Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team

Simple rule: If I’m forced to go three consecutive days without watching a baseball game (I’m ignoring the fantastically pointless Midsummer Classic), I’m allowed to post about the preeminent performers in fantasy baseball thus far this year. It’s in the Constitution, look it up.

Anyway, I won’t waste time with a detailed methodological explanation; check out last year’s post if you’re interested in the minutiae. I will, however, highlight a few minor changes from last year’s calculations. First, I’ve applied linear weights to all denominator-based stats (OPS, ERA, and WHIP), since these measures are averages rather than raw totals. Essentially, if two players have the same OPS but one has 200 at-bats while the other only has 100, the first player receives more weight for his OPS (either positive or negative, depending on its position relative to the mean). This is, I believe, an important improvement – kudos to my buddy Pat for the suggestion.

Second, I’ve adjusted the steals multiplier to vary per position, so it’s now higher for speed-prone positions (shortstop, outfield) and lower for catcher and first base, where steals are virtually inconsequential. For the record, I tried eliminating the steals multiplier altogether but didn’t like the resultant data. The problem with steals is that the standard deviation is extremely high relative to the mean, so they wreak havoc with Z-scores; still, I think this accounts for them as appropriately as possible.

Finally, the sample comprises 168 batters, 87 starters, and 44 relievers. For batters and starting pitchers, I used the standard qualifying metrics as provided by FanGraphs and ESPN. For relievers, I got a little creative and selected players who were either primary closers or frequently eligible for save chances, since saves are all anyone cares about from relievers in fantasy leagues (for the same reason, I applied a substantial multiplier to the saves category).

Everybody got that? Good. Here we go with the Manifesto’s 2009 Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team:


CATCHER

Brandon Inge, Tigers. But wait, you’re thinking – where’s Joe Mauer? Surely the selection of Inge is the result of the Manifesto’s anti-Mauer bias rather than any actual mathematical precision, yes? No. Mauer has been an absolute force thus far this year since he returned to the lineup … but he didn’t return to the lineup until the beginning of May. As a result, Inge leads Mauer in all categories other than OPS, and while Mauer holds a significant advantage in that area (1.069 vs. .876), it isn’t enough to prevent Inge from possessing the dominant Z-score. It’s a bit absurd, of course, since Inge isn’t a catcher, but he’s eligible at the position in fantasy leagues, and his 51 runs scored (second among catchers), 21 homers (tops at the position, and 21 more than he hit during Monday’s agonizingly long Home Run Derby), and 58 RBI (one behind Victor Martinez for the position lead) clearly place him at the top.

But just in case you think I’m all about hating Joe Mauer, let me point out the following: Mauer has currently played in 64 games. Just for fun, let’s pretend that he wasn’t hurt earlier this year and was capable of producing at his current level for an entire season. If we prorate his numbers out to 146 games (his career-high games played), we have the following: 112 runs, 34 home runs, 112 RBI, and a 1.069 OPS. Not bad for one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Apologies to: Mauer, Victor Martinez (position-leading 54 runs and 59 RBI, 14 homers, .859 OPS).













FIRST BASE

Albert Pujols, Cardinals. O.K., so I didn’t exactly need the Z-scores for this one. Albert the Great (don’t call him “El Hombre”, he claims that insults Stan Musial, and you wouldn’t want to make him angry, would you?) leads the majors in runs (73), homers (32), RBI (87), and OPS (an unsettling 1.179, which if it holds would stand as the highest mark since Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 1.422 in 2004). Just for fun, he also leads all first basemen in steals with 10. This guy is the Viktor Krum of baseball.

Apologies to: Nobody. Pujols stands alone.
















SECOND BASE

Chase Utley, Phillies. Ian Kinsler has had an impressive season, but Utley’s position-leading 1.004 OPS (sixth-best in baseball) makes him untouchable. He also leads all second basemen in RBI (61) and homers (20, tied with Kinsler and Aaron freaking Hill) and is tied for third in runs scored (62), plus he’s chipped in with nine stolen bases. All told, he ranks as the third-best hitter in the big leagues, behind only Pujols and Prince Fielder. Not bad for a middle-infielder.

Apologies to: Kinsler (62 runs, 20 homers, 18 steals), Hill (20 homers, 60 RBI), Brandon Phillips (60 RBI, 12 steals).















THIRD BASE

Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks. Reynolds may swing-and-miss with alarming frequency (he’s already compiled a whopping 123 strikeouts, meaning he’s whiffed in a preposterous 37.8% of his at-bats, behind only the loathsome Chris Davis), but when he makes contact, the ball takes off. His 24 home runs tie him for second in the majors. But lest you perceive him as a pure power hitter, his 15 steals are the third-most among any player manning the hot corner. He’s also second among third basemen in RBI (62) and fifth in runs scored (55) and OPS (.888). His strikeout rate may suggest a regression in the second half, but he’s been a masher thus far.

Apologies to: Kevin Youkilis (56 runs, 53 RBI, position-best .985 OPS), Evan Longoria (66 RBI, .898 OPS), Russell Branyan (22 homers, .956 OPS).












SHORTSTOP

Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. No surprise here, although it is a bit shocking that A) It’s a close battle between Ramirez and another shortstop, and B) That other shortstop is a virtual unknown. That would be Ben Zobrist, and all he’s done this year is smash 17 homers to the tune of a 1.012 OPS – both tops among shortstops. He’s also managed to swipe 11 bases while driving in 52 runs and scoring 50. (He’s eligible at second base as well, but I elected to place him at shortstop since the pool is weaker.) Ramirez, however, has been no slouch; he’s third among shortstops in runs scored (53) and homers (14), fourth in steals (13), second in OPS (.979), and first in RBI (61). The all-around production gives Ramirez the nod – but it’s close.

Apologies to: Zobrist, Derek Jeter (56 runs, 17 steals), Troy Tulowitzki (16 homers).













OUTFIELD

Jason Bay, Red Sox; Torii Hunter, Angels; Raul Ibañez, Phillies. Outfield is always an unpredictable position in fantasy baseball, with many lower-round picks outperforming projected studs. This season’s All-stars aren’t quite as surprising a group as last year’s ragtag bunch, but Ibañez (whom many had pegged as washed-up) lasted until the eighth round in my draft, while Hunter didn’t leave the board until the eleventh – after 31 outfielders had already been selected.

Still, the numbers don’t lie. Bay leads all outfielders in RBI (72) and is one of six with at least 20 homers; he also sports a strong .908 OPS as well as 10 stolen bases. Ibañez spent some time on the disabled list, but he nevertheless ranks second at the position in homers (22, tied with Nelson Cruz and one behind Adam Dunn) and fourth in RBI (60), all while compiling a 1.015 OPS (tops among outfielders and fourth in the majors). Until his recent injury, Hunter was displaying an impressive combination of power (17 homers) and speed (13 steals), while he trails only Bay in RBI (65). More importantly, his .938 OPS far and away surpasses his career best of .858, set with Minnesota in 2002. I’m skeptical he’ll be able to keep up that pace when he returns from the DL, but for now it earns him a spot on the team.

Apologies to: Jayson Werth (60 runs, 20 homers), Ryan Braun (61 runs, .921 OPS), Carl Crawford (44 steals), Nelson Cruz (22 homers, 13 steals), Justin Upton (.918 OPS), Jermaine Dye (20 homers, .942 OPS), Johnny Damon (62 runs, 16 “Yankee Stadium is Coors’ Field East” home runs), Adam Lind (.928 OPS), Dunn (23 homers, 62 RBI, .943 OPS).
















STARTING PITCHER

Dan Haren, Diamondbacks. Zack Greinke stole the headlines early, and Tim Lincecum has been unhittable late, but Haren has been a monster all season long while toiling in Arizona. Though he’s managed just nine wins (five coming in his last six starts), Haren leads all hurlers in both ERA (2.01) and WHIP (0.81) while racking up 129 strikeouts (tied for fifth among starters). If the Diamondbacks had scored some more runs for him earlier in the season (the team combined for a paltry three runs in his first four starts), he’d be having a fantasy season for the ages. As is stands, he’s just been really fucking good.

Apologies to: Lincecum (10 wins, league-leading 149 strikeouts, 2.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), Greinke (10 wins, 129 K’s, 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), Justin Verlander (10 wins, 149 K’s), Felix Hernandez (2.53 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Roy Halladay (10 wins, 1.10 WHIP), Josh Beckett (11 wins, 1.15 WHIP).












RELIEF PITCHER

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers. Broxton has stumbled of late, allowing five runs in his last two innings of work, including an ugly three-walk performance in San Diego. As such, his ERA has risen to a less-than-stellar 3.10. But even with those outings he’s been fantasy’s best reliever, primarily on the strength of his incredible 65 strikeouts (only Andrew Bailey and Rafael Soriano are close, with 60 and 58 K’s, respectively). That number translates to a sterling 14.4 K/9IP ratio, easily tops in the class. Broxton also leads all relievers in wins with six while having amassed a solid 20 saves and a nifty 0.93 WHIP. Assuming he can snap out of his current slump, he’s likely to remain a fantasy stud in the second half of the year.

Apologies to: Joe Nathan (23 saves, 1.31 ERA, league-leading 0.73 WHIP), Heath Bell (23 saves, 1.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), Huston Street (22 saves, 0.99 WHIP), Mariano Rivera (23 saves, 0.89 WHIP), Ryan Franklin (21 saves, absurd 0.79 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Francisco Rodriguez (23 saves, 1.90 ERA), David Aardsma (20 saves, 51 K’s, 1.96 ERA).
















And there you have it. Sound off in the Comments if you feel I neglected anyone in particular, though be prepared for a response that is condescending, stat-heavy, and artfully jumbled. Till next summer.

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