Team Karaman TDGX Analysis: The Keys to the Game
Now that the draft is finally, mercifully over after some three weeks and 800 picks it’s time to actually play the games. Well, close enough anyway. As I’ve touched on a bit in earlier draft updates, I’m fairly pleased with how my draft unfolded. My third- and fourth- round picks of George Springer and Cliff Lee were the only ones I really second-guessed myself at all about, but even there I like both players to provide cornerstone value over the next 2-3 years window. Lee will begin to slide soon if he hasn’t already, I know that. But his repertoire and intelligence as a pitcher point to a gradual decline barring catastrophic injury, and that’s a standard risk for every single pitcher. And Springer has the kind of skillset that can play immediately at the big league level. I realize I’m higher on him than some, but I think hit tool concerns are overblown with him. When he gets the pieces of his swing moving coherently the way they’re supposed to he makes barrel contact, and I expect him to be a high-BABIP player who can offset a decent chunk of his strikeout liabilities to post respectable batting averages. He’s more valuable still in OBP leagues, where his keen batting eye should produce .75-plus differentials between his average and on-base percentage. A mid-.300’s OBP with his power-speed combo is an annual first round-caliber package. But even in standard leagues like TDGX he’s got the ability to be an annual top 10 threat.
I don’t think my squad is an immediate top five team in the league for 2014 if all players in the game play to their 50th percentile projection. But I do think I have a plausible path to get into that range if a handful of things go right for me and a few of my players play to the upper end of their projection ranges. Here are some of the players that can be real keys to my team this summer and can put me in the hunt if they come through for me.
Ryan Howard, 1B PHI
I took Howard in the 16th round for pick 312, and I thought it was a stellar grab for my CI slot at that point in the draft. Howard’s had two straight seasons of lower half injury, first dealing with the aftermath of a blown-out Achilles tendon, then missing half the season last year with a torn meniscus that required season-ending surgery. A lot has been made of Howard’s well-documented struggles against same-handed pitching, and it’s been amplified all the louder by the indefensible contract extension he signed in April of 2010. I’m going to perhaps conveniently excuse 2012 in what I’m about to say, because rupturing one’s Achilles tendon is a gruesome injury, and his batted ball profile suggests that he struggled to use his lower half and transfer his weight. So giving him a mulligan for that season, his OPS’s against right-handers since signing his deal have been .876 (2010), .921 (2011), and .878 (2013). I don’t see any reason to believe he can’t do the same, or even exceed that range this year. His HR/FB rate was one of the unluckiest in baseball last year, falling all the way to 14.9% – substantially off his 27.7% career rate. Even if he only rebounds closer to the low-20% range he was sitting in the seasons prior to last year’s anomaly he’s guy that can hit 25-30 homeruns. If his body holds up long enough to let him. That’s the big wildcard with him. But if he can log 140 games and push that 30 figure he adds a whole lot of depth to my power category production and gives me a return on investment that very few other league managers will have been able to produce with their 16th round picks.
Alcides Escobar, SS KCR
Things haven’t gotten off to a great start this spring for the looking-to-rebound Escobar, as he’s been slowed by a shoulder injury serious enough to warrant a cortisone injection last week. But here’s hoping for a swift and speedy recovery, because his health and wellbeing will go a long way towards determining my prospects in stolen bases. As a high-contact, low-walk hitter Escobar is highly BABIP-dependent for his batting average value. Last year he managed a meager .264 mark in the category, and the result was…just…awful. A 53 OPS+ and 49 wRC+. I can’t even…woof. Still, he swiped 22 bags in 22 attempts in the face of a .259 OBP that was the single worst mark among all qualified hitters in baseball. The stolen base efficiency is the takeaway I’m going to choose from that sentence, and he’s just a year removed from a BABIP-driven .331 mark in 2012. Even if he just gets himself back into shouting distance of .300 he becomes a 30 base threat, and with a little luck there’s room for mid-30’s and maybe even 40. Then again, he could be hurt and ineffective for a couple months and lose his job to Christian Colon. If the former scenario comes I have a strong chance at a top tier showing in the category, whereas I’m closer to the middle of the pack if I get the latter. It’s a big swing.
Hisashi Iwakuma, SP SEA
At a certain point you have to bite the bullet and grab value regardless of assumed risk, and that’s what happened to me with Iwakuma in this draft. I noticed him kicking around in the eighth round as I started to put together a SP3 queue. And there he was in the 9th round as Jeff Samardzija went off the board…still there in the 10th to wave goodbye to Ivan Nova, and Martin Perez…finally in the 11th he sat there still and I pounced. On a strictly numbers-based level this is a no-brainer and an absolute shock that he was still around at pick 209 of a draft like this. Sure he’s a little older than you’d like to see in a dynasty draft, but 33 isn’t that old, especially for a pitcher who doesn’t rely on straight velocity. This guy was the sixth most valuable pitcher in fantasy baseball last year, and there wasn’t anything in his statistical profile to suggest he’s not more than capable of doing it again. But that injury…normally my reaction to a pitching hand finger injury is “well, it’s not his elbow or his shoulder, so he’ll be fine.” But in this case it’s an injury to the tendon of the middle finger, which is the fulcrum that produces the leverage he needs to get correct finger pressure on his splitter. And that splitter is the key to his entire repertoire. It’s been heads and shoulders better than anybody else’s splitter over past two seasons, and it’s not even close. We’re talking Mariano Rivera lapping the cutter field levels here. If that pitch loses its effectiveness Iwakuma is a very different (and much less successful) pitcher. But if he comes back showing no (or at least very muted) effects he gives me one of the best tops of a rotation in the league and sets me up for a strong across-the-board pitching performance.
Brian Wilson, RP LAD (and/or Mystery Closer, RP Mystery Team)
Completely punting one category in a 5×5 roto league, as I’ve done, is a really risky strategy. It’s technically possible to overcome it if you can dominate pretty much everything else, but in a 20 team league of excellent fantasy baseball writers that’s extremely unlikely. And it’s impossible given my team’s vulnerabilities. So what are the options…
1) Hope I “get lucky” with a Kenley Jansen injury. This is a terrible, morally-bankrupt way to play the game. I usually end the season that way, but I’ll be damned if I’m a-gonna start it that way.
2) I can get lucky on the waiver wire. Thing is, given the league’s depth it is unlikely that any pitcher conceivably in line to get saves in even the most far-fetched of scenarios this year is not already rostered. So this one’s pretty much out of the question.
3) I can trade for a closer. Yuck. The most unenviable position to find yourself in is one where you’re paying another owner to acquire a shaky closer. My toes are curling just thinking about it. Still, sometimes in life we have to make unpleasant choices, and barring a miracle if I hope to make a run at this year’s title I’m going to have to pay for at least a few saves at some point in the season.