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February 28, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Currency or Building Blocks?

by Rob McQuown

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At all times in an ongoing Scoresheet Baseball league, it's important to keep an eye on the prize: winning the league. Obviously, that's important in a redraft league, too, but in those cases, every trade has to improve the team for the current season. In an ongoing context, there is always the tightrope act of trying to stay relevant in future seasons as well. Ben Murphy and co-manager Ian Lefkowitz led the “Three True Outcomes” (TTO) team to a World Series win last year in BP Kings. He defeated Geoff Young's “Clairemont Crush”, a new team in the league in 2010. What did these two teams look like?

Three True Outcomes:

Pitching:A stifling rotation of Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, and Colby Lewis was backed up by a bloated bullpen full high-strikeout relievers (of course, given the team name), such as Tyler Clippard, Evan Meek, Matt Capps, Rafael Betancourt, and David Aardsma. The bullpen swelled as the season progressed, as the team added arm after arm through minor trades and shrewd drafts.

Position Players:Daric Barton led off, and it's a certainty that Ben and Ian didn't have him bunting, as he did so much of in real life. Then Troy Tulowitzki, Marlon Byrd, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Jack Cust, Chris Snyder, and Blake DeWitt rounded out the World Series lineup.  The same players started against lefties, though Holliday led off instead of Barton.

Clairemont Crush:

Pitching:Roy Halladay, Chad Billingsley, Randy Wells, and Jair Jurrjens weren't able to hold up to the foursome TTO had, but two starts per series by Halladay was sufficient to escape the American League playoffs. If anything, the Clairemont bullpen was even more imposing than that of TTO, with Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano being the “name” closers, but Daniel Bard, Mike Adams, Robinson Tejeda, Saito, Wuertz, Thatcher, and others contributed mightily.

Position Players:The lineup versus right-handed pitching was composed of Rickie Weeks, Will Venable, Delmon Young, Seth Smith, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Miguel Cairo, George Kottaras, and Marco Scutaro. Against lefties, the Crush used Ruiz, Cairo, Weeks, Delmon, Wells, Jhonny Peralta, Scutaro, Jamey Carroll, and Melky Cabrera–highly leveraging the benefits of platoons.

These two teams make good examples of how there's more than one way to succeed in Scoresheet. Obviously, everyone would prefer to have a team like Three True Outcomes, which also managed to retain Dustin Pedroia and top prospect Jesus Montero, giving them six of the top 29 players taken in the Mock Draft and Montero. Clearly, with such an abundance of talent, anything short of a ring would be disappointing. Of course, to get such a team, the only sure ways are to find trade partners who can be exploited massively, or to identify premium talent before it develops into superstar performance. And the only way to tilt the odds of identifying enough young talent to get numerous franchise players is to commit to tearing down a team entirely, and playing a “numbers game” with dozens of prospects.

Meanwhile, Clairemont had Halladay and Kevin Youkilis fall to them with picks seven and eight in the dispersal draft before 2010, and, well, the rest of their World Series season was mostly due to adept use of role players in filling holes by GM Young... and an unbelievable bullpen. This team is a great case study for owners who prefer to aggressively pursue the pennant every season. There were other good relief pitchers available last year, as yours truly was rebuilding in 2010 as well, and would have traded any or all of Koji Uehara, Huston Street, Sean Burnett, or Bobby Jenks for little more than a bag of balls. The team with the NL's worst record had Kerry Wood, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Franklin, and Jason Motte, and others.

So, what does this decision look like in real-time (as seen through a Scoresheet draft lens)? Right now, “Team BDD” is not good, as has been noted here before. And with a half-score of keepable prospects on the roster, taking prospects now in the draft would only be an attempt to add coin of the realm, as prospects seem to be in the BP Kings league. But in most leagues, draftees in their first year out of high school aren't often traded for early 13th-round picks (as Manny Machado was in Kings). Yet, that's the price to acquire top prospects in this league. But what do you do if you're in the “Purgatory” phase of the competition process, with neither the abject “badness” to blow it all up, or the platoon of franchise players required to storm the rest of the league without even having to trade off top prospects? As a case study, here is what yours truly (with co-manager Brian Joseph) is up against:

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz

First Base: Mitch Moreland

Second Base: Neil Walker

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman

Shortstop: Stephen Drew

Left Field: Alex Rios

Center Field: Michael Bourn/Austin Jackson

Right Field: Austin Jackson/Nick Swisher

DH: Nick Swisher

Bench: Alex Gordon

SP: Erik Bedard, Scott Baker, Ervin Santana, James Shields, Josh Outman, James McDonald, Cory Luebke

Short of chucking rolls of pennies into a well and wishcasting best possible outcomes for these guys, it's clear this isn't a .600 team. But .549 won the division in 2010 (89-73), and while even .550 seems very optimistic, Moreland had a .364 on-base percentage and .469 slugging in 2010, Walker hit .296/.349/.462, Bedard was great the last time he was healthy, Outman was showing great promise before getting hurt, McDonald looked good after joining the Pirates, and Luebke's the Padres #6 prospect, but since he's a pitcher, he gets plenty of bonus credit for his Petco-aided performances.

So far, all the players behind Zimmerman and Drew (besides Bourn—a “team BDD” favorite–don't judge us, please) have been either solid MLB players who aren't really “build-around” types (Swisher, Rios, Ruiz, Baker, Shields, Santana), or haven't fully defined their upside yet, though most are considered less-than-star level or extreme injury risks (this means you, Mssr. Bedard). With 10 extra picks in the draft, and already having 10 prospects–most of whom will require keeping for another year, barring a collapse–there will be plenty of time to build a bullpen-by-quantity, and the lefty-crushing sides of the various platoons can also be added later. The logic, which could be debated, is that if younger players who could do well in 2011 are chosen, and the team remains somewhat in contention in a weak division for a couple months, there's the possibility of trading off one of the many prospects to fill any hole which is exposed. And if the team is as bad as feared, and clearly not in contention, trades in the opposite direction are still possible, perhaps consolidating players and prospects to get better prospects.

Some have suggested that walking in the middle of the road is a sure way to get hit, or sitting on a fence is a sure way to get, um, split, with the implication being that the only paths to success in sports leagues are either “all in” or “blow it up”. And there's no denying it's easier to pick a lane and stay in it. In leagues which aren't active, these really may be the only options, but in leagues where managers are actively trying to win, the ebb and flow of player performances can be worked, especially in a 24-team BL (both leagues) environment. The time when the rubber meets the road will be when a trade possibility arises involving one or more good major leaguers who aren't “build-around” types being offered for one high-end prospect who is doing well in 2011. Obviously, the decision at that point will hinge on how good said high-end prospect is perceived to be, as well as the standings at the time.

Until that moment when a high-end prospect is requested in trade—consider high-end here to be something akin to the 5-star prospects as rated by Kevin Goldstein, of which there are usually fewer than 50 annually; e.g. 42 for 2011 (just 15 of which are in the NL)–swapping off middling (or piddling) prospects for significant present-season upgrades is almost always the way to go. Not that this trade was unbalanced or anything, but Marc Normandin executed a good example of this sort of maneuver in the 14th round:

Feb 26: Team 17 (Marc Normandin) reported trading 1531 Jedd Gyorko; round 28 pick to team 12 (Paul Swydan) for round 15 pick.

Nothing against Jedd Gyorko, but consider all the factors which are essentially out of the player's control—as  have been covered in the past draft preparation articles—with relationship to Gyorko:

  • Platoon: He's right-handed. This isn't a huge negative, but it's obviously easier to find the right-handed portion of a platoon, something to keep in mind for prospects.
  • Environment: He is likely to play in Petco eventually. While this may not cripple right-handed batters, it's no picnic for hitters of either handedness.
  • Defense: His defense isn't good. Kevin Goldstein writesThe Bad: Gyorko's defense was an issue throughout his college years, not because of his fundamentals, but rather his stocky build, below-average speed, and limited range. Even at third base there are balls he just can't get to, and some feel a move to an outfield corner is in his future, which would force even more onto the development of his bat.”

This isn't to say he won't be good. Maybe he sticks at third base and lashes line drives around Petco like Bill Madlock did around Wrigley Field. The point is that Marc is likely to be able to pick up some other 3-star prospect later in the draft (albeit one less close to the majors), and in exchange, he was able to use his round 14 pick on Russell Branyan, who gives him a middle-of-order bat against right-handed pitching (he used the actual 15th-round pick on Rajai Davis but seemed to be planning to take Davis as an overdraft in the 14th, as he needed the CF). Of course, the other owner is following another principle for rebuilding teams, in expanding his roster size (getting 2-for-1) without impacting his core talent, so this isn't a criticism of the trade, just an observation that it's often possible to make substantial present-season upgrades without relinquishing much future value.

Rob McQuown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

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