Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: MLB Draft, more

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on April 18, 2011 @ 09:14:19 PDT


We have a real mixed bag of questions this week, hitting on some top collegiate players, an unsettled pair of bullpens and an explanation of a concept that is often misused when it comes to fantasy baseball analysis. If you want your question answered, all you have to do is e-mail it to me at lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball

What is your opinion on where Anthony Rendon will be taken in upcoming draft? Thanks. - Russ Whitesel

For those not as plugged into the college scene as Russ, Anthony Rendon is generally considered the top position player available in the Rule 4 Major League Baseball entry draft to be held on June 7. Rendon, a junior third baseman at Rice University, was once the consensus top choice but a variety of factors has made it a 50:50 chance he is drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Though he is now healthy, Rendon has had some injury issues, most notably to his ankle. His stock has also slipped a bit as his numbers so far this season are behind the torrid pace he set in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. During his initial collegiate season, Rendon hit .388 with 20 homers then followed that up with an even better .394 with 26 bombs last year. About halfway through 2011, Rendon is hitting .349 but with a modest 3 home runs.

Perhaps the primary reason Rendon is no longer the obvious top choice is the emergence of UCLA right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, who is drawing some likely unfair comparisons to Stephen Strasburg. Fair or not, what is true is Cole has developed into the top pitching prospect available and many feel he will be the target of the Pirates since they already have Pedro Alvarez manning the hot corner.

St. Louis Cardinals RP Ryan Franklin
Who's best to replace Franklin?

While I admit that following the collegiate game is not my specialty, I cannot imagine that Pittsburgh would pass on Rendon solely based on position. Alvarez can easily move across the diamond to first base, where his bat should play, clearing the hot corner for Rendon who is thought to be quite adept with the leather as well as the stick. Pittsburgh drafted hurler Jameson Taillon second overall last summer and is devoid of top hitting prospects in its system. Assuming Rendon is healthy and shows some life the rest of his junior season, it certainly makes sense for Rendon to be drafted by the Pirates.

For those wondering about the signability issue, both Rendon and Cole are represented by Scott Boras so that is a wash. In addition, Pittsburgh has demonstrated that they will pay above slot if necessary for top prospects.

Again, this is not my niche, but if I had to guess, it just makes too much sense so I see Pittsburgh drafting Rendon first overall, leaving Seattle to add Cole to a rotation that already has Felix Hernandez and the up-and-coming Michael Pineda. That said, if Pittsburgh does pass on Rendon, Seattle would certainly jump at the chance to pick up a top hitter to help their historically inept offense.

Yo Todd, I am one of those that never pays for saves. Can you handicap the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals bullpen? - Roger Davidson

No, next question.

Okay, I'll try. But the key here is closer is unlike any other position in sports. What I mean by that is more often than not, when you are deciding who will play a position, regardless of the sport, the logical choice is the most highly skilled candidate. But unfortunately, this is not always the case when it comes to baseball and working the ninth inning as there is a school of thought that some relievers do not have the mental makeup, moxie or guile to handle the pressure of recording the last three outs of the game while holding a lead of three runs or less. Personally, I feel this is overblown and that most times, a pitcher is unjustifiably labeled as a guy that cannot close. Sure, some may not be able to deal with the situation but many others likely could have if afforded more of a chance. That said, Ozzie Guiilen and Tony La Russa could not care less about what I think, so it is my job to try to figure out what they are thinking.

Let us start with the South Side of Chicago. Matt Thornton was anointed the closer and many, including yours truly, felt he would be excellent in the role. The southpaw has a three-year, 200-plus inning track record of success, dominating both righties and lefties. And while he has struggled to strike out his usual number per inning, it is apparent Juan Pierre does not own Thornton on his fantasy teams as a pair of defensive gaffes by the White Sox left fielder contributed mightily to Thornton's woes. Guillen has allegedly turned to a committee which included Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain. I am going to take the easy way out here as I honestly believe it to be true by saying Thornton will soon right his ship and assume the closer role once again. His skills the past three years have just been too strong and while he is walking more batters and not fanning as many as normal, his pedigree strongly suggests he will get back on track. In the interim, I think Sale and Santos will split the chances based on matchups, with Crain perhaps picking up a vulture save if either of the others blows a lead to extend the game.

The situation in St. Louis is much different in that the incumbent, Ryan Franklin, is quite possibly the worst closer, in terms of component skills, in the game. But for the past couple of seasons he has gotten the job done and skipper La Russa does not care about how, but how many. As such, it is not automatic that La Russa will reinstate Franklin if he gets in gear, the key being if. Trying to determine the next in line for the Red Birds is nothing more than a dart throw as they have a plethora of divergent options and as mentioned above, the winner will not necessarily be the one with the best skills for the job.

Jason Motte is still likely thought of as the future Cardinals closer but it is apparent the brass does not think he is ready, else he would have had the job from the onset. Motte's surface stats thus far are fine, but his strikeouts are down, albeit in a tiny sample size. Since becoming a reliever, Mitchell Boggs has improved his strikeouts while dropping his walks, but he still struggles a bit against lefties. Fernando Salas has closed in the minors and has the skills, but La Russa likes his veterans. Eduardo Sanchez is getting some love from those that like to be in the speculating forefront as he has also closed in the minors, is young and has outstanding peripherals. But like with Salas, it is difficult to imagine La Russa saying "Kid, you're my guy, go get 'em." That brings us to, gulp, Miguel Batista. Only when it comes to speculating on a closer can the worst possibility be a viable candidate. There is not much to say, Batista has a similar lack of skills as Franklin, but he is a veteran and has closed before which is as important to La Russa as his strikeout and walk rates. And, for what it is worth, in the few games an eighth inning set up man was required, Batista got the nod. While I know Boggs is going to be the popular choice, my nickel is on Batista as the stopgap with Motte taking over down the road.

Lord, got a question for you. I am new to fantasy baseball and hear and read about some players being no good because of no protection. What does this mean and what players are examples? - Reggie Abrams

Reggie, you have hit upon a bit of a sore spot with me as I too have heard the concept of protection being bandied about, in what I believe to be an incorrect manner. The theory is that the batter up before a great hitter is "protected," thus sees better pitches and produces better numbers. The pitcher does not want to walk the batter preceding a great hitter, so he gets better pitches to hit. While anecdotally this may be true, all the studies I have seen on the subject demonstrate that the performance of a player is not affected by the quality of the succeeding hitter.

What many say in response to these studies is that protection does not exist. And in fact, in the direct sense of the word, it does not. The slash line of players is not impacted. His batting averages and slugging percentages do not chance based on the quality of hitter following them in the order.

But here is the problem. From a fantasy sense, there are two repercussions of being a star hitter. The first is RBI chances are reduced since the better hitters get intentionally walked. The second is strong hitters in weak lineups do not have as many chances to score or knock in runs as those in better lineups. In these instances, the skill of the player is not affected, but the production in terms of homers. Runs and RBI could be less.

What happens is many use the term protection to describe a strong player in a weak lineup. While their bottom line point is true, these players may not have the counting stats of someone with the same slash line in better lineups, although their skills are the same.

So what you need to do is really listen to the player being discussed. If the analysis is suggesting the player's skills will be worse without protection, there is no basis for that. If the contention is the player with hit just fine but not score or drive in as many runs, the notion is accurate but the use of the term is misappropriated a bit.

By means of example, someone like Adrian Gonzalez last year in San Diego would not amass as many counting stats as players with similar skills since his lineup was rather vapid. However, the notion that Albert Pujols is a better hitter with Matt Holliday back and hitting clean up is a myth. He may score more runs, but that is not a protection issue.

When Todd is not trying to get in the head of Ozzie Guillen and Tony La Russa, you can 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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