The All-Star break generally signifies one thing in my life: misery. With baseball taking a three-day break, exactly zero of the major sports that I like are currently in season, unless you count NBA Summer League games (which can actually be perversely enjoyable if you want to see if guys like Darrell Arthur can actually pick up 10 fouls in a game). Since The Dark Knight doesn’t arrive in theatres until this weekend (or Friday at midnight at the Common, to be precise), I decided to spend a little bit of time analyzing the first half of the baseball season from a fantasy perspective. In related news, I’m single.
(By the way, I’m not going to get into a philosophical discussion about the merits of fantasy sports – either you play them or you don’t, and that’s that. I’m also not going to go all Dolores Umbridge on you and patiently explain how roto leagues operate, so if you aren’t interested and want to skip this post, I assure you I won’t be offended, and I’ll get back to movies next time. I should mention, however, that many people who play fantasy sports and take them seriously are surprisingly normal. I am not one of those people. Anyway.)
I’ll wait till the end of the season to unveil my massive round-by-round analysis of the fantasy draft (always worth the wait), but with the Mid-Summer Classic being played Tuesday, it’s only apropos for me to announce my selection of fantasy all-stars. Obviously, this is focused purely on fantasy statistics – defense is utterly irrelevant, as are other commodities (situational hitting, slapping groundballs to second to move runners along, running hard down the first-base line, spitting tobacco 437 times in a single inning, etc.).
My league is a typical 5x5 roto league, with the exception of OPS replacing batting average. If you happen to be in the batting average camp like most of the statistically retarded rest of the world, well, I honestly don’t feel like justifying the substitution of OPS – to quote David Paymer from The American President, I could explain it better, but I’d need charts and graphs and an easel. Just take my word for it that I’m right and you’re wrong.
As such, the hitting categories are runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, and OPS, and the pitching categories are wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and saves. As far as the sample goes, I took the top 200-ranked batters and pitchers according to Yahoo’s enigmatic “Rank” statistic and calculated some Z-scores, then broke everyone out by position. I weighted steals half their value for hitters (I’m not sure if that’s statistically viable since I’m using Z-scores, but lord do I hate steals), and I actually weighted saves 1.5 times their value for relievers, since saves are pretty much all relievers are good for in fantasy league given how few innings they pitch. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed performing all of these calculations. God, Microsoft Excel rocks.
Without further ado, the Manifesto presents the 2008 Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team:
C: Brian McCann, Braves. This one’s a no-brainer. After a relatively down year last year that saw his OPS drop nearly 200 points (from .961 to .772), McCann is currently leading all catchers in home runs (18), is second in OPS (.940, slightly behind Ryan Doumit of all people), and third in both runs (42, tied with Doumit) and RBI (53). He doesn’t give you speed, but with the exception of Russell Martin (10 steals on the year), no catchers do.
Runners-up: Geovany Soto (56 RBI to lead all catchers), Russell Martin (49 runs to go with the steals), Joe Mauer (only because my boss will fire me if I don’t put him on here).
1B: Lance Berkman, Astros. If McCann was a no-brainer pick, Berkman is Rain Man at a math bee. The top-ranked hitter overall, he leads all first basemen in runs (79), OPS (1.096), and … wait for it … steals (15). In his career, Berkman had never stolen 10 bases in an entire season. Now he’s on pace for 26. Oh, and he’s also second among first basemen in home runs (22, tied with Adrian Gonzalez) and RBI (73). Not bad for a third-round pick. (That sound you just heard was my buddy Tom strangling himself with his labrador’s leash.)
Runners-up: Ryan Howard (leading all 1B in homers and RBI, third in runs), Gonzalez (top four in runs, homers, and RBI), Albert Pujols (only 1B other than Berkman with an OPS over 1.000).
2B: Ian Kinsler, Rangers. This one kills me. I’m going against my own Z-scores here, as well as my own first-round pick and man-crush Chase Utley. Utley is tops among second basemen in both homers (25, a big edge over Kinsler’s 14) and RBI (69 vs. Kinsler’s 58). However, OPS is a relative wash (Utley leading .954 to .945), and Kinsler has a substantial lead in runs (84 vs. 68) and steals (23 vs. 10). With that differential, I think the speed gives Kinsler the edge.
Hmm, then again, those 23 steals aren’t even two standard deviations above the mean, whereas Utley’s 25 homers are a whopping 2.9 times the standard deviation above the average …
2B: Chase Utley, Phillies. Much better. Runners-up: Kinsler, Dan Uggla (23 homers, position-leading .979 OPS).
3B: David Wright, Mets. What a fucked up position. Chipper Jones has been by far the most valuable third baseman in 2008, not least because of a monstrous 1.086 OPS (trailing only Berkman for the major-league lead). But the rest of his numbers are oddly mediocre: He ranks tied for fourth among third basemen in homers, tied for sixth in runs, and a stunning fifteenth in RBI. With an .879 OPS, Wright has hardly been an All-Star-caliber hitter, but he leads all third basemen with 70 RBI, is tied for first with 60 runs scored, and ranks second with 11 steals. Regardless, the position is oddly weak this year and lacks a true separation fantasy player.
Runners up: Ryan Braun (leads all 3B with 23 home runs), Alex Rodriguez (top three in steals, OPS, and homers), Jones.
SS: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: I don’t understand how this guy even exists. How can a speedy infielder (third among shortstops with 23 steals) also lead everyone at his position in home runs (23) and runs scored (80), plus have the patience to compile a .957 OPS? It isn’t fair. (That said, before any Sox-haters start with the “How’s Josh Beckett and his 3.94 ERA treating you?” jokes, kindly remember this. Yeah, exactly.)
Distant runner-up: Jose Reyes (tops with 32 steals, second with 68 runs).
Up till now, things have gone roughly according to plan. Of the five players I’ve awarded All-Star spots to thus far, three were taken in the first round (Utley, Wright, and Ramirez), Berkman went in the third, and McCann was the fourth catcher taken overall. But these outfielders, I mean, come on. This would be like Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan, only if Shakespeare in Love had been made by a random studio in Transylvania and starred Chris Farley and David Spade. The performance among outfielders thus far has been, shall we say, unexpected.
O.K., Hamilton I kind of get. Everyone always knew The Natural could hit (and field, for that matter) – he just had that little problem he had to deal with. Now he seems to have dealt with it, even if it potentially requires three Ranger lackeys to follow him around tazing any semi-suspicious character who comes within 50 yards of him. Anyway, to say he’s leading the majors in RBI is a slight understatement; he’s on pace to drive in 162 runs, which would be the most since Manny Ramirez drove in 165 in 1999. He also has 21 homers and a .919 OPS. For the love of Christ, let’s keep the crack pipe away from him.
But Hamilton is one thing. Nate McLouth? I was convinced steals were still unfairly affecting his Z-scores, but even if I drop the multiplier to 0.3, he still ranks third among outfielders (probably because he only has a pedestrian 11 steals). He leads all outfielders in runs scored (69), and he also ranks tied for fifth in RBI (65), which is a tad odd given that he’s the freaking leadoff hitter on an NL team. By the way, he was drafted in the seventeenth round in my league. Yeah.
But hey, at least he was drafted. Carlos Quentin was a relatively unsung waiver-wire pickup who has quietly found himself ranked in the top six in homers (fourth with 22), RBI (third with 70), and runs (62, tied for sixth). His OPS of .900 is 253 points higher than last year’s mark of .647. I give up.
The weird thing is how poorly all the highly ranked outfielders have been performing. Matt Holliday, who was universally regarded as the top fantasy outfielder entering this year’s draft, ranks fifteenth at the position. Vladimir Guerrero comes in at #21, Carl Crawford is #24 (and that only rises to #19 if steals are equally weighted), Magglio Ordoñez is #28, and Ichiro Suzuki is, hehe, #42. When did the outfielders and third basemen give up their talent to the second basemen and the shortstops?
Runners-up: Grady Sizemore (tied for second with 23 home runs, .913 OPS), Ryan Ludwick (65 RBI, .962 OPS, countless “Who the fuck is Ryan Ludwick?” exclamations), Milton Bradley (tops at the position with a 1.050 OPS, only one known meltdown).
SP: Justin Duchscherer, Athletics. The weirdness gets weirder. Another waiver-wire pickup, Duchscherer barely gets elected here (I’m violating the Z-scores), as he’s only pitched 108.2 innings thus far, whereas Roy Halladay has pretty awesome numbers with 146.1 IP (thus giving his average-based stats more heft). That said, any time you compile an ERA under 2.00 in over 100 innings, you should win the starting job at the All-Star game, and Duchscherer’s is a sparkling 1.82, with a minuscule 0.87 WHIP to match (also leading all starters). Just behind Duchscherer are fellow waiver-wire pickup Cliff Lee (12 wins, 2.31 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 124.2 IP, not to mention thousands of “I had him last year and he fucking ruined me” grumblings) and Halladay (2.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 121 K’s, seven “Oh my God I hope his arm doesn’t fall off” complete games).
Runners-up: Lee, Halladay, Edinson Volquez (12 wins, 126 K’s, 2.29 ERA), Dan Haren (0.95 WHIP, the only pitcher under 1.00 other than former teammate Duchscherer), Tim Lincecum (135 K’s, 2.57 ERA), Cole Hamels (126 K’s, 1.02 WHIP).
RP: Mariano Rivera, Yankees. Unfortunately, this one is fairly straightforward. Restricting the sample to pitchers with at least five saves, Rivera leads the pack in both ERA (1.06) and WHIP (0.64), and his 50 strikeouts in 42.1 IP aren’t bad either (fifth overall). He’s untouchable here even with the saves multiplier set at 1.5 (his 23 saves rank just ninth in the league) – without the multiplier, his Z-score is over 50% higher than any other closer (only Berkman and Ramirez can make similar claims).
Runners-up: Jonathan Papelbon (28 saves, 51 K’s in 40.2 IP), Joakim Soria (25 saves, 0.72 WHIP), Francisco Rodriguez (even with a below-average 1.26 WHIP, those 38 saves have to count for something).
And that’s that. Now excuse me, I need to start prepping for my football draft.