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November 1, 2013

Sporer Report

Three Ways to Traverse the Baseball Offseason

by Paul Sporer

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If you are a baseball diehard like myself, chances are you watched down to the last pitch of the World Series whether or not you care about either the Red Sox or Cardinals. Of course with Boston’s 4-2 series win over St. Louis, the season is officially over. We have no more MLB games until 2014. For some, the transition is easy. You occupy your time with another sport (likely football, basketball or hockey), others like to catch up on missed media by binge watching TV seasons or paring down their way-too-long Movies to Watch List, and then some just turn their attention back to those they have essentially neglected since February—wives, husbands, and children.

Then there is the special breed. Those who aren’t even close to being done with baseball regardless of what the schedule might tell them. You took the kids out for Halloween and spent the rest of your Thursday evening watching the Cincinnati Bengals lose on a walk-off safety, but it was just too much time without baseball. You’re jonesing. Not only do you want to stay baseball-sharp for the offseason, but ideally you would do so while also improving your chances for the 2014 season in your fantasy leagues.

It just so happens that I have some suggestions for you.

MiLB Immersion, Particularly the AFL

I may be somewhat biased here given that I am at the AFL this very instant, but staying in tune with the goings-on of the league even if you can’t make it out here is a great way to get a leg up on the next superstars in MLB. The league is flooded with prime hitting talent that can often soon be found atop MLB leaderboards the following year. In just my six years of attending I have seen Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Brandon Belt, Starlin Castro, Nick Castellanos, and Billy Hamilton, among many others. It’s not much of a pitchers’ league, but I have also seen Gerrit Cole in my time while also missing Stephen Strasburg and Cole’s organization-mate Jameson Taillon due to injuries.

This year features the likes of Byron Buxton, Jorge Alfaro, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Alen Hanson, and Corey Seager—all guys who are already populating the upper end of prospects lists, but who will also soon be atop sleeper and regular draft lists for your fantasy leagus. You will even get a chance to see several of this year’s guys in one game during the Fall Stars Game on Saturday night. Not every league pays attention to minor leaguers so while you were busy manipulating your roster and working the trade wire to win your title, you might not have paid much attention to those making their mark in the minors.

Now is your time.

You can start by reviewing the top 10s and top 101 lists from our prospect team in the preseason. Then you can compare what you learn there with the top 50 midseason list that showed the changing thoughts from the prospect team. From there, you can start to focus on some guys you think might make the biggest impact in the 2014 season. See if they made a Fall League team and how their position shapes up on their current heading into next season. A prospect sleeper won’t do you much good if he doesn’t have a spot to play.

Category Breakdown and Market Inefficiencies

Did your bid for a title come up short this year? There’s a good chance the answer is yes for a lot of you simply because winning a league is hard. While it may be fun or at least therapeutic to come up with excuses as to why, it’s even better to figure out the real reasons why you didn’t obtain the top spot. One strategy that roto players have used in recent years is coming up with category targets that they hope to acquire in the draft or auction.

This is usually done by targeting the figure that finished third in every category. Your projection system of choice is then used to see how well you did with those targets coming out of the draft. If this is something you did in March, then go back and review how everything panned out! The projection system may have failed you in spots or altogether, but how good were the targets? If they were way off, then you certainly don’t want to use them again in 2014.

Additionally, assuming your league has been going for multiple years and you have now logged some historical data at your site of choice, you should be able to peruse the annals of the league to see how much the targets of finishing third in each category have fluctuated in time. This can also help you with determining inefficiencies within your league. Are steals undervalued? Are saves overvalued? Study the trajectory of your league standings year-over-year to determine some of these key trends.

Plum the Game Archives of MLB.tv

First off, if you don’t have an MLB.tv account, you can get one for a very fair price giving you access to the full archive (2013 and before) that they have to offer. Even the most flexible summer schedule likely wouldn’t afford you the opportunity to watch every game you want on a given night so now is your chance to go back and get a better look at players who intrigue you.

Maybe you live on the East Coast and didn’t get many chances to take a look at Hisashi Iwakuma, who enjoyed an incredible breakout season with the Seattle Mariners. Now you can carve out time to watch his back-to-back thrashings of the Cardinals and Tigers when he strung together 15 scoreless innings allowing a combined seven hits to the juggernaut offenses.

Or perhaps you enjoyed the fruits of Chris Davis’ insane season, but never got a chance to see what kind of changes he made in his game that led to him being one of the most lethal offensive forces in the game this year. You can scan a few games from his previous seasons and compare against his first months of the 2013 season when he was just untouchable with an 1.191 OPS in 226 PA.

You don’t even have to go outside of his 2013 season to get some insight into peaks and valleys of his game. Consider his June and July performances. He struck out 41 times in both months, but had a .290/.336/.692 line in June and a .211/.294/.500 in July.

How does Henderson Alvarez maintain the 21st-fastest heater in the game and yet net a meager 13.6 percent strikeout rate? The quick answer is that velocity doesn’t always equate to strikeouts, but watching some of his starts might lead to a more substantial reason tied directly to Alvarez. You could maybe look at the sequencing and setting up of batters in his July 21st outing against the Brewers (seven scoreless, but one strikeout) and compare it against his September 14th outing against the Mets (another seven scoreless, but five strikeouts).

Watching is the best way to learn. Plus, with a whole offseason ahead of us, you are going to be needing some quality game action sooner than later.

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

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