Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Long-term 1B, Ichiro, more

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on June 13, 2011 @ 21:27:11 PDT


Before we get to this week's queries, sometimes it is smart to write a little note to yourself and put it somewhere you will see it when you begin preparation for next season's drafts. Something I am going to jot down and really consider is how to take advantage of what has become a bevy of possible waiver and free agent acquisitions promoted after the likely Super Two date has passed.

For those of you that play in single leagues, you no doubt are aware that there is always an influx of talent at the trade deadline. In recent years, if you have missed out on the regular deadline, you can often pick up a decent player that gets dealt after clearing waivers. Then there is always some additional inventory added when the rosters expand in September. Many like to hoard their FAAB to spend it on a big gun crossing leagues. Assuming enough of the post Super Two prospects are available in your league, I am beginning to think that planning your roster to pick up one or two of these players in deep single leagues a month or so before the trading deadline is a good strategy.

But that is something to consider for next season. Let's focus on this season and see what you have on your mind this week. If you want your trade or waiver free agent pickup analyzed, all you have to do is e-mail it to lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.

Lord Zola, how would you rank Mitch Moreland, Mark Trumbo, Billy Butler, Brett Wallace, and Matt LaPorta for the rest of the season? How would you rank them for the next 2 - 4 year period? Thanks. - Keith

Seattle Mariners OF Ichiro Suzuki
Washed up? Ichiro

First off Keith, I owe you an apology as an e-mail glitch delayed my answering this for you, hopefully it is not too late. I will start with this season, as that is the easier question to handle, primarily because the playing time element is much more defined.

For this season, and honestly, it really is not close, Butler is the best bet. I know he is boring, but sometimes boring is best. That said, if you need power at the expense of batting average, picking Trumbo can be justified. Butler is not hitting for the power many expected and should no longer be expected to be a slugger, but he is a very good hitter who will produce runs. Butler makes excellent contact and hits the ball hard, albeit mostly line drives and grounders. For such a strong guy, Butler does not loft many balls. But, he will always threaten the .300 level which leads to a goodly amount of runs and RBI.

As suggested, Trumbo has the greatest power potential of the quintet so if you know you need a power boost to win, I would not argue with choosing the Angels first baseman. However, it is still a bit early in the season to sacrifice value. Perhaps dealing Butler for another first baseman with more pop but closer in value would be the better ploy, someone like Gaby Sanchez.

Thinking long term, the first question that needs to be considered is which of the first sackers is most guaranteed playing time? Guess what, boring wins again as Butler is the only of the group that you know will play every day. The only downside is in most leagues, he is only going to be eligible at designated hitter/utility and not first base.

Taking the leap of faith that all five play full time, I have more bad news as Butler is still the answer. His track record is solid, his skill set is consistent and sustainable. If you can work around the fact he will not hit a bunch of homers, Butler can be a valuable piece to a winning team the next two to four years. I would probably choose Trumbo next since he has both power and a little speed. And, if he can improve his contact, he has the chance to be more valuable than Butler. The problem is unless he switches organizations, his path to extensive playing time is limited assuming Kendrys Morales comes back.

Taking a quick look at the others, Moreland is interesting as his contact rate is very good and he is patient at the plate. Because of that, Moreland may actually be a safer pick than Trumbo going forward but Moreland's power upside is not quite as high as his Anaheim counterpart. Wallace and LaPorta are both similar in that they have very good minor league pedigrees but need to make better contact to reach the next level.

Hey Todd, what is up with Ichiro? He's killing me. - Jimmy Rogerson

I'm not sure why, but there is surprisingly little ire over how poor Ichiro Suzuki has played this season. Maybe it is because his owners just assume he will bounce back. But looking at his numbers, it is quite apparent something off is happening this season and it is no sure thing Ichiro will completely recover.

In terms of skills, Suzuki is striking out even fewer times than normal, which is usually a good thing. His hit distribution is consistent with previous season, with a couple of extra grounders in lieu of line drives. While he is not known for his power, it is rather alarming that he has not hit a single homer and only has totaled nine doubles. If nothing else, this suggests he is not hitting the ball with the same authority as in the past which could explain his extremely low batting average on balls in play. Ichiro is not driving the ball through the infield as he has done in previous seasons.

Keeping in mind Suzuki is 37, it very well may be Father Time has caught up to the Japanese sensation. A slight decline in bat speed or even perhaps a small decline in vision can result in fewer balls being squared up. Will he improve upon his current numbers? Probably, but I am skeptical we will see the old Ichiro, unless he shows up at the park wearing glasses.

How about a strategy question for a change. In a keeper league, how do you decide to go for it or to pack it in and build for next season? -- Sam Prentice

Analysts in my position like to talk tough and say go for it, flags fly forever. As the saying goes, that is easy for me to say. I am not the one dealing the prospects I worked so hard to acquire. Personally, what I have learned while making this decision is I cannot be afraid to fail. Only one team wins, but, just as you cannot get a hit unless you swing, you cannot win unless you go for it. And while I will not make the direct comparison that even the best hitters fail seven of 10 times, you will not win every year you go for it.

If you have a chance to win, then go for it even if it means dealing Bryce Harper, with Harper representing any young prospect or cheap keeper you may have. The key to this is not to straddle the fence. If you decide to make a run, go all in. Do not try to win but also protect some of your keepers. More often than not, you come up short this season and have a weaker keeper list for next year. If you need to rebuild, it is always best to rebuild after a championship, not a failed championship attempt.

But that does not really answer Sam's question, it was more advice after deciding to go for it. The question asked was how I decide to go for it, with the obvious implication being Sam is scared to deal away his futures and not come up short. As I mentioned above, the first obstacle is not being afraid to fail. Have confidence that if you come up short, you can rebuild next season and win the following year.

The first thing you need to do is take an honest look at your keepers as compared to the other teams competing for the championship, keeping in mind they are also going to be dealing future value for present help. You need the trade chips to compete. This is a subjective decision and involves knowing what your leagues considers valuable in terms of keepers, which may not mesh with your personal philosophy. One helpful exercise is to go back and study the keeper lists coming into the season. Are there any patterns? Some leagues will not keep closers, regardless of the price. Some fall in love with the shiny but unproven prospects. It does not matter what you look for in a keeper, it matters if you have what others look for.

If you conclude you have pieces others will covet, that is really all it takes. The rest is execution. But, as they say, that is a question for another day.

When Todd is not plotting how he can win all his keeper leagues, 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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