Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on January 17, 2011 @ 07:15:00 PDT


Hi friends and welcome to this week's edition of Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag. As always, we have three ways you can 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.

Let's get right to it, shall we?

I am new to fantasy baseball and am playing in an eight team National League only format with each team getting to keep five players forever or until they go to the American League. I have five picks in the first round. How would you rank Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Matt Garza, Bryce Harper, Casey Kelly, Brandon Belt, Zack Cox and Devin Mesoraco? - Lorrie

I am going to be honest here, we really need some more information to answer the question completely, but I will toss out some suggestions and maybe Lorrie will write back with some more details and we can answer it a little better.

The most important piece of the puzzle that is missing is Lorrie's five keepers, or perhaps even knowing she is not keeping five, leading to the extra first round picks. This is important because in order to rank the players above, we need to have a feel whether Lorrie wants to win this season or if she is going to use the season to really shore up her keeper list and go for it next year and beyond.

I always have a hard time going into the season in rebuild mode, unless the league is a dynasty format and not just a keeper league. In a dynasty league, you get to keep your players forever, like Lorrie's league. But in most dynasty leagues, you get to keep more than five players, so this is sort of a hybrid keeper-dynasty league. As mentioned earlier, ultimately, the decision for Lorrie will revolve around her keepers, so hopefully she will get back in touch and share those with us.

Florida Marlins OF Mike Stanton
Stanton: not the ideal keeper?

I will rank the players in a minute, but first, I would like to discuss how I would approach a keeper list in this format and suggest possible targets. Normally, the advice is to focus on hitting for keepers, since pitching is more volatile in terms of both performance and injury, and that is the case here as well. I think I would earmark one of the keeper spots for a top-8 starting pitcher and would never keep a closer in this format. Ideally, you want your keeper pitcher to have a couple of seasons in the league and be ready to pitch the full complement of innings, without having their season cut short to protect their valuable wing. It also helps if they have a clean injury history, though many believe that there two types of pitchers: healthy and those that will soon get hurt. It is really hard to find the ideal pitcher when they are still unproven, so I think I would look to acquire my keeper pitcher in a trade, unless I was in a position to draft one. Of the arms coming over to the Senior Circuit available to Lorrie, the Milwaukee Brewers' Zack Greinke best fits the profile of a keeper pitcher and I would not hesitate to package first round picks in an effort to move up to the top couple spots. Think about it - you can only keep five players, assuming you are already have some keepers, you are not going to keep all of your first round picks. Why not consolidate and secure one of the best in Greinke? Someone else to look at, especially if this is a rebuilding year, is Mat Latos of the San Diego Padres. His innings may be tempered this season, but next year, he should have the leash removed. Perhaps dealing first round picks to obtain Latos is the way to get your keeper pitcher.

The way I would approach the hitters is to simply get the best four hitters available and not worry so much about position, except I would not look for a catcher. While I would prefer a middle infielder over an outfielder, I would not keep a lesser shortstop over a better outfielder just because of position. My favorite statistics to look at in younger players is their walk and strikeout rates. Hitters that swing and make contact with good pitches usually do well. This means even with as much power that the Florida Marlins' Mike Stanton possesses, his high strikeout rate scares me. The Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward, on the other hand, is a dream come true, as he combines power and speed with great plate discipline.

Let us take a quick look at Lorrie's list of prospective first rounders, assuming of course I have not convinced her to package them in a deal. If you are looking to win this season, Cliff Lee is the obvious choice. Zack Greinke is next and he has the added benefit of being young. I like Shaun Marcum more than Matt Garza. Both are coming from the dangerous AL East and moving to the tamer NL Central so we can consider the league move a wash, though in general, people assume pitchers entering the National League will enjoy a big boost in strikeouts, but the truth is their strikeout rate goes up less than half a whiff per nine innings. Yeah, it sure stinks when facts get in the way of a good anecdotal argument, but I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, Garza may have better pure stuff than Marcum, but Marcum is far more consistent with his. Garza also allows more homers which is not so conducive to Wrigley Field in the summer months.

Devin Mesoraco is a promising catcher in the Cincinnati Reds system, but he is a catcher so I cross him off the list. Zack Cox, third baseman of the future of the St. Louis Cardinals is a player whose stock is on the rise and would be an intriguing play for deeper formats, but would have to be a top-40 player in Lorrie's league and that is not going to happen anytime soon. I already stated that I prefer to acquire young keeper pitchers, so bye-bye Casey Kelly. That leaves us with the Washington Nationals' phenom Bryce Harper and the under-the-radar but potential rookie-of-the-year Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants. While Harper has the higher ceiling, if I had to take one this spring, it would be Belt as he has a shot at contributing this season and could be a top-40 NL only player within a couple of years. I know all about Harper, but it will be several years before he is ready, do not believe the hype that he will get a shot this summer and let someone else take up a spot on their reserve list for the next 3 or 4 years.

Hi Lord. I just want you to know you are one of my all-time favorites and I am so glad to see you are back. I love the way you tell it like it is, even if it means you are the butt of some practical jokes because of your prim and proper style. And even though I know you are only acting the part in the business of fantasy entertainment, you do it so well, I always thought it was real. As a matter of fact, I patterned my work after yours. - Jerry "The King" Lawler, Memphis, Tennessee

Oy vey, not again. My apologies King, but you obviously have me confused with the late Lord Alfred Hayes, renowned professional wrestler, manager and commentator.

Hi Todd. What is your take on position scarcity versus best player available in drafts? - Tom Gregory, Milwaukee, WI

I always get a kick out of people that review a draft I did and decide I favor one strategy over the other, when the truth is I follow neither. My objective is to assemble the strongest team possible, and I do not think there is any one way to do it. There are too many variable to be married to a particular strategy. Your draft spot might dictate your strategy, not to mention what is left for you by your competitors. This is a topic that I am sure will come up as the winter turns into spring. Why don't I whet your appetite and give you some things to think about.

Instead of choosing position scarcity or best player available and providing evidence one is better than the other, let us look at each and note the potential issues. So we are all on the same page, catcher and middle infield are conventionally considered scarce positions while outfield and first base are strong. Third base is usually in the middle, though this year an argument can be made it is scarce.

While there is no single, textbook definition of position scarcity, there are two usual applications when it comes to drafting. The first is overall strength of a player pool and the second is the gap between the top players and the rest. Either way, the idea is to focus early picks on weaker positions, since you can always get quality players at the stronger positions later. Best player available is just that. Whenever it is your turn, you take the best player available, regardless of position, with some deference to the categories they provide and if they are a pitcher or catcher.

With respect to best player available, the primary issue occurs later in the draft. Early on, you will often find the best player to be an outfielder or first baseman. So you end up filling up those roster spots quickly. Then later, when they are filled, you are inevitably frustrated because the best players on the board are still outfielders and first baseman, and you have to go way down your list to find a hitter that fills an open roster spot. You regret not taking the shortstop or second baseman ranked close to the outfielder you took earlier in the draft.

On the other hand, if early on, you dip too far down your list to pick a second baseman or shortstop, you are giving up a lot of potential value. The reason is the difference in value between players is greatest at the top of the talent pool. Sure, you have a spot for that outfielder later, but the difference in value between that outfielder and the available scarce positions at that time is less than the value you gave back at the top to reach for a second baseman.

As suggested, I fall in between. The key is the amount I need to reach for scarce position early. My rule of thumb is early on, the next five players are fundamentally the same value. Later, the next 10 or 12 players are the same value. And once you get to the last third, throw value out the window as everyone is drafting for needs and ranks the remaining players differently. So early, if the top player on my board is an outfielder, but less than two or three away is a third baseman, second baseman or shortstop, I will bypass the outfielder for the other position. But if the top six or seven players are all either first baseman or outfielders, as is sometimes the case depending where you pick, I will take the top player, with some consideration being given to the expected stats they contribute, as I tend to shy away from speed specialists early since they can usually be picked up later. This is a topic that I am sure will be discussed a lot in this space, especially in conjunction with tiered drafting.

When Todd Zola is not drop-kicking or slapping the figure-four leg lock on those that do not heed his advice, you can usually find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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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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