Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on January 3, 2011 @ 07:30:00 PDT


Hi friends and let me be amongst the last to wish you a very happy New Year. May all your sleepers wake up and all your fliers take off. Now that the fantasy football season is in the books, it is time to turn your attention toward the 2011 fantasy baseball season, and there is no better way than to get some advice from an industry veteran, yours truly, Lord Zola. We have 3 different ways for you to submit your questions. You can send an e-mail to lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_baseball. Today we are going to feature a couple of questions that came in over the Twitter feed, posed by KFFL reader @velve23.

Care to answer an early head to head keeper question: Mat Latos or Yovani Gallardo?

It would be my pleasure. Since no league specifications, contract details or other implications were offered, I will answer the question as all else being equal, who is a better keeper?

Both the San Diego Padres' Latos and the Milwaukee Brewers' Gallardo are talented and promising young hurlers. Latos just turned 23 years old while Gallardo will turn 25 just after pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Gallardo has two full seasons under his belt while Latos just completed his first full campaign, barely missing rookie status since he exceeded the 50 innings pitched limit by only two-thirds of a frame in 2009.

Atlanta Braves OF Jason Heyward
Keepers: My Heyward son

Gallardo's 2008 season was cut short after suffering a devastating ACL tear in April. With consecutive seasons of 185 2/3 and 185 innings pitched, he has demonstrated no ill effects from the injury and is a strong bet to approach the 200 innings plateau for the first time in his career. Gallardo's strongest skill is an exceptional strikeout rate, punching out better than a hitter per inning the past two seasons. The fact he has maintained that elevated level in successive seasons is a big feather in his cap. His Achilles' heel is a higher than average walk rate, though to his credit, he shaved it considerably this past season. If he can continue honing his control, Gallardo has the skills to take it to the next level and be a bona fide fantasy ace. Do not be fooled by his elevated 2010 ERA of 3.84 as that was adversely impacted by a rather unlucky hit rate which is likely to correct this season. In fact, if Gallardo simply maintains his present walk rate, his ERA is likely to drop half a run simply because probability suggests he will allow fewer hits in 2011.

Latos led many a fantasy owner to victory with his stellar 2010 effort. Originally, the intention was to cap his innings around 150, but since the Padres were challenging for the playoff until the bitter end, he exceeded that number by more than 30 stanzas. Assuming San Diego is not competitive down the stretch, Latos may be held to between 180 and 190 innings since he is still quite young and is such a large part of the Padres' future. Like Gallardo, Latos' calling card is his ability to miss bats, as he also fanned more than a batter per inning. But he displayed better control, leading to an ERA almost a run below Gallardo's. But unlike Gallardo, Latos has only performed at this level for one season so it is a bit of a risk assuming he maintains similar exceptional strikeout and walk rates. This is not to say he will struggle, just that the peripherals turned in by Latos are difficult to maintain for anybody.

So even though if you look at their respective 2010 numbers Latos had the superior season, my choice for the better keeper is Gallardo. I like the fact that Gallardo has two full seasons' worth of data to consider and is one skill away from ratcheting up a level, and in fact made significant strides last season, improving his control. Latos is still a prized young pitcher and probably has a higher ceiling so long as he calls PETCO Park home, but Gallardo is safer. And if you are looking to compete this season and are less concerned about down the road, barring injury, Gallardo is the better bet to still be toeing the rubber in September, which is when head to head playoffs occur.

Maybe you can throw this one in the mix as well. Keep one: Jason Heyward, Elvis Andrus, Michael Stanton or Brandon Phillips?

Now this is an interesting group. And to be completely honest, some context is really needed to provide the best answer. But we'll play the cards that are dealt.

Let's use process of elimination to hone in on our choice. Even though he is a promising talent and has shown he can contribute at the major league level and plays a weak position in fantasy terms, the Texas Rangers' shortstop, Andrus, is the first to be voted off the island. While you can construct a viable fantasy lineup around players whose primary contribution is speed, forcing yourself to do so leaves you at a competitive disadvantage as you are forced to chase players that balance your attack. Plus, of all categories, you can usually find speed in your draft or auction.

Next, since the Atlanta Braves' Heyward and the Florida Marlins' Stanton are both outfielders with similar profiles, let's decide which of the two is preferred. They both possess promising power and can run a little. The edge there, however, goes to Stanton whose raw power is exceptional. That said, you have to hit the ball for good things to happen and Heyward's walk and contact rates are far superior to Stanton's, giving Heyward the checkmark here. May head to head leagues penalize strikeouts, further widening the gap in this department. So even though Stanton is likely to swat more homers than Heyward, Heyward is a better all around player, and much less susceptible to slumps or off years since his plate discipline far exceeds that of Stanton.

That leaves the choice between the Cincinnati Reds' second baseman, Phillips, or Heyward. Phillips is a player that many (present company included) expected to challenge the 30HR/30SB level for many seasons. And while he still has the potential to reach those lofty goals, he has settled in as a 20/20 guy. If you approach Phillips as a 20/20 guy with upside, you will not be disappointed. But is that the sort of stat line you want to freeze when you have such a promising alternative as Heyward as an option? In some instances, the answer is yes, I could justify freezing the second baseman in lieu of the younger outfielder. I would have to be in "win now" mode with the majority of the quality second baseman expected to be kept by my competitors. There is a much better chance of finding the diamond in the rough to fill an outfield spot than a second baseman. That said, if your league allows trades where one team plays for the present while the other builds for the future, Heyward is one of the best trading chips to own and could likely fetch a king's ransom in a dump deal.

Ultimately, the decision needs to be made in context with @velve23's league. If he has plans to compete this season and finding a quality second baseman will be difficult, a case can certainly be made for Phillips. But if there is any measure of dump trading at all, I would prefer to have Heyward to dangle to make a title run this season.

Yo Lord, how does it feel to be one of the most popular people at your craft and then disappear, then several years later, have your work be emulated by others much better looking and more hip than you ever were? Danno, Honolulu, Hawaii

Yo Danno, you obviously have me confused with the late Jack Lord, star of the original Hawaii Five-0 television series whose theme song was played by every high school band in the late '70s and early '80s.

Lord, I see you announced the roll-out of Mastersball's Platinum package. Can you tell me a little bit about it? An inquiring mind that wants to know, Parts Unknown, USA

Sure. We have our 2011 projections currently available, soon to be followed by player profiles, minor league rankings, expert strategy and our brand new draft software. We update our projections at least once a week, including during the season. We offer dollar values and rankings for all the common formats as well as provide values and rankings customized to your league. We explain our methods and philosophies in great detail and best of all, you have direct access to our esteemed team of industry stalwarts on a message forum dedicated solely to Platinum subscribers. All this is available for a reasonable price.

When Todd is not watching reruns of 1970s TV shows on cable, you can usually find him hanging out in the forums at Mastersball.com.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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