm for [7:00] PM to catch one of the better pitchers duels of the season was in place. What follows is an account of the action that night and what it’s like to be a fan and an owner fighting against the schedule and one’s own circadian rhythms.
[8:33] PM: Well, so much for that idea. The screen on my phone tells me I’m an hour and a half late and, as usual, is filled with various icons about what I’ve missed while everyone else was up living their lives. There’s the usual score updates and text messages. More often than not, I get the little symbol indicating there are more notifications than what are listed. Naturally, my brain starts going down the list of what I think those updates are most likely to say:
- 1) Another Braves pitcher requires Tommy John surgery, out for the season.
- 2) Someone wondering why I haven’t responded to their text for 6+ hours.
- 3) Ryan Braun going on the 15-day DL with a thumb injury.
- 4) Ryan Braun hits 4 HRs in first 4 ABs today (one of these two is bound to happen)
All the way down to:
- 726) A missed call. People still call nowadays?
- 727) My Tinder must be blowin’ up.
Nothing of the sort today, just your standard news and score updates. Might as well pour myself a bowl of cereal with a big glass of milk on the side (one of my many quirks), turn on the laptop and pop open some gamecasts to follow the rest of the action. Top of the 5th and it’s 2-0 Mariners. Felix looks to be on top of his game. Time to settle in and enjoy.
[9:25] PM: I notice Alexei Ramirez just went yard off Clay Buchholz, his 4th of the season already. He only hit 6 HRs all of last year. You have no idea how much I want to believe. Every owner has those guys that they been all about from the start. The ones that they proclaim as future stars that they were in on at the ground floor. The ones that have tantalized them for years with promise of finally breaking out. That guy for me is Alexei Ramirez. I’ve been all over Alexei since dropping a top-50 pick on him in 2009, back when comparisons to Alfonso Soriano raised eyebrows and piqued interest. I was salivating over the potential of 25/25 at one of my middle infield spots, and every year I kept coming back for more, thinking this would be the year. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was the way Stan Verrett yelled out his name in highlights, I don’t know. But I kept buying in on some level only to be disappointed with the end results. Flash forward to this season and after two weeks he’s hitting just south of .400 with those 4 HR and 3 SB to boot, a top-5 player in most formats. Oh, how I want to believe.
The opportunities to run have been plentiful the last two seasons, but the power seemed to be on the down-swing. What’s been the biggest change this year? Ramirez’s career walk rate before this season was 5.0%, dipping as low as 2.6% and 3.9% over the last two seasons, respectively. This year, Ramirez is walking 7.8% while keeping his strikeout rate under 10% for the first time. Going deeper, Ramirez is only swinging at 31.6% of balls outside of the zone, a 10% decrease from a year ago, and making contact with 98.3% of pitches inside the zone, and 89.9% of pitches overall. When you learn to take the bad pitch, it becomes much easier to do damage with the good ones. The small sample size caveat is in effect, but the skills have always been there and right now they’re on full display. I think .280/.335/.410 with 18 HR and 23 SB is very much in play, and there aren’t too many shortstops tossing around numbers like that.
[9:55] PM: Not to beat a dead horse, but good grief how is the win statistic still even in the vernacular of fantasy baseball? Just watched a great outing by Felix Hernandez get flushed down the toilet by Fernando Rodney and some laughable Mariners’ defense. Who underhand flips to second when they’re 30 feet away? As a veteran of owning King Felix, it’s something I’m all too familiar with. The bigger takeaway on this day is seeing so many stud pitchers acting like it early on. In addition to the top-tier studs like Hernandez, Darvish, and Fernandez looking sharp, less-established hurlers such as Cashner, Tanaka, Cueto, and Teheran have all looked the part. Tanaka’s going to get all the headlines, well-deserved I might add, but Teheran and Cashner look intent on making the jump to top-20 this season, if not higher.
On the subject of emerging pitchers, how is it possible that after not one but two pitchers succumbing to Tommy John surgery again, the Braves still have four starters who are all legitimately rosterable at this point. The aforementioned Teheran has been phenomenal (1.93 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, getting more groundballs than ever and the strikeouts will come) and Alex Wood has been every bit of the star Atlanta was hoping he might be (1.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, top 40 in K/BB). Even Ervin Santana has hit the ground in full sprint despite missing almost all of spring training (0.64 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 10.93 K/9). But the biggest surprise has to be that of Aaron Harang (always wanted someone to nickname him the Harangutan). Harang, who was signed March 24 after the team bailed on Freddy Garcia, has been lights out to the tune of a 0.96 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 17 K in 3 starts. Not too shabby for a guy whose ERA languished in the mid-fives last season. It will be interesting to see what the Braves do once Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor (two more names to keep in mind) return to the fold, which should be by the middle of next month. But for now, enjoy the ride and keep Harangin 10 (another one I want to see catch on).
[11:28] PM: And now Hanley Ramirez is pulled after getting hit in the back of the left hand in the 7th inning. Another one? Seriously, another injury? Pitchers getting hurt is nothing new (although this season feels outrageous there too), and it’s one of the reasons why we do put the premium on hitting in drafts. But we’re hearing about a prominent hitter going down what seems like every single day now. Hamilton, Zimmerman, Beltre, Ramos, Victorino, Reyes (that one we all saw coming), Teixiera, Calhoun, and even Avisail Garcia. And that’s not even including guys like Braun and Pedroia playing through their early-season ailments. Here’s to hoping this is just a short term trend, but owners have to be even more prepared than in years past. Multi-position eligible players are becoming a must as DL and bench spots are filled. I’ve always hated locking multi-position guys at any spot that doesn’t bring the most value (such as Carlos Santana at 3B instead of catcher), but you can’t be too picky this year. Play ’em where you got ’em.
[12:08] AM: Oh yeah, the ChiSox have brought in utility man Leury Garcia to pitch in the top of the 14th. Anytime position players are on the mound, its appointment television for me. But when it’s in a tie game against the defending world champs, wipe that smile off your face Leury, it’s time to do work. This makes being up at this time so worth it. Prepare for the ultimate Leury Garcia breakdown.
[12:11] AM: Two up, two down. Got Grady to ground out to first followed by a hard hit ball by AJP but only to the track. Garcia’s got a little mid-to-upper-80s gas and peppers in a nice 77 mph changeup every now and then, just to keep hitters off-balance. Really working the zone, too (that’s the nice way of saying he’s throwing the ball everywhere). I am a little offended, however, that the gamecast I’m looking at listed nearly every one of his pitches as changeups. So disrespectful.
[12:14] AM: Damn, his effective wildness just became regular wildness as he walks Nava and Herrera. After a visit to the mound, it’s clear he is afraid to go back to the gas. Where’s the heat, Leury? Sure enough, Jackie Bradley, Jr. laces a double just fair inside the right field line to score both Nava and Herrera, but Garcia bounces back to get Pedroia on a groundout to end the inning. Overall, the control is a bit of a concern, but when unleashed, Garcia shows promise as a reliable 13th-inning-on, out-of-actual-pitchers option. Prepare those FAAB bids (and thank-you notes) accordingly. You’re not getting in-depth analysis like this anywhere else.
[1:03] AM: In all the madness I almost forgot it’s laundry night. Maybe this will be the night I actually see someone else over and the complex’s laundry center.
[1:05] AM: Nope.
[2:36] AM: Back and with everything done, I flip over to MLB Network to catch the rest of the highlights. A quick aside, I miss having MLB’s TV package where I can watch any and all of the games. It’s fantastic for both an out-of-market fan and a fantasy player, but like I said, times are hard. Hey, you have to be able to make the difficult cuts. Luckily, moving out here meant having access to MLB Network again. After having enjoyed it for a few months while out in Arizona, the withdrawal from the monopolistic cable company in west Texas not carrying it was harsh. For my money, it is the best of the league sports channels simply because of the quantity of games and content. I try to watch MLB Tonight whenever I can. It’s practically the RedZone channel of baseball every night. Highly recommended for any that haven’t checked it out.
Just so happens that the Royals-Astros highlights are on. Not too many days where the focus of fantasy baseball is in Houston, but this is one of those times. George Springer is making his eagerly anticipated MLB debut. A modest debut it was, Springer went 1-5 with a walk, scored a run and struck out twice. Everyone knows about the power/speed combo he possesses (37 HR, 45 SB in the minors last year). The fact he is making his debut ahead of other touted prospects like Taveras and Bradley has to make him the favorite for ROY honors in the NL where there aren’t a handful of uber-talented foreign imports like Abreu and Tanaka in his way (and I’m not forgetting about Billy Hamilton here, just choosing to ignore). Don’t be surprised if the power and average take a little while to show up. Springer averaged almost 160 K’s each of the last two years in the minors, and his numbers were boosted by playing in the homer-happy Pacific Coast League at the end of last season. The speed, however, looks like it should play right away as Springer’s hit was of the infield variety and he made two other plays a lot closer at first than they looked like they would be. Houston had him second in the lineup so it will be interesting to see if that’s where he sticks.
[3:31] AM: The number one advantage to being up this time of night? League days typically flip around [3:00] AM in most leagues I play in. Considering these are all daily leagues, that means I get first crack at any spot starters I might want to get my hands on. Just so happens I’m pretty happy with my counting stats so far this week, so no need to worry about damaging any ratios with a spot start that goes south. In general, I do have a guidelines when it comes to picking up pitchers for one night stand. Some offenses and/or stadiums are matchup-proof, meaning I would usually not spot start against them. These include the Rockies, Rangers, D-backs, and Dodgers among others. This list certainly can change throughout the season, but there’s no sense in taking an unnecessary risk. On the other hand, offenses and stadiums such as the Mets, Astros, and Padres are ripe for the picking. Regardless, NEVER spot start a flat-out awful pitcher even in the best of matchups. These are still professional hitters, and every team has that 8+ run outburst at some point. The other suggestion I have for daily leaguers is to always have an available roster spot for such spot starting needs. If you find yourself with a roster so loaded that you feel there’s no one you can drop that wouldn’t get snatched up right away, it’s time to make a trade. Even if it’s a 2-for-1 deal that only brings about a slight upgrade on a position, flexibility, as I alluded to before, is gold. I also play in a few leagues where draft picks can be traded (highly recommended for those in leagues that carry over year-to-year) and have been known to sell off a player for a small upgrade in draft position for next season.
Before I know it, there’s the sun. Feeling good that tonight was such a buzzworthy night in baseball and that you got to experience it from my perspective. Stories keep popping up all over the place and I’ll be on top of them, whatever time it may be when I get around to them. Just staying on the grind.