Fantasy Baseball Tumbling Dice: Mocking in the free world (and other tales of pitching hope and woe)

by Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com on January 31, 2012 @ 09:15:37 PDT

 


Honestly, I never thought that the slow Industry Experts Mock, of which I wrote last week, would be good for more than two columns.

But, here we are, halfway through the extravaganza, and this is my third piece, meaning since I still have 16 picks ahead to complete my team of 23 roster heads, along with seven bench spots (for a total of 30) so there could be a fourth, or dare I say it, a fifth piece worthy of mining.

Now, I realize that it is really not as much fun to read about someone's picks and teams as it is to write about them, but I will try to spare you those details as much as possible, and this time rather focus on the big trend I have indeed noticed this season during the myriad of mocks in which I have participated.

That is pitching.

Now, there is so much we can all say about pitching, probably the most frustrating and ephemeral of roto categories. And, if you doubt that, look at A.J. Burnett the last couple of years. Or, how about Joe Saunders the past few seasons?

Miami Marlins SP Anibal Sanchez
Sanchez: still available, still good

And, though I have indeed owned both Burnett and Saunders the last couple of years, no pitcher haunted me more than Mark Mulder in Tout Wars, 2004.

Now this ownership might well have cost me a title in the well documented match of that year, for the campaign was detailed in Sam Walker's great book, Fantasyland.

For in 2004, over the first half of the year, Mulder, then an Athletic, was 12-2, 3.21 over 116 innings, dropping to 5-6, 6.13 over 94 second half innings, which included an incredible 0-4, 8.79 September.

Which means using the troika of Mulder, Burnett, and Saunders, the reality of pitching is we really never know exactly what our arms will do week to week, let alone start to start. Of course, the idea as with hitting is to try and build on consistency, but as just the Mulder example proposes, where does one draw the line?

When do we justify benching a Mulder or Burnett, let alone dropping them? For, as we all have experienced, as soon as we do indeed reserve or dump, the arm enjoys a renaissance, but our stat base does not get to take advantage accordingly.

So, how do we compartmentalize the 2011 pitching numbers, as we head into the 2012 season, knowing the best we might hope for is not to get burned?

As noted, in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft, the first hurler selected was Clayton Kershaw (#23) and in the MLB.com Slow Mock, Joe Sheehan took the same Kershaw as the first arm with the sixth pick - 19 overall - of the second round.

And, as I mentioned last week, I do like to focus on scarcity as much as I can the first handful of rounds in any draft, particularly the snake type format the MLB mock uses.

In responding to a strategy piece on the MLB.com mock at our Mastersball.com site over the weekend, Rotowire's Jeff Erickson posted the comment " my thesis for this slow draft is that good starting pitching is available late, and in this era of the pitcher, one needs to put a higher value on bats in each slot. I have one solid anchor in Halladay and two closers - my decision to wait on other starters was by design."

Now Jeff is right. For in the FSTA draft, Todd and I did not grab an arm until our fifth pick, or #60 overall, and we managed to nab Matt Cain with our next pick, and eventually built a solid enough staff augmented by Matt Moore (9th round), Justin Masterson (16th round), Brandon McCarthy (17th round), Chris Sale (18th round) and Ricky Nolasco (20th round).

In the slow mock, I did follow Jeff's lead in grabbing Felix Hernandez in the third round, and then turned around taking two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum with my fourth round selection, following again with Cain in the sixth round.

So, as much as I like Cole Hamels, I like King Felix more, and well, again, as much as I like Hamels, I like Lincecum more as well.

But, the reason I took these three arms so uncharacteristically early was due to another roto maxim: Never let a bargain get by you.

Through 13 mock rounds (169 picks) the pitchers still available include Ervin Santana, Anibal Sanchez, Tim Hudson, Shaun Marcum, Max Scherzer, and Derek Holland. Not to mention Trevor Cahill, Doug Fister, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jaime Garcia.

Just among those 10 arms there is the strong chance of selecting six or seven starters who could provide a solid enough core to make a team competitive, especially balanced against taking 14 hitters, which at best completes and offensive roster, and at worst accommodates 12 hitters and a pair of closers.

On the other hand, even with just my three starting arms, as projected by Rotowire on the Mock Draft Central draft site, my team would rank third in ERA and fifth in strikeouts, and that is with just those top three arms as the basis for my rotation (although early season projections are fodder for another day).

Still, when the season is over, points are points and it matters not to me where they come from, pitching or hitting. Especially as long as I have the most points in the league.

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About Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com

Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.

Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for MLB.com as a statistician.

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