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It’s Nearly Time for Fantasy Baseball Once Again

Generally speaking, I don’t tend to delve much into the fantasy sports world in any of my writing. It’s not that I have anything against writing about fantasy baseball, but it’s just simply not my thing. I enjoy playing the games but I’m not one for analyzing draft strategy or for dissecting and discussing which sleepers could round out my roster.

To be fair, I have nothing against fantasy baseball writers. In fact, a number of the bloggers I’ve gotten to know over the past year – and subsequently become friends with – are just that, fantasy baseball bloggers, and good ones too. One of those friends is in the process of launching a new venture with a strong fantasy baseball focus, called Full Spectrum Baseball. I was invited to join the team in anticipation of their official launch (which I believe should be later this week) but I respectfully declined considering it’s just not my area of comfort. But, between FSB and Dear Mr. Fantasy, I’ve got enough resources to read when I find myself in need of fantasy baseball advice.

But, as I said before, I do enjoy playing fantasy baseball. I ran two teams this past season. I am currently slated to participate in three this coming one – though one of them I have yet to learn any details about yet.

One of my leagues from last year has since dissolved. I think I finished 6th or 7th in the 10-team league, but admittedly I’m not certain. Everyone within the league was certainly focused elsewhere and there were some disagreements regarding scoring and roster transaction deadlines that caused some problems right from the start. Ultimately it’s no big loss that the league has folded, especially considering I’ve already found a replacement.

The same friend co-running FSB had an opening in one of his keeper leagues from last year, as one of their owners elected not to return for another season. It’s your typical head-to-head league, where to win a matchup all I need to do is win more categories than my opponent. The draft is coming up in late March, which should be interesting considering how poor my keeper selections are.

I am permitted to keep five players from a collection of possibilities that includes Cole Hamels, John Axford, Ben Zobrist, Al Avila, Huston Street, David Wright, Austin Jackson, and a host of other players who aren’t worth mentioning (and of course, ESPN is performing “routine maintenance on their fantasy baseball databases in anticipation for the 2012 season” so I can’t even check my roster at the moment. Needless to say, the keeper pickings are slim and beyond Hamels and Axford I’m not certain what direction I will likely end up going.

As for the last league, it’s certainly the one I’m more invested in. It’s a 20-team dynasty league that began last year. All of the members are other bloggers, so it’s a league filled with guys who are definitely knowledgeable and interested in the game. I realized early on last year that my team didn’t stand much of a chance, so my focus shifted from winning it all to building for the future. Our rosters carry over in full from one year to the next, so there’s no need to plan for a draft each Spring. I was able to make some solid pickups and crafty trades that have put me in a good position going forward.

The first move allowed me to address an area of need by dealing from a position of depth. I needed an outfielder and decided to make a move to acquire Brett Gardner. The team that owned him was in need of pitching, at least from my point of view, so I took a chance and made a preliminary offer. Low and behold, he accepted, and Gardner was mine at the cost of only Rick Porcello.

Almost immediately after the draft I started to receive some trade offers from a number of other teams – specifically with efforts to acquire Buster Posey and Aroldis Chapman from me*. The side heavily seeking Posey, however, was the most persistent. Talks never developed in late March or early April. Then, in mid May he re-approached me about a deal. He wanted Jeff Francoeur and Andres Torres.

He wanted to build his offer around Magglio Ordonez, a player I had zero interest in. I needed a reliever so I countered his initial proposal. He accepted and would get Francoeur and Torres, just as he hoped. I’d receive Chris Perez and Melky Cabrera in return. Once again I was able to address an area of need for parts that didn’t figure into my plans long term.

* In retrospect, considering both players had terrible 2011 seasons (or, in Posey’s case, missed nearly the whole year due to injury) perhaps there should have been a greater willingness on my part to deal them. But looking back at the packages of players being offered, none of the players I would have received would have ended up providing a greater value.

The season would concluded without any additional trades. And while my team may have finished 17th out of 20 teams, I was fairly happy with my roster as a whole heading into 2012. There was still a need to address and some players I hoped to move/replace. So talks once again picked up with another owner, centered on my efforts to acquire Justin Upton from him.

He had expressed some interest in Domonic Brown, so I knew we at least had a starting place but any deal would require more. We exchanged a few proposals and continued to work towards a deal. One of the players I hoped to include he had no interest in, so we had to discuss alternatives, but ultimately we came to an agreement. He’d receive Brown, Jason Kipnis, and Trevor Bauer. I’d get Upton and Mat Latos.

That’s three trades. Three deals that seem, at least at first glance, to fall towards my favor. Considering my roster overall, I think I’m actually in a good place heading into the season. Posey should be healthy for a full season and I’ve got Devin Mesoraco to give me additional catching depth. Robinson Cano will hold down second, Brett Lawrie’s at third, and Andrew McCutchen rounds out my outfield alongside Gardner and Upton.

My rotation now features David Price, Latos, Drew Pomeranz, Jacob Turner, and some combination of Dillon Gee, Mike Minor, and Ricky Nolasco until Brett Anderson returns from injury, potentially mid-season. Perez, Chapman, Sergio Santos, Alfredo Aceves, and Tyler Clippard fill out the bullpen in a league that weighs saves and holds equally.

While fantasy baseball isn’t necessarily my personal expertise, I still enjoy building a team and seeing how it compares to others within my league. I know at least one of my rosters is looking promising heading into the season but the other two are relative mysteries at this point in time. We’ll just have to wait and see how those drafts turn out.

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What would you like to see from BFTB?

While BFTB is a major source of pride – considering I’ve built the site into what it is entirely on my own, entirely from scratch, and nearly entirely without a clue what I was doing – I often find myself overly critiquing it. I’ve nit picky about the site layout (perhaps why we’ve undergone a slight facelift that you may have noticed). I’ve considered whether trying to cover the entire sport, rather than just one team, has held me back. I continue to question where my opportunities are or what type of posts I could be writing to attract a broader audience. That in turn causes me to question whether all of my questioning is really what’s holding me back.

While I still consider myself a baseball fan first, I still have a loyal allegiance to the Yankees. Considering I live within an hour of Boston, I also find myself deep in the heart of Red Sox Nation – surrounded by family and friends who love the Red Sox as much as I the Yankees. I’m certainly knowledgeable – and opinionated – when it comes to the two franchises. Shifting the focus of this blog to a “rivalry-centric” focus would seem like a natural choice.

But then, I wonder: Do I limit my coverage to just the two teams, especially where there are so many Yankees and Red Sox blogs in existence? Do I expand and just cover the AL East? Somehow that ultimately ends up with me trying to cover the entire sport once again. An undertaking that has proven challenging by one’s self.

So, I’m looking for some feedback and the best place to find said feedback would be you, my audience and my peers. What do you guys want to see from BFTB moving forward? Do I keep the site focused on the game as a whole, or narrow that field in an effort to bring more consistent content? Do I maintain the status quo, stop questioning myself, and just keep writing?

Leave me a comment. Send along a Tweet. Or write me an email. Any thoughts, suggestions, and ideas are more than appreciated so let me express my thanks in advance.

Revitalizing San Diego’s Roster One Trade at a Time

Most of the talk so far this offseason has centered on the dramatic roster makeover that has been taking place in Oakland. While the moves the A’s have made are significant – and we’ll look at those moves another time – they aren’t the only organization who has been busy revamping their roster. The San Diego Padres are just one of those teams, having just completed their fourth significant trade of the offseason. Let’s take a look at all that’s been going on in Southern California.

Leading off, the Padres didn’t wait long to fill in the void left by departed free agent Heath Bell. The team sent minor league left-hander Nick Schmidt to the Colorado Rockies. In return, the Padres received closer Huston Street. Colorado also agreed to pick up $1 Million of the $8 Million owed to Street for 2012.

Street, 28, has recorded 178 saves over his seven year career with Oakland and Colorado. He’s added a 3.11 ERA, 9.1 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 in 436.1 career innings. In 2011, he went 1-4 with 29 saves and a 3.86 ERA but did spent some time on the DL with a sore triceps. He’ll have big shoes to fill in San Diego, replacing Bell, but should be able to step right into the role without much trouble. Street holds a $9 Million player option for 2013, or he could decline it after a solid season in order to reach free agency.

To continue their roster turnover, the team surprised many in mid-December by dealing their top starting pitcher, Mat Latos, to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for four players: right-handed pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger, first baseman Yonder Alonso, and catcher Yasmani Grandal.

Latos, who turned 24 about a week before the deal, is coming off a 2011 season in which he went 9-14 with a 3.47 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. He pitched a career high 194.1 innings. While the win/loss record appears disappointing, Latos did pitch fairly well but suffered from having one of the worst offenses in all of baseball behind him last season. He will slide right alongside Johnny Cueto atop the Reds’ rotation, giving the team a fairly solid duo leading their pitching staff.

Volquez has gone a combined 13-12 with a 5.01 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 5.4 BB/9 in 221.0 innings of work over the past three seasons. Injuries, a drug-related suspension, and general ineffectiveness that has led to stints in the minor leagues have really turned his career a different direction after a solid debut season with the Reds. The team had paid a high price for his potential, parting with Josh Hamilton in a trade with the Rangers, but Volquez has failed to live up to it since the start of the 2009 season. He will likely slide into San Diego’s rotation, though it remains unclear just what type of pitcher the Padres will be receiving. Volquez is the most experienced, though likely the least desired, of the four players heading to San Diego in this deal.

Boxberger split the 2011 season between Double-A and Triple-A, making 55 appearances totaling 62.0 innings. Combined on the year he posted a 2-4 record, 2.03 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, and he recorded 11 saves. It was just his second professional season and after moving so quickly through the Reds’ system the 23 year old has started to catch people’s attention. At the time of the deal there were numerous sources who described Boxberger’s potential to develop into a reliable closer, potentially one of the factors that interested the Padres considering they had just lost Bell to the Marlins a week or two before this deal was completed.

In 441 plate appearances, Grandal batted a combined .305/.401/.500 with 14 HR and 68 RBI in 2011. The 23 year old spent most of the season with either High-A or Double-A, capping things off with a brief 4 game cameo in Triple-A at the end. The 2010 Draft Pick has long been highly touted, but the Reds were able to deal from a position of strength to help this deal happen. With Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco under team control for a combined 8 more seasons, Grandal was essentially expendable to the Reds, but valuable to another organization.

Barring a phenomenal Spring Training with the Padres, I’d guess Boxberger sees a little more time at Triple-A at the start of the 2012 season. Street will enter the season in the closer’s role and it seems safe to assume that right-hander Luke Gregerson will return to the setup role he has filled so well the past few seasons. Andrew Cashner, who we’ll discuss shortly, could also potentially be an option to pitch the later innings. There’s no need to rush Boxberger. The team has other options and some additional time in the minor leagues could be beneficial.

Grandal will likely be at the level as well. Nick Hundley will likely earn the bulk of the starting at bats behind the plate and John Baker (who was acquired earlier this offseason in another trade, in which San Diego parted with left-hander Wade LeBlanc) is set to back him up. Grandal will be better served getting regular at bats, considering he’s only appeared in 4 games above Double-A. Time in Triple-A seems best for him.

A few weeks later, as the calendar year was set to turn, the team further addressed their offense. The Padres sent a pair of minor leaguers, right-hander Simon Castro and left-hander Pedro Hernandez, to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Carlos Quentin. Neither Castro or Hernandez appeared in any of the top prospect lists this winter, but Quentin will have an immediate impact in San Diego.

The right fielder is coming off a 2011 season in which he batted .254/.340/.499 with 24 HR and 77 RBI in 483 plate appearances. Quentin, 29, is originally from San Diego and will bring some much needed power production to the Padres lineup. He’s a serviceable, though not great, defensive right fielder and he’ll be a free agent after earning $7.5 Million during the 2012 season. There has been some initial speculation that the team could look to extend him before he reaches free agency, though it would seem wise to see how he performs at least to begin the season.

Now, I know he hasn’t been addressed yet but I didn’t forget about Alonso – the final piece of the Latos trade – so let’s get back to him for a moment.

Alonso was a 1st Round pick by the Reds in 2008 and has risen steadily through their farm system, three times being named to Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect lists (prior to the 2009-2011 seasons). He first made his MLB Debut during the 2010 season and to date has appeared in 69 games in the Majors. In 127 plate appearances he’s posted a .299/.354/.479 line with 5 HR and 18 RBI. He’s a true power threat who’s natural position if first base. With Joey Votto in the fold, first base was not an option for the Reds to play him so they’ve primarily been trying him if left field. With San Diego he’ll be able to move back to his best position.

Alonso’s impact on the Padres goes beyond simply adding him into the everyday lineup. He gave the organization the necessary depth at the position that it needed in order to be able to continue dealing from their strengths. With Alonso in the mix, suddenly the organization was able to shop Anthony Rizzo, their other top first base prospect.

Now, there has been plenty of speculation over the past few weeks regarding what the Padres should do with this sudden surplus – and ultimately which of the two first base prospects is the better choice long term. Rizzo’s on base abilities are being weighted against Alonso’s power production, and the discussion eventually becomes divided among most scouts and analysts.

Personally, I think Alonso will develop into the better overall player. He’s shown a strong and consistent ability to get on base, coming it at a .370 clip across 313 minor league games in his career. He has more power potential than Rizzo and better plate discipline (significantly fewer strikeouts, roughly the same number of walks – Rizzo has appeared in more games). Defensively I’d consider them relative equals. Rizzo I’ve seen in person once before, as I discussed when he was first acquired by the Padres, and he didn’t leave an overly impressive lasting impression on me, so I’m not truly surprised to see what the was the one traded.

Numerous teams were believed to have some interest in Rizzo – including the Rays, who’ve needed a young first baseman for quite some time – before San Diego agreed to deal him to the Cubs this past week. Rizzo, along with right-hander Zach Cates, will go to Chicago in exchange for Cashner (I told you we’d get back to him) and outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Both Cates and Na are non-prospects.

With Chicago, Rizzo instantly becomes the organization’s heir apparent at first base as they begin what appears to be a massive rebuilding phase. However, most accounts have him starting the 2012 season in Triple-A to gain some additional seasoning while the organization sees exactly what Bryan LaHair can offer with the bulk of the Major League at bats.

Cashner, however, has a live arm and a great deal of potential he has not yet lived up to. The 6’6” right-hander is a former 1st Round pick in 2008 (quite a few 1st Round picks being discussed throughout these deals, huh?). Cashner has 65.0 career innings in the Majors in 60 appearances, totaling a 2-6 record, 4.29 ERA, 8.0 K/9, and 4.7 BB/9.

Most of his minor league career was actually spent in the rotation, where his production has been solid, though not spectacular. He shown solid strikeout to walk tendencies, but failed to truly demonstrate an ability to pitch deep into games. The Cubs eventually moved him to the bullpen when they first called him up in 2010 and he seems destined to remain there. San Diego is expected to use him out of the bullpen in 2012. Cashner is the type of pitcher the Padres could develop into a solid piece and the organization does have a strong track record over the past few seasons.

OK, so where do the Padres stand after all of this? And more importantly, what’s it mean?

Gone are Latos, Schmidt, LeBlanc, Castro, Hernandez, Rizzo, and Cates.

Replacing them we have Street, Volquez, Grandal, Alonso, Boxberger, Cashner, Quentin, Baker, and Na.

San Diego added multiple late-game bullpen options in Street, Cashner, and Boxberger while replacing Latos in the rotation with Volquez. Quentin and Alonso provide a much needed boost to a troublesome offense and Grandal offers further depth after some time in the minors. Bottom line, things are starting to look up for the Padres. Or, at least they’re starting to head in the right direction.

First base, third base, behind the plate, and center field (presuming the team signs Cameron Maybin to an extension in the coming months, as expected) are fairly set for the next few years. Quentin and Street could both potentially leave via free agency after the 2012 season, though there are multiple options to replace Street from within if needed.

The organization’s biggest need seems to be in the middle infield. Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett are penciled into the lineup heading into the season, at second base and shortstop, respectively. Both players have also been on the trade block this winter, though neither has stirred up much discussion. Even if the Padres are able to move one or both of the veterans, there aren’t any prospects up the middle within the team’s system that are MLB-ready. The only true middle infield prospect the team has is second baseman Cory Spangenberg but he’s a long ways away from the Majors, having just been drafted last June, and is still highly unproven and untested.

The Padres have been busy this offseason and have quietly rebuilt their roster. It’s too early to call the process complete, but things are improving in San Diego. Don’t forget, the NL West has seen each of its five members reach the playoffs in recent years – meaning any of them could potentially win the division in 2012. We’ll know better in a few months how the sum of all of these moves will turn out. But the Padres are at least a better story to watch this coming season.

Toronto Re-Acquires Jason Frasor from Chicago

Word was first leaked late Sunday morning – and confirmed mid afternoon through a team press release – that the first trade of 2012 had been agreed upon. Considering how active the trade market has been this offseason it truly is no surprise to see another deal completed so soon, but I doubt many predicted a move to be made on the very first day of the new year.

The Toronto Blue Jays continued to remake their bullpen, re-acquiring right-handed relief pitcher Jason Frasor from the Chicago White Sox after dealing the veteran there this past July. Frasor is scheduled to make $3.75 Million in 2012 and will be a free agent at season’s end.

Frasor made his MLB Debut for the Blue Jays back in 2004 and since has appeared in a team record 455 games. He holds a 25-30 record, 3.74 ERA, 8.3 K.9, and 3.8 BB/9 in 461.0 career innings. He has also saved 36 games over that span, doing the better part of his work during the game’s 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. He struggled a bit in Chicago – going 1-2 with a 5.09 ERA, 10.8 K/9, and 5.6 BB/9 in 17.2 innings – so a return to Toronto may suit him well.

Frasor will likely step into his old role in the new Blue Jay bullpen. GM Alex Anthopoulos has been busy in recent weeks addressing the bullpen, completing a separate trade with the White Sox for closer Sergio Santos and signing free agent left-hander Darren Oliver. Right-hander Casey Janssen is expected to join Frasor and Oliver in a three-headed setup role.

Chicago will receive a pair of prospects from the Blue Jays in return for Frasor, though it is obvious that the organization made the move in an attempt to free up some space on the team’s payroll. The organization is in what can only be described as limbo. On one hand the team is signing John Danks to a five-year, $65 Million contract extension. On the other, they’re trading away guys like Santos and Carlos Quentin in exchange for prospects and roughly $11.25 Million in saved payroll. It’s tough to read exactly what the intentions are of GM Kenny Williams moving forward.

Both prospects heading to Chicago are right-handed pitchers. Myles Jaye was a 2010 Draft pick (17th Round) and spent 2011 in the Appalachian League (Rookie level). He went 3-3 in 13 appearances (9 starts) with a 3.00 ERA, 8.2 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9 in 54.0 innings. Daniel Webb was drafted in 2009 (18th Round) and spent 2011 primarily with Lansing in the Midwest League (A ball). He went 4-5 in 18 appearances (12 starts) with a 5.48 ERA, 6.8 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9 in 66.0 innings. Neither player ranks highly on any of the recent Blue Jays top prospect lists.

The Return of BFTB

Happy New Year’s! It is officially 2012. A new year – one that will be filled with countless new challenges, thought provoking experiences, and joyous occasions. It’s one to be excited about.

As for BFTB, it looks to be one of transition, in a sense. This site is one that I built from the ground up. I’ve always done all of the writing, editing, site adjustments, and networking. BFTB was a source of pride for the first year and a half that I ran it. In that time I grew up a steady audience.

But, this past October a new opportunity became available. I was given a chance to take control of a site dedicated to a singular team (the Nationals), part of a larger network of sites that has grown steadily into one of the leaders in the industry. As Editor and Lead Writer for District on Deck, my focus has been steadily on building that site over the past three months. In the process I’ve written more consistently than I ever did with BFTB. I’ve seen the increase in traffic, networked with more great individuals, and connected with a larger group of readers. But I’ve also neglected BFTB completely.

Originally when I took over DoD I was in belief that I could maintain both sites. Thus far, that challenge hasn’t been undertaken. But, with a new year beginning, it seems as good a time as any to rectify such a situation once again. Expect new things from BFTB in 2012. Posts may not be as frequent, but they’ll be here in whatever regularity I can maintain.

My passions have always extended to the game of baseball as a whole, not just focused on one particular team. BFTB has been my voice for those thoughts and part of that passion. It’s time BFTB returns to continue what we’ve started.

2011 AL Walter Johnson Award

It is that time, once again, to start taking a look at each of the major year end awards. As I did last year, I will be submitting a ballot here on the blog for each of the awards selected by the BBWAA. However, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we use a different selection of names for our awards – our own tribute to some of the game’s greats and because the BBWAA has actually asked us to do so (to avoid confusion, I presume). Over the past two seasons the BBA and BBWAA have chosen the same recipient for nearly every award.

We’ve already taken a look at the Connie Mack Award (given to the league’s top manager), the Willie Mays Award (top rookie), and the Goose Gossage Award (top reliever). Now we’ll turn our attention to the top starting pitchers. The 2011 American League Walter Johnson Award goes to …..

It is fairly safe to say that the winner of this year’s AL Cy Young Award, and subsequently my selection for the Walter Johnson Award, has been well known for the better part of the season. Detroit’s Justin Verlander hasn’t just been the best pitcher in the AL this season, but he’s dominated the competition.

Verlander pitched the season’s first no-hitter in early May against the Blue Jays. He then nearly pitched another his next time out against the Royals. On the season Verlander would post a 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts in 251.0 innings of work. He led the league in all three categories, winning the pitching Triple Crown.

Outside of Verlander, the league’s only 20+ game winner, there were pitching performances worth mentioning, and ultimately worth considering when trying to determine who falls in line behind the tall right-hander atop this list.

New York’s CC Sabathia had yet another stellar season for the Yankees. The lefty went 19-8 on the season with a 3.00 ERA and 230 strikeouts, leading a rotation that was an ongoing project for much of the year. Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver was equally important to his team and equally impressive on the mound. Weaver finished with an 18-8 record, 2.41 ERA, and 198 strikeouts. His WHIP and ERA were bested only by Verlander’s.

Six other players did finish the regular season with ERAs below 3.00: Tampa Bay’s James Shields (2.82) and Jeremy Hellickson (2.95), Detroit’s Doug Fister (2.83), Boston’s Josh Beckett (2.89), Toronto’s Ricky Romero (2.92), and Texas’ C.J. Wilson (2.94).

Shields (225), Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (222), Tampa Bay’s David Price (218), Wilson (206), and Toronto’s Brandon Morrow (203) were the only other pitchers with 200+ strikeouts on the year.

 

  2011 AL Walter Johnson Award
1st Justin Verlander
2nd C.C. Sabathia
3rd Jered Weaver
4th James Shields
5th C.J. Wilson

 

Sabathia will get the edge here over Weaver largely due to the extra 32 strikeouts in roughly the same number of innings (Sabathia pitched 2.1 more innings than Weaver). Outside of that I would rank the two pitchers’ seasons a near tie. Shields gets the nod next. His league leading 11 complete games (the next closest player had 5) are simply too much to ignore. Wilson had a strong overall season, placing him fifth on our list.

2011 NL Walter Johnson Award

It is that time, once again, to start taking a look at each of the major year end awards. As I did last year, I will be submitting a ballot here on the blog for each of the awards selected by the BBWAA. However, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we use a different selection of names for our awards – our own tribute to some of the game’s greats and because the BBWAA has actually asked us to do so (to avoid confusion, I presume). Over the past two seasons the BBA and BBWAA have chosen the same recipient for nearly every award.

We’ve already taken a look at the Connie Mack Award (given to the league’s top manager), the Willie Mays Award (top rookie), and the Goose Gossage Award (top reliever). Now we’ll turn our attention to the top starting pitchers. The 2011 National League Walter Johnson Award goes to …..

With numerous superior performances seen on the mound in 2011, there is no easy place to begin when trying to determine who the top starting pitcher in the NL was this past season.

A pair of players were able to win 20+ games this season – Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy. Kershaw’s overall line was impressive: 21-5 record, 2.28 ERA, and 248 Ks in 233.2 innings of work. Kennedy’s was nearly as good: 21-4, 2.88 ERA, and 198 Ks in 222.0 innings.

In all there were eight players with ERAs below 3.00 – in addition to Kershaw and Kennedy this list includes Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay (2.35), Cliff Lee (2.40), and Cole Hamels (2.79), and San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong (2.71), Tim Lincecum (2.74), and Matt Cain (2.88). Yes, you read that right – three Phillies and three Giants each made this list.

There were also seven players who were able to break the 200 strikeout plateau. They include Kershaw, Lee (238), Halladay (220), Lincecum (220), Florida’s Anibal Sanchez (202), and Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo (207) and Zack Greinke (201).

You’ve likely seen a trend here, as Kershaw not only appears among each of these three lists, but sits atop all three of them. Kershaw, winner of the pitching Triple Crown this year in the NL, is the easy choice for the 2011 Walter Johnson Award. His standout season should see him rewarded with this year’s Cy Young Award, a major factor in negotiations as he approaches arbitration for the first time in his young career. The Dodgers, despite their dreadful ownership and financial situation, would be wise to attempt to lock him up in a long term contract.

  2011 NL Walter Johnson Award
1st Clayton Kershaw
2nd Roy Halladay
3rd Cliff Lee
4th Ian Kennedy
5th Cole Hamels

Beyond Kershaw is where things get a little more cloudy as we still need to determine who comes next among the top pitchers this past season. For me, Halladay and Lee would have to come next due to their combination of low ERA, high strikeout totals, and their respective wins totals. While Kennedy had a superb season, his peripheral statistics don’t match up to the Phillies’ pair, despite the fact that he tied Kershaw for the league lead in wins.

2011 AL Goose Gossage Award

It is that time, once again, to start taking a look at each of the major year end awards. As I did last year, I will be submitting a ballot here on the blog for each of the awards selected by the BBWAA. However, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we use a different selection of names for our awards – our own tribute to some of the game’s greats and because the BBWAA has actually asked us to do so (to avoid confusion, I presume). Over the past two seasons the BBA and BBWAA have chosen the same recipient for nearly every award.

We’ve already taken a look at the Connie Mack Award (given to the league’s top manager) and the Willie Mays Award (top rookie). Now we’ll turn our attention to the top relief pitchers. The 2011 American League Goose Gossage Award goes to …..

Across the board the numbers weren’t quite as impressive when looking at the AL relievers than the NL. The AL only saw two players save 40+ games and only two hold 30+. But, there were still some performances that certainly deserve some recognition.

Seattle’s Brandon League likely comes as the biggest surprise of the bunch. He finished 2011 with a 2.79 ERA and 37 saves for a last place Mariners team. Boston’s Daniel Bard tied for the league lead with 34 holds, but also posted a 3.33 ERA and 2-9 record which largely take him out of these discussions. His teammate, Alfredo Aceves, fared much better working in more of a swingman role. His posted a 10-2 record, with 2 saves and 11 holds in 114.0 innings of 2.61 ERA work.

New York also had a pair of relievers with solid seasons. David Robertson took hold of the setup role and pitched to a 1.08 ERA, 4-0 record, and 34 holds in 66.2 innings. Following Robertson out of the Yankee bullpen was the immortal Mariano Rivera. In addition to breaking the MLB record for career saves he completed what proved to be another Mo-like season in 2011: 44 saves, 1.91 ERA, 0.900 WHIP.

 

  2011 AL Goose Gossage Award
1st Jose Valverde
2nd Mariano Rivera
3rd (tie) David Robertson / Alfredo Aceves

 

Yet, the honor for top reliever in the AL must go to Detroit closer Jose Valverde. He led the league with 49 saves, converting 100% of the save opportunities presented to him on the season. He also posted a 2.24 ERA and 1.190 WHIP. Valverde’s achievements are magnified when you consider that much of the bullpen around him largely struggled with consistency for much of the season. Mo will bring in a close second while Robertson and Aceves will actually tie for third on my ballot.

2011 NL Goose Gossage Award

It is that time, once again, to start taking a look at each of the major year end awards. As I did last year, I will be submitting a ballot here on the blog for each of the awards selected by the BBWAA. However, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we use a different selection of names for our awards – our own tribute to some of the game’s greats and because the BBWAA has actually asked us to do so (to avoid confusion, I presume). Over the past two seasons the BBA and BBWAA have chosen the same recipient for nearly every award.

We’ve already taken a look at the Connie Mack Award (given to the league’s top manager) and the Willie Mays Award (top rookie). Now we’ll turn our attention to the top relief pitchers. The 2011 National League Goose Gossage Award goes to …..

There are plenty of relievers in the NL who managed to have strong 2011 seasons. Three of them pitched their games in the same uniform as members of the Atlanta Braves. Craig Kimbrel flourished in the closer’s role, saving a rookie record and league leading (tied with Milwaukee’s John Axford) 46 games while finishing with a 2.10 ERA in 77.0 innings of work. His primary setup man, Jonny Venters, posted a 6-2 record with 35 holds and a 1.84 ERA in 88.0 innings. Eric O’Flaherty rounded out the trio, finishing with 32 holds in 73.2 innings with a rare 0.98 ERA.

Washington’s Tyler Clippard finished the season 3-0 with a league leading 38 holds in 88.1 innings with a 1.83 ERA. His bullpen mate, Drew Storen posted a 6-3 record, 2.75 ERA, and 43 saves. Arizona’s J.J. Putz very quietly saved 45 games with a 2.17 ERA. Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan (40) and San Diego’s Heath Bell (43) also saved more than 40 games this year in the NL.

 

  2011 NL Goose Gossage Award
1st John Axford
2nd Craig Kimbral
3rd Tyler Clippard

 

Ultimately, however, it is the aforementioned Axford that takes home top honors in 2011. In 74 appearances Axford pitched a total of 73.2 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 10.2 K/9. His 46 saves tied for the league lead and he only blew two opportunities while helping to lead the Brewers to the playoffs as the NL Central Champions. Kimbrel, who’s 14.8 K/9 was absolutely astonishing, will come in a close second. His performance this season was dominant but Axford was more valuable to his team considering Kimbrel’s supporting cast was also so impressive this year.

Re-Evaluating Nova vs. Hellickson

Last week I took a brief look at some of the American League rookies from this past season and subsequently submitted my ballot for who should receive the Rookie of the Year Award. After reviewing their statistics on the season and after some internal deliberation I ultimately chose Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer as the most deserving candidate, with Los Angeles’s Mark Trumbo and New York’s Ivan Nova rounding out my Top 3 choices. Absent from that trio was Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, the favorite amongst much of the more mainstream media who have posted their selections over the past few days.

My omission of Hellickson also caught the ire of one of my loyal readers who comments under the name “mlblogsyossif”. He’s a big Rays fan, writing for the blog Rays Rant (here is his look at the AL ROY race from early September) in addition to reading my thoughts on a regular basis. In short, he was shocked, outraged, and confused as to why Hellickson was omitted from my ballot. So, considering his passion on the matter, I thought maybe it would be worthwhile for me to take a second look at what the young right-hander did this past season.

Player A Player B
28 (27) G (GS) 29 (29)
165.1 IP 189.0
16-4 W-L 13-10
3.70 ERA 2.95
119 ERA+ 126
98 K 117
5.3 K/9 5.6
57 BB 72
3.1 BB/9 3.4
163 H 146
8.9 H/9 7.0
13 HR 21
0.7 HR/9 1.0
1.331 WHIP 1.153
3.5 bWAR 4.2
2.7 fWAR 1.4

For the sake of argument, we’re going to compare Hellickson’s stat line to that of Nova, who did make it onto my ballot. For the moment, at least, I’m going to refrain from identifying which player above is which.

Those who are more in the “traditional camp” when it comes to statistics will go right for the two players’ records and make their decision. Player A won 16 games, a great total for an All Star caliber starting pitcher, let alone a rookie. While Player B’s 13 win total is impressive, it’s diminished a little when placed next to 10 losses. 13-10 (.565 winning percentage) just looks more mediocre than 16-4 (.800 W%). But therein lies one of the fundamental problems with basing everything on a player’s Win-Loss record.

So we need to expand our thoughts a bit. We’ll start by adding in the other two pitching Triple Crown numbers – ERA and strikeouts. From a pure numbers standpoint, Player B comes out on top in both categories. Player B finished the 2011 season with a 2.95 ERA and 117 total strikeouts. Player A finished with a 3.70 ERA and 98 Ks. Based on the three Triple Crown categories, Player B comes out on top in 2 of the 3.

However, as statistics have continued to evolve over the past few years there are new factors which we use to evaluate performance that need to at least be considered here. These rate statistics are effective because they can frequently level a playing field when you factor in varying workloads from one player to another. In this situation, Player B pitched 33.2 innings more than Player A. As such, Player B had more opportunities to add to his total numbers but looking at things through the rate statistics gives us a more accurate look at how their performances compare side-by-side.

Now, the numbers are remarkably similar for the two players – which I had not expected when I decided to complete this exercise. The differences in both BB/9 and K/9 (for me at least, two of the more important rate stats to take into account) are minimal while there isn’t a single outlier that swings the discussion strongly in favor of one player over the other. So we’re at a bit of a standstill.

We could use WAR (wins above replacement) as our determining factor but there is a problem with that idea as well. The two widely accepted calculations of WAR each use a different method (centered on which defensive metrics to use), thus providing very different results. Baseball Reference lists a 4.2 to 3.5 win for Player B. Yet, FanGraphs shows a 2.7 to 1.4 win for Player A. Generally speaking I tend to gravitate more towards the Baseball Reference version, but the margin of difference here isn’t enough to make a decision based purely on the numbers.

Ultimately at the end of this exercise we need to go with our gut as to who the better rookie was this past season. And that gut decision will vary depending on numerous factors – whether you value wins more than ERA, what stats you weigh more heavily, even what team you root for. For me, I still feel that Player A, Ivan Nova, outpitched Player B, Jeremy Hellickson, during their rookie seasons.